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Reporters on the Job

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."

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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."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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