POOR Iceland has been pummeled with blows of karmic justice lately. The erstwhile economic miracle has turned into a banking garbage heap, and now the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano has resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of people and brought most of Europe’s air traffic to a halt. There were no casualties.

FROM liposuction to implants, hair removal, piercings and tattoos, the pressure to transform oneself in the titillating public’s own image these days is stifling. One of the more popular ways to change one’s appearance is altering skin colour. With an array of tanning salons and fake tans-in-a-can on the market, there’s something for everyone. Oh, your skin’s already naturally dark? Well, let’s not forget skin whitening cream, as the grass is always greener, right?

Wait a minute; do we really need streets pulsing with the orange hue of collars smudged with fake tans? And what of the skin bleaching products running rampant across Asia and Africa? Oh yes, those with the skin tones westerners salivate over are queuing up to strip their skin of its enviable colour.

JUDGING BY how much attention is devoted to the contestants and national qualifications, the Eurovision Song Contest has an important place in Finnish cultural life. Nevertheless, compared to their Nordic neighbours, the Finns’ take on Eurovision is modest and down to earth.

Norway’s Eurovision fever is obviously in full swing right now, and Norwegian internet sites like eurovisionnorway.no are quite confident that they can win twice in a row. Their song is also leading the polls as the best Nordic entry. Sweden actually named Norway its strongest opponent (and vice versa, according to Norwegian bloggers).

Next to hockey, maple syrup is the pride of Canada. It’s a naturally sweet compliment to any breakfast food, and a key ingredient in many delicious maple-flavoured recipes. It’s also a part of Canadian history. The process of creating maple syrup from sap has been recorded over 300 years ago, when European settlers first came to Canada and saw aboriginal people making sugar out of sap.

The sugar maple tree is the usual and most common tree for extracting sap for maple syrup. The aboriginals started by cutting a slanted gash in the tree and inserting a chip of wood. Birch bark buckets were placed below to collect the dripping sap. Filling hollowed out logs with the sap and adding hot stones boiled out the water until the sugar was made.

AUSTRALIA. Land of kangaroos, barbecues, ex-convicts, aboriginal genocide and now, unexpectedly, hilarious slapstick humour.

David Collins and Shane Dundas, otherwise known as The Umbilical Brothers, met in an acting class at university in Sydney in 1988 when Dave broke Shane’s nose. Clearly a match made in heaven. Since then the “brothers” have developed and, dare we say it, perfected a unique brand of comedy containing elements of slapstick, puppetry, mimicry and audience participation.