These include the Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia), the first pepper to test scientifically at more than one million SHU. Though the Ghost Pepper is so hot that India’s military has reportedly used it to make “chili grenades,” it has fallen to number seven on the list.
Other peppers purportedly used as non-lethal weapons include several variations on the so-called “7-pot chili pepper”, (such as the 7-Pot Douglah and 7-pot Primo). The name of these varietals comes from the fact that they are said to be hot enough to spice 7 pots of stew. In Trinidad, they used to make military-grade tear gas and also in marine paint, as the spiciness prevents barnacles from forming. Continue reading →
On a recent episode of Jeopardy!, the contestants had a difficult time with this clue in the category “Quoting Poets”:
This Dylan Thomas title is rhymed with “Though wise men at their end know dark is right”
The correct response was “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Both of the contestants who buzzed in, however, substituted the word “gently” for “gentle.”
Their confusion is understandable. English teachers have been telling people for centuries that adverbs modify verbs (or verb phrases) or adjectives. That is, they tell us HOW someone does something, e.g., how did the man shout? He shouted loudly.
“I have fallen into an abyss. I live in a world so curious, so strange. Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare.”
— Camille Claudel to Eugène Blot, Montdevergues Asylum
The late 19th century sculptor Camille Claudel is best known for her relationship to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. But whereas history has painted her as Rodin’s muse (and indeed she was), she was a top artist in her own right and many scholars believe that it is her work that shaped Rodin’s even more than she influenced his.
Claudel met Rodin at the age of 19 when she was studying at the Academy Colarossi in Paris with the sculptor Alfred Boucher. When Boucher returned to Italy, he asked Rodin to take over Claudel’s instruction.
Mirza Ghalib was a 19th century poet who lived in India during the last years of the Mughal dynasty. He is best known today for his 234 ghazals in Urdu (a language similar to Hindi).
Ghazals originated in seventh-century Arabia. Originally, they celebrated wine, women and music, or anguish over lost love. By the eleventh century, however, the theme of lost love had acquired philosophical overtones. In Ghalib’s ghazals, separation and suffering are indistinguishable from life, and the beloved is often a metaphor for God.
Ghalib himself understood suffering all too well. He was born Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan to an aristocratic family descended from Seljuk Turks. His father died when he was a child. At the age of 13, he wed an 11-year old in an arranged marriage.
Being beheaded can really mess up your day. But according to Christian tradition, after Saint Denis was decapitated, he simply picked up his head and kept walking and preaching. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Denis (pronounced “duh-KNEE” in French) is the patron saint of headaches.
Paris, however, was still largely a pagan city. And the Parisians didn’t take kindly to Denis converting so many to Christianity. They took Denis and two of his companions to the highest hill in Paris — Montmarte — and decapitated them.
From a 14th century Catalan atlas, Mansa Musa holding a nugget of gold.
In the 14th century, Mansa Musa of Mali (c. 1280 – c. 1337) ruled a kingdom stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to beyond the bend of the Niger River in the East. And according to a 2012 analysis, Mansa Musa was the richest person ever.
One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba. During the Hajj, pilgrims drink from the Zamzam well. To understand why Zamzam water is so important to Muslims, a bit of religious history is in order.
Painting of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by François Dubois. The body of the Admiral Coligny’s body hangs from a window at the right rear. Catherine de’ Medici is shown at the left rear emerging from the Château du Louvre to inspect a heap of bodies.
The massacre was one of the earliest events in the French Wars of Religion, a series of armed conflicts between Catholics and Protestants that took place throughout France during the second half of the 16th century.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree or, as it’s botanically known, Theobroma cacao. The word theobroma comes from Greek θεος (theos), “god,” + βρῶμα (broma), “food.” So chocolate is literally the food of the gods.
Theobroma cacao is native to the American tropical rain forest. It is a delicate tree that can survive only in a narrow band extending 20 degrees either side of the Equator.
Cacao trees are small and delicate, usually no more than 20-40 feet high. They need taller trees (such as hardwoods) to shelter them from the elements. Continue reading →