Why Mapmakers Once Thought California Was an Island

In the opening of John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A., an earthquake separates Los Angeles from the mainland, and the city is repurposed into “the deportation point for all people found undesirable or unfit to live in a new, moral America.” The film’s premise (like that of Escape from New York, which it follows) taps into a deeply held sentiment about its setting. Los Angeles has long been seen as an absurd concentration of all the qualities that make California unlike the rest of the United States. California remains a state apart in a metaphorical sense, but there was a time when it was also thought to be a state apart, literally: that is to say, an island.

The word California originates in a novel, published in 1510, called Sergas de Esplandián. In that book it refers to “an island populated by black women without any men existing there. On the entire island, there was no metal other than gold.” Author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s tantalizing description of California — as well as of the “beautiful and robust bodies” of its women — got Spanish seafarers curious about the extent to which it could have been based in reality.


(At that time, the mass-printed novel was still an enrapturing new development.) This account comes from Youtuber Johnny Harris‘ video above, “The Biggest Mapping Mistake of All Time,” which connects this fantastical literary invention to centuries of geographical misconception.

The conquistador Hernán Cortés seems to have been the first prominent figure to feel the pull of California. And he certainly wasn’t the last, despite never quite having managed to pin the place down. Spain’s most ardent California enthusiasts held so fast to the notion of its being an island that it spread elsewhere in Europe, and eventually to London. With the perception thus legitimized, California appeared disconnected from the North American coast on maps printed as far away as Japan. Harris credits California’s “mythical pull,” then as now, with making it “a place where people go to dream big” — and often “to chase dreams that aren’t grounded in any sense of reality.” Fortunately, he himself lives in Washington D.C., where delusions are wholly unknown.

Related content:

Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

The History of Cartography, the “Most Ambitious Overview of Map Making Ever,” Now Free Online

The 38 States of America: Geography Professor Creates a Bold Modern Map of America (1973)

The Largest Early Map of the World Gets Assembled for the First Time: See the Huge, Detailed & Fantastical World Map from 1587

Why Every World Map Is Wrong

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Art of Translating Hamilton into German: “So Kribbeln Schmetterlinge, Wenn Sie Starten”

The city of Hamburg’s nickname is Tor zur Welt– the gateway to the world.

If the German language production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record breaking hiphop musical now in previews in that city’s St. Pauli Theater is as warmly received as the English original has been in London, Melbourne, and, of course, the US, it may earn itself with an additional one – Hamiltonburg.

Excitement has been building since early summer, when a dual language video mashup of the opening number placed the original Broadway cast alongside their German language counterparts.


One need not speak German to appreciate the similarities in attitude – in both performance, and internal assonances, a lyrical aspect of hip hop that Miranda was intent on preserving.

Translator Kevin Schroeder quipped that he and co-translator rapper Sera Finale embraced the motto “as free as necessary, as close as possible” in approaching the score, which at 46 numbers and over 20,000 words, more than doubles the word count of any other musical:

At least we had all these syllables. It gave us room to play around.

Good thing, as the German language abounds with multisyllabic compound nouns, many of which have no direct English equivalent.

Take schadenfreude which the creators of the musical Avenue Q summed up as “happiness at the misfortune of others.”

Or torschlusspanik – the sense of urgency to achieve or do something before it’s too late.

Might that one speak to a translating team who’ve devoted close to four years of their lives to getting everything – words, syllables, meter, sound, flow, position, musicality, meaning, and double meanings – right?

Before Schroeder and Finale were entrusted with this herculean task, they had to pass muster with Miranda’s wife’s Austrian cousin, who listened to their samples and pronounced them in keeping with the spirit of the original.

As translators have always done, Schroeder and Finale had to take their audience into account, swapping out references, metaphors and turns of phrase that could stump German theatergoers for ones with proven regional resonance.

In a round up demonstrating the German team’s dexterity, the New York Times Michael Paulson points to “Satisfied,” a song wherein Hamilton’s prospective sister-in-law recalls their first encounter:

ORIGINAL

So this is what it feels like to match wits

With someone at your level! What the hell is the catch?

It’s the feeling of freedom, of seeing the light

It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite

You see it right?

 

GERMAN

So kribbeln Schmetterlinge, wenn sie starten

Wir beide voll auf einem Level, offene Karten!

Das Herz in den Wolken, ich flieg’ aus der Bahn

Die Füße kommen an den Boden nich’ ran

Mein lieber Schwan!

 

ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF GERMAN

So that’s how butterflies tingle when they take off

We’re on the same level, all cards on the table!

My heart in the clouds, I’m thrown off track

My feet don’t touch the floor

My dear swan!

Miranda, who participated in shaping the German translation using a 3 column system remarkably similar to the compare and contrast content above, gives this change a glowing review:

That section sounds fantastic, and gives the same feeling of falling in love for the first time.The metaphor may be different, but it keeps its propulsiveness.

And while few German theatergoers can be expected to be conversant in Revolutionary War era American history, Germany’s sizeable immigration population ensures that certain of the musical’s themes will retain their cultural relevance.

The Hamburg production features players from Liberia and Brazil. Other cast members were born in Germany to parents hailing from Ghana, the Philippines, Aruba, Benin, Suriname…and the United States.

For more of Michael Paulson’s insights into the challenges of translating Hamilton, click here.

Hamilton is in previews at Hamburg’s St. Pauli Theater, with opening night scheduled for October 6.

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

Revisit Louise Brooks’ Most Iconic Role in the Too-Sexy-for-Weimar Silent Film Pandora’s Box (1928)

“There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks.” — Henri Langlois

On this side of the 20th century, it’s hard to imagine a time in cinema history when Louise Brooks wasn’t an international silent icon, as revered as Dietrich or Garbo. But the actress with the unmistakable black helmet of hair nearly ended her career forgotten. She gave up the industry in 1938, after refusing the sexual advances of Columbia Pictures boss, Harry Cohn. “Brooks left Hollywood for good in 1940,” Geoffrey Macnab writes at The Independent, “drifted back to Kansas where, as a fallen Hollywood star, she was both envied for her success and despised for her failure.”

She would move to New York, work briefly as a press agent, then on the sales floor at Saks Fifth Avenue, after which, as she wrote in her autobiography Lulu in Hollywood, her New York friends “cut her off forever.”


Her two most legendary films, made in Berlin with German director G.W. Pabst, were critical and commercial failures only screened in heavily-edited versions upon release. Most of her silent Hollywood “flapper” comedies were deemed (even by Brooks herself) hardly worthy of preservation. It would take later critics and cinephiles like Kenneth Tynan and Henri Langlois, famed director of the Cinémathèque Française in 1950’s Paris, to resurrect her.

By 1991, Brooks was famous enough (again) to warrant a hit New Wave anthem by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, who introduced a new, young audience to Pandora’s Box in their video (top) cut together from scenes of Pabst’s film. Pandora’s Box (see the trailer above) combines two plays by Frank Wedekind in a contemporary story about Berlin’s sexually free atmosphere during the Weimar era. Brooks plays Lulu, a seductress who lures men, and eventually herself, to ruin. “In her Hollywood films,” writes Macnab, “Brooks had been used (in her own words) as a ‘pretty flibbertigibbet.’ With Pabst as her director, she became an actress.”

As Brooks was rediscovered (learn more about her in the documentary below) and achieved a second round of fame as an essayist and memoirist — so too were the films of Pabst, who also directed Brooks in Diary of a Lost Girl. Both films had been shown in truncated versions. Pandora’s Box, especially, caused a stir on its release, upsetting even Weimar censors. German critics were unimpressed and audiences objected to the casting of the American Brooks. (Its American release substituted a happy ending for the film’s downbeat conclusion, Macnab notes, “one of the strangest death sequences in cinema: creepy, erotic and with a perverse tenderness.”)

According to Charles Silver, film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, “audiences of 1928 were not ready for the film’s boldness and frankness, even in few-holds-barred Weimar Berlin,” a city Brooks described with her usual candor:

… the café bar was lined with the higher-priced trollops. The economy girls walked the street outside. On the corner stood the girls in boots, advertising flagellation. Actor’s agents pimped for the ladies in luxury apartments in the Bavarian Quarter. Race-track touts at the Hoppegarten arranged orgies for groups of sportsmen. The nightclub Eldorado displayed an enticing line of homosexuals dressed as women. At the Maly, there was a choice of feminine or collar-and-tie lesbians. Collective lust roared unashamed at the theatre. In the revue Chocolate Kiddies, when Josephine Baker appeared naked except for a girdle of bananas, it was precisely as Lulu’s stage entrance was described by Wedekind: ‘They rage there as in a menagerie when the meat appears at the cage.’

Despite the film’s initial failure, in Berlin and in the character of Lulu, Brooks had found herself. “It was clever of Pabst to know,” she wrote, “that I possessed the tramp essence of Lulu.” A fiercely independent artist to the end, she rejected the opinions of critics and audiences, and heaped praise upon Pabst and “his truthful picture of this world of pleasure… when Berlin rejected its reality… and sex was the business of the town.”

You can purchase a copy of Pandora’s Box on DVD, courtesy of Criterion.

Related Content:

Extremely Rare Technicolor Film Footage from the 1920s Discovered: Features Louise Brooks Dancing in Her First Feature Film

10 Classic German Expressionist Films: From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Enjoy the Greatest Silent Films Ever Made in Our Collection of 101 Free Silent Films Online

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

Goodbye to the Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo’s Strangest and Most Utopian Apartment Building

On many of my trips to Japan I’ve stayed at the Capsule Inn Osaka, which is exactly where and what it sounds like. To any foreigner the place would be an intriguing novelty, but to those interested in Japanese architecture it also has great historical value. Designed by architect Kurokawa Kisho, the Capsule Inn Osaka opened in 1979 as the world’s first capsule hotel, a form of lodging now widely regarded as no less quintessentially Japanese than the ryokan. At that point Kurokawa had already been advancing capsule as an architectural unit for years, contributing a “capsule house” and capsule-based corporate pavilions to the Osaka World Expo 1970, and even building a curious masterwork of the genre in Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower.

The other architects involved in Expo ’70 included Tange Kenzo, Kawazoe Noboru, Maki Fumihiko, Kikutake Kiyonori, and Isozaki Arata — all associated to one degree or another with Metabolism, an architectural movement inspired by the rapid economic growth, enormous urban expansion, and unprecedented technological change then transforming postwar Japan. The Metabolists “approached the city as a living organism consisting of elements with different metabolic cycles,” writes Lin Zhongjie in Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. “To accommodate a city’s growth and regeneration, Metabolists advanced transformable technologies based on prefabricated components and the replacement of obsolete parts according to varying life cycles.”


When it opened in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Tower did so as the first fully realized Metabolist project. Abroad in Japan host Chris Broad introduces it as “not only my favorite building in all of Tokyo, but in all of Japan.” He also contextualizes it within a brief history of Metabolism, as well as of the postwar Japanese society that fired up its practitioners’ aesthetically brazen, techno-Utopian ideals. Geared to the work-dominated, peripatetic lifestyle of what Kurokawa called “homo movens,” the Nakagin Capsule Tower actually consisted of two concrete cores onto which were bolted 140 capsules (architectural theorist Charles Jencks likened their aspect to “superimposed washing machines”), each a self-contained living space replete with cutting-edge amenities up to and including a bathtub ashtray Sony reel-to-reel tape player.

Kurokawa envisioned the capsules being replaced every 25 years over a lifetime of centuries. Alas, the difficulty of such an operation meant that the originals were simply left in, and by the end of the twentieth century many had badly deteriorated. “Ironically,” writes Lin, “Tokyo is growing and transforming itself so rapidly that it even outpaces the ‘metabolism’ that the Metabolists envisioned, and requires renewals on the scale of entire buildings instead of individual capsules.” First announced in 2007, the year of Kurokawa’s death, the building’s demolition began this past April, and it has occasioned such tributes as Studio Ito’s elegiac animation just above. The Nakagin Capsule Tower stood for half a century, long outliving Metabolism itself, but its capsules will now scatter across the world, suggesting that there was something to the biological metaphor all along.

Related content:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Beauty of Brutalist Architecture: An Introduction in Six Videos

How the Radical Buildings of the Bauhaus Revolutionized Architecture: A Short Introduction

Why Do People Hate Modern Architecture?: A Video Essay

New York’s Lost Skyscraper: The Rise and Fall of the Singer Tower

Building Without Nails: The Genius of Japanese Carpentry

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Never Too Small: Architects Give Tours of Tiny Homes in Paris, Melbourne, Milan, Hong Kong & Beyond

There was a time when few had a taste for tiny homes — indeed, a time when millions of us tuned in to television shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous expressly to revel in residential expanse and opulence. This is not to say that such straightforward “real estate porn” has vanished: like all twenty-first-century media, it’s just taken a variety of new forms. In its more than twenty-year run, HGTV’s House Hunters and its many spin-offs have catered to viewers who slaver over mansions, but also to those whose tastes run from houseboats and tropical islands to recreational vehicles and off-the-grid compounds. The inevitable debut of Tiny House Hunters came in 2014.

For a variety of reasons, many members of the last couple of generations have come of age without the desire — and often, not coincidentally, without the means — for a large living space. Over the past fifteen years or so, popular culture has metabolized this condition into an enthusiasm, and for some an obsession.


The die-hard tiny-home enthusiast watches Youtube channels like Never Too Small: since its launch five years ago, it has uploaded more than a hundred videos so far, each of which offers a brief guided tour of a different tiny home led by the architect who designed it. These include diminutive residences in cities the world over, from Paris and Amsterdam to Hong Kong and Tokyo to Melbourne and Sydney.

Based in Australia, Never Too Small has produced a great many episodes in that country — a country known, ironically, for its vast tracts of undeveloped land. But there, as everywhere else, space in major cities comes at a premium, and it falls to the tiny-house architect to employ and articulate that space with an absolute maximum of efficiency. (They also face the same basic challenge in the occasional rural setting, building “tiny cabins” and repurposing shipping containers.) The details may vary, but watch enough episodes in a row and you tend to notice that, located though they may be in New York, Buenos Aires, Antwerp, or Milan, these apartments have much in common aesthetically.

No matter their own cultural origins, most of these architects have evidently looked for inspiration to Japan, whose traditions of residential architecture have long developed within small plots of land. They also tend to make liberal use of light wood and white paint, which make these spaces look more expansive than they are, as well as at once modern and organic. (These choices carry a degree of retro appeal as well, harking back as they do to the design trends of the mid-sixties.) The best of Never Too Small’s videos provide a clear view of its subject’s context, whether it be a hip old urban neighborhood or a hillside in the wilderness. There are many reasons to want a tiny home, none based on wanting to stay inside it all the time.

Related content:

The Tiny Transforming Apartment: 8 Rooms in 420 Square Feet

An 18-Year-Old Spends a Year Alone Building a Log Cabin in the Swedish Wilderness: Watch from Start to Finish

Visit the Homes That Great Architects Designed for Themselves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius & Frank Gehry

The First House Powered by Coffee

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Doghouse, His Smallest Architectural Creation (1956)

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Tour of All the Pizza Styles You Can Eat in the United States (and the History Behind Your Favorite Slices)

When it comes to chili, Texas, Kansas City and Cincinnati, will cede no quarter, each convinced that their particular regional approach is the only sane option.

Hot dogs? Put New York City and Chicago in a pit and watch them tear each other to ribbons.

But pizza?

There are so many geographic variations, even an impartial judge can’t see their way through to a clear victor.

The playing field’s thick as stuffed pizza, a polarizing Chicago local specialty that’s deeper than the deepest dish.


Weird History Food’s whirlwind video tour of Every Pizza Style We Could Find In the United States, above, savors the ways in which various pizza styles evolved from the Neapolitan pie that Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi introduced to New York City in 1905.

Wait, though. We all have an acquaintance who takes perverse pleasure in offbeat topping choices – looking at you, California – but other than that, isn’t pizza just sauce, dough, and cheese?

How much room does that leave for variation?

Plenty as it turns out.

Crusts, thick or thin, fluctuate wildly according to the type of flour used, how long the dough is proofed, the type of oven in which they’re baked, and philosophy of sauce placement.

(In Buffalo, New York, pizzas are sauced right up to their circumference, leaving very little crusty handle for eating on the fly, though perhaps one could fold it down the middle, as we do in the city 372 miles to the south.)

Sauce can also swing pretty wildly – sweet, spicy, prepared in advance, or left to the last minute – but cheese is a much hotter topic.

Detroit’s pizza is distinguished by the inclusion of Wisconsin brick cheese.

St. Louis is loyal to Provel cheese, a homegrown processed mix of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone and liquid smoke.

Miami pizzas cater to the palates of its Cuban population by mixing mozzarella with gouda, a cheese that was both widely available and popular before 1962’s rationing system was put in place.

Rhode Island’s aptly named Red Strips have no cheese at all…which might be preferable to the Altoona, Pennsylvania favorite that arrives topped with American cheese slices or – the horror – Velveeta.

(This may be where we part ways with the old saw equating pizza with sex – even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.)

Cut and size also factor in to pizza pride.

Washington DC’s Jumbo slices are pretty much the standard issue New York-style thin crust slice, writ large.

Not only does size matter here, it may be the only thing that matters…to the point where a local business improvement district had to intervene on behalf of sidewalk rubbish bins hard pressed to handle the volume of greasy super-sized slice boxes Washingtonians were tossing away every evening.

In the land of opportunity, where smaller towns are understandably eager to claim their piece of pie, Weird History Food gives the nod to Old Forge, Pennsylvania, optimistically dubbed “the Pizza Capital of the World by Uncovering PA’s Jim Cheney, and Steubenville Ohio, home of the “oversized LunchableAtlas Obscura refers to as America’s most misunderstood pizza.

For good measure, watch the PBS Idea Channel’s History of Pizza in 8 slices, below, then rep your favorite local pizzeria in the comments.

We want to try them all!

Related Content 

The First Pizza Ordered by Computer, 1974

When Mikhail Gorbachev, the Last Soviet Leader, Starred in a Pizza Hut Commercial (1998)

Pizza Box Becomes a Playable DJ Turntable Through the Magic of Conductive Ink

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

Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint: Watch a Documentary on the Swedish Abstract Painter Free Online

From Kino Lorber Films comes a documentary on the Swedish abstract painter, Hilma af Klint:

Hilma af Klint was an abstract artist before the term existed, a visionary, trailblazing figure who, inspired by spiritualism, modern science, and the riches of the natural world around her, began in 1906 to reel out a series of huge, colorful, sensual, strange works without precedent in painting. The subject of a recent smash retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, af Klint was for years an all-but-forgotten figure in art historical discourse, before her long-delayed rediscovery. Director Halina Dryschka’s dazzling, course correcting documentary describes not only the life and craft of af Klint, but also the process of her mischaracterization and erasure by both a patriarchal narrative of artistic progress and capitalistic determination of artistic value.

You can find Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint listed in our collection of Free Documentaries, a subset of our larger collection 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

To watch more free-to-stream Kino Lorber films, click here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

Related Content

Kino Lorber Puts Online 50 Free Films: Watch Classics by Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Taika Waititi & Other Major Filmmakers

Get the First Biography of Hilma af Klint at a 40% Discount (for a Limited Time)

The Life & Art of Hilma Af Klint: A Short Art History Lesson on the Pioneering Abstract Artist

Discover Hilma af Klint: Pioneering Mystical Painter and Perhaps the First Abstract Artist

The Complete Works of Hilma af Klint Are Getting Published for the First Time in a Beautiful, Seven-Volume Collection

Who Painted the First Abstract Painting?: Wassily Kandinsky? Hilma af Klint? Or Another Contender?

Getting Dressed Over the Centuries: 35 Videos Show How Women & Men Put on Clothes During Ancient, Medieval & Modern Times

Across vast swathes of the world, many of us — arguably too many of us — have grown accustomed to putting on little more than a T-shirt and jeans every morning, regardless of our status in society. We all know it wasn’t always this way, but we may not fully understand just how much it wasn’t always this way. Throughout most of civilized human history, dressing didn’t just reflect one’s way of life, it practically constituted a way of life in itself. Thanks to Youtube channel Crow’s Eye Productions, we here in the twenty-first century can enjoy detailed, even cinematic re-creations of the dressing process in various eras and places the West, from Roman Britain to Renaissance Florence to 1969 London.

You can watch all 35 of these dressing videos in chronological order with this playlist. Many of the dressers, including such august personages as Prince Albert and Queen Victoria (on Christmas Day, no less), occupy elevated social positions.


But the maids and gardeners of the Victorian era had to get dressed too, and though their clothing may be simpler than that worn by the royals — or even by the middle class — it’s no less revealing of history. One could no doubt tell an even richer story of technological, economic, and cultural change over the centuries through the clothing of “the masses” than through the clothing of the elites.

Even war, that most traditional historical subject of all, has its connections with dress. This playlist features three videos on the dressing routines of soldiers, nurses, and young women during the First World War, as well as one on the members of the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War. Established in 1917, the WLA organized “Land Girls” to take over the agricultural work while the men who’d been doing it were out fighting on the front.

This was just the kind of effort necessitated by total war, as well as one that could only have been performed by women. It’s also, therefore, engagingly approachable by a series like this, with its primary focus on women’s dress — which, at least since the Great Male Renunciation, has had a pretty spectacular history of its own.

Related content:

How Wealthy Women (Like the Mona Lisa) Got Dressed in Renaissance Florence

How Fashionable Dutch Women (Like the Girl with a Pearl Earring) Got Dressed in 1665

Author Imagines in 1893 the Fashions That Would Appear Over the Next 100 Years

Fashion Designers in 1939 Predict How People Would Dress in the Year 2000

Life Magazine Predicts in 1914 How People Would Dress in the 1950s

Google Creates a Digital Archive of World Fashion: Features 30,000 Images, Covering 3,000 Years of Fashion History

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

More in this category... »
Quantcast
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.