The delicious, nutritious dandelion is anything but a common weed

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Many people think of the dandelion as little more than an alternative to a daisy for playing “he loves me, he loves me not.”  Indeed, it’s said that if you can blow all of a dandelion’s seeds off with one try, then you are passionately loved. If some seeds remain, your lover has reservations about your relationship.  And if a lot of seeds stay stuck to the globe, you are supposedly loved very little or not at all.

But taraxacum officinale, as dandelion is botanically known, is good for much more than mere child’s play.  Full of Vitamins A, B, C, D and K, as well as iron, potassium and zinc, young dandelion greens make a tasty and nutritious addition to any meal.  In many parts of the world, dandelion is also consumed as a medicine, though claims about it have not been clinically tested in humans.  It has been used for centuries, however, to treat dyspepsia (indigestion/upset stomach), dropsy and liver disorders, and as a mild laxative for chronic constipation.  It is also said to improve the appetite and promote digestion.

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Dragons, Death, Destruction — it’s The Apocalypse Tapestry at the Chateau d’Angers

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Earthquakes… floods…. a seven-headed beast from the bottomless pit.  No, it’s not the latest Hollywood blockbuster, it’s the Bible, specifically, the Apocalypse of Saint John the Apostle from the Book of Revelation.  And you can see it depicted in all its gory details in the 14th century Apocalypse Tapestry, housed in the remains of the magnificent Chateau d’Angers in France’s Loire Valley.

The silk and wool Apocalpyse Tapestry is the oldest surviving French medieval tapestry.  Commissioned by Louis I of Anjou (brother of King Charles V of France) and produced between 1377 and 1382, it originally consisted of 105 individual panels with alternating backgrounds of blue and red.  Its overall length was 551 feet (by 19 feet high), and would have taken between 50 and 84 years of man-labor to weave. By way of comparison, the Bayeaux Tapestry, depicting the Norman Conquest of England, is just 230 feet long (not to mention that it isn’t actually a tapestry — it’s embroidery.)

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, Normandy, France

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, Normandy, France

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A short history of condoms

condom testingCondom use dates back centuries, if not millennia.

The earliest undisputed evidence of condom use in Europe is from the 16th century.  In 1564, the Italian physician Gabriele Falloppio (for whom the Fallopian tubes are named), wrote a tract on the “French Disease” (syphilis).  He recommended that to avoid contracting the disease, men should use a small linen sheath on the glans (head) of the penis.  The cloth had to be sewn to fit the glans precisely so that it wouldn’t fall off.  A ribbon tied to the shaft of the penis also helped keep the cloth in place.  Falloppio suggested that it be pink, to please the ladies.  Before intercourse, the man was to moisten the sheath with a little saliva or lotion.

The oldest condoms ever excavated date from nearly a century later (approximately 1642).  They were found in a cesspit on the grounds of Dudley Castle and were made from animal membranes.

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The mysterious origins of curling

The Norwegian curling team takes the ice at the 2014 Sochi Olympics

The Norwegian curling team takes the ice at the 2014 Sochi Olympics

There’s a reason curling is known as “chess on ice.”

On its surface, the game is simple.  Two teams of four players each take turns sliding eight 44-pound granite stones (“rocks”) across the “sheet” toward the “house”, the circular target at the far end of the ice.  At the conclusion of a round – called an “end” – points are awarded to whichever team has a rock closest to the “button” (the center of the target).  That team gets one point for each rock closer to the button than the competitors’ nearest rock.  Whoever has the most points at the conclusion of 10 ends wins.

However, curling takes not just fitness and teamwork, but a great deal of smarts — hence the “chess on ice” moniker.  Yet while curlers may be the brainiacs of the Olympic world, ask any curler the origins of the game and you might not get an answer.  The origins of the magnificence that is modern curling are sadly obscure.

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Modest Mussorgysky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” – the original Black Sabbath

 

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Although written nearly 150 years ago, Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” feels incredibly modern.   Mussorgsky composed the piece – about a witches’ Sabbath and Satan worship on St. John’s Eve – over 12 sleepless days in 1860, finishing on St. John’s Eve itself.  In a letter to Vladimir Nikolsky, he said of the work:

 “[I]t seethed within me so, and I simply didn’t know what was happening within me… I see in my wicked prank an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine… grown on our native fields and nurtured on Russian bread.”

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