In the last decade of her long reign, Queen Victoria noticed that “Empress of India” was part of her job description. So, she did the only sensible thing: Brought an Indian advisor into her inner circle and ordered that a mango be shipped from India (a six-week voyage) just to taste the fabled fruit. This quirky royal request is dramatized in the film Victoria & Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench and Bollywood heartthrob, Ali Fazal. Want to know how to tell when your mango’s fit for a queen? Ali offers a guide.
Before you snatch a swan from London’s River Thames to keep as your pet, consider something first. Besides getting the graceful feathered animal through customs, you’d also be stealing from her royal highness, Queen Elizabeth II. By prerogative power, the “Seignor of Swans” (aka the Queen) owns every swan in open waters within England and Wales. It’s a peculiar statute that dates back to medieval times, when the birds were considered a delicacy and served on dinner tables of the super wealthy. They don’t eat them anymore, but being the animal lover she is, the Queen just can’t let them go. She even participates in a royal “Swan Upping.” Every third week in July, Elizabeth—or rather her team of “upping” experts—gathers all unmarked swans, tags them, and sets them free. Is your dream crushed? Don’t let this stop you! Should you become close friends with the sovereign, she might grant you ownership of your own royal swan. It may be worth sticking your neck out.
Swan Slippers | $34
Today, Bluetooth® means instant connectivity, like playing tunes from your phone to your speaker, or syncing a photo slideshow to your TV. But back in 940 A.D., Bluetooth was a great Danish king credited with uniting all of Scandinavia. See the connection? In 1996 the inventors of our single wireless standard (aka a cohort of totally techie geniuses) were puzzled with how to name such a brilliant, futuristic technology that would ultimately change the way we use our devices. So, instead of thinking forward, the group went back—way back—to the middle ages.
Long before the customary exchange of gift cards and fruitcakes (giving real meaning to the phrase “you shouldn’t have”), giving gifts around December 25th was an important and varied tradition. In the Christian tradition, the custom of Christmas gift-giving is based on the gifts of the three Magi, but there are other precedents for presents. In Sicily, an old woman named Strina brings gifts on Christmas, and her name may stem from the Roman goddess Strenia, whose feast day was marked by the exchange of green boughs (sound familiar?). In a related French tradition, gifts called entrennes are given on New Year’s Day. In Germany and Scandinavia, a gifting tradition called Julklapp involves knocking on doors, flinging wrapped packages into houses, and running away. Sometimes, these gift bombs incorporate marriage proposals (take that, fiancé!). And of course, there’s a certain bearded man in a red suit…
Discover more holiday lore in our Twelve Uncommon Facts About the Holidays post.
When you think maple, you probably think of Vermont and those little leaf-shaped candies. But at the end of the Eighteenth century, one man was on a mission to make the Empire State the maple state. Gerrit Boon, who had been a sugar refiner in Holland, came to upstate—way upstate—New York with dreams of turning its abundant maple forests into a vast plantation for making maple sugar. Continue Reading…
Whether it’s just a few volumes that you couldn’t resist or a formidable tower threatening to topple over and crush you with its wordy weight, there’s actually a name for your pile of unread books: tsundoku. This Japanese neologism describes the habit—some would say admirable, others would say pathological—of accumulating books that may never actually be read. The term is a playful mash-up of words that wonderfully describe the habit: tsunde (to stack things), oku (to leave for a while), and doku (to read). Roughly translated, the combination denotes a pile of printed procrastination. Some would argue that, read or unread, tsundoku. is a noble pursuit because well-designed books are objects of beauty in and of themselves. But if you do get around to reading that deluxe edition of Moby Dick that’s been adrift in the tsundoku doldrums for 12 years, just be careful if it’s at the bottom of the stack.
As you choose the guest list for your last summer shebang, you might consider rethinking those pesky party crashers—no, not your cousins from Jersey. Fruit flies. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco conducted a study where they got the little winged insects two steps past tipsy. Their goal was to analyze gene mutations and how flies with DNA variations react to alcohol. It may sound like a perfectly clinical experiment, but what they found might make you put away your swatter. Fruit flies are party animals, or in this case, party bugs. In fact, they aren’t so different from a group of bar-crawlers on a Friday night. “They go through a phase of hyperactivity and they gradually become uncoordinated—they stop moving and they fall over—and eventually they are unable to right themselves,” says molecular biologist Ulrike Heberlein, who led the study.