The Centre of the World

February 21st, 2014

According to the New York Times the center of the world isn't where you'd have expected to find it:

The town [of Felicity, California], established in 1986, consists of the Istels’ home and a half-dozen other buildings that the couple built on 2,600 acres in the middle of the desert near Yuma, Ariz., just off Interstate 8. At the north end, up an imposing staircase, sits the Church on the Hill at Felicity – inspired by a little white chapel in Brittany – that Istel built in 2007. The church is gorgeous and serene and looks eerily out of place, though less out of place than the 21-foot-tall stone-and-glass pyramid on the opposite end of town. The pyramid is there to mark the exact center of the world.

The founder of the town of Felicity, Jacques-André Istel, has led a really interesting, not to say distinctly eccentric, life.

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25 versus 42

December 29th, 2012

Charlie Brooker, upon attending the Dosojin Fire Festival,1 found himself beholding the strangest of spectacles:

Imagine what would happen if a huge wooden spaceship full of laughing paedophiles landed in the centre of Hyde Park during a snow storm, and a mob turning up clutching flaming torches to dish out some instant justice. It looked like that – but conducted amid an air of good-natured, drink-fuelled insanity.

The story of what's actually happening is almost as strange, and makes for a pretty entertaining read.

  1. As it is held on 15 January each year I assume Brooker was attending last year's event, though he doesn't say so.

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All in the same boat

February 11th, 2012

Adam Curtis recounts the story of how the cruise ship industry adapted to the era of mass leisure travel:

On many ships thousands of workers below deck work often 7 days a week, sometimes for fourteen hours a day. They are paid two to three dollars a day – depending entirely on tips to earn a living wage. The work most of them are asked to do on their shifts is impossible for one person to complete, so they in turn have to pay others to help them.

And a weird underground economy often results.

In his history of the industry, Kristoffer Garin has described how many of the workers also have to pay bribes to others elsewhere in the complex hierarchy of the ship – waiters have to bribe the cooks to make sure the food is hot, the cabin cleaners have to bribe the laundry chief to get clean sheets on time.

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Fondling Juliet

December 21st, 2011

Mary Beard describes a strange custom engaged in by tourists/fans of Romeo and Juliet upon visiting the 'House of Juliet' in Verona:

[The] weirdest thing was the 1970's bronze statue of Juliet standing just underneath the balcony. It was clear from the 'polish', and by watching what people actually did, that one hallowed custom was to go up and grasp Juliet's right breast, and have your photo taken in the act. This was the sport of almost every visitor from the seven year olds to the seventy-something, male and female. A few looked a bit embarrassed. Most entered into the spirit of the fondle.

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Planetary Parks

October 23rd, 2010

I'd really like to see "Cold Faithful" on Enceladus, or the Loki Patera Planetary Park for myself someday. In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with the posters.

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A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia

August 1st, 2010

Maureen Dowd brings us A Girls' Guide to Saudi Arabia:

Jidda means "grandmother" in Arabic, and the city may have gotten its name because tradition holds that the grandmother of all temptresses, the biblical Eve, is buried here – an apt symbol for a country that legally, sexually, and sartorially buries its women alive. (A hard-line Muslim cleric in Iran recently blamed provocatively dressed women for earthquakes, inspiring the New York Post headline SHEIK IT!) According to legend, when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden they went their separate ways, Adam ending up in Mecca and Eve in Jidda, with a single reunion. (Original sin reduced to friends with benefits?) Eve's cemetery lies behind a weathered green door in Old Jidda.

When I suggested we visit, Abdullah smiled with sweet exasperation. It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days. It translated into "No f—ing way, lady."

"Women are not allowed to go into cemeteries," he told me.

I had visited Saudi Arabia twice before, and knew it was the hardest place on earth for a woman to negotiate. Women traveling on their own have generally needed government minders or permission slips. A Saudi woman can't even report harassment by a man without having a mahram, or male guardian, by her side. A group of traditional Saudi women, skeptical of any sort of liberalization, recently started an organization called My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me. I thought I understood the regime of gender apartheid pretty well. But this cemetery bit took me aback.

"Can they go in if they're dead?," I asked.

"Women can be buried there," he conceded, "but you are not allowed to go in and look into it."

So I can only see a dead woman if I'm a dead woman?

No wonder they call this the Forbidden Country. It's the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you'll never vacation in.

[Via The Browser]

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Grounded

April 18th, 2010

Alain de Botton pictures a world without planes:

The wise elders would explain that inside the aircraft, passengers, who had only paid the price of a few books for the privilege, would impatiently and ungratefully shut their window blinds to the views, would sit in silence next to strangers while watching films about love and friendship – and would complain that the food in miniature plastic beakers before them was not quite as tasty as the sort they could prepare in their own kitchens.

[…]

At Heathrow, now turned into a museum, one would be able to walk unhurriedly across the two main runways and even give in to the temptation to sit cross-legged on their centrelines, a gesture with some of the same sublime thrill as touching a disconnected high-voltage electricity cable, running one's fingers along the teeth of an anaesthetised shark or having a wash in a fallen dictator's marble bathroom.

[Via cityofsound]

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The Berlin Reunion

October 8th, 2009

Royal De Luxe, the people who brought The Sultan's Elephant to London in 2006, have just helped Berliners celebrate the 20th anniversary of reunification by presenting The Berlin Reunion.

That last link is to my favourite picture from the event, but do check out all the photos on that page: the whole extravaganza looks to have been another remarkable feat of art and engineering at play.

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Angry Michael Palin

June 13th, 2009

Note to the boards of directors of W H Smith and Penguin: when you've pissed off Michael Palin, it's almost certainly a sign that you're Doing Something Wrong…

The Office of Fair Trading is due to look into the deal between WH Smith and Penguin following complaints about the bookseller's controversial plans to remove overseas travel guides from any other publisher from its shelves, with Michael Palin and Margaret Drabble adding their voices to the growing opposition. Speaking to the Guardian, Margaret Drabble branded the deal "ludicrous", and said that Penguin "should be ashamed", while Michael Palin called it an "unacceptable restriction of traveller's choice".

"No guide is ever perfect," Palin continued, "and the ideal situation is to pick and choose from all the alternatives available. If this is indeed their policy, I certainly wouldn't go to Smith's before my next journey." […]

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Les Machines de l'Ile

June 15th, 2008

Les Machines de l'Ile: quite possibly the coolest tourist attraction in the history of the world.1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. It's not clear to me whether there's some formal link between the creators of Les Machines de l'Ile and the street theatre group who brought The Sultan's Elephant to London a couple of years ago, or whether it's just that the French really, really love the combination of Jules Verne and giant mechanical creatures. Either way, Vive La France!

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