2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the first Wallace and Gromit film, A grand Day Out, which introduced the cheese-loving inventor and his more practical pooch to the world. So popular have these characters become that they are credited with saving the British cheese industry (Sky News), and perhaps even the whole UK economy (Telegraph). So the timing was probably a bit inopportune for the voice of Wallis, Peter Sallis, to admit that he never touches the stuff (Telegraph).
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the coming down of the Berlin Wall, so what better way to celebrate than by building a new one, out of chocolate. Patrick Roger, a chocolatier from Paris France, decided to commemorate the historic reunification of East and West Germany by building a 15m long replica of the wall out of 900 kg of chocolate, complete with uncanny reproductions of the spray painted graffiti made with coloured cocoa butter. The chocolate wall was later "torn down" and broken up on November 9th, exactly 20 years after the original (ChocoParis).
And this isn’t the only feat of chocolate engineering in recent weeks. The “New World Whakatane” Bakery, from Australia's "baby brother" New Zealand, set a Guinness World Record this month for baking the world’s largest chocolate log. At over 35 metres in length and weighing in at nearly 78 kilos, the confectionary monster smashed the previous record of a measly 10 metres, but fell short of the 50 metres they had hoped for. Once the new record had been verified, the log was cut into slices and sold to raise money for a teenage cancer charity (TVNZ).
Still more gargantuan grub now as hundreds of students from the University of California at Berkeley became sushi chefs for a day by helping to roll a 330 foot “California roll” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of UoC’s Center for Japanese Studies. The sushi roll broke the previous record of 300 feet, and contained 200 lbs of rice and 180 lbs of fish, the last 15 feet was made with tofu for the benefit of attending vegetarians (Boston Herald).
Plans to chop down a tree to make way for a roundabout in Jaslo, Poland have revealed that the oak was in fact planted to commemorate Hitler's birthday when the town was occupied during World War 2. The town's mayor, Maria Kurowska, called the choice between traffic improvements and the living memorial "simple," but not everyone agrees. "It's a historic curiosity," said local Kazimierz Polak, who was present at the planting ceremony as a child 67 years ago, adding, "It's not the tree's fault" (Reuters).
Two Bengal white tigers in a zoo in South Africa have given birth to a tiger cub that's not only white, but stripe-less (London Paper). Surely that's just called a lion?
A spiritual "healer" in Puerto Rico may want to re-read the manual today, after accidentally dropping a lit candle into the bath of alcohol he had instructed he lady patient lie in. The victim, who was suffering financial and marriage issues, can now add 50% burns to her list of problems (Metro).
The Swiss state of Appenzell went the whole of the second world war without a single German invader, so was perhaps unprepared to come under sustained assault by German hikers dressed in nothing but their socks and boots. Naked hiking, which has become a popular Alpine pastime apparently, has generated a stream of complaints from Swiss locals, and the authorities of the Outer and Inner Rhodes provinces of Appenzell have responded by imposing stiff fines of 200CHF ($175) on anyone caught without clothes, though where they expect the hikers to produce the money from is not explained (Cape News). To publicise the ban, the Swiss officials have ordered signs banning nude hiking, to the surprise of designer Dan Walter, who originally drew the sign as a joke (Metro).
But how much is a whole state worth? All the land, natural resources, and structures?
That's what James Addison Reavis stole--almost getting away with the theft too.
Last night I watched THE BARON OF ARIZONA, a 1950 film by Samuel Fuller and starring Vincent Price. It tells the true story of Reavis, who cooked up an incredible con job to lay claim to the entire territory of Arizona in the year 1883.
A group of fanatical religious terrorists, holed up in their mountain redoubts and battling an occupying government. Surely this description must apply to some modern-day group and situation, such as in Afghanistan, or perhaps Africa...? And the terrorists will in all likelihood be Islamic, right?
I learned about this historical incident from reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey. (You can find the entire text of the book here.) Stevenson traveled through the region once ruled by the Camisards, and evoked the romance of their rebellion.
There, a hundred and eighty years ago, was the chivalrous Roland, "Count and Lord Roland, generalissimo of the Protestants in France," grave, silent, imperious, pock-marked ex-dragoon, whom a lady followed in his wanderings out of love. There was Cavalier, a baker's apprentice with a genius for war, elected brigadier of Camisards at seventeen, to die at fifty-five the English governor of Jersey. There again was Castanet, a partisan in a voluminous peruke and with a taste for divinity. Strange generals who moved apart to take counsel with the God of Hosts, and fled or offered battle, set sentinels or slept in an unguarded camp, as the Spirit whispered to their hearts! And to follow these and other leaders was the rank file of prophets and disciples, bold, patient, hardy to run upon the mountains, cheering their rough life with psalms, eager to fight, eager to pray, listening devoutly to the oracles of brainsick children, and mystically putting a grain of wheat among the pewter balls with which they charged their muskets.
Pretty weird, huh? And right in Europe, not all that long ago.
The last sentence from Stevenson is particularly intriguing, since it conjures up comparisons to the Mai-Mai rebels in the Congo today, who believe that certain magical charms protect them against bullets; that their own bullets are invulnerable to counter charms; and that ritual cannibalism of their enemies is still a grand idea.
Once Europe had its own Mai-Mai's. Perhaps someday Africa will be rid of theirs.