February 21, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
February 7, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
On February 7, 1497, in the midst of carnival, the charismatic preacher Girolamo Savonarola inspired a falò delle vanità, exhorting his followers to burn immoral objects in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Tinder included cosmetics, mirrors, Boccacio’s books, artwork, clothing, instruments, and playing cards. (Some say that Botticelli, a devotee, was moved to burn some of his work, but this is speculation.) While these bonfires were not uncommon, the scale of this one made it the most famous. Obviously, in memoriam, we bring you the trailer for the 1990 film adaptation of the 1987 Tom Wolfe novel. Also: everyone was in that movie!
February 5, 2013 | by Ben Pfeiffer
Toward the end of 1918, infantry from the U.S. Army’s 85th Division occupied Arkhangelsk, a city in North Russia on the shore of the White Sea. They had come with other Allied troops to rescue the stranded Czechoslovakian Legion, forty thousand soldiers abandoned after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Although Josef Stalin—at that time the Commissar of Foreign Nationalities for the newly formed Soviet Russian Republic—had agreed to the evacuation, he also had demands about how it should be done, including the legionnaires’ unconditional disarmament.
Instead, the Czechs decided to stockpile weapons as they withdrew. Before long, for a variety of reasons, the ceasefire collapsed, and the Czech legionnaires began a violent, almost hallucinogenic campaign to smash through Soviet defenses on their way to the Pacific Ocean. They demolished trainyards and captured cities. They destroyed bridges, commandeered armored locomotives, and inflicted devastating losses on the Red Guard.
Every military action carried them farther from Arkhangelsk. When the Americans—nicknamed the Polar Bears—finally arrived, they discovered no one to rescue and no real mission beyond skirmishing with Bolshevik sympathizers. In Europe, the Great War was ending; in North Russia, though, a strange, confused campaign had just begun. Read More »
January 28, 2013 | by Aaron Gilbreath
The entrance to Los Angeles’s original subway system lies hidden on a brushy slope next to an apartment building that resembles a Holiday Inn. Known as the “Hollywood Subway,” the line opened in 1925; ran 4,325 feet underground, between downtown and the Westlake District; and closed in 1955. After Pacific Electric Railway decommissioned the tracks, homeless people started sleeping in the old Belmont Tunnel. Crews filmed movies such as While the City Sleeps and MacArthur in it. City officials briefly used it to store impounded vehicles, as well as first aid and 329,700 pounds of crackers during part of the Cold War. By the time the entrance was sealed around 2006, graffiti artists had been using it as a canvas for decades, endowing it with legendary status in street mural culture, and earning it numerous appearances in skateboard and other magazine shoots. Now the tunnel sits at the end of a dead-end street, incorporated into the apartment’s small garden area, resembling nothing more than another spigot in Los Angeles’s vast flood control system. Read More »
January 8, 2013 | by Michael Lipkin and Sophie Pinkham
On the afternoon of October 1, 1810, people started gathering in front of Berlin’s Hedwigskirche, where a new paper would be selling its first issue. By evening the crowd had grown so large that guards were posted to maintain order. The whole city, it seemed, had turned out for the launch of the paper, the Berliner Abendblätter. Even the king had asked for a copy.
Officially, the Abendblätter was edited anonymously. Among the city’s literary elite, however, it was widely known that the paper was written almost single-handedly by Heinrich von Kleist, a young writer. Kleist’s plays and novellas were written with exceptional elegance, but were preoccupied with rape, war, and natural disaster. Kleist had once enjoyed the patronage of Goethe, but after a disastrous theatrical collaboration the two writers found it impossible to continue working together. Goethe admitted that his protégé filled him with revulsion and horror, “as though a body nature had intended to be beautiful were afflicted with an incurable disease.”