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Albright charms luncheon crowd; Simon, Garfunkel get busy

MADAME SECRETARY, INDEED She's more popular than Hillary, at least judging from the more than 1,200 people who packed the ballroom at the Sheraton Boston hotel yesterday to hear former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Albright fielded an array of questions, from the serious -- about Iraq and world affairs -- to the downright practical -- dealing with the stress of the job. Moderated by WGBH-TV host Emily Rooney, the luncheon event, organized by the Commonwealth Institute, was held as part of a national tour to promote Albright's book "Madame Secretary: A Memoir." Albright gets bonus points for arriving before the lunch to take pictures with those who got the afternoon's proceedings off the ground and staying past 3 p.m. to sign copies of her book. To the question about how she deals with stress, Albright answered, "That's easy -- I eat," adding that secretary of state is a "very fattening" job.

OUT ON A LIMB He practices his unusual hobby in a field near his home off Route 62 in North Reading. Again and again as cars hurry past, John Lundstrom picks up a small tree that's been stripped of its branches and heaves it. Called caber tossing, it's a featured event in the ancient Scottish Games, and few people in the world do it better than Lundstrom. A sculptor and landscaper by trade, Lundstrom, 53, has been throwing trees and rocks since he discovered his hidden talent on a visit to Scotland years ago. "There were some logs, and I started flipping them," he recalls. "The people I was visiting said, `You're a natural.' " That was 1978. Since then, Lundstrom has entered 99 Scottish Games competitions and won a remarkable 54 overall championships. In August, at the Quechee Scottish Festival in Vermont, he staggered 69 feet with a 131-pound iron dumbbell while the weakling runner-up dropped the weight after just 34 feet. "I'm not Scottish," Lundstrom explained, "I'm just good at this."

HEAR AND NOW Before heading on the road for their much-hyped reunion tour -- which stops at the FleetCenter Dec. 11 and 13 -- Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are spending some time together in the studio. That's right; according to a representative of Sanctuary Records, the pair are working with producer John Alagia on at least one new song -- their first studio collaboration since 1970's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Alagia has produced hit records for Dave Matthews and John Mayer. (Tickets to Simon & Garfunkel's FleetCenter shows go on sale Monday at 10 a.m.; prices are $45, $85, and $125.)

TALKING HEADS WFXT-TV's "Fox 25 Morning News" debuts a political analysis segment this morning, featuring GOP spinmeister Rob Gray and former state senator Warren Tolman. The two have a little history: Gray served as Paul Cellucci's campaign manager when Tolman was running for lieutenant governor in 1998.

PRIZE POSSESSION Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon is one of the first winners of the $250,000 Bradley Prize, an award created by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to spur conservative achievement. Glendon, an adviser to the Vatican who was named by President George W. Bush to the President's Council on Bioethics, is one of four winners. The others are: Leon R. Kass, professor at the University of Chicago, who's chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics; Charles Krauthammer, a doctor and conservative columnist; and Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution in California who's an author and columnist.

ON THE HIATUS Another South End institution is morphing. On the Park, the little restaurant on Union Park, has closed and will reopen within the month as an upscale pizza and pasta place. "It's the end of an 11-year term," said On the Park owner Lisa Martel, who bought the restaurant from the former owners of East Meets West Catering in 1992. Martel, who said she was going to Hawaii for three weeks to "think about things," sold the place to James Hamelburg. Customers old and new had filled the restaurant the past few weeks, she said. Hamelburg, reached later, said his new place would be called Joe V's and would feature pizza, pasta, salads, and panini with moderate prices. The plans are for "a cool little neighborhood" place, said Hamelburg, who formerly owned the G Lounge on Lincoln Street.

SPOTTED After her concert at City Hall Plaza as part of the 20th annual Taste of Boston, pop singer Jessica Simpson made a stop by the Atlantic Fish Co. in the Back Bay, which, we're told, is a regular stop for her, even if she's just passing through town. While at the Boylston Street eatery, Simpson & Co. started off with the artichoke dip, dined on lobster and butterflied shrimp, and rounded out the evening with peanut butter pie.

Alison Arnett of the Globe staff contributed to this column. Names can be reached at or at 617-929-8253.

* They were together over the weekend in Georgia, but neither Ben Affleck nor Jennifer Lopez seemed very happy about it. The New York Post said yesterday that Ben and J.Lo spent time in Savannah, where he shopped for a gun and registered for a gun license, apparently for skeet shooting at his Hampton Island compound. The couple was pictured holding hands, but Lopez was described as having a "face like thunder."

* Elizabeth Taylor has asked a judge to strike "inflammatory, irrelevant, and false" allegations about the actress from a lawsuit that her former gardener has filed, the Associated Press reports. Willem Van Muyden claimed he suffered improper sexual advances from her butler in his lawsuit, filed in July, which seeks unspecified damages from Taylor. Van Muyden says he was fired without being paid $294,000 Taylor owes him. He also makes allegations about Taylor having a relationship with the butler, Jean-Luc Lacquement, who filed a notice arguing that the gardener's complaint has no merit.

* Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst has been sued by the Minnesota company that employed a guard Durst allegedly kicked in the head during a 1999 concert, the AP says. Azzone Security/Investigations Agency is suing Durst and others for $49,663 in workers' compensation it says it has paid and for future payments. Durst allegedly kicked Patrick Estes onstage, police said, adding that Durst was apologetic because he apparently had mistaken Estes for a fan he thought was attacking his personal security guard.

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