Sci-Fi “Portal” Connects Citizens of Lublin & Vilnius, Allowing Passersby Separated by 376 Miles to Interact in Real Time

Can we ever transcend our tendency to divide up the world into us and them? The history of Europe, which political theorist Kenneth Minogue once called “plausibly summed up as preparing for war, waging war, or recovering from war,” offers few consoling answers. But perhaps it isn’t for history, much less for theory or politics, to dictate the future prospects for the unity of mankind. Art and technology offer another set of views on the matter, and it’s art and technology that come together in Portal, a recently launched project that has connected Vilnius, Lithuania and Lublin, Poland with twin installations. More than just a sculptural statement, each city’s portal offers a real-time, round-the-clock view of the other.

“In both Vilnius and Lublin,” writes My Modern Met’s Sara Barnes, “the portals are within the urban landscape; they are next to a train station and in the city central square, respectively. This allows for plenty of engagement, on either end, with the people of a city 376 miles apart. And, in a larger sense, the portals help to humanize citizens from another place.”

Images released of the interaction between passerby and their local portal show, among other actions, waving, camera phone-shooting, synchronized jumping, and just plain staring. Though more than one comparison has been made to the Stargate, the image also comes to mind of the apes around the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, reacting as best they can to a previously unimagined presence in their everyday environment.

Ironically, the basic technology employed by the Portal project is nothing new. At this point we’ve all looked into our phone and computer screens and seen a view from perhaps much farther than 376 miles away, and been seen from that distance as well. But the coronavirus-induced worldwide expansion of teleconferencing has, for many, made the underlying mechanics seem somewhat less than miraculous. Conceived years before travel restrictions rendered next to impossible the actual visiting of human beings elsewhere on the continent, let alone on the other side of the world, Portal has set up its first installations at a time when they’ve come to feel like something the world needs. “Residents in Reykjavik, Iceland, and London, England can expect a portal in their city in the future,” notes Barnes — and if those two can feel truly connected with Europe, there may be hope for the oneness of the human race yet.

via Colossal/MyModernMet

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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.

Discover the Ghost Towns of Japan–Where Scarecrows Replace People, and a Man Lives in an Abandoned Elementary School Gym

In recent years, the major cities of Japan have felt as big and bustling as ever. But more than a little of that urban energy has come at a cost to the countryside, whose ongoing depopulation since the Second World War has become the stuff of countless mournful photo essays. Japan is, of course, well-known as the kind of society that keeps a rural train station in service just to take a single pupil to school. But in many of these areas, the day eventually comes when there’s no one left to teach. After not just the students but the faculty and staff have cleared out, what to do with the schools themselves? If you’re anything like Aoki Yohei (known to all as “Yo-chan”), you just move yourself on in.

In one of the school’s many rooms Aoki runs a café, roasting coffee on the premises, and in others he’s set up a hostel. In another space he’s created a recording studio outfitted with guitars, drums, keyboards, and much else besides. This sort of thing would hardly be possible within the confines of a Tokyo apartment, and Aoki accomplished it all after quitting his salaryman job without a plan.

Or rather he did it noupuran, to use one of the many Englishisms he drops in the interview with Tokyo Lens vlogger Norm Nakamura in the video at the top of the post. The school is in Ehime, one of the four prefectures of Shikoku, the second-smallest of Japan’s main islands. Though picturesque, its location is also deep enough in the mountains to seem forbiddingly remote, but the Ehime-born Aoki seems to have had no compunction about it.

Ehime faces the Seto Inland Sea, the areas surrounding which Japanologist Donald Richie described in the 1960s as possessing “the last places on earth where men rise with the sun and where streets are dark and silent by nine at night.” But for Nakamura, nine is the hour to set out in search of unexplained sounds and creepy vibes. Alas, even his best production efforts can’t mask the obvious serenity of the property. He encounters much more eeriness elsewhere on Shikoku: Nagoro Village, the vast majority of whose inhabitants aren’t human beings but fully dressed, scarecrow-like dolls. Each and every one was crafted by Tsukimi Ayano, a native who returned from Osaka to find most everyone she’d known long gone. As for Nagoro’s own elementary school, abandoned for some 20 years now, just wait until you see what “Ayano-san” has done with its gym.

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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.

The Airline Toilets Theatre Company: Watch One Man Stage Comical Shows in Airplane Bathrooms

When COVID 19 struck, theater lovers were faced with a choice.

Let go entirely, or expand our definitions of what constitutes “theater.”

We’ve had 14 months to get used to the idea of performances staged in closetsin podcast form, or as phone calls hinging on audience participation.

We’re sick of Zoom, but we no longer consider it mandatory for the players to inhabit the same space as each other or the audience.

This is all old news to Peter Brooke Turner, a member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the founder of the Airline Toilets Theatre Company.

The ATTC’s repertoire consists of great works of literature, song and dance… performed exclusively in aircraft lavatories, a true feat when one considers that Turner, impresario and sole company member, is 6’8”.

2015’s inaugural production, above, remains among the company’s most ambitious —  a 50th anniversary recreation of Bob Dylan’s 1965 promotional film clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues, shot on various flights throughout the Ukulele Orchestra’s US tour.

Before long, Turner’s carry-on was stuffed with props and costumes — a toga, three self-adhesive Abraham Lincoln beards, a fat suit, a plastic cigar, cardboard face masks of Jimi Hendrix and Queen’s Brian May, and a numbers of inflatables, including a woman, a horse, and a not particularly realistic handgun.

Staging solo, site specific mini productions struck Turner as a far more amusing prospect than remaining in his seat, watching a movie:

I don’t like passive consumerism — I’d rather make my own movie than watch some CGI blockbuster on a plane. 90% of touring is NOT performing but sitting around on a plane/train/bus staring into space — I’m just trying to do something creative to make the time pass. 

With advance planning, the simpler productions can make it into the can on a single take.

The James Bond Tribute, below, which called for costume changes, puppets and cardboard masks of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Daniel Craig, was shot in segments — London to Frankfurt, Singapore to Auckland, and Singapore to London.

Rather than projecting for the benefit of folks in the non-existent back row, Turner prefers to lip synch prerecorded lines, fed to him via earbud. This helps dial down the suspicions of flight attendants and fellow passengers. Once the “occupied” light comes on, he reckons he has between 7 to 10 minutes to take care of business. Should anyone question the length of his stay, or his large bag of costumes and props, his excuse is that “I suffer from haemorrhoids and need to change my pants. (Believe me, this is a conversation no one wants to take further.)”

Watch a playlist of the Best of the Airline Toilets Theater Company here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her June 7 for a Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Largest Free Kitchen in the World: Discover India’s Golden Temple Which Serves 100,000 Free Meals Per Day

If you find yourself hungry in Amritsar, a major city in the Indian state of Punjab, you could do worse than stopping into the Golden Temple, the largest Sikh house of worship in the world. It thus also operates the largest community kitchen, or langar, in the world, which serves more than 100,000 free meals a day, 24 hours a day. Anyone familiar with Sikhism knows that, for its believers, serving food to the hungry constitutes an essential duty: not just to the poor, and certainly not just to fellow Sikhs, but to all comers. Wherever in the world you may live, if there’s a Sikh temple or shrine in the vicinity, there’s quite possibly a langar you can visit as well.

Of course, no other langar matches the scale of the Golden Temple’s. As explained in the Food Insider video above, it operates with a permanent staff of 300 to 350 employees as well as a large number of volunteers, all of whom work in concert with machines around the clock to produce an unending stream of vegetarian meals, which include daal lentil stew and chapati bread. There’s always been a market for free food, but recent years have seen increases in demand great enough to necessitate the construction of additional dining halls, and total operating expenses come to the equivalent of some US$4 million per year. (Every day, $5,000 goes to ghee, or Indian clarified butter, alone.)

Apart from the people of Amritsar and pilgrimage-making devotees, the Golden Temple langar has also drawn the attention of culinarily minded travelers. Take the Canadian Youtuber Trevor James, better known as the Food Ranger, to whose taste for extreme scale and quantity the operation no doubt appeals. His visit also affords him the opportunity, before his meal, to be outfitted in traditional dress, up to and including a Sikh turban. (The Golden Temple requires its diners to wear a head-covering of some kind.) James’ stock of travel-vlogger superlatives is nearly exhausted by the splendor of the temple itself before he steps into the kitchen to observe (and even lend a hand in) the cooking process. “Look at this,” he exclaims upon taking his seat on the floor of the hall with a tray of his own. “This is an almost spiritual meal” — an aura exuded whether you believe in Waheguru, the gods of street food, or anything else besides.

via Metafilter

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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.

Rick Steves Tells the Story of Fascism’s Rise & Fall in Germany

“Healthy, vigorous, respectable: everyone’s favorite uncle.” How many of us hear these words and think of that most beloved of all American travel-television personalities, Rick Steves? Indeed, in the video above they’re spoken by Steves, though to describe a figure very different from himself: Adolf Hitler, who convinced his people not to tour Europe but to invade it, sparking the deadliest conflict of all time. How and why this happened has been a historical question written about perhaps more voluminously than any other. But the Stevesian method of understanding demands first-hand experience of Germany, the land in which the Nazi party came to power.

Hence “Germany’s Fascist Story,” a 2020 episode of Rick Steves’ Europe whose itinerary includes such destinations as Nuremberg, site of the eponymous Nazi rallies; Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden; the Gestapo and SS headquarters in Berlin. We’re a long way indeed from Steves’ usual circuit of cathedrals, markets, and bed-and-breakfasts.

Enriched with the historical footage and the reflections of German interviewees, this travelogue explains the rise in the 1930s and fall in the 1940s of a powerful European strain of fascism. This manifested in popular capitulation to race-based, nationalistic, and ultimately totalitarian state power, not just in Germany but other countries also once regarded as the center of European civilization.

We all know how World War II ended, and the blue-jeaned Steves sums up the relevant chapter of the story while standing atop the underground bunker in which Hitler killed himself. But such a defeat can never truly be considered final, an idea that underlies the continuing encouragement of tourism to places like Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which figures briefly into this episode despite being located in Poland. As any dedicated “Ricknick” knows, the pursuit of any given cultural or historical interest inevitably leads the traveler through a variety of lands. Hence a project like The Story of Fascism, Steves’ hourlong documentary on that ideology’s traces as found all throughout his favorite continent. As he himself has put it, travel is a political act — and it’s one necessary to understanding both the politics you like and the politics you don’t.

For those interested in how Steves built his travel empire, we’d recommend listening to Guy Raz’s lengthy interview with Steves, one episode in his How I Built This podcast.

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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.

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

“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogart tells Bergman in the final scene of Casablanca, a line and film inseparable from the grand mythology of Paris. The city still inspires non-Parisians to purchase Belle Epoque poster art by the shipload and binge Netflix series in which Paris looks like a “city where the clouds part, your brain clears, and your soul finds meaning,” Alex Abad-Santos writes at Vox. It’s also a place in such media where one can seem to find “success without much sacrifice.”

Paris was the city where Hemingway felt “free… to walk anywhere,” he wrote in A Moveable Feast; where James Baldwin wrote in his 1961 essay “New Lost Generation” of “the days when we walked through Les Halles singing, loving every inch of France and loving each other… the nights spent smoking hashish in the Arab cafes… the morning which found us telling dirty stories, true stories, sad and earnest stories, in gray workingman’s cafes.”

The image of Paris has not always been so full of romance and escapism, especially for Parisians like Charles Baudelaire. “For the first time Paris becomes the subject of lyric poetry” in Baudelaire, wrote Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, a major, unfinished work on Paris in the 19th century. Like the expats, Baudelaire’s imagination strolled through the city, freed from responsibility. But “the Paris of his poems is a sunken city, and more submarine than subterranean.”

The Paris of revolutionary fervor, communes, barricades, and catacombs… of Rimbaud, Coco Chanel, the Situationists…. There are too many versions of the city of lights; we cannot have them all. For the past year, we have not been able to see any part of it but from afar. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, however, we can walk the city for hours — or watch someone else do it, in any case. The five-hour walking tour at the top may skip the places a modern-day Baudelaire would want us to see, but it does include “the most famous streets, monuments and parks,” notes the description,

You’ll also find here shorter video walking tours of Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, and Luxembourg Gardens, where Hemingway would often meet Gertrude Stein and her dog, and where he found himself “learning very much “ from Cézanne about how to move beyond simply “writing simple true sentences.” We are unlikely to have these kinds of experiences on our video walking tours. But we can get a taste of what it’s like to briskly cruise Parisian streets in the 21st century, an experience increasingly likely to become a virtual one for future writers, poets, and expats and tourists of all kinds.

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

A Relaxing 3-Hour Tour of Venice’s Canals

Experience Venice in this boat tour through 17 miles (27 km) of canals. “You will see the full Grand Canal going in both directions, navigate through the small canals and under bridges and see sites that you cannot see by walking.” It’s quiet, meditative, a mental escape from the tedium of quarantine life.

Right below, you can find a list of the stops along the way…

1:32​ Constitution Bridge

2:02​ The Grand Canal (Full Tour)

3:23​ Santa Lucia Train Station

13:33​ Rialto Bridge

23:28​ Ponte dell’Accademia

30:38​ Piazza San Marco

36:08​ Small Inside Canals & Bridges

41:05​ Libreria Acqua Alta

44:08​ Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo

47:16​ Open Water – Skip ahead to the next section

57:25​ Canal of Saint Peter

58:18​ Building Bridges Sculpture

1:09:55​ Bridge of Sighs

1:16:15​ Rialto Bridge & Grand Canal

1:18:39​ Small Inside Canals & Bridges

1:23:04​ The Grand Canal

1:27:14​ Pont dell’Accademia

1:34:44​ Rialto Bridge

1:43:34​ Ponte delle Guglie

1:46:04​ Tre Archi Bridge

1:48:38​ Liberty Bridge (Ponte della Libertà)

1:54:18​ Constitution Bridge

1:58:38​ Close Call!

2:04:43​ Squero di San Trovaso (gondola boatyard)

2:07:23​ Grand Canal (short section)

2:10:44​ Small Canals and Bridges

2:17:14​ Grand Canal (short section)

2:20:14​ Magister Canova

2:22:04​ Open Water

2:26:14​ Small Inside Canals & Bridges

2:30:44​ Piazza San Marco

2:33:04​ The Grand Canal (Full Tour)

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A Short Biography of Keith Haring Told with Comic Book Illustrations & Music

Singer-songwriter-cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis is a worthy exemplar of NYC street cred.

Born, raised, and still residing on New York City’s Lower East Side, he draws comics under the “judgmental” gaze of The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and writes songs beneath a poster of The Terminator onto which he grafted the face of Lou Reed from a stolen Time Out New York promo.

Billing himself as “among NYC’s top slingers of folk / garagerock / antifolk,” Lewis pairs his songs with comics during live shows, projecting original illustrations or flipping the pages of a sketchbook large enough for the audience to see, a practice he refers to as “low budget films.”

He’s also an amateur historian, as evidenced by his eight-minute opus The History of Punk on the Lower East Side, 1950-1975 and  a series of extremely “low budget films” for the History channel, on topics such as the French RevolutionMarco Polo, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

His latest effort is a 3-minute biography of artist Keith Haring, above, for the Museum of Modern Art Magazine’s new Illustrated Lives series.

While Lewis isn’t a contemporary of Haring’s, they definitely breathed the same air:

While Haring was spending a couple of formative years involved with Club 57 and PS 122, there was little six-year-old me walking down the street, so I can remember and draw that early ’80s Lower East Side/East Village without much stretch. My whole brain is made out of fire escapes and fire hydrants and tenement cornices.

Lewis gives then-rising stars Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artist Klaus Nomi cameo appearances, before escorting Haring down into the subway for a literal lightbulb moment.

In Haring’s own words:

…It seemed obvious to me when I saw the first empty subway panel that this was the perfect situation. The advertisements that fill every subway platform are changed periodically. When there aren’t enough new ads, a black paper panel is substituted. I remember noticing a panel in the Times Square station and immediately going aboveground and buying chalk. After the first drawing, things just fell into place. I began drawing in the subways as a hobby on my way to work. I had to ride the subways often and would do a drawing while waiting for a train. In a few weeks, I started to get responses from people who saw me doing it.

After a while, my subway drawings became more of a responsibility than a hobby. So many people wished me luck and told me to “keep it up” that it became difficult to stop. From the beginning, one of the main incentives was this contact with people. It became a rewarding experience to draw and to see the drawings being appreciated. The number of people passing one of these drawings in a week was phenomenal. Even if the drawing only remained up for only one day, enough people saw it to make it easily worth my effort.

Towards the end of his jam-packed, 22-page “low budget film,” Lewis wanders from his traditional approach to cartooning, revealing himself to be a keen student of Haring’s bold graphic style.

The final image, to the lyric, “Keith’s explosive short lifetime and generous heart speak like an infinite fountain from some deep wellspring of art,” is breathtaking.

Spend time with some other New York City icons that have cropped up in Jeffrey Lewis’ music, including the Chelsea Hotel, the subwaythe bridges, and St. Mark’s Place.

Watch his low budget films for the History Channel here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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