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Read the latest from our editors and photographers, get photo tips, or comment on the latest issue.


Posted May 10,2011


Werner Herzog is back. For his 60th (!) film, the wild man of cinema took his ever-questing lens into Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, a limestone grotto in southern France filled with animal bones, geological phantasmagoria, and—most important—a gallery of Paleolithic paintings from more than 30,000 years ago. Far older than those in Lascaux, they’re remarkable for their detail, sophistication, and variety. Since 1994, when the site was discovered, the French government has kept it closed to protect its fragile ecosystem. But last year Herzog and a tiny crew were permitted a few days in the cave, and a chance to meet the scientists studying it. The result is Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a metaphysical, three-dimensional trip back in time.

Pop Omnivore spoke with the German auteur about radiocarbon dating, shooting in 3D for the first time, and what a cow-milker’s face looks like, among other things.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Archaeology, Art, Culture, Film, Movies, Pop Omnivore
Posted May 4,2011

NG Maps

The "War on Terror" is inextricably linked to place. Among these are Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, New York City's "Ground Zero," and most recently, Abbottabad, Pakistan. The suffix found on some of these names, such as stan in Afghanistan that means "land of the Afghans," serves to qualify their cultural or historic affiliations.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Cartography, Culture, Geography, Maps, National Geographic
Posted Mar 28,2011

Designed to look like standard Indian currency, zero-rupee notes are larger and printed on thicker paper

Designed to look like standard Indian currency, zero-rupee notes are larger and printed on thicker paper. That discourages folding, which is a common way for bribes to be passed. Photo: Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff  

In India, where corruption costs the public and private sectors millions of dollars a year, demands for petty bribes are frequently signaled in code: “Take care of me” or, for a two-note handout, “Make Gandhi smile twice.” Illegal demands by police and bureaucrats are “deeply ingrained in the culture,” says anticorruption crusader Vijay Anand, and are “taken as the norm.”

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Mar 17,2011


Celtic ruins on Skellig Michael, Ireland, with Little Skellig shown in the distance; photo by James P. Blair, 1989

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a virtual visit to the Emerald Isle. Meet Clonycavan Man, eerily preserved in an Irish peat bog for almost 2,000 years, right down to his pompadour. Then explore the Celtic realm from its beginnings to modern day worshippers. Wrap up with a trio of Celtic music styles and a quiz on Ireland's capital, Dublin; if you answer all the questions correctly then the luck of the Irish is with you...

  • 2007 September--National Geographic magazine. Tales From the Bog. 80-93. Bog bodies have been found all over northern Europe, including in Ireland. Read about Clonycavan Man, found in 2003, who may have been a murder victim or ritual sacrifice. Karen E. Lange explores the mystery surrounding these bodies; photos by Robert Clark.
  • 2006 March--National Geographic magazine. Celt Appeal. 74-95. Tom O'Neill reports on a culture that once seemed destined for extinction, but has somehow held on and even flourished: "By clinging to the fringes, geographically and culturally, Celts refused to vanish." Photos by Jim Richardson.
Posted by Anne Marie Houppert | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, History, NG Revisited
Posted Mar 3,2011

Over the past decade, Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma has been hailed by many critics for its new-world meets old-school music. Their sound combines big band sounds with Caribbean reggae, and Afro-jazz, along with cumbia (see below for more on that genre). Now, the Austin-based 10-piece orchestra has garnered its first Grammy Award for its 2010 album, El Existential, on the Nat Geo Music label. Pitted against some of the biggest names in Latin music, Grupo Fantasma took home the prize for Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album.

Guitarist Beto Martinez spoke with us about how the band got started, the roots of its music, and what it feels like to win a Grammy.

Most of us know salsa and reggae, but what exactly is cumbia?

Cumbia is a style that originated in Colombia but it’s a mix of sounds. It has a little Caribbean influence and an African influence. It’s a style of music that really proliferated in South America and then spread north all the way into Mexico, where it then turned into another style altogether. Now, there are all of these regional styles that make it different. Eventually we became exposed to the original, or the older forms that came from Colombia, and that’s what we fell in love with. It has kind of a more big band sound.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 23,2011

The strangest mix of movies in this year’s Oscars is surely in the “best foreign film” category. National Geographic’s All Roads Film Project screened the five nominees, which feature everything from totally housebound Greek teenagers to totally bullied Danish teenagers. We don’t dare predict the outcome (although the favorites are Biutiful and Golden Globe winner In a Better World ). But we are happy to give you some salient details so you can speak like a foreign film geek when this category comes up on the telecast.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Feb 21,2011

Every 14 days a language dies, according to the Enduring Voices Project. February 21st is International Mother Language Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations, "...to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism." Languages represent who we are, and sometimes who we were. Find out where languages are most at risk of disappearing on an interactive map. Then meet the Hadza of Tanzania who speak an isolate language, unrelated to any other living language. Finally, author Peter Hessler examines the transformative power of learning a second language.

Posted by Anne Marie Houppert | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Culture, NG Revisited
Posted Feb 18,2011

In the late 19th century, Portuguese immigrants brought a stringed instrument to Hawaii, the locals tinkered with it, and the ukulele was born. Now the state’s favorite instrument--schoolkids all learn it in the fifth grade--is getting a new image, courtesy of the inventive strumming of 34-year-old Hawaiian native Jake Shimabukuro. His latest CD, “Peace Love Ukelele,” takes the ukulele places it’s never been before, including a wistful cover of Queen’s power ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As he embarked on a national tour, Shimabukuro spoke with National Geographic's Marc Silver.

Posted by Amanda Fiegl | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jan 8,2011

Unwed-230 More U.S. women are having children later in life, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. Some possible reasons: higher education, fertility treatments, and changing attitudes toward marriage. While the overall birthrate in 2008 didn’t vary much from 1990, the number of babies born to women 35 and older rose a staggering 64 percent. Another factor, notes report co-author Gretchen Livingston, is that younger people were more likely than older ones to cite the economic downturn as a reason to delay pregnancy. Women in their late 30s to 40s “don’t really have that choice.” The same Pew report found that a record 41 percent of 2008 births occurred outside of marriage, up from 28 percent in 1990. And though most were to women under 25, older mothers are also less likely to be married these days. Which is not to say these moms are going it alone. The trend “comes largely from births to women who are cohabiting with the child’s father,” says sociologist R. Kelly Raley. “It’s clear that we think differently today than we did several decades ago.” —Cara Birnbaum

Photo: Today’s mothers include more women who are older and, increasingly, unmarried. 
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff  
Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Dec 13,2010

Abamo Degio learned Koro when she married a native speaker. 

India-map-455 Imagine a spoken language not shared by everyone in the same family—one that sounds as foreign to people in the next village over as Japanese does to most English speakers. That’s what U.S. linguists K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson found in India’s remote northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. They traveled there in 2008 to document two obscure regional languages. They ended up detecting a third. Locals had assumed that the 800 or so speakers of this tongue, Koro, were using a dialect. But the linguists—part of National Geographic’s Enduring Voices, a project studying endangered tongues— have confirmed that it’s a distinct new language. Its quiet presence mirrors that of the culture sharing its name, concealed for centuries within the dominant Aka-Miji society. Linguists estimate the world loses one of its 7,000 languages every 14 days. To help keep Koro alive, Enduring Voices is compiling a sound archive and an online dictionary—a sure way to get the word out. —Hannah Bloch

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Wild
Posted Dec 13,2010

Every December, the title character of Peter Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet, The Nutcracker, battles the forces of the Mouse King on stages across Europe and North America. The rest of the year, the wooden nutcracker is a star in its birthplace, the little town of Seiffen, nestled in the mountains of southeastern Germany.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Dec 3,2010

Glee Dominated by two giants, Wrigley and Cadbury, the global chewing gum industry will post an estimated $24 billion dollars in sales this year. That represents over a million tons of the stuff, with more to come. Gum is the fastest growing business in the candy world, up more than 35 percent since 2001.

About half of all Americans chew gum, according to Wrigley’s research. The International Chewing Gum Association reports that Americans go through an average of 182 sticks a year. In Britain the tally is 125, in Germany 103, Russia 84, China 20, and India 4.

Most chewers have no idea what they’re putting in their mouth. They grab a pack of gum in the checkout line and never look at the label. If they did, they’d find a lot of artificial things along with a few natural ones—especially sugar, the number one ingredient. (* See below for details.)

In the biggest markets, where consumers have begun to care about such things, two boutique companies have turned to history to find a more organic alternative. Glee Gum in the U.S. and Chicza in the U.K. make gum with the same kind of sticky sap the Maya chewed at the height of their civilization some 1,500 years ago. Known as chicle, the sap is extracted from the tropical sapodilla tree by a process that’s similar to tapping syrup from maple trees.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (7)
Filed Under: Culture, Food, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 19,2010


In keeping with the current British mood of austerity, Prince William has recycled his mother’s engagement ring. His fiancée, Kate Middleton, now wears the sparkler that created a sensation when the world first saw it in 1981.

Demurely dressed in blue, Lady Diana Spencer, the 19-year-old princess bride-to-be, shyly showed off her bold piece of bling—an oval sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds and set in 18-karat white gold. It was big. It wasn’t an heirloom. And the central stone wasn’t a diamond. Tongues wagged.

Now that the ring is in the public view once more, enquiring minds have a few questions.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Culture, Fashion, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 3,2010

Chicken feet
Chicken paws, called phoenix talons on some restaurant menus, are popular in China as snacks or dim sum items. Photo: Rebecca Hale, NGM staff

Chicken-feet-200 A trade dispute between the U.S. and China has caused an unlikely—and costly—flap in the global poultry market. The U.S., it turns out, is the Asian nation’s biggest provider of jumbo-size chicken feet. “The demand for paws in China is insatiable,” says poultry consultant Paul Aho. Light on meat but rich in gelatinous collagen, chicken feet are popular in China prepared in soy sauce or with pickled peppers and served with beer or tea. In contrast, the American appetite for them is so small that they were cooked down for uses such as animal feed before China opened up to U.S. chicken a decade ago. That might help explain the dramatic surge in U.S. paw exports to China and Hong Kong (left), which surpassed $350 million in 2009. But this year, following tensions over various trade issues, China imposed duties that sharply curtailed imports of U.S. chicken. Trade to Hong Kong, which has its own regulations, remains robust. Insiders say a mutually palatable resolution may take time. —Luna Shyr


Chart source: Richard Lobb, National Chicken Council

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Oct 27,2010

Halloween is the time when humans can get a taste of what it is like to roam the streets as an animal. And this Halloween, the newest way to assume the guise of a beast is by climbing into an animal-print full-body “morphsuit.”

To see what it is like to straddle the line between human and animal, I took up my editor’s invitation to put on a $65 zebra suit and gallop around our nation’s capital. (On one excursion, I was joined by a colleague in a leopard suit.)

My conclusion is that even in this odd suit, I became a player in what scientist E.O. Wilson calls “biophilia” – an innate love that humans have for animals. (Either that, or people just love weird stuff). Aside from an unfortunate episode at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, in which my head-to-toe mask caused guards to call me aside and insist that I remove the head mask, I was met with outpourings of love from tourists and residents. It is unclear how zebras would respond: I made an attempt to find one at the National Zoo but did not succeed.

The following photos offer the high points from my walk (and pedicab ride) on the wild side. —William Shubert

TOUCHDOWN ZEBRA! In an ode to his black-and-white striped cousins on the football field, the zebra signals score during a pedicab ride by the Washington Monument.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Animals, Anthropology, Culture, Nature, Pop Omnivore, Wild, Wildlife
Posted Sep 14,2010

Cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant. Detractors say even one small sprig tastes strongly of soap. Photo: Mark Thiessen, NGM Staff 

Cilantro is one polarizing herb. The seemingly innocuous staple of Mexican, Asian, and Indian cuisines has become a fresh ingredient in news stories and inspired passion-fueled blogs. Fans liken its notes to those of citrus; haters say they smack of soap. Whichever side of the produce aisle you’re on, solidarity abounds. Yet it isn’t simply a matter of taste. According to Charles Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Sense Center, it’s actually about fl avor, which the brain perceives based on a complex combination of taste, smell, heat, texture. In the case of cilantro, Wysocki has a hunch that genes play a role too. His ongoing study of twins shows that identical ones have the same reaction to it far more often than fraternal ones do. The genetic verdict is still out, but one thing is certain: In California, where annual records are carefully kept, cilantro production has doubled in the past decade. Agricultural economist Gary Lucier says Americans are eating on average at least a third of a pound of it a year, likely due to our increasingly diverse culinary scene. Does that taste like victory, or work you into a lather? —Catherine Barker

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Culture, Food, Wide Angle
Posted Aug 23,2010

Water bug nutrition
Photo: Joel Sartore

Bugs are things we normally try to keep OUT of our soups and salads.

Maybe that’s the wrong attitude.

In many parts of the world, insects and worms have long been a cheap source of protein. North American and European cultures are really the only ones that have abstained. ”Insects are a vast and varied food resource,” says professor emeritus Gene DeFoliart of the University of Wisconsin, who for years kept up a website on entomophagy –the art of insect eating. With our planet packed with people, and limited land space for agriculture, he says, “we in the West should stop laughing at the idea of consuming termites and mealworms and crickets.”

So I decided it was time to try some insect edibles. A small brave group of writers and editors, all curious but admittedly icked-out, reserved a table at a favorite Mexican joint, Oyamel in Washington, D.C. The chef whipped us up a batch of grasshopper tacos (and a pitcher of something with triple sec and lime to wash them down, just in case).

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (11)
Filed Under: Animals, Culture, Food, Pop Omnivore, Wildlife
Posted Aug 10,2010

This month, all across the world, well over one billion Muslims are observing the fasting month of Ramadan, meaning that absolutely no food or drink, not even water, should cross their lips between sunup and sundown for 30 days. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar cycles, so some years Ramadan falls during the long days of summer, creating a very long and difficult fasting day; other times it’s during the short days of winter. This year Ramadan occurs from around August 11 to about September 9 (variation in dates occurs when the crescent moon is sighted on different dates in different countries).

After the sun has set, Muslims are allowed to eat again, and the usual method of breaking the fast is to have a little something to eat and drink right after the sunset call to prayer followed by a dinner called iftar before sleeping, and then to wake again an hour or so before sunrise for another meal called suhoor to tide them over for the day.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Atlas of Eating, Culture, Food, Religion
Posted Jul 12,2010

Perhaps M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was always doomed to fail. Not only was the famously ambitious director trying to re-create the mythos of a popular animated series. He was also hoping that “this movie … will be the most culturally diverse tent-pole movie ever released,’’ as he told the Los Angeles Times last summer.

That’s a pretty tall order. And Shyamalan wound up pretty far off the mark.

In fact, the Indian American auteur’s decision to cast Caucasian actors as Asian- and Inuit-inspired heroes launched a protest movement. Fans of the cartoon started Racebending.com, after seeing Paramount’s preference-heavy casting call for actors of “Caucasian or any other ethnicity.” And groups including the Media Action Network for Asian Americans boycotted the film, accusing Hollywood of “whitewashing” Asian projects for the sake of broader audience appeal.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Film, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jun 18,2010


Government-guaranteed maternity and paternity leave varies widely around the world. Mothers have significantly more access to paid leave than new fathers. (Maps include parental leave as well). Click to expand.

Credit: Map: Heymann, S.J., and Earle A. Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling The Myth That We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions For Everyone. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010.

The importance of mothers and fathers bonding with their babies early in life is well known. But many parents, particularly dads, can’t afford to take a chunk of time off work once the baby’s born. In countries around the world, the contrast between paid maternity and paternity leave is striking. The maps above illustrate the availability of government-guaranteed paid leave for new mothers and fathers.

Out of 192 countries, 177 provide some form of paid maternal leave. Yet only 54 countries grant paid paternity or parental leave. Unlike most affluent countries, neither the U.S. nor Australia provide any government-paid maternity or paternity leave. (U.S. employer-based paid parental leave covers less than 10 percent of new dads.) Australia is due to start providing paid parental leave in 2011.

“Globally, men's chances of taking paid leave to care for an infant lag far behind women's,” says Dr. Jody Heymann, co-author of Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone.

Posted by Christy Ullrich | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Between the Lines, Culture
Posted May 7,2010
Photograph by G.K. Darby

Two days after the premiere of the new HBO series Treme, Lionel Nelson, 60, sits in Sidney's Saloon (1500 St. Bernard Street) watching a rerun of the first episode. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins appears on screen to the delight and laughter of Sidney's patrons. One of many locals cast in the show, he plays himself. Ruffins owns Sidney's-home to the regulars who used to drink at Joe's Cozy Corner (1532 Ursuline St.), a legendary Treme bar where the Rebirth Brass Band and Ruffins had a standing gig on Sundays.

See our interactive Treme map and continue reading after the jump.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Geography, Pop Omnivore, Travel, TV
Posted Apr 28,2010


A Japanese favorite, fruity Ramune soda is sold in a unique bottle. Photo by Rebecca Hale, NGM Staff. Source: Zenith International

CT-CULT-soda Refrescos in Spanish, mashroob ghazi in Arabic, kele in Chinese: The world has many words, and an unslakable thirst, for carbonated soft drinks. Since 1997 per capita consumption has nearly doubled in eastern Europe. In 2008 Coca-Cola tallied soda sales in some 200 countries. Even the global recession, says industry monitor Zenith International, has merely caused manufacturers to lean on promotional offers and try cheap social-networking ads. 

But some are sour on all this sweetness. U.S. obesity expert David Ludwig calls aggressive marketing in emerging nations—where people tend to eat more and move less as they prosper—“deeply irresponsible. That’s the time of greatest risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.”

As that thinking catches on, places including New York and Romania are mulling levies on sugared drinks. Others argue that taxing a single product isn’t the fix; promoting healthy lifestyles and zero-calorie drinks is. Fizz for thought? —Jeremy Berlin

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Apr 13,2010

Ginger Janssen, who lives near Basalt, Colorado, benefi ts from a new law allowing rural rainwater collection. Photo: Pete Mcbride

CT-CULT-waterlawsMicah Parkin is defiant about the rain barrel she uses to collect water from her Boulder, Colorado, rooftop for her garden. “I’m conserving water,” she says, flouting a state law prohibiting most homeowners from storing roof runoff. “I’m also saving the energy it would take to purify that water in a treatment plant. The untreated water is better for the plants, anyway.” Such logic has long been trumped by a 150-year-old system of “first in time, first in right” water laws. The state protects farmers, ranchers, and others with existing rights to runoff that would normally flow into rivers and other drainages. With sustainability concerns on the rise, this may be changing. Last year Colorado passed a law that allows homeowners without access to a municipal water tap to harvest rainwater. The new law also authorizes ten pilot programs to test the impact of collection. “If these can operate with little or no impact to senior water rights, maybe we can tweak things,” says Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state engineer and de facto water police chief. But Parkin’s not about to ditch her barrel. “Collecting rainwater isn’t a crime,” she says. “Or at least it shouldn’t be.” —Alex Markels

*Assumes 15 percent of rainfall will be lost to evaporation or absorption. 

Art: NGM Maps Art: NGM Maps

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture
Posted Jan 30,2010

Students excavate a kiln at Cheung Ek, Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Phon Kaseka

Cheung Ek is infamous for being the site of a Khmer Rouge killing field—some 20,000 Cambodians were murdered here between 1975 and 1979. Yet Cheung Ek also has a much older history, and today a team of archaeologists led by Phon Kaseka of the Royal Academy of Cambodia is investigating what lies beneath this once horrifying landscape.

The team has found that Cheung Ek was settled around 300 B.C. and played an important part in the emergence of Southeast Asia’s first great economy, the mysterious Indian-influenced civilization known as Funan. Centered in the lower Mekong floodplain, Funan flourished from about the first to the sixth century and eventually gave rise to the well-known kingdom of Angkor, which culminated in the 13th century.
Posted Dec 10,2009

In Veracruz, Mexico, the sound of the harp is part of the sound of the town. Players pluck a 36-string wooden instrument on street corners, in restaurants, and during Catholic Masses. Known as the Veracruz harp, it came to the New World in the 1500s from Spain. In the 2000s the harp is entering the vocabulary of American popular music. The California-based group Rey Fresco—Spanish for “king cool”—incorporates the assertive Veracruz pluck in its reggae-Caribbean-Latin fusion music.

The group’s harpist is Xocoyotzin Moraza, 28, who grew up in Ventura, California. Xocoyotzin is an Aztec name meaning “first born son,” “extension of a father,” and “something new or fresh.” In Moraza’s case, the definitions are all true. His dad, Antonio, made the harp. And Xocoyotzin is bringing its sound into a new musical environment via Rey Fresco, whose debut album, The People, was released this fall. (Although the name has its downside. “The first day of school was interesting,” says Xocoyotzin, who always had to explain how to say his name: sho-ko-yo-tsen. Maybe that’s why his nickname is Xoco (pronounced sho-ko.)

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (4)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 30,2009


A wild Christmas character is making a devilish comeback. Krampus gets his name from a word for “claw.” That’s apt for a demon said to grab naughty children and stuff them in his sack. Popular in Alpine villages centuries ago, Krampus scared kids straight—his long red tongue upped the fear factor—and taught them that evil bows before good. He served Santa’s forerunner, kindly St. Nicholas, who had “the power to send Krampus back to hell,” says Austrian ethnologist Ulrike Kammerhofer-Aggermann. 

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (8)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Nov 18,2009

On a summer Saturday, surfers line up within sight of a city bus stop for a shot at riding a wave. Yet this is Bavaria, in Germany; the nearest ocean is 400 miles away . So where are they going? Here on Munich’s Eisbach stream, the surf is always up. 

The Eisbach wave is artificial. Concrete blocks, placed under the water to calm the river a bit as it emerges from an underground channel, form a permanent three-foot swell as the water rushes up and over them. The water is only four feet  deep, but the current can slam surfers into the concrete-lined banks with a force comparable to a nine-foot ocean wave.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Oct 29,2009


Grab a bitter leaf and chew. Then take another and another, letting the wad rest in your cheek. Soon you’ll feel less hungry, more alert, a little euphoric. That’s qat (pronounced cot, often spelled khat), a stimulant used for centuries in Yemen and Africa’s Horn by laborers for energy and by men to while away afternoons. Today, with increased urbanism, easier access to cash, and relaxed social mores, it’s taking deeper root. “People chew it in the early morning, on the street,” says psychologist Michael Odenwald. “Children and breast-feeding women chew it.”

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Oct 11,2009


In the world of giant pumpkins, a 500-pounder is a pip-squeak. “People don’t even blink at ’em,” says Danny Dill of Howard Dill Enterprises, which sells seeds whose DNA destines them for hugeness. The record is 1,689 pounds, set in 2007. “Within five years,” predicts Dill, “you’ll see a 2,000-pound pumpkin.”

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (6)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Sep 28,2009

Steve Holman, 52, is running 124.9 miles in the Sahara desert. All his food for the annual Marathon des Sables is in the 25-pound pack on his back (including potato chips he pulverized with a rolling pin to reduce bulk). In 100°F heat he struggles up a few 200-foot dunes, crawling on hands and knees at times. Alone in a sandstorm one night, not even sure he’s headed in the right direction, he thinks, Yes! This is why I’m here!

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (7)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Sep 21,2009

I'm used to folding laundry and bills. But when I was working on "Fold Everything," a short article about innovative uses of origami, my fingers began itching to try the ancient art of paper folding.

After all, there are people creating not only fantastic paper animal sculptures but using the mathematical principles of origami to build foldable telescope lenses and heart stents and to better understand how proteins fold. Origami for art’s sake has also come a long way. The father of 20th century origami, Akira Yoshizawa (1911-2005), created more than 50,000 unique figures. The most modern folders have something Mr. Yoshizawa didn’t: mathematical principals and computer programs that help them transform flat into functional, or just plain phenomenal.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Art, Culture, Pop Omnivore, Science
Posted Sep 9,2009


In a downturn, begging goes on an upswing. “You do see more of it,” says Roughan MacNamara of Focus Ireland, which aids the homeless. A typical government response is to crack down. Ireland, for instance, is rewriting 1847 anti-vagrancy laws so that police officers can round up “aggressive” beggars, deemed a threat to pedestrians, businesses, and tourism.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture
Posted Sep 2,2009

The new movie Taking Woodstock tells the story of the classic rock festival through the eyes of Elliot Teichberg, the parent-pecked son of Catskill motel operators. The movie, directed by the great Ang Lee and based on a true story, is okay but a little dull at times and more than a little farfetched (Elliot keeps running into the same high school chum in the crowds of the weekend). Yet the film did make us curious to hear other true stories of the Woodstock weekend. Colleague Kathy Maher, a research editor, was happy to oblige with her memories. Film rights are available.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Aug 27,2009

A couple of years ago I wrote a story for National Geographic about regional foods. Not the standard mascots like Philadelphia Cheesesteak or New England clam chowder, but the obscure, sometimes incongruous but often delicious concoctions that have managed to stay within state borders.

There are plenty of offbeat delicacies associated with just one state; a huge pastry called kringle in Wisconsin, for example, or the toasted ravioli cherished in Missouri. I recently learned in a New York Times article about a Utah favorite called a pastrami burger, which as it sounds, is an over-stuffed rendezvous of two red meats. There are also lots of dishes linked to what food historians call "micro regions." It's a fairly loose term, and can be used to describe an area within a state, or larger areas that may involve a couple of states or more.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (6)
Filed Under: Atlas of Eating, Culture, Food
Posted Aug 21,2009


Ferula asafoetida

I was shopping for Indian spices with a friend not long ago and she steered me toward a small yellow container of a powdered spice called asafoetida, or hing in Hindi. She explained that it tastes like onion or garlic, but that I’d have to fry it in oil to bring out that flavor; otherwise it would be highly unpalatable. Why, I mused, would anyone bother with asafoetida when onions, garlic or leeks were more predictable? My caution grew when I learned that the name of the spice is based on the Latin word “foetida,” meaning stinky, and that colloquially it is also known as Stinking Gum or Devil’s Dung.

My friend is a scholar of Jainism, one of India’s main religions. She explained that “devil’s dung” is one of the ways that Jains can add pungency to their cuisine without using onion or garlic, which are forbidden.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Atlas of Eating, Culture, Food, Religion
Posted Jul 27,2009


Click to enlarge graphic.

UNESCO’s Index Translationum speaks volumes about topics and authors of global appeal. The bibliography of translations lists some 1.7 million books from 130 countries in 820 languages. Along with the authors above, works by Walt Disney Productions and the Old and New Testament are among the most widely translated. J. K. Rowling hasn’t cracked the top 50—yet. But lots of U.S. authors have. “Translation from other languages into American English,” says Rainer Schulte, of the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Texas, Dallas, “is limited in comparison to what gets translated from English into other languages.” —Diane Cole

Graphic: Oliver Uberti, NG Staff. Photo: Rebecca Hale, NG Staff

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Filed Under: Culture, Wildlife
Posted Jul 22,2009


The Vietnamese used to hate motorcycle helmets. They called them "rice cookers"—hot and heavy on the head. They were not fans of helmet hair. In a nation of 26 million motorbikes, maybe one in three riders buckled in. That was before a December 2007 law levied fines of up to $12 on helmetless heads. Today most adult riders are helmeted; traffic fatalities fell by 1,400 in the first year of enforcement. Tran Le Tra, 37, of Hanoi, misses the wind in his hair but admits, "I feel safer."

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (2)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Jul 8,2009


If you live in Colorado, say, or Maine, maybe you’ve noticed a new kind of traffic: Amish horse buggies. They’re appearing in areas they’ve never been (or haven’t been for a very long time), as Amish farming communities take root in states far beyond their traditional heartland of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted May 4,2009


And to think that I saw it on 17th Street!

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, I will say that nothing in his Mulberry Street children’s book can top the sight outside National Geographic’s windows last Friday afternoon in downtown Washington, D.C.

A groom was riding an elephant—in rush hour, yet!—to his wedding at the Mayflower Hotel. Indian music filled the air. Wedding guests and curious onlookers filled the streets. Commuters looked unhappy. A couple of government sharpshooters stood on the periphery, rifles at the ready.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Animals, Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Apr 3,2009


The 2009 major league baseball season opened Saturday. It should be a great year, filled with box scores, bleacher seats, and ... a dirty little secret.

Hours before a game, beneath major league baseball’s newest stadium, one of the sport's oldest rituals is under way. Two Washington Nationals batboys are rubbing brown gunk on dozens of new balls, toweling them off once the wet dirt cakes. Only when they’re done can the umpire yell, “Play ball!”

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Filed Under: Culture, Sports, Wide Angle
Posted Apr 1,2009

Spaghetti harvest

Photo: April 1 is an excellent day to pluck spaghetti from the Swiss trees where it ripens.

As you probably know, April 1 is April Fool’s Day. It’s not an official holiday,  but it is celebrated the world over. So who better to ask about its history than Alex Boese, curator of the (online only) Museum of Hoaxes and author of The Museum of Hoaxes, Hippo Eats Dwarf, and Elephants on Acid.

I read a story online that said April Fool’s Day began in ancient Rome. Then it turned out that story was a prank perpetrated by a college professor! Will you promise that you won’t try to fool me with your answers?

Everything I say will be, as far as I know, the truth. 

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Mar 20,2009

If luxury-brand autos and SUVs—the trappings of conspicuous consumption and 46-cents-a-gallon gas—are the most visible things on Saudi Arabia’s highways, a close second may be non-Saudi chauffeurs. Women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia, so opportunities abound for immigrants willing to take mothers shopping and daughters to school.

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Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Mar 18,2009


In New York City, senior gardener Abu Talib oversees the Taqwa Community Farm and its 13 chickens.

In 19th-century Manhattan, hogs roamed the streets and cattle grazed in public parks. Today, chickens are the urban livestock of choice, and not just in New York. City dwellers across the U.S. are adding hens to their yards and gardens, garnering fresh eggs, fertilizer, and community ties, with localities debating and updating their ordinances accordingly.

Posted by National Geographic Staff | Comments (28)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Mar 16,2009

While New Yorkers put on all their green and stake out a prime spot on the parade route that is stumbling distance to an endless supply of Guinness, the Irish band members of Bell X1 will indulge in a diner breakfast, prep for an appearance on David Letterman, then jet off to Boston for a St. Patrick’s Day gig.

Bell X1 is perhaps best known for providing the soundtrack to a scene with two girls kissing to “Eve, the Apple of My Eye” on the teen drama The O.C., “We’ll take our breaks where we can get them,” said lead singer, Paul Noonan, at a recent show. The crowd sang along to their quirky lyrics and beats, which have been compared to Talking Heads and Coldplay.

Growing up in the suburbs of Dublin, Noonan says that on March 17th he would usually pin some clover on his jacket, watch the capital’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, and go home before the streets became “awash in vomit.”

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Music, Pop Omnivore
Posted Mar 13,2009

Click to expand graphic.

Turkey wants to join the European Union. But the EU has many demands, including a reform of the country’s insult laws, which stifle free speech by making it a crime to deride Turkishness, a public figure, or the republic’s founder, Atatürk.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (3)
Filed Under: Culture, Wide Angle
Posted Mar 10,2009

Pi pie

Have you made plans for Pi Day? Do you even know what Pi Day is? 

As the name implies, it’s a day to celebrate 3.14. The Exploratorium, a San Francisco museum, hosts an annual homage to the number that never knows when to stop. In fact, the museum claims to have invented this celebration 21 years ago. It has since spread across the country (among mathletes, at least).

We spoke to Larry Shaw, technical curator emeritus, who takes partial credit (or blame) for Pi Day’s conception.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (5)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore, Science
Posted Feb 5,2009

It’s not every day that one gets to walk across the international border between two unfriendly countries in the grip of a major bilateral crisis. But that’s what I did late last year when I walked from India into Pakistan. It was Thanksgiving—the day after a wave of terrorist attacks began in Mumbai. I was visiting friends in the region where I had lived and worked for six years as a journalist.

The Wagah border, named for the village that straddles it, is the only official land crossing between India and Pakistan, countries that the 24-hour news networks won’t ever let us forget are “nuclear-armed neighbors.” The village lies in fertile farmland between Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, and Amritsar, the Sikh religion’s hub in northwestern India. The two cities are just about 50 miles apart. When British colonial rule ended in 1947, creating Pakistan as a homeland for Indian Muslims next to independent India, Punjab was split in two, and Wagah, an unremarkable village along the Grand Trunk Road, sat on the dividing line.

Air travel has made the act of crossing boundaries perfunctory, mundane. But on foot, you can’t help but think about how magical it is to walk from one country into another. And this is a storied border. Over the years, its daily flag-lowering ceremony has become such a popular spectacle that bleachers have been set up to accommodate the crowds of Indians and Pakistanis who gather to watch and cheer on each side. The border guards of both nations put on a show-stopping performance at Wagah late every afternoon, full of choreographed stomping and fierce gestures, and the crowd goes wild.

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Jan 1,2009

Happy January!

Everyone knows January is the first month of the year. And in the dim recesses of our brains, we might even recall learning—in what was it, fourth grade?—that the month is named for Janus (below), the two-headed Roman god. Janus could look backward and forward at the same time, making him the perfect figurehead for a month that ushers in a new year, marks the change from days growing shorter to days growing longer, heralds a farewell to one American president and the inauguration of another, and starts the new season of American Idol, with a supercool fourth judge added to the tiresome old mix!


Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Pop Omnivore
Posted Dec 15,2008

Perhaps you hit the eggnog a little too hard at the party last night. Or maybe champagne did you in, and now you're cursing that "friend" who kept filling your glass.

No matter how it happened, though, you now have a hangover and will do just about anything to get rid of it. Doctors advise drinking copious amounts of water and taking vitamins and aspirin. Some people swear by grease--burgers and fried eggs are popular antidotes in America. Others, like the Japanese, follow a more virtuous regimen of fruits and green tea. In this month's magazine and on our website, we take a look at some international suggestions for how to cope with the effects of one too many.

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (0)
Filed Under: Culture, Food, Health, Pop Omnivore
Posted Nov 20,2008

Last week, The Amazing Race featured a glistening soup made with chunks of sheep rump. Some contestants slurped. One gagged. A vegetarian tried but failed to take it down (thus losing out on a chance for the $1 million prize). And here at Pop Omnivore, we wondered. What is this dish all about? And what's up with using the backside?

First of all, a bit (more than what Borat taught us) about Kazakhstan. It is the ninth-largest country in the world. Its official language is Russian. Its state, or national, language is Kazakh. It is the world's seventh-largest producer of wheat. Its biggest city is Almaty, where the soup slurping took place, and the capital is Astana.

But what about its food?

Posted by Catherine Barker | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Culture, Food, Pop Omnivore, Television
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