Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Before humans arrived on the Caribbean island of Dominica, frogs were on top of the food pyramid. They ate everything. In addition to crickets, centipedes and flies, frogs also devoured snakes, birds and even other frogs. One species, the Leptodactylus Fallax, emerged as the ultimate predator on the small isle. With no competition in the rainforests, the gluttonous creature evolved into the largest species of frog on earth. It is a foot long and weighs up to three pounds. It is only found on the islands of Dominica and Montserrat.
Everything changed in the year 1493 when Christopher Columbus arrived. It was a Sunday, so the island was named 'Dominica' (Sunday in Latin). However, it would not be Europeans who would settle the idyllic isle. Rather, it was populated by African laborers who worked in the sugar plantations. These hungry people soon discovered the amazing frog. They called it "mountain chicken" because it was found in the high hills and tasted like...chicken! (Apparently, the frog's mating call also sounds like a chicken's cackle.) When the island became an independent nation, fried frog legs was proclaimed the national dish.
Last Saturday, fifty-one frogs were flown from London to Dominica. They were carefully released into the wild and look forward to a long life. The residents of Dominica have been educated as to the plight of their national dish. The hunting of mountain chicken is no longer practiced. While the locals are saddened at the loss of their national dish, they understand the rationale. Hopefully, the Mountain Chicken can regroup and once again live on the top of the food chain in Dominica. And maybe they'll be enough frog legs to eat..
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Talk about an evening to remember! It began with a private concert featuring the choir from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Since 1585, they have dazzled Romans with their symphonic brilliance. Next, guests were served fancy cocktails and light refreshments. Then, a formal gala dinner was served by tuxedo clad waitstaff. While this may seem like a common evening in the Italian capital, the setting on Saturday night was unbelievable. This event took place in the Sistine Chapel under Michelangelo's famous frescoes.
See, this is the first time in the 541 year history of the famed chapel that it has been rented out for a private event. The Sistine was built by the forward-looking Pope Sixtus IV. He envisioned a stupendous 'House of God' to serve as the primary center of worship for the clergy of the Holy See. To accomplish his dream, the Pope rounded up the most innovative artists of the day. Botticelli, Raphael and Michelangelo were summoned to Rome to create an artistic masterpiece. They succeeded. A visit to the Sistine Chapel is truly unforgettable.
While many are cheering Pope Francis and his 'Robin Hood' tactics of taking from the wealthy to give to the needy, historians are concerned. The bottom line is that leasing out sanctified structures for money is a touchy subject. It reminds us of when Pope Leo X routinely administered 'indulgences' in return for monetary support. This is what started the whole Reformation. A church that could be bought is not holy.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
There is nothing like a vacation in Switzerland! Breath taking hiking trails are plentiful. They zigzag from lush meadows to steep cliffs, offering the visitor Alpine splendor at every turn. See, in Switzerland, the peaks are higher, the lakes are larger and the rivers are faster. However, one item will soon be missing from this spectacle. The famed cows of Switzerland are loosing their bells.
A groundbreaking study on dairy cows at Zurich's Federal Institute has the entire nation questioning one of their beloved traditions. It found that the enormous bells worn around their necks emit a tone ranging from 100 to 113 decibels...which is equivalent to a chainsaw at full blast! This far exceeds the Swiss legal sound limit of 85 decibels. As a result, most bovines suffer hearing loss and many are deaf altogether. Also, the 12-pound iron bells impede grazing habits. Cattle without bells eat 25% more grass and are healthier.
So will cowbells disappear from the Swiss Alps? "Nicht so schnell," say the farmers. They stress the traditional role the bells play in Swiss society. In medieval times, the size of a bell signified the best milk producing cow. It received the honor of wearing the largest one. For the farmers, the elaborate, ornate bells are a source of pride. There are even Bell Festivals. In the Alpaufzug Festival, boys ring cowbells in the streets. Folklore says the sound rids the pastures of evil spirits and makes the grass grow faster.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Lots of readers from around the globe have submitted questions about the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. Let's get started.
Why umbrellas? Does it rain a lot in Hong Kong? - Yulia, Kiev. It pours around the South China Sea. About 100 inches every year. But it's not water that calls for the protesters to don umbrellas. They're meant to deflect tear gas and pepper spray. However, protest leaders are not too fond of the name. They say the movement is about civil disobedience, not revolution.
How does Mainland China feel about the Umbrella Revolution? - Frank, Leeds. The People's Republic of China is most displeased. While colonial Hong Kong didn't have elections, they did enjoy other freedoms. They had fair courts, common law and an independent press. None of these are allowed in Beijing. If Hong Kongers win the right to choose their own leader, a scary precedent would start. Tienanmen Square protests could begin anew.
Does everyone in Hong Kong support the movement? - Judy, Toronto. Opinion polls..from the same university where the movement started..show meager hometown support for the Umbrella Revolution. Only 15% of Hong Kong residents strongly support the students. A whopping 45% of Hong Kongers disapprove. Older residents wish younger citizens would concentrate on work and family. Instead, they insist on causing traffic problems and blocking the entrances to department stores.