A Visit to Tianducheng, China’s Eerily Empty $1 Billion Copy of Paris

Not quite a cen­tu­ry ago, Shang­hai was known as “the Paris of the East.” (Or it became one of the cities to enjoy that rep­u­ta­tion, at any rate.) Today, you can catch a high-speed train in Shang­hai and, just an hour lat­er, arrive in a place that has made a much more lit­er­al bid for that title: Tian­ducheng, a dis­trict mod­eled direct­ly on the French cap­i­tal, com­plete with not entire­ly uncon­vinc­ing faux-Hauss­mannian apart­ment build­ings and boule­vards. Strug­gling to attract res­i­dents in the years after its con­struc­tion on farm­land at the out­skirts of Hangzhou in 2007, Tian­ducheng soon came to be regard­ed as one of Chi­na’s over-ambi­tious ghost towns.

Bizarre as it may seem to those unfa­mil­iar with recent trends in Chi­nese city-build­ing, Tian­ducheng actu­al­ly belongs to a kind of imi­ta­tive tra­di­tion. “On the out­skirts of Bei­jing, a repli­ca of Jack­son Hole, Wyoming, is out­fit­ted with cow­boys and a Route 66,” writes Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Gul­naz Khan.

“Red tele­phone booths, pubs, and stat­ues of Win­ston Churchill pep­per the cor­ri­dors of Shanghai’s Thames Town. The city of Fuzhou is con­struct­ing a repli­ca of Strat­ford-upon-Avon in trib­ute to Shake­speare.” To get a sense of how Tian­ducheng fares today, have a look at “I Explored Chi­na’s Failed $1 Bil­lion Copy of Paris,” the new video from Youtube trav­el chan­nel Yes The­o­ry.

The group of friends mak­ing this trip includes one French­man, who admits to a cer­tain sense of famil­iar­i­ty in the built envi­ron­ment of Tian­ducheng, and even seems gen­uine­ly stunned by his first glimpse of its one-third-scale ver­sion of the Eif­fel Tow­er. (It sure­ly pleas­es vis­it­ing Parisians to see that the devel­op­ers haven’t also built their own Tour Mont­par­nasse.) But apart from Chi­nese cou­ples in search of a wed­ding-pho­to spot, this ersatz Eif­fel Tow­er does­n’t seem to draw many vis­i­tors, or at least not dur­ing the day. As Yes The­o­ry’s trav­el­ers dis­cov­er, the neigh­bor­hood does­n’t come alive until the evening, when such locals as have set­tled in Tian­ducheng come out and enjoy their unusu­al cityscape. The street life of this Champs-Élysées is a far cry indeed from the real one — but in its way, it also looks like a lot more fun.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A 5‑Hour Walk­ing Tour of Paris and Its Famous Streets, Mon­u­ments & Parks

A 3D Ani­ma­tion Reveals What Paris Looked Like When It Was a Roman Town

Japan­ese Guid­ed Tours of the Lou­vre, Ver­sailles, the Marais & Oth­er Famous French Places (Eng­lish Sub­ti­tles Includ­ed)

A Chi­nese Painter Spe­cial­iz­ing in Copy­ing Van Gogh Paint­ings Trav­els to Ams­ter­dam & Sees Van Gogh’s Mas­ter­pieces for the First Time

The Sights & Sounds of 18th Cen­tu­ry Paris Get Recre­at­ed with 3D Audio and 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.

How Central Park Was Created Entirely By Design & Not By Nature: An Architect Breaks Down America’s Greatest Urban Park

New York­ers have a vari­ety of say­ings about how they want noth­ing to do with nature, just as nature wants noth­ing to do with them. As a coun­ter­point, one might adduce Cen­tral Park, whose 843 acres of trees, grass, and water have occu­pied the mid­dle of Man­hat­tan for a cen­tu­ry and a half now. Yet that “most famous city park in the world,” as vet­er­an New York archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er puts it in the Archi­tec­tur­al Digest video above, is both nature and not. Though Cen­tral Park may feel as if it has exist­ed since time immemo­r­i­al, organ­i­cal­ly thriv­ing in its space long before the tow­ers that sur­round it, few large urban spaces had ever been so delib­er­ate­ly con­ceived.

In the video, Wyet­zn­er (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his expla­na­tions of New York apart­ments, sub­way sta­tions, and bridges, as well as indi­vid­ual works of archi­tec­ture like Penn Sta­tion and the Chrysler Build­ing) shows us sev­er­al spots in Cen­tral Park that reveal the choic­es that went into its design and con­struc­tion.

Many were already present in land­scape archi­tects Fred­er­ick Law Olm­st­ed and Calvert Vaux’s orig­i­nal plan, which they sub­mit­ted to an open design com­pe­ti­tion in 1857. Of all the entries, only theirs refused to let the park be cut apart by trans­verse roads, opt­ing instead to round auto­mo­bile traf­fic under­ground and pre­serve a con­tin­u­ous expe­ri­ence of “nature” for vis­i­tors. (If only more recent urban parks could have kept its exam­ple in mind.)

Cen­tral Park would be wel­come even if it were just a big of expanse of trees, grass, and water. But it also con­tains many dis­tinc­tive built struc­tures, such as the much-pho­tographed mall lead­ing to Bethes­da Ter­race, the “sec­ond-old­est cast-iron bridge in the Unit­ed States,” the dairy that once pro­vid­ed fresh milk to New York’s chil­dren, and Belvedere Cas­tle. That last is built at three-quar­ters scale, “which makes it appear fur­ther away than it actu­al­ly is, and gives it this sort of mag­i­cal fairy-tale qual­i­ty,” the same trick that the builders of Dis­ney­land would employ inten­sive­ly about a cen­tu­ry lat­er. But the pri­or­i­ties of Walt Dis­ney and his col­lab­o­ra­tors dif­fered from the design­ers of Cen­tral Park, who, as Vaux once said, put “nature first, sec­ond, and third — archi­tec­ture after a while.” If a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial deal could be struck between those two phe­nom­e­na any­where, sure­ly that place is New York City.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

An Archi­tect Breaks Down the Design of New York City Sub­way Sta­tions, from the Old­est to Newest

An Immer­sive Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of New York City’s Icon­ic Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Inter­ac­tive Map That Cat­a­logues the 700,000 Trees Shad­ing the Streets of New York City

Archi­tect Breaks Down Five of the Most Icon­ic New York City Apart­ments

A Whirl­wind Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of the New York Pub­lic Library — “Hid­den Details” and All

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.

Take a Virtual Tour of the Lascaux Cave Paintings

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The Las­caux Caves enjoyed a qui­et exis­tence for some 17,000 years.

Then came the sum­mer of 1940, when four teens inves­ti­gat­ed what seemed to be a fox’s den on a hill near Mon­ti­gnac, hop­ing it might lead to an under­ground pas­sage­way of local leg­end.

Once inside, they dis­cov­ered the paint­ings that have intrigued us ever since, expand­ing our under­stand­ing of pre­his­toric art and human ori­gins, and caus­ing us to spec­u­late on things we’ll nev­er have an answer to.

The boys’ teacher reached out to sev­er­al pre­his­to­ri­ans, who authen­ti­cat­ed the fig­ures, arranged for them to be pho­tographed and sketched, and col­lect­ed a num­ber of bone and flint arti­facts from the caves’ floors.

By 1948, exca­va­tions and arti­fi­cial lights ren­dered the caves acces­si­ble to vis­i­tors, who arrived in droves — as many as 1,800 in a sin­gle day.

Less than 20 years lat­er, The Collector’s Rosie Lesso writes, the caves were in cri­sis, and per­ma­nent­ly closed to tourism:

…the heat, humid­i­ty and car­bon diox­ide of all those peo­ple crammed into the dark and air­less cave was caus­ing an imbal­ance in the cave’s nat­ur­al ecosys­tem, lead­ing to the over­growth of molds and fun­gus­es that threat­ened to oblit­er­ate the 
pre­his­toric paint­ings.

The lights that had helped vis­i­tors get an eye­ful of the paint­ings caused fad­ing and dis­col­oration that threat­ened their very exis­tence.

Declar­ing this major attrac­tion off lim­its was the right move, and those who make the jour­ney to the area won’t leave entire­ly dis­ap­point­ed. Las­caux IV, a painstak­ing repli­ca that opened to the pub­lic in 2016, offers even more verisimil­i­tude than the pre­vi­ous mod­el, 1983’s Las­caux II.

A hand­ful of researchers and main­te­nance work­ers are still per­mit­ted inside the actu­al caves, now a UNESCO World Her­itage site, but human pres­ence is lim­it­ed to an annu­al total of 800 hours, and every­one must be prop­er­ly out­fit­ted with ster­ile white over­alls, plas­tic head cov­er­ings, latex gloves, dou­ble shoe cov­ers, and LED fore­head lamps with which to view the paint­ings.

The rest of us rab­ble can get a healthy vir­tu­al taste of these vis­i­tors’ expe­ri­ence thanks to the dig­i­tal Las­caux col­lec­tion that the Nation­al Arche­ol­o­gy Muse­um cre­at­ed for the Min­istry of Cul­ture.

An inter­ac­tive tour offers close-up views of the famous paint­ings, with titles to ori­ent the view­er as to the par­tic­u­lars of what and where  — for exam­ple “red cow fol­lowed by her calf” in the Hall of the Bulls.

Click the but­ton in the low­er left for a more in-depth expert descrip­tion of the ele­ment being depict­ed:

The flat red col­or used for the sil­hou­ette is of a uni­for­mi­ty that is sel­dom attained, which implies a repeat­ed ges­ture start­ing from the same point, with com­ple­men­tary angles of pro­jec­tion of pig­ments. The out­lines have been cre­at­ed with a sten­cil, and only the hindquar­ters, horns and the line of the back have been laid down with a brush…The fact that the artist used the same pig­ment for both fig­ures with­out any pic­to­r­i­al tran­si­tion between them indi­cates that the fusion of the two sil­hou­ettes was inten­tion­al, indica­tive of the con­nec­tion between the calf and its moth­er. This duo was born of the same ges­ture, and the image of the off­spring is mere­ly the graph­ic exten­sion of that of its moth­er.

The inter­ac­tive vir­tu­al tour is fur­ther com­pli­ment­ed by a trove of his­toric pho­tographs and inter­views, geo­log­i­cal con­text, con­ser­va­tion updates and anthro­po­log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions sug­gest­ing the paint­ings had a func­tion well beyond visu­al art.

Begin your vir­tu­al inter­ac­tive vis­it to the Las­caux Cave here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Archae­ol­o­gists May Have Dis­cov­ered a Secret Lan­guage in Las­caux & Chau­vet Cave Paint­ings, Per­haps Reveal­ing a 20,000-Year-Old “Pro­to-Writ­ing” Sys­tem

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

40,000-Year-Old Sym­bols Found in Caves World­wide May Be the Ear­li­est Writ­ten Lan­guage

– 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.

All the Rivers of the World Shown in Rainbow Colors: A Data Visualization to Explore

Even if you’ve nev­er trav­eled the seas, you’ve sure­ly known at least a few rivers in your time. And though you must be con­scious of the fact that all of those rivers run, ulti­mate­ly, to the sea, you may not have spent much time con­tem­plat­ing it. Now, thanks to the work of map­mak­er and data ana­lyst Robert Szucs, you won’t be able to come upon at a riv­er with­out con­sid­er­ing the par­tic­u­lar sea into which it flows. He’s cre­at­ed what he calls “the first ever map of the world’s rivers divid­ed into ocean drainage basins,” which appears just above.

This world map “shows, in dif­fer­ent col­ors, all the rivers that flow into the Atlantic, Arc­tic, Indi­an or Pacif­ic oceans, plus endorhe­ic riv­er basins which nev­er reach the coast, most­ly due to dry­ing up in desert areas.”

Szucs has also bro­ken it down into “a set of 43 maps in this style for dif­fer­ent coun­tries, states and con­ti­nents,” all of them avail­able to down­load (and to pur­chase as large-for­mat posters) from his web site Grasshop­per Geog­ra­phy.

We pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Szucs here on Open Cul­ture back in 2017, when he pub­lished a riv­er-and-stream-visu­al­iz­ing map of the Unit­ed States made accord­ing to a sim­i­lar­ly col­or­ful and infor­ma­tive scheme. Exam­in­ing that work of infor­ma­tion design gave me a rich­er con­text in which to imag­ine the rivers around which I grew up in Wash­ing­ton State — the Sam­mamish, the Sno­qualmie, the Colum­bia — as well as a clear­er sense of just how much the Unit­ed States’ larg­er, much more com­plex water­way net­work must have con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of the coun­try as a whole.

Of course, hav­ing lived the bet­ter part of a decade in South Korea, I’ve late­ly had less rea­son to con­sid­er those par­tic­u­lar geo­graph­i­cal sub­jects. But Szucs’ new glob­al ocean drainage maps have brought relat­ed ones to mind: it will hence­forth be a rare day when I ride a train across the Han Riv­er (one of the more sub­lime every­day sights Seoul has to offer) and don’t imag­ine it mak­ing its way out to the Pacif­ic — the very same Pacif­ic that was the des­ti­na­tion of all those rivers of my west-coast Amer­i­can youth. Ocean­i­cal­ly speak­ing, even a move across the world does­n’t take you quite as far as it seems.

Relat­ed con­tent:

All the Rivers & Streams in the U.S. Shown in Rain­bow Col­ors: A Data Visu­al­iza­tion to Behold

The Mean­der­ing Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er and How It Evolved Over Thou­sands of Years Visu­al­ized in Bril­liant Maps from 1944

That Time When the Mediter­ranean Sea Dried Up & Dis­ap­peared: Ani­ma­tions Show How It Hap­pened

A Rad­i­cal Map Puts the Oceans — Not Land — at the Cen­ter of Plan­et Earth (1942)

The Moth­er of All Maps of the “Father of Waters”: Behold the 11-Foot Traveler’s Map of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er (1866)

Tour the Ama­zon with Google Street View; No Pass­port Need­ed

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.

Shane MacGowan & Sinéad O’Connor Duet Together, Performing a Moving Rendition of “Haunted” (RIP)

We’re tak­ing you on a wist­ful trip down mem­o­ry lane. Above, Shane Mac­Gowan and Sinéad O’Con­nor per­form “Haunt­ed” on the British music show, The White Room. Orig­i­nal­ly record­ed in 1986 with Cait O’Ri­or­dan on vocals, “Haunt­ed” got a sec­ond lease on life in 1995 when Mac­Gowan and O’Con­nor cut a new ver­sion, com­bin­ing her ethe­re­al vocals with his inim­itable song­writ­ing and whiskey-soaked voice. Below, they both appear in an inter­view record­ed dur­ing the same peri­od.

The two Irish musi­cians first met in Lon­don dur­ing the 1980s, start­ing a friend­ship that would have its ups and downs. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion on “Haunt­ed” marked a high point. Then, in 1999, O’Con­nor called the police when she found Mac­Gowan doing hero­in at home. Angered at first, Mac­Gowan lat­er cred­it­ed the inter­ven­tion with help­ing him kick his habit. When Sinéad gave birth to her third child in 2004, she named him Shane, in hon­or of her friend.

Mac­Gowan and O’Con­nor both died this year, just months apart from one anoth­er. As you watch their duet, you can’t help but feel the sand run­ning through the hour­glass. It leaves you feel­ing grate­ful for what we had, and sad for what we have lost. May they rest in peace.

A Map of All the Countries Mentioned in the Bible: What The Countries Were Called Then, and Now

“For most of the last two thou­sand years, the Bible has been vir­tu­al­ly the only his­to­ry book used in West­ern civ­i­liza­tion,” writes Isaac Asi­mov in his Guide to the Bible. “Even today, it remains the most pop­u­lar, and its view of ancient his­to­ry is still more wide­ly and com­mon­ly known than is that of any oth­er.” As a result, “mil­lions of peo­ple today know of Neb­uchad­nez­zar, and have nev­er heard of Per­i­cles, sim­ply because Neb­uchad­nez­zar is men­tioned promi­nent­ly in the Bible and Per­i­cles is nev­er men­tioned at all.” That same dis­pro­por­tion­ate recog­ni­tion is accord­ed to “minor Egypt­ian pharaohs” like Shishak and Necho, “peo­ple whose very exis­tence is doubt­ful” like Nim­rod and the Queen of She­ba, and “small towns in Canaan, such as Shechem and Bethel.”

Asi­mov notes that “only that is known about such places as hap­pens to be men­tioned in the Bible. Ecbatana, the cap­i­tal of the Medi­an Empire, is remem­bered in con­nec­tion with the sto­ry of Tobit, but its ear­li­er and lat­er his­to­ry are dim indeed to most peo­ple, who might be sur­prised to know that it still exists today as a large provin­cial cap­i­tal in the mod­ern nation of Iran.” In the video from Hochela­ga above, we learn that Iran, then called Per­sia, is cel­e­brat­ed in the Bible “for end­ing the Jew­ish exile and return­ing Israel to its home­land. The Book of Usa­iah gives a spe­cial shout-out to its King, Cyrus the Great: he is giv­en the title ‘anoint­ed one,’ or ‘mes­si­ah.’ ”

Though “Per­sia has played a huge role in the his­to­ry of the region, and at a time was one of the largest empires of its day,” it’s just one of the sur­pris­ing­ly many lands to receive Bib­li­cal acknowl­edge­ment. As Hochela­ga cre­ator Tom­my Trelawny makes clear, “when the Bible was writ­ten, the coun­tries as we know them today did­n’t even exist.” But though the con­cept of the mod­ern nation-state had­n’t yet come into being, the places that would give rise to a fair few of the nation-states in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry cer­tain­ly had: “shout-out to Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Per­sia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain, that still exist today, or at least go by the names that appear in the Bible.”

You may notice, Trelawny adds, that “many of these exot­ic lands are men­tioned in the sto­ry of King Solomon’s tem­ple, and how pre­cious raw mate­ri­als were import­ed from far­away places, from the strongest Lebanese cedars to the finest Indi­an ivories.” It hard­ly mat­ters “whether King Solomon was even real; we know these geo­graph­i­cal regions exist today, and that Bib­li­cal writ­ers seemed to know of them as well.” As depict­ed in the Bible or oth­er sources, the ancient world can seem scarce­ly rec­og­niz­able to us. But if we make the nec­es­sary adjust­ments to our per­spec­tive, we can see a process of glob­al­iza­tion not dis­sim­i­lar to what we see in our own soci­eties — whose fas­ci­na­tion with dis­tant lands and expen­sive lux­u­ries seems hard­ly to have dimin­ished over the mil­len­nia.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lit­er­ary Crit­ic Northrop Frye Teach­es “The Bible and Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture”: All 25 Lec­tures Free Online

Chris­tian­i­ty Through Its Scrip­tures: A Free Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

Intro­duc­tion to the Old Tes­ta­ment: A Free Yale Course

Intro­duc­tion to New Tes­ta­ment His­to­ry and Lit­er­a­ture: A Free Yale Course

Ancient Israel: A Free Course from NYU

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Wit­ty, Eru­dite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

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.

RIP Shane MacGowan: Watch the Celtic Punk Rocker Perform with Nick Cave, Kirsty MacColl & the Dubliners

Shane Mac­Gowan died yes­ter­day, less than a month shy of his 66th birth­day — and thus less than a month shy of Christ­mas, which hap­pened to be the same day. Though coin­ci­den­tal, that asso­ci­a­tion has made per­fect sense since 1987, when the Pogues, the Celtic punk band front­ed by Mac­Gowan, released “Fairy­tale of New York.” That duet between Mac­Gowan and Kirsty Mac­Coll (the sto­ry of whose pro­duc­tion we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) still reigns supreme as the Unit­ed King­dom’s Christ­mas song, and by now it tends also to make it onto more than a few hol­i­day-sea­son playlists in Amer­i­ca and across the world.

Giv­en the pop­u­lar­i­ty of “Fairy­tale of New York,” many lis­ten­ers know Mac­Gowan for noth­ing else. But he was, in fact, a fig­ure of con­sid­er­able impor­tance to the punk rock of the nine­teen-eight­ies and nineties, to which he brought not just a thor­ough­ly Irish sen­si­bil­i­ty but also a strong sense of lit­er­ary craft.

Few well-known punk rock­ers could inhab­it a place with a song in the way he could, or tap into the prop­er ver­nac­u­lar to inhab­it a par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter. (Even the words he gave Mac­Coll to sing as a hard-bit­ten nine­teen-for­ties woman of the streets have caused no end of strug­gles with cen­sors.) For this rea­son, he had the respect of many anoth­er seri­ous song­writer: Nick Cave, for instance, with whom he record­ed a cov­er of “What a Won­der­ful World” in 1992.

Dur­ing much of Mac­Gowan’s life­time, his musi­cal achieve­ments were at risk of being over­shad­owed by the har­row­ing facts of his life, includ­ing his mas­sive, sus­tained con­sump­tion of drugs and alco­hol and the vari­ety of injuries and ail­ments it brought about. In 2015, British tele­vi­sion even aired a spe­cial about the replace­ment of his long-lost teeth — which, to judge by the Pogues’ per­for­mance of the folk song “The Irish Rover” with the Dublin­ers above, were bare­ly hang­ing on even in the late eight­ies. But in a way, this dis­solute appear­ance was an insep­a­ra­ble part of a dis­tinc­tive artis­tic spir­it. Shane Mac­Gowan was a rare thing in the world of punk rock (to say noth­ing of the world of hit Christ­mas songs): not just an Irish lit­er­ary voice, but an Irish lit­er­ary char­ac­ter.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Sto­ry of The Pogues’ “Fairy­tale of New York,” the Boozy Bal­lad That Has Become One of the Most Beloved Christ­mas Songs of All Time

A Choir with 1,000 Singers Pays Trib­ute to Sinéad O’Connor & Per­forms “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U”

James Joyce Plays the Gui­tar (1915)

Stream a Playlist of 68 Punk Rock Christ­mas Songs: The Ramones, The Damned, Bad Reli­gion & More

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.

Jacques Pépin Teaches You How to Make James Beard’s Famous Onion Sandwich

Wor­ried that hol­i­day enter­tain­ing may put you in dan­ger of over­spend­ing?

Pre­serve your bank account and those joy­ful fes­tive feel­ings by serv­ing your friends onion sand­wich­es.

We assure you, they come with the utmost of culi­nary pedi­grees.

Esteemed chef and cook­book author Jacques Pépin hap­pi­ly demon­strates the sim­ple recipe, above, con­fid­ing that it was a favorite of his late wife’s.

Every­thing tastes bet­ter when cooked with love, even if the chef’s not doing much more than slic­ing a cou­ple of half moons from an onion and slather­ing bread with mayo.

(If you’re aller­gic to either of those ingre­di­ents, try swap­ping them out for radish­es and but­ter.)

Pépin cred­its his old friend, James Beard, “America’s first food­ie”, with the recipe. It caused a sen­sa­tion when Beard pub­lished it in 1965’s Menus for Enter­tain­ing.

He revis­it­ed the sub­ject in 1974’s Beard on Food: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wis­dom from the Dean of Amer­i­can Cook­ing, while unabashed­ly fan­boy­ing over the hum­ble veg­etable in its many forms, from tiny pearl onions to “big del­i­cate Bermu­das and the enor­mous Span­ish vari­ety that are in sea­son from fall to late spring:”

Just the oth­er day I was enchant­ed to receive a box of these giant gold­en globes, per­fect­ly matched in size and con­tour, that flour­ish in the vol­canic soil of Ore­gon and Ida­ho. They make absolute­ly superb eat­ing. I love them raw, thin­ly sliced, with a ham­burg­er or cold meats or in a hearty, fla­vor­ful onion sand­wich.

The day my gift box arrived I hap­pened to have some slight­ly stale home­made bread, about two or three days old. I sliced this very thin, but­tered it well, cov­ered it with paper-thin slices of Span­ish onion, sprin­kled them with some coarse salt, and pressed anoth­er slice of bread firmed on the top—and there was my sup­per. I can eas­i­ly make a whole meal of onion sand­wich­es, for to me they are one of the great­est treats I know…

Delight­ful! But hold up a sec. The New York Times’ Tejal Rao, reports that Beard, who had a “rep­u­ta­tion for chron­ic, unapolo­getic pla­gia­rism” appar­ent­ly “lift­ed” the recipe from cook­book authors Irma and Bill Rhode, his one-time part­ners in a New York City cater­ing com­pa­ny:

It was basic but con­fi­dent, and it came togeth­er with inex­pen­sive ingre­di­ents. It was so good that you could eas­i­ly eat a dozen, and so sim­ple that it bare­ly required a recipe. You glance at the direc­tions, feel­ing a lit­tle sil­ly rolling the sand­wich­es in chopped pars­ley, a cru­cial step that makes the sand­wich, and that Irma Rhode said came from Beard. You’d make it once, and then the dish would be com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry — as James Beard’s onion sand­wich.

Sand­wich­es of History’s Bar­ry W. Ender­wick digs even deep­er, truf­fling up a remark­ably terse onion sand­wich recipe in Mat­tie Lee Wehrley’s The Handy House­hold Hints and Recipes, from 1916.

Inter­est­ing how Ms. Wehrley takes care to note that the Toast­ed Cheese on Bread pub­lished direct­ly below that Onion Sand­wich is a recipe of her own inven­tion.

It appears we all bor­row from the best. Sure­ly, there’s no rea­son not to get cre­ative and make that onion sand­wich your own.

You could start by vary­ing the ingre­di­ents…

Soak some slices of red onion in cold water for 5 min­utes to take away their raw bite.

Exper­i­ment with pumper­nick­el or dark rye.

Chop up a blend of win­dowsill herbs for that showy, savory edge.

Or y’know, buy an onion, a bagel and cream cheese as sep­a­rate com­po­nents, assem­ble, and boom!

As Beard remarked, “Design­ing hors d’oeuvres is not dif­fer­ent from design­ing sets and cos­tumes … Food is very much the­ater.”

Basic Onion Sand­wich (serves one):

Remove the crusts from 2 slices of bread or cut them into rounds, reserv­ing the scraps for a more involved recipe requir­ing bread­crumbs 

Spread may­on­naise on the face of both pieces

Remove a thin slice from the thick­est part of a sweet onion and place atop one of the pre­pared slices

.Sprin­kle with sea salt and top with the oth­er slice of bread.

Spread may­on­naise around the perime­ter of the sand­wich, and roll in the chopped herbs.

(Can refrig­er­ate for up to 6 hours before serv­ing)

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An 1585 Recipe for Mak­ing Pan­cakes: Make It Your Sat­ur­day Morn­ing Break­fast

A Stun­ning, Hand-Illus­trat­ed Book of Mush­rooms Drawn by an Over­looked 19th Cen­tu­ry Female Sci­en­tist

10,000 Vin­tage Recipe Books Are Now Dig­i­tized in The Inter­net Archive’s Cook­book & Home Eco­nom­ics Col­lec­tion

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Strange, Sur­re­al­ist Video

– 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.

Get the First Month of Coursera Plus for $1 (Until December 2): Provides Access to 6,000+ Courses and Many Professional Certificates

A quick heads up on a deal: From now until Decem­ber 2, you can get the first month of Cours­era Plus for just $1. (It nor­mal­ly costs $59 per month.) With a Cours­era Plus plan, you will have unlim­it­ed access to 6,000 cours­es from top uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies. This includes Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate pro­grams offered by com­pa­nies like Google, Meta, and IBM, cov­er­ing such top­ics as: Data Ana­lyt­ics, Project Man­age­ment, UX Design, Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty, Busi­ness Intel­li­gence, and more. The cost of the actu­al cer­tifi­cate is includ­ed in the plan.

You can learn more about Cours­era Plus and sign up for $1 here. Please note that the $1 deal is only avail­able to new Cours­era Plus sub­scribers, not exist­ing ones. And, again, the offer expires on Decem­ber 2.

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

Juilliard Jazz Drummer Hears & Plays Nirvana For The First Time, Figuring Out the Drum Parts in Real Time

What hap­pens when Ulysses Owens Jr–a Jazz musi­cian and jazz edu­ca­tor at Juil­liard–hears Nir­vana’s “In Bloom” for the first time (minus the drum parts), and then attempts to drum along? What is he lis­ten­ing for? How does he imme­di­ate­ly craft an appro­pri­ate drum part? And how does it com­pare to Dave Grohl’s orig­i­nal? Watch above, and you can see how it unfolds…

Relat­ed Con­tent

Watch 13 Lev­els of Drum­ming, from Easy to Com­plex, Explained by Snarky Pup­py Drum­mer Lar­nell Lewis

How Can You Tell a Good Drum­mer from a Bad Drum­mer?: Ringo Starr as Case Study

11 Hyp­not­ic, Close-Up Min­utes Watch­ing Tool’s Leg­endary Drum­mer Dan­ny Carey in Action

What Makes John Bon­ham Such a Good Drum­mer? A New Video Essay Breaks Down His Inim­itable Style


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Rome Reborn: A New 3D Virtual Model Lets You Fly Over the Great Monuments of Ancient Rome

Thir­teen years ago here on Open Cul­ture, we first fea­tured Rome Reborn 2.2, a dig­i­tal 3D mod­el of the ancient metrop­o­lis at the height of its glo­ry in the fourth cen­tu­ry. And that rebirth has con­tin­ued apace ever since, and just last week bore the fruit of Rome Reborn 4.0, through which you can get a fly­ing tour in the video above. Inter­cut with the com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed recon­struc­tions is footage of the ruins of the very same parts of the city as they exist in Rome today. The oppor­tu­ni­ty for com­par­i­son thus pro­vid­ed allows us to appre­ci­ate not just the upgrades in the lat­est Rome Reborn’s lev­el of detail, but also its degree of real­ism.

With each revi­sion, the fourth-cen­tu­ry Eter­nal City recre­at­ed in Rome Reborn looks more like real­i­ty and less like a video game. But that does­n’t mean you can’t get the same thrill of explor­ing it that you would from a video game, which is part of the appeal of load­ing up the lat­est ver­sion of the mod­el on the vir­tu­al-real­i­ty app Yorescape, a prod­uct of the “vir­tu­al tourism” com­pa­ny Fly­over Zone Pro­duc­tions found­ed by Rome Reborn’s project leader Bernard Frisch­er.

And it is Frisch­er him­self who leads the in-app tour of “sites exem­pli­fy­ing the city’s geog­ra­phy, mar­kets, tem­ples, and much, much more,” enriched by “Time Warps spread around the city that allow you to tog­gle between the view today and the view from the same van­tage point in antiq­ui­ty.”

This is heady stuff indeed for enthu­si­asts of ancient Rome, who will no doubt be eager to see for them­selves the new and improved dig­i­tal mod­els of ancient Roman struc­tures like the Cir­cus Max­imus, the Arch of Titus, the Por­ti­cus Livi­ae, and the Tem­ple of Min­er­va. These and many oth­ers besides appear in the Rome Reborn 4.0 demo reel just above, which shows off the cul­mi­na­tion of 27 years of work so far by Frisch­er and his team. A dig­i­tal archae­ol­o­gist at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty, Pro­fes­sor Frisch­er has point­ed out still-absent fea­tures to come, such as “avatars infused with AI” with whom the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry tourist can inter­act. We’ll have to wait for future iter­a­tions to do so, but sure­ly we can sum­mon the patience by remem­ber­ing that Rome isn’t reborn in a day.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Recon­struc­tion of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Vir­tu­al­ly-Recre­at­ed Streets

A Huge Scale Mod­el Show­ing Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

The Chang­ing Land­scape of Ancient Rome: A Free Online Course from Sapien­za Uni­ver­si­ty of Rome

An 8‑Minute Ani­mat­ed Flight Over Ancient Rome

The Old­est Known Pho­tographs of Rome (1841–1871)

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

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.

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