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.

How to Paint Water Lilies Like Monet in 14 Minutes

Some of us are using this period of self-isolation to make sourdough.

Others are learning to play an instrument or initiating a daily yoga practice.

For those considering taking up painting, David Dunlop's Emmy-Award winning PBS series Landscapes Through Time offers an excellent alternative (or supplement) to the well-established joys of cult figure Bob Ross, the eternal king of television art instruction.

Like Ross, Dunlop has a mellow onscreen temperament that pairs beautifully with the enchanting setting of Claude Monet’s famous water garden, above.

(Those who’ve visited Monet’s house and garden at Giverny will envy him his tourist-free access to the site. Even those with no intention of picking up a brush should find it restorative to spend time gazing at the same lovely view that Dunlop, like Monet before him, looks at through a deliberately Impressionistic squint.)

He packs a lot of art appreciation into 14 easily digested minutes, touching on art history, brush technique, composition, use of light, and, in particular, color theory.

When the museums reopen, you may find this crash course has enhanced your enjoyment, especially as pertains to canvases by Monet and his fellow Impressionists.

For those pursuing the hands-on oil painting experience, Dunlop provides a supply list of colors, all readily available:

Cobalt Blue

Cadmium Yellow

Alizarin Crimson


Brilliant Rose

Emerald Green

Hooker’s Green

Titanium White

His brushes and paper appear to be garden variety, and his approach, like Ross’, is fast and loose.

Those who favor a less brazen approach may feel more at home with his watercolor painting demonstration in Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire in Provence, France, below.

There are more excerpts and instruction on Dunlop’s YouTube channel. For those wishing to take it to the next level, Dunlop is teaching a series of interactive studio demonstration classes via Zoom. Register here.

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

See Web Cams of Surreally Empty City Streets in Venice, New York, London & Beyond

The lack of human presence in majorly polluted cities these past couple months has had some people seeing utopias as the skies begin to clear. But empty cities seem a little more dystopian to me. Dystopias are “a kind of surrealism," writes Kim Stanley Robinson. They unearth the dreamlike dread beneath the veneer of the normal. No matter when they’re set, dystopias don’t depict the future so much as “the feeling of the present… heightened by exaggeration to a kind of dream or nightmare." The events in dystopian fiction approach the truth of someone’s situation somewhere in the world and make visible what has been hidden.

We know ghost cities exist as ancient disasters like Pompeii and Herculaneum and modern ones like Pripyat, Ukraine, outside Chernobyl. But there are more of them than many of us know. Gleaming cities like Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, which broke ground in 1991 and contains the largest number of marble buildings in the world.

The 4.5 million square meter metropolis has almost no inhabitants, an enormous government folly. Towns and cities around the world have been abandoned for for all sorts of reasons, and they continue to as sea levels rise. Which is what makes viewing live camera footage of some of the world’s most iconic streets—almost completely emptied by the pandemic at the height of tourist season—so… surreal.

It's true that people haven't fled these cities, but made cozy bunkers of their apartments. Yet seeing the vacant streets live on camera, in Venice, London, New York, and elsewhere in the world,  I get the uncanny feeling of looking at proto-surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico’s The Enigma of a Day, a depiction of a shadowy, uninhabited street through which we expect the Italian version of a tumbleweed to roll. Surveillance technology has inadvertently become a medium of modernist art.

There is so much beauty in the live view at the top of the Ponte delle Guglie in Venice from the Hotel Filù Venezia, and there is also such lonely melancholy, depending on the time of day and where the shadows fall. See a live view of Times Square, above, and another Times Square view at EarthCam, where you can also catch a feed of a mostly empty Abbey Road (some times of day emptier than others, as in the early-morning screenshot below). Skyline Webcams hosts even more live camera views of Venice, including feeds from the Rialto Bridge and the Piazza San Marco, as well as live feeds from several sites in Padua and other places in Italy.

These real-time visions are transporting in their strangeness. Are we living in the present or the future? In a dystopian world, there isn’t any difference. All futures are foreclosed by catastrophe, “all distances in time and space are shrinking,” wrote Martin Heidegger, a thinker who understood disaster, and who fell in line behind it. In that same essay, “The Thing” (as translated by Albert Hofstader), the German philosopher made his famous comment, "the terrible has already happened."

The terrible that has happened to us is not only a deadly pandemic. The virus is not likely to disappear on its own; who knows how long this will go on? But not far behind the current crisis are more climate events that threaten to empty streets. If we empty cities not only as indicative of temporarily social distancing, but as images of the possible near-future, maybe we'll be far less inclined to come out of this surreal experience and get right back to business-as-usual.

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

Take a Virtual Tour of the Paris Catacombs

The Paris Catacombs is “one of those places,” wrote photographer Félix Nadar, “that everyone wants to see and no one wants to see again.” If anyone would know, Nadar would. He spent three months in and out of the underground city of death, with its macabre piles of skulls and crossbones, taking photographs (see here) that would help turn it into an internationally famous tourist attraction. In these days of quarantine, no one can see it; the site is closed until further notice. But if you’re the type of person who enjoys touring necropolises, you can still get your fix with a virtual visit.

Why would anyone want to do this, especially during a global outbreak? The Catacombs have attracted seekers after morbid curiosities and spiritual and philosophical truths for over two hundred years, through revolutions, massacres, and plagues.

A stark, haunting reminder of what Nadar called “the egalitarian confusion of death,” they witness mutely, without euphemism, to the future we are all assured, no matter our rank or position. They began as a disordered pile of bones in the late 18th century, transferred from overcrowded cemeteries and became a place where “a Merovingian king remains in eternal silence next to those massacred in September ‘92” during the French Revolution.

Contemplations of death, especially in times of war, plague, famine, and other shocks and crises, have been an integral part of many cultural coping mechanisms, and often involve meditations on corpses and graveyards. The Catacombs are no different, a sprawling memento mori named after the Roman catacombs, “which had fascinated the public since their discovery,” as the official site notes. Expanded, renovated, and rebuilt during the time of Napoleon and later during the extensive renovations of Paris in the mid-19th century, the site was first “consecrated as the ‘Paris Municipal Ossuary’ on April 7, 1786” and opened to the public in 1809.

It is a place that reminds us how all conflicts end. To the “litany of royal and impoverished dead from French history,” writes Allison Meier at the Public Domain Review, Nadar added in his essay on the Catacombs “the names of revolutionary victims and perpetrators like Maximilien Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat.” Ruminations on the universal nature of death may be an odd diversion for some, and for others an urgent reminder to find out what matters to them in life. Learn more about the fascinating history of the Paris Catacombs here and begin your virtual visit here.

via Boing Boing

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

Italians’ Nightly Singalongs Prove That Music Soothes the Savage Beast of Coronavirus Quarantine & Self-Isolation

It’s not like we’re maestros…it’s a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety. —Emma Santachiara, Rome

As reported by The New York Times, Ms. Sanachiara, age 73, has joined the vast choir of ordinary Italians taking to their balconies and windows to participate in socially distant neighborhood singalongs as coronavirus rages through their country.

The Internet has been exploding with messages of support and admiration for the quarantined citizens’ musical displays, which have a festive New Year’s Eve feel, especially when they accompany themselves on pot lids.

Three days ago, Rome’s first female mayor, Virginia Raggi, called upon residents to fling open their windows or appear on their balconies for nightly 6pm community sings.

A woman in Turin reported that the pop up musicales have forged friendly bonds between neighbors who in pre-quarantine days, never acknowledged each other’s existence.

Naturally, there are some soloists.

Tenor Maurizio Marchini serenaded Florentines to "Nessun Dorma," the famous aria from Puccini's opera Turandot, repeating the high B along with a final Vincerò!, which earns him a clap from his young son.

In Rome, Giuliano Sangiorgi, frontman for Negramaro, hit his balcony, guitar in hand, to entertain neighbors with Pino Daniele’s 1980 hit "Quanno Chiove" and his own band’s "Meraviglioso."

Earlier in the year, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, China, the deadly epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, also used music to boost morale, singing the national anthem and other patriotic songs from their individual residences. Jiāyóu, or “add oil,” was a frequent exhortation, reminding those in isolation to stay strong and keep going.

Readers, are you singing with your neighbors from a safe distance? Are they serenading you? Let us know in the comments.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Like most of us in this crazy, historic period, all of her events have been cancelled. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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