February 5, 2013 2:02 pm
On January 31, France’s minister of women’s rights made if officially impossible to arrest a woman for wearing pants in Paris, the Telegraph reports. Previously, the law required women to ask police for special permission to “dress as men.” If fashionable French ladies ignored this rule, they risked being taken into custody.
The rule originally came into being just after the French Revolution, in the early 19th century. As anyone who watched Les Miserables will recall, rebellious ladies often donned pants in defiance of the bourgeoisie. This anti pants-wearing movement was dubbed sans-culottes, or without the knee-breeches (“cullottes”) of the high class.
In 1892, the legislation changed to allow women to wear pants only if she “is holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse.” That latest ordinance stayed in place until today, despite multiple attempts to get rid of it. Officials said the unenforced rule as not a problem so they didn’t want to waste time amending “legal archaeology.”
But politicians last July argued of the law’s “symbolic importance” and its potential impact on modern perspectives surrounding women’s rights. The minister then got on board, declaring:
This ordinance is incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men, which are listed in the Constitution, and in France’s European commitments.
From that incompatibility follows the implicit abrogation of the ordinance.
The Chanel-wearing fashionatas of Paris have paid no mind to this rule for decades, but it’s nice to know that France has finally sorted out its laws to reflect women’s hard-earned pursuit of equality.
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January 23, 2013 10:30 am
Peruvians first domesticated the sweet potato around 8,000 years ago. And though the crop spread from there, the means by which it traveled have always remained contentious. One possibility was that Polynesian sailors first brought it home from across the ocean: The oldest carbonized sweet potato evidence in the Pacific hails back to about 1,000 A.D.—500 years before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The Polynesian word for sweet potato resembles the central Andes’ Quechua people’s word for the vegetable, too.
But the Polynesian sailor scenario was always just a hunch. Studying the plant’s genetic lineage remained tricky because Europeans often interbred Mexican, Caribbean and Polynesian varieties, sweeping away the molecular trail of crumbs. But French researchers stumbled upon a fix: sweet potato samples preserved in centuries-old herbariums assembled by some of the first European visitors to Polynesia. By analyzing the genetics of these sweet potatoes, ScienceNOW reports, researchers found evidence that Polynesian sailors, rather than Spanish or Portuguese explorers, introduced the now-ubiquitous yam across Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The researchers compared the herbarium samples to modern sweet potatoes and older specimens and found strong evidence for prehistoric contact between Polynesia and South America. ScienceNOW:
This finding supports the so-called tripartite hypothesis, which argues that the sweet potato was introduced to the region three times: first through premodern contact between Polynesia and South America, then by Spanish traders sailing west from Mexico, and Portuguese traders coming east from the Caribbean. The Spanish and Portuguese varieties ended up in the western Pacific, while the older South American variety dominated in the east, which would explain the genetic differences the French team saw.
As widely used as it is now, the sweet potato could play an even bigger role in feeding people across the world: climate change may help the roots grow even bigger.
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January 2, 2013 1:51 pm
When the French people beheaded King Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, accounts from the time report that many dipped their handkerchiefs in their executed ruler’s blood. Now, two centuries after that fateful day, researchers think they’ve found one of those revolutionary souvenirs, Discovery News writes.
The hankie in question turned up two years ago when an Italian family submitted the souvenir for genetic testing. They found it stuffed within a dried, hollowed squash decorated with portraits of revolutionary heroes. The squash reads, “On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation.” Monsieur Bourdaloue likely placed the fabric within the gourd and then had it pridefully embellished.
DNA tests hinted that the blood may be authentic, since it indicates that the bleeder had blue eyes and other physical features matching up to Louis XVI’s description. But the forensics team lacked DNA from Louis or any of his family members (their bodies were mutilated and strewn about the streets after the spree of executions), so at first they could not prove definitively that the handkerchief’s stain is genuine.
However, a mummified head saved the day. The head belonged to Henri IV, who held the French throne 200 years prior to Louis’ gruesome demise. A mysterious individual rescued the severed head from the grave-ransacking chaos of the revolution, and it was passed down through the years and kept in secretive collections. A rare genetic signature preserved through seven generations and shared by the two rulers confirmed the blood’s authenticity. Discovery explains:
“This study shows that (the owners of the remains) share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line. They have a direct link to one another through their fathers,” French forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier said.
Genetic markers in hand, the researchers think they may be able to use the newly identified code to identify any living relatives of France’s absolute monarchs of years past.
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December 4, 2012 3:30 pm
Sugar is so interlaced in our snacks, meals and drinks that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. But prior to 1850, this sweet substance was a hot commodity that only society’s most wealthy could afford. Then, mid-nineteenth century, Napoleon changed all of that, flooding the European market with affordable sugar and perhaps inadvertently sparking an epidemic of obesity and diabetes a century and a half down the road.
During the mid-1700’s, the German chemist Andreas Margraff discovered that both white and the red beetroot contained sucrose, which was indistinguishable from that produced from cane. He predicted then that domestic use and manufacture of sugar was possible in temperate climates, but these ideas would not be realized for another 50 years until new ways of extraction could be developed.
During this time, sugar came from plantations in the South Pacific. But the discovery of the sugar beet opened new routes for harvesting the sought-after ingredient.
The BBC explains:
Britain had the monopoly on the sugar cane trade for over a century. During the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s the British blockaded France’s trade routes with the Caribbean, leaving the country with low supplies of sugar.
By 1806, cane sugar had virtually disappeared from the shelves of European shops. In 1811, French scientists presented Napoleon with two loaves of sugar made from sugar beet. Napoleon was so impressed he decreed that 32,000 hectares of beet should be planted and provided assistance to get the factories established.
Within a few years there were more than 40 sugar beet factories, mostly in Northern France but also in Germany, Austria, Russia, and Denmark
Napoleon encouraged new research with sugar beets, the University of Nebraska writes, and by 1815, over 79,000 acres were put into production with more than 300 small factories being built in France.
Soon, sugar beet sugar flooded the British market, and by 1850 sugar was at last affordable for all.
The BBC continues:
The public could not get enough of this cheap and tasty pick-me-up. From sweetened tea in the workplace, to meals on the family table, to the new working class tradition of high tea – sugar soon became indispensable.
It didn’t take long for sugar to become a household staple, and today, about 35 percent of the 130 metric tons of sugar comes from sugar beets. The BBC concludes:
So addicted were we to this new taste, that at the beginning of the 19th century we consumed 12 pounds of sugar per head. By the end of the century that amount had rocketed to 47 pounds per head.
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November 12, 2012 2:22 pm
Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor behind “The Thinker” and “The Kiss,” celebrates his would-be 172nd birthday today with a Google Doodle tribute. The Los Angeles Times describes the artist’s work:
Rodin’s sculptures emphasize musculature and movement, with subjects often assuming contorted and anguished poses. His work is often viewed as paving the way for modern sculpture of the 20th century.
His sculptures dabbled in mythology and allegory, and his unique ability to entice turbulent, deeply textured figures out of his raw materials ran counter to the predominant sculpture traditions of the time, earning him much criticism by contemporaries. Eventually, however, he outgrew those jealous judgements, rising to become France’s preeminent sculptor and gaining world-wide recognition by 1900.
Besides his enduring mark on modern art, Rodin is probably best known for his tumultuous love affair with fellow artist, Camille Claudel. The two met in 1883, when Claudel was just 18 years old. They embarked upon a passionate but stormy relationship, with Claudel often serving as Rodin’s model, while producing her own artistic works and assisting Rodin with commissions.
Meanwhile, Rodin kept up ties with Rose Beuret, his first love and mother to his child. “I think of how much you must have loved me to put up with my caprices…I remain, in all tenderness, your Rodin,” he wrote to her once, while still carrying on with mistress Claudel. In 1898, following an unwanted abortion, Claudel severed ties with Rodin for good. Soon after, she suffered a nervous breakdown and her family committed her (needlessly, many argue) to an asylum, where she spent the next 30 years, until her death in 1943. Her relatives never came to claim Claudel’s body, so she was buried in a communal grave without ceremony.
Rodin finally married Beuret, but only in the last year of both of their lives.
Rodin and Claudel’s tempestuous relationship has inspired plays, ballets and movies. A new rendition, staring Juliette Binoche as an asylum-bound, bitter Claudel, is scheduled to hit theaters next year.
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