• ITALIAN HOT SPOTS: Monitor contributor Cheryl Heckler arrived in Italy in June - just in time for a summer where only one week has registered temperatures below 95 degrees, and the smell of nearby forest fires has awakened her at night several times.
The effect in Fucecchio, a Tuscan city of 18,000 where Cheryl is staying, is one of heightened vigilance. "Some people have centuries-old villas, and they're watching very carefully," she says. "And when you go into town and ask the policemen where the fires are, they can tell you immediately."
Still, it's summer, and people are turning to a time-honored remedy for the heat. "It's vacation season, so a lot of people are just heading for the beaches."
• STICKY ISSUE: Bennett Richardson, who wrote Wednesday's story on tough times for rice in Japan, says he ate rice off and on as a youngster growing up in New Zealand. It wasn't till he moved to Japan, where he now lives, that he realized there's rice - and then, there's rice.
"In New Zealand, the top brand is Indian basmati - that's what impresses the guests. But when I came to Japan and told people that, they were distinctly unimpressed. In fact, they were shocked."
Despite Japanese reverence for the short-grain and sticky variety, however, Bennett notes that the national dish has more competition.
"If you are under 25 years old, and a student, you probably eat at least one meal a day at a convenience store," he says. And busy families are taking note as well. "There are lots of frozen meals for families. People are working more, and there's a group that doesn't want to be bothered having to buy the rice, cook it, and plan the rest of the meal."
Deputy world editor