Meanwhile, over at the House of Frankenstein, expect ominous, unsettling soundscapes, shocking special effects, ghoulish interpreters in blood-spattered aprons, “bespoke scents,” a “dank, foreboding basement experience” and an 8-foot automaton of you-know-who.
(No, not Mary Shelley!)
Coming soon — Victor Frankenstein’s “miserable attic quarters” repackaged as an escape room “strewn with insane equations, strange artefacts, and miscellaneous body parts.”
Co-founder Chris Harris explains the creators’ immersive philosophy:
We are trying to play on people’s fears, but we’re not taking ourselves massively seriously. With Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein, we are creating an experience that, hopefully, people will really enjoy in a visceral way. We want them to come out feeling that the experience was unnerving, but also feeling happy. That’s the ultimate aim.
The BBC reports that the attraction also promises to explore Shelley’s “tragic personal life, literary career and the novel’s continuing relevance today in regards to popular culture, politics, and science.”
May not be suitable for children (or timorous Austen fans) as it contains “ominous and foreboding audio and visual effects, darkened environments and some scenes and depictions of a disturbing nature.”
The Mona Lisa may be the first stop on many Louvre visitors’ agendas, but Venus, by virtue of being unclothed, sculptural, and prominently displayed, lends herself beautifully to all manner of souvenirs, both respectful and profane.
Renoir is that rare bird who was impervious to her 6’7” charms, describing her as the “big gendarme.” His own Venus, sculpted with the help of an assistant nearly 100 years after the Venus de Milo joined the Louvre’s collection, appears much meatier throughout the hip and thigh region. Her celebrity cannot hold a candle to that of her armless sister.
In the Vox Almanac episode above, host Phil Edwards delves into the Venus de Milo’s appeal, taking a less delirious approach than sculptor Auguste Rodin, who rhapsodized:
…thou, thou art alive, and thy thoughts are the thoughts of a woman, not of some strange, superior being, artificial and imaginary. Thou art made of truth alone, outside of which there is neither strength nor beauty. It is thy sincerity to nature which makes thee all powerful, because nature appeals to all men. Thou art the familiar companion, the woman that each believes he knows, but that no man has ever understood, the wisest not more than the simple. Who understands the trees? Who can comprehend the light?
Edwards opts instead for a Sharpie and a tiny 3-D printed model, which he marks up like a plastic surgeon, drawing viewers’ attention to the missing bits.
The arms, we know.
Also her earlobes, most likely removed by looters eager to make off with her jewelry.
One of her massive marble feet (a man’s size 15) is missing.
Interestingly, the plinth was among the items discovered by accident on the Greek island of Milos in 1820, along with two pillars topped with busts of Hercules and Hermes, the bisected Venus, and assorted marble fragments, including — maybe — an upper arm and hand holding a round object (a golden apple, mayhaps?)
What he’s most interested in is that plinth, which would have given the lie to the long-standing assertion that the Venus de Milo was created in the Classical era.
This incorrect designation made the Louvre’s newest resident a most welcome replacement for the loot France had been compelled to return to the Vatican in the wake of Napoleon’s first abdication.
The plinth may have been “lost” under mysterious circumstances, but its inscription was preserved in a sketch by A. Debay, whose father had been a student of Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon’s now-banished First Painter, a Neo-Classicist.
Had her true author been known, she likely would’ve been locked away in the museum’s archive, if not sold off. Hellenistic art had by then been denigrated by Renaissance scholars who re-conceived it in anti-classical terms, finding in its expressive, experimental form and emotional content a provocative realism that defied everything their era stood for: modesty, intellect, and equanimity…It helped that the Venus de Milo possessed several classical attributes. Her strong profile, short upper lip, and smooth features, for example, were in keeping with Classical figural conventions, as was the continuous line connecting her nose and forehead. The partially-draped figure with its attenuated silhouette – which the Regency fashion of the day imitated with its empire bust-line – also recalled classical sculptures of Aphrodite, and her Roman counterpart, Venus. Yet despite all these classical identifiers, the Venus de Milo flaunted a definitive Hellenistic influence in her provocatively low-slung drapery, high waist line, and curve-enhancing contrapposto—far more sensual and exaggerated than classical ideals allowed.
It took the Louvre over a hundred years to come clean as to its star sculpture’s true provenance.
What happened to the plinth remains anyone’s guess.
The only mystery the museum’s website seems concerned with is one of identity — is she Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, or Poseidon’s wife, Amphitrite, the sea goddess worshipped on the island on which she was discovered?
New Yorkers’ relationship to New York City community gardens is largely informed by how long we’ve lived here.
Do you remember the 60s, when a fiscal crisis and white flight resulted in thousands of vacant lots and abandoned buildings in low income neighborhoods?
Activists like Hattie Carthan and Liz Christy sprung from such soil, creating youth programs, hauling away debris, and putting constant pressure on elected officials to transform those urban wastelands into green oases.
Verdant sites like the Bowery Houston Community Farm and Garden (now known as the Liz Christy Garden) improved air quality, lowered temperatures, and offered a pleasant gathering place for neighbors of all ages.
In the ‘80s, the city boasted 1000 community gardens, mostly in neighborhoods considered blighted. School aged children learned how to plant, tend, and harvest vegetables. Immigrant members introduced seeds new to American-born gardeners, to help combat both homesickness and food insecurity. On site arts programs flourished. There were al fresco birthday parties, concerts, movie screenings, holiday celebrations, permaculture classes, community meetings…. Gardens became focal points for community engagement. Participants were understandably proud, and invested in what they’d built.
Traditionally low-rise neighborhoods like the East Village and Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuyvesant would become increasingly fashionable during the early days of the new millennium. New arrivals with little interest in neighborhood history might assume that the sidewalks had always been lined with cute cafes and hipster bars, not to mention trees. (In reality, Carthan was 64 when she began her successful campaign to line Bed-Stuy with trees, and landmark a venerable Magnolia that was at risk of being torn down.)
Perhaps hoping to command younger viewers’ attention, Vox’s Missing Chapter opens not with the rich history of New York City’s community gardens, but rather the many recipes for seed bombs on TikTok. The glass half full perspective on our 500-strong surviving gardens can ring a bit empty to those who lost the fight to preserve a number of East Harlem gardens just a few short years ago.
Don’t forget your roots! Christy’s typewritten, hand illustrated Green Guerillas recipe for seed bombs is below. (If you want to try it at home, please use seeds native to your area.)
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.
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.
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.)”
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.
“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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