Cambridge University Professor Cooks 4000-Year-Old Recipes from Ancient Mesopotamia, and Let’s You See How They Turned Out

Those of us who’ve dedicated a portion of our isolation to the art of sourdough have not suffered for a lack of information on how that particular sausage should get made.

The Internet harbors hundreds, nay, thousands of complicated, contrary, often contradictory, extremely firm opinions on the subject. You can lose hours…days…weeks, agonizing over which method to use.

The course for Bill Sutherland's recent culinary experiment was much more clearly charted.




As documented in a series of now-viral Twitter posts, the Cambridge University professor of Conservation Biology decided to attempt a Mesopotamian meal, as inscribed on a 3770-year-old recipe tablet containing humankind’s oldest surviving recipes.

As Sutherland told Bored Panda’s Liucija Adomaite and Ilona Baliūnaitė, the translated recipes, found in Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks: Highlights of the Yale Babylonian Collection, were “astonishingly terse” and “perplexing,” leading to some guess work with regard to onions and garlic.

In addition to 25 recipes, the book has photos and illustrations of various artifacts and essays that “present the ancient Near East in the light of present-day discussion of lived experiences, focusing on family life and love, education and scholarship, identity, crime and transgression, demons, and sickness.”

Kind of like a cradle of civilization Martha Stewart Living, just a bit less user friendly with regard to things like measurements, temperature, and cooking times. Which is not to say the instructions aren't step-by-step:

Stew of Lamb

Meat is used. 

You prepare water. 

You add fat. 

You add fine-grained salt, barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. 

You crush and add leek and garlic.

The meal, which required just a couple hours prep in Sutherland’s non-ancient kitchen sounds like something he might have ordered for delivery from one of Cambridge's Near Eastern restaurants.

The lamb stew was the hit of the night.

Unwinding, a casserole of leeks and spring onion, looked inviting but was “a bit boring.”

Elamite Broth was "peculiar but delicious," possibly because Sutherland substituted tomato sauce for sheep’s blood.

It’s an admittedly meaty proposition. Only 2 of the 25 recipes in the collection are vegetarian (“meat is not used.”)

And even there, to be really authentic, you’d have to sauté everything in sheep fat.

(Sutherland swapped in butter.)

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her isolation projects are sourdough and an animation with free downloadable posters, encouraging the use of face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Introduction to Hagia Sophia: After 85 Years as a Museum, It’s Set to Become a Mosque Again

No tour of Istanbul can fail to include Hagia Sophia. The same is true enough of the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris, but Hagia Sophia is more than a museum: it's also spent different stretches of its near-millennium-and-a-half of existence as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a mosque. Stripped of its religious function in the mid-1930s by the administration of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, remembered for his creation of a secular Turkish republic, the majestic building has spent the past 85 years as not just a museum but the country's top tourist attraction. Now, according to a decree issued last week by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hagia Sophia will become a mosque again.

"Erdogan, like his predecessor Ataturk, appears to be using the fate of the Hagia Sophia to make a political statement and score some points with his supporters," writes Ars Technica's Kiona N. Smith. But so did Emperor Justinian I of the Eastern Roman Empire, who "ordered the cathedral’s construction in the first place for similar reasons."




Built on the site where two cathedrals had previously stood, both burned down in different revolts, "the Hagia Sophia has always been as much a political landmark as a religious or cultural one — so it’s not surprising that it has also changed hands, and functions, at least four times in its history." Ataturk's secularization of Hagia Sophia entailed a restoration of its historic features: "Christian mosaics that had been plastered over in the late 1400s were carefully uncovered, and they shared the domed space with Muslim prayer niches and pulpits."

You can get a clearer sense of what the building's architecture and decoration reveal in the animated TED-Ed lesson at the top of the post. Educator Kelly Wall points to, among other features, the ancient fortifications that "hint at the strategic importance of the surrounding city, founded as Byzantium by Greek colonists in 657 BCE."; the foundation stones that "murmur tales from their homelands of Egypt and Syria, while columns taken from the Temple of Artemis recall a more ancient past"; and, beneath the golden dome that "appears suspended from heaven," reinforcing Corinthian columns, "brought from Lebanon after the original dome was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 558 CE," that offer a reminder of "fragility and the engineering skills such a marvel requires." The BBC 360-degree virtual tour just above goes into greater detail on these elements and others.

According to reports cited by Hyperallergic's Hakim Bishara, "tourists will still have access to the site, although it might be closed to visitors during prayer time." Still, "art historians and conservationists worry that the Turkish authorities might decide to cover up or remove the centuries-old Byzantine mosaics and Christian iconography that adorn the celebrated structure, as was done in other converted churches in Turkey in the past." Good job, then, that irrepressible television traveler Rick Steves has already shot his episode on Istanbul, which (from 9:34) naturally features a visit to Hagia Sophia. But whether as a museum, cathedral, a mosque, or whatever it becomes next, the building will surely remain what Steves called "the high point of Byzantine architecture" and "the pinnacle of that society's sixth-century glory days." And no leader of Turkey, no matter what their beliefs about church and state, will want the tourists to stop coming.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Take a Virtual Drive through London, Tokyo, Los Angeles & 45 Other World Cities

When asked once about his beliefs, This American Life creator Ira Glass replied that he believes "the car is the best place to listen to the radio." That seems to be a culturally supported perception, or at least it has been in over the past half-century in America. But does it hold true in other countries? Does listening to the radio in the car feel as good in London, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, and Tokyo as it does in Chicago, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles?

You can see and hear for yourself with the wealth of virtual urban-driving-and-radio-listening experiences on offer at Drive & Listen, where you can take your pick from any of the aforementioned cities and 40 others besides. The site makes this possible by bringing together two forms of media that have come into their own on the internet of the 21st century: streaming radio and streaming video.

In most every major metropolitan area, radio stations now make their broadcasts available online. At the same time, Youtubers have by now shot and uploaded a great many through-the windshield views of all those places, creating the once-unlikely entertainment genre of the driving video.




Here we've included some prime examples from popular Youtube driver J Utah, whose scope includes American cities large and small as well as such world capitals as Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, Hong Hong, and São Paulo. All in 4K video.

Click on one of the cities on Drive & Listen's menu, and chances are you'll see one of J Utah's videos. It will come with a streaming-radio soundtrack, sourced from one of the stations in the city or country on display. Your virtual Havana drive may be accompanied by announcements of the news of the day, your virtual Istanbul drive by Turkish rock, your virtual Chicago drive by an NPR affiliate (perhaps even WBEZ, home of This American Life), your virtual Guadalajara drive by soccer scores, your virtual Miami drive by straight-ahead jazz, your virtual Berlin drive by Patti Smith.

Each time you select a city, you'll get a different combination of radio station and driving footage. As every driver knows, day driving and night driving — to say nothing of rush hour versus the wee hours — feels completely different, and so the drivers of Youtube have shot at all possible times. Some of their routes thread right between downtown skyscrapers, while others stick to freeways along the outskirts. As a resident of Seoul, I can tell you that Drive & Listen accurately conveys the experience of riding in a cab through that city — provided you first crank the video speed up to 2x.

Enter Drive & Listen here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch a Mesmerizing Stream of Unwatched YouTube Videos: Astronaut.io Lets You Discover the Hidden Dimensions of the World’s Largest Video Platform

When times are hard, it often helps to zoom out for a moment—in search of a wider perspective, historical context, the forest full of trees…

Astronaut.io, an algorithmic YouTube-based project by Andrew Wong and James Thompson, offers a big picture that’s as restorative as it is odd:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see.

If the stars look very different today, it’s because they’re human, though not the kind who are prone to attracting the paparazzi. Rather, Astronaut is populated by ordinary citizens, with occasional appearances by pets, wildlife, video game characters, and houses, both interior and exterior.

Launch Astronaut, and you will be bearing passive witness to a parade of uneventful, untitled home video excerpts.

The experience is the opposite of earthshaking.

And that is by design.

As Wong told Wired’s Liz Stinson:

There’s this metaphor of being on a train …you see things out the window and think, 'Oh what is that?' but it’s too late, it’s already gone by. Not letting someone go too deep is pretty important.

After some trial and error on Twitter, where video content rarely favors the restful, Wong and Thompson realized that the sort of material they sought resided on YouTube. Perhaps it’s been reflexively dumped by users with no particular passion for what they’ve recorded. Or the account is a new one, its owner just beginning to figure out how to post content.

The videos on any given Astronaut journey earn their place by virtue of generic, camera-assigned file names (IMG 0034, MOV 0005, DSC 0165…), zero views, and an upload within the last week.

The overall effect is one of mesmerizing, unremarkable life going on whether it’s observed or not.

Children perform in their living room

A woman assembles a bride’s bouquet

A kitten bats a toy

A pre-fab home is moved into place

The vision is heartwarmingly global.

Astronaut is anti-star, but there are some frequent sightings, owing to the number of nameless inconsequential videos any one user uploads.

This week a Vietnamese fashionista, a karaoke space in Argentina, and a boxing ring in Montreal make multiple appearances, as do some very tired looking teachers.

The effect is most soothing when you allow it to wash over you unimpeded, but there is a red button below the frame, if you feel compelled to linger within a certain scene.

(You can also click on whatever passes for the video’s title in the upper left corner to open it on YouTube, from whence you might be able to suss out a bit more information.)

A very young Super Mario fan has apparently colonized a parent’s account for his narrated gaming videos.

Halfway around the world, a formally dressed man sits behind a desk prior to his first-ever upload.

Some gifted dancers fail to rotate prior to uploading.

A recently acquired night vision wildlife cam has already captured a number of coyotes.

And everyone who comes through the door of a Chinese household adores the happy baby within.

It’s unclear if the algorithm will alight on any cell phone footage documenting the shocking scenes at recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Perhaps not, given the urgency to share such videos, titling them to clue viewers in to the what, who, where, when, and why.

For now Astronaut appears to be the same floaty trip Jake Swearingen described in a 2017 article for New York Magazine:

The internet is a place that often rewards the shocking, the sad, the rage-inducing — or the nakedly ambitious and attention-seeking. A morning of watching Astronaut.io is an antidote to all that.

Begin your explorations with Astronaut here.

h/t to reader Tom Hedrick

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Every day since March 15, she has uploaded a set of 10 micrhvisions of socially distanced New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Only Sourdough Library

There’s 15-year-old Precious from the Netherlands…

And Bubble from Australia, age 4…

Yeasty Beasty Methuselah, from Twin Falls, Idaho, is estimated to be around 50…

Every sourdough starter is special to the ones who made or maintain it, but of the 1000s registered online with Quest for Sourdough, only 125 have earned a permanent place in the Puratos Sourdough Library in Saint-Vith, Belgium. It's the world's only library dedicated to Sourdough, and you can take a virtual tour here.

Housed in identical jars in a museum-quality refrigerated cabinets, these heritage starters have been carefully selected by librarian Karl De Smedt, above, who travels the world visiting bakeries, tasting bread, and learning the stories behind each sample that enters the collection.




As De Smedt recalls in an interview with the Sourdough Podcast, the idea for the museum began taking shape when a Lebanese baker reached out to Puratos, a hundred-year-old company that supplies commercial bakers and pastry makers with essentials of the trade. The man’s sons returned from a baking expo in Paris and informed their dad that when they took over, they planned to retire his time-honored practice of baking with fermented chickpeas in favor of instant yeast. Worried that his prized recipe would be lost to history, he appealed to Puratos to help preserve his protocols.

While fermented chickpeas do not count as sourdough—a combination of flour, water, and the resulting microorganisms this marriage gives rise to over time—the company had recently collected and analyzed 43 venerable starters. The bulk came from Italy, including one from Altamura, the “city of bread, producer of what Horace called in 37 B.C. 'the best bread to be had, so good that the wise traveler takes a supply of it for his onward journey.'”

Thus was a non-circulating library born.

Each specimen is analyzed by food microbiologist Marco Gobbetti from the University of Bolzano and Bari.

A collaboration with North Carolina State University biologists Rob Dunn and Anne Madden revealed that sourdough bakers’ hands share distinct microbes with their starters.

More than 1100 strains of microorganisms have been recorded so far.

Every two months, the starters are taken out of the fridge and fed, i.e. reactivated, with a combination of water and some of their flour of origin, yearly quantities of which are contributed by their bakers. Without this regular care, the starters will die off.

(The pandemic has De Smedt working from home, but he intimated to The New York Times that he intended to make it back to feed his babies, or “mothers” as they are known in sourdough circles.)

#72 from Mexico feeds on eggs, lime and beer

#100 from Japan is made of cooked sake rice.

#106 is a veteran of the Gold Rush.

Their consistency is documented along a line that ranges from hard to fluid, with Silly Putty in the middle.

Each year, De Smedt expands the collection with starters from a different area of the world. The latest additions come from Turkey, and are documented in the mouthwatering travelogue above.

For now, of course, he’s grounded in Belgium, and using his Instagram account to provide encouragement to other sourdough practitioners, answering rookie questions and showing off some of the loaves produced by his own personal starters, Barbara and Amanda.

Register your starter on Quest for Sourdough here.

If you haven’t yet taken the sourdough plunge, you can participate in North Carolina State University’s Wild Sourdough Project by following their instructions on making a starter from scratch and then submitting your data here.

And bide your time until you’re cleared to visit the Puratos Sourdough Library in person by taking an interactive virtual tour or watching a complete playlist of De Smedt’s collecting trips here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her current starter, Miss Sourdough, was brought to life with an unholy splash of apple cider. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Stay At Home Museum: Your Private, Guided Tours of Rubens, Bruegel & Other Flemish Masters

Of the many world class museums treating a stuck-at-home public to virtual tours of their collections, none inspire the resolve for future travel as the Stay At Home Museum, an initiative of the Flanders tourism board.

Before the COVID-19 epidemic response demanded the temporary shuttering of all such attractions, the region was entering the final year of a 3-year festival celebrating such Flemish masters as Jan Van EyckPieter Bruegel, and Peter Paul Rubens.




Its website appeals to young, hip visitors by matching interests with celebrity tour guides: Bacchus (as rendered by Rubens) for eating and drinking in an arty atmosphere and Rubens' Venus for culturally responsible shopping and diamond admiring.

Other enticing prospects we can’t take advantage of at present:

A downloadable Bruegel walking tour map

Rubens-inspired beer tourism

A Flemish Masters itinerary for children

An open air augmented reality experience based on Bruegel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

Our sadness at missing these cannot be chalked up to FOMO. Right now, the whole world is missing out.

So, consider the Stay At Home Museum a preview, something to help us enjoy our trips to the region all the more at some point in the future, by educating ourselves on the painters who made Flanders famous.

The series is also a treat for the Zoom weary. The expert guides aren’t facing their webcams at home, but rather using their high level access to lead us through the empty museums in which the exhibits are still installed.

No jostling...

No crowding in front of the most celebrated pieces...

No inane lunch-related chatter from tourists who aren’t into art as deeply as you are...

Above, Van Eyck expert Till-Holger Borchert, Director of Musea Bruges, orients us to the artist and his work, most notably the Ghent altarpiece, aka Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 12-panel polyptych that Van Eyck worked on with Hugo, the older brother who died 6 years before its completion.

Pay close attention to Adam and Eve’s body hair. Borchert certainly does.

He also sheds a lot of interesting light on the significance of materials, framing choices, and composition.

The restored altarpiece was slated to be reinstalled in its original home of Ghent’s Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, following the scheduled closing of Jan van Eyck: An Optical Revolution—April 30, 2020.

The Royal Museum of Fine Art's director Michel Draguet takes us on a French-speaking journey inside Bruegel’s painting, The Fall of the Rebel Angels.

Ben Van Beneden, the director of the Rubens House, invites us into Ruben’s “art gallery room”—something no self-respecting wealthy polyglot diplomat/aesthete who’s also a Baroque painter would do without, apparently.

The peek at Rubens' garden is nice too, especially for those of us with no private outdoor space of our own.

Jumping ahead to the Belgian avant-garde of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, curator Mieke Mels of Ostennd’s the Mu.ZEE spills the beans on why native son, James Ensor, shielded his 1888 masterpiece Christ's Entry into Brussels from the public view for 3 decades.

This episode has been translated into International Sign Language for deaf and hearing impaired viewers.

A fifth and allegedly final episode is forthcoming. View a playlist of all Stay At Home Museum episodes here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. It’s been so long since she visited Belgium, she can’t remember if her indiscretion in the Bruges youth hostel made it into her travel memoir, No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Experience New York City’s Fabled Mid-Century Nightclubs in an Interactive, COVID-19-Era, Student-Designed Exhibit

It’s been over a month since public health precautions led almost every school in the United States to switch to online instruction.

While there are obviously much greater tragedies unfolding daily, it’s hard not to empathize with students who have watched countless special events—proms, commencements, spring sports, performances, hotly anticipated rites of passage—go poof.

In New York City, students in Parsons School of Design’s Narrative Spaces: Design Tools for Spatial Storytelling course were crestfallen to learn that their upcoming open-to-the-public exhibition of group and solo projects in the West Village—the centerpiece of the class and a huge opportunity to connect with an audience outside of the classroom—was suddenly off the menu.




Multidisciplinary artist Jeff Stark, who co-teaches the class with Pamela Parker, was disappointed on their behalves.

Stark’s own work, from Empire Drive In to Miss Rockaway Armada, is rooted in live experience, and New York City holds a special place in his heart. (He also edits the weekly email list Nonsense NYC, an invaluable resource for independent art and Do-It-Yourself events in the city.)

This year’s class projects stemmed from visits to the City Reliquary, a small museum and civic organization celebrating everyday New York City artifacts. Students were able to get up close and personal with Chris Engel’s collection of photographs, menus, promotional materials, and souvenirs documenting the heyday of New York’s supper club nightlife, from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Student Rylie Cooke, an Australian who aspires to launch a design company, found that her research deepened her connection to artifacts she encountered at the Reliquary, as she came to appreciate the fabled Copacabana’s influence on the popular culture, food, and music of the period:

... with COVID-19 it became important to have this connection to the artifacts as I wasn't able to physically touch or look at them when Parsons moved to online for the semester. I am a very hands-on creative and I love curating things, especially in an exhibit format.

Rather than scrap their goal of public exhibition, the class decided to take things into the virtual realm, hustling to adapt their original concepts to a purely screen-based experience, The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing.

The plan to wow visitors with a period-appropriate table in the center of their West Village exhibition space became a grid of digital placemats that serve as portals to each project.

Cooke’s contribution, A Seat at the Copacabana, begins with an interview in which baseball great Mickey Mantle recounts getting into a cloakroom brawl as he and fellow New York Yankees celebrated a birthday with a Sammy Davis Jr. set. Recipes for steak and potatoes, Chicken a la King, rarebit, and arroz con pollo provide flavor for a floorshow represented by archival footage of “Let’s Do the Copacabana” starring Carmen Miranda, a Martin and Lewis appearance, and a dance rehearsal from 1945. The tour ends at the Copa’s current incarnation in Times Square, with a vision of pre-socially distanced contemporary merrymakers salsa-ing the night away.

(Navigate this exhibit using toolbar arrows at the bottom of the screen.)

Student Hongxi Chen’s investigations into The China Doll nightclub resulted in an elaborate interactive immersive experience on the topic of cultural appropriation:

The China Doll… was founded in 1946 by Caucasian stage producer Tom Ball, who deemed it the only “all-oriental” night club in New York. While the club sometimes played off “Oriental” stereotypes, and titled one of its shows “Slant-Eyed Scandals,” they featured Asian dancers and Asian singers presenting popular songs in a way New Yorkers had never seen before. The Dim interactive experience unfolds with the story of Thomas, a waiter at the China Doll.

As a junior in Parsons’ Design and Technology program, Chen had plenty of previous experience forging virtual environments, but working with a museum collection was new to him, as was collaborating on a virtual platform.

He sought Stark’s advice on creating vivid dialogue for his fictional waiter.

Jiaqi Liuan, a Design and Technology MFA student and veteran of the Shanghai production of Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s immersive retelling of MacBeth, helped choreograph Chen’s China Doll dancers in an homage to The Flower Drum Song's Fan Tan Fannie number.

Chen stayed up until 7 am for two weeks, devouring open source tutorials in an attempt to wrangle and debug the many elements of his ambitious project—audio, video, character models and animation, software, game engines, and game server platform.

As Chen noted at the exhibition’s recent Zoom opening (an event that was followed by a digital dance party), the massive game can be a bit slow to load. Don't worry, it’s worth the wait, especially as you will have a hand in the story, steering it to one of five different endings.

Chen, an international student, could not safely return to China and has not left his student apartment since mid-March, but gamely states that remaining in the same time zone as his school allowed him to communicate efficiently with his professors and the majority of his classmates. (Cooke is back home in Australia.)

Adds Chen:

Even though we are facing a difficult circumstance under the pandemic and had to pivot our original ideas into a virtual presentation, I’m glad that our class was able to quickly change plans and adapt to the situation. This… actually inspired me a lot and opened up ways to invite and connect people with virtual artwork.

Other highlights of The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing include Ming Hong Xian’s exploration of the famous West Village country music club, The Village Barn (complete with turtle races) and What Are You? a personality test devised by Mi Ri Kim and Eleanor Melby, to help visitors determine which classic NYC supper club best suits their personality.

(Apparently, I’m headed to Cafe Zanzibar, below, where the drinks are cheap, the aspirin is free, and Cab Calloway is a frequent headliner.)

Stark admits that initially, his students may not have shared his swooning response to the source material, but they share his love of New York City and the desire to “get in the thick of it.” By bringing a Generation Z perspective to this historical ephemera, they stake a claim, making work that could help the City Reliquary connect to a new audience.

Enter The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing here.

Explore the City Reliquary online here, and join in the civic pride by participating in its weekly Instagram Live events, including Thursday Collectors’ Nights.

(All images used with permission of the artists and The City Reliquary)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her contribution to art in isolation is a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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