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By Nathan Bierma


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PLACES & CULTURE

From the New York Times :

CAIRO* — Given the cacophony that afflicts any Cairo street—the braying donkeys, the caterwauling vegetable vendors, the constant honking of car horns—it might seem a particularly daunting task to single out just one noise to prosecute as the most offensive. But the minister of religious endowments recently did that, more or less, making a somewhat unlikely decision in these times when many Muslim faithful believe that their religion is under assault. The call to prayer, the minister declared, is out of control: too loud, too grating, utterly lacking in beauty or uniform timing, and hence in dire need of reform. … The minister, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, announced that one official call to prayer would be broadcast live from one central Cairo mosque five times a day, and that it would be carried simultaneously by the 4,000-plus mosques and prayer halls across the capital. From the ensuing national brouhaha—the outraged headlines, the scathing editorials, the heated debates among worshipers—one might gain the impression that Mr. Zaqzouq was leading an assault against Islam itself.

From the Washington Post:

PHILADELPHIA — It was just an old, dust-covered painting of a long-forgotten school principal, or so the maintenance man thought. It had been sitting next to the boiler in the storeroom for a long time—too dank to hang, but a bit too pretty to throw out. Fortunately, no one ever did ditch the portrait, for it was done by renowned painter Thomas Eakins in 1902 of John Seely Hart, a former principal of Central High School in Philadelphia, for the dedication of a new school building that year. Eakins, who had grown up and attended schools in Philadelphia, was commissioned to do the portrait by a school alumnus, and it hung in the school for a time before being relegated to storage. Now that portrait is among a treasure trove of art discovered in Philadelphia schools—as much as $30 million worth. The school district had commissioned a survey of school buildings over the past year to see what art existed. It expected to find a few interesting pieces in odd places, but nothing like this. "There may be as many as 100 museum-quality pieces in the Philadelphia schools' collection, and that is pretty amazing," said [one consultant].

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Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture. He writes the weekly "On Language" column for the Chicago Tribune.

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