Rabindranath Tagore was a Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet, the first non-European to win the Nobel in 1913. Born in Calcutta in 1867, he grew up in the luxury of Indian high society and began writing poetry at the tender age of eight. His first long poems were published when he was sixteen, and around this time he also began to write novels and dramas.
Traditionally, Bengali literature was based on the rigid structures and forms of classical Sanskrit, but Tagore introduced new verse forms and colloquial language which transformed the genre. He also wrote numerous essays, short stories, novels, dramas and a prolific repertoire of songs and dance dramas. He was a skilled performing musician and artist.
Tagore was a humanist who strongly advocated Indian independence. Although his work was largely unknown outside India, he was instrumental in introducing Indian culture to the West and remains one of India’s most renowned artists.
Tagore died in his childhood home in 1941 – the date of his death is still nationally mourned in India.
Some of Tagore’s works can be viewed online here.
The dirham derives its name from the Greek ‘drachma’ coin, and has been used as a unit of currency and mass across the Middle East and North Africa since the time of the Ottoman Empire, when it was called a ‘dram’. No longer used as a unit of measurement, despite an Islamic movement which would like to see it reinstated as a silver measurement, the dirham is used as a main unit of currency today in Morocco and UAE, and as subdivisions of the Iraqi, Jordanian and Libyan dinar, the Qatari riyal and Tajikistani somoni.
The Moroccan dirham (plural darahim) was first introduced in 1882, replaced by the franc when Morocco was a French colony and reinstated in 1960. The dirham comes in coin denominations of ½, 1, 2, 5 and 10 and banknotes of 20, 50, 100 and 200. The santim is a subdivision of the dirham, with 100 santimat worth 1 dirham.
Today, the dirham is worth approximately 0.07 British pounds.
Sometimes called the 'Ochre City', at the centre of Marrakech is the ancient walled city (medina) which includes Djemaa el Fna, one of the world’s busiest squares. The souk in Marrakech is the largest traditional market in Morocco and an important Berber trading centre. The city has a large international population and is much-visited by tourists from across the world.
Talismans, also called nazars, are commonly used to ward off the evil eye, and these have become popular souvenirs amongst tourists to these areas. Talismans vary, but an oft-recurring theme is that of a blue pendant with circles of light blue, white and dark blue within it to represent an eye. These, when worn or hung outside a house, are believed to protect the wearer or occupant from the evil eye or even turn the curse back on the evil-wisher.
Praetorian Guard was an elite bodyguard used by the Roman Emperors, including Julius Caesar, Augustus and, finally, Constantine I who dissolved them in the 4th century.
Initially a positive peace-keeping force, the Guard latterly became infamous for being a group of assassins and mercenaries, who could be paid to harm emperors or civilians. The Emperor Claudius came to the throne with the support of the Praetorian Guard, members of whom also killed his predecessor, Caligula.
The term ‘praetorian guard’ is commonly used today to suggest an elite, loyal group of personal bodyguards belonging to a powerful person.
This refers to the Arabic folk tale of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp – one of the most famous stories from the One Thousand and One Nights collection. The story is about a poor young boy, Aladdin, who comes across a brass lamp which, when rubbed, releases a powerful genie who can grant him his wishes. The genie – also called a jinn – is a common feature of many traditional Arabic and Muslim tales.
The video shows the genie emerging from Aladdin's lamp in the popular 1992 Disney musical cartoon of the story.
Samaritans are an ethnic group from the Levant. This, however, refers to the common use of the term Samaritan to mean a good, charitable person. The Good Samaritan is the famous Biblical parable told by Jesus in the New Testament. A traveller – possibly a Jew – , robbed and left for dead, is ignored by two passers-by. Finally a Samaritan – Samaritans and Jews were known enemies – stops and helps the man, saving his life. Jesus used this to illustrate the commandment ‘love thy neighbour’.
Many hospitals and charitable organisations are named for the Good Samaritan.
The Muslim call to mandatory prayer is uttered five times a day by a muezzin from the minaret of a mosque. Named the ‘adhan’ or ‘azan’, the call has different texts of repeated phrases depending on the system of belief, but the underlying message is that of all Islam: ‘There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.’ The pronouncement is followed by a second call for the faithful to line up in the mosque for prayers.
The call is a melodious wailing chant which is broadcast through loudspeakers and can be heard across all Muslim towns at the five specified times of day.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ is a traditional Arabic tale found in One Thousand and One Nights. It has been much adapted and is a popular plot for pantomimes.
The story’s hero is Ali, son of a merchant who marries a poor woman. One night whilst collecting firewood he hears forty thieves visiting a cave, which they use to store their stolen treasure. The cave opens and closes to magic words which Ali has the fortune to overhear and he manages to steal from the thieves’ store. The thieves, despite their attempts to do away with Ali, are eventually tricked to their deaths and the treasure becomes Ali’s own.
In some versions of the story Ali is made out to be the leader of the thieves, but in the traditional tale he is simply an honest man who manages to outwit the evil band of thieves and claim his just rewards.
La Mamounia is an hotel near the Royal Palace in Marrakech. It is housed in an ancient palace whose gardens once belonged to an 18th century prince, El Mamoun.
Damask is a fabric which is decorated with an ornate woven pattern – it may be made of silk, wool, cotton, linen or a synthetic fabric. The style originated in the Middle Ages and takes its name from the city of Damascus, at the heart of the Byzantine and Islamic Empires which first produced this particular style of weaving.
Damask fabric is reversible because of the way in which it is woven, and often consists of only one colour, with the pattern picked out in a glossier thread than the background. There are, however, damask patterns in two colours or more – these often have gold or silver threads woven into them for extra embellishment. Common pattern themes include geometric shapes, flowers and animals. Damask is a popular fabric style for curtains, table linen and other home furnishings.
Tokyo is a seismicity, at risk from earthquakes. In 1923 an earthquake killed 142,000 people, one of the biggest disasters to strike the city.
Central Tokyo is a high-density urban area, with many skyscrapers and residential developments. To maximize land space, there is a concentration on access by high-speed rail, as opposed to car which necessitates more area taken up by roads – bullet trains are one of its most famous icons. The city is a major international financial and technological centre of business and, despite its traditions of culture and history, thought of as one of the most modern in the world.
Punch is a generic term used to describe a wide range of drinks which may or may not be alcoholic. The one thing that they usually have in common is that they are fruit-based, either through the use of fruit juice, chopped fruits or both. Punch is a popular drink for parties, in which it is often served in wide, deep bowls called, simply, punch bowls. A huge variety of punch recipes are available, for all occasions and tastes.
The Seychelles is a country in the Indian Ocean to the northeast of Madagascar with a population of roughly 84,000. It consists of 115 islands which were named for the French Minister of Finance Jean Moreau de Séchelles when they fell under French control in 1756. Britain took control in 1810 and independence was granted in 1976.
The islands of the Seychelles are largely coral with a relatively humid climate; they are famous for their great natural beauty and protected species such as the giant tortoise. Tourism is one of the country’s main industries, the other being exports from the plantations of cinnamon, vanilla, sweet potatoes and coconuts.
The logo is a six-pointed white star, which resembles the snowy peak of Mont Blanc as viewed from above.
Berkeley Square is a leafy town square in the West of London. Originally laid out by architect William Kent in the mid-18th century as a residential area, it now has only one residential property – number 48. The rest of the square’s buildings are occupied by shops, members’ clubs, offices and other businesses.
The square was named for the Berkeley family of Gloucestershire, whose town house had stood nearby. Since its inception, Berkeley Square has been highly sought after and is home to some of the costliest properties in London. The square has been immortalised in the 1940 song ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, along with several films and television programmes.
Annabel’s is London's first private members’ nightclub, founded in 1963 by Mark Birley. Located at 44 Berkeley Square, the exclusive club was named for his then wife, Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart. Clients have included Richard Nixon, Princess Anne and Frank Sinatra.
The original Tatler was a British society and literary magazine founded in 1709 by Richard Steele, writing under the name Isaac Bickerstaff. Steele placed a reporter in each of London’s most popular coffee houses so that all the latest gossip could be reported on. The magazine was published three times a week for two years, before publication was discontinued.
Since then several other similar magazines have been published under the name Tatler. The current magazine was founded in 1901 by Clement Shorter and is now owned by Condé Nast. It reports on London high society gossip and features travel and restaurant supplements, as well as an annual ‘Little Black Book’ – a list of the top one hundred eligible under-thirties in London.
Bayswater Road is a main road in the West of London, running along the northern edge of Hyde Park. Every Sunday the Bayswater Road Artists, a collective of 250 local artists, showcase their work on the pavements and railings lining the street.