Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, October 22, 2010



Workers, engineers, politicans and truckers all cheered under a sky of fireworks in the Southern Swiss city of Bodio this week. They had just finished the final bore through dense Alpine limestone, completing a decade of exhausting work by 2,500 workers from just about every single European nation. When other nations are cutting down on grand, expensive projects, Switzerland was able to hold her head high, and claim a superlative in the engineering world: Earth's longest tunnel! Long live the Gotthard!

Not that it was cheap to build. All in all, it took TEN BILLION DOLLARS to construct. But we must remember, it was approved in a series of ballot measures and complicated referendums, which began back in 1988 when people had money. Opposition at first was overpowering. Since the population of Switzerland is only eight million, it meant that every man, woman and child would have to pony up $1,300 to build the darn tunnel. But, the Swiss are rich, and politicians united the nation with one, hard-to-dispute simple fact. Whether you live in a tiny hamlet or in a Lake Geneva downtown chalet, the tunnel is good for the environment. And no one wants diesel fuel in the bottled alpine water.

When the original GOTTHARD TUNNEL was built, in 1888, it too was the longest tunnel in the world. It connected Zurich to Milan and opened up the heart of Switzerland to the outside world. It was hailed as an engineering milestone. But, over the last 130 years, the highways between Switzerland and Italy became a lot more crowded. Something like 1.2 million trucks spew heaps of exhaust as the twist and churn up the steep Alpine slopes on each side. The new tunnel will cut train travel time by 1.5 hours between Zurich and Milan as travelers will be swept under the Alps at 153.4 miles per hour! Since 70% of Switzerland's cargo is moved by rail, this will eliminate tons of waste.

So, for the time being, the Swiss have trumped the Japanese, whose SEIKAN tunnel, built in 1988, connects HONSHU with HOKAIDDO, Japan's two largest islands. But is was close: The Gotthard is 35.4 miles to the Seikan's 33.5 miles. But don't worry: You can still take the old route, made famous by such Alpine explorers as HANNIBAL and DUNER. It is one my favorite train routes on earth and highly recommended, no matter how much exhaust it takes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010



If you haven't heard about the 33 trapped Chilean miners you must be stuck in an even deeper cave! But...since there is always one person who has no idea what I'm talking about...let's do a quick re-cap. Disaster struck the SAN JOSE MINE in the remote Andes mountains near Chile's ATACAMA DESERT. Shifting soils resulted an an underground avalanche some two thousand feet below the surface, trapping the workers underneath. For two weeks, there was no contact and the miners were feared dead. Then, using astounding SONAR technology, they were located. It took an army of engineers, but they were eventually rescued, surviving the longest known entrapment in history...a whopping 69 days!

It's true: There is something about being trapped in a bottomless pit, or a wishing well or a dragon's cave, that tugs at every one's heartstrings. Maybe it's a metaphor of endless despair. Or perhaps some deep fear we all have about being trapped, physically and mentally. But for whatever reason, everyone in the world was wondering what was going to happen to these 'troubled-thirty-three' miners. Hence, it came as no surprise that when the first miner appeared to see precious sunlight for the first time in three months, it quickly became one of the most watched items ever on the Internet.

And...if it is one of the most watched items on the Internet...everyone wants a piece of the action. So these miners, who three months ago were just 'Average Jos├ęs' who willing to risk their lives over $1,500 a month, are now worldwide celebrities. Don't believe me? Okay, upon arrival on the surface, they will need to wear sunglasses to protect their dilated pupils. So they will be given special, designer shades made and donated by an upscale Italian company and valued at $500 a pair. Next, they are handed checks, from dozens of companies around the world totalling $5,000 each. They can soothe their eardrums with new i-Pods signed by STEVE JOBS himself.

After a couple of days in hospital for checks and recovery, they will have to choose from a number of invitations. All 33 can go to a Greek Isle for two week's rest offered by a Greek travel consortium. SIR BOBBY CHALTON, the owner of famed soccer club MANCHESTER UNITED has invited the lads to a stay at OLD TRAFFLAR for front row seats at an upcoming match. (All the miners are big soccer fans!). One miner, EDISON PENA is a huge Elvis fan and requested his albums to pass the time. So it comes as no surprise the GRACELAND THEME PARK has invited him to Tennessee for a private tour.

Then, there are the gifts. The whole thing kind of feels like a game show. "Tell the audience what the trapped miners have won, Bob!" "Well, sure, Ted! In addition to the Greek and British holidays, our trapped miners will receive a year's worth of delicious Chilean wines, made from some of the oldest vines in the continent. They'll also enjoy the taste of SUSHI X, (a Japanese restaurant chain) who is giving each trapped miner a year's worth of FREE SUSHI. (Hope they don't deliver it all at once!). And then there's free beer, sodas and...of course...TURTLE WAX!"

Sorry, got carried away, just like FLO FROM PROGRESSIVE. Anyhow, perhaps the luckiest miner is VICTOR SEGOVIA, who from the first day forward, kept a written journal of the entire entrapment. As the only one to do so, this exclusive book has publishers salivating all across the world. Not to mention the TV interviews, exclusive tabloid reports and Internet chats. But my favorite has to be the endorsement offers. One is to plug drills and the other is for a sex aid vitamin. Hey...what were those guys doing down there???

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



Yesterday, the mightiest of German festivals, OKTOBERFEST, officially came to a close. And this year's fest set some pretty impressive accomplishments. As always, those meticulous Germans love to make annual announcements about each year's OKTOBERFEST. And, as always, the figures are amazingly accurate. In 2010, 66,436 hectolitres (what is that?) of beer were drank, 116,923 sausages were eaten...and...488,137 chickens were consumed. A NEW RECORD!

Having attended this esteemed event, I thought it might be helpful for DUNER to share some brief items about OKTOBERFEST. Read them, laugh at them, then file them away in a corner of your brain. Next time you're at a restaurant and some one's friend's boyfriend is visiting from Stuttgart and you end up stuck talking with him while waiting for your table, you can throw out some of these fascinating tidbits. Because...love it or hate it...EVERY GERMAN PERSON has an opinion on OKTOBERFEST. And...love it or hate it...EVERY GERMAN PERSON... absolutely believes that their opinion on the matter is, in fact, the correct one!

First thing: This year's OKTOBERFEST was an import milestone for the festival, as it marked the 200th anniversary of the initial event. Indeed, the exact date was October 12, 1810. At the time, there was no united "Germany," just an enormous patchwork of Royal Kingdoms, Church-owned Principalities and 'free' trading cities. One of largest such states was the proud Kingdom of Bavaria, where King Ludwig the First was about to be wed to Princess Therese of Saxony. To celebrate such a momentous event, two weeks worth of pre-wedding festivities were being held in the capital, Munich. On the 12th, to the delight of the citizenry, the two royals raced each other on horseback around a lush meadow. What a stupendous October fest!

Since everyone had such a great time, it was decided to repeat the two week celebration every October. In 1835 the first inaugural parade was held. The parade was led the Munchen Kindl, which were dozens of boys dressed by a local monastery. They would serve as the inspiration for the Munchkins in Frank Baum's novel THE WIZARD OF OZ. In 1880, electric lights were installed for the first time. And guess who screwed them in? ALBERT EINSTEIN, of course! He was twenty at the time and worked for his uncle's hardware store. But not all Oktoberfest times are good. The festival has been cancelled 23 times for wars. The longest such stoppage was for the Prussian war, which would eventually result in the end of the Bavarian Kingdom. And there was that awful time in 1854 when a nasty outbreak of cholera killed 4,000 people in Munich. No celebrating that year!

Finally, here are three personal DUNER OKTOBERFEST TIPS: 1. Eat the chicken. They will serve you an entire bird. Eat it all; you'll need the base in your stomach and it's easier to digest than sausage. 2. Watch out for the steins. These large glasses hold a liter of beer and weigh a hefty 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs). While thefts are down, stein assaults are up. 3. Avoid the meadow. Since 1960, the famous site of the horse races is now a grassy meadow. At night, it becomes a very shady place, with amazingly drunk people stumbling around in varying states of consciousness. Even though the bathroom line may be long, don't pee on the tree!!