WTF Fun Fact 13739 – Course des Cafés

In March 2024, over 200 waiters and waitresses took part in the “Course des Cafés,” a peculiar race that tests the speed and poise of Paris’s finest servers. This event, a revival of a century-old tradition, unfolded over a 1.2-mile loop around City Hall.

They were clad in crisp white shirts, black trousers, and neatly tied aprons. The participants balanced a croissant, a full water glass, and an empty coffee cup on their trays. Their challenge? They had to speed-walk to the finish without running, spilling anything, or using both hands on the tray.

Balance, Speed, and the Course des Cafés

The objective of the race was clear: cross the finish line as quickly as possible while keeping the tray’s contents intact. Judges were strict, docking points for any spillage or mishandling of the tray. Despite the constraints, most competitors completed the course in under 20 minutes. The fastest times recorded were just over 13 minutes.

The winners were Samy Lamrous and Pauline Van Wymeersch. They claimed medals, a night in a luxury hotel, and tickets to the upcoming Olympic opening ceremony. Van Wymeersch, with 18 years in the service industry, expressed her deep connection to the profession despite the sacrifices it entails.

A Tribute to Parisian Café Culture

The “Course des Cafés” isn’t just about the spectacle. It’s a celebration of the deep-rooted café culture in Paris, where the modern restaurant concept originated. According to Maryann Tebben, a French food culture expert, this race underscores the pride that French servers take in their craft. Many spend decades perfecting their skills at the same establishments, embodying a tradition of excellence in service.

The café waiter has been a fixture in Paris since the 17th century. This race highlights their enduring role in the city’s vibrant social scene. The original race dates back to 1914. It was similarly celebrated, with participants showcasing their agility and finesse to the cheers of onlookers.

Revival of a Tradition in a Modern Metropolis

This year’s race comes at a pivotal time, as Paris prepares to host the “greenest” Olympic Games in history. The return of the “Course des Cafés” aligns with broader environmental goals, including initiatives to reduce plastic waste in the city. Eau de Paris, the event’s sponsor, has invested in sustainable practices, providing all race materials and promoting the use of tap water over single-use plastic bottles.

The race’s revival, after a 13-year hiatus due to budget constraints, is more than just a nod to the past. It’s a strategic move to rejuvenate Paris’s café spirit and showcase French innovation and hospitality ahead of the global spotlight the Olympics will bring.

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WTF Fun Fact 13723 – The World’s Oldest Bookstore

Livraria Bertrand holds the record as the world’s oldest operating bookstore. Located in the heart of Lisbon, Portugal, it opened its doors in 1732. The bookstore has become a significant cultural landmark, reflecting the rich literary tradition of Portugal. Bertrand has survived many historical events, including the devastating earthquake of 1755 that reshaped Lisbon.

History of the World’s Oldest Bookstore

The original founder, Pedro Faure, had a vision to create a hub for Lisbon’s literati. This vision has endured through centuries, as the shop continues to host literary events and discussions. Bertrand’s historic atmosphere draws both locals and tourists. The store boasts a series of rooms, each dedicated to different literary genres. This layout encourages browsing and discovery, making every visit unique.

The bookstore’s resilience is notable. Over the centuries, it has adapted to various political and economic shifts. During the Napoleonic wars, the bookstore even shifted locations temporarily. Its ability to maintain relevance in a changing world is remarkable. Today, Bertrand serves as both a bookstore and a tourist attraction. It features an impressive range of books, including rare first editions and popular new releases. The staff are well-informed and often provide recommendations.

Cultural Impact and Modern Relevance

Bertrand’s impact on Lisbon’s cultural scene is profound. It has been a meeting place for famous Portuguese writers and intellectuals. Names such as Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago have been associated with the bookstore. Bertrand not only sells books but also fosters a community of readers. It often holds events that are pivotal in promoting Portuguese literature and culture.

In recent years, Bertrand has embraced modern retail practices while maintaining its historic charm. It now offers online sales and hosts virtual events. This adaptation has helped it remain a vital part of Lisbon’s cultural landscape, even as digital platforms change how people read and buy books.

The store also plays a crucial role in promoting Portuguese literature globally. It features a vast collection of books translated into various languages. This accessibility helps spread Portuguese culture and literature around the world. Bertrand’s efforts ensure that Portuguese authors gain international recognition.

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Source: Livraria Bertrand – Lisbon, Portugal — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13722 – Savannah, Georgia – Lincoln’s Gift

In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Savannah, Georgia, and presented it as a Christmas gift to President Abraham Lincoln. This marked a pivotal moment in the war and American history.

Sherman’s March and the Preservation of Savannah, Georgia

In his infamous march to the sea, General William Tecumseh Sherman employed harsh tactics that culminated in the burning of Atlanta, a significant act that demoralized the Confederacy and disrupted their supply lines drastically. However, his approach shifted notably as he reached Savannah.

Unlike Atlanta, Savannah was spared from destruction. Sherman found the city’s beauty compelling and decided to preserve it intact. This decision was strategic and symbolic, offering a stark contrast to the devastation left behind in other parts of Georgia.

The fall of Savannah was crucial because it was a key port for the Confederacy, and its capture significantly disrupted southern supply lines.

Sherman’s telegram to President Lincoln encapsulated the significance of this victory. He wrote, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.” This gesture was symbolic, illustrating the shift in the war’s momentum towards the Union forces.

Strategic and Symbolic Importance of Savannah, Georgia

The strategic importance of Savannah’s capture provided the Union with a valuable port and further isolated the southern states. Economically, the seizure of cotton bales disrupted the Confederacy’s ability to trade with European nations, particularly Britain, who relied heavily on Southern cotton.

Symbolically, the gift of Savannah to Lincoln represented hope and victory. It boosted morale among Union supporters and signaled the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. This act also emphasized the power and success of Sherman’s military strategies, which were both revered and reviled.

Implications for the Civil War

The capture of Savannah was a critical component of Sherman’s broader strategy to divide and conquer the Confederacy. By severing the South’s resources and infrastructure, Sherman aimed to hasten the end of the conflict. This approach contributed significantly to the eventual surrender of Confederate forces in April 1865.

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Source: “The must-have Christmas gift of 1864” — The National Archives

WTF Fun Fact 13714 – Peachtree City and Golf Carts

Peachtree City, Georgia, is not just another suburb of Atlanta. It stands out with a unique transportation system dominated by golf carts. This city has developed a comprehensive network of paths that cater specifically to these small vehicles, offering a glimpse into a different kind of suburban life.

A Network of Paths

Peachtree City boasts over 100 miles of multi-use paths that weave throughout the city. These paths are not just side features; they are a well-integrated transportation network that connects homes, schools, shopping centers, and recreational facilities. This extensive system allows residents to travel mostly by golf cart to conduct their daily activities. The city’s planning revolves significantly around this alternative mode of transport, making it an integral part of the community’s identity.

Golf carts in Peachtree City are not limited to the elderly or golf enthusiasts. Families use them to take kids to school, do grocery shopping, or just enjoy a pleasant ride around the neighborhood. This mode of transportation supports a slower-paced, more observant way of life. It encourages residents to enjoy their surroundings more intimately than they might when speeding by in a car.

Peachtree City & Golf Cart Regulations

To manage this unique traffic system, Peachtree City has implemented specific regulations. Golf cart drivers must hold a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, emphasizing the community’s commitment to safety. Furthermore, all golf carts need registration with the local authorities and must adhere to safety standards, such as having headlights, rear lights, and reflectors for nighttime travel.

The city also takes an active role in educating both children and adults on safe driving practices specific to golf carts. This education helps maintain safety standards and ensures that all age groups can participate in this communal lifestyle.

Community Impact of Golf Carts in Peachtree City

The golf cart culture in Peachtree City extends beyond simple transportation. It fosters a tight-knit community atmosphere. Neighbors are more likely to stop and chat when they encounter each other on the paths. This accessibility and openness encourage a friendlier, more connected community.

The environmental impact is also notable. Golf carts are electric, offering a green alternative to gas-powered vehicles. Their use helps reduce the carbon footprint of the community, contributing to cleaner air and less traffic congestion.

Economic and Recreational Benefits

Economically, the golf cart infrastructure attracts tourists curious about this unique lifestyle, providing a boost to local businesses. Visitors can rent carts to explore the city, thus experiencing local hospitality and commerce in a leisurely and enjoyable manner.

Recreationally, the paths provide scenic routes for more than just golf carts. They are popular among joggers, cyclists, and walkers. The city ensures these paths are well-maintained, safe, and accessible, enhancing the quality of life for all residents.

As Peachtree City continues to grow, the challenge will be to maintain the integrity and safety of the golf cart system while accommodating new residents and evolving urban needs. The city’s commitment to this unique mode of transport is evident in its ongoing efforts to improve and expand the path network.

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Source: “In This Atlanta Suburb, Teens Taste Freedom at 10 M.P.H.” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 13710 – Sebastianism

Have you ever heard of Sebastianism?

Sebastian’s Legend

In the heart of Portugal, a legend persists about a young king who vanished in battle, igniting a flame of hope that has never died. This legend, known as Sebastianism, revolves around King Sebastian, who ascended the throne in 1557.

Despite his brief reign, his impact was monumental, culminating in the disastrous Battle of Alcácer Quibir in 1578. Against advice, Sebastian led an ill-fated crusade into Morocco, where he and much of Portugal’s nobility were lost. Yet, it was his mysterious disappearance that birthed a myth enduring centuries.

The Essence of Sebastianism

Sebastianism is more than a tale of a lost king. It’s a messianic belief intertwining national identity, faith, and the yearning for a savior. According to believers, King Sebastian would return in Portugal’s darkest hour, emerging from the fog to reclaim his throne and restore Portugal to its former glory.

This belief symbolizes a deep-rooted hope for resurgence and salvation, reflecting the collective psyche of a nation navigating the trials of time.

Beyond the Myth

The essence of Sebastianism goes beyond longing for a monarch’s return. It reflects a collective consciousness, a coping mechanism for a nation facing decline. This sentiment echoed through the centuries, reemerging during times of hardship, symbolizing hope and the undying spirit of the Portuguese people.

Sebastianism in Modern Times

Today, Sebastianism transcends its historical roots, influencing literature, art, and political discourse. It serves as a metaphor for the eternal wait for redemption, inspiring works that delve into themes of loss, expectation, and rebirth. The legend of King Sebastian remains a testament to the enduring power of myth in shaping national identity and consciousness.

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Source: “From Military Defeat to Immortality: The Birth of Sebastianism” — The Luzo-Brazilian Review (via JSTOR)

WTF Fun Fact 13702 – The Most Visited City in the World

Can you guess the most visited city in the world? The answer may surprise you.

The allure of traveling has led to the emergence of cities around the world as magnets for tourists. Interestingly, the list of the most visited cities includes both expected global hubs and some surprises. This year, Istanbul took the crown, marking a shift in global travel trends and highlighting the diverse appeal of urban destinations.

The Most Visited City: Istanbul

Istanbul, a city that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, welcomed a record-breaking 20.2 million visitors. Its rich tapestry of history, culture, and stunning architectural wonders, coupled with its strategic location, has catapulted it to the top of the world’s most-visited cities in 2023.

The city’s ability to blend its Byzantine and Ottoman heritage with modern vibrancy makes it a compelling destination for travelers seeking a unique experience.

Following closely, London, a perennial favorite for travelers, secured the second spot with 18.8 million visitors, thanks to its historical landmarks, museums, and cultural offerings.

Dubai, known for its luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture, and lively nightlife scene, ranked third with 16.8 million visitors, showcasing its continued appeal as a crossroads of global commerce and tourism.

The list also highlights emerging trends in travel preferences. For instance, Antalya, another Turkish city, ranked fourth, underscoring Turkey’s growing prominence as a tourist destination. Cities like Paris, Hong Kong, and Bangkok continue to be favorites, drawing millions with their iconic attractions, culinary delights, and shopping experiences.

The Shift in Tourism

This shift in the most visited cities points to a broader change in tourism dynamics. Factors such as ease of visa regulations, direct international flights, and strategic marketing campaigns play a significant role in attracting global tourists.

Additionally, the desire for unique cultural experiences and the exploration of heritage sites are influencing travel decisions more than ever.

The evolving landscape of global tourism, as reflected in the annual rankings of visited cities, suggests a future where travelers increasingly seek destinations that offer a blend of historical depth, cultural richness, and modern amenities.

Cities that can cater to these diverse interests while ensuring sustainable tourism practices will likely continue to rise in popularity among international travelers.

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Source: “This City Was the World’s Most Visited in 2023” — Travel & Leisure

WTF Fun Fact 13687 – The Bats of the Biblioteca Joanina

In the walls of the University of Coimbra in Portugal lies the Biblioteca Joanina. This 18th-century baroque library is not only renowned for its opulent interior and precious collections but also for its unique, nocturnal caretakers – bats.

These bats actually play a crucial role in the preservation of this historic library’s books.

Guardians of the Biblioteca Joanina

Every night, after the sun sets and the doors close, the Biblioteca Joanina becomes the domain of small, insect-eating bats. Hidden from the library’s visitors, these bats embark on their nightly feasts, hunting the insects that could otherwise damage the library’s ancient manuscripts.

This natural pest control method has been in place for centuries, a secret pact between the bats and the library, protecting the invaluable collection without the use of chemicals.

A Symbiotic Relationship

The bats in the Biblioteca Joanina are not just tolerated; the caretakers welcome and accommodate them. Before closing time, staff lay out leather covers to protect the historic tables from bat droppings.

Each morning, these are cleaned up, ensuring that the library remains pristine for its human visitors. This routine highlights a remarkable symbiotic relationship. The bats receive shelter and hunting ground, while the library gets a highly effective, eco-friendly pest management service.

The main adversaries of the Biblioteca Joanina’s collection are book-eating insects like silverfish and booklice. These creatures thrive in the organic materials of the books. The bats, by keeping the insect population in check, help preserve these texts in a way that few modern methods can.

However, this unique method of preservation does not come without its challenges. The acidity in bat guano, for instance, can be harmful if not regularly cleaned. It requires diligent maintenance by the library staff.

The Secret of the Biblioteca Joanina’s Bats

The bats of the Biblioteca Joanina are a species adept at navigating the tight spaces and dark nooks of the library, making them perfect for this environment. Their ability to use echolocation allows them to hunt with precision in complete darkness, ensuring that their nightly patrols are successful. This adaptation is key to their role as protectors of the library’s collection, demonstrating nature’s ingenuity.

While visitors seldom see the bats themselves, their presence adds a layer of mystique to the Biblioteca Joanina. Tour guides often share tales of these nocturnal guardians, enchanting visitors with stories of how nature and culture can coexist.

This has turned the library into a place of legend. Today, it attracts tourists not only for its architectural beauty and historical significance but also for its unique, bat-inhabited halls.

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Source: “These Portuguese Libraries Are Infested With Bats—and They Like It That Way” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13681 – Only One Sunrise a Year

The North Pole experiences only one sunrise a year. This singular event marks a transition from one seemingly endless night to a day that lasts for months.

Why the North Pole Has Only One Sunrise a Year

At the North Pole, the sun is a shy dancer, making a grand entrance once a year. This happens because the Earth’s axis is tilted. As the Earth orbits the sun, this tilt allows for varying degrees of sunlight to reach different parts of the planet at different times of the year.

For the North Pole, there’s a period when the sun doesn’t rise at all, known as polar night. This occurs because the North Pole is angled away from the sun. Then, as the Earth continues its journey around the sun, a day arrives when the sun peeks over the horizon, marking the only sunrise of the year.

A Day That Lasts for Months

Following this singular sunrise, the North Pole enters a period of continuous daylight. The sun, once it rises, doesn’t set for about six months. This period, known as the midnight sun, is a time when the North Pole is tilted towards the sun, basking in its light day and night. Imagine a day that stretches on, where darkness doesn’t fall, and the concept of night loses its meaning. This is the reality at the North Pole, a place where time seems to stand still under the constant gaze of the sun.

The Science Behind the Phenomenon

The reason behind this extraordinary occurrence is the Earth’s axial tilt. This tilt is responsible for the seasons and the varying lengths of days and nights across the planet. At the poles, this effect is amplified. The North Pole’s orientation towards or away from the sun dictates the presence or absence of sunlight. During the winter solstice, the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun, plunging it into darkness. As the Earth orbits to a position where the North Pole tilts towards the sun, we witness the year’s only sunrise, ushering in months of daylight.

Living under the midnight sun is an experience unique to the polar regions. For the indigenous communities and wildlife of the Arctic, this constant daylight influences daily rhythms and behaviors. Animals adapt their hunting and feeding patterns to the availability of light and prey. Human residents have also adapted to these unique conditions, finding ways to mark the passage of time without the usual cues of sunrise and sunset.

A Long Night and Only One Sunrise a Year

The contrast between the endless night and the day that lasts for months is a stark reminder of the Earth’s diverse environments. It challenges our perceptions and highlights the adaptability of life in extreme conditions. The North Pole, with its single sunrise, stands as a testament to the planet’s wonders. It’s a place where the rules of day and night are rewritten by the tilt of the Earth and its path around the sun.

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Source: “Time Has No Meaning at the North Pole” — Scientific American

WTF Fun Fact 13669 – Iceland’s Comedian Mayor

Have you ever heard of Iceland’s comedian mayor, Jón Gnarr? He had an unexpected and captivating rise to political power when he became the Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland.

From Laughter to Leader

Jon Gnarr wasn’t your typical mayoral candidate. Before venturing into the volatile waves of politics, Gnarr was best known for his work as a comedian and actor. His satirical radio shows and television sketches were beloved in Iceland, making him a household name. But it was in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that Gnarr found a new stage for his talents.

Iceland was hit hard by the financial meltdown, leading to widespread public distrust in the political establishment. Sensing the public’s yearning for change and perhaps a bit of levity during tough times, Gnarr founded the Best Party in 2009.

It was a satirical political party that started almost as a joke but quickly gained serious momentum.

Gnarr’s campaign was anything but ordinary. Promising a polar bear for the Reykjavik Zoo, free towels at public swimming pools, and a drug-free Parliament by 2020, his platform was a mix of the absurd and the appealing.

The Best Party’s campaign video, set to Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” became a viral sensation, showcasing the party’s unique blend of humor and honesty.

What set Gnarr apart was not just his comedic background but his transparency and refusal to play by the unwritten rules of political campaigning. He openly admitted that some of his promises were not realistic. This honesty, oddly enough, resonated with a populace tired of the same old political rhetoric.

Becoming Iceland’s Comedian Mayor

To the shock of many, Jón Gnarr won the mayoral election in 2010. His victory was seen as a direct response to the public’s frustration with the traditional political class. But the big question loomed: Could a comedian effectively lead a city?

Gnarr’s tenure as mayor was as unconventional as his campaign. He often appeared at official events dressed in drag or as a Star Wars character, yet behind the humor was a serious commitment to change. He prioritized human rights, welfare, and culture, and while not all his policies were successful, he brought a fresh, more human face to Icelandic politics.

Challenges and Controversies

Leading a city was not all laughs for Gnarr. He faced criticism for his lack of political experience and some of his more unconventional approaches. Moreover, governing in coalition with the traditionally serious Independence Party posed its own set of challenges and compromises.

Yet, throughout his term, Gnarr maintained his unique style and approach, arguing that humor could be a powerful tool to address serious issues.

Jón Gnarr chose not to seek re-election after his term ended in 2014.

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Source: “The joker: Jón Gnarr, the comedian who became mayor” — The Guardian