- Title: VARIOUS: LIFE! Review of the Year 2008/YEARENDER Part 1
- Date: 17th December 2008
- Summary: LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (FILE - AUGUST) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF THE HEART ROBOT
- Reuters ID: LVA7SIJ1O965S5EO89IIDT0A0K62
- Duration: 00:00:08
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Story Text: Some of the most memorable Life stories of 2008; from animals to festivals to innovations.
FESTIVALS: 2008 kicked off with several cultural celebrations with millions of people coming together to celebrate different festivals.
The most famous of them, Rio De Janeiro's Carnival, attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors with the highlight being two nights of parades by 12 samba groups, each featuring up to 6,000 dancers.
In Bolivia tens of thousands poured into the streets of Oruro in a colourful extravaganza to mark the beginning of Carnival and make their annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of Socavon.
More than 45,000 Bolivians perform folkloric dances in traditional and fantastic costumes in a festival that is widely recognized as the most spectacular in the country.
But at least two people were killed and 44 injured during the Black Nazarene feast on where thousands of Filipino Catholics packed the streets to join a long procession in downtown Manila. Around 100,000 followers had squeezed themselves in front of a church to get close to the wooden black Nazarene statue in the belief that touching it can cure ailments.
Daredevil tribals of India's southern Tamil Nadu have there own way of celebrating their Hindu Goddess Mariamman by observing the age-old tradition of piercing their bodies to earn spiritual merit.
In the month of Aadi (mid July to mid August) of the Tamil calendar devotees give to their deity by suspending themselves by their piercings as they are paraded through town.
In another unusual tradition, dozens of half-naked men rolled around in the snow in a ritualised brawl at a temple in northern Japan. The "Somin Sai", or naked festival, at Kokuseki-ji Temple in Iwate prefecture has a history of more than 1,000 years.
The festival itself started with some 80 men dressed only in white loin-cloths taking ritual baths and carrying painted paper lanterns through clouds of smoke and ended in a naked scrum of of the same men tumbling down snowy slopes in a fight over a "lucky sack" containing pieces of wood.
Dressed more appropriately for the weather were the artists and crowds attending the Ice Festival in Geilo, Norway.
Geilo's neighbouring township of Al has had an exchange program with Soloso in Guatemala for years,. which gave them the idea of inviting the Kaqchikel group to play their marimba. One difference that made the experience unique for the performers and audience alike was that the instrument was made from ice, a material they had never seen before, let alone played upon.
And in Sydney thousands of revellers took to the streets to watch Mardi Gras, the annual gay and lesbian parade. Around 10,000 participants went on parade to celebrate the event's 30th anniversary.
The small Belgian town of Stavelot held its own very distinct Carnival in May, with hundreds of men and children dressing up in white sheets and long carrot-coloured noses to march through the city.
The costumes date back to the early 16th century, when the prince Guillaume of Mandersheid forbade religious men to mix with ordinary folk during the carnival celebrations. People ridiculed the Prince's ruling by walking through the procession wearing hooded brown robes. When the prince banned that too, the folk of Stavelot just changed the colour of the robes to white and put on grotesques masks with giant noses to hide their faces - a tradition that was revived in the 1940's in the spirit of the festival.
Also in Belgium, in the town of Jemappes, the 'Dream Smugglers' gave the 4-day carnival a more distinctive look. 'The Smugglers' invade the town on Easter Monday with an array of giant dolls, cockerels and puppets.
While in Berlin hundreds of thousands of people came out to celebrate cultural diversity at one of Germany's biggest summer carnivals. Perfect weather attracted even more people to an estimated crowd of 1.3 million revellers taking part in the the May carnival of cultures.
And in Japan the three-century-old April Fertility Festival celebrates the coming of spring with sexual symbols making their way down public streets.
For centuries, local men and women have gathered for the festival to seek the blessings of fertility and protection from sexual diseases.
Nearly 30,000 people from all over the world joined The Kanamara fertility festival where giant model phallus' were on display.
Phallic worship is still common in Japan and can be observed in shrines through out the country, especially in spring. But in the western world, the advent of Christianity, which considered such celebrations and phallic imagery as obscene, oppressed most similar rituals.
Meanwhile in the town of Cucullo, in the Abruzzo region of Italy, the devout took time to pluck snakes from their habitats to be draped around the statue of Saint Dominic and paraded through the streets in the 'Serpari Festival' that takes place on the first Thursday of May.
The parade is celebrated to evoke the saint's help to ward off snake bite and originally to encourage the local shepherds that it was safe to go out into the pastures.
In the Greek town of Galaxidi, the first day of Orthodox Lent and the end of carnival is celebrated by a strange festival where residents battle it out with coloured baking flour. A word of warning to visitors: no one is spared in the all out flour war - even buildings have to be covered with plastic to escape the coloured power-bombing.
The world's largest beer festival, the annual Oktoberfest, opened in the Bavarian capital of Munich for the 175th time drawing in some six million visitors from around the world, all expected consume millions of litres of beer and hundreds of thousands of sausages.
And in Thailand people went to lakes and waterways across the country to celebrate the picturesque full-moon festival in the capital.
The picturesque festival is celebrated along waterways, lakes and ponds throughout the country, though there are various regional twists to the festivities.
In Thailand's second largest city of Chiang Mai, people released thousands of balloon-like lanterns called "Yee Peng" which are propelled heavenward by the heat from the flat, waxy candle at their base ANIMALS: Some of the most awesome spectacles of 2008 were scenes from the wild.
Patagonian orcas show off the heights of animal intelligence, precision and determination to survive with a unique hunting technique that seemingly defies natural instincts.
The Valdes Peninsula in Argentina's Patagonia is home to a natural wonder and thrilling animal hunting technique found nowhere else on earth. The rocky beaches are the breeding grounds for huge colonies of sea lions, which killer whales snatch up from the shallow waters almost at the risk of beaching themselves.
Then there are the animals in captivity - and 2008 was a year for several new arrivals in zoos around the world.
Three white tiger cubs, two boys and one girl, were welcomed into the world at Santiago Zoo in Chile. With little over 200 white tigers left the world, the occasion was a special one for the zoo.
The local zoo in the western German city of Wuppertal were ready to introduce some new additions of its own. When male cub "Aru" and his sister "Aketi" turned three months old, zoo officials decided they were old enough to meet the public. Prior to that they had been kept out of sight, so as not to agitate them or their protective mother, "Maleika."
Children gathered at the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina to meet its newest star attraction, a male chimpanzee born in April.
All eyes were on the eight-month-old chimp, who remained on his mother's lap as he enjoyed his first taste of life under the spotlights.
But the celebrity status of the animal stars can have its downside.
About 50 Rhesus monkeys living in an enclosure at Ohama park in Osaka, western Japan, have steadily been gaining weight for several years, with members of the public unable to resist throwing them snacks and treats.
With genuine concerns for the monkey's health, the park is considering constructing an enclosure for the monkeys which prevent visitors from throwing food.
As well as new additions to zoos, some long time residents celebrated some landmark occasions.
The world's oldest captive rhino celebrated its 50th birthday in the Serengeti-Park in Hodenhagen, Germany.
Charly the Rhino has made the most of his time at the park, having conceived 31 baby rhinos in the past 33 years - quite a significant contribution to the breeding programme which hopes to save his species, the endangered white rhino.
Sadly the year also marked the passing of some animals that had worked their way into the hearts of the public.
The last giant panda at Tokyo's main zoo, 22-year-old male Ling Ling, a hit amongst visitors, died at the Ueno Zoo.
Hundreds of zoo visitors who had expected to get a glimpse of the most popular animal instead encountered a notice and a picture of the panda which explained that it was dead.
Some offered flowers and signed the book of condolences and the others, mainly children, cried out in front of the enclosure, the residence of Ling Ling for more than a decade.
Part of a zoo's job is to educate and inform - not just about the animals housed there, but about the organisation's own procedures as well.
Tokyo zookeepers tried to illustrate their own safety procedures to the public by way of a pantomime involving papier-mÃ¢chÃ© zebra (played by two zoo staff) on the loose, panicking, charging and kicking zookeepers and visitors.
Children watched on as the act came its dramatic conclusion, with staff simulating shooting the Zebra with a tranquilliser gun, sending it swooning and crashing to the ground.
Unfortunately, in practice it doesn't always go according to plan, as the staff at Ishikawa Zoo found out when 42-year-old chimp, Ichiro, escaped from his pen.
Settling down in the shade on a rooftop, the chimp held staff at bay for two and a half hours - at one time recognising and immediately seizing a tranquilliser gun off one of the staff.
He was finally distracted by a succulent banana long enough to be sedated and safely returned to his enclosure.
Veterinarians in Australia did their best to help a carpet python by surgically removing four golf balls that the animal had mistaken for chicken eggs.
All ended well for the python, named "Augusta," who was released in the wild again after a full recovery.
And one of Earth's slowest moving mammals got a lot faster thanks to staff at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo. Ten-year-old "Arava," an African Spurred Tortoise, is paralysed in her back legs, and unable to walk.
Veterinarians came up with a simple but effective solution to the problem: simply lashing a skateboard to Arava's hindquarters has given her back her mobility.
While zoo and welfare workers do what they can for the animals, many animals are in turn aiding humans in some extraordinary ways.
In the town of Inhambane, in southern Mozambique, rats are helping rid the of the landmines that have been left over from struggle for independence from Portugal and the subsequent 16-year civil war. According to Handicap International, an estimated 20 people step on landmines every month in Mozambique.
Yet for a small treat, the trained rats, which are too light to explode mines, are able to sniff out the explosive materials. When they do, they scratch around the earth to identify a mine to their handler.
According to trainers, two rats can clear 200 square metres in just an hour, work that would take a human de-miner up to two weeks.
Other animals have been showing off their skills which, while not as important as the work of the rats, is impressive nonetheless.
Ten is a parrot who can solve chain puzzles better than humans. The six-year-old New World parrot uses her beak and foot to free two entangled chains in less than 30 seconds.
The female macaw takes on every visitor, and has left many frustrated and baffled. Everyday, Ten competes against over a dozen visitors, yet she remains undefeated. At her best, she solved the puzzle in five seconds.
Then there are those animals that just love their leisure and recreation, whether it's Chela the bopping dog from Peru or Sam, one of the many canines learning to surf in Mar de Plata, Argentina, where many pet owners are starting to share their love of the ocean with their animals.
But other animals have a job to do.
The Fort Worth 2008 Stock Show saw a new cowboy put his trusted steed, a border collie through his paces.
"Whiplash" a 18-year-old capuchin monkey, who's trained to ride border collies and herd sheep.
And of course, the year also witnessed the birth of polar bear cub Flocke, successor to Knut as Germany's most famous animal.
Flocke was raised by hand at the zoo after it was decided that her mother, Vera, was unable to look after her.
INNOVATION: Scientists and inventors continued to push the boundaries of technology and innovation to make life easier and safer - or at least more entertaining.
Automobile manufacturer Honda unveiled its experimental robot legs, expected to help people who work standing or in a crouching position for a long time.
The gadget helps redistribute body weight along its frame and lightens the burden on the user's own legs.
Also introduced in Japan, where 40 percent of the population will be 65 or older by mid-century, were airbags for the frail and elderly.
The protective airbags are placed behind the head and hips and inflate in fractions of a second if a possible backwards fall is detected by the wearer.
Meanwhile scientists at a British university developed a robot which is controlled by a biological brain formed from cultured neurons taken from a rat.
While a small robot on wheels with the brain of a rat may not sound like the most useful invention, scientists hope that studying it will help them better understand diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
In a time when the virtual world is growing more expansive everyday, surgeons have entered it to study the human body.
London doctors along with animators who are more used to producing music videos have teamed up in an unlikely alliance to develop a new revolutionary virtual heart.
The cyber heart took several years to design and it replicates exactly how the heart moves allowing students to delve deep into the organ to see just how it pulsates and beats - and without anyone dying.
With global warming being one of the biggest issues facing the world, many are looking to new technologies and ideas for sustainability.
In Argentina scientists have developed a solution to the methane gas released into the atmosphere by the country's 55 million or so cows.
Quite simply, bag it. A tube tied directly to the one of the cow's four stomachs leads to an inflatable container on it's back, literally collecting bovine gas while it grazes.
And in an age where each new superstructure and skyscraper surpasses the last, architecture is entering a bold new phase.
The plans for two new structures were unveiled in New York, hailed as the world's first 'moving' buildings, where every floor can rotate independently, thus continuously changing the building's architectural design.
The towers, to be built in Dubai and Moscow, will also be able to produce their own electricity.
The Dubai tower, which is slated for a 2010 opening, will stand at 80 stories and be comprised of offices, a hotel, apartments, and 10 luxury villas. Although the entire building will be able to rotate, only the 10 private villas at the top will be able to control their own rotation.
But it no matter how far advanced the technology or expensive the surroundings, sooner or later everybody finds themselves doing the same old maintenance.
In space cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station found their only toilet went on the blink for 10 days, requiring time-consuming manual flushes four to five times a day.
Cosmonaut-plumber Oleg Kononenko tackled the critical zero gravity plumbing job.
Speaking of space engineering, Japanese scientists have some theories about how to find the ultimate spacecraft design.
It may not seem very advanced, but in search of superior design for future space shuttles, scientists are experimenting with paper planes and whether or not they can withstand the return trip from outer space.
The scientists plan to launch paper planes from the International Space Station to see if they make it back to Earth. The theory is that paper craft, being much lighter than space shuttles, may escape the worst of the friction and heat that much heavier space shuttles face on re-entry to the atmosphere.
Meanwhile in Britain, scientists were looking into how responsive machines could give insight how robots can respond to - and provoke -our emotions.
Their experiment came in the form of the Heart Robot, which engages "emotionally" with the humans he encounters. Created by the UK's Bristol Robotics Laboratory, this vulnerable looking puppet/robot has a breathing belly and a beating heart that slows when he's calmed.
He'll also clasp your hand if you reach out to touch him. One woman said holding him was like holding her own baby.
Japanese researchers have also come up with a gadget with limited artificial intelligence - the "intelligent goggles" which tell you what you're looking at.
While most people use their eyes for that, the artificial intelligence goggles record everything you see and a monitor which displays text information about the object. This is done by matching it to a database linked to the goggles. While most people use their brains for that, the goggles presumably save you from going through the trouble.
Another invention designed to cut down on effort - and pollution - could be spotted whizzing around the streets of Berlin.
Half-bicycle, half-motorbike, the ErockIT can travel up to 80 kilometres an hour (almost 50 miles an hour) and the pedalling also charges up the bike's battery.
But at around 30,000 euros - or around 44,000 U.S. dollars - it doesn't come cheap, and customers have to put down 25 000 euros when they place an order.
Another revolutionary discovery was with the RoboSwift - the creation of Delft University's Technology department. What has them really excited is the fact that, unlike similar engines, this tiny, life-size mechanical bird can move its wings backwards.
That means it is super efficient in flight and looks like a real bird once it flies overhead going fairly much undetected by the human eye.
They call the mechanism 'morphing wings' which was developed with the help of the Experimental Zoology department of Wageningen University.
Russian aircraft designer and inventor, Alexander Begak, has created a his own flying machine - capable of travelling on land, water and in the air.
The aerocar, called "Evolution", a flying pod that can travel on land, slide through water and snow, and fly, thanks to a gliding parachute that acts as a soft, highly portable wing.
The invention is intended to be a multi-purpose vehicle which can be used for reconnaissance or industries, like monitoring the gas and oil pipelines, as well as for leisure activities.
One new innovation influencing the arena of sport was developed by sports journalist Pablo Silva.
Having spent many hours at soccer matches witnessing time and energy being wasted by teams feuding and jockeying for position over free kicks, Silva developed a spray that marks the right spot for free kicks - and the place where a defensive line must stand - then disappears.
Argentina's Football Association approved the use of the spray in matches in the hope of easing the burden of referees overseeing games. The spray disappears within 45 seconds to two minutes - leaving no trace but the time it takes to fade can also be adjusted according to the referee's wishes.
Another new product unveiled in Japan claims to be environmentally friendly Lingerie.
The green bra, both literally and symbolically, can generate a small amount of electricity - enough to charge a cell phone or an i-Pod - thanks to an attached solar panel. The practicality of the undergarment may be questionable, as it has to be exposed to sunlight or electric lighting to charge.
DISCOVERY: Even as the world gets smaller, 2008 still held amazing new discoveries.
The world was stunned by images of Amazon Indians from one of the world's last uncontacted tribes as were photographed from the air, with striking images showing them painted bright red and brandishing bows and arrows.
The photographs of the tribe, near the border between Brazil and Peru, are rare evidence that such groups exist.
As it turned out, the tribe were not quite as lost as people thought.
The man behind the pictures, JosÃ© Carlos Meirelles, admitted that - while they were uncontacted - the Indian's existence was already known to authorities and finding them was no accident. Meirelles said he was hoping that the publicity generated would draw attention to their the risk they faced from logging operations.
Elsewhere, hidden cameras have captured rare footage of critically endangered Javan rhinoceros in the jungles of Indonesia.
The rhinos have appeared twice on cameras one month after the devices were installed in the Ujung Kulon National Park in westernmost region of Java island, with one rhino mother charging at a camera and damaging it.
There are fewer than 60 of the rhinos left alive in Java's Ujung Kulon Peninsula.
Another fleeting moment in nature caught on the right camera, in the right place, at the right time, is what is believed to be the longest flight of a flying fish on record.
Japan's public broadcaster NHK filmed the rare footage of the fish gliding through the air for 45 seconds, from a ferry off the southern tip of Japan's Kagoshima prefecture.
And out of the ocean, another one for the books - giant predator from deep Antarctic waters, a Colossal squid, was defrosted by New Zealand scientists keen to discover more about the little-known species.
The 8-metre long (26 feet) colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni), which weighs about 495kg (1,089 pounds) is the largest and best-preserved adult colossal squid to be caught. It had been on ice for just over a year after being caught by a deep-sea fishing boat.
Another primitive frog living in a remote Borneo stream with no lungs and apparently absorbs oxygen through its skin made headlines.
The aquatic frog has evolved backwards, re-acquiring a primordial trait, according to Djoko Iskandar, a professor from Bandung Institute of Technology. Iskandar found the species 30 years ago.
Then there were the discoveries of animals that haven't walked the earth for millions of years, but whose remains still have a lot to teach us about the world in which we live.
Brazilian palaeontologists found the fossil of a new species of prehistoric crocodile that lived in the country's north-eastern Pernambuco state.
The discovery which dated back about 62 million years to the Palaeocene period, shows that the reptiles survived the extinction of dinosaurs and allowed researchers to develop new theories about the migration routes of the ancient creatures.
Scientists Rio Colorado in Argentina's Mendoza province, made their own prehistoric discover, pulling the remains of a large meat-eating dinosaur from an 85-million-year-old rock.
The 33-foot-long (10 metre), two-legged predator weighed as much as an elephant and likely had feathers with a breathing apparatus much like a modern bird, fortifying the link between birds and dinosaurs and helping to explain the evolution of birds' unique system of breathing.
And in Russia a team of international and Russian scientists say studies of a well preserved baby mammoth, nicknamed Lyuba found in Russia last year, could help build a genetic map of extinct animals.
Lyuba, the best preserved prehistoric animal ever found, underwent computer tomography in Japan, providing scientists with distinct three-dimensional pictures of her internal organs.
In Peru a team of explorers believe they found the ancient lost city of the Incas which, according to legend, was filled with riches and gold.
The Lost City of Paititi had been sought after - unsuccessfully - by hundreds of explorers. Fables of temples and houses of gold prompted Spanish conquistadors to waste entire fortunes in efforts to find the city.
The team discovered no gold, but found tunnels, altars, ceremonial centres and towers within what they believe to be the ruins of the city.
Egyptian archaeologists announced the discovery of the remains of a pyramid that is over 4,000 years old, built for the mother of Pharaoh Teti I Egyptian.
Buried in the desert near the famous 'Step Pyramid', it is thought to belong to the mother of a pharaoh who ruled more than 4,000 years ago. The pyramid, found about two months ago south of Cairo, probably housed the remains of Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Teti, who ruled from 2323 to 2291 BC and founded Egypt's Sixth Dynasty, according to the head of Egypt's antiquities council And from much more recent history the mystery of the final resting place of Ned Kelly was solved in 2008. The Australian outlaw, famous for the suit of armour and iron helmet he fashioned to protect himself in gunfights, was hung for murder at Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880.
Records from the period of Kelly's death made it possible for researchers to track down his remains.
AUCTIONS: Despite the financial climate going from rocky to disastrous in 2008, it was a good year for the auction houses.
At it's spring sale for impressionist, modern and contemporary art in New York, Sotheby's put up art for auction by Edvard Munch, Fernand Leger and Alberto Giacometti.
Fernand Leger's "Etude pour la Femme en Bleu" painted in 1912-13 sold for 35 million USD. (39.2 million including the buyer's premium), a record amount for a Leger painting.
At the same auction Edvard Munch's "Girls on a Bridge"
exceeded all expectations by selling for 30.8 million dollars - also a record for Munch.
That other famed auction house, Christie's saw some record sales of it's own.
The Monet water painting "Le Bassin aux Nympheas" had been expected to fetch 18-24 million pounds, but after an intense bidding battle it smashed the previous Monet auction record of 41.5 million USD (21 million pounds), set just earlier in the year.
It was part of the evening sale of impressionist and modern art at Christie's which raised 144 million pounds, the highest total for an auction in Europe. All figures include buyers' premiums.
And in May eight records were broken at the auction house including a world record for a living artist.
That record sell was "the painting, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping," by British artist, Lucien Freud, going for 33.6 million U.S.
dollars, with buyer's premium.
British artist Damien Hirst put his own art up for auction rather than go down the more traditional route of galleries and dealers, claiming the move was his way of being a modern-day punk.
The 43-year-old shocked the contemporary art world when he announced that more than 220 new works, collectively called "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever", would be auctioned by Sotheby's in the first sale of its kind by a major artist.
But it wasn't just high art grabbing attention along with high prices: a photograph of a nude Carla Bruni Sarkozy generated enough interest to fetch 91,000 U.S. dollars.
The image of France's first lady, taken 1993, took more than 20 times its expected price in New York.
FOOD: People have a habit of being able to turn any activity into a competition - eating is definitely no exception.
In the U.S. Major League Eating held the first ever pig-skin eating competition with a 2,500 U.S. dollar cash prize.
Participants had 6 minutes to gorge on the deep fried pork rinds in a battle to win the cash prize and their very own Superbowl football, or "pig skin."
Taking the prize was New York resident and professional eater, Tim "Eater X" Janus who sank his teeth into 14.3 ounces of rinds.
Also in New York was the famous Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Championship.
Defending champion Joey Chestnut, of San Jose, California, edged out six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan in the first time the contest has gone into overtime. The two were tied at 59 hot dogs a piece at the end of the regulation 10 minutes, forcing a sudden death overtime to determine which man could eat five more hot dogs in the shortest time.
The winner receives 10,000 U.S. dollars, a mustard yellow belt and a year's supply of hot dogs from Nathan's, which began in 1916 with a small Coney Island hot dog stand and now sells food products globally.
In South Korea lonely hearts try to ease their pain of solitude by diving head first into bowls of noodles with black bean sauce on a Black Day.
But those without a date provided each other with company on Black Day when they came together to turn the consumption of comfort food into a speed eating competition.
One of Britain's stranger - and more painful - competitions saw people apply the same speed eating principle, but to a much less appetising fare.
The Annual World Stinging Nettle Eating Championships requires contestants to eat fresh picked raw stinging nettles, complete with natural accompaniments such as caterpillars, slugs and other nettle loving bugs.
This year the event attracted a record number of entries from around the world.
In Mexico City people enjoyed the day crafting a - no doubt much tastier - record breaking super sandwich. The 44-metre long "torta"
(Baguette) set a new record for the longest sandwich ever prepared in Latin America.
Part of the challenge was to prepare the baguette as fast as possible, and the chefs proved themselves up to the task, completing the 600 kilogram baguette in 5 minutes flat.
Market vendors in Jerusalem followed suit with a dish of there own, setting the Guinness World Record for the largest traditional hummus plate.
But the eating experience can be just as much about where you eat as what you eat.
Under the watchful eye of armed guards, a team of cooks and waiters prepare food in what could be Italy's most exclusive restaurant -- a top security prison, where staff are convicted robbers and murderers.
For one night the inmates at Fortezza Medicea prison in the picturesque Tuscan town of Volterra swapped their prison issue clothes for shirts and bow ties, cooking up a sumptuous six-course dinner for curious diners wanting to sample a taste of prison life.
Part of a project that raises money for charity, the aim was to teach the inmates cooking and waiting skills that could help them find a job for life after jail.
While in Japan a different service has come into fashion, with cross dressing men filling in for women in the latest twist to Tokyo's popular "maid cafes."
But one cafe in Lviv is claimed by owners to be the ultimate masochist themed cafÃ© - offering not just novelty, but history. Lviv is the birthplace of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian writer and journalist, who wrote extensively about the satisfaction that can be gained by being beaten and subjugated. The term 'masochism' was derived from his name.
Meanwhile, with America in the grip of election fever, politics found it's way onto the menu.
At Di Bruno Bros., a sandwich shop in downtown Philadelphia, the menus started looking more like voting ballots, with the Barack Obama hot dog, The Hillary Big City sandwich, and a McCain sandwich.
And sleepy one depopulated rural town in western Japan cashed in on Barack Obama being the man of the moment.
Obabama City launched several campaigns revolving around the shared name to generate publicity - the new President elect's likeness is even stamped on buns and sweet cakes from the town.
Food can reflect the difference and diversity across cultures: often a delicacy to one people is spurned by another.
That may be the case with the Annual Lamprey Festival in the small Portuguese village of Montemor-o-Velho.
The festival, which draws 30,000 visitors over two weekends, saw plenty of the prehistoric parasites prepared the preferred Portuguese way: cooked in their own blood.
Shark fin soup is considered a prized delicacy in Asia, unlike the meat which has little value due to its toughness and pungent smell.
But some are turning the trend around, like Balinese Chef Budi Susilo with his Pak Item Restaurant which specialises in shark meat dishes.
In Peru, cooks in the small coastal town of Huacho, near Lima, are trying to do the same thing with the perception of guinea pigs.
The Third Guinea Pig Festival there aims to show the animal as a tasty meat, given that in most other parts of the world it's mostly viewed as a cute pet.
Another meat some diners may turn their noses up at is rat - but not at one Taiwanese eatery.
The Ho-la Diner, a rural eatery at Taiwan's Chiayi county, offer their renowned rat meat dishes as winter tonics for the Year of the Rat.
Hairless rodent carcasses are on display in their kitchen windows, before their heads are chopped off and the rest of their body is thrown into pots with basil and sweet, black sauce.
For those looking for something a little more up market than rat meat, there is always the 175 U.S. dollar hamburger at the Wall Street Burger Shoppe located in Manhattan's Financial District.
Justifying the expense, the creators the patty is made of coarsely ground Kobe beef from cows that are fed beer and sake and receive daily massages, with chopped black truffles. The 20 U.S. dollars per pound aged gruyere comes from "the caves of Switzerland" and the wild mushrooms depend on the season (when Reuters visited it was the elf and hon shemeji varieties).
Then there is the foie gras, a high-end substitute for bacon.
The burger is served on a brioche style bun and comes with house-made golden truffle mayonnaise, a mixed greens and tomato salad and is flecked with gold leaf and still more truffles.
The result is apparently a rich, complex creation with a strong hint of truffles at the finish.
Meanwhile, garbage scavengers in the impoverished Manila area of Tondo, hand pick their next meal from the trash. Re-cooked chicken and other leftovers are the only food for the thousands of families earn less than 200 pesos (5 US dollars) a day.
Most families subsist on segregating and selling recyclable waste such as plastics and styrofoam. They also live among the mounds of garbage bags that they transport from nearby dumpsites.
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