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Dispatches

Christmas trees, by the numbers; Alabama’s despot depot; spreading the word about Burgundy’s mustard; New Zealand goes global; the sun sets on a Samoan claim to fame

ANNISTON, ALA.
Collector’s Choice

Alexander the Great’s final resting place … in Alabama

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the family photos Benito Mussolini dutifully kept at his bedside until the bitter end, here’s your answer: They’re in an unassuming building in a small Alabama town tucked into the Appalachian foothills. And they’re just across the room, in fact, from the bust of Alexander the Great that Napoleon used to carry around with him.

Those are merely a few of the objects on display at one of America’s more unexpected institutions, the Berman Museum of World History in Anniston, Ala. It houses the collection of Farley Berman, who spent five decades amassing a trove of artifacts — from Chinese ceramics to World War II spy weapons concealed in flutes, tire gauges and other seemingly mundane items. But it was the personal effects of history’s most notorious leaders — Hitler’s tea set, for instance, or the diamond-crusted gold scimitar of Abbas I of Persia (a piece later owned by Catherine the Great) — that held special interest for this eclectic collector.

A native Annistonian who served during WWII, Berman long dodged questions about his treasures’ origins. While he occasionally claimed they had found their way stateside in his bedroll, Berman — who returned to Alabama after the war with his French wife, Germaine, and became a successful businessman — was in reality a man with deep pockets and a discerning eye. “Most of us can look back and see what’s important,” says the museum’s director, David Ford. “But he had a keen sense of history, and seemed to see the significance as it was developing.”

Though many large institutions coveted the collection, in 1992 the Bermans bequeathed it to the city of Anniston, which built a five-gallery museum big enough to display about a quarter of the 8,000 objects. Why Anniston? “Germaine had two loves: Paris and Anniston,” said Berman, who died in 1999. “Paris has the Louvre. It doesn’t need any more museums.” —SARA CLEMENCE

 

CULTURAL VOCABULARY
A guide to curious words and gestures from around the globe

CHINA
When introduced to a group, you may be greeted with a round of applause. Don’t take a bow — applaud back.
năo zi jìn shuĭ: Mandarin for “crazy”; roughly translates as “brain is full of water”

NETHERLANDS
In some cultures, moving your index finger in a circle around your ear means “you’re crazy”; here, it just means you have a telephone call.
flappentap: Dutch for “ATM” (though the more common term is pinautomaat)

PHILIPPINES
If someone raises their eyebrows, it’s probably not because of that questionable shirt you’re wearing — the “eyebrow flash” is a greeting.
bababa ba: Tagalog colloquialism used to ask elevator passengers, “Going down?”

TURKEY
A slight downward nod means “yes,” while “no” is a slight upward nod as you make a quick sucking sound through your two front teeth (like “tsk”).
fıstık: Turkish for “pistachio nut”; also a slang term for a beautiful woman

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI

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