History tells us that first souvenirs were collected by the Crusaders of the eleventh century. They liked to bring back relics from the Holy Land, or a Saracen's head, just for the memories. By 1291, the modern souvenir industry had started up in Venice, making exquisite glass objects to sell to visitors. Seven hundred years later, Venice is literally sinking into the ocean under the accumulated weight of little glass objects, and the tourists who come to buy them.
Two hundred years ago almost nobody lived in a large town or a city. Now almost everybody does. So there is certain nostalgia for the long-lost world in which our ancestors lived among familiar faces in small communities on the human scale. When we look for a second home or a holiday getaway we imagine not downtown Detroit but a charming village in Vermont or England or the south of France.
It's been hot – hot in Long Island and Connecticut, and hot in Europe too. How hot is too hot? It depends where you happen to live. In Saudi Arabia, a hundred degrees is scarcely worth noticing. In Antarctica, people get out the sunscreen and frozen drinks when the thermometer creeps above forty. In Britain, any temperature above seventy is treated as a dangerous heat wave.
There are few things more annoying than having someone tell you about a book you haven't read, or a lovely place you haven't been to, or a gourmet meal you didn't have a chance to eat. So I won't do that this morning. Instead I'll tell you about a TV series that you probably haven't seen.
Yesterday was Bastille Day, which is hard to miss if you happen to be in France. There are parades and patriotic speeches in every town and village, and often fireworks and festive dinners too. This year's celebration marked the two hundred and twenty-fourth anniversary of the French Revolution, and it had a special poignancy because of the ongoing turmoil in Egypt. Revolutions have a way of going wrong, or going nowhere, but this doesn't seem in any way to diminish their popularity. The Arab Spring has produced a whole series of popular uprisings since 2010, with no very clear result.