About Jackie Fuchs

Fuchs’ television and radio appearances have included Crime Time, NPR, Huffington Post Live and The Insider. As Jackie Fox, she played bass with the '70s rock band, The Runaways.

The world’s hottest chili peppers in 2020 and just who was that Scoville guy?

carolina reaper

The Carolina Reaper — the world’s hottest chili pepper in 2020

For the last few years, the Carolina Reaper has reigned as the world’s hottest pepper, registering a mouth-scorching 2.2 million SHU (Scoville Heat Units) But some new additions have made the 2020 list of the world’s ten hottest peppers.

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

Does it matter if you go “gentle” or “gently”? If you’re Dylan Thomas, yes

Dylan Thomas

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.

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Camille Claudel: Madwoman, Muse

claudel

“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.

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Did Michelangelo design the uniforms of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard? In short: no way

swiss guard

It’s a common belief that Michelangelo designed the uniforms of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. But, in fact, they are based on armor common throughout Renaissance Europe.

During the Renaissance, Swiss mercenary soldiers were considered among the best in Europe. When Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Tagsatzung to provide him with a guard. The Tagsatzung — a/k/a the Diet of Switzerland – was the governing body of Switzerland prior to formation of the Swiss federal state in 1848.

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Suffering and self-promotion: the Urdu ghazals of Mirza Ghalib

The only known photo of Mirza Ghalib, taken in 1868.

The only known photo of Mirza Ghalib, from 1868.

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.

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Saint Denis: the patron saint of headaches feels your pain

saint denis notre dame

Statute of St. Denis, Notre-Dame, Paris.

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.

St. Gregory of Tours tells us that Denis was born in Italy in the 3d century A.D. In 250, he was sent as a missionary to Gaul (modern-day France), where he became the first Bishop of Paris.

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.

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Mansa Musa – the “Black Moses”

Musa

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.

Musa’s wealth came from Mali’s extensive production of salt and gold. In the north, slaves worked the Taghaza salt mines, while in the south the legendary Wangara gold mines provided more than half the world’s gold.

Mansa Musa is often referred to as the “Lion of Mali.” But in the Mandinka (Mandigo) language, Musa means “Moses.” This has led some historians to call Mansa Musa the “black Moses.” And it’s an appropriate nickname, given that Musa’s real fame came from his 1324 Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.

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Hagar and the Well of Zamzam: how a woman discovered one of the holiest sites in Islam

 

hagar

Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert by François Joseph Navez (Belgian, 1787–1869)

 

The Well of Zamzam is located near the Kaaba (Cube), the holiest place in Islam. Both the Kaaba and the Zamzam Well are inside the Holy Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

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.

It begins with the story of the biblical patriarch, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah. Slightly differing versions of the story appear in the Bible and the Koran (Quran). But the essentials are:

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The French Wars of Religion and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

Francois_Dubois_001

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 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre began on August 24, 1562 in Paris, France. Over a five-day period, Catholic mobs slaughtered some 3,000 French Huguenots (Protestants) who had come to Paris for the marriage of the king’s sister to Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). Although Catherine de Medici, the mother of the French King, has long been blamed for inciting the massacre, it is unlikely that she did so.

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.

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Chocolate – the food of the Gods

pods

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.

trees

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