The amazing roundabouts in Barcelona

If you’ve ever spent time driving around Europe, you’ll notice a few trends that depend on geographic location.  One of those trends is that, the farther south you drive towards Spain, the more lanes the roundabouts will have.

Roundabouts in Northern Germany is likely to have no more than a single lane.

Roundabouts in Northern and Central France are likely to have two lanes.

Roundabouts in South France are likely to have three lanes.

But once you cross into Spain all bets are off, and as this snap shows, the roundabouts can have many, many lanes:


The amazing swarms of Hondas in Saigon

Automobiles are few and far between in the capital city of Vietnam, Saigon – the streets are ruled by scooters, known to the locals (despite their manufacturer) as Hondas:

How do you cross a busy street like this? It’s easier than you might think: you just close your eyes and start to walk slowly. The drivers are so careful and aware of what’s in front of them, that they will easily move to avoid you.

Did I accidentally discover a new Einstein?

I am not the world’s biggest fan of museums, but I had a frightening, emotional reaction at the Einstein Museum in Bern, Museum, when I looked at this grammar school photo of Einstein’s class:

My reaction was frightening and emotional, because all of the dozens of schoolchildren at staring emotionless and straight faced at the camera, with only one notable exception: the young Einstein is smiling:

Interestingly, I’ve noticed this one time before. At a large Indian wedding a group of small children asked me to take their picture with my digital camera. After reviewing the picture some years later, I realized that only one of the children was smiling:

Could it be my path crossed with the next Albert Einstein?

Amazing realization made in Vietnam: what cables tell you about culture

When I arrive in a new place I’ve never visited, my antenna are stretched out, the gain is tuned to high, and I am looking for that first impression moment where something unique and new strikes my interest.

When arriving in the mega-city of Saigon in the south of Vietnam, that first impression moment unwound slowly but methodically in the first 15 minutes, when my taxi cab got stuck in traffic next to a telephone pole. At first, my eyes caught a jumbled mess of cables:

I’ve seen messy telephone cables all over the world, so to be honest this was nothing remarkable or new for me. But as I sat there patiently in traffic, starting at this pole for many minutes, my eyes scanned the area, took in the Big Picture, and I slowly came to an important realization.

This is what I saw as I expanded my gaze:

What occured to me was how much insight you can get into a culture just by looking at its telephone cables.

In this case in Saigon, the cables are all identical: black, approximately the same gauge, and all of very good quality. A stunning degree of structure, organization, and tidiness in the transmission: The cables coming into the pole are highly organized and carefully wrapped into a tight bundle, and the cables coming out of the pole are highly organized are carefully wrapped into a tight bundle. And a stunning degree of pragmatism, acceptance of non-conformance, and low stress at the interface: the cables fixed to the pole are in no way bent or stressed, and the pole almost seems happy to carry this mass of important lines that meet every which way but somehow go exactly where they need to go.

Buddha Flowers

Continuing the series, a snap, then something AMAZING.

First, the snap:

And now for something amazing. This snap was taken in the city of My Tho, near the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. But that is not what is amazing. What is amazing is that there is nothing native in this snap!  Both Buddhism and pink Bougainvilleas have been imported into Vietnam a long, long time ago: Buddhism, by the migrating hoards of Buddhists; and Bougainvilleas by the French during their colonization of this region of Southeast Asia.

How the wonders of the South French countryside are linked to the development of human intelligence

The fellow with the circle around his head is Saint Laurent – but not THAT Saint Laurent that you are thinking about!

But what does Saint Laurent have to do with Southern France, you might ask?

While driving across a lonely rural road from Nimes (a French village that a lot of tourists visit) to Beaucaire (a French village that a lot of tourists don’t), I spotted what looked to be a old stone building deep in a farm field. Because there were no angry tourist-hating French farmers with pitchforks around – and because the Gendarmes were probably all busy elsewhere looking after the protesting Gilets Jaunes, I took the liberty if not the risk of trespassing on the farm to take this wonderful snap:

I like the way the sun reflects off the stone and really highlights the building.

Fortunately, there was a sign just outside, so I quickly came to know this was the Cathedral of Saint-Laurent, dating back to the 1100’s.

And what does any of this have to do with the development of human intelligence?

Turns out that Saint Laurent was martyred in 258 for refusing to hand over the church’s riches to the local Roman emperor. What makes this very interesting indeed is while he was being persecuted for refusing to hand over riches, Rome itself was being ravaged by one of the first instances of the bubonic plague, the so-called Plague of Cyprian that killed thousands of people every day.

This is an electron micrograph of the plague, Yersinius pestis:

Interestingly, it has been show that Europeans today have increased resistance to this bacteria, most likely due to natural selection processes, i.e., the millions of people with less resistance were killed in the many outbreaks of the plague over the centuries.

This is what led me to speculate that, in a similar way, the Herpes virus has had a pronounced effect in the development of human intelligence.

Pickly pear in Provence

While traipsing about the southern countryside in Provence, I spotted this cactus hiding out behind another plant:

This is no ordinary French cactus – in fact, it isn’t French at all!  It is a species of cactus known as the prickly pear, and it is in fact an invasive species that was introduced to Europe – from America – back in the sixteenth century.

Interestingly, like a fool, I tried to pick up one of the fruits and received about one thousand little stingers in my finger. I was able to remove most of them – but now, three weeks later, as I write this post, there is still one lodged in my finger and causing me pain. Not quite sure what will happen, since try as I might, I can’t seem to remove it – or even see it.

A spacetime distortion over a medieval French village?

Continuing the series, this is a snap showing the medieval French village of Gordes,

Just left of center you’ll notice a very obvious distortion in the fabric of spacetime.  It is quite likely an intense gravitational rift opened at precisely the instant I took this snap – but no ordinary spacetime distortion was this, since the expected rainbow colors were not present. Most likely, the gravitational distortion which affected the light waves was accompanied by an intense magnetic field, and this triggered a massive anti-Stokes scattering phenomena which exactly compensated the light distortion.

But if you think this is amazing, then hold onto your hat: it gets even MORE amazing than this!

What is even MORE amazing than a spontaneous gravo-magnetic distortion of spacetime in a medieval village in France is that it occurred at precisely the location in which two separate photographs of the village were stitched together to create the panoramic picture shown above!

How amazing is THAT?!?!

For whatever reason, I don’t think my reasoning is that far away from what I‘ve seen some astrophysicists have used in discussing dark matter.  In an upcoming blog I‘ll probably mention Mr. Occam and his Razor.

The Amazing Cypress Trees of Provence

Southern France has some amazing, amazing trees.

I’ve written about the amazing plane trees of Provence.

I’ve written about the amazing umbrella trees of Provence.

And now, standing at attention like massive soldiers before storming into battle . . . the amazing cypress trees of Provence:

Interestingly, you can steal the unopened nuts off the trees, let them dry out the pop open at home, and grow your own cypress trees rather easily. I’ll show the steps in an upcoming blog entry!

Just how complicated is the food in Southern India?

Answer, at least if you have never lived in India, VERY.

I lived in Bangalore for several years, and during that time my favorite place to eat lunch was a diner called Eden Park.  Interestingly, Eden Park sits just across from a Zoroastrian temple – you don’t see many of them!

Anyway, here is a snap of me eating lunch with a friend:

If you’ve never been to India, there is a lot going on in this snap that you probably don’t know about.

First, you’ll notice how my friend it sitting. I don’t know if I’d go so far to say it is rude to eat with your left hand, but a right hand approach is definitely the favored one, so the left hand is normally kept in the lap or off the table, unless it is absolutely positively needed for something. But it can be used and most people do use it from time to time.

Now onto the other features.

You’ll notice the food is on a wet banana leaf. The banana leaves are placed on the table dry, but then you use a bit of water to wash off the leave and brush the water onto the floor. I’ve been to banana plant plantations all over Southern India, where the banana leaves are harvested and sent to the restaurants.

It is an all-you-can eat deal – circulating waiters carry pots of steaming rice and toppings, and if you need either rice or more toppings, they will give them to you freely. The little orange tin on the left is sambar – a tamarind based sauce that it ubiquitous to South India, and the orange tin on the right is rasam, a (mostly but not exclusively) tamarind based soup. Interestingly, there is not much question about how to consume sambar: you mix it into your rice; if you tried to drink it like soup, I think that would be a bit like drinking a cup of ketchup. But rasam on the other hand, being much thinner, is a whole different cricket game: you can pour it over rice, dip something into eat, or (what I usually did) just drink it like soup.

It is a bit of a myth that you eat this exclusively with your fingers.  I did – and many Southern Indians do – but there are both Northern and Southern Indians who prefer to eat with a utensil, such as a spoon. My Indian friends have told me that studies involving brain scans have shown that when you eat with your hands you get a greater food pleasure, due to the tactile sensations.

One of the white tins contains curded milk, similar to yoghurt. It can be mixed into the rice with sambar, but it can also be eaten at the end of the meal, with a bit of sugar poured on it, like a dessert.

And as for the toppings: one of them is universally a dhal (lentils), which is frequently the case in Indian cuisine, since dhals have a very high protein content, and this is important to a mostly vegetarian culture.

Sadly, what this snap does not show are my papadams, also known as papads. ,At this hotel at least they need to be ordered separately, and it is usual for people to eat one or two. (I have a friend in England who eats them, however, by the dozen.) They are essentially fried tortillas. They are not used to spoon up food – rather (and this is purely my own opinion) their crispy-crunchiness makes a great change to the sticky stewlike nature of the food, so by crunching on one every now and again during your meal, it somehow helps to clean your pallet. Interestingly, most papads in India are made by rural housewives as part of a cottage industry: they create them at home and then they are shipped to centers for redistribution.

This meal is known to the Bangalore locals as “veg meals” – not, interesting enough, a “veg meal” but rather the plural form is used. For example, to order this you would say to the waiter at the diner “I would like a veg meals please.” Except – you really wouldn’t: diners here are called hotels not diners, and this one serves veg meals exclusively during lunch, so you don’t need to order anything.

What this snap does not show – but what is also quite common – is that many religious people move a slight portion of their food to the top of the leaf and leave it there, uneaten, as an offering to their gods.

What this snap also does not show are a few other things on the table: a metal container of drinking water, and containers of Indian pickles that I have documented elsewhere.

So for people with no experience in India there are really a lot of things happening that Indians take for granted – and I am quite sure this is the case with American and Western foods that some Asians, on a first trip outside of Asia, may be unaware about: the many different pieces of silverware used in a multi-course meal are a good example.