• DAGESTAN HOSPITALITY: During Scott Peterson's visit to Dagestan this week (page 8), the phrase "Caucasian hospitality" took on new meaning for the group of journalists he was traveling with.
Lunch, for example, on the day of the 5,000-year anniversary of Derbent, went on for 4-1/2 hours - and that was before dessert and coffee were served. "We were ushered to Derbent's finest restaurant where there was a smorgasbord of dishes, from pickled cabbage to spicy sausages to roast lamb," says Scott.
But all these delicacies came with a price: platitude- and history-filled toast upon toast. "By the 10th toast, several reporters began to boycott the proceedings, and even our Russian translators gave up, rolling their eyes at the barefaced propaganda."
• KEBAB SHOP WISDOM: While reporting today's story about the deep fissures between Iraq's religious and ethnic groups on the Governing Council (page 1), reporter Dan Murphy stopped at a kebab stand in Najaf, outside the Shrine of Ali, one of the holiest Shiite sites.
"The kebab shop owner, a Shiite, told me he'd like to see an Iraqi constitution and a democratic process for approving it," says Dan. "But his concept of democracy wasn't what I expected. I asked him about how he'd reach a decision about how to vote on the issue. He said, 'I'll vote whichever way the Hawza tells me to vote.' In that way, the kebab vender echoed the position of Shiite members on the Iraqi Governing Council.
The Hawza, based in Najaf, is the supreme institution of Shiite learning in Iraq. Its most prominent leaders today are the moderate Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
David Clark Scott