Recently by Rolf Potts:

When I first visited Paris many years ago, I’d assumed the old racquet sport of Jeu de Paume was a mere historical footnote, as extinct from the city as the monarchical elite who once played it. Like most tourists in Paris, I’d come to associate “Jeu de Paume” with contemporary art (from the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, near the Louvre) or the French Revolution (which was stoked by the 1789 Serment du Jeu de Paume at Versailles), but it never occurred to me that actual Frenchmen might still be playing the Ur-tennis game that peaked in popularity 400 years ago.

Hence my fascination when, on a warm day in Paris earlier this year, I discovered a thriving Jeu de Paume club along a quiet street in the 16th arrondissement. Watching French businessmen bashing the felt-and-cork ball across the elegantly sagged net with asymmetrical wooden racquets, I felt as… More…

Matthew, the small Burmese Kayin man who worked the front desk at the Lotus Guesthouse, was the first one to suggest that Mr. Benny might be dead. “Benny went back to Burma so he could die near his family,” he told me, his eyes fixed on the TV set as flickering Shiites danced in the streets of Iraq. “He was too sick to live in Thailand any more.”

I had just returned to the rainy border town of Ranong, Thailand, after an absence of five months. It was April 9, 2003, the day U.S. tanks rolled into central Baghdad. Matthew had been squatting in the guesthouse lobby, translating BBC commentary for the other hotel workers — all of them illegal migrant workers from Burma. Deciphering the images from Iraq proved to be a difficult process, since even the BBC commentators didn’t seem to know what was going on. Had Baghdad… More…

Wander through the 11th arrondissement of Paris toward the dead celebrities of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and there’s a decent chance you’ll stumble across a small gallery called “Le Musée du Fumeur.” Unlike the hallowed halls of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, there is no tyranny of expectation in this tiny, smoking-themed museum. No smiling Mona Lisa or reclining Olympia dictates where the random tourist should focus his attention. Thus left to meander, the drop-in visitor may well overlook the more earnest exhibits here — such as Egyptian sheeshas or Chinese opium pipes — and note the small, red-circle-and-slash signs reminding guests that, in no uncertain terms, smoking is strictly forbidden in the Museum of Smoking.

In spite of this startling contradiction, there is a notable lack of irony in Le Musée du Fumeur, which crams an eclectic array of international smoking-culture relics into a 650-square-foot storefront near Rue de… More…