Frida Kahlo’s Venomous Love Letter to Diego Rivera: “I’m Amputating You. Be Happy and Never Seek Me Again”

Painter Diego Rivera set the bar awfully high for other lovers when he—allegedly—ate a handful of his ex-wife Frida Kahlo’s cremains, fresh from the oven.

Perhaps he was hedging his bets. The Mexican government opted not to honor his express wish that their ashes should be co-mingled upon his death. Kahlo’s remains were placed in Mexico City's Rotunda of Illustrious Men, and have since been transferred to their home, now the Museo Frida Kahlo.

Rivera lies in the Panteón Civil de Dolores.

Other creative expressions of the grief that dogged him til his own death, three years later:

His final painting, The Watermelons, a very Mexican subject that’s also a tribute to Kahlo’s last work, Viva La Vida...

And a locked bathroom in which he decreed 6,000 photographs, 300 of Kahlo’s garments and personal items, and 12,000 documents were to be housed until 15 years after his death.

Among the many revelations when this chamber was belatedly unsealed in 2004, her clothing caused the biggest stir, particularly the ways in which the colorful garments were adapted to and informed by her physical disabilities.

Her prosthetic leg, shod in an eye-catching red boot was given a place of honor in an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.,

These treasures might have come to light earlier save for a judgment call on the part of Dolores Olmedo, Rivera’s patron, former model, and friend. During renovations to turn the couple’s home into a museum, she had a peek and decided the lipstick-imprinted love letters from some famous men Frida had bedded could damage Rivera’s reputation.

In what way, it’s difficult to parse.

The couple’s history of extramarital relations (including Rivera’s dalliance with Kahlo’s sister, Christina) weren’t exactly secret, and both of the players had left the building.

One thing that’s taken for granted is Kahlo’s passion for Rivera, whom she met as girl of 15. Tempting as it might be to view the relationship with 2020 goggles, it would be a disservice to Kahlo’s sense of her own narrative. Self-examination was central to her work. She was characteristically avid in letters and diary entries, detailing her physical attraction to every aspect of Rivera’s body, including his giant belly “drawn tight and smooth as a sphere.” Ditto her obsession with his many conquests.

Not surprisingly, she was capable of penning a pretty spicy love letter herself, and the majority were aimed at her husband:

Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. The dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Her most notorious love letter does not appear to be one at first.

Bedridden, and facing the amputation of a gangrenous right leg that had already sacrificed some toes 20 years earlier, she directed the full force of her emotions at Rivera.

The lover she’d tenderly pegged as “a boy frog standing on his hind legs” now appeared to her an “ugly son of a bitch,” maddeningly possessed of the power to seduce women (as he had seduced her).

You have to read all the way to the twist:


My dear Mr. Diego,

I’m writing this letter from a hospital room before I am admitted into the operating theatre. They want me to hurry, but I am determined to finish writing first, as I don’t want to leave anything unfinished. Especially now that I know what they are up to. They want to hurt my pride by cutting a leg off. When they told me it would be necessary to amputate, the news didn’t affect me the way everybody expected. No, I was already a maimed woman when I lost you, again, for the umpteenth time maybe, and still I survived.

I am not afraid of pain and you know it. It is almost inherent to my being, although I confess that I suffered, and a great deal, when you cheated on me, every time you did it, not just with my sister but with so many other women. How did they let themselves be fooled by you? You believe I was furious about Cristina, but today I confess that it wasn’t because of her. It was because of me and you. First of all because of me, since I’ve never been able to understand what you looked and look for, what they give you that I couldn’t. Let’s not fool ourselves, Diego, I gave you everything that is humanly possible to offer and we both know that. But still, how the hell do you manage to seduce so many women when you’re such an ugly son of a bitch?

The reason why I’m writing is not to accuse you of anything more than we’ve already accused each other of in this and however many more bloody lives. It’s because I’m having a leg cut off (damned thing, it got what it wanted in the end). I told you I’ve counted myself as incomplete for a long time, but why the fuck does everybody else need to know about it too? Now my fragmentation will be obvious for everyone to see, for you to see… That’s why I’m telling you before you hear it on the grapevine. Forgive my not going to your house to say this in person, but given the circumstances and my condition, I’m not allowed to leave the room, not even to use the bathroom. It’s not my intention to make you or anyone else feel pity, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. I’m writing to let you know I’m releasing you, I’m amputating you. Be happy and never seek me again. I don’t want to hear from you, I don’t want you to hear from me. If there is anything I’d enjoy before I die, it’d be not having to see your fucking horrible bastard face wandering around my garden.

That is all, I can now go to be chopped up in peace.

Good bye from somebody who is crazy and vehemently in love with you,

Your Frida

This is a love letter masquerading as a doozy of a break up letter. The references to amputation are both literal and metaphorical:

No doubt, she was sincere, but this couple, rather than holding themselves accountable, excelled at reversals. In the end the letter’s threat proved idle. Shortly before her death,  the two appeared together in public, at a demonstration to protest the C.I.A.’s efforts to overthrow the leftist Guatemalan regime.

Image via Brooklyn Museum

Once Frida was safely laid to rest, by which we mean rumored to have sat bolt upright as her casket was slid into the incerator, Rivera mused in his autobiography:

Too late now I realized the most wonderful part of my life had been my love for Frida. But I could not really say that given “another chance” I would have behaved toward her any differently than I had. Every man is the product of the social atmosphere in which he grows up and I am what I am…I had never had any morals at all and had lived only for pleasure where I found it. I was not good. I could discern other people's weaknesses easily, especially men’s, and then I would play upon them for no worthwhile reason. If I loved a woman, the more I wanted to hurt her. Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait.

via Letters of Note and the book, Letters of Note: Love.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

If Werner Herzog Reviewed Trader Joe’s on Yelp: “Madness Reigns. The First Challenge Your Soul Must Endure Is the Parking Lot”

I like the Internet for various things, but it’s limited. I’m not on social media, but you will find me in the social media. There’s Facebook, there’s Twitters, but it’s all not me.

—Werner Herzog in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter

The night before his 2016 documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World premiered at Sundance, director Werner Herzog declared himself “still a liberated virgin” with regard to his reliance on the Internet:

I think we have to abandon this kind of false security that everything is settled now, that we have so much assistance by digital media and robots and artificial intelligence. At the same time, we overlook how vulnerable all this is, and how we are losing the essentials that make us human. That’s my advice … Cook a meal at least three times a week. Play a musical instrument. Read books and travel on foot.

That said, he’s not immune to the rejuvenating effects of random cat videos at the end of a tiring day, as he told Studio 360's Kurt Andersen during a promotional visit for 2018’s Meeting Gorbachev:

Perhaps guessing that Googling his own name is not one of Herzog’s preferred online activities, Anderson took the opportunity to hip his guest to comedian Paul F. Tompkins' Teutonic-inflected recitation of a notorious Yelp review of Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake.

To the untrained ear, Tompkins’ Herzog is pitch perfect.

The spoof's subject suggested that the accent could use improvement, but agreed that the text is “very funny.”

And it is, especially given the pedestrian tenor of the same Trader Joe’s other 5-star reviews:

This is the best Trader Joe's location I've been to! Been coming here since I was a kid! (I'm 25 now) I've moved out of this area but still come to this location just because it beats the rest of them. - Debbie G

TJ is the best!! I've been coming here for many years, and the food is great!! The employee's are awesome! Some of the many things I love to purchase here are: salmon balls, smoothies like the chia seed strawberry, protein almond butter drinks, coconut smoothie, cashew yogurt, south western salad that comes in a bag is BOMB.COM! - Raymond M

Tompkins tapped Herzog’s fascination with man's animal nature and the brutality of existence for another Yelp review, awarding three stars to San Francisco’s Hotel Majestic and attributing it to Werner H:

Tompkins clearly savors the opportunity to channel Herzog, logging 16 appearances for the character on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, including episodes wherein he discusses working with Tom Cruise and his desire to be cast as a clueless suburban husband in an appliance commercial. Find them all listed here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Pentagon Created a Plan to Defend the US Against a Zombie Apocalypse: Read It Online

For keen observers of pop culture, the floodtide of zombie films and television series over the past several years has seemed like an especially ominous development. As social unrest spreads and increasing numbers of people are uprooted from their homes by war, climate catastrophe, and, now, COVID-related eviction, one wonders how advisable it might have been to prime the public with so many scenarios in which heroes must fight off hordes of infectious disease carriers? Zombie movies seem intent, after all, on turning not only the dead but also other living humans into objects of terror.

Zombies themselves have a complicated history; like many New World monsters, their origins are tied to slavery and colonialism. The first zombies were not flesh-eating cannibals; they were people robbed of freedom and agency by Voodoo priests, at least in legends that emerged during the brutal twenty-year American occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century. The first feature-length Hollywood zombie film, 1932’s White Zombie, was based on occultist and explorer William Seabrook’s 1929 book The Magic Island and starred Bela Lugosi as a Haitian Voodoo master named “Murder,” who enslaves the heroine and turns her into an instrument of his will.

Subtle the film is not, but no zombie film ever warranted that adjective. Zombie entertainment induces maximum fear of a relentless Other, detached, after White Zombie, from its Haitian context, so that the undead horde can stand in for any kind of invasion. The genre’s history may go some way toward explaining why the U.S. government has an official zombie preparedness plan, called CONOP 8888. The document was written in April 2011 by junior military officers at the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), as a training exercise to formulate a nonspecific invasion contingency plan.

Despite the use of a “fictitious scenario,” CONOP 8888 explicitly states that it "was not actually designed as a joke.” And “indeed, it’s not,” All that’s Interesting assures us, quoting the following from the plan's introduction:

Zombies are horribly dangerous to all human life and zombie infections have the potential to seriously undermine national security and economic activities that sustain our way of life. Therefore having a population that is not composed of zombies or at risk from their malign influence is vital to U.S. and Allied National Interests.

Substitute “zombies” with any outgroup and the verbiage sounds alarmingly like the rhetoric of state terror. The plan, as you might expect, details a martial law scenario, noting that “U.S. and international law regulate military operations only insofar as human and animal life are concerned. There are almost no restrictions on hostile actions… against pathogenic life forms, organic-robotic entities, or ‘traditional’ zombies,’” whatever that means.

This all seems deadly serious, until we get to the reports’ subsections, which detail scenarios such as “Evil Magic Zombies (EMZ),” “Space Zombies (SZ),” “Vegetarian Zombies (VZ),” and “Chicken Zombies (CZ)” (in fact, “the only proven class of zombie that actually exists”). It’s fascinating to see a military document absorb the many comic permutations of the genre, from George Romero’s subversive satires to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. No matter how funny zombies are, however, the genre seems to require horrific violence, gore, and siege-like survivalism as key thematic elements.

Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner, author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, has read the Pentagon’s zombie plan closely and discovered some serious problems (and not only with its zombie classification system). While the plan assumes the necessity of “barricaded counter-zombie operations,” it also admits that “USSTRATCOM forces do not currently hold enough contingency stores (food, water) to support” such operations for even 30 days. “So… maybe 28 days later,” Drezner quips, supplies run out? (We’ve all seen what happens next….) Also, alarmingly, the plan is “trigger-happy about nuclear weapons,” adding the possibility of radiation poisoning to the likelihood of starving (or being eaten by the starving).

It turns out, then, that just as in so many modern zombie stories, the zombies may not actually be the worst thing about a zombie apocalypse. Not to be outdone, the CDC decided to capitalize on the zombie craze—rather late, we must say—releasing their own materials for a zombie pandemic online in 2018. These include entertaining blogs, a poster (above), and a graphic novel full of useful disaster preparedness tips for ordinary citizens. The campaign might be judged in poor taste in the COVID era, but the agency assures us, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, “Never Fear—CDC is Ready.” I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide how comforting this promise sounds in 2020.

via MessyNessy

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Sounds of the Forest: A Free Audio Archive Gathers the Sounds of Forests from All Over the World

Some of my fondest memories are of hiking the Olympic National Forest in Washington State and the forests of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, seeking the kind of silence one can only find in busy ecosystems full of birds, insects, woodland creatures, rustling leaves, etc. This experience can be transformative, a full immersion in what acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton calls a “natural acoustic system,” the endless interplay of calls and responses that evolved to harmonize over millennia.

Tragically, human noise pollution encroaches on the acoustic space of such refuges, and climate change may irrevocably alter their nature. But they will be preserved, in digital recordings at least, thanks in part to the efforts of a project called Sounds of the Forest, which has been documenting the pregnant silences of forests around the world and has so far collected audio files from six continents, with western Europe most heavily represented.

The Sounds of the Forest library, accessible via its interactive map or Soundcloud page, “will form an open source library,” the project announces, “to be used by anyone to listen to and create from.”

Nature lovers can contribute their own recordings, helping to fill in the many remaining areas on the map without representation. “Visit a woodland,” the project recommends, “recharge under the canopy and record your sounds of the forest.” The site gives specific instructions for how to upload audio file submissions.

Sounds of the Forest came out of the annual Timber Festival, an international gathering in the UK’s National Forest, which is the “boldest environmentally-led regeneration project: the creation of England’s first new forest in a thousand years… an imaginative and ambitious statement of sustainable development.” When the pandemic scuttled plans for an in-person 2020 Timber Festival, organizers conceived of the sound files as a way to bring the world together in a virtual forest gathering. They are also foraging material for next year’s fest, in which “selected artists will be responding to the sounds that are gathered, creating music, audio, artwork or something else incredible.”

If you can’t make it to Timber Festival 2021 next summer, or to your forest refuge of choice this autumn, you can still immerse yourself in the restorative sounds of forests worldwide. Open the sound map, click on a file, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in Nelson Lakes National Park in New Zealand, Yasuni National Park at night in Ecuador, or Chernyaevsky Forest in Russia. Experiencing the busy silences of nature brings us back to ourselves—or to the ancient parts of ourselves that once also harmonized with the natural world.


via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Relatives into Musical Instruments & Ornaments

Image via the Wiltshire Museum

The burial rites of ancient and exotic peoples can seem outlandish to us, but there’s nothing particularly normal about the funeral traditions in the United States and the UK, where corpses are sent off to professional undertakers and made to look alive before they're sealed in boxes and buried or turned into piles of ash.

Andrea DenHoed at The New Yorker refers to the practice of Tibetan Buddhist sky burials, in which “bodies are ritually dissected and left in the open to be consumed by vultures” and of the Torajans of Indonesia, who “have a ritual called Ma’Nene, in which bodies are disinterred, dressed in new clothes, and carried in a parade around the village.” These rites seem almost to mock our western fears of death.

Innovations on the funeral displace us further from the body. DenHoed writes, in 2016, of the then-relatively rare experience of attending a funeral over Skype, now commonplace by virtue of bleak necessity. It’s hard to say if high-tech mourning rituals like turning human remains into playable vinyl records brings us closer to accepting dead bodies, but they certainly bring us closer to an ancestral prehistoric past when at least some Bronze Age Britons turned the bones of their dead into musical instruments.

Is it any more macabre than turning relatives into diamonds? Who’s to say. The researchers who made this discovery, Dr. Thomas Booth and Joanna Brück, published their findings in the journal Antiquity under the tongue-in-cheek title “Death is not the end: radiocarbon and histo-taphonomic evidence for the curation and excarnation of human remains in Bronze Age Briton.”

What’s that now? Through radiocarbon-dating, the researchers, in other words, were able to determine that ancient people who lived between 2500-600 BC “were keeping and curating body parts, bones and cremated remains” of people they knew well, sometimes exhuming and ritually re-burying the remains in their homes, or just keeping them around for a couple generations.

“It’s indicative of a broader mindset where the line between the living and the dead was more blurred than it is today,” Booth tells The Guardian. “There wasn’t a mindset that human remains go in the ground and you forget about them. They were always present among the living.” This is hardly strange. The incredible amount of loss people will feel after COVID-19 will likely bring a proliferation of such rituals.

The find making headlines is a human thigh bone “that had been carved into a whistle” Josh Davis writes at the British Natural History Museum, and buried with another adult male. “When dated, it revealed that the thigh bone came from a person who probably lived around the same date as the man that it was buried with, meaning it is likely that it was someone that they knew in life, or were fairly close to.”

There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that this was a common or widespread practice, but it’s not that dissimilar to wearing the remains of the dead as jewelry. “The Romans did it,” notes Glenn McDonald at National Geographic, “The Persians did it. The Maya did it.” And the Victorians, also, wore the remains of their dead, 4,000 years after their ancient ancestors. “The technologies change,” says McDonald, “but the basic human experience” of death, loss, and mourning remains the same.

The thigh bone whistle is on display at the Wiltshire Museum in the UK.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Home Movies Starring Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Colette & Other Early 20th Century Luminaries

Léonide Massine may not be not the most famous name to grace socialite Elizabeth Fuller Chapman’s home movies.

In terms of 21st century name brand recognition, he definitely lags behind art world heavies Salvador DaliMarcel DuchampConstantin BrâncușiHenri Matisse, composer Igor Stravinsky, novelist Colette, playwright Thornton Wilder, the ever-formidable poet and collector Gertrude Stein, and her longtime companion Alice B. Toklas. Such were the luminaries in Mrs. Chapman’s circle.

But in terms of sheer on-camera charisma, the Ballets Russes dancer and choreographer definitely steals the collective show, above, currently on exhibit as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Private Lives Public Spaces, an exhibit exploring home movies as an art form.

Massine’s unbridled al fresco hip-twirling, prancing, and side kicks (preceded by a slow-motion run at 1:55) exist in stark contrast with Matisse’s stiff discomfort in the same setting (11:11) One need not be a skilled lipreader to guess the tone of the commentary Mrs. Chapman’s 16mm camera was not equipped to capture.

Stein (12:00), whose forceful personality was the stuff of legend, appears relaxed at the summer home she and Toklas shared in Bilignin, but also happy to position their standard poodle, Basket, as the center of attention.

Georges Braque (14:50), the introverted Father of Cubism, clings gratefully to his palette as he stands before a large canvas in his studio, and appears just as wary in another clip at 20:10.

The Surrealist Dali (21:50), as extroverted as Braque was retiring, takes a different approach to his palette, engaging with it as a sort of comic prop. Ditto his wife-to-be, Gala, and a painted porcelain bust he once accessorized with an inkwell, a baguette, and a zoetrope strip.

Dali serves up some serious Tik-Tok vibes, but we have a hunch Colette’s struggles with her friend, pianist Misia Sert’s semi-tame monkey (4:35), would rack up more likes.

As the curators of the MoMA exhibition note:

Chapman Films is immensely popular in the Film Study Center for the rare and intimate glimpses of their lives it provides, from a time when the famous were not readily accessible. Yes, there were gossip columns, fan magazines, and juicy exposés in the 1930s and ‘40s, but many notable figures carefully curated their public personas. We know these figures through their paintings, music, or words, not their faces, so to see them at all—let alone in real life, doing everyday things—is remarkable.

Also charming is the freshness of their interactions with Chapman’s camera—many of her subjects were celebrities, but their fame was in no way tethered to the ubiquity of smart phones. Hard to go viral in 16mm, decades before YouTube.

Though dancing, as Massine, and his close second Serge Lifar (8:50) make plain, is an excellent way to hold our attention.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Wine Windows of Renaissance Florence Dispense Wine Safely Again During COVID-19

Everything old is new again and Tuscany’s buchette del vino—wine windows—are definitely rolling with the times.

As Lisa Harvey earlier reported in Atlas Obscurabuchette del vino became a thing in 1559, shortly after Cosimo I de’ Medici decreed that Florence-dwelling vineyard owners could bypass taverns and wine merchants to sell their product directly to the public. Wealthy wine families eager to pay less in taxes quickly figured out a workaround that would allow them to take advantage of the edict without requiring them to actually open their palace doors to the rabble:

Anyone on the street could use the wooden or metal knocker ... and rap on a wine window during its open hours. A well-respected, well-paid servant, called a cantiniere and trained in properly preserving wine, stood on the other side. The cantiniere would open the little door, take the customer’s empty straw-bottomed flask and their payment, refill the bottle down in the cantina (wine cellar), and hand it back out to the customer on the street.

Seventy years further on, these literal holes-in-the-walls served as a means of contactless delivery for post-Renaissance Italians in need of a drink as the second plague pandemic raged.

Scholar Francesco Rondinelli (1589-1665) detailed some of the extra sanitation measures put in place in the early 1630s:

A metal payment collection scoop replaced hand-to-hand exchange

Immediate vinegar disinfection of all collected coins

No exchange of empty flasks brought from home

Customers who insisted on bringing their own reusable bottles could do self-serve refills via a metal tube, to protect the essential worker on the other side of the window.

Sound familiar?

After centuries of use, the windows died out, falling victim to flood, WWII bombings, family relocations, and architectural renovation.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has definitely played a major role in putting wine windows back on the public’s radar, but Babae, a casual year-old restaurant gets credit for being the first to reactivate a disused buchetta del vino for its intended purpose, selling glasses of red for a single hour each day starting in August 2019.

Now several other authentic buchette have returned to service, with menus expanded to accommodate servings of ice cream and coffee.

Given this success, perhaps they’ll take a cue from Japan’s 4.6 million vending machines, and begin dispensing an even wider array of items.

They may even take a page from the past, and send some of the money they take in back out, along with food and yes—wine—to sustain needy members of the community.

The Buchette del Vino Associazi Culturale currently lists 146 active and inactive wine windows in Florence and the surrounding regions, accompanying their findings with photos and articles of historical relevance.

Via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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