Tag Archives: society

Priest Holes: Secret Chambers That Hid Mediaeval Priests

In mediaeval England, when feuds were violent and justice swift and brutal, it was common for castles and mansions of the powerful and the wealthy to have secret chambers or hidden passageways that allowed the owners to hide or escape from pursuers in the event of a surprise attack. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the number of such secret chambers and hiding-places increased sharply, especially in the houses of the old Catholic families.

The 16th century was a time of strong religious tension. Europe was torn between the Roman Catholic Church and the gaining Protestant movement that eventually led to the separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII. The English Reformation continued under the rule of his son, Edward VI, … Read the rest

Yaodong: China’s Pit Houses

For more than four thousand years, on the Loess Plateau in northern China, people have been residing in caves known as yaodong, which is Chinese for “house cave”. Some of these cave dwellings are carved out of the hillside, while others are dug vertically down to form a sunken courtyard from which rooms are excavated horizontally. The latter is the most unusual of which few equals exist in this world. The pit houses of Matmata in Tunisia come the closest.

The Loess Plateau, located around the Wei River valley in the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi, was enormously important to Chinese history as it formed one of the earliest cradle of Chinese civilization. The plateau was formed by the deposition of very fine particles of soil … Read the rest

Women Who Become Men: The Sworn Virgins of Albania

In the remote mountains of northern Albania are villages where there are women who live and act like men. They have short hair, wear baggy pants, and have a male name. They drink and smoke in the company of men, carry guns, and take up manly livelihoods such as shepherds or truck drivers. But they are not transsexuals or cross-dressers. These women have chosen to lead a man’s life not to express their sexuality but to escape the oppressive dominance of the patriarchal system. They are called sworn virgins or burrnesha.

However, such a privilege comes at a cost. Each sworn virgin has taken a vow of lifelong virginity and chastity—a sacrifice none of these women have ever regretted making.

sworn-virgins

Photo credit: Jill Peters

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Rainbow Colored Mountains

Soil is typically brown, but when mixed with the right minerals in right quantities, it can yield a fascinating range of colors. You can see such coloring in the walls of the Great Canyon in Arizona and the desert in Utah, but in some places the colors are such extreme and varied that it’s almost surreal.

Danxia landform

One of the best examples of colorful landform is on Mount Danxia, in Guangdong Province, in China. The Danxia landforms are made of strips of red sandstone alternating with chalk and other sediments that were deposited over millions of years, like slices of a layered cake. Over 700 individual locations have been identified in China, mostly in southeast and southwest China, where this type of colors and layers … Read the rest

Fore-edge Painting: Hidden Artworks on The Edges of Books

The following video created by an archivist at Cornell University’s Library, New York, shows a 1925 copy of Rudyard Kipling's "Kim". The book appears to be a typical hard bound with a decorative spine and gilded fore edge. The person handling the book in the video then holds the block of pages between the thumb and the rest of the fingers and bends it to fan out the edges slightly. All of a sudden, a lovely painting of a landscape pops out of the book’s edge.

This form of fore-edge decoration is known as fore-edge painting, and they were very popular during the 18th century through the early 20th century. But the history of fore-edge painting goes back even further.

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The House That Was Moved Across The Atlantic

Sometimes a house just needs to be moved no matter what’s the cost. Usually, these are historic structures that are in danger of demolition or flooding and has to be relocated to a safer spot. A professional house mover will first dig around the foundation of the house, raise it on hydraulic jacks, mount them on wheels and then roll them down the street carefully to the new location, typically a few hundred meter away or a few miles at most. At other times, if the structure permits and the relocation distance is longer, the house will be dismantled brick by brick, transported to the new location and reassembled in place. According to an article on HowStuffWorks, it’s possible to move houses this way across the … Read the rest

Tipu Sultan’s Mechanical Tiger

The sun is the hottest when the clock strikes one in the small town of Seringapatam, not far from the city of Mysore, in present day Karnataka, a state in India. Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who was leading two army units of the British East India Company, knew that the defenders of the fortress of Seringapatam would be taking a break for refreshment at this hour. That’s when he planned to strike.

The date was May 4, 1799—the final day of the final confrontation between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore led by the strong and assertive Tipu Sultan. At the scheduled hour, seventy-six men dashed across the four-feet-deep river Cauvery and in only sixteen minutes had scaled the ramparts and stormed into … Read the rest

The Italian Mafia is making cash by exploiting refugees

Both the Mafia and the Catholic Church in Sicily have effectively recognised the business opportunity represented by migrants. As with many private companies, they are pocketing government money for looking after these vulnerable people from Africa and Asia, making extra profits by cost-cutting in the quality of the food and accommodation they offer. At the same time, camps often take a hefty cut of what migrants earn through working outside as cleaners, labourers or bar staff – often as much as 50 percent of their earnings.

The Mafia-run camp in Corleone was an intriguing place to visit in this respect. This is a small village with a population of 12,000 in the province of Palermo that is famous for having given the characters in The Godfather … Read the rest

No means no, it doesn’t matter how women say it

This week I learned that merely sitting in my favourite London writing spot and reading a book was a contentious move for a woman.

Books, like earphones, are usually a great indicator that someone doesn’t want to be disturbed. That has always been my understanding at least.  But not everyone gets that message, which can lead to uncomfortable situations.

Women are conditioned by society from a young age to be polite and accommodating, especially to men. And so, more often than not, when faced with a man demanding our unsolicited attention, we will look for the least aggressive way to let them down as not to make a scene. This is exactly what I did on Saturday, when a man insisted on buying me a drink.… Read the rest

Japan’s Radiohead transcend all notions of a tribute band

Radiohead fans like to debate exactly what the song ‘Videotape’ is about. Its wistful, trembling sound concludes 2007’s In Rainbows, slowly peeling apart until all that’s really left is a series of indelible piano chords and Thom Yorke’s near-isolated falsetto. It’s one of their finest moments, even if its meaning is somewhat opaque.

Some argue that it’s written from the perspective of a dying man saying goodbye to his family. Others believe that it’s a lover contemplating the end of a relationship. But one of the more intriguing takes on the song is that it’s about a memory; a brief section of time so inexpressibly perfect that the speaker, whoever they may be, wants to capture it forever: a ‘videotape moment’.

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For Yasuko Otani, these … Read the rest