VIII: Limestone

The origin of toothpaste involves a rock star.

VIII: Limestone
Limestone stalactites. Photo by Nicola Fittipaldi / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is octidi, the 18th of Nivôse, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate Pierre à chaux, a calcium rich rock that can slowly flow.

Limestone starts as an animal in the ocean. The little brainless slugs and slithers that build themselves shells all use magical alchemy (seriously, science does not understand this process very well) to encase themselves in calcium carbonite (CaCO3). As anyone who's been to a beach knows, these critters then die by the millions and their little shells settle to the ocean floor or wash up to the beach. Geological eons pass, and that calcium carbonite compresses into a layer of rock – limestone. While technically limestone can form by other means, since it's more of a chemical compound than a biologically derived process by definition, like chalk – most limestone made in the past half billion years or so has been laboriously assembled by wee sea creatures.

Toothpaste, as we know it, was invented by a rock star.

A little over 1,200 years ago, a boy was born somewhere near Baghdad under anonymous circumstances – maybe slavery, maybe poverty – but somehow became an apprentice to a famous musician in the Abbasid caliphate. Nicknamed Ziryab ("blackbird," a reference to his very dark complexion and sweet singing voice), the kid made the most of his tutelage, becoming something like the Mozart of the Middle East. His songwriting and performing prowess became so renowned that the caliph jealously exiled him from Baghdad. The young musician packed up his oud (a four-stringed lute) and sought his fortunes in the New World ... which, in the 9th century Muslim world, meant Spain.

He hit al-Andalus, as Islamic Iberia was then known, like a firestorm, immediately impressing the local poobas and nobles with his musical abilities, appearance, and sheer charisma. He was given a music school so he could teach his reported 10,000 compositions to a new generation of musicians, and from there, he used his influence as a teacher to, I'm not making this up, invent half of European culture.

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