Craft, Creativity & Visual Pleasure

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Iterations, from left, of the New Craftmen’s Brodgar chair (an unfinished lounge chair and a dining chair) next to traditional chairs on Mainland, Orkney. Sophie Gerrard

Deborah Needleman offers a short and sweet journey to a place, and with people, who I can relate to as we proceed to stock and open the Authentica shops in Costa Rica:

The Windswept Scottish Islands Producing Beautiful Artisanal Goods

One London gallery is determined to continue the tradition embraced for centuries by the Orkney chain.

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The New Craftsmen artists during their Orkney residency, Gareth Neal (far left), O’Sullivan (far right) and Butcher (second from left) with the local Orkney furniture maker Kevin Gauld (second from right). Sophie Gerrard

LAST MAY, THREE England-based craftspeople — the basket makers Mary Butcher and Annemarie O’Sullivan and the furniture maker and designer Gareth Neal — were sent by their London gallery, the New Craftsmen, for a weeklong residency in Orkney, a chain of about 70 small islands off the northern coast of Scotland. They explored Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, as well as North Ronaldsay, a three-and-a-half mile spit of land (population approximately 50) rich in farmland, marram grass, seaweed-eating sheep and Neolithic ruins. They also met with the Orcadian furniture maker Kevin Gauld and the sculptor Frances Pelly, both of whose work is deeply bound up with the islands’ history and landscape.

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Gathered Orkney straw ready to be woven in Gauld’s workshop. Sophie Gerrard

The New Craftsmen’s co-founder and creative director, Catherine Lock — who travels across Britain in search of potters, textile designers and other artisans to highlight at her Mayfair showroom — has long been inspired by Orkney’s culture, and commissioned the first piece she sold at the gallery, a collaboration between Gauld and Neal, on the archipelago seven years ago. Since then, the pair’s beautifully austere straw Brodgar chair has been a consistent best seller, with more demand than Gauld can answer.

09tmag-orkneys-slide-WJT0-jumbo.jpgBefore craft was called craft, when it was just the stuff people made from what was around in order to get by, objects were indivisible from their provenance. And in a place as remote as the Orkney Islands, that connection is still strong — but the link to the outside marketplace less so. Lock invited these three makers to “see how they might channel the spirit of this place through objects.” The goal of the project is the creation of new work — both collaborations and individual pieces — that express the spirit and traditions of Orkney, exposing it to a larger global audience while preserving and reinvigorating the distinctive skills found there.

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Local seaweed gathered and bundled by the basket weavers Annemarie O’Sullivan and Mary Butcher. Sophie Gerrard

One can understand a place by what its people make. Because trees are scarce here, Orcadians historically had to rely on driftwood and shipwrecks for timber; you can still find stone houses with roofs made of upturned old boats. The islands are flush with heather, peat, seaweed and sandstone, but locals have a special relationship with straw, which they have long used for everything from roofing and bedding to shelving, rainwear and furniture. Continue reading

Tirana’s Time Warp Causes Creativity

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Rows of acacia trees and ceruja vines at Uka Farm, with a view of Dajti Mountain National Park in the distance. Federico Ciamei

Ten years ago I was in Tirana and if I squinted I might have seen this article coming. I was working on a project for the United Nations Development Programme, focused on the Prespa Lakes Basin, and the visits in Tirana were like a time warp. In a good way, as it is now more easy to see:

The City Poised to Become Europe’s Next Affordable Creative Haven

In the Albanian capital of Tirana, the country’s strange history and bright future collide.

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The paneled facade of the Plaza Tirana. Federico Ciamei

Over the past five years, Albania has been discovered by travelers as that rare thing: a largely unexplored corner of Europe (one with some 265 miles of coastline). The small Balkan country sits just across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy’s heel and a mere 45-minute ferry ride away from the Greek island of Corfu. It’s recently gotten its first high-end waterside resorts, and as the beach town of Sarande and the seaside city of Vlore have become more comfortable, so too has Tirana — the country’s capital, about 22 miles inland with a population of over half a million — grown more cosmopolitan, with new restaurants, shops and galleries joining the almost surrealist pastiche of testaments to the city’s past. For a good example of the way eras collide in Tirana, just visit Skanderbeg Square, recently renovated with new fountains and rosy granite paving, and home to an 18th-century mosque and minaret, a domed Albanian Orthodox church opened in 2012, a set of government buildings that echo the fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy and a Brutalist monolith that houses the National Historical Museum.

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A sun-dappled staircase at the Plaza Tirana leads to the hotel’s breakfast room. Federico Ciamei

Initially settled by Illyrian and Greek tribes during ancient times, Albania spent over four centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. After 1912, it became a fascist-leaning monarchy, and then, in the wake of World War II, a Communist state ruled by the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1991, a full year behind many of its Eastern Bloc neighbors, the country saw its first democratic elections, as well as murmurings of a cultural awakening. Tirana may not have a robust avant-garde scene, but it does have a gritty, iconoclastic edge — the Pyramid, a large monument to Hoxha in the center of town, is now popular with skateboarders — and a joie de vivre that’s enticed many former expats. “There’s so much potential,” says Flori Uka, a local winemaker who trained in northeastern Italy and now specializes in vintages made from organic Kallmet grapes grown just outside the city. “We were isolated for so long, but today it’s possible for creative people to do what they love. The place has become very receptive to the new.” Continue reading

Authentica & Organikos & Responsible Coffee Consumption

This last week we have been busy opening two Authentica shops (at long last). Both shops sell Organikos coffee. So today, another day on the run, I will suggest a very brief reminder on how and why the way you consume coffee matters. Lots more to say on that, and we will, but this is about as succinct a summary as you will find.

Glass Fruit

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A glass pear, Pyrus communis, afflicted with pear scab, caused by the fungus Venturia pirina. JENNIFER BERGLUND © 2019 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE

Thanks to Jessica Leigh Hester at Atlas Obscura for this:

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A glass branch of a peach tree, Prunus persica, having a rough go of it. JENNIFER BERGLUND © 2019 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE

Feast Your Eyes on These Delicate Glass Models of Decaying Fruit

Blighted, century-old produce goes back on display for the first time in decades.

Fruits in Decay Strawberry

Glass strawberries, or Fragaria, gone white with imitation Penicillium. JENNIFER BERGLUND © 2019 PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE

THERE’S SOMETHING A BIT BRAIN-SCRAMBLING about this particular buffet of fruit. If you’ve ever let something languish on the counter or in the fridge a little too long, the white fuzz blanketing the shriveling strawberries or the spots of rot on the surface of a pear might look fairly familiar. But there’s something else that doesn’t feel quite right.

“You almost expect to be able to smell it,” says Scott Fulton, a conservator at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. “We all know what a rotten apple smells like.” But the fruit Fulton has been working on doesn’t smell at all: It’s made of glass. Beginning August 31, 2019, it will all be behind glass, too, back on temporary exhibit at the museum after nearly two decades in storage. Continue reading

Greening Our Daily Bread

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Strawberry picking at Restaurant de Kas, from The Garden Chef

Thanks to Phaidon for ideas, presented in snappy cookbooks, about how to green our diet:

9780714873909-620Many of us know that favouring plants and fruits over burgers and fillets is often a wise idea. Still, it’s nice to have your suspicions confirmed. This week’s UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods can both improve human health, and help the land around us, staving off some of the effects of climate change.

So, where does a would-be vegan, vegetarian or meat reducer (the report does allow for ‘animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-green-house-gas emission systems’) start? With our books, of course!

VeganbookThe Vegan Cookbook Author Jean-Christian Jury might be a reformed meat eater, but he doesn’t want to take the fun out of dining. “For years, my goal was to surprise non-vegans with delicious vegan recipes, to show that meat wasn’t necessary for a delicious and satisfying meal,” he says. His raw nori and vegetable rolls might look like a indulgent, Japanese-style treat, but they actually pack in plenty of sunflower seeds, avocados, and cauliflower florets. It takes about 40 minutes to make, and you don’t even have to use a cooker.

9780714878225-ph620The Garden Chef Our book on famous chefs, restaurants and their accompanying gardens features plenty of highly sustainable operation. Yet even here, Restaurant de Kas in Amesterdam, stands out. “Set in a series of greenhouses that date back to 1926 and which belong to the Amsterdam Municipal Nursery, the restaurant relies on produce from greenhouses and gardens, where it harvests vegetables, herbs, and flowers,” explains our book. “Founder, Gert Jan Hageman, is also the head gardener.”  His barbecued eggplant, with peanut vinaigrette, green curry and herbs, is a wonderful way to bring together late-summer vegetables. Want to try it? The recipe is reproduced in our book…

Read the whole story here.

If You Happen To Be In Or Going To Cornwall

A great writer can get you to consider doing something you normally would not consider doing:

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After nine Heligan men died in the First World War, the grounds of the estate, in southwestern England, grew unkempt, then neglected, then were abandoned. Illustration by Daniel Salmieri

I don’t understand the point of garden visits. Why do ordinary people, the owners of mere balconies and tiny yards, torment themselves by touring other people’s grand estates? Nut trees, stables, ancestral compost heaps: I need no reminder of what I am missing. So, unlike virtually every other gardener in Britain, I had no intention of spending my summer wandering among aristocratic roses and marvelling at the fine tilth of Lord Whatsit’s sandy carrot beds. All those rambling sweet peas make me furious; yes, Tristram, it is a handsome cardoon bed, but some of us are struggling to find space for a single extra lettuce. And then, wholly by accident, I found myself in the Lost Gardens of Heligan…

And suddenly you cannot resist virtually doing that thing:

And the rabbit hole in this case gets you thinking about Cornwall:

Opening Hours and Prices

The Lost Gardens are open every day*, all year round, for your enjoyment and exploration.

*except Christmas Day.

We’re one of the most unique and fascinating places to visit in Cornwall, with an incredible 200 acres of gardens and estate awaiting your exploration. We therefore recommend that you allow as much time as you can, to see as much as possible; ideally a whole day. However, please don’t expect to see everything in the one visit!

If you would like to plan your route before you visit, click here to download our map or a German map can be found here.

Sometimes, restoration work, events or adverse weather conditions may restrict access and opening times. In these events we will keep you up to date with details of any restrictions via our News page.

Garden Admission Single Visit Charges
Adults £15.00
Students £9.00
Children (5 – 17) £7.00
Children (Under 5) Free
Family (2 adults & up to 3 children) £40
Companions who are required to assist disabled visitors Free

Honeyland, Reviewed

Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?

The Economist has not been one of our go-to sources for stories because it has an ideology that sometimes gets in the way of deeper investigation. Their stories and explanations are extremely thorough and very compelling, but we can usually guess the answer before the question is even asked.  Every now and then they surprise us, and here is a good example:

The bitter truth behind Madagascar’s roaring vanilla trade

How did hunger for the humble pod lead to greed, crime and riches? Wendell Steavenson travels to Madagascar to meet the new spice barons

In pods we trust
A quality-control chief in a co-operative in Belambo

I follow Felicité Raminisoa and her father, Romain Randiambololona, up a narrow track along the forested slopes of her family’s farm in southern Madagascar. It is lychee season and, as we walk, we break off branches of fruit and peel off the pink, spiky shells. Large yellow jackfruit grow like Chinese lanterns among loquat and clove trees, pepper vines and coffee plants. Sapphire dragonflies flash by as they chase each other over ponds of tilapia dammed into the valley. The air is muggy under the banana leaves but grows fresher as we climb. In all directions we can see vanilla vines winding around tree trunks. Each zigzag stem has been trained so that it grows no higher than Raminisoa can reach. Every so often she stops at a pale-yellow bloom and parts its waxy petals. With a spike snapped from an orange tree, she delicately scrapes away the membrane separating the anther from the stigma in order to pollinate the flower. This is a task that requires perfect timing. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the morning it blooms or the beans won’t sprout.

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A vanilla flower is pollinated by hand

The family began to plant vanilla vines about 20 years ago mostly as “decoration”, says Randiambololona, his big grin punctuated by a missing tooth. At first the family sold fresh green vanilla pods to tourists, surprised that they would pay anything for them. But in 2014 the price of vanilla began to rise. Over the next three years it went from less than $40 per kilogram to more than $600 per kilogram. It felt like money was growing on their trees. In 2016 Raminisoa travelled to the northern region of Sava, where vanilla has been grown for generations, to learn how to cure the green pods into the commodity that was in such demand: pungent and wizened black beans. Continue reading

Creative Conservation

capitalism-socialism-and-democracy-joseph-a-schumpeter-first-edition-1943-signed.jpgI just checked the index of my dissertation to see if this book to the right is listed. It is not. Strange.

Rarely has a single idea had so much impact on me. Creative destruction, a concept that Joseph Schumpeter is most famous for, comes from that book. I will not try to explain it here because either you already know what it means or else you should really read it from the source.

In my dissertation I was interested in the impact of the efforts of entrepreneurs–specifically every single one of the thousands of entrepreneurs that started up a hotel business from the 1880s to the 1980s on both the Canadian and US side of Niagara Falls–to join together to develop a mutually beneficial solution when facing a collective threat. In this century-long story I had metrics to determine how those efforts impacted the likelihood of a hotelier’s staying in business after starting up. Niagara Falls was at risk of being ruined as a natural attraction. Hoteliers on each side of the border joined one another, cooperating with their direct competitors, to find a solution to that risk. Hoteliers, independently of the actions of those on the other side, jointly invested in conservation initiatives. The rich quantitative data show that on the side of the border that invested more heavily in conservation, over the course of 100 years hotels had fewer failures (permanent closure) overall. Bravo, Canada. Continue reading

Authentica’s Culture Is Conservation

fort-cochin-girls-118.jpgAbout one year in to our time in India Amie got us involved in an initiative that helped reduce our carbon footprint by ensuring that the bags we used in our hotel gift shops contained no plastic. Instead we used bags made from recycled newspaper. We were fortunate enough to have an intern from Amherst College that summer who wanted to work on this. His enthusiasm for the project was so infectious that other interns joined him. Being from Korea, Sung Ho Paik has what I believe is K-pop accompanying his video below.

We were still expanding this initiative with intern assistance years later. Items sold in our gift shops in Kerala followed the lead of the takeaway bag initiative, and elephant paper may be an extreme example but is a useful segue to what is on my mind today. We had the opportunity to join forces with an excellent local design firm in their idea to launch a retail concept with the kind of products that we have always believed in. We  believe in ideas that support entrepreneurial conservation with great design.

Authentica springs from these roots, and the culture of conservation is clearly a guiding force in what will be on offer.

Bees, Conservation & Otherworldy Honey

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In the well-kept hives tended by beekeeper Fred Merriam in Georgia, every bee has a job to do. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

Kim Severson last caught my attention about a year ago. She covers food culture for the New York Times, and this is the fifth time we have found a story of hers a perfect fit for our platform’s themes. Food intersecting with conservation is always welcome, and honey specifically is on my mind these days. Honey bees? Always of interest. During our transition from India back to Costa Rica over the last two years we spent much of our time in Atlanta. The honey in this story was available in the farmer’s market we shopped at, and we occasionally indulged. I am gratified to learn more about it here:

On the Trail of Tupelo Honey, Liquid Gold From the Swamps

Hurricanes, blights and encroaching development have cut into the harvest in Florida and Georgia, but a small cadre of beekeepers still fiercely pursues this lucrative prize.

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Tupelo trees, which produce small, nectar-filled light green and white flowers for two weeks each spring, rise out of swamps in the Altamaha River Basin in southeastern Georgia. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

ODUM, Ga. — The most expensive honey in America starts in these mucky Southern swamps, where white Ogeechee tupelo trees twist up out of water so dark you can’t tell if that was an alligator or a snake that just broke the surface.

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Tupelo honey fresh from the comb has a distinctive light green tint. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

For two precious weeks each spring in this slice of southeastern Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, tupelo trees bloom with pale, fragile flowers that look like pompoms for tiny cheerleaders. Beekeepers tuck their hives along the banks, or occasionally float them out into the water on rafts. Then the bees get to work, making honey that looks and tastes like no other.

Good tupelo will glow with a light green tint, especially when it’s fresh from the comb and bathed in sunlight. The first taste is of cinnamon with a tingle of anise. That gives way to a whisper of jasmine and something citrusy — tangerine rind, maybe? The honey is so soft, light and buttery that the only logical move is to chase it with another spoonful. Continue reading

Weavers at Hand

This video expresses the concept of artisan ethos in almost too many ways to count: from the centuries old traditions of weaving in India , to creative communities coming together to rebuild cultural patrimony in the face of natural disasters, not to mention the well-crafted visual storytelling of the piece itself. (Kudos yet again to Anoodha and her Curiouser team for their own style of weaving.) Continue reading

Travel’s Ambassadors

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A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.

During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.

Organikos & Coffee Restoration

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The image above shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last two centuries that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. And the value of coffee that is as world class as what Seth planted at Xandari and also resistant to the challenges brought on by climate change is even greater. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in August, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.

Hermes, Circa 2019

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I have shared the photo above on this platform once before. I wrote a series of reflections on the village where that photo was taken, and today I share a riff on all that. That photo was enlarged to take up an entire wall of our office in India, as a reminder to me each day of the purpose behind what I was doing. Our company’s mission includes education. It is mostly about conservation. That building, which I photographed 10+ years ago, after it had recently been abandoned, has been a reminder for me that one of these days I am determined to share whatever I can from our work in that village.

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This photo was taken of Bangor Vamvakou immigrants in 1949 as they returned to their village. Top left is Nikos Niarchos, a relative of the Greek shipping tycoon. From Top Left, the others are: Vasso Anglesi; George Limberogiannis; Eleni Markos; Panayiotis Servetis; Vasso Kokini; Katsilis Demetrios and Anna Leakou. Middle Row, from Left: Pota Anglesi; Angeliki Skoufi; Eleni Hatzi and Panos Dialialis. At bottom, Left to Right, are Yiannis Limberogiannis and Harris Belbekis.

Thanks to an online publication I follow for news from Greece I found this story that helps explain why I thought of the photo above just now. It gives me both hope and tangible ideas of what might be done. It starts with a group of immigrants in Bangor, Maine whose life trajectory was like that of so many others from the Lakonia region of Greece, including my mother. And the story leads back to a foundation that has been referenced once before in our pages, but this time the foundation’s work hits closer to home:

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.

Vamvakou is a short drive from Vourthonia, my mother’s village. So this video below strikes a chord.

 

Some of the images from Mamvakou could as easily have been taken in Vourthonia.

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Source: SNF

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Source: SNF

But it is the story of what is happening in that village that captures my imagination:

Can a once-thriving mountain village, today home to only nine inhabitants, come to life again?

Can it fill with visitors, permanent inhabitants, and model businesses while retaining its traditional character? This is the wager laid by a group of five young people who want to revitalize the village of Vamvakou, 900 meters up the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern Peloponnese.

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Source: SNF

To realize this ambitious project, the five friends, Haris Vasilakos, Anargyros Verdilos, Eleni Mami, Tasos Markos, and Panagiotis Soulimiotis established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise and decided to move to the village. Continue reading

Authentica & Organikos

Organikos2019LogoAuthentica, mentioned a couple of times prior to the current series of posts, has the character of a startup but its goal is the opposite of disruption.

A major disruption already happened, and if one of the antonyms of disrupt is organize, then that is what we are doing. Authentica is part of a nascent movement in Costa Rica to provide market opportunities to artisans, farmers, food producers and others who design, craft, grow and cook things that are essentially Costa Rican. The disruption they faced is not the story we want to tell. The reversal of that disruption is the story.  One example is Organikos. Continue reading

Design, Taste, Ephemera

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Kitaoji Rosanjin. Square platter with rounded edges. 1954

In preparing to exhibit things we believe represent Costa Rica well enough that we would want travelers to take some such things home with them, MOMA’s The Value of Good Design provides a valuable pause. The image above, from the MOMA show, is an example of good design of a tactile thing. As the video below shows that is what good design means in MOMA’s estimation, namely things that you want to look at as much as you want to touch or use.

Costa Rica, and its visitors, would benefit from an exhibition of things that are useful, inspiring, and/or in good taste.  Our contribution to this effort has focused on coffee, so we are inclined to think about taste in the gustatory sense, as in what flavors and aromas please. This type of pleasure is more ephemeral than something you can look at and touch over and over.

Design2.jpgAnother sense of good taste, which also has value: we do not consider it in good taste to sell things in Costa Rica that are foreign-made replicas of Costa Rican traditional arts and crafts. And that has been very much on our mind. It is a challenge we have signed on to. The MoMA exhibition inspired Nikil Saval to share a few thoughts about How “Good Design” Failed Us and they strike me as relevant to our own current challenge to be tasteful:

In 1958, the American radical sociologist C. Wright Mills was invited to address the International Design Conference, in Aspen. The lecture he gave, “Man in the Middle: The Designer,” criticized a number of its audience members for being willing dupes in the grand illusion that was consumer society. Continue reading

Making Something The Traditional Way

Last week, we visited producers of various arts and crafts on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Our first stop was in the Central Valley, just before crossing over to the Caribbean slope, in a coffee shop. There, a man showed us his ceramic work, which we had seen one example of previously. All of it was beautiful, but the one below was the one we chose to purchase as a sample. And here it is, in the morning sun.

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It brought to mind the old documentary above, which anyone in the USA public school system might have seen in their 7th grade art class. In less than half an hour, that film clinically explains and demonstrates visually what goes into making something the traditional way. This man, here and now in Costa Rica, is hand-crafting these coffee makers. The material is organic, as is the design, which pays tribute to Costa Rican tradition, as well as to pre-Colombian indigenous tradition. The coffee seems to taste the better for it.

Some Games Foster Trust

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A friend in my early teens had chess skills well-matched with my own. We played constantly, the way some kids today play video games. I switched to backgammon in my late teens and played hundreds of hours over the years. I gave up backgammon when I discovered a new old game 20+ years ago in Ecuador. It is the game in the picture above, and I vaguely referenced it once here. I never stopped to think what drew me to play those games compulsively. Samanth Subramanian, who appeared in our pages once, five years ago, has made my day with this new piece. What We Learn from One of the World’s Oldest Board Games helps me put my love of old games in some kind of historical perspective:

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This ivory Fifty-eight Holes board was dug up by Howard Carter, in 1910, out of a pit tomb in Thebes. “We have before us,” Carter wrote, “a simple, but exciting, game of chance.”Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A few years ago, almost by accident, Walter Crist happened upon one of the oldest board games in the world. Crist, who was then working toward a doctorate on ancient Cypriot board games, at Arizona State University, was searching the Internet for images of a game called Fifty-eight Holes. In the second millennium B.C., Fifty-eight Holes was the most popular game of its kind across Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and roughly eighty boards of the game, in various degrees of incompleteness, rest in museum collections around the world. Images of these boards are well known to scholars, but the photo that Crist eventually found, on the Web site of a magazine called Azerbaijan International, was unfamiliar. Taken at an archaeological site near Baku, it showed a rock carving that bore a strong resemblance to the game’s board: two parallel rows of indentations and an outer, horseshoe-shaped run of more holes. It looked like a four-year-old’s sketch of a tree.

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A series of depressions taking the form of the game of Fifty-eight Holes on a horizontal rock surface in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park. Photograph by Walter Crist / Gobustan National Preserve

The site, Crist learned, had been destroyed to make way for a housing development, but he eventually got in touch with an archaeologist in Azerbaijan’s Gobustan National Park, who told him that the park held a similar carving. “I think he knew that it was a game, or that people thought it was,” Crist said. “There were other people arguing that it could be an astronomical chart, or a calendar—but nobody that had studied games in any kind of depth.” So Crist decided to go to Gobustan and find out for himself.

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A fragment believed to be part of a Fifty-eight Holes game board, from the eighteenth century B.C. Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Crist, who completed his Ph.D. in 2016, works at the New York Public Library, as a librarian. “I’m on the academic job market, which is terrible and difficult,” he said. When he went to Azerbaijan last spring, he paid for the trip himself, appending it to a visit to Athens to attend the Twenty-first Board Game Studies Colloquium. At Gobustan, near the Caspian coast, he found a vast moonscape of rocks, caves, and mud volcanoes. Archaeologists visit the park for its six thousand petroglyphs: carvings of hunting parties, bulls, boats, and dancing stick men. The glyphs date back at least four thousand years; some might be as old as forty thousand years, reaching back into the Upper Paleolithic age. Not much is known about the artists. Most likely, they were nomadic hunters who lived in rock shelters, charted the heavens, and buried their dead. Continue reading

Bob’s Red Mill Keeps On Amazing

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Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill and Natural Foods, inspects grains at the company’s facility in Milwaukie, Ore. The pioneering manufacturer of gluten-free products invests in whole grains as well as beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, spices and herbs.
Natalie Behring/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One of our favorites, featured in a story that is important to several people we know:

How Bob’s Red Mill Company Became A Gluten-Free Giant Ahead Of Its Time

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Gluten-free products are for sale at the Bob’s Red Mill and Natural Foods store in Milwaukie, Ore.
Natalie Behring/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bob Moore, the 90-year-old founder of Bob’s Red Mill, was just a few years into the business of milling whole grains at a converted animal feed mill in a Portland, Ore., suburb when he got a visit from some gluten-free Seattlites who’d come down with a business proposition: Use his business contacts to help them buy bulk xantham gum, an ingredient used in gluten-free baking to help replicate gluten’s elasticity. Continue reading