This Week In Zoology: Check Your Bonfires

In Ireland as in many countries, there is one day a year which is known as “bonfire night”, when people light big piles of leaves, wood, and often other random trash. The ecological impact of such celebrations notwithstanding, there is a critter out there which needs your help in taking a bit more care when lighting your bonfires.

The Irish Wildlife Trust shared this plea this year in the form of this cartoon.


For those of you unfamiliar with hedgehog biology, this has to do with the difference between torpor and true hibernation.

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Enough Earthquakes

If I were superstitious, I would say that Poseidon had a beef with Central Italy this year. You’ll remember the 6.0 earthquake that hit Amatrice in August, completely leveling it, and followed by very large aftershocks. A few days ago we had two seperate 5.5 and 6.1 earthquakes, both in the same general area, and both with their own significant aftershocks.

And now, this morning, the same area of Italy was hit with the largest earthquake since 1976, a 6.6 blowout 7km from Norcia that managed to shut down the Rome metro service, cause damage on both coasts, and level another handful of towns.

Unfortunately, this problem is not going to be resolved by burning half a cow in honor of Poseidon. In reality, Geologists tell us that we can only expect more of these kinds of earthquakes in the future, given how the tectonic plates are shifting under Italy right now. So, be prepared for a fierce battle going forward: How do we update our ancient and medieval treasures without making them ugly, and how do we pay for that, given the sheer number of artefacts to preserve and Italy’s massive debt? We simply can’t. On the other hand, if we don’t, we’re probably not going to have any left very soon, and thousands more will die for being in close proximity to pretty much any one of 80% of the buildings in Central Italy when the next inevitable earthquake hits.

To think I only just found out about it as my Grandmother started her Happy Birthday phone call to me with the phrase “we’re all fine, by the way”.

So, in light of that, I have a few more phone calls to make. More posts to follow.

Cultural Differences: How We Wedding

I’ve made it back from Ireland after an amazing time, plenty of travel and my first ever grown up wedding. Getting prepared for this wedding without making a total fool out of myself was interesting, as weddings around the world go down in very, very different ways. I found myself asking everyone I knew about the typical wedding in their countries, and trying to piece together common threads.

For example, do you give gifts, or cash, or both? Is it considered weird to give cash if you’re not a close relative, like it is at a birthday? In Greece the answer is yes, no cash in hand unless you’re an uncle, the couple will usually provide a bank account for any monetary gifts. In the States the answer is don’t just give cash, that’s a bit tacky, give a nice present along with it at least. In Italy the answer is hell no, and don’t go cluttering the couple up with useless presents they don’t need, just give them more cash.

What does one wear at a wedding? We can all agree on no white dresses, but is black also frowned upon? What about the length? In some places, anything above the knee is tacky. In others, no such modesty is expected outside of the church. And what about the men? In Romania, the answer is white shirt and black pants. Elsewhere, any dress shirt will suffice. For some, a tie is absolutely necessary, for others, not so much.

And how long do weddings normally last, seeing as we have to decide whether to take the 1:20AM or 4:20AM bus back? In Italy, they are usually late afternoon weddings which will most likely end around 11PM or midnight. In Romania and Greece, it is inconceivable that the party ends before 6AM. So, which is the Irish more likely to be?

In the end, there were only three things that all the cultures I questioned seemed to agree on: no white dresses, you should show up early rather than late, and you will eat far too much, so don’t wear anything that’s overly tight.

So we set off, not eating a thing, and took a nice early bus across the country which was to get us there a good 45 minutes early, time for me to change, fix myself up, and watch the bride and groom arrive.

Only the bus meandered, and brought us there a good hour late, so finding me getting changed in the bus toilet, trying desperately not to touch anything as I banged off the sides with the jolting. We scamper up to the wedding and luckily find the bride and groom still greeting guests in the foyer, phew we’re not that late, and so we sit at a random table and wait for the party to start.

And that’s when we realize there is no food at this wedding, beyond a tiny plate of canapes near the welcome prosecco, and cake. We pretended to go for a cigarette, and scoffed down a sneaky burger in the hotel pub instead. We popped back in having missed cake, but at least with something in our bellies to absorb the alcohol which, incidentally, you do have to pay for at Irish weddings, so good thing we saw someone do just that before walking away from the hotel bar and making someone chase after us!

In the end we had a great time, chatting and dancing and drinking until our 4:20AM bus. It looks like Irish weddings are somewhere in between the Italian and Romanian ones, which suited us just fine. We managed to not make total fools of ourselves, they were delighted we came, and our cash gift seems to have erred strongly on the side of generous rather than meager, which is the best kind of mistake to make.

So, where does your culture stand on things like black dresses, cash gifts, late night partying, free booze, overstuffing with food, and fun traditions? Let’s make this comments section the how-to-wedding guide across the world, so that the next time you go to a wedding in a different country, you have a reference guide!

Not Just For Brexit

This video was made specifically due to the surge of racist outbursts that many people have reported in the UK immediately after Brexit. Silently ignoring racist attacks normalize and embolden racism, so these are 5 ways that you can do your part to combat the systemic problem.


This video may have been inspired by Brexit, but it certainly is not specific to the UK. Everyone around the world can, and should, take this advice.

Racism needs to be confronted and challenged at every step, if we are to have any hope of seeing things change for the better. This advice is something that most people can take with virtually no effort on their part, out the effect of it can be enormous.

It may seem stupid, but the bit about speaking quietly and calmly to the victim (in the circumstance that you do not feel you can actively confront the attacker safely) really spoke to me. While the color of my skin has never labelled me as a foreigner to casual encounters on public transport in all of the countries I have lived in, I definitely have been yelled at and intimidated by groups of men because of my gender. Having someone sit next to me, and talk to me, and give me someone else to focus on would have given me immense comfort in such situations. It would have made me feel far more safe, and far less threatened, if I knew that at least one person acknowledged what was happening, and showed me that they did not accept what was happening as normal. Such a simple act of kindness would have meant the world to me.

Please spread this video, and keep it in mind if you ever witness such aggression and violence targeted towards another human being. I hope those who are disgusted by racism really start to break their silence, and that in doing so, they show that they outnumber the loud and vile minority.

Of course, that is also making the assumption that there actually are more people who are disgusted by racism than there are people who would attack someone because of the color of their skin. Here’s hoping that assumption is true.

Elephant in the Room Part IV: The Elephant Has Been Spotted

A few days ago, I posted about a woman who died in Italy of sepsis after miscarrying twins. Her family claimed that she died because the doctor on call was a conscientious objector, and refused to complete the abortion she needed to save her life because he could still detect a foetal heartbeat. The hospital denies the charges, but a manslaughter investigation is still underway to assess whether or not the family’s claims have merit.

While Italian law allows for conscientious objection only in the matter of the voluntary termination of a pregnancy, I pointed out that it should not be allowed under any circumstances, particularly in public hospitals. If performing an abortion goes against your moral values, I argued, you need to go into a different specialization or profession. Similarly, if you are a pacifist and owning or firing a gun goes against your moral code (and Italian law also permits conscientious objection to firearms), you cannot be a police officer. I pointed out that no one was really talking about the deep problems with conscientious objection in the medical field, and how our country has a two-fold problem of Catholic hospitals with emergency rooms, which can lead women needing emergency pregnancy-related care to be brought to those hospitals, and conscientious objectors being hired in non-Catholic public hospitals as well.

Well, the elephant in the room has been spotted at last. The controversy surrounding that poor woman’s death is sparking debate and outrage which is not dying down, and I am finally seeing articles addressing the problem of conscientious objection. A study has been conducted to investigate just how many conscientious objectors there are working in hospitals across the country, and the results are mind boggling.

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Holidays With Crys: Hello Dublin Here I Come

Man I am properly spoiling myself this year, aren’t I? Despite the fact that I have not managed to visit anywhere new in almost 3 years, I am taking a couple days off to visit my old Irish stomping grounds for a wedding.

I’m going to be honest, I did not love living in Dublin. I was there for 5 years, and despite the fact that I was trading in an excellent chance for a good PhD position for a long shot hope of one in Italy, I left the country as soon as I was able. However, I also made some good friends there that I would love to see again. Given the fact that I have very limited holiday time, and not living in the same countries as my family means that 90% of that is taken up visiting them, going back to Dublin was nowhere near the top of my priority list. But one of my closest friends is getting married, so now I have the perfect excuse to go back.

So, I’m on my way to the airport for a 48 hour, whirlwind flashback to my college years. Next stop Trinity College, Bray, Temple Bar, across the country to Clare, and then back again. Get the whiskey ready, this is going to be my first wedding as an adult, and what better way to pop my wedding party cherry than at an Irish one!

I have a feeling it’s going to get intense.

Cultural Differences: Italian Linguistic Diversity

Many people do not know how culturally diverse Italy actually is. By that, I do not mean that there cultures from all around the world living there in large numbers, but rather than Italian culture itself is a misnomer. It has only been 150 years since the country was unified, and the differences between the different regions are still staggering. Even when it comes to food, there is not a single dish that is native to the entire country, not even the most globally famous like pasta or pizza. This cultural diversity is most evident in the various languages, dialects and sub-dialects spoken to this day, which have been studied and put together in this language map.


While this map is in Italian, you can see from a mere glance that there are so many different languages and dialects spoken that they had to repeat color palates and add labels simply to represent them all. Not only do you have the various regional dialects, some of which on their own reasonably qualify as completely separate languages (Sardinian, for instance, is said by many to be closer to Catalan than it is to Italian), but you also see a big pink chunk of German, spots of orange Slovenian, yellow Occitan, pale yellow Croatian and red Albanian scattered throughout the country. For a country of its size, the language variation is impressive.

This map partially represents why Italy is a country so divided, despite its political unification 150 years ago. A person from Sicily can seem as foreign to a Venetian as a person from a completely different country, and often that can also bring with it hostility, wariness, or simple frank curiosity. This also means that, when visiting Italy, there is no one place you can go to “truly experience Italy”, because there is no such thing as a unique Italian experience. Venice is a completely different world from Trentino, from Tuscany, from Rome, from Puglia, or Sicily. I was just as much a tourist in Taormina as I was in Barcellona, because political unity means nothing in the face of culture.

I tell you this partially because I find it interesting, but also to visually represent the complexity of Italian culture. While I love to give people holiday tips and travel advice, know that I can be as completely ignorant of parts of my own country as anyone else who has never visited it. On the other hand, I kind of like being able to be a tourist in my own country, and I hope to have the opportunity to visit more of it.

Right now, Puglia is on the top of my list of priorities. But that’s only because I’ve already visited Sicily, and it was glorious.


A Curious Idea

A cafe in Manchester is testing out a new business plan, and I find it intriguing.


The concept is paying to stay, rather than paying to consume. You eat, drink and use the wifi for free, but you are charged 6p per minute to physically stay in the cafe.

That works out to 3.60 per hour, which I suppose is not an unreasonable price by any stretch. I find it interesting, because I wonder how it will work out. It certainly discourages loitering around and chatting well after you finish your coffee, which I think will improve turnaround and free up more spots for customers, leading to fewer losses of customers when they can’t find a place to sit down. On the other hand, you lose the customers who stop in for takeaway coffee and sweets, which many businesses will tell you make up a very decent revenue stream.

I would definitely try it out, and I could have seen myself using it as a good place for study groups in college. I’m sure its success will also be determined by the quality and variety of snacks offered, and by the robustness of the wifi. Either way, it’s definitely original, and clever, and I’m curious to see how it works out.

What are your thoughts on it? Would you go to a cafe like this?

Sunday Cooking With Crys: Diet Tip Of The Week (III)

It’s that time of year, so for this week I want to talk about pumpkin. I, like many people, generally only like to eat pumpkin in a sweet context, but recently I’ve been finding recipes for salty pumpkin dishes that are actually pretty awesome. Pumpkin is very filling, high in fiber and much lower in calories than sweet potatoes, in fact if you follow Weight Watchers, pumpkin has 0 points.

Today, I’m making a creamy, spicy pumpkin curry, for which I have a vegetarian and a fish variation.

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