Tag: Atlantic

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 970: How One Woman’s Bad Advice Helped To Crumble An Empire

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A modicum of historical investigation, along with a smidge of fact-manipulation in order to build a semi-credible opening sentence has revealed a morsel of data heretofore unknown to me: the Roman Empire – the most mighty and triumphant political juggernaut of the early A.D.’s – was tipped over to a partial crumble, all because some guy listened to his mother.

That may seem like an exaggeration. A slight inflation of documented truth or the set-up for a bit of shtick. But history will back me up on this. By 476, the Roman Empire in the west had been sneezed into debris. It kept up appearances out east for another millennium, but the west had shuffled on to the Middle Ages, where the nightlife was more vibrant, despite the clothes being far less stylish.

History recalls the events of 235 AD as the start of the Crisis of the Third Century. Rome became a land with no leader, and with no one able to pick up a phone and coordinate their collective shit, the Europe-spanning Empire fell into troubled confusion. And the wheels were all set into motion by one guy’s mother, who passed on what could be viewed as some of the crappiest historic advice ever given.

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The story begins with Mark Antony, that kook from all those wacky Shakespeare movies. When he was smited by Octavian in 31 BC, the table was set for what’s known as the Pax Romana – a 200 year period of unprecedented peace. The Roman Empire inflated to the Atlantic, deep into the Middle East, and south into Africa, all with relatively little military flexing. Then along came Emperor Alexander Severus. Read more…

Day 788: Vintage Celluloid Boobery

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Whenever I’m assessing a question of morality, I like to assume the vantage point of an interplanetary visitor from an advanced race, dropping in to see how humanity stacks up to their alien equivalent. Don’t kill each other? I’m sure the little green dude agrees. Don’t pilfer one another’s wallets on the street? No question, Gleep would be down with that. Don’t allow parts of one’s natural form to be visible to anyone else, lest they succumb to evil, lust-sopped acts? He might raise a quizzical, crooked antenna at that one.

But our society has fought to uphold this denouncement of defrocking, this ban of the bare, particularly in film. It’s as though the collapse of our fragile culture could be set into motion by one wayward nipple. Sure, the pope probably gets naked, and so does every sign-toting, network-calling yahoo who feels their eyes have still not recovered from the excessive displays of side-boob on NYPD: Blue twenty years ago. But there’s a difference when it comes to being naked in one’s own home (or Pope-Fortress as the case may be).

Forget the fact that, with exceptions for size and possible skin conditions, butts tend to look fairly similar. And forget that the prohibition of anything (alcohol, drugs, looking at naked people) does nothing to quell the public’s desire for it. Our culture – and here I mean our global culture, because this is not simply a western taboo – spent decades frowning upon cinematic nakedness. Not too far back in our past movies could show blood from a stab wound by a homicidal maniac, but pubic hair? Hell no.

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It should surprise absolutely no one who has watched the landscape of the internet develop over the past 20 years that nudity was appearing in films before actual film had gotten around to being invented. Eadweard Muybridge (and I should point out that ‘Eadweard’ is a name choice more parents should consider) created the zoopraxiscope, a projector that could display images etched onto a spinning glass disk. With his rapid-fire photography method, he could capture what amounted to the equivalent of a brief gif of a horse galloping, a donkey bucking or, of course, a naked person. The photo above is his own grizzly self-portrait. Read more…

Day 623: Macro-Engineering – Dreaming Just Slightly Too Big

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I am, though most don’t know this about me, an avid spectator of macro-engineering. I love hearing about grand schemes to transform the most fundamental geography of our world, despite the unwavering mental image of some bald super-villain plotting the entire process from his underground volcanic island lair. This is the near-pinnacle of human ambition, surpassed only by the ingenuity of encasing a slab of creamy peanut butter inside a chocolaty cup.

Macro-engineering is what poked a seam through the middle of Panama, enabling ships to squeak through a shortcut from ocean to ocean. It’s what built a giant wall to take advantage of the fact that Mongol hordes had apparently not yet discovered the ladder. It’s what formulated a massive space station, capable of turning Alderaan into a gazillion dusty cake sprinkles with one quick blast.

It’s also what could have altered our maps and globes in strange and unthinkable ways, even by reducing the total number of continents. Welcome, my friends, to a land called Atlantropa.

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German architect Helmut Sörgel was reading about something called the Messinian salinity crisis, which proposes that the large salt beds hugging the edges of the Mediterranean suggest that the sea level dipped significantly about 5 or 6 million years ago. Helmut came up with the idea of slapping a dam across the Gibraltar Strait, along with a quartet of other dams, in order to fuse Europe and Africa into a single continent called Atlantropa. Not only could this project brew up a heap of electricity, but an entire laundry list of humankind’s concerns could be overcome. Read more…

Day 606: Dining Up North

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Despite my locale in the dark frozen tundra of Canada (whose climate has actually been tolerably pleasant throughout August), the majority of my readership is located south of the border. That’s okay, I’m descended from hearty American stock – my grandfather actually played stickball in the streets of Brooklyn during the Great Depression, so I’m descended from hearty American cliché as well – and I have always cherished the glorious U.S. of A. as my second home.

Canadian culture is, to a large extent, the overflow reservoir for American culture. Our most popular movies and TV, most of our store chains, our meth-like dependence on Starbucks in the morning, and indeed our varied selection of westernized food styles are all derived from American sources. Sure, we’ll scoff at your Dunkin’ Donuts and revere Tim Hortons as the superlative choice, but come on – we’re all still eating donuts and drinking coffee.

But beyond back bacon, maple syrup and poutine, what do our southern (or northern if we are talking Alaska) neighbors know about true Canadian cuisine? I’m curious to see just how hungry you’ll be after you read this.

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The Turkish version of the Greek gyro – a frighteningly large slab of meat, skewered, cooked, then sliced into a fattening pita wrap – is known as a döner kebab. In these parts we call either variation a donair, and while it’s greasy, calorie-heavy and occasionally a trigger of regret and self-loathing, there are a few subtle differences that make the Canadian donair truly unique. Read more…

Day 385: Zoned Out On Time Zones

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If you’re ever looking to torment your brain with impossible logistics and a seemingly unattainable global cooperation, I recommend you do a little reading on time zones. It has taken centuries to scrunch this mess into a workable system, and even now it’s a jumbled splatter.

The theory behind it is simple. Noon in Chattanooga should look the same as noon in Tel Aviv. To accomplish this, someone had to divvy up the globe into imaginary regions. The starting point was chosen to be Greenwich Mean Time, or the time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, because hell, if the British were going to be the first to take the initiative and figure this crap out, then they get dibs on the starting point of standardized time.

Whoever plants the big spinny thing in the ground first gets to rule the world's clocks.

Whoever plants the big spinny thing in the ground first gets to rule the world’s clocks.

The first method was simple. It was also stupid. For every degree of longitude away from GMT a place was located, they tweaked time by four minutes. This would mean that New York and Boston – about two degrees apart – would differ in time by eight minutes. People didn’t travel a lot back then (nobody ever complained about horse-lag), but when trains suddenly showed up on the scene, figuring out when one train might collide with another on the same track became something worth watching. Read more…

Day 287: The Funktified Hipsters Of Soul

Were it not for my stunning lack of dance-floor coordination, I think I may have found the genre of music which could be my perfect match: Northern Soul.

The ‘North’ in Northern Soul says nothing about where the music was recorded, nor does it necessarily distinguish a specific style from traditional soul music. It refers to Northern England, where an intense underground music scene was fuelled by the cast-offs from the American R&B scene, the obscure 45s that gained zero traction at home but propelled kids into dancehalls across the pond.

These were the prototypical British hipsters. They shunned anything too mainstream; no Motown, no Stax, no Atlantic soul records. The Northern Soul scene embraced obscurity. And because of this, most of the artists who were at the core of the movement never had a clue.

It all began in Manchester, at a former beatnik bar known as the Twisted Wheel.

In 1963, owners Ivor and Phil Abadi started opening the club to all-night dance parties on Saturday nights, mixing in live and pre-recorded music. Their DJ, Roger Eagle, brought in soul, r&b and jazz music from the US, and played to the energetic mod crowd.

The mods were a pre-hippie subculture who wore snazzy suits, drove scooters and listened to American soul, Jamaican ska, and British Beat music. These were members of the post-war boom, with money to spend and the time and willingness to craft an image. By the mid-60s, after the notion of mod-ism had become mainstream (and therefore functionally useless as a subculture), its members went one of three directions:

  1. Some grew up and became productive members of society. Screw those people, they aren’t interesting.
  2. Others ventured down the psychedelic rabbit hole and tuned in to the trip-rock scene in London, which – of course – had not yet lured the Beatles and other panderers of mainstream culture.
  3. The mods in the North hung on to the soul music they’d been grooving to; they just looked a little deeper. Read more…