Cultrface is a blog about culture and how it can enrich our lives.

Stewart Hicks on the architecture of 'indoor cities'

The Bewildering Architecture of Indoor Cities

Indoor cities might conjure images of Zion from The Matrix but they’re real things, for better or worse. Stewart Hicks documented these dwellings on his YouTube channel, including the Chicago Pedway and Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Architecture related: Róisín Hanlon on Parasitic Architecture and architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

Lucia Tang on 'Kristin Lavransdatter' and feeling herself again during the pandemic

It’s always cool to get a non-spam account following you on Twitter out of the blue but it’s especially nice when it’s a really good writer. That person was Lucia Tang who “tweets, often about medieval mystics and women’s artistic gymnastics” and I read one of her essays today, entitled “The Pandemic Made Me Feel Removed from My Body—This Book Put Me Back“.

My knowledge of medieval times is sketchy at best, so Medieval Norway wouldn’t be my specialist subject on Mastermind. But Lucia’s account of Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy of novels by Sigrid Undset, and feeling like herself again through reading, is vibrant and poignant. Here’s a short excerpt:

By the time I started reading Kristin Lavransdatter, the fearful, high-wire intensity of the move had faded to a dull memory. My adrenalinated gratitude at pulling it off safely had calcified too. What remained was a sense of roteness, as if the nerves had been abstracted out of me. I wasn’t scared anymore, or sad, or anything—I was a wind-up toy. I tried to take care of myself, drinking eight glasses of water a day and marking each of them in an app. I cycled between a series of easy Instant Pot stews and ate without tasting them. Three days a week, I made time to exercise, dancing along to ballet barre videos on YouTube without feeling whether my legs were turned out or my feet made the right shape. I stopped often between combinations to check my phone.

Reading Kristin Lavransdatter, though, took me back to a time when my body wasn’t just an automaton but organ of feeling. That’s because Undset clings so closely to the concerns of her protagonist, reporting her every sensation with tactile precision. Across her three volumes, Kristin’s existence unfurls in densely textured detail. From the lusterless quiet of my sealed apartment, the vividness of Undset’s language disoriented me, like a bottle of too-strong perfume.

Good writing hits me in the chest like a punch made of butterflies and that’s how it felt reading this essay at breakfast this morning. The adjectives just hit different (see, I’m a wordsmith too!)

Medieval book related: Codex Argenteus: the mysterious Gothic Silver Bible

Lucia related: An interview with Lucia Tang

Chiyo Shibata and her Japanese cheese

An interesting piece from Atlas Obscura about Chiyo Shibata, a Japanese cheesemaker and her dream of making the dairy product more of a thing in her native country:

Shibata fell in love with cheese as a young girl when her father, a mechanic with Air France, took the family to Paris for summer vacations. However, it was during her final year of high school that she found her destiny.

“I happened to read a newspaper article that said we would soon face a food, climate, and energy crisis,” she recalls. The article listed fermented foods that could be preserved to prevent waste, “and of those, cheese had the highest nutritional value.”

Cheese is not a traditional part of the Japanese diet, although cows and dairy were noted now and again in ancient records. According to Eric C. Rath, a professor of Japanese history at the University of Kansas, Japan’s government encouraged cows for agriculture as far back as the 8th century, but interest faded because of the difficulty of grazing cattle on Japan’s rocky topography.

Ancient texts, though, also describe three things that may be similar to cheese: soraku, and daigo. “The problem is that, except for so, we don’t know how these were made. Raku may have been a yogurt drink, and daigo is supposed to be the epitome of dairy products. Buddhist monks compared its taste to enlightenment.” says Rath. “Something so good that it could totally change our understanding of the world.”

Her cheesery, Fromage Sen, is 1.5 hours from Tokyo Station by train and car in the Chiba Prefecture.

More on cheese: Moose cheese, pule cheese: the world’s most expensive cheese made from donkey milk, and Mountain Dew cheesecake.

Have you tried the water pie?

When times are hard, you make do with what you have. That was the principle behind a Depression Era pie that made use of science and water:

Even among the genre of desserts known as “desperation pies,” “hard times pie” seems particularly dire. Its other moniker, “water pie,” sounds like a practical joke or urban myth. Like stone soup, it implies conjuring something from nothing. The ingredient list is so minimalistic that it challenges what, on an existential level, even qualifies as pie. Plain, old H₂O forms the base of the filling, along with sugar, flour, butter, and a little vanilla. And yet, through a little alchemical magic, these ingredients transform into a wobbly, translucent custard.

“I think a lot of Depression-era cooking was really quite genius,” says Genevieve Yam, an editor at Epicurious who previously worked as a pastry chef at Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Yam finds something intriguing about the anonymity of the inventors of these resourceful recipes. No one knows who was behind the first “magic cake” or “wacky cake,” although we can surmise they were women with a better grasp of chemistry than history ever gave them credit for.

Foodstuff was scarce and people had to improvise. While these pies weren’t all water, they mostly were and had liberal uses of butter. And for some added flavour, why not try a Sprite pie (which is basically the same except carbonated and more sugary)?

More on pies (and related baked goods): the split decision pie pan and the emerald marine chocolate mint tart

(via Atlas Obscura)

Where was the pizza margherita invented?

I judge the prices of a restaurant by how expensive their pizza Margherita. I don’t know how foolproof that principle is but it has served me well as it’s my second favourite type of pizza (I love you, quattro formaggi). But who invented the Margherita and where?

StepYoshi and ccesare wrote and edited some possible answers for Gastro Obscura. According to legend, the pizza Margherita was created in Naples (no surprises there!) in 1889 by a chef named Raffaele Esposito. The birthplace? Pizzeria Brandi:

The pizza was allegedly created in honor of Italy’s unification, with the three toppings—basil, mozzarella, and tomato—respectively representing the green, white, and red of the Italian flag. The story also claims that Esposito named the pie after the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. Today, a plaque near the Pizzeria Brandi marks the location as the birthplace of the pizza Margherita. It was unveiled in 1989, on the 100th anniversary of its invention.

However, as the writer suggests, that’s probably just a sentimental tale as pizzas had been served with those toppings before that time and the name could have come from the arrangement of the mozzarella slices resembling a daisy which is, funnily enough, margherita in Italian.

The influence of palm trees in Western Africa

Palm trees are much more than giant tropical plants you see in Miami, desert islands, or in the form of Pokémon. They provide spiritual protection as an article from The Guardian Life explains:

The sacredness of the palm tree spreads to its edible and non-edible parts. For instance, when making consultations to ascertain the cause of illness and fate of dreams, they are made sacred at the oracle Fa(Fon), Afan (Ewe) and the Ifa (Yoruba). The roots of palm trees to are used to ward off evil spirits by some practices in West Africa.

Palm trees also make two important foodstuffs: palm oil and palm wine. The former accounted for about one-third of global oils produced from oil crops in 2014, however its overuse has resulted in tropical deforestation and allegations of abuse and human rights violations. Palm wine is also important in Central and Western African cultures such as the Igbo and Yoruba people of Nigeria.

More on palm trees in Western Africa

A portrait of Nottingham from 1993

Portrait Of A City - Nottingham - 1993

I love seeing familiar cities in the 90s, just to see what they looked like if I’d visited as a child. The first time I visited Nottingham was in 1995 but I doubt it would have been much different to the above documentary, Portrait of a City – Nottingham. Presented and narrated by Dennis McCarthy, the film explores the city in all its uniqueness and charm. Look out for the clips of Brian Clough before he left Nottingham Forest.

A very Imperial McDonald's restaurant in Porto

MCDONALDS IMPERIAL (credit: sanprica)

I covered the old spaceship McDonald’s in Alconbury, UK but on the the other side of the stylistic spectrum is this Imperial McDonald’s in Porto. Formerly Café Imperial, the famous Portuguese coffeeshop became a McDonald’s in 1995 but retained a lot of its Art Deco features including the huge Imperial eagle at the entrance and its ornate ceilings and chandeliers. It’s a unique contrast for an American fast food establishment, maybe more befitting of a restaurant serving different cuisine, but it looks beautiful.

(via Atlas Obscura)

James Bond and his licence to drive anything and everything

Baryon Design have created a cool data viz story to showcase the vehicles of James Bond, from a humble cello case to a supertanker.

Bond has a passion for sports cars – Goldfinger introduced us to the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, which would end up appearing in 8 movies, a total of 28 minutes and 3 seconds. It’s the vehicle with the most screen time throughout the 25 movies.

And don’t forget some of Bond’s other legendary vehicles: the Orient Express in From Russia With Love, the submergible Lotus Esprit S1 in The Spy Who Loved Me, his 1985 Aston Martin V8 in The Living Daylights, or the T-54 tank he uses to chase general Ourumov through St. Petersburg in Goldeneye.

More on James Bond: James Bond villains and their love of post-Soviet architecture and a fan-made Bond trailer starring Pierce Brosnan

Backpacking through Britain, from John O'Groats to Land's End

No rent, a tent & a camera: Backpacking Britain

I can’t remember how I found this video but it was just the tonic I needed. Liam Brown spent June 2021 backpacking from John O’Groats to Lands End with nothing more than a tent, a camera, and basic provisions. Some nights he spent in hotels but it was mostly wild camping and miles of walking. There was something therapeutic about watching Liam’s challenge and I reckon you’ll feel the same.

The sheets of gold that covered a 16th-century convent patio in Spain

designers nicola dario baldassarre, salvatore dentamaro, francesco di salvo and ilyass erraklaouy introduce ‘gold digger’, a public installation comprised of golden thermal sheets covering the patio of the 16th century sant jordi and sant domènec convent in tarragona, spain. the eye-catching installation explores the world of curiosity and the desire for discovery. it was created as part of tortosa’s a cel obert festival, a festival of ephemeral interventions held annually since 2014, where ephemeral art transforms unknown historical spaces into a stage for artistic creations, while reclaiming the city’s architectural heritage.

(via Designboom)