21 December: Winter Solstice

Let’s imagine a winter without the usual Christmas tones: if you close your eyes, what would be the first colour that comes to mind? To be quite candid, there can be few doubts. The glare of a snow-covered landscape can make us blink, and this verb comes from the Old High German word “blank” which … Read more

20 December: The Brothers Grimm published their “Children’s and Household Tales” on this day in 1812

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tales really have very little in common with the renditions of them produced many years later by Walt Disney. In fact, their glossary of images was, one might say, decidedly “grim”: this was because they were what remained of very ancient initiation rites. The first to discover this was the … Read more

18 December: Antonio Stradivari died on this day in 1737

Antonio Stradivari’s early violins were called “amatizzati” but that had nothing to do with the Italian word for love, “amore”; it was simply that at the time he was apprenticed to master luthier Nicola Amati. It was only when the latter died that Antonio was able to sign his violins with the famous “Antonius Stradivarius … Read more

17 December: Saturnalia began on this day in ancient Rome

Had we been living in ancient Rome, today would have been a major festivity. The season is inclement (after all, these are the shortest days of the year) and the harvest is meagre. That’s why the period from 17th to 23rd December used to be days of liberty, revelling and topsy-turvy: gifts were exchanged, the … Read more

15 December: The ice cream cone was patented on this day in 1903

Italo Marchioni was an Italian immigrant who worked on Wall Street – selling ice creams. Although business was tickety-boo, the cups and containers were a problem: when they didn’t get broken by careless customers, they had to be washed… which was a hassle. So, on 15 December 1903, Italo Marchiony (his name had already been … Read more

14 December: the Montgolfier Brothers accomplished their first hot air balloon flight on this day in 1782

The first person to sketch the concept for aerostatic navigation actually lived a hundred years earlier: it was in 1670 that a Jesuit priest called Father Francesco Lana devised a vacuum airship that was lighter than air. Fr. Lana wrote that should there be improvements to his intuition, he would be happy to accept them … Read more

12 December: Frank Sinatra was born on this day in 1915

If we were to search for one single word to describe Frank Sinatra, it would waft towards us just like the steam rising from the ground in New York. And that word could only be: “American”. Whether his career was an epic or a pastoral, it was marked by that sheer magnitude that is, without … Read more