Monday, August 19, 2002

Places&Culture from
NY Times

LAKE LOUISE VILLAGE, Alberta, Aug. 13 — It is the most famous picture postcard image of Canada's Rocky Mountain splendor: lovely Lake Louise shimmering under the giant Victoria glacier and surrounded by a dense forest of spruce and fir trees. Normally, the only interruption to the tranquillity is the occasional thunderous clap of ice breaking off the glacier, bringing cries of glee from tourists paddling canoes below. But the emerald lake in Banff National Park has become a battleground between a large Canadian hotel chain and environmentalists who say they must make a stand here to save the country's 39 national parks from developers

The only sound in this flat green settlement on the Mississippi River is the whisper of leaves. Just off the Grande Rue, at a shrine beside the abandoned rectory of the gothic brick Immaculate Conception Church, visitors press a green button on a wall to look inside. An automated door swings open to reveal a view of the Liberty Bell of the West. No one is in there. No one seems left in Kaskaskia, the first capital of the state of Illinois, from 1818 to 1820. The bell, 11 years older than the one in Philadelphia and almost as large, was King Louis XV's gift to French settlers here. More than 2,000 people lived here once. But the Census Bureau found only 9 in 2000, down from 32 in 1990. Flood upon flood, most recently the Great Flood of 1993, have left Kaskaskia an island with more egrets than people.

Everywhere you turn on Washington's fashionable Embassy Row, a new palace-size building is under construction, a testament to the frenzied competition of other nations to gain attention in the capital of the last remaining superpower. More than a dozen countries have built or are in the midst of building embassies the size of castles. They come adorned with faux towers and real waterfalls in what one diplomat called "neo-this and made-up-that architecture." From these castle-bastions, foreign diplomats conduct what they call the new Washington diplomacy, an explosion of events geared to reaching the broadest possible audience in hopes of being heard above the din of other countries competing for the same elusive prize of influence.
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