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A special menu is currently on offer at the Macau restaurant Fook Lam Moon. Highlights from the “Manchu-Han Imperial Feast” include sea cucumber, wild goose, pigeon egg, leg of water turtle, and bird’s nest soup. Rather than a modern gastronomic undertaking, the menu hearkens back to a legendary feast from Chinese history–one so magnificent, of such grandiose proportions, that it pacified sworn rivals and stabilized a nation. It was a feast for the ages. It was also a feast that probably never happened.
Instead, a misrepresented episode from Chinese history is today an enduring national symbol of ethnic harmony and reconciliation, reenacted time and time again in restaurants throughout the country.
The Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722) was no stranger to opulent dinner parties. He neutralized the Mongolian threat to China’s northern border early in his reign by holding a series of “Mongolian Vassal Banquets” in the Forbidden City, famously sending his princely guests home with leftovers. Later in life, he invited 3,000 of Beijing’s septuagenarians to his 61st birthday party for an event dubbed “The Feast of a Thousand Elders.”
When members of the Manchu ethnic group began taking over ministry positions long-held by the ethnic Han, tension gripped the country. As the story goes, Kangxi, himself a Manchu, turned to a proven solution: food. He planned his 66th birthday feast accordingly.
The three-day feast’s political effectiveness came from fusing two disparate cuisines. Northern Manchu fare was typified by communal “meat gatherings.” In one scene from the Unofficial History of the Qing Dynasty “anyone who shouted ‘more meat’ repeatedly would be greeted by immense gratitude” and “anyone who failed to finish at least one plate of meat would be met with contempt.”
Han cuisine, on the other hand, “prided itself on flavoring food with a wide range of staple ingredients and a great variety of condiments,” writes Dr. Isaac Yue, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Hong Kong in an email. As an example, he points to an excerpt from the famed novel Dream of the Red Chamber, where ten lines of text are dedicated to instructions on how to cook an eggplant.
Legend has it that no expense was spared in providing the attending rival ministers with a prodigious fusion feast. It seems no animal from land, sea, or sky was spared either, if a sample menu from an 18th-century reenactment “Comprehensive Manchu-Han Banquet” translated by Dr. Yue is to be believed.
An opening salvo featured soups of pork tendon and sea cucumber, crab and shark fin, and kelp and hog maw. Marquee dishes of the second course included braised bear paw with carp tongues, gorilla lips with rice dregs, “imitated leopard fetus” (“I have no idea what those were,” says Dr. Yue), and steamed camel hump. Another soup course featured one each of pig brain, soft-shelled turtle, and silkworm. The final meat course brought grilled ape, porridge-fed suckling pig, and minced pigeon, before a dessert of dried fruits cinched the feast.
Over the course of so many courses, it’s believed that the Manchu and Han ministers found it in themselves to bury the hatchet. Their settlement ushered in a period of peace throughout China, making the Manchu-Han Banquet the greatest in Chinese history. That the sample menu was dated to the reign of Kangxi’s successor shows that the banquet began spawning imitations almost immediately, as a potent symbol of reconciliation and unity.
To the fact-bound among us, however, the story is likely just that. “The romantic in me would love to believe that the desire for ethnic harmony was part of the reason for inventing such a feast,” says Dr. Yue. “But tried as I have, I’m unable to find evidence to back this up.”
Instead, extravagant banquets in the name of peace-making suited both newfound Chinese affluence and the political aims of the day. The overthrow of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 saw a period of reconstruction throughout the empire. “It took a few decades to recover from major war losses and food shortage,” notes Dr. Yue. The empire only found stability with the onset of food surpluses and the opening of trade routes in the early 1700s, right around the time of the mythical banquet. With ethnic reconciliation high on the list of imperial Qing priorities and Emperor Kangxi already owning a reputation for politically motivated feasts, the two phenomenon created the inspiring, if inaccurate tale of epicurean peacemaking.
Facts (or lack thereof) aside, the ethos behind the legendary feast made its way into modern Chinese historical identity. A frequent reference in television and film, the episode became a point of national pride, akin to the United States’ celebration of Thanksgiving. A tradition has emerged among skilled jewelers of recreating standout dishes from the legendary banquet, carving bear paws, turtles, and fish from rare stones to be presented as a “feast” in mineral & gem shows. “The myth of ethnic harmony is what today’s society believes in,” says Dr. Yue. “So that’s what it means when the feast is evoked.” The very term Manhan Quanxi, or “Manchu-Han Banquet,” is now shorthand for any ostentatious meal or showy dinner gala.
Nor have gourmets ceased trying to recreate the fictive feast on tables across the country. Dr. Yue notes that after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, restaurants scrambled to hire chefs from the emperor’s kitchens who might reproduce an imperial banquet for their customers. The obsession became international in 1977, when the Tokyo Broadcast System commissioned a Hong Kong restaurant to recreate the feast over three months, with 160 chefs who created over 100 “original” dishes.
In 2010, Beijing restaurant Cui Yuan charged well-heeled customers $54,000 to indulge in 268 dishes over the course of a year for an “Imperial Feast” that included minced swan, deer’s lips, and peacock drumsticks. According to a press release, Fook Lam Moon’s feasts will run until the end of 2019, “encapsulating 5,000 years of Chinese history, drawing from the culinary traditions of China’s different ethnic groups.” All claim to have served the most authentic of recipes. Yet there was never an official menu to begin with, much less recipes.
The continually embraced falsification stands in for what, at this point, may as well have been an actual event. “Emperor Kangxi couldn’t have hoped for a better result in bringing peace and harmony to his people,” Dr. Yue says, “had he been the one to invent this feast as society now commonly believes!”
The Starrett House is located in the seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington. The home was constructed in 1889 by George Starrett, a contractor from Maine.
Starrett, along with many other investors, traveled to Port Townsend when it was originally designated to be the terminus of the transcontinental railroad. The railroad would theoretically transform the tiny seaport town into the next major city. Starrett met and married Ann Van Bokklen while in Washington, and built the Starrett House for her as a wedding gift.
The home is a combination of Gothic, Queen Anne, and Stick Victorian architecture. An enclosed widow’s walk is at the top of the house, along with accommodations for a horse carriage at the lowest level. The interior is adorned with original frescoes. The most notable of these is the mural painted on the ceiling of the tower dome. Created by Seattle artist Otto Chapman, the fresco also acts as a solar calendar.
The mural depicts a woman, who is believed to be Bokklen, dressed in different outfits designed to represent the four seasons. The top of the tower features eight small windows on the outside, and in the center of the fresco resides a small red piece of glass. During the equinox and solstice, sunlight enters two of the small windows, creating a red arrow pointing toward the corresponding season.
The magnificent spiral staircase inside the home is a marvel unto itself. It sports a two-tiered, free-floating design and is believed to be one of the last remaining staircases of its kind in the United States.
The largest radio telescope in the world—part of it, at least—is in the Australian outback, nearly 200 miles from the already remote west coast city of Geraldton. But this is not the kind of telescope most people are familiar with. There are no lenses or domes, rather a patchwork of spindly antennas, arranged in groups of 16 and set on large tiles planted in the desert floor. Some parts of the installation look like a copse of skeletal metal trees. From above, the whole thing resembles a constellation of bridge parts, all connected with thick black cables. The facility is Australia’s part of an international, multi-billion dollar project to amass the input of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas, scattered across, in total, a million square meters. Hence the project’s name: the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).
There are few places on Earth better for hearing the subtle murmurings of universe than deep rural Australia, far away from the sources of interference that come with people, roads, and cities. (Another primary part of the SKA is in South Africa’s Karoo Desert, and other pieces are similar isolated in 11 other countries.) But this electromagnetic tranquility comes at a price: the challenges of a harsh desert environment and its denizens, both of which seem eager to impede the interstellar investigations.
The portion of the SKA in the outback is called the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, or MRO, and is itself made up of a couple of distinct arrays of instruments. Amid brush and bungarras—large desert lizards—the MRO is listening for evidence of a time, epically named the Epoch of Reionization, within the first billion years after the Big Bang. It was when galaxies and quasars first started to form, light reappeared after millions of years of darkness, and the cosmos as we recognize it today emerged. We can sense echoes of this time, 13 billion years ago, if we pay close enough attention.
“Obviously we know stars had to form at some stage, but we don't know precisely when,” says Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, the director of the MRO. “It's somewhere between 400 and 700 million years after the Big Bang.”
Unlike an optical telescope that looks for electromagnetic waves in the visible spectrum, the observatory is sensitive to radio waves, which have a much larger wavelengths. “That’s a great thing about radio astronomy,” says Mia Walker, an engineer at the MRO. “You don’t have to wait until the sky gets dark before you can do some work.”
Much like light from the sun makes it impossible to see the stars during the day, a radio telescope can't sense anything unless it is isolated from other sources of radio waves—which means it needs to be far away from just about everywhere. And even once researchers have found a place free of AM and FM signals, wireless communications, and more, it’s always a challenge to keep it that way.
“The MRO is special because it is preserved as a radio quiet zone,” says Johnston-Hollitt. “The observatory itself is 127 square kilometers [50 square miles] and is protected under Australian law from radio transmissions.”
And that’s why most humans are prohibited from going anywhere near it. We’re loud, and the electronics in our pockets are constantly emitting radio waves—the pings from our cell phones as they search for a signal. Trying to sense the residue of the early universe while carrying a cell phone is like to trying to hear a mouse’s footsteps next to a rocket launch. For that reason, Johnston-Hollitt says, the public (and only 300 members of it) can visit the site, on one weekend every two years.
The important thing—keeping humans away—has proven to be the easy part. The site’s scientists, engineers, operations staff, and contractors also have to deal with a bevy of beasts. Some are small, some are big, and many seem to take an intimate, vested interest in sabotaging the cosmos-probing instruments.
“Ants love electricity and can short out the electronics in our antennas, termite mounds can actually grow up around our antennas—they can have those ones—kangaroos have kicked over our hardware before, and wild dogs can get curious about our equipment too,” says Walker. “I remember seeing puppy paw prints on a solar panel.”
The ants pose a particular problem. Their size allows for more electrical havoc than the other animals, even the drop-kicking kangaroos, can muster. “They crawl onto the little circuit boards inside our antennas and their bodies are small and conductive enough to bridge the gaps between parts of the circuit, which can make things short out and fail,” she says. “Reeeally annoying when you have to walk two kilometers into the desert to change out electronics because of ants!”
The giant lizards, which can grow well over four feet long, are less of a problem. “The bungarras are harmless, and they’re all named ‘Steve,’” says Walker. “The running joke is that they are all the same Steve, the same bungarra. One time, ‘Steve’ was obviously pregnant, so he temporarily became ‘Stevette.’”
Even accounting for humans and animals, the biggest obstacle to the ongoing performance of the radio telescope is the desert itself.
“Fauna are sometimes a problem, as with any remote site, but in terms of things we have to protect the telescope from, the weather is probably the most important,” says Johnston-Hollitt, citing lightning strikes, water runoff, extreme heat, and ultraviolet radiation, which can disintegrate components all by itself.
Deep time will tell whether the frequency sleuthing at the MRO pays off and provides greater detail on the moment—technically lasting hundreds of millions of years—when the universe began to resemble the giant expanse of wonder and nothingness we know today. But amid the disturbances—human, animal, climatological—the scientists out there persevere, their ears and instruments open to the stirrings of the cosmos.
The Chapel of the Calvary is small but still impressive. It's also built out of cantera, but since it is fairly modern, its facade is more plain than other similar churches. Featuring circular shapes and the eclectic touch of a dome and roof covered entirely in metallic silver paint, it is the chapel rather than the convent that houses the most-venerated religious figure in Yanhuitlán.
El Divino Señor de Ayuxi is a figure of a Crucifixion made out of carved wood and sugarcane. A yearly celebration sees this religious icon paraded in procession from the Chapel of the Calvary to the Convent of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán in one of the most important religious feasts of the town.
The Divine Lord is believed to be centuries-old, and there is a historic precedent of a Catholic chapel built on the site of the Calvary Chapel. The current building is more recent, however, and probably dates to the 19th century (although the sci-fi looking done is almost certainly a more recent addition).
When French scientists scanned a 2,500-year-old mummy in 2017, they expected to see the skeleton of an ancient Egyptian cat. What they actually saw was the image of several ancient Egyptian cats—specifically, five hind legs, most of three tails, and a little ball of cloth. Given that the biology of cats has not drastically changed since the 5th century BC, the biology of the cat mummy came as a bit of a surprise.
Though the cats lived and died in Egypt, the mummy resides in France, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Rennes. To see inside the mummy without unwrapping it, researchers from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) performed a CT scan and reconstructed the skeleton in 3D, according to a statement from INRAP. “Some researchers believe that we are dealing with an ancient scam organized by unscrupulous priests,” Théophane Nicolas, a researcher at INRAP who assisted in the reconstruction, said in a statement. “We believe on the contrary that there are innumerable ways to make animal mummies.”
Though a five-legged, three-tailed cat may seem like a monstrous cryptid worthy of a scam, these potpourri-style mummies are more common than you might expect, according to Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo and the editor of Divine Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. “With mummies, the packaging does not always reflect the content,” she says. “We have various explanations for this, ranging from the cynical to the far less cynical.”
In a study of mummified cats and cat parts found in several tombs at the Bubasteum Temple in Saqqara, Egypt—a veritable feline necropolis—archaeologists identified 184 cat mummies and 11 “packets” that contained a smattering of cat bones, the archaeologists Alain Zivie and Roger Lichtenberg write in Divine Creatures. Several of these packets held the bodies of two to six cats, making them easy to spot due to their gigantic size.
In the case of this particular five-legged, three-tailed cat mummy, Ikram has three possible theories. First, it could be an example of Egyptian priests ripping off pilgrims who came to purchase mummies, now knowing that they often contained something other than what their exterior suggested. Second, the mummy could reflect the synecdochic Egyptian notion that the part of something symbolized the whole, and that the correct chants could render the cat bones into a whole cat in the afterlife, which Ikram says is an extrapolation of ancient magical texts. Third, the Egyptians believed that anything that died in a sacred space died with divine purpose, perhaps because they belonged to whatever deity who watched over the tomb, and were subsequently mummified. And sometimes, an incomplete skeleton could simply be a matter of human clumsiness. “When you mummify something, things can fall off,” Ikram says.
Luckily, the Rennes mummy holds one clue that might solve the mystery. Its dried flesh and bones had decomposed prior to their mummification, and were freckled with holes from the mouths of corpse-eating insects, Nicolas wrote in an email. With this knowledge, Ikram believes the Rennes mummy is a prime example of the third theory: The cats likely died around a tomb and, found in a state of decay, were made into mummies. “With this particular mummy, they gathered pieces of dead animals within the sacred space to give them a happy afterlife,” she says.
In recent years, the actual contents of animal mummies have been studied far more than human mummies, as their smaller size makes them easy to slide into a scanner, Ikram says. And as more mummies are scanned, more reveal surprises. Two-thirds of the cat mummies collected at Bubasteum showed evidence of a violent death, suggesting that priests would often raise cats for the purpose of slaughter and eventual mummification. These mummies would not show bites like the Rennes mummy, because they would have been bandaged soon after death.
But even in the case of these more slapdash, inconclusively-sourced cat mummies, Ikram is wary of calling these mummies scams. Instead of setting out to deceive pilgrims with mummies made of incomplete skeletons, priests likely were doing the best they could with such a high demand for cat mummies and a limited supply of cats, Zivie and Lichtenberg write in Divine Creatures. Maybe for mummies, what’s on the inside doesn’t always count.
Located in the middle of a historic walled city, Guimarães Castle is a medieval fortress linked to the founding of Portugal. In the tenth century, the Countess Mumadona had a monastery built in her homestead of Vimaranes—today known as Guimarães. She also had a fortress constructed to guard the community from the attacks of the Moors and the Normans.
In 1096, Count Henrique and his wife, Teresa de León settled in Vimaranes, and expanded and improved the castle’s defensive structures as they established their residence. In 1111, they had a son, Alfonso Henriques, who would become the first king of Portugal.
Stories say that King Afonso was born in Guimarães Castle and led his rebellion from the nearby town. In 1143 the Treaty of Zamora was signed, and the nation of Portugal was born. Alfonso I reigned from that year until his death in 1185.
Around the turn of the 14th century, Guimarães Castle was remodelled by King Denis. Two towers flanking the castle’s main entrance were built by King John I of Portugal between 1383 and 1433.
But the castle was abandoned for many years, and fell into ruin. There was even talk of demolishing the structure and repurposing the stone. But Guimarães Castle was declared a National Monument in 1910, and it was restored over the course of the 20th century.
Looming over suburban housing and the scenic Forth and Clyde Canal, these two derelict gasometers were built to store vast amounts of coal-produced gas. Each gasometer houses a telescopic container which, when in use, expanded and contracted as needed to store pressurized gas. The first of these gasometers was constructed in 1893, with the second following in 1900 as demand increased.
The overall gasworks was originally built in 1871 for the local Partick, Hillhead, and Maryhill Gas Company. It was one of several gasworks built throughout Victorian Glasgow that helped provide lighting and heating for the Empire’s "second city." It was subsequently bought over by the Glasgow Corporation in 1891 and linked to the nearby Dawsholm Gasworks via a private railway tunnel running under the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Gas was produced at the gasworks by heating coal to produce a mixture of hydrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. The by-products of this process—coke, coal tar, and ammonia—were sent on to an adjoining chemical processing plant for further use. Coal was supplied to the gasworks by rail.
The gasworks closed in 1968, as extracting and piping in natural gas replaced the need for local manufacturing and storage. The gasometers were still used for storage for a number of years, but eventually they were no longer needed and eventually decommissioned. Left to the mercy of the elements, they became silent specters of the past.
However, in 2018, Historic Environment Scotland classified the gasometers as Category B listed structures. In their view they were “important reminders of an industrial process that is now largely redundant” and should be protected and preserved. What this means for their future is unclear, but it would appear their story is far from over.
The restaurant known as REM Eiland wasn’t always an architectural oddity in the Amsterdam port of Houthaven. The 80-foot-tall, red-and-white tower was originally a pirate radio and TV station in the North Sea, and it gave Dutch viewers their first taste of commercial television.
It was 1964, and up to that point, there’d only been state-sponsored television. From the tower, a channel called TV Noordzee broadcast shows such as Zorro, Rin-Tin-Tin, and Mr. Ed, along with commercials. While viewers were entertained, the government was not: The tower’s location in international waters allowed TV Noordzee to circumvent Dutch laws. But this rebellion was short-lived: Four months after TV Noordzee launched, the government found a way to use the 1958 Geneva Convention to justify restructuring offshore territorial boundaries. And with that, REM Eiland fell under Dutch control. On December 17, 1964, marines raided the tower and shut down operations.
The government used the tower as a site for measuring ocean temperatures and salt levels before dismantling it and bringing it ashore in 2006. But just when REM Eiland seemed like it might disappear for good, new owners purchased it and started renovations (including adding another floor and losing the helipad) to turn it into the restaurant it is today.
Now, diners can ascend the tower's zigzagging stairs to reach the bar and dining area. The menu features tournedos (tiny, round cuts of beef), sea bass, and sandwiches with fillings ranging from steamed mackerel to eggs with aged gouda. REM Eiland's most spectacular offering, however, is the view of the IJ river and surrounding city. Order a beer from nearby Brouwerij 't IJ or a cocktail at the bar, and raise a glass to the era of offshore pirate broadcasting.
This project started as a happy confluence of needs. Street artist Guido van Helten was looking for a large-scale canvas, and the rural county of Yarriambiack Shire was searching for a beautification project.
Large-scale murals can be tricky to coordinate, so the county worked with van Helten to select a location along a rural crossroads in Brim. Yarriambiack Shire coordinated with the Grain Corp to use four of their silos as canvases for the project.
Before selecting his subjects, van Helten lived in the area for a few months getting to know the community. He then painted four tender portraits featuring several generations of local farmers. They were painted in a very detailed fashion, with a soft style that accentuated the wrinkles on their clothing and in their faces.
This resulted in a stunning work of art that looms over the beige landscape. The mural became so popular that Yarriambiack Shire commissioned five additional murals from various artists. They are now spread over 124 miles (200 kilometers) of rural roads. They have become known as the Silo Art Trail.
Dovedale is a picturesque valley in the Peak District, which more than 360 million years ago lay under a shallow subterranean sea as a coral reef. Due to the millions of sea creatures, plants, and shells left by this now-vanished sea, the geology of Dovedale consists largely of limestone rock, which over the years has been cut into craggy rock pinnacles and caves, creating one of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes.
Dovedale and its river, the River Dove, have been celebrated for centuries. It was made famous among the nation’s fishermen following the publication of The Compleat Angler in 1653, an immediate success that celebrated the joys of fishing.
But it was during the Victorian era, the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 1837 to 1901, that Dovedale first became a popular tourist spot. Leisure and tourism took off during this period, when the growing middle class, especially in London, had more time and money to spend on seaside breaks and trips to the countryside.
While the less adventurous tourist headed to the beaches in Margate or Brighton, walkers and trekkers often headed to Dovedale. Sometime around 1890, the locals decided to facilitate the countryside treks of the Victorian tourists by spanning a section of the river just beneath Thorpe Cloud, an isolated limestone hill whose summit provides some stunning views across the dales.
Rather than build a bridge, the good folk of Dovedale instead decided to lay down a series of stepping stones across a shallow section of the wooded ravine. Silly little stepping stones wouldn’t suffice, however, so they laid around 16 large, flat rocks across the river. The end result was a beautiful series of stepping stones that wouldn’t look out of place in The Shire, complete with bounding Hobbits.
The National Trust acquired the stones in 1934, and Dovedale itself was given further protection in 2006 when it was declared a National Nature Reserve. The only major controversy surrounding the stepping stones came in 2010, when the local council decided to place limestone slabs on top of all but one of the stepping stones to stop people from slipping. Locals and visitors alike were outraged, saying that the original stones were part of the charm, and that if people slipped they would hardly drown in what is only a few inches of water.
Since their creation, and despite the ravages of health and safety, the stepping stones have becoming an attraction in their own right, and have only added to the quintessential Englishness of Dovedale. It’s no surprise, then, that the area has appeared in many classically English film and TV productions, including the BBC’s 2006 version of Jane Eyre, the 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl, and Ridley Scott’s version of Robin Hood.
Oh, and who can forget the 1974 Spanish-Italian science fiction zombie horror The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, which features the stepping stones. And here, for your viewing pleasure, is the trailer, which briefly includes the scene in which a screaming woman falls off the stones into the river (no health and safety back then, obviously) while being chased by zombies.