The Lumière brothers, in Paris, patented their Cinématographe in 1895. It was the first practical device for projecting moving images. By 1896, they had already built specialized Cinématographe theaters—known as “cinemas”—in London, New York and Brussels. And with theaters in place, there was an immediate need for material to present in them. The Lumières’ own films tended to simply capture images of the real world: a train entering the station, or workers finishing a shift at a factory. One filmmaker with more imaginative ideas was a British director named George Albert Smith. Smith had already had a career as a stage magician when he attended a presentation by the Lumière brothers and began to conceive of the visual magic he could create in this new medium. He began producing his own films, including his 1898 masterpiece, Santa Claus. More than just the first holiday movie, it used cutting edge special effects, such as jump cuts, split screen and double exposure, which allowed people to experience the wonder of the season in a whole new way.
It was a hard trip for the Pilgrims. It wasn’t their plan to arrive in the New World in November, right as winter was coming in and before they could get crops planted. They had a leaky ship and other repairs to thank for that. It also was not their intention to settle in Massachusetts. In fact, they were trying to get to the Colony of Virginia, to the south. The reason they decided to land rather than just heading on south? Beer. On a long sea voyage, it wouldn’t take long for barrels of water to become undrinkable. Beer, however, remained potable for the long haul. And not only was it needed for the new colonists on the trip over, but a reserve of beer was necessary for the crew of the ship as they made their way back to England. So when the beer supply ran low, the captain hit the brake, pulled over at Plymouth Rock, and insisted that the time had come for his passengers to disembark. That is probably not what they were giving thanks for.
You know all those times when seeing a newborn makes you say, “Oh, what a sweet baby! I could just eat you right up!” Or that inclination to pop those cute little toes into your mouth, or to blow a raspberry on that roly-poly tummy? Research suggests that you do those things because babies make you subconsciously think about food. It’s the smell that does it. The scent of a newborn baby activates the area of the brain that controls food cravings, and prompts a release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Fortunately, this hunger doesn’t drive us to literally eat our young. Instead, it gives us a craving to nurture, feed and protect those precious little dumplings.
Not according to an eye witness account. Specifically, the account of Marco Polo, who discovered actual, living unicorns during his world travels. He was less than impressed. It turns out that unicorns did indeed have a single horn jutting from their foreheads, but in general were, “ugly brutes to look at.” He described them as, “scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s… They have a head like a wild boar’s.” Popular understanding at the time suggested that unicorns would be creatures of such purity that they could be tamed only by the fairest virgin damsels. Polo, however, found that, “they spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime.” Scarcely the stuff that dreams are made of. Perhaps that’s the reason why they were renamed. Today you can find unicorns in almost any zoo, but they have been re-branded as “rhinoceros.”
Brew some beer. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Fill your stein. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Make today a celebration by design. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Fill your day (Oom-pa-pa!)
With the best. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Have a fröhliche UncommonGoods Oktoberfest!
Grab a pint. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Grab a cup. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Grab some big ol’ Viking horn and fill it up. (Oom-pa-pa!)
Here’s a toast. (Oom-pa-pa!)
May you be blessed (Oom-pa-pa!)
With a fröhliche UncommonGoods Oktoberfest!
If you’re a true, diehard American, then there’s a good chance that your weekend is going to be pretty German. Germans were a major immigrant group in the United States up through the 19th century, and much of what we consider quintessentially American is actually a German import. Got a beer in one hand and a frankfurter in the other? Both German. Also the sauerkraut on your dog, and potato salad on the side? German and German. Enjoying a picnic in the park while a brass band plays marches? No surprise—those were also popularized here by the Germans. In fact, you could argue that the whole concept of a weekend is thanks to German immigrants. Puritanical Americans often set aside Sunday as a day of worship instead of work. But the Germans brought with them a culture that prized organized recreation with the family, and during the heyday of their influx, public bandstands, civic orchestras, bandstands and sports clubs began to flourish—for which we give a hearty “Dankeschön!”
Well, that seems like a bit of a personal question. But we can at least say that what dreams you do have may in fact be under the influence of cheese. It has long been believed that cheese before bed would result in vivid nightmares, as seen in Winsor McCay’s 1904 comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, or in A Christmas Carol when Charles Dickens has his character Ebeneezer Scrooge blame his ghostly visions on an undigested crumb of cheese. However, science is shining a new light on this particular folklore. According to a 2005 study in the United Kingdom (which, it should be said, was sponsored by the British Dairy Board), not only did cheese not provoke nightmares, but variety of cheese before bed appeared to actually influence the kind of dreams one would have. Test subjects who sampled cheddar before bed reported high rates of dreams about celebrities. Stilton, a particularly potent blue cheese, apparently produced more bizarre, surreal dreams, while those who ate Red Leicester reported very restful sleep, and dreams about past events. Results may vary from person to person, of course, but the song may be true after all (with a slight variation to the lyrics): “Sweet dreams are made of cheese.”
Way back in the early 1500s, there was a war going on between the cities of Pisa and Florence. Both were located along the Arno river, but because Pisa was located farther downstream, it was able to block Florence’s access to the sea. Pisa had geography on its side, but Florence had mind-power. Philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli lived there and, deciding to take matters into his own hands, he began to scheme with a friend of his named Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci created detailed maps of the Arno, and came up with a plan for stealing the entire river away from Pisa. But, as was so often the case, Da Vinci was ahead of his time. The laborers who worked on digging the necessary canals could not dig fast enough or deep enough to have an effect. Da Vinci, of course, invented a machine that could do the work more effectively, but it was never built. The Florentines attempted to fix the problems, but a heavy storm destroyed much of their work. By the time they recovered from that, the Pisans were onto their little plot and made sure that no one tried to steal their river again.