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Vatican's Sistine Frescoes Protected From Throngs

June 20, 1993|KIM UPTON

The Vatican has unveiled a $1-million environmental control system to protect Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes from moisture, dirt and pollution. The fresco panels on the 68-foot ceiling, including such masterpieces as "The Creation of Adam," "The Creation of Eve," "The Temptation and Fall" and "The Flood," have been absorbing dirt and moisture, with condensation promoting mold growth and deposits of salt and other chemicals. Vatican officials say they hope the new system will keep them from having to limit the number of visitors to the chapel to protect it from atmospheric damage. The system uses 75 sensors in strategic points in the Sistine to monitor such things as traffic fumes that drift in from the windows, and fluctuations in humidity and temperatures caused by the accumulated breath and body heat of visitors. An accompanying air conditioning and filtering system has been designed to keep the temperature constant and filter out pollutants. The Vatican also announced that a 14-year project to restore the Sistine's frescoes would be complete by next Easter, when work on the "Last Judgment" wall is done. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel--part of the Vatican Museums--in two periods between 1508 and 1541. Two million people a year visit the chapel, which is only 120 feet by 40 feet and can accommodate about 700 people at a time. *

Travel Quiz: Which country's high-speed train holds the record for the fastest speed on rails?

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Highway Robbery in Spain: Highwaymen posing as good Samaritans are robbing Americans and other tourists as they drive rental cars from Madrid airport into the city, according to an Associated Press report. Thieves puncture rental car tires, then follow tourists and steal their valuables while pretending to help change the flat, according to diplomats quoted by the news service. Despite warning notices at rental car desks, three or four victims a week visit the U.S. Embassy in Madrid to get new passports and arrange tickets home. While police deny any rash of flat-tire robberies, on June 10 two Chileans were arrested for allegedly using the tactic. "If I'd known this was the case I wouldn't have taken a rental car," said Sreenivasan Chandrakumar, a 43-year-old American living in London, who is among the victims. "I'd take a cab, a bus. Why risk it?" Americans seem to be the most-frequent victims, perhaps because the 825,000 of them who visit Spain annually are more likely to rent, rather than drive their own cars as many Europeans do. Although there were similar robberies near Barcelona two years ago, David Schensted, vice consul at the U.S. Embassy, said the thefts reached "epidemic proportions" last summer in Madrid. No one has thus far been reported hurt in such an incident.

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Quick Fact: The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto contains a collection of more than 9,000 shoes, dating back 4,500 years, and promotes itself with the phrase: "Step into the Bata Shoe Museum and catch a glimpse of history from the knees down."

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Waiting Game at Westwood Passport Office: Crowds are jamming the Los Angeles Passport Agency at the Federal Building in Westwood, prompting waits of up to four hours for service, according to a spokeswoman for the agency, who said more travelers than ever are waiting until the last minute to apply. Mondays and Fridays and the first day after a three-day holiday appear to be the most crowded days, she said, with waits peaking at the beginning of the day and at lunch. U.S. citizens who can apply by mail for passports, or at post offices that offer the service, are urged to do so--or to wait until the fall and winter months when lines are shorter. To expedite mail-in applications, a new application form is available to those who hold passports issued within the last 12 years and after the applicant was 18 years of age. The forms can be obtained at the Westwood office or at any post office that accepts passport applications. Call (310) 575-7070 for recorded passport information.

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Drinking in Euro Disney: In a significant break with theme-park policy, Euro Disney has begun serving wine, beer and Champagne at four of its upscale restaurants. Although the company is denying the move is an attempt to stem heavy losses caused by weak attendance at the year-old park near Paris, the move could help it attract more French visitors. French papers have criticized the park's squeaky-clean American image. In April, one year after opening, Euro Disney reported a net loss of $204 million over the preceding six months, and predicted a "substantial loss" for the fiscal year. The Silver Spur Steakhouse, the Auberge de Cendrillon, Walt's and the Blue Lagoon will serve alcohol. But the 19 other restaurants on the park grounds, as well as food pushcarts, will continue to go without.

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