Russian weather is notoriously harsh in the winter months. It lies parallel to Canada but lacks similar large inland bodies of water to store the sun's heat. The number of military failures by invading forces are testament to the fierceness of the climate. Strong winds can spread the chill across Europe, even as far as East Anglia in Britain.
Derren Brown filmed a selection of his card tricks and named the production 'The Devil's Picturebook'.
Recently voted the world's favourite animal, tigers are potent symbols of both fierce beauty and vulnerability in the face of manmade destruction. Like the lion, they belong to the genus Panthera, and are classified as endangered. They are the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and South Korea, and are considered to be the King of the Beasts within eastern Asian folklore. The name of the tiger in Rudyard Kipling's 'The Jungle Book', Shere Khan, means 'Tiger King' in English.
The pattern of a tiger's stripes are his own fingerprint; no two are ever the same. Fossils suggest that the animals have existed for around two million years, though their habitat is now obviously hugely depleted. They tend to be solitary animals, only socialising with other tigers during mating and the rearing of cubs.
Of the six surviving subspecies, there are thought to be less than 4,000 living in the wild. Many zoos around the world are making concerted efforts to breed in captivity, in the hope that these remarkable animals can be saved. In the wild, deforestation and poaching are to blame for the steep decline in their numbers.
civet is a carnivorous, cat-like mammal found throughout Africa and in parts of Asia. It is especially common in the tropics. The musk secreted by the civet (both male and female) has traditionally been used in the manufacture of perfume, though lobbying from animal rights groups has seen this decline over the years. It was an original ingredient of Chanel No.5, though the company claim they now use synthetic civet instead.
Andrea Mantegna (1431 - 1506) was an Italian painter and engineer who worked during the Renaissance. He was born near Padua and was informally adopted at the age of ten by the artist Francesco Squarcione. He served as his apprentice; the older man's passion for antiquity made a great impression on him. Mantegna went on to paint pictures that seem very influenced by sculpture, depicting figures such as Christ, Caesar, St. Sebastian and the Magi. In 1440 he was appointed as the court artist in Mantua, a position for in which he was highly paid. Pope Innocent VIII commissioned him in 1488 to paint frescoes in the Belvedere Chapel in the Vatican. Mantegna is best remembered for his developments in perspective; he would often create the illusion in his paintings that the viewer was looking up at the figure from below, therefore making them appear monumental.
Giulio Romano (1499-1546) was an Italian architect, painter and engineer. He began his career as a pupil of Raphael, and assisted greatly in some of the master's public works; examples incluse the figures of Adam and Eve, Noah and Moses in 'Raphael's Bible' in the Loggie of the Vatican. He also worked on the saloon of the 'Incendio del Borgo'. Raphael left Romano a great deal of his equipment when he died. In 1524, the Duke of Mantua asked Romano to move there and work in his service as an architect and painter. Some of the projects he undertook here were 'The History of Troy' in the Castello, rebuilding work on a large scale at the Palazzo del Te (one of the Duke's residences) and extensive renovations at the Cathedral of Mantua. His prolific and relentless output of work was perhaps a contributing factor towards his early death at the age of 46.
This quote is taken from Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's 'Othello'. It is part of his final speech , before he stabs himself. The words quoted here describe his beloved wife, Desdemona, whom he has just killed after being manipulated into believing she was unfaithful to him; it is upon discovering the truth from her maid, Emilia, that he resolves to die.
Here is Laurence Fishburne delivering a fine version of the speech:
This refers to an episode in 'Gulliver's Travels', written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift. It occurs in the fourth and final part of the story, set from 1710 to 1715. Gulliver has been abandoned on a distant island by his mutinous crew, which transpires to be the Country of the Houyhnhnms. He first encounters a savage group of people called the Yahoos, who are essentially humanlike, but in all the worst ways. They are ruled by the Houyhnhnm, a race of intelligent horses. These creatures exhibit far better characteristics, such as wisdom, calmness and rationality. They have no religion, so - fascinatingly - their state is entirely secular. They do demonstrate a lack of emotion, but Gulliver comes to admire them greatly, and love their country. When he is eventually forced to return home to England, he becomes reclusive - preferring to spend time with his horses.
Sumatra is an island in western Indonesia. It is one of the largest islands in the world, with a largely Muslim population of over 50 million people. It had been colonised by nearby countries since 500BC, and visited by Marco Polo in the 15th Century, before coming under Dutch control in the 19th Century. Despite a natural abundance of flora and fauna, the destruction of nearly half of its forests since 1985 has had serious effects. Its native tiger, rhinoceros and orangutan populations are all now critically endangered. The country suffered greatly in the Asian Tsunami of 2004, when over 170,000 Indonesians were killed. It also suffered earthquakes in 2005 and 2010.
Moorfields lies within the City of London, near Moorgate. In Roman times, an 18 foot wall was erected around the area we still refer to as the 'Square Mile', which at the time was the whole of London. Moorfields was one of the only open spaces within this area. Divided into three, Upper Moorfields technically lay outside of the boundary. Many people settled there after the Great Fire of London in 1666 forced people out of their homes. The area was not salubrious, and became notorious for its molly houses in the 18th Century, along with the usual brothels, highwaymen and thieves.
The Ottoman Empire lasted from 1299 until 1923, and was at its most powerful in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Constantinople - modern Istanbul - was its capital from 1453. Its most powerful leader was the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificant, who ruled from 1520 - 1566. The number of countries dominated by the empire was staggering, and included parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. In cultural and artistic terms, the melding of these regions produced fascinating results. The architecture, for example, bore Greek, Persian and Islamic features. The Baroque and Rococo influences from Western Europe also found their way over.
A soubrette is a secondary female character from an opera or operetta, usually sung by a soprano. Examples include Susanna in 'The Marriage of Figaro', Zerlina in 'Don Giovanni' and Despina in 'Cosi fan tutte' (all by Mozart). The character is often linked to the female lead in some way, perhaps as a confidante, and the singer's voice is generally lighter, to differentiate herself; for this reason, it is normally younger singers who take these roles. Usually the character is portrayed as flirtacious, attractive and somewhat gossipy, and therefore tends to appear in comic works. An exception is Belinda in Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas', a tragic opera.
Operettas are light operas. Although still classically sung, they bear a close relation to musical theatre. They developed during the 19th Century and were made especially popular by Offenbach. Shorter and more comic than opera, some of the best known were produced in the later Victorian decades by the English Gilbert and Sullivan. Still regularly performed, their best work includes 'The Mikado', 'H.M.S. Pinafore' and 'The Pirates of Penzance'. These three productions all have soubrette characters of Pitti-Sing, Hebe and Edith, respectively.
'Settecento' is Italian for 'seven hundred', and is used in Italy to describe the 18th Century. A minuet is, strictly speaking, a form of social dancing which appeared in France in the late 1700s. It was made especially popular by Louis XIV, the Sun King, who held minuet dances at his court. A minuet is usually composed in 3/4 time and moderately paced, although when a musician performs it without dancers, it is quicker. Italian composers would sometimes compose minuets to reflect this, in 3/8 or 6/8 time.
Saint Petersburg is a city in Russia, the second largest after Moscow. The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, was held under house arrest with his family at the Alexander Palace in nearby Tsarskoye Selo, before being taken to Siberia and executed. The 1905 Revolution began in Saint Petersburg; in 1914, the name of the city was changed to Petrograd. When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed again to Leningrad. From 1941-1944, the Nazis attempt to capture the city led to the Siege of Leningrad; the resilience of the Russians was staggering, but it led to the deaths of up to 4.5 million people. Reverting back to Saint Petersburg in 1991, it is now an important cultural centre. Its museum of art, The Hermitage, is the biggest in the world.
A Russian country house is known as a Dacha. The word means 'gift' in English, as they were originally rewarded by Peter the Great to courtiers who showed loyalty. The aristocracy continued to use them throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, by which time the more affluent middle classes were also able to purchase these country retreats. The fact that the narrator's father lost his Dacha is really neither here nor there, as they were all seized and nationalised after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.
sounding box. It allows the sound produced by the player to be circulated and modified, to reach the desired tone. An example is the round space on an acoustic guitar below the fretboard.
'witch's knot' has been a staple in folklore for centuries; it was believed that it acted as a charm to ensure a spell or chant would hold its power. It has also been a longheld superstition to tie a knot in one's handkerchief for good luck. Witch's knots are most associated, however, with using magic to control the weather. Storms could be raised or calm restored depending on the intentions of the witch - and the knot could be tied in cords, or even her own hair. The term 'witch's knot' is also used to describe the knotting in a horse's tail or mane, and comes from the same old belief. Throughout parts of Europe, including Finland, sailors believed that the wind could be controlled by the tying and untying of knots, and would purchase knotted handkerchiefs from people who specialised in offering them for sale; it was understood that the knots were tied by witches, both male and female. In Great Britain, this belief was widespread throughout Cornwall, Shetland, Lewis and the Isle of Man.
Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan, and ruled the Mongol Empire from 1260 to 1294. His huge realm included Mongolia, China, Tibet, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Siberia and even parts of Eastern Europe such as Poland. He also attempted unsuccessful invasions of Japan and Vietnam. A notable fact about him is that he was the first world leader to introduce paper money as currency. Italian explorer Marco Polo wrote of visiting the city of Xanadu, in China, during Kublai Khan's reign. He claimed that the ruler "rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse's croup". One of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's most famous poems is called 'Kubla Khan'; he said he was inspired to write it after taking opium.
The Tsar's Palace in question is Tsarkoye Selo ('Tsar's Village'), situated 15 miles south of St Petersburg in Russia. The residence actually includes two palaces, the Catherine Palace and Alexander Palace. The former was named for Catherine I, who was given the estate in 1708 by her husband Peter the Great, and the latter was built by Catherine the Great for her beloved grandson, Alexander I. It was common for members of the aristocracy to spend time at the estate during the summer. The Lyceum was founded in 1811, to educate the children of noble families; a famous
student was the poet Alexander Pushkin. The menagerie was a specially designated, forested area built in the 188 square hectare Alexander Park next to the Catherine Palace. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the estate was renamed Detskoye Selo, meaning 'Children's Village'. Despite considerable damage by the Nazis in World War Two, the estate has survived and benefitted from investment in reconstruction work; it has been given back its former name and enjoys the status of a World Heritage Site.