First impressions are often so telling. Minutes from the airport I sensed the scale of the mountainous peaks and craggy cliffs. I saw houses surrounded by blazing bougainvillea and banana leaves leaving me little clues as to what to expect. The high-rise buildings are mercifully few and every perch is roosted upon right up into the hills where I spotted villages with terracotta roofs dotted amongst the patchwork of the terraced cultivation carved out of the mountainside.

I never knew that Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde are known collectively as Macaronesia. Madeira herself is sub-tropical and neither Mediterranean nor on the equator and actually twice as close to Africa as Europe. It’s been a port of call for fleets heading towards the South Atlantic, acting as a gateway from Europe to the New World. In the 15th century, it became a cosmopolitan center for foreigners comprising German, Flemish, and Italian communities as they chased the sugar trade.
More… “Peaks and Gardens”

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of the television panel game QI. After leaving he began to investigate other languages, examining 280 dictionaries and 140 websites. This led to the creation of his first book of three in 2005, The Meaning of Tingo, featuring words that have no equivalent in the English language.

He is now a regular international travel writer and luxury hotel reviewer, having written for the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, and numerous travel print and website publications.


We expect fruit to not make it too difficult for us to have access to its inner parts. Many varieties fulfill this expectation, while some put up a fight. Quinces, for example, have to be cooked before eating because otherwise their flesh is too hard. Beneath the tough skin of the pomegranate hides a complex center that seems bound to mysterious laws: Inside are chambers divided by membranes, which in turn are filled with hundreds of tiny, angular sacs of juice that burst easily to the touch, each of which contains a pip. You can squeeze a pomegranate or cut it into pieces and pull the seeds out with your teeth. After a bit of practice, you get the hang of it. Cutting one of these fruits open requires some caution, however, as the juice is notorious for causing stubborn stains. To a greater or lesser extent, the fruit has a tart taste, but it is not very aromatic and its flavor is short-lived; the small pips are resinously bitter. The hermaphroditic pomegranate blossom doesn’t even have a scent. This mysterious “berry” seldom brings on love at first sight, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

The weak points of this fruit – if you can call them that – haven’t diminished its attraction. It caused a welling of “desire and anticipation of foreignness and southernness, and the allure of great journeys” in the German poet Rilke, according to a letter he wrote to his wife Clara. All over the world, there are stories linked to this astounding fruit; its blood-red color even inspired the surrealist Russian-Armenian film The Color of the Pomegranate.
More… “Picking Pomegranates”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


During late summers, I become almost fruitarian. Sometimes, nearing the dinner hour, I suddenly realize that the only things I’ve eaten all day have been fresh melon, berries, nectarines, and plums.

The root of this fruity love affair is clearly my childhood summers, which I spent at my family’s open-air, roadside produce stand in southern New Jersey. My cousins and I sold fruit and vegetables in a makeshift wooden structure with hand-written signs at the edge of property owned by my father and uncle’s packing house. I worked there pretty much from the first grade, when I had a little corner where I sold little containers of bruised and overripe “seconds” under a sign that read “Bargain Table. Everything 50 cents.”

By the time I was about 12, I awoke before sunrise and — before eating breakfast — pedaled my bike a few miles over to the packing house, where… More…


We think of it as a modern craze, but there have always been those amongst us who are obsessed with healthy eating. By the Middle Ages, doctors still accepted the ancient Greek doctrine that each individual body was made up of different amounts of the four essential “humors” — blood, bile, choler, and phlegm — which in turn dictated a person’s hot, moist, cool, and dry elements. Every thoughtful banquet host had to provide foods that catered to each guest’s distinct physical makeup, so that those guests could keep their humors properly balanced and enjoy well-being. A large fish or side of pork, when served at table, might have been divided into quarters in the kitchen, with a different sauce provided for each humor. Just to complicate things, it was also believed that meat could transfer an animal’s… More…