When Solomon Leyva took his titan arum to an abandoned gas station

Photo of a titan arum.
source: Flickr, via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), is a flowering plant also known as ‘the corpse flower’ due to its stench similar to a rotting corpse. Solomon Leyva owned one of these plants and decided to take it to the site of an abandoned gas station in California for others to admire. Atlas Obscura interviewed him about the idea:

What made you decide to take the flower out on the town?

What’s the point in having it? It was only going to bloom for a day—I mean, I have to share it. I don’t know what else I would have done.

There’s a really great, cute little community in the city that I live in, and I just thought everybody would enjoy seeing it. I was out from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and again the next day. The first day, it was really cold and [the plant] wasn’t enthusiastic about opening all the way. The second day, it had been in my greenhouse and opened more. Everybody was fascinated and happy—they’ve had their [vaccine] shots and are wanting to come out.

The cute Art Deco gas station that’s been out of commission for over 30 years across from city hall—I couldn’t think of any better place to bring it. Everywhere else has sidewalks or patio seating for restaurants. Also, I had to put in a wagon and was pulling it down the street, and I didn’t want to go across town. I couldn’t fit it in my van; it was too tall. I’m 5-foot-10, and it was a few inches shorter than me.

Nearly everyone remarked about the smell, but some didn’t find the smell until it wafted up with the breeze. Everyone took their mask off to smell it. I let kids play with it, dogs jump up on it. There’s no sense in protecting something that’s only going to live for a day. Everybody just has their memory, and that’s all you get. What better way to say goodbye to the pandemic than to watch a corpse flower bloom?

Not even the foul, deathly odour of a plant could stop people from keeping their masks on. Incredible.

12 abandoned islands #

Of all the many places around the world that have been abandoned by their inhabitants and left to slump into obscurity and ruin, islands seem among the most unlikely. What’s not to love about an island? Yet there are dozens of isles scattered throughout the world’s oceans that have been deserted by their residents and left all but forgotten.

Of course Disney has an entry in the list:

Disney’s abandoned animal island was almost the coolest attraction ever. Disney opened it as a lush zoological park as the island was home to a number of exotic animals. When the attraction was closed in 1999, the remaining animals were moved to Disney World’s new Animal Kingdom resort, yet the island was simply left to nature, its buildings deteriorating.

Today, the island remains abandoned and off-limits. However some brave urban explorers have managed to infiltrate the island take pictures of what remains. Disney has threatened to ban these adventurers from all Disney properties just for setting foot on Discovery Island, making the whole kingdom seem a little less than magic.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Calafia: the Black warrior queen

calafia

Did you know California was named after a Black warrior queen named Calafia? I didn’t!

Rebecca Johnson of Atlas Obscura wrote about Calafia’s story last November and touched “the surprising complexity of medieval attitudes about race”:

Meanwhile, the novel of chivalry that spawned it [California’s name], Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s Las Sergas de Esplandían, has been all but forgotten (despite being memorably cited by Cervantes as one of the books that turned poor Don Quixote’s brains to mush). Yet its portrait of California’s queen, the dark-skinned warrior Calafia, is worth revisiting—not just for its marvelous details, but for the light it sheds on medieval European attitudes about race.

I like the part where Calafia is described as “beautiful, strong, and courageous” and portrayed in an “unfailingly positive light”.

Other entities named after Calafia include:

  • Calafia Airlines, a Mexican airline
  • Calafia, a hard bop album by Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra of the 80’s
  • The Cooperative Latin American Collection Development Group, better known as Calafia, a consortium of libraries in California, Oregon, and Washington
  • Calafia, a hypertext novel by Marjorie Luesebrink
  • Calafia Valley, a wine-growing region in Baja California, Mexico
  • Califia, a genera of Orbiniidae worms

To all those fools who refuse to accept the existence of Black people in their fantasy universes, eat it.

See also: The origin and the meaning of the name California, Calafia: Re-appropriating the Amazon Queen and a list of Black superheroes.

TMK Creamery makes vodka from milk

Cowcohol vodka

The classic White Russian cocktail comprises of vodka, a coffee liqueur and cream, served with ice. If you don’t have cream, milk will do. But what if you could make the vodka out of milk too? That’s where TMK Creamery comes in.

Todd Koch is the owner of TMK Creamery and his idea of making vodka from milk came after reading about Dr. Paul Hughes—an Assistant Professor of Distilled Spirits at Oregon State University— who had tested whether a way to ferment whey into a neutral spirits base solution that was “both environmentally sustainable and cost-effective for small creameries”.

Large, corporate-owned creameries can afford the expensive equipment that converts whey into profitable products such as protein powder. But at his family-owned, 20-cow farmstand creamery, Koch and his wife simply fed their whey into the fields through a nutrient management system. Rather than continue to bury the byproduct, Koch decided to ferment as a means of profitably upcycling the whey while bringing visibility to his animals. He teamed up with Dr. Hughes and a nearby distiller to manufacture the creamery’s newest product: a clear, vodka-like liquor they call “Cowcohol.”

Cowcohol. Genius.

But, according to Atlas Obscura, Koch isn’t the only “cowcohol” distiller in the world.

Read the full story at Atlas Obscura and check out how they make vodka from tulips in the Netherlands.

La California: Italy's home of unofficial US polling stations

In a small Italian village called La California, people set up fake polling stations every 4 years for US elections. Atlas Obscura published an article about the settlement and its origins on Tuesday.

With a population of just over 1,000, as a settlement it dates back to the Paleolithic, and reached a peak during the Etruscan civilization in the first millennium BC. But it wasn’t until around 1860, when Tuscany joined the Kingdom of Italy—just a decade after California became America’s 31st state—that Italy’s own California was born. Eventually it would come to feel a kinship with its much larger namesake half a world away.

There’s a debate over where the name came from—the most famous related to Italian conmen promising Sicilians the joy of California, only to take them to Tuscany and keeping their money.

Lost and bamboozled, it is said, the Southern migrants named the town after their hoped-for destination. But Andrenacci has proven this story wrong, with evidence that the village called La California before that time.

There’s also a story starring Buffalo Bill:

Another legend involves the 1890 European tour of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West circus, and a challenge to local cowboys, called butteri. Andrenacci throws cold water on this one as well, and in his book California, Oltre il mito (California, Behind the Myth) offers another solution to the mystery: a man named Leonetto Cipriani.

Whatever the origin, the genesis of the unofficial polling stations started in 2004 and they’ve been going ever since. I wonder whether Las Californians will vote for Trump or Biden.

Los Angeles’s Hidden Japanese Village

Hidden in a 5,000 sq-ft warehouse in Los Angeles lives the Japanese Cultural Village. Fashion designer Peter Lai is the owner of the space and it holds a tremendous collection of Japanese art, antiques, and design.

Lai was born in Hong Kong and initially went into the family business as a costume designer. But in a bold move, he decided to leave China and move to Los Angeles to pursue fashion, an endeavor in which he was extremely successful. His eccentric and flamboyant designs, inspired by traditional Japanese and Chinese styles, were highly acclaimed and have been worn by Hollywood celebrities.

Not sure on the protocol for visits but regular visits and guided private tours were $15 and $30 respectively and available by appointment only, according to Lai’s Facebook page.

The Secret World of Los Angeles’s Hidden Japanese Village

(via Atlas Obscura)

The African American Miniature Museum

A Black Lives Matter diorama from The African American Miniature Museum

We carve out our space in history with everything we do. But for Black artist Karen Collins, she’s taken that concept literally (and figuratively) with the African American Miniature Museum.

In a film by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman for Atlas Obscura, Karen Collins tells the story of the museum and its origins and how she wants to teach Black people of future generations about their history and lineage in the USA. It also shows Collins observing her pieces in Los Angeles Public Library (where her work was held between 2018 and 2019) and shots of her making the miniatures while narrating the film.

“We owe our ancestors a debt.”

Karen Collins

Unfortunately, the catalyst for the African American Miniature Museum was one of deep sadness. In 2002, her son was sentenced to 176 years in prison for “three counts of attempted murder and one count of discharging a firearm from a moving vehicle”. That’s when Collins decided to “make the Black History Museum and go into schools and explain their lineage.”

The attention to detail is magnificent as Collins’s work depicts African American art and life through history, from the prominence of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, all the way to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Currently, the African American Miniature Museum exists only as a “mobile” project in her home but she hopes to find a permanent place to exhibit her 50+ dioramas and preserve the historical pieces.

Stream the full video below.

Meet the Woman Behind L.A.’s African American Miniature Museum | Atlas Obscura

Credits

Executive Producers: Doug Baldinger, Chris Naka

Director of Photography: Bill Meese

Co-Producer: Todd Lerew

Marion Stokes: the Black woman who preserved over 30 years of TV history

A still from Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

This is a remarkable story. Atlas Obscura wrote about a woman who had recorded over 30 years of television on roughly 71,000 VHS and Betamax cassettes in Philadelphia. Her name was Marion Stokes.

Marion began her recordings in the 70s all the way until her death in 2012 and passed them around different apartments, family, and storage units, likely due to their quantity. Now, The Internet Archive is aiming to digitize every single tape. Problem is, they aren’t in any kind of order:

They got a little jumbled as they were transferred […] Although no one knew it at the time, the recordings Stokes made from 1975 until her death in 2012 are the only comprehensive collection preserving this period in television media history.

I love VHS tapes. I have two VCRs in my house – one bought for my birthday a few years ago and one inherited from my mum when she moved abroad. My collection is ~0.14% of Marion Stokes’s but they each tape is a gateway to my past. The fact that she recorded 71,000 of them over 4.5 decades is almost unfathomable. Even more so because it’s the best preservation of television history in this period. I follow a lot of YouTube accounts that upload old UK adverts and TV idents from the 80s and 90s for nostalgic purposes. I find those fascinating. This archive is something else.

An award-winning documentary called Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, has been screened at numerous film festivals this year. It chronicles her life and her historical media project. You can follow filmmaker Matt Wolf’s Instagram for news on future screenings.

Porto's Banco de Materiais brings the azulejos to the yards

Azulejos

If you visit Portugal, you might notice all the blue tiles. They’re called azulejos and they’re a major part of the country’s heritage. They’re used on walls, floors, and ceilings and depict the history and culture of Portugal. But as modernisation takes place, some of that heritage is lost for a wider cosmopolitan feel. That means fewer azulejos and more trendy styles.

Restourism?

The local government in Porto realised this and decided to create a scheme to help local building owners and retain the nation’s cultural history. Banco de Materiais (Bank of Materials) opened in 2010 with a novel idea. It acts as a “museum” of tiles, decoratives stones, and other artefacts, and it’s also a bank – hence the name. Because building materials can cost money, the government give these tiles away for free to be used in consruction in the area. This helps keep costs down for architects and constructors and promotes Portugal at the same time.

Tile theft also to blame

But it’s not just a need for modernisation that has caused the azulejo decline. There was a boom in their use in the 19th century but neglect caused damage to the original tiles and thieves often stole the tiles they could find to sell to private collectors. As well as tile withdrawals, there is also an azulejo amnesty – if you find broken or fallen tiles, you can bring them into the bank.

Tourism is on the up and the restoration project is important to assist the sector. Where certain architects aim for the contemporary, the government want a more classic feel for their buildings. Azul is the colour!

How to reach the Banco de Materiais

The Banco de Materiais is in the Palace of the Viscounts of Balsemão, near the Praça Carlos Alberto. It’s open Monday to Saturday with no admission fee. You can find a map below.

(h/t Atlas Obscura and Portoalities)

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are The VHS Guys

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher

I’m a nostalgia freak. There was a lot in the 90s I only saw but never fully experienced and that decade was the happiest of my life. VHS tapes played a major part of that and I love hearing about collectors, especially ones this quirky.

Friends Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are known as the VHS Guys and they’ve been collecting VHS tapes for over 25 years. But not just any VHS tape. Their collection falls under the “special interests” category or “not meant to be shown in public,” as Prueher put it in an interview with Atlas Obscura. Anything from exercise videos to how-to video guides is up for consideration. The pair take their collective on tour with their Found Footage Festival events in front of live audiences.

One of the creepiest videos in the VHS Guys collection has to be Rent-A-Friend, where the man in the video will be your “friend” in exchange for nothing (well, however much you initially paid for the VHS but that’s all). It’s an example of an “interactive” video; all the rage in the 80s and 90s. They ask you a question and leave pause for you to “answer”. I remember playing a 90s board game called Atmosfear using this “technology” (sorry for all the quotations but they’re necessary). At 4, it felt like magic because it really WAS talking back to me.

Stream the 5-minute interview below.

Awesome Queer Halloween Parties in Castro

Halloween in San Francisco Castro street 2014

Atlas Obscura wrote an article about Two Decades of San Francisco’s Wildest Queer Halloween Parties. Check out this excerpt from 1995:

“This annual Halloween party is a victim of success […] It simply got too big for its britches—although not all partygoers have bothered to wear them. Part of the event’s appeal has been its disdain for good taste and conventional modesty: The only dress code has been that imposed by the chilly night air.”

– San José Mercury News in 1995

The parties died out completely by 2007. Bars closed early, and the police were out in force to “keep the peace”. In an ironic twist, death had become them.

Below is a video of a 2014 party in Castro. Shout out to the zombie Michael Jackson and his friend.

Seitō - a 1911 Japanese magazine exclusively for women

seito-cover

A publication for women, particularly women of colour, is something I can get behind and Seitō is one such magazine.

Initially created as a collection of work “for women and by women”, Seitō (the Japanese word for “Bluestocking”) started in 1911 slowly became a feminist movement. The five women who created the magazine, known as the Japanese Bluestocking Society, or Seitō-sha, were:

The Japanese government moved to ban its publication but this only spurred the writers to continue. Feminist Hideko Fukuda wrote this for “The Solution to the Woman Question”:

“Only under such circumstances will real women’s liberation come about,” […] “Unless this first step is taken, even if women get voting rights, and even if courts, universities, and government offices in general are opened to women, those who enter these, will, of course, only be women from the influential class; the majority of ordinary women will necessarily be excluded from these circles. Thus, just as class warfare breaks out among men, so class warfare will occur among women.”

Seitō was a pioneering publication for Japenese women and went onto produce 52 issues and feature over 100 contributors before it folded in 1916.

Further reading

Pussy and Her Language - A Pamphlet For Cats

Ever heard of Marvin R. Clark? Probably not. But in 1895, he self-published “Pussy and Her Language”, a publication teaching cat owners how to treat their feline friends. He was a cat lover himself and his intention with the pamphlet was to give “one out of a million Cats” a good name. Here are some quotes from the 150-page book:

“I have already given seventeen of the most important words of the feline language, with their English equivalents, as follows:

Aelio – Food.
Lae – Milk.
Parriere – Open.
Aliloo – Water.
Bl – Meat.
Ptlee-bl – Mouse meat.
Bleeme-bl – Cooked meat.
Pad – Foot.
Leo – Head.
Pro – Nail or claw.
Tut – Limb.
Papoo – Body.
Oolie – Fur.
Mi-ouw – Beware.
Purrieu – Satisfaction or content.
Yow – Extermination.
Mieouw – Here.”

“According to the primal order of speech and the manner of the construction of sentences in the Cat language, you will hear such utterances as these: ‘Milk give me,’ ‘Meat I want,’ ‘Mary I love,’ ‘Going out, my mistress?’ ‘Sick I am,’ ‘Happy are my babies,'”

“Your Noah Webster, who padded your dictionary in order to make a formidable book, like many another man, says that animals are not possessed of reasoning powers, but have only instinct. […] This is your American authority, and you must accept it, for you have adopted the dictionary. By this definition, and with only one question, I will prove to you that animals have reasoning powers, just as men have.”

(via Atlas Obscura)