Sunday, February 16, 2020

The History of Mardi Gras and the Tradition Of Flashing

This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.  In the Catholic Church, it's Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday.  The date for Mardi Gras depends on the date of Easter—always occurring forty-six days before Easter.

In the most literal sense, the Mardi Gras celebration is the three days prior to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.  It's the last opportunity for partying and indulgence in food and drink.  In practice, Mardi Gras—or Carnival, as it is called in many countries—is usually celebrated for a full week before the start of Lent.

Celebrations take place all over the world with the most famous modern day festivities being in New Orleans, Louisiana; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; and Cologne, Germany.

Even though Mardi Gras is a Christian festival, it dates back to the pre-Christian spring fertility rites and embodies many of the traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans.  In the early Middle Ages, after converting pagan tribes to Christianity, the Catholic Church was still unable to abolish all the ancient traditions.  To combat this, the Church ended up taking many ancient feasts and festivals originally celebrated in honor of pagan gods and adapted them to Christian beliefs.  An example of the pagan roots—today revelers on parade floats still dress as Bacchus, the Greek god of wine.

The first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was near modern day New Orleans on March 3, 1699, but it was the mid 1800s before parade organizations, known as krewes, came into being.  The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on February 24, 1854, by the Krewe of Comus.  They began the tradition of a parade with floats followed by a ball for the krewe and their guests.  The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by Rex, King of Carnival, in 1892 and given their meaning—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

But what about that popular activity that has become a seemingly integral part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, much to the chagrin of the festival purists?  Women pulling up their shirts and flashing their bare breasts to procure some worthless plastic beads?

Exactly where did this tradition come from?

Well, first of all, it's not really a tradition.  It's more along the lines of what has become a traditional activity in the same vein as getting stupid drunk and passing out now seems to fall into that same 'traditional' category.  Over the years more and more media attention has been directed toward the drunken revelry that occurs on Bourbon Street which has helped in defining flashing as a traditional part of the Mardi Gras celebration.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point-of-view, flashing in exchange for beads is mostly limited to the New Orleans' French Quarter.  And even in the French Quarter, it's an illegal activity.  Women flashing their bare breasts run the risk of being arrested.

Maybe flashing is not a true tradition, but you can't deny that it has become a custom.  After all, the history of wild Mardi Gras behavior comes from celebrating the last day before Lent—Lent being a time of atonement.  And this naturally lends itself to activities of excess and craziness.

Which apparently has come to include flashing.

But there is one crazy excess even more daring than the momentary baring of the female breasts known as flashing.  And what, you may ask, could possibly be crazier than flashing and still be done in public?  And the answer is having clothes painted on your bare skin.  There are artists who specialize in this.  It probably started as something simple and basic like face painting but has grown to include full body artistic renderings.  At a casual glance, it appears that the person is clothed (albeit skin tight clothing).  But on closer inspection, you discover that's far from the truth.  Some of these examples shown below are basic and others are quite elaborate.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is when the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards, and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that traces to the ancient Aztecs.  Archaeological records indicate that before the Aztecs the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price had fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.
And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Dark chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?  But, like everything, in moderation.

Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is almost always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

28 Incorrect 'Facts' You May Have Learned In School—part 2 of 2

Last week I shared 14 of the 28 Incorrect Facts with you in part 1 of my 2-part blog. This week I'm sharing the other 14. Like many myths, these stories often have a kernel of truth to them. It just isn't what you learned in school.

MYTH: Bats are blind
If this were true, would Bruce Wayne really model his superhero identity of Batman after an animal that can't see? You've probably heard someone use the phrase blind as a bat to describe someone. Contrary to this widespread belief, bats are not blind. Large bats are said to see three times better than humans. In addition to a normal sense of sight, bats rely on a technique at night known as echolocation. In low-light environments, as the term echolocation suggests, they are able to locate the source of sounds based on echoes that are produced. This is particularly helpful when trying to find prey and other food sources.

MYTH: Tilting your head back will stop a nosebleed
As a child, you might have been taught to tilt your head back in order to stop a nosebleed. Doctors agree this is not the solution. In the case of a nosebleed, you should tilt your head forward and pinch right below the bridge of your nose to stop the flow of blood rushing out of your nostrils. Tilting your head back might actually lead to more damage. It can cause blood to enter your throat which leads to your stomach and further unpleasant complications.

MYTH: When you swallow gum, it stays in your body for seven years
Gum will stay in your body for some time, but nowhere near seven years. Unlike most food, gum can't be broken down by the body's enzymes and acids. Therefore, that piece of gum goes straight through your system without being dissolved or broken into smaller pieces, and is later expelled. Even though swallowing a wad of gum accidentally or on purpose won't cause it to stay with you for a long period of time, it's probably best to just spit it out when you're finished. There have been rare cases of children having internal issues due to swallowed gum.

MYTH: Camels store water in their humps
You might have been taught that the purpose of a camel's hump is to store water, but this is not true. Some camels have one hump while others have two, but regardless of quantity, they serve the same purpose—to store fat. The stored fat serves as a substitute for food when camels are traveling long distances with limited available resources. According to Animal Planet, a camel can use the fat as an energy source to replace approximately three weeks of food. It's the camel's red blood cells that account for its ability to last one week without water. Unlike other creatures, a camel has oval-shaped blood cells that are more flexible and enable them to store large portions of water.

MYTH: You must drink eight glasses of water a day
The origin of this myth isn't entirely clear, but it is believed that people were convinced of this health rule after the Food and Drug Administration suggested it as a guideline in a 1945 published paper. The truth is that you don't need to drink eight glasses of water each day. Your body will still receive necessary hydration from other fluids and foods. It's probably best to drink a healthy amount of water and indulge in a moderate amount of less healthy beverages (like sugary ones). The most important thing is remembering that your body needs to maintain a balance since fluids are constantly entering and leaving the body. The amount of hydration needed also varies from person to person, since there are factors like age, health conditions, and activity level to consider.

MYTH: There's a five-second rule that applies to food that falls on the floor
If you've ever dropped a piece of food on the floor and quickly picked it up within five seconds, deeming it safe to eat, you have been misguided by a popular health myth. According to the five-second rule, food that falls on the floor is acceptable to consume as long as it hasn't stayed on the unclean surface for more than five seconds. Research has found that the rule is not accurate or applicable. While it's true that the longer dropped food stays on a surface the more germs it attracts, but food will instantly become contaminated as soon as it hits the floor.

MYTH: An apple a day keeps the doctor away
While the nursery rhyme has the laudable goal of getting kids to eat more fruit, it doesn't really work. Apples have vitamin C and fiber, but they are far from containing all the nutrients people need to stay healthy. The best diet you could have is one that consistently gives you a well-rounded group of nutrients. One that uses a lot of vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats is probably ideal.

MYTH: You can catch a cold just by being cold
It makes some kind of intuitive and linguistic sense—if you're cold and uncomfortable, your health will suffer and you'll catch a cold. But that's not quite how it works. In reality, viruses that cause people to catch colds predominate in North America during the winter. Furthermore, people tend to stay indoors when it's cold and in close quarters, enabling viruses to spread more easily. Low indoor humidity, which happens when the heater is on, is also conducive to the flu. So it isn't so much the cold causing colds. It's the cold weather creating conditions where colds spread.

MYTH: You'll get cancer if you stand too close to the microwave
You might have been taught as a child that you shouldn't stand in front of the microwave because of potential effects on your health. This is mainly due to concerns over radiation exposure. Radiation exists on a spectrum, and the radio frequency radiation used by the kitchen appliance is low-energy which is not harmful. According to the American Cancer Society, the energy emitted by microwave ovens is contained within the device and if used correctly "there is no evidence that they pose a health risk to people."

MYTH: If you shave your facial hair, it'll grow back thicker
A biologist who has studied hair for more than 30 years said that has not proven to be true. A razor cleanly cuts the hair, which results in blunt ends. Once the hair grows back, it might feel thicker because of the bluntness.

MYTH: If you eat plenty of carrots, you'll have great eyesight
The exact origin of this myth isn't clear, but it's believed that it became a widespread idea during World War II. When the British issued citywide blackouts in their attempt to defeat the German air forces, one UK soldier, John Cunningham successfully shot down planes. From there, the country started spreading posters and other propaganda that credited carrots as the reason for his exceptional night vision. This was believed to be a myth spread by the government to hide the knowledge of radar from the Germans. The bottom line is that although carrots are high in Vitamin A, you won't have magically superior eyesight or night vision.

MYTH: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away
Sharks are known for having an acute sense of smell. Although they have a better sense of smell than many other creatures, they cannot detect a single drop of blood that's miles away. These predators can pick up on small amounts of different chemicals in the water, but there are other factors that should be taken into consideration (like what kind of substance and the speed of the water current). Some shark species can detect a drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool while others can sense chemicals up to a few hundred meters away.

MYTH: Milk is good for you
Yes, that's right. The proven health benefits of milk are few and far between. It's mostly the product of an enormously successful advertising campaign. But humans are the only mammals to consume milk during adulthood. And while no one disputes that milk contains essential nutrients to help children's bodies grow, study after study shows there's no evidence milk does much good for older children or adults.

MYTH: Coffee stunts children's growth
It's a myth grown-ups use to stop kids from drinking coffee—it will stunt your growth and make you shorter later in life. The idea behind it is that caffeine limits the body's ability to absorb calcium, which is important for the growth of younger children in particular. But the overall idea that caffeine is going to significantly stunt growth is bunk.