Peace on Earth, More Goodwill to All

These days, holiday or no, we could certainly use more of both.

And Italy is by no means exempt. Recent news items certainly make you think about what should be better here, as well as what things are even worse elsewhere.
Even (or perhaps I should say "particularly"?) during a season which is supposed to be joyful, let's not forget the injustices of the past, and in the upcoming new year may we all work together to ameliorate those of the present, wherever we may be.

"Venice under Water" on "The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs"

25 high-quality images of the recent "acqua alta" at Venice under water - The Big Picture -, including the one below which goes beyond the tourists and tourist sites to give you a slice of everyday Venetian life in the face of the flooding.

(posted using ShareThis)

Surfing, Anyone? (More Amazing Images of Venice Flooded)

The BBC has some great video of the second day of the high tides flooding Venice, including - believe it or not - a kite surfer in Piazza San Marco!

But my all-time favorite image so far is the very clever (and likely quite functional) shop window in which the mannequins are wearing the same cheapo plastic water booties sold to the tourists at newsstands! Enjoy!!

Record Flooding in Venice

Flooding in Venice today... A high tide that might have been greater than any since 1979 and the fourth worst in recorded history, over a meter and a half above sea level, submerged the vast majority of the city. What's more, the Nuova Venezia reports, although the tides have gone down some, the seas are still running high, over a meter above normal, so a good 15% of town remains flooded.

These pictures are from readers of La Repubblica newspaper and give you a bit of an idea what life in Venice is like during the worst high tides.

Plus is quickly building a huge collection of user-submitted videos...

Here's the flooding in historic Saint Mark's Square. As you can see, the tourists always seem to get a kick out of acqua alta, which happens often in Piazza San Marco even if almost never at these levels.

But now see how the average people have to cope...

How long can Venice last under these ever-worsening conditions? How soon before many more of us elsewhere in the world will have to face the same thing?? Check out PBS' site "The Sinking City of Venice" for more such food for thought, and in the meantime pray that the seas subside for the Venetians today.

Quantum of Siena

Finally got around to seeing the new Bond flick. Heavy on good action, light on solid plot development...

But I did enjoy the use of Siena as this film's de rigore Italian backdrop! I haven't seen the specific locations there first-hand (other than the famous Campo), but the premises were certainly good. The underground tunnels would have been part of the medieval "bottini" waterworks that were built up in case the city ever had to withstand a long siege.

The horse race conveniently happening at the same time is of course the famous Palio, of which I've blogged before!

Last but not least, it seems that the chase climaxes in a fight among what looks to be restorations of the Cathedral of Siena. It's surely a soundstage, but they did do a nice job of echoing the black and white Romanesque marble walls of the city's duomo. I don't recall anything like a glass cupola though... and a quick search online reveals a Flickr shot of a characteristic Gothic style arched vault.

Oh well, I guess if the last movie could sink an entire Venetian palazzo, I should tolerate at least this tiny bit of artistic license. I'd give this movie an Italian versimilitude rating of "B."

(What can I say? The kicker was that the Sienese would not be partying like usual after the Palio if somebody had actually been shot during it! I once saw a trial gone horribly wrong in which a horse was injured, and that alone cast a pall over all the celebrations...)

Pictures of Canadian Meteorite Fragments!

Universe Today has pictures of the remnants from last week's fireball!

(Posted using ShareThis)

Blogging Thanksgiving Dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving! This is of course not limited to those in the States... I've cooked my share of Thanksgivings in Italy for my Italian friends and family. After all, giving thanks is universal!

Today, I'm cooking some oldie-but-goodie recipies, but mostly a messload of brand-spanking new vegetable recipes from food magazines and around the web! (I'll let you know how they turn out!!)

Spend Christmas in the house from "A Christmas Story"!

Who doesn't love the holiday classic, "A Christmas Story"?? Well, now you and your family can spend Christmas eve and Christmas day in the historic abode featured in the film! And give to charity to boot... (or "to lamp," as the case may be!!)

Learn more by clicking through... Good luck and happy holidays!

Sinking like the Titanic: Venice in the Movies!

The big question I'm getting these days, as people rewatch "Casino Royale" before going out to see the new Bond movie, is "Can Venetian buildings really sink like that?" (You can stop watching the following clip after about 6 seconds...)

The answer is a big "nope"! And, in truth, that scene's nearly as ridiculous as Venice in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"!! Venice is not built on pylons over open water, but rather on (more or less) solid ground. The palace on the Grand Canal in "Casino Royale" would have crumbled, not sunk. Oh well...

Venice though to be one of the cities that James Bond has returned to most frequently. You don't have to take my word for it... Here's a video somebody did of nearly all the Bonds crossing paths in the city. Enjoy!!

Police dashboard cam catches meteorite fireball!

Thursday night, a meteorite fell in Western Canada, and it was so brilliant that it could be seen for more than a 400 mile radius! It caused sonic booms and generated radio static that sounded to observers like crackling bacon...

You can see for yourself this spectacular display through the eyes of a copcam that happened to catch the event! Watch and be amazed!!

(read more at io9!)

Great retro song, beautiful retro video!

Well, let it not be said that there's little value to the new "Get Smart" movie... In it, I recognized a song I've been trying to identify for years, imdb'ed it, and found it's called "Anna (El Negro Zumbon)".

This song is in a beautiful snippet from the breathtakingly lyrical 1988 film "Cinema Paradiso," and I could never track down before now what it was or who was the actress... But here's the original! (I love the smoky high-key lighting in it!) Enjoy!!

So, thanks to "Get Smart," I've just learned the actress was Silvana Mangano in the 1951 film "Anna," which, according to "The Foreign Film Theme" page, was "one of the earliest foreign films to enjoy much success in the U.S.--due in large part to Magnano's sensuality and the more open treatment of sexuality than accepted in contemporary American films. Magnano plays a nun who meets two former lovers when one shoots the other in her hospital. She flashes back to her life as a dancer in a smoky nightclub while nursing one back to health, but decides to stick with the spiritual life."

(I don't understand the Spanish lyrics, but they seem to be about a Brazilian dance...)

Some trivia from what seems to be the closest things to an official "Anna (El Negro Zumbon)" page:
  • Original: 1951 Silvana Mangano (dubbed by Flo Sandon's) in Italian film "Anna" (director Alberto Lattuada)

  • First guitar instrumental of Anna was recorded by Chet Atkins in 1957.

  • Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann scored in 1961 a hit (#54 Billboard) with Anna on the Atco label as follow-up for Apache.

  • A very interesting Indo-Rock version was recorded live from The Twangies (with lead-guitarist Frits Galistan) at the Astoria in Freiburg, Germany in the Summer of 1963.

Thriller a cappella... The same guy sings 64 different tracks!

A "Michael Jackson" with a French accent is an unusual experience, but this video is kinda neat, especially with the 64 separate video tracks for each voice effect!

Happy Halloween!!

François Macré - Thriller (reprise A'cappella 64 pistes)

(via Neatorama)

Obama-McCain Dance Off!

Recommended by one of my students as "not biased, just hilarious!" Enjoy!!

Sarah Palin Wardrobe Challenge

Kathryn Builds Entire $150,000 Wardrobe for the Candidate for Less Than $2500! Enjoy!!

(I love them powersuits!)

"Wassup?" Eight Years Later!

Firstly, here's the original "Wassup" Commercial from 2000!

And here are the same guys in 2008! Brilliantly remade and whichever way you lean, it's certainly gotta make you think about the last 8 years!! Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Venetian Astronomy: The Lagoon Nebula

Couldn't resist posting this "Astronomy Photo of the Day" picture of the Lagoon Nebula, which seems just oh-so-appropriate for a blog which loves all things Venetian! Enjoy!!

Scientists create glow-in-the-dark cat

I totally want one... :-)

It's all part of an experiment which may eventually result in genetic treatments for human cystic fibrosis and other conditions.

The glowing is just the fun part, said the scientist!

(via Mirabilis)

The Beauty and Absurdity of Venice at Night

Here's a great video of Venice at night that you can enjoy on two different levels at once!

Firstly, those who don't know Italian will find it a relaxingly tranquil scene of the peace of the nocturnal city.

Secondly, those who DO know Italian AND know Venice will find the commentary utterly ridiculous. The whole time, while nothing at all of any significance is happening, the so-called journalist who's narrating is trying to characterize Venice at night as dangerous, an assertion which is almost completely untrue!

The first part of the video shows a bridge leading to Campo San Giovanni & Paolo and the entrance to the municipal hospital (neither of which you see...) that's actually a lovely area at night. Instead, the voiceover claims that it's an area nefarious for drug dealing, and implies that there's some kind of crackhouse or the like in the illuminated window on the other side of the canal (when it's really like a trattoria or something).

Then they switch to the alley of Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina, which is just on the other side of that bridge we saw earlier, and again... ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS! Instead, the journalist, who can't help but nevertheless observe that the walkway is so well-lit (like it's always been) lies that it's only a recent phenomenon resulting from several muggings which had happened there. (Not.) Again, he says the area's notorious for drug dealers (again, NOT!) and when an older man who's coming home at night enters in his front door, the voiceover wonders aloud what he must be doing since isn't a habitation there. (Another big lie!)

So there you have it! Totally fictional fear-mongering, however patently obvious it is to any viewer that it's completely ridiculous!! Still, turn down the voiceover and you too can experience the quiet, uneventful magic of Venice at night... Enjoy!!

Celebrating Immigrants in Venice!

I understand Venetians are shell-shocked and often embittered by tourism. I get that. I just can't abide when some think that all foreigners are destroying their city. Personally, I'm not only appassionata about Venice and married to a Venetian, but I professionally research their history and often know more about it than they do!

I've always wanted to wear around town a t-shirt like the one at left, which says in Venetian dialect, "I am not a tourist." (If you're female, I've made one up at Zazzle... Enjoy!)

Venice throughout the centuries has been a crossroads and melting pot for all kinds of nationalities. That was its bread and butter! It's only been in the last few decades when Venice (for anything other than tourism) became an economic backwater that Venetians began to forget that.

That is, until now! Last week, according to Buongiorno Venezia, the city held its first-ever official "Celebration of the Immigrant." And - predictably - it was a huge success!! For more about it... read on!

NEWS. From 1 January to 30 September 2008, the number of residents in Venice (including the mainland) increased to 270,000 residents (+ 0.25%). But the historical centre (including Burano and Murano), which counts around 60,000 inhabitants, has lost 372 who are likely to have moved to the mainland or to have sold their houses to non-residents. By contrast, the numbers of foreigners and immigrants living in Venice has increased to such an extent that the Municipality organised a "Feast of the Immigrant" in Mestre, which was for the first time last Sunday. It was quite a success. .

The number of legal foreign residents jumped from 17,000 to about 20.000 in one year, representing 7.5% of residents. Most are Europeans followed by Asians then Africans. The demographic survey, conducted on 31 December 2007, ranks Bangladesh as the largest community (3247 residents, +17%); Moldova was second with 2209 residents, two thirds of them women employed as assistants for the elderly, a common occupation in Venice for Eastern European women); number three was Romania (2092 residents, +97% since their membership in the European Union); Ukraine ranked fourth with 1488 followed by Albania (1127); Macedonia (1083); People's Republic of China (1196 residents, +13%). African residents total 1445, mostly from Senegal (281), Morocco (258), Tunisia (257), and Egypt (211). Residents from the Americas number 970 (321 men and 649 women), most from Brazil (227) and the USA (170). Residents from Oceania total 21: Australia (16), New Zealand (4), and Tonga (1). Welcome to them all!

Astronomy Photo of the Day

I've seen these around before, but I never really followed the "Astronomy Photo of the Day" regularly. I see now that I should! Get a load of these images... (and click on the picture for more information about what you're seeing!)

Venice scraps locals-only vaporetto

Another episode in the deeply ambivalent relationship of Venetians with tourists: Venice to scrap locals-only cheap watertaxis.

I witnessed the service over the summer, and - while a VERY rare direct perk for Venetian residents - the locals-only service did seem a bit underutilized. Not to mention that those vaporetti seemed to be nearly as frequent as the regular waterbus lines. I have to admit that it just didn't seem fiscally sustainable for such a small resident population.

At the time, though, I thought maybe one or two locals-only boats an hour might be more practical. But instead it looks now like they've gone ahead and thrown out the baby with the bathwater... Oh well!

Heavenly Bodies!

It looks like a fantasy painting of an alien landscape, but it's not! Instead, it's an actual photo of the Milky Way and the planet Jupiter, taken from a cave in the Utah desert. Breathtaking!!

(via the always splendid Presurfer)

Burning Bridges in Venice, Literally & Figuratively

Ah, where do I begin with the long, troubled saga of the new bridge over the Grand Canal?

Well, for centuries, there had only been ONE bridge over the Grand Canal, and that was the famed Rialto Bridge. Anybody who wanted to cross the 2+ mile long Canal Grande either had to schlep there or be ferried across by a gondola traghetto. Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, two other bridges were added, which - if truth be told - made life A LOT easier for the Venetians. The same cannot be said of the new FOURTH bridge over the Grand Canal.

About 10 years ago, the city government first announced the building of a bridge that would link the bus station on the south side of the canal with the train station on the north. I remember when I first saw the project drawings by world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava... As you can see above, it was beautiful, without a doubt... poetry in glass, marble and brass, with some steps twice the width of the others so that folks could stand and admire the view. I could see why the mayor, who's also a professor at Venice's architectural university, wanted it.

But it also struck me as imminently impractical. Venice's bridges can already be slippery in the humid lagoon climate... This, I thought, is going to be like an ice rink.

And guess what? Now, over 10 years later, innumerable delays and astronomical building costs (more than ELEVEN MILLION EUROS, nearly fifteen million US dollars, and more than five million euros over budget) that's exactly what's happening.

The bridge officially opened without any fanfare on the eleventh of September of this year (since the inaugural celebrations were canceled in fear of a huge public protest). Almost immediately thereafter, several people would be injured when they lost their footing. It's gotten to the point that the Veniceword newsletter reports that folks all over the world have begun tuning into the bridge's new webcam to see if they can catch any of these Benny-Hillesque moments in real time. (What do you know... The camera seems to be down at the moment!)

The Venetian city government will not, however, intervene to make the bridge safer. You gotta love the official response: Public works councillor Mara Rumiz said falls on Venice bridges ''are natural'' and that it would be ''less complicated and less costly'' to put signs up alerting tourists to the problem rather than ''substituting parts of the bridge''.

And now, just to add insult to injury... or injury to injury, as the case may be, there may be now nothing to hang onto for safety as one crosses the bridge! It turns out that the gleaming brass handrail is becoming too hot to touch in Venice's recent spate of warm autumn weather. "I noticed that the upper handrail becomes burning hot. I'm afraid next summer it will be a problem," the Venetian Order of Engineers president, Vito Saccarola, was quoted as saying by news agency Adnkronos, and went on to describe the structure as "beautiful, but not indispensable."

And there you have it. Called for years the ponte di Calatrava and now christened the Constitution Bridge, the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice has become a symbol to all Venetians of not only the ultimate albatross, but also of the complete disconnect and disregard of the government about the human realities of the city.

It's the seeming victory of form over function, not to mention of tourist attractions over quality of life...

UPDATED: More Sexy Astronomy!

This time, we've got a GOR-GEOUS composite image from observations of our very own sun, taken in three different wavelengths! Enjoy the gloriousness!!

(via Dark Roasted Blend)

UPDATED 10/13: "The Sun" was the theme of today's "Big Picture." The images are splendid... Enjoy!!

"Divers Reach the Portland for the 1st Time"

The following news comes to us from this month's New England Historical and Genealogical Society newsletter... (BTW, note that "Divers David Faye, Bob Foster, Don Morse, Slav Mlch and Paul Blanchette spent 10 to 15 minutes each dive exploring the shipwreck but had to endure up to 4 hours of decompression in the frigid North Atlantic in exchange"!)
The wreck of the steamship Portland off the coast of Cape Ann was one of the worst shipwrecks in the history of New England. Sailing into a 'perfect storm' now known as the Portland Gale in November 1898, almost 200 people, including a senator from Maine, lost their lives returning home from a Thanksgiving holiday.

Little of the wreckage was ever recovered. Few victims ever turned up on shore. Even the exact location of the disaster remained a mystery for a century, until researchers discovered her in the summer of 2002.

The wreckage lies about 15 miles east of Cape Ann, and at 460 feet is about the limit that unprotected human divers can reach. Five Massachusetts men recently reached the Portland for the first time since she sank more than a century ago.

Even though the disaster was enough to rip the upper decks off the ship, many fragile class and porcelain items were found intact, including stacks of delicate china plates.

You can read more about the divers in the Boston Globe, and a slideshow is also available here. In addition, you can also read more about the wreck and view a computer-animated [and - I think - haunting!] video of what scientists believe happened to the ship, on the Science Channel.
The wreck site of the S.S. Portland was added to the National Register of Historic Places back in 2005.

Accordian Vivaldi!

What could POSSIBLY be more Venetian than Vivaldi OR accordians? How about a post which manages to combine BOTH?! Without further ado, I give you Vivaldi's "Winter" from The Four Seasons (the unofficial soundtrack of Venice) played by a virtuoso on the accordian! Enjoy!!

(via the ever-wonderful Gail's Scribal Terror!)

Maine in the National Arena

"At this stage of a campaign season, Maine is rarely in the national news. But 2008 appears to be different..."

Read more here.

"Venice's Pigeons Almost Totally Gone"??

(A sixties' ad that was done with pigeons by spreading corn just right in Saint Mark's Square)

"After several months of battling thousands of pigeons hovering over Piazza San Marco, Venice has declared victory. From 20,000 the canal city's pigeon population has dwindled to less than 1,000."

That's what the "All Headline News" site reported on Thursday. Can it even possibly be true??


Turns out the AHN did what a lot of tourists do all the time, and that's confuse Saint Mark's Square with Venice itself.

As any longtime fan of Venice and/or this blog can tell you, San Marco's pigeons aren't quaint; they're gross. And their numbers in the square had swelled to 20,0000 because of the corn vendors there, making that pigeon population a veritable petri dish for salmonella and respiratory disease. So, the fact that EACH pigeon produces an estimated 26 pounds of guano annually (MORE THAN A QUARTER OF A TON COLLECTIVELY?!) which was burying and eating away at the peerless historical monuments there, was really only a (powerful) side concern.

(The video doesn't seem quite so delightful NOW, does it? Yuk!)

Hence, the Venetian city government's decision this past year to ban selling corn in the square and thankfully for once they had the stones to stick to it!

As a result, the population of pigeons IN PIAZZA SAN MARCO ALONE is now estimated to be 1000 instead of 20,000. (Although, as one reader on put it, "would you be happy if somebody said that now there are only 1000 rats in the piazza?")

But, let me tell you, it's not that 19,000 pigeons have starved to death since May. They clearly just went elsewhere. Which means that the city as a whole may still be laboring under what was the highest pigeon-population density in the world: more than 3 per resident (or nearly 200,000) in LITTLE MORE THAN THREE SQUARE MILES!

So, don't lament the untimely passing of those poor darling Venetian flying rats just yet. But, for God's sake and Venice's, please don't feed them either!

"The Straight Poop on Pigeons"

Any great lover of Venice tends to also be a great hater of pigeons! Yet no one can argue that they aren't one of the most successful species in the city. Scientific American gives us some reasons why at Superdove!: The Straight Poop on Pigeons: Scientific American Podcast

(Posted using ShareThis)

Murano Glass Cat in the Making

I'm not usually a huge fan of the glass tchotchkes that are mass produced these days on Murano, Venice's glass-making island, but - almost despite myself - I thought this video was kinda endearing... Enjoy!

"Scootermania" Video from Smashing Telly

"Two brands have dominated the history of Scooters: Lambretta and Vespa.

The larger and more decorative Lambretta is often considered more desirable for vintage scooter enthusiasts, however, I have always preferred the minimalist simplicity of the snail-like Vespa from the early 60s, which seems to better capture the spirit of modernism rather than Mod.

This documentary traces the history of Viaggio and Innocenti scooters from post war Italy to mid 60s Britain. It has some particularly great period footage from the 50s." Enjoy!!

Scootermania Smashing Telly - A hand picked TV channel

My "Omnivore's 100"

Very Good Taste introduced the "Omnivore's 100" meme, a list of one hundred foods that every gourmand ought to try.

My results were pretty good, I guess... a good 80 out of 100! Literally, great food for thought! (Especially when my first taste ever of venison had actually been [fresh] roadkill!)

Here's the list...

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison (See comment above!)
2. Nettle tea (I had nettles at a vegetarian restaurant in Italy once and seemed to have a bit of an allergic reaction to them... Never ate 'em again, just in case!)
3. Huevos rancheros (Not a big vegetables-at-breakfast person!)
4. Steak tartare (Wanna try!)
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (I'd like to say that I'm open-minded enough to try everything, but I just can't...)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (Am I brave enough?!)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar

37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
(Mmmmm... *HOT* glazed doughnuts!!)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads (See number 25!)
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (See comment at top of post!)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini (Venice's *elegant* cocktail!)
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (Totally sign me up, if you're paying!!)
85. Kobe beef (Ditto!!)
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
(Thanks to Timinus!)
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

How would you do???????????????

Wanna see the meme rules? Check 'em out here!

(via SlashFood)

Shout it from the mountaintops!

But now you can even call it in when you do...

When you call the "Telemegaphone" number above in Norway, your voice is recorded and then played over the mountains, hills, vales & fjords below. So, go ahead and give it your best yodel!

Muxtape is down... Long live (my mashup) Muxtape!

Muxtape is (hopefully not "was") a service which lets you put together an online "mixtape," just like we'd have done in the good ol' days of the cassette! (Except MUCH more easily!!)

Star "Porn": "Birthing Stars Tear Into A Nebula With A Fierce Beauty"

"Here's a detail of a new image the Hubble Space Telescope released to celebrate its 100,000th orbit of Earth. It shows the 'firestorm' of star creation in the nebula near star cluster NGC 2074. The three-dimensional image shows off 'dramadramatic ridges and valleys of dust, serpent-head 'pillars of creation,' and gaseous filaments glowing fiercely under torrential ultraviolet radiation,' says NASA."

In other words, GORGEOUS!

The Best of Bad Fiction: The 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest!

The 26th annual winner of the most awful opening line of a novel (otherwise known as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest) has been announced!

The winning entry:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”


For more on this venerable, so-horrible-it's-humorous contest, check out the ever-wonderful Neatorama!

Starbucks' Oversaturation?! It's Surreal!

This amuses me greatly... What could be better than a mashup of Escher AND coffee?!

(via Tumblr)

Forgotten Photos!

"MangoFalls is about old photos developed from film from old cameras found in antique stores and Sunday flea markets. A lot of these photos are about [unknown] people..."

(Thanks, Presurfer!)

P.S. That car looks suspiciously like my own first ride... a white 1967 Buick Electra (which got 6 mpg, HIGHWAY. No joke!)

Medieval Food Blogging: Shrewsbury Cakes!

I went to college at William and Mary, where at times you couldn't help but feel that - as a local greeting card once put it - "I'm tired of the eighteenth century... Please send poptarts!"

But make no mistake, perpetually living on the doorstep of Colonial Williamsburg did have its perks.  One of them was a phenomenal eighteenth-century style cookie called a Shrewsbury Cake!

Little did I realize that this tasty little treat (named after the English town and pronounced "shrowsbury") had a much longer history!  This past week, the recipe was blogged (tongue-in-cheek even!) as a post on "Medieval Baking." If you don't plan to hit the Raleigh Tavern Bakery on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg anytime soon, here's the next best thing!  Enjoy!!

(P.S. You might find the "official" Williamsburg recipe if you buy the Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop cookbook, but another 18th c. recipe is available online free here!)

Red Army Choir sings "Sweet Home Alabama"... No, seriously!

Once upon a time, after watching a marathon of Monty Python shows, I changed the channel and saw a chorus of stout Bavarian women dressed in lederhosen, line dancing while waving kerchiefs and singing the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman." For a moment, I thought I was still watching Python... but no! It was real, and easily the most surreal thing I've seen on video... until now!

And now, a thing of beauty and a joy forever! With no further ado, I give you "Sweet Home Alabama," as sung by the Red Army Choir backing the Finnish novelty band, the Leningrad Cowboys!

Maine island loses cherished tradition: mail delivery to trash can

This story originally caught my eye in the British newspaper The Guardian's reporting of the Bangor Daily (via Topix's "offbeat news"). The news from Maine's Sutton Island which, as you can see below, is not far from Acadia National Park...
SUTTON ISLAND, Maine: The U.S. Postal Service has ended a decades-old tradition in which mail was delivered... by a private ferry service and left in a specially marked trash can on the dock for recipients to pick up. Postal Service higher-ups got wind of the practice used to serve those living in the island's 25 or so seasonal homes and decided it had to be halted for security reasons. ...

Shea Howell, who lives in Detroit, Mich., during the winter, said residents will now have to make the 2-mile ocean journey to the post office in Northeast Harbor. "That can mean a three-hour trip out of your day just to get the mail," she said.... Howell said having mail service is important, especially for older residents who stay on the island for several months at a time and rely on deliveries to pay bills, stay in touch with loved ones and even receive essential medications.

Security issues apparently don't trouble UPS or FedEx, which will continue to deposit deliveries in the trash can (from "Talk Left").
However, the islanders aren't crazy about changes. After all, just last year they hotly contested and largely maintained even their isle's ban on the use of golf carts to get around! "People like the trash can," said one. "They’ve always liked it. We’re going to explore if there’s another solution that satisfies the Postal Service." So, like most usually phlegmatic Mainers who nevertheless won't accept unwelcome changes lying down, the summertime Suttoners apparently are laboring to save their beloved mail receptacle!

(For more of what's likely to be an ongoing saga - at least until winter and the flight of the snowbirds - you can read the full story at the Bangor Daily News!)

Planet Venice!

A quick search for Venice on Digg turned up this great photography tutorial from nearly two years ago that turns panoramas of cities into "planets" but it's still totally worth posting! Just look at these great Venice Planets, from the island of San Giorgio above, and then Piazza San Marco on the left and the cemetery island of San Michele on the right!! A-MAZING!!

Darn! I *WANTED* To Believe...

Twitter / MarsPhoenix: Reports claiming there a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect....

Twitter / MarsPhoenix: @ganeshpuri89 That paragraph was referring to the team's June 26 announcement at Not same as finding life....

UN Support for Darfur mission urged

I'm not usually political at all on this blog, since I believe strongly in living and letting live...

However, on that note... I was appalled at the news that the UN forces in Darfur are grossly ill-equipped.

The five-year conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has left an estimated 300,000 people dead.

Helicopters are vital to the success of the UN mission to protect the remaining civilians, but so far no country has provided the forces even ONE of the 18 helicopters that the mission needs to protect them.

UN troops' are in fact SO short of necessary equipment that those who don't have a standard issue blue UN helmet have resorted to wearing BLUE PLASTIC BAGS on their heads!

And so I blog... Genocide is unimaginably horrific in itself, and now we essentially send to their deaths the men who desperately try to prevent it. For more, read BBC NEWS | Africa | Support for Darfur mission urged

Famed Roman Capitoline Wolf statue "not ancient"

I first saw the Capitoline Wolf in person just last year at the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

The statue you see today is supposed to commemorate the suckling of Remus and Rome's legendary founder Romulus when they'd been abandoned as babies. Ancient Roman authors Cicero and Pliny the Elder had described such a statue as standing in the Roman Forum back in the first century B.C., and nearly everyone had always assumed this statue was it.

Turns out however that it wasn't. The announcement was just made this week that the statue is neither Roman nor Etruscan, that is, the people who had dominated central Italy before the Romans. Rather, it's over a millennium younger! Carbon dating and other tests (particularly that of dirt that remains in the belly of the wolf) recently have made the controversial discovery that the statue's creation during the Middle Ages, sometime in the thirteenth century A.D.

What unfortunately confirms a lot of stereotypes about the Italian government however is that this very important art discovery was confirmed nine months ago, and Rome's municipal government reserved the right to make the findings public but they only got around to announcing it last week. *sigh*

For more, you can go to BBC NEWS Europe: Famed Roman statue 'not ancient'. The original article in which the news was originally released last Tuesday is here.

P.S. The babies are even younger... It's been well-known that they were added to the presumed ancient statue a couple of centuries later during the Renaissance!

Splendid Photos and a Story Behind One

A couple of photos just blew me away yesterday!

First (without the backstory), the spectacular Thomas Hawk's sunset over the Empire State Building...

Then, last but certainly not least, this lush image taken in June of 1957 by famous photographer Robert Frank. Equally as beautiful is the story behind it, about which I've blogged over at MeFi. Read more at They didn't know they were icons... | MetaFilter