Coursera Offers $100 Off of Coursera Plus (Until September 30), Giving You Unlimited Access to Courses & Certificates

A heads up on a deal: Between now and September 30, 2023, Coursera is offering a $100 discount on its annual subscription plan called “Coursera Plus.” Normally priced at $399, Coursera Plus (now available for $299) gives you access to 6,000+ world-class courses for one all-inclusive subscription price. This includes Coursera’s Specializations and Professional Certificates, all of which are taught by top instructors from leading universities and companies (e.g. Yale, Duke, Google, Meta, and more).

The $299 annual fee–which translates to 81 cents per day–could be a good investment for anyone interested in learning new subjects and skills, or earning certificates that can be added to your resume. Just as Netflix’s streaming service gives you access to unlimited movies, Coursera Plus gives you access to unlimited courses and certificates. It’s basically an all-you-can-eat deal. Explore the offer (before September 30, 2023) here.

As an aside, Coursera also has a separate deal where you can sign up for the first month of Coursera Plus Monthly for just $1.  The monthly plan is different than the annual plan mentioned above. Find the $1 deal here.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

How Japanese Kintsugi Masters Restore Pottery by Beautifying the Cracks

A few years ago, we featured here on Open Culture the Japanese art of kintsugi, whose practitioners repair broken pottery with gold in a manner that emphasizes rather than hides the cracks. Since then, the idea seems to have captured the Western imagination, inspiring no few online investigations but also books with titles like Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit, and Kintsugi: Embrace Your Imperfections and Find Happiness — the Japanese Way. But as kintsugist Yuki Matano reminds us, “kintsugi is mostly seen as a refined repairing technique in Japan. Japanese people do not usually associate kintsugi with art therapy or mental health.”

To get back to the essence of kintsugi, and gain a clearer understanding of its laborious physical nature, it couldn’t hurt to watch a few kintsugists at work. Take Hiroki Kiyokawa, who reflects on his 45 years practicing the art in Kyoto — not without expressing his own ideas about how he feels he’s also “restoring the broken parts of myself” — in the BBC video above.

Or, for a more modern presentation, have a look at this tutorial video from Chimahaga, a kintsugist who not long ago launched his own Youtube channel dedicated to explaining what he does. He’s even uploaded videos about not just kintsugi, (金継ぎ, or “golden joinery”), but also gintsugi (銀継ぎ), which achieves a different but equally striking effect using silver instead of gold.

Kintsugi clearly isn’t a hobby you can master over a few weekends. But you don’t have to be a lifelong Kyoto artisan to benefit from learning it, as emphasized by psychologist Alexa Altman in the video just above. Having learned kintsugi in Japan, she practices it here in a somewhat unconventional way, repairing not pottery damaged over time or by accident, but pottery which she’s smashed on purpose. The bowl, in this case, represents “some aspect of yourself”; the hammer is “an instrument of change”; the glue is “all about connection”; the holes and cracks “can be representations of loss”; the gold is “glory, a celebration.” Whether or not you accept these metaphors, those who practice kintsugi — or any craft demanding such a degree of patience and concentration — surely improve their psychological state in so doing.

Related Content:

Kintsugi: The Centuries-Old Japanese Craft of Repairing Pottery with Gold & Finding Beauty in Broken Things

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

When a Young Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes Made Their Own TV Show: Revisit Hi-Octane (1994)

It makes sense that Sofia Coppola and Zoe Cassavetes would be friends. Not only are they both respected filmmakers of Generation X, they’re both daughters of maverick American auteurs, a condition with its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The advantages, in Coppola’s case, have included the ability to get Zoetrope, her father Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, to foot the bill for a project like Hi-Octane: in the words of a 1994 W magazine profile, “a non-talk show in which Sofia and Zoe drive around and interview cool people, essentially their friends” — a group that included Keanu Reeves, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, and the Beastie Boys.

Coppola and Cassavetes didn’t do all the interviewing themselves. Their correspondents included the photographer Shawn Mortensen, whom they sent off to Paris Fashion Week to talk to the likes of Naomi Campbell, Karl Lagerfeld, and André Leon Talley, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who hosted his own regular segment. “Thurston’s Alley” was usually shot literally there, in the alley alongside the building where he lived in New York, and, to it, he lured guests like Johnny Ramone and Sylvia Miles. But in one very special episode, he visits the Condé Nast building to interview none other than Anna Wintour — and, in one of the moments Hi-Octane‘s viewers have never forgotten, to describe the mayonnaise-based hair styling technique of Pixies Bassist Kim Deal.

“I wrote the script ’cause I was so into cars,” the young Coppola told W. “And I have access to all these interesting people — these actors and musicians. But when you see them interviewed on television, they just talk about their characters and it’s so boring. The sets are always hideously ugly. TV people always say they want to cater to people my age, but they have no idea how to do it. So we just wanted to incorporate the things we’re interested in — cars, painting, music.” In one episode, she and Cassavetes take monster-truck lessons; in another, she gets a bass lesson from the Minutemen’s Mike Watt; another features an extended profile of psychedelo-sexual-apocalyptic painter Robert Williams, whom Coppola’s cousin Nicolas Cage turns up to praise as “a modern-day Hieronymus Bosch.”

Hi-Octane aired at 11:00 at night on Comedy Central, a time slot between Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Saturday Night Live. It only did so three times before its cancellation, but each of those broadcasts offers a strong if somewhat makeshift distillation of a certain mid-nineties Gen-X sensibility, whose outward smirking disaffection is belied by its overpowering subcultural enthusiasm and sense of fun. “I wouldn’t change it because part of the sloppiness makes it unique and what it is,” Coppola said in a more recent interview. “I think if anything has sincerity and heart, this is it.” She may have known even at the time that it was all too pure to last. “Comedy Central says our show’s not funny enough,” she says to Cassavetes at the end of the second episode. “I think it’s funny that they gave us a show,” Cassavetes replies, and Coppola has to give it to her: “That is… that is funny.”

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Revisit Turn-On, the Innovative TV Show That Got Canceled Right in the Middle of Its First Episode (1969)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

A Determined Art Conservator Restores a Painting of the Doomed Party Girl Isabella de’ Medici: See the Before and After

Some people talk to plants.

The Carnegie Museum of Art‘s chief conservator Ellen Baxter talks to the paintings she’s restoring.

“You have to …tell her she’s going to look lovely,” she says, above, spreading varnish over a 16th-century portrait of Isabella de’ Medici prior to starting the laborious process of restoring years of wear and tear by inpainting with tiny brushes, aided with pipettes of varnish and solvent.

Isabella had been waiting a long time for such tender attention, concealed beneath a 19th-century overpainting depicting a daintier featured woman reputed to be Eleanor of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the second Duke of Florence.

Louise Lippincott, the CMA’s former curator of fine arts, ran across the work in the museum’s basement storage. Record named the artist as Bronzino, court painter to Cosimo I, but Lippincott, who thought the painting “awful”, brought it to Ellen Baxter for a second opinion.

As Cristina Rouvalis writes in Carnegie Magazine, Baxter is a “rare mix of left- and right-brained talent”, a painter with a bachelor’s degree in art history, minors in chemistry and physics, and a master’s degree in art conservation:

(She) looks at paintings differently than other people, too—not as flat, static objects, but as three-dimensional compositions layered like lasagna.

The minute she saw the oil painting purported to be of Eleanor of Toledo… Baxter knew something wasn’t quite right. The face was too blandly pretty, “like a Victorian cookie tin box lid,” she says. Upon examining the back of the painting, she identified—thanks to a trusty Google search—the stamp of Francis Leedham, who worked at the National Portrait Gallery in London in the mid-1800s as a “reliner,” transferring paintings from a wood panel to canvas mount. The painstaking process involves scraping and sanding away the panel from back to front and then gluing the painted surface layer to a new canvas.

An X-Ray confirmed her hunch, revealing extra layers of paint in this “lasagna”.

Careful stripping of dirty varnish and Victorian paint in the areas of the portrait’s face and hands began to reveal the much stronger features of the woman who posed for the artist. (The Carnegie is banking on Bronzino’s student, Alessandro Allori, or someone in his circle.)

Lippincott was also busily sleuthing, finding a Medici-commissioned copy of the painting in Vienna that matched the dress and hair exactly. Thusly did she learn that the subject was Eleanor of Toledo’s daughter, Isabella de’ Medici, the apple of her father’s eye and a notorious, ultimately ill-fated party girl. 

The History Blog paints an irresistible portrait of this maverick princess:

Cosimo gave her an exceptional amount of freedom for a noblewoman of her time. She ran her own household, and after Eleanor’s death in 1562, Isabella ran her father’s too. She threw famously raucous parties and spent lavishly. Her father always covered her debts and protected her from scrutiny even as rumors of her lovers and excesses that would have doomed other society women spread far and wide. Her favorite lover was said to be Troilo Orsini, her husband Paolo’s cousin.

Things went downhill fast for Isabella after her father’s death in 1574. Her brother Francesco was now the Grand Duke, and he had no interest in indulging his sister’s peccadilloes. We don’t know what happened exactly, but in 1576 Isabella died at the Medici Villa of Cerreto Guidi near Empoli. The official story released by Francesco was that his 34-year-old sister dropped dead suddenly while washing her hair. The unofficial story is that she was strangled by her husband out of revenge for her adultery and/or to clear the way for him to marry his own mistress Vittoria Accoramboni.

Baxter noted that the urn Isabella holds was not part of the painting to begin with, though neither was it one of Leedham’s revisions. Its resemblance to the urn that Mary Magdalene is often depicted using as she annoints Jesus’ feet led her and Lippincott to speculate that it was added at Isabella’s request, in an attempt to redeem her image.

“This is literally the bad girl seeing the light,” Lippincott told Rouvalis.

Despite her fondness for the subject of the liberated painting, and her considerable skill as an artist, Baxter resisted the temptation to embellish beyond what she found:

I’m not the artist. I’m the conservator. It’s my job to repair damages and losses, to not put myself in the painting.

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Free Course: An Introduction to the Art of the Italian Renaissance

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Noam Chomsky Explains Why Nobody Is Really a Moral Relativist, Even Michel Foucault

Noam Chomsky made his name as a linguist, which is easy to forget amid the wide range of subjects he has addressed, and continues to address, in his long career as a public intellectual. But on a deeper level, his commentary on politics, society, media, and a host of other broad fields sounds not unlike a natural outgrowth of his specialized linguistic theories. Throughout the past five or six decades, he’s occasionally made the connection explicit, or nearly so, by drawing analogies between language and other domains of human activity. Take the panel-discussion clip above, in which Chomsky faces the question of why he doesn’t accept the notion of cultural relativism, which holds moral norms as not absolute but created wholly within particular cultural contexts.

“There are no skeptics,” Chomsky says. “You can discuss it in a philosophy seminar, but no human being can, in fact, be a skeptic. They wouldn’t survive for two minutes if they were. I think pretty much the same is true of moral relativism. There are no moral relativists: there are people who profess it, you can discuss it abstractly, but it doesn’t exist in ordinary life.” He identifies “a tendency to move from the uncontroversial concept of moral relativism” — that, say, certain cultures at certain times hold certain moral values, and other cultures at other times hold other ones — “to a concept that is, in fact, incoherent, and that is to say that moral values can range indefinitely,” tethered to no objective basis.

If morality is transmitted through culture, “how does a person acquire his or her culture? You don’t get it by taking a pill. You acquire your culture by observing a rather limited number of behaviors and actions, and from those, constructing, somehow, in your mind, the set of attitudes and beliefs that constitutes culture.” He draws a natural comparison between this process and that of language acquisition, which also depends on “having a rich built-in array of constraints that allow the leap from scattered data to whatever it is that you acquire. That’s virtually logic.” And so, “even if you’re the most extreme cultural relativist, you are presupposing universal moral values. Those can be discovered.” When he spoke of “the most extreme cultural relativist,” he was thinking of Michel Foucault?

Back in 1971, Chomsky engaged the French philosopher of power in a debate, broadcast on Dutch television, about human nature and the origin of morality. There he practically lead with linguistics: a child learning to talk starts “with the knowledge that he’s hearing a human language of a very narrow and explicit type that permits a very small range of variation.” This “highly organized and very restrictive schematism” allows him to “make the huge leap from scattered and degenerate data to highly organized knowledge.” This mechanism “is one fundamental constituent of human nature,” in not just language but “other domains of human intelligence and other domains of human cognition and even behavior” as well. Perhaps we do have the freedom to speak, think, and act however we wish — but that very freedom, if Chomsky is correct, emerges only within strict, absolute, wholly un-relative natural boundaries.

Related content:

Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky Debate Human Nature & Power on Dutch TV (1971)

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Michel Foucault Offers a Clear, Compelling Introduction to His Philosophical Project (1966)

Noam Chomsky Explains the Best Way for Ordinary People to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunting

Moralities of Everyday Life: A Free Online Course from Yale University

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

Martin Scorsese Breaks Down His Most Iconic Films: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and More

“Did Scorsese make the best movie of each decade since the ’70s?” asks GQ‘s Zach Baron in a recent profile of that long-lived auteur. “Probably not (I think his case is weakest in the first decade of this century), but you could argue it, and many people have.” And indeed, you may well find yourself believing it after watching the video above, also published by GQ, in which Scorsese himself discusses a selection of features from the past half-century of his career, the earliest of which, Mean Streets, was a breakout project for both its young director and even younger star, a certain Robert de Niro, in 1973.

Scorsese’s latest, Killers of the Flower Moon, opens next month as not just another of his many collaborations with de Niro, but the first Scorsese film to feature both de Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. “We were acquainted with each other when we were sixteen years old,” the director says of de Niro in the GQ video. “He experienced what I experienced growing up” in rough-and-tumble New York neighborhoods like Little Italy and the Bowery, and thus “knows who I am and where I came from.” Hence the trust with which Scorsese took de Niro’s recommendation of DiCaprio in the early nineties: “You gotta work with him someday.”

That someday came in 2002, with Gangs of New York, after which the Scorsese-diCaprio professional relationship would mature to bear additional cinematic fruit with projects like The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street. At this point it has become a parallel enterprise to Scorsese-de Niro, which can be traced from The Irishman, which came out in 2019, back through the likes of GoodFellas (though it stars the late Ray Liotta), Casino, The King of Comedy, and Raging Bull — a picture that, along with other brazenly ambitious United Artists releases like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, Scorsese now sees as marking the end of “the power of the director.”

In “new Hollywood” era of the nineteen-seventies, Scorsese remembers, “things were wide open, and we went in and took it like the barbarians at the gate, and we transformed whatever we could, but they caught us.” Still, since then he’s “never stopped working for any noticeable amount of time,” as Baron puts it, though in recent years he’s been given to rueful comment about the artistic and economic dynamics of his industry and art form. As for the state of the world in general, he makes an equally grim diagnosis with reference to his and de Niro’s best-known collaboration, Taxi Driver: “Every other person is like Travis Bickle now.”

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How Martin Scorsese Directs a Movie: The Techniques Behind Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and More

The Decay of Cinema: Susan Sontag, Martin Scorsese & Their Lamentations on the Decline of Cinema Explored in a New Video Essay

The Filmmaking of Martin Scorsese Demystified in 6 Video Essays

What Makes Taxi Driver So Powerful? An In-Depth Study of Martin Scorsese’s Existential Film on the Human Condition

Martin Scorsese Explains the Difference Between Cinema and Movies

Scorsese’s The Irishman in the Context of his Oeuvre – Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #29 Featuring Colin Marshall

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

Behold the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Forerunner to the Kindle

Image courtesy of the University at Leeds

In the striking image above, you can see an early experiment in making books portable–a 17th century precursor, if you will, to the modern day Kindle.

According to the library at the University of Leeds, this “Jacobean Travelling Library” dates back to 1617. That’s when William Hakewill, an English lawyer and MP, commissioned the miniature library–a big book, which itself holds 50 smaller books, all “bound in limp vellum covers with coloured fabric ties.” What books were in this portable library, meant to accompany noblemen on their journeys? Naturally the classics. Theology, philosophy, classical history and poetry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, and Saint Augustine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Harvard Classics (now available online) three centuries later.

Apparently three other Jacobean Travelling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.

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Stream Hundreds of Hours of Studio Ghibli Movie Music That Will Help You Study, Work, or Simply Relax: My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & More

The Boy and the Heron, the latest feature from master animator Hayao Miyazaki, opened in Japan this past summer. In that it marks his latest emergence from his supposed “retirement,” we could label it not just as late Miyazaki, but perhaps even “post-late” Miyazaki. But the film nevertheless shares significant qualities with his earlier work, not least a score composed by Joe Hisaishi. Since Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind — which opened in 1984, even before the foundation of Studio Ghibli — Hisaishi’s music has done nearly as much to establish the sensibility of Miyazaki’s films as their lavish, imaginative animation, and you can stream hundreds of hours of it with this Youtube playlist.

Each of the playlist’s 121 two-hour videos offers musical selections from a mix of Ghibli movies, including Miyazaki favorites like My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Spirited Away, and also the works of other directors: Yoshifumi Kondō’s Whisper of the Heart, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Arrietty,  Gorō Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill.

If you’ve seen those pictures, these quiet, often minimal renditions of their music will surely bring their animated fantasies right back to mind. Even if you haven’t, they can still fulfill the function promised by the videos’ titles of setting a mood conducive to study, work, or simple relaxation.

So beloved are Hisaishi’s scores, for Miyazaki and others (most notably comedian-auteur Takeshi Kitano), that it’s possible to know the music long before you’ve seen the movies. And even in performances considerably different from the versions heard on the actual soundtracks, they always sound immediately recognizable as Hisaishi’s work. Shaped by an eclectic set of influences (born Mamoru Fujisawa, he took on his professional name as an homage to Quincy Jones), he developed a compositional style neither strictly Eastern nor Western. The same can be said about Ghibli movies themselves, which often possess both fairy-tale European settings and Japanese philosophical underpinnings. Wherever you place yourself on the cultural map, you’d do well to make their music the soundtrack of your own life.

Related content:

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Hayao Miyazaki, The Mind of a Master: A Thoughtful Video Essay Reveals the Driving Forces Behind the Animator’s Incredible Body of Work

Studio Ghibli Makes 1,178 Images Free to Download from My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & Other Beloved Animated Films

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoc, the Town with the Longest Name in Europe

Its name can be squeezed onto a tea towel, a decorative plate, a magnet, a mug, and other touristic souvenirs, but has the northern Welsh town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoc been celebrated in song?

Indeed it has. The Great Big Story‘s Human Condition episode, above, has vinyl proof, though the tune’s unlikely to give The White Cliffs of Dover, The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, or The Rocky Road To Dublin much of a run for the money.

Still, whichever outside-the-box Victorian thinker had the bright idea to attract tourists by expanding the village’s original name – Pwllgwyngyll – by 46 letters was onto something.

Turns out you don’t need natural wonders or world-renowned cultural attractions to stake a claim, when out-of-towners will make the trip just to take photos of the local signage.

Image by Adraio, via Wikimedia Commons

Village Community Council Chairman Alun Mummery attributes the name-lengthening publicity stunt in 1869 to a local cobbler.

Or perhaps he was a tailor. That’s what poet John Morris-Jones, author of 1913’s A Welsh Grammar, Historical and Comparative, maintained, while refusing to outright identify this clever civic booster.

Wikipedia throws doubt on these origin stories by citing an entry in an ecclesiastical directory published a few years prior to 1869, which gave the full parish name as “Llanfair­pwll­gwyn­gyll­goger­bwll­tysilio­gogo.”

(Close enough!)

Someone in the tourist information office told travel writer Dave Fox that it translates to “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave.”

It’s tempting to think this little Welsh town has the longest name in the world, but that honor actually goes to Bangkok.

Wait, what?

The name by which most foreigners know Thailand’s capital city is actually an archaic reference to its pre-1782 location.

Thai people call their capital Krung Thep – short for Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnopparatrajathaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit.

It means “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest” and looks like this, when written in Thai script:

กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์

Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­gochians still get to brag that they have the longest town name in Europe.

Their football club, Clwb Pêl Droed Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch Football Club – CPD Llanfairpwll FC for short – might well be the longest named football club in the world if it weren’t for that damn Amon Rattanakosin Krung Thep Mahanakhon Mahinthara Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Ayuthaya Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit Bravo Association Football Club (aka Bangkok Bravo FC).

Some of the fun of living in a town with such a cumbersome name must be amazing tourists by how casually it rolls off local tongues.

Pub owner Kevin Bryant obliges visitors from The Great Big Story by downing a pint on camera before rapping it out.

Anything for the local economy!

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoc also got a boost from mentions on Groucho Marx‘s quiz show, You Bet Your Life, in a Bossa Nova-inflected Stephen Sondheim song, and in several films, including 1968’s Barbarella.

As YouTuber Tom Scott points out below, long words are invariably shortened in everyday speech, and place names are no exception.

Postmaster Jim Evans advocates shortening the town name to Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyll.

When not actively impressing tourists, local people say Llanfairpwll.

Which is still a pretty impressive consonant to vowel ratio.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Do You Think About Ancient Rome Every Day? Then Browse a Wealth of Videos, Maps & Photos That Explore the Roman Empire

This month, more than a few TikTok-using women have asked the men in their lives how often they think about the Roman Empire. And to the astonishment of these women, more than a few of these men have responded that they think about it on a daily basis, or even more often than that. By now, this particular manifestation of mutual incomprehension between the sexes has swept several social-media platforms, and according to reportage in the New York Times and Washington Post, it actually began on Instagram. “Ladies, many of you do not realize how often men think about the Roman Empire,” posted a Swedish ancient-Rome reenactor who calls himself Gaius Flavius. “Ask your husband/boyfriend/father/brother — you will be surprised by their answers!”

Even if you’re not a husband, boyfriend, father, or brother, you may count yourself among these Rome-enraptured men. You may think about Rome practically all day, every day, and not be a man at all. Or perhaps you’re one of the women who, hitherto unaware of the apparently widespread Roman intellectual proclivities among the opposite sex, have begun to feel a twinge of curiosity about the subject.

If so, you could do worse than start your historical journey to antiquity’s mightiest empire — the ancestor of today’s Western civilization — with this twenty-minute primer narrated by Succession‘s Brian Cox. Consider also accompanying it with this animated map visualizing both the Roman Empire’s rise to cover half the known world and its subsequent fall — or this version with a scrolling timeline of the face of every emperor.

The word “Rome” commonly stands for the Roman Empire, but, of course, it can also refer to the great capital itself. Here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured virtual tours and flyovers, as well as a physical scale model, of the ancient city of Rome at its peak. You can also watch a re-creation of the destruction of Pompeii, whose ash-preserved ruins have taught us a great deal about life in the Roman Empire. That empire could hardly have extended as far as it did without the technological marvel of Roman roads, which you can learn about through videos on their construction, subway-style maps, and even a trip-planning web application. Even the concrete used to build those roads — not to mention the Roman Empire’s formidable aqueducts — has been an object of fascination, not least because the secret of their durability has only recently come to light.

If Rome was about nothing but conquering emperors and sprawling infrastructure, it would be easy to explain its being a predominantly male interest. But we’ve also featured numerous other aspects of its culture, from the sound of Roman music and the Latin language to the colors of its statues. Like all human beings, ancient Romans ate food — whether by following recipes at home or going out to “snack bars” — and wore shoes (and sandals, alas, with socks). Our own fascination with its civilization has its own historical roots, as underscored by these nineteenth-century photographs of Roman ruins. Nor does that fascination know cultural boundaries. I live in Korea, and recently a man told me about his younger days as a soldier in KATUSA, the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army. Why did he enlist in that particular program? “I wanted to know what it would be like to serve the modern Roman Empire.”

Related Content:

The Most Distant Places Visited by the Romans: Africa, Scandinavia, China, India, Arabia & Other Far-Flung Lands

When Iggy Pop Published an Essay, “Caesar Lives,” in an Academic Journal about His Love for Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)

The Ups & Downs of Ancient Rome’s Economy–All 1,900 Years of It–Get Documented by Pollution Traces Found in Greenland’s Ice

The Splendid Book Design of the 1946 Edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

11-Year-Old Martin Scorsese Draws Storyboards for His Imagined Roman Epic Film, The Eternal City

What Life Was Like for Teenagers in Ancient Rome: Get a Glimpse from a TED-ED Animation

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

An Introduction to Chinoiserie: When European Monarchs Tried to Build Chinese Palaces, Houses & Pavilions

Today it would be viewed as cultural appropriation writ large, but when Louis XIV ordered the construction of a 5-building pleasure pavilion inspired by the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing (a 7th Wonder of the World few French citizens had viewed in person) as an escape from Versailles, and an exotic love nest in which to romp with the Marquise de Montespan, he ignited a craze that spread throughout the West.

Chinoiserie was an aristocratic European fantasy of luxurious Eastern design, what Dung Ngo, founder of AUGUST: A Journal of Travel + Design, describes as “a Western thing that has nothing to do with actual Asian culture:”

Chinoiserie is a little bit like chop suey. It was wholesale invented in the West, based on certain perceptions of Asian culture at the time. It’s very watered down.

And also way over the top, to judge by the rapturous descriptions of the interiors and gardens of Louis XIV’s Trianon de Porcelaine, which stood for less than 20 years.

Image by Hervé Gregoire, via Wikimedia Commons

The blue-and-white Delft tiles meant to mimic Chinese porcelain swiftly fell into disrepair and Madame de Montespan’s successor, her children’s former governess, the Marquise de Maintenon, urged Louis to tear the place down because it was “too cold.”

Her lover did as requested, but elsewhere, the West’s imagination had been captured in a big way.

The burgeoning tea trade between China and the West provided access to Chinese porcelain, textiles, furnishings, and lacquerware, inspiring Western imitations that blur the boundaries between Chinoiserie and Rococo styles

This blend is in evidence in Frederick the Great’s Chinese House in the gardens of Sanssouci (below).

Image by Johann H. Addicks, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr Samuel Wittwer, Director of Palaces and Collections at the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, describes how the gilded figure atop the roof “is a mixture of the Greek God Hermes and the Chinese philosopher Confucius:”

His European face is more than just a symbol of intellectual union between Asia and Europe…The figure on the roof has an umbrella, an Asian symbol of social dignity, which he holds in an eastern direction. So the famous ex oriente lux, the good and wise Confucian light from the far east, is blocked by the umbrella. Further down, we notice that the foundations of the building seem to be made of feathers and the Chinese heads over the windows, resting on cushions like trophies, turn into a monkey band in the interior. The frescoes in the cupola mainly depict monkeys and parrots. As we know, these particular animals are great imitators without understanding.

Frederick’s enthusiasm for chinoiserie led him to engage architect Carl von Gontard to follow up the Chinese House with a pagoda-shaped structure he named the Dragon House (below) after the sixteen creatures adorning its roof.

Image by Rigorius, via Wikimedia Commons

Dragons also decorate the roof of the Great Pagoda in London’s Kew Gardens, though the gilded wooden originals either succumbed to the elements or were sold off to settle George IV’s gambling debts in the late 18th century.

Image by MX Granger, via Wikimedia Commons

There are even more dragons to be found on the Chinese Pavilion at Drottningholm, Sweden, an architectural confection constructed by King Adolf Fredrik as a birthday surprise for his queen, Louisa. The queen was met by the entire court, cosplaying in Chinese (or more likely, Chinese-inspired) garments.

Not to be outdone, Russia’s Catherine the Great resolved to “capture by caprice” by building a Chinese Village outside of St. Petersburg.

Image by Макс Вальтер, via Wikimedia Commons

Architect Charles Cameron drew up plans for a series of pavilions surrounding a never-realized octagonal-domed observatory. Instead, eight fewer pavilions than Cameron originally envisioned surround a pagoda based on one in Kew Gardens.

Having survived the Nazi occupation and the Soviet era, the Chinese Village is once again a fantasy plaything for the wealthy. A St. Petersburg real estate developer modernized one of the pavilions to serve as a two-bedroom “weekend cottage.”

Given that no record of the original interiors exists, designer Kirill Istomin wasn’t hamstrung by a mandate to stick close to history, but he and his client still went with “numerous chinoiserie touches” as per a feature in Elle Decor:

Panels of antique wallpapers were framed in gilded bamboo for the master bedroom, and vintage Chinese lanterns, purchased in Paris, hang in the dining and living rooms. The star pieces, however, are a set of 18th-century porcelain teapots, which came from the estate of the late New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor.

Explore cultural critic Aileen Kwun and the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance’s perspective on the still popular design trend of chinoiserie here.

h/t Allie C!

Related Content 

An Animated History of Versailles: Six Minutes of Animation Show the Construction of the Grand Palace Over 400 Years

How the Ornate Tapestries from the Age of Louis XIV Were Made (and Are Still Made Today)

Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Free: Download 70,000+ High-Resolution Images of Chinese Art from Taipei’s National Palace Museum

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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