Textiles, Traditions & Renaissance

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A collection of Kanji Hama’s beautifully hand-patterned and indigo-dyed fabrics along with tools of the craft. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Styled by Theresa Rivera. Photographer’s assistant: Garrett Milanovich. Styling assistant: Sarice Olson. Indigo pieces courtesy of Kanji Hama

Two stories today about textile and tradition, the first more in keeping with our norm, but both heavy on the blues:

How a Japanese Craftsman Lives by the Consuming Art of Indigo Dyeing

There are some traditions that are universal. Here, we highlight a single craft — and how it’s being adapted, rethought and remade for the 21st century.

26tmag-indigo-slide-9B7X-superJumboKANJI HAMA, 69, has quietly dedicated his life to maintaining the traditional Japanese craft of katazome: stencil-printed indigo-dyed kimonos made according to the manner and style of the Edo period. He works alone seven days a week from his home in Matsumoto, Nagano, keeping indigo fermentation vats brewing in his backyard and cutting highly detailed patterns into handmade paper hardened with persimmon tannins to create designs for a craft for which there is virtually no market. Nearly identical-looking garments can be had for a pittance at any souvenir store.

Indigo is one of a handful of blue dyes found in nature, and it’s surprising that it was ever discovered at all, as the plants that yield it reveal no hint of the secret they hold…

The story from Japan is about maintaining traditional craft and the story about flannel is about industrial renaissance.

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Blue state: Charlie Richmond pulls yarn from a dyeing machine on the floor of the Burlington Manufacturing Services plant in Burlington, N.C. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

I am not partial to either story. They make fascinating bookends:

The Annals of Flannel

Told that the cozy shirting fabric could no longer be made in America, one man began a yearlong quest.

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An American Giant flannel shirt. Credit Travis Dove for The New York Times

Three years ago, Bayard Winthrop, the chief executive and founder of the clothing brand American Giant, started thinking about a flannel shirt he wore as a kid in the 1970s. It was blue plaid and bought for him by his grandmother, probably at Caldor, a discount department store popular in the northeast back then. The flannel was one of the first pieces of clothing Mr. Winthrop owned that suggested a personality.

“I thought it looked great,” he said, “and I thought it said something about me. That I was cool and physical and capable and outdoorsy.”…

Japan, Paper & Tradition

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Washi paper at the store Ozu Washi in Tokyo. Credit Courtesy of Ozu Washi

Thanks to Nikil Saval for asking, and to the New York Times for publishing his answer to this question:

Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

Washi is to the Japanese something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride.

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The architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency shelters are made mostly of paper.CreditBrent Boardman/courtesy of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF)

ONE OF THE CLICHÉS of modernity — but a cliché we nonetheless have to live through — is that new forms of technology make us nostalgic for prior ones and the eras they connote. When smartphones emerged, they brought the internet into spaces that were once free of them, so that a poorly functioning flip phone now inspires a hint of wistfulness. The pileup of digitized music since the emergence of the MP3 has prompted a retreat, however niche and ultimately minor, into the world of vinyl records and even tapes. The ransacking of the physical texture of the world — books, newspapers, retail stores, maps — has been so enormous and sudden that it becomes possible to see what we are losing and no longer regard the onrushing future as progress.

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Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking means there’s still a robust analog culture in a country known for its embrace of the modern. Credit Photograph by Kyoko Hamada. Set Design by Arielle Casale and Maxwell Sorensen. Altered images: Daj/Getty Images; Bernard Allum/Getty Images. Origami: Beth Johnson. Photographer’s assistant: Jonah Rosenberg

Because of the sheer accumulated weight of its past, and the velocity of its rush into the future, Japan offers these contradictions and anxieties of modernity in particular abundance. Japan was geographically isolated for centuries, so the time between the country’s opening — thanks to the gunboat diplomacy of American warships’ arrival in 1853 — and the postwar miracle of reconstruction produced a linear and especially propulsive narrative of an agrarian society becoming one defined by urban futurism. The contrast (and conflict) between ancient and modern is the primary tension in Japan’s modern literary and filmic traditions: rural families experiencing the shock of the city in Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the ’40s and ’50s, or Noh drama in the novels of the Showa-era writer Fumiko Enchi. Everything, from the perfervidness of the country’s electronic manufacturing, the proliferation of its pop culture, the aggressiveness of its building booms — even as a three-decade-long economic decline strips these characteristics of their sheen — seems to serve as a reminder that throughout the postwar era, Japan was a byword for the future. Continue reading

Consider The Little Free Library

 

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This Little Free Library in the McKinley neighborhood of Minneapolis appears to have a small reading loft, big enough for a city mouse.

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Father Time stands sentry at a Little Free Library in the rough-hewn Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul.

We made a decision early on, for reasons I do not recall clearly, to avoid linking out to obituaries–even for heroes whose lives have resonance in our pages. This one made me think twice about that decision.

In part it is because we have paid an enormous amount of attention to libraries over the years. Also, this man’s innovation (did we really never feature it in our pages before?) was clearly in the realm of what we call entrepreneurial conservation. And maybe, just a bit, I like the idea that the first little free library (the last one displayed below) was a tribute to the innovator’s mom.

Thanks to the New York Times for getting this story just right:

Libraries, Writ Small

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This Little Free Library enjoys the open space of Triangle Park in Minneapolis.

Todd Bol’s Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.

By Katharine Q. Seelye Photographs by Ethan Jones

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This Minneapolis library is a classic of the genre, with its Plexiglass front and gable roof, supported on a sturdy post.

Todd Bol was simply paying homage to his mother, a schoolteacher and lover of books. He built a doll-sized schoolhouse, filled it with his mother’s books and put it out for his neighbors in Hudson, Wis., as a book exchange.

Today, just nine years later, more than 75,000 such “Little Free Libraries” dot the globe, from San Diego to Minneapolis, and from Australia to Siberia.

merlin_145782390_b76569b1-e928-4a57-b546-1162ae75ae3f-superJumbo.jpgWhy did they catch on? For starters, they promote a friendly, sharing economy. No one tracks who took what. There’s no due date. No fines. You might never return a book. You might leave another instead. And, they are inherently cute. As Mr. Bol recalled, his neighbors “talked to it like it was a little puppy.”

This week, many bore a white ribbon in tribute to Mr. Bol, who died Oct. 18, in Minnesota at the age of 62. Here, a photo-essay of some of the little libraries near his hometown.

See all the other photos here.

Conversations Between Birders

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Christopher Skaife Illustration by João Fazenda

Thanks to Sarah Larson for this:

Bird-Watching with the Ravenmaster

The yeoman warder charged with caring for the ravens of the Tower of London hikes along the Hudson.

When he’s at work, at the Tower of London, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife typically wears a uniform featuring a royal-blue tabard with scarlet ornamentation, a brass-buckled belt, and a bonnet. (Formalwear involves stockings and a ruff.) Skaife lives at the Tower, too, with his wife, in a house with forty-foot walls and arrow slits for windows. Skaife is the Tower’s Ravenmaster—his new book, “The Ravenmaster,” just came out—and in that role he cares for its most famous current residents, Merlin (a.k.a. Merlina), Erin, Rocky, Jubilee II, Gripp II, Harris, and Poppy, and gives tours to some of the Tower’s three million annual visitors. Recently, while vacationing in Manhattan, Skaife, who is Beefeater-shaped, with a bristly beard, was incognito, dressed in a zippered jacket and cargo shorts. He has tattoos on his calves depicting ravens, as well as, he said, “the skulls of those who were executed on the Tower Green.” On a crisp Friday, Skaife met up with his friend Gabriel Willow, a trim man in a cap, who works with New York City Audubon, to embark on a raven quest.

After a long absence, ravens have returned to the metro area: about six pairs nest in or around New York City. Willow and Skaife visited three potential hot spots—Pelham Bay Park, in the Bronx (mallards, cormorants, egrets; no ravens), far West Twenty-third Street, and Inwood Hill Park, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. At West Twenty-third and the Hudson River, Skaife and Willow peered through binoculars. “I did see a raven this morning up in Central Park—a big flyby,” Willow said. “I heard cawing and calling, and a murder of crows swirled around, chasing a raven.” Continue reading

Lost & Found, Apples & Ciders

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The Harrison apple tree that Thomas Vilardi found near Newark in the fall of 2015. “I knew I had seen apples on a tree,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to find a Harrison.” Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Thanks for this article to Rachel Wharton, who is batting 1000 for our taste in food writing:

Finding Lost Apples and Reviving a Beloved Cider

George Washington was among the many fans of Newark cider, a long-missing treat now being recreated by a former ad man on a mission.

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Charles Rosen, left, and Cameron Stark in the new taproom they opened last week at Ironbound Hard Cider in Asbury, N.J. It will serve limited-edition ciders made by Mr. Stark, the head cider maker.CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

ASBURY, N.J. — Ironbound Hard Cider may seem an odd name for the business Charles Rosen has built here on 108 acres in central New Jersey. The farm, where a new taproom offers pastoral views of the still-ripening fruit, doesn’t appear to share much with the Ironbound, an industrial neighborhood 50 miles to the east in Newark.

Yet they do have common roots, thanks to four very old apple varieties now growing on Mr. Rosen’s land.

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Mr. Vilardi and Fran McManus at the old apple tree he found three years ago. An apple expert connected him to Ms. McManus, who had written an article about Newark cider in 2010. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Mr. Rosen, the former chief executive of a Manhattan advertising agency that promoted Svedka vodka and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, wants to reintroduce Newark cider, an 18th- and 19th-century alcoholic drink once famously compared to Champagne.

Newark cider was both a point of pride and big business for the region — requested by name, reportedly lauded by George Washington and produced by dozens of Newark-area cideries with acres of orchards. The secret wasn’t a recipe, but the blending of a quartet of superior apples born in the region: Campfield, Poveshon, Granniwinkle and Harrison, the most celebrated of the four.

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The 1- and 2-year-old apple trees in Ironbound Hard Cider’s nursery include the Harrisons shown here and Poveshons, a New Jersey-born variety thought to be extinct until 2015. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

As a result of urbanization and then Prohibition, when many of the nation’s remaining cider orchards were destroyed, Newark cider hasn’t been made for at least a century. But after years of planning and planting — not to mention the accidental discovery of two lost apple trees and the investment of what Mr. Rosen called “100 percent of all the money I ever had in my entire life” — Ironbound Hard Cider is on the precipice of bringing it back. Continue reading

Carbon Insurance As Heritage Insurance

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A carbon-offset project, the first of its kind in the United States, has become the Yurok’s main source of discretionary income, helping the tribe buy back thousands of acres of land. Photograph by Joel Redman

Carbon trading has featured, or at least been mentioned, only rarely on this platform, now that I stop to check. That seems impossible. But the scheme with so much promise has simply not taken off. Indigenous heritage, on the other hand, has featured in dozens of stories here since we started in 2011. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for bringing this story to my attention, helped by two captivating photos and the fact that it highlights the approach of the Yurok Tribe (a community I had not heard of before):

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“I think we did a good thing by saving the trees, but I’m not happy with it,” Jene McCovey, a tribal elder, said. “It’s not viable. It allows polluters to pollute.” Photograph by Joel Redman

How Carbon Trading Became a Way of Life for California’s Yurok Tribe

When Marty Lamebear is not fighting fires, he is starting them. In the past few years, as a member of the Yurok Tribe Forestry Program’s fire department, he has been helping revive the controversial practice of prescribed burns to protect and restore the coastal redwood forests of northern California. Lamebear is also a hunter, fisherman, and dancer. In his free time, he makes tribal regalia for ceremonial dances from parts of elk, deer, minks, and porcupines, which he shoots or finds already dead, and from frozen eagles that he orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A prescribed burn, what Lamebear calls a culture burn, creates prairies within the forest, which attract those animals. “At first, we couldn’t really tell its effects,” he said. “But, after about six years now, we can honestly start seeing the landscape open up, animals come around.” They also serve another purpose, he said. “It’s insurance for our carbon.” Continue reading

A Place And A Time For Learning To Read, And To Appreciate Books As Things

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Just this moment, as I started today’s post, I learned I had missed a 50th birthday party. We tend to like round numbers, even if they do not mean much–why should the 50th be any more important than the 49th or 23rd? For whatever reason, a centenary or half-centenary, or bicentennial all seem to have a bigger ring. So, happy birthday to this book (last year) that I searched for after reading Susan Orlean’s essay on her personal history with libraries and books:

…My family was big on the library. We were very much a reading family, but we were more a borrow-a-book-from-the-library family than a bookshelves-full-of-books family. My parents valued books, but they had grown up in the Depression, aware of the quicksilver nature of money, and they had learned the hard way that you shouldn’t buy what you could borrow. Because of that frugality, or perhaps despite it, they also believed that you should read a book for the experience of reading it. You shouldn’t read it in order to have an object that had to be housed and looked after forever, a memento of the purpose for which it was obtained. The reading of the book was a journey. There was no need for souvenirs…

I have just recently finished unpacking from storage a lifetime’s worth of books–actually multiple lifetimes because in addition to my own family of four’s lifetimes there are also books from our parents’ and grandparents’ personal collections. And the essay got me thinking about whether I had a personal favorite book, and if so whether I have a “souvenir” of it.

I had taken a moment after emptying a box to leaf through this book that qualifies as a contender. I remember where I was when I purchased it, and where I first read it. But the essay I just read got me thinking about the importance of libraries to my own history with reading, so I focused my thought on the question what was my first favorite book. And the book above was that book, without question, in part because it was what got me to return to the library for more books. Not much more to say on that, but if you are a bibliophile or a libraryphile, if you consider librarians heroes, or any such thing, the essay may be for you.

For The Love Of Baobab!

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Selbe Dione and her sister harvesting baobab leaves to cook with couscous in the countryside of western Senegal.CreditCreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

Thanks to Dionne Searcey for reminding me of the first time I encountered one of these trees, which happened to be in Senegal (so why have we not featured Senegal more in these pages?) and was the location for the first field course I taught for Cornell focused on sustainable development. For the love of baobab, so to speak, I am more sensitive than ever to the ravages of palm oil plantations:

Across Senegal, the Beloved Baobab Tree Is the ‘Pride of the Neighborhood’

Baobabs have endured for centuries as essential cultural symbols. But increasingly, they are threatened by climate change, urbanization and a growing population.

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In Dakar, baobabs blend into the cityscape, like this one in the center of a taxi garage near a freeway on ramp. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — Wide, awkward baobab trees blend into the cityscape of Dakar, the busy capital of Senegal, almost without notice.

Drivers wash a fleet of taxis parked beneath one giant tree near a freeway on ramp. Rusting cars with open hoods are parked in a mechanic’s shop under the shade of another. A leathery trunk is a community billboard, with ads nailed to it for a plumber and an apartment for rent.

Aliou Ndour stood on a crowded corner, pulled out his phone and scrolled past the pictures of friends and family to another precious photo: the baobab in his home village.

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One of the largest baobab trees in Senegal is in the Fatick region, southwest of the capital. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Fat baobabs, some more than half a millennium old, have endured across Senegal, passed over for lumber largely because their wood is too brittle and spongy for use in furniture. Baobab leaves are mixed with couscous and eaten, the trees’ bark stripped to make rope, their fruit and seeds used for drinks and oils.

Something else has helped preserve these giants: They are beloved.

“This,” said Adama Dieme, craning his neck to look up at the spread of branches of the baobab on his block, “is the pride of the neighborhood.”

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Children playing over a fallen baobab in southwestern Senegal. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

But baobabs, like many of the region’s trees, are in jeopardy, threatened by the same forces upending numerous facets of society — climate change, urbanization and population growth.

West Africa has lost much of the natural resources once tied so closely to its cultural identity. Poaching has stolen most of its wildlife; lions, giraffes and desert elephants are sorely endangered.

Huge swaths of forest are being razed to clear space for palm oil and cocoa plantations. Mangroves are being killed off by pollution. Even wispy acacias are hacked away for use in cooking fires to feed growing families. Continue reading

Grandparents’ Approach To Avoiding Food Waste

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‘Whatever’s in the fridge’: a traditional cottage pie. Photograph: neiljlangan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This time of year, harvests finishing in many places, abundance is about to give way to the longer lean season. Maybe that is the perfect time to start thinking about stretching the ingredients at hand:

How to avoid food waste: top chefs on their grandparents’ favourite dishes – and what they taught them

Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc and many others describe the frugal simplicity – and delicious flavours – that inspire their cooking today

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Summer pudding with ‘beautiful glossy purple juice’. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

It is all too easy to romanticise the past, particularly with food. In Britain, rationing created a postwar generation that was very well-nourished, but also utterly bored by the meals it ate … or endured. Similarly, for all the criticism levelled at processed foods (“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” as the writer Michael Pollan famously advised), food has never been cheaper, nor easier to access and prepare. In 1957, as a proportion of their weekly income, UK households spent roughly double what they now spend on food – 33% of their money. There is a kind of liberation in the Pot Noodle.

Yet among many chefs and campaigning food writers, the sense persists that on a number of issues – particularly food waste, but also obesity, nutrition, cost, pleasure even – there is much to admire in how our grandparents ate. In an era of limited choice and tight budgets, they made a virtue of the necessity to cook with whatever fresh ingredients were available. “My grandparents didn’t cook ‘sustainably’, but they did cook every day, one of life’s best skills, and they didn’t throw leftovers away. To that extent, they were thrifty,” says Tom Hunt, the self-styled eco-chef and Guardian columnist.

To examine that idea, we asked a number of top chefs to choose a meal that encapsulates how their grandparents cooked and to explain how, in its frugal simplicity, it still influences them. Call it going back to the future. Continue reading

A Visual Requiem, And A Call For Quiet Grace At The Grand Canyon

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In a merged image, the photographer Peter McBride captured a vision of the Grand Canyon choked by noise and exhaust. Photograph by Pete McBride

Noise pollution was the topic of several of the first posts on this platform when we started it in 2011, and has been a persistent theme ever since then. We especially appreciate those related to noise in wilderness areas, so thanks to Nick Paumgarten for this story:

The Grand Canyon Needs to Be Saved By Every Generation

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Hiking in the Grand Canyon can be a perilous pursuit. Photograph by Pete McBride

Three years ago, in the course of thirteen months, the photographer Peter McBride and the writer Kevin Fedarko hiked from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other. They did it in eight sections, mainly so that McBride could shoot in different seasons. In all, it took them seventy-one days to cover two hundred and seventy-seven river miles and some eight hundred shoe-leather miles, through some of the continent’s roughest hiking terrain—“a whole lot of scratching around the rock puzzles in that giant abyss,” as McBride put it recently.

Before they set off, the Grand Canyon had been hiked nose to tail only nine times in recorded history. There is also a handful of obsessives who have chipped away at it, piece by piece, in the course of decades. “Maybe some crazy ancestral Puebloan did the whole thing, but that wouldn’t make logical sense—they wouldn’t have had any reason to,” McBride said.

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 panoramic view of the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado. Photograph by Pete McBride

McBride, a native Coloradan who shoots for National Geographic, has been documenting the Colorado River for a decade, sometimes from a perch in an ultralight aircraft. Fedarko, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, has guided on the river and is the author of “The Emerald Mile,” an account (with many historical tributaries) of a harrowing speed run of the Grand in a dory during the biggest flood in generations. (As it happens, Kenton Grua, the boatman in the book, was also the first person to walk the canyon, in 1976.) McBride and Fedarko have both become persistent, ardent advocates for preserving the place, in all its spellbinding, inhospitable glory, in abidance with Teddy Roosevelt’s famous dictum, issued during his one visit, in 1903: “Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.” Still, this was the first time, and surely the last, that either of them had tried to walk it. Continue reading

Climate Change’s Other Casualties

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Some of the world’s oldest structures have survived for 5,000 years in the Orkney Islands. Kitchens. Forges. Round houses. Now they face dire threats from climate change.

Color Conservation

The hues in the Forbes Collection include the esoteric, the expensive, and the toxic. Photograph by Jason Fulford for The New Yorker

Color is such a constant in our lives that it seems odd to consider any need for it’s conservation. How it exists in nature, how we humans perceive it, and how we’ve use the technology of the time to preserve it, has been relevant for tens of thousands of years. The Forbes Collection archives in the Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum highlights the work of it’s founder, Edward Waldo Forbes, for whom “pigment hunting and gathering was not just a matter of creating an archive of lost or languishing color. It was about the union of art and science.”

Treasures from the Color Archive

The historic pigments in the Forbes Collection include the esoteric, the expensive, and the toxic

How blue can it get? How deep can it be? Some years ago, at the Guggenheim Bilbao, I thought I’d hit on the ultimate blue, displayed on the gallery floor. Yves Klein, who died at thirty-four, was obsessed with purging color of any external associations. Gestural abstraction, he felt, was clotted with sentimental extraneousness. But, in search of chromatic purity, Klein realized that even the purest pigments’ intensity dulled when combined with a binder such as oil, egg, or acrylic. In 1960, he commissioned a synthetic binder that would resist the absorption of light waves, delivering maximum reflectiveness. Until that day in Bilbao, I’d thought Klein a bit of a monomaniacal bore, but Klein International Blue, as he named the pigment—rolled out flat or pimpled, with saturated sponges embedded in the paint surface—turned my eyeballs inside out, rods and cones jiving with joy. This is it, I thought. It can’t get any bluer.

Until YInMn came along: the fortuitous product of an experiment in the materials chemistry lab at Oregon State University in 2009. Intending to discover something useful for the electronics industry, Mas Subramanian and his team heated together oxides of manganese, yttrium, and indium at two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. What emerged was a new inorganic pigment, one that absorbed red and green light waves, leaving as reflected light the bluest blue to date. Subramanian sent a sample to the Forbes Collection in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, at Harvard University, where it sits with twenty-five hundred other specimens that document the history of our craving for color.

Among the other blues on the Forbes’s shelves is Egyptian Blue, a modern approximation of the first synthetic pigment, engineered five millennia ago, probably from the rare mineral cuprorivaite, a soft mid-blue used for the decoration of royal tomb sculpture and the wall paintings of temples. Later, blues strong enough to render sea and sky were made from weathered copper-carbonate azurite—crystalline bright but sometimes darkening in an oil binder. In 1271, Marco Polo saw lapis lazuli quarried from a mountain at Badakhshan, in what is now Afghanistan. Laboriously prepared by removing impure specks of glinting iron pyrite, it became ultramarine—as expensive, ounce for ounce, as gold, and so precious that it was initially reserved for depictions of the costume of the Virgin. In addition to these, the Forbes Collection has a poor man’s blue—smalt made from crushed cobalt containing potassium glass, which weakens, eventually, to a thin greeny-brown gray.

The Forbes Collection owes its existence to a belief in the interdependence of art and science, but it is also an exhaustive archive of cultural passion. A display features Vantablack, which absorbs 99.96 per cent of light, and has to be grown on surfaces as a crop of microscopic nanorods. In 2016, the sculptor Anish Kapoor saw the pigment’s potential for collapsing light, turning any surface into what appears to be a fathomless black hole, and he acquired the exclusive rights to it. An outcry from artists, who objected to the copyright, prompted the Massachusetts manufacturer NanoLab to release Singularity Black, created as part of the company’s ongoing research with nasa, to the public, and the artist Stuart Semple to make the World’s Pinkest Pink available to any online buyer willing to declare himself “not Anish Kapoor.” But Kapoor obtained a sample of the pink pigment, and used it to coat his middle digit, which he photographed and posted online for Semple.

Narayan Khandekar, the head of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, takes pleasure in such skirmishes, secure in the knowledge that he presides over something weightier: a priceless resource for understanding how works of art are made, and how they should be preserved. The Department of Conservation and Technical Research was founded, in 1928, by Edward Waldo Forbes, the director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum from 1909 to 1944. Today, the Forbes’s vast library of color and its technical laboratories are housed in the museum’s steel-and-filtered-glass rebuild, designed by Renzo Piano. Rows of pigments in tubes, jars, and bowls are visible through the doors of floor-to-ceiling cabinets. Khandekar had the winning idea of displaying them as if unspooled from a color wheel: reds at one end, blues at the other. There are the products of nineteenth-century chemical innovation—viridian green, cadmium orange, and the chrome yellow with which van Gogh was infatuated but which, over time, has begun to darken his sunflowers. But at the heart of the Forbes Collection are the natural pigments that were the staples of painters’ inventories before chemically synthesized paints replaced the impossibly esoteric, the dangerously toxic, the prohibitively expensive, and the perilously fugitive. Continue reading

Plastics Conservation Science

Dr. Odile Madden, of the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, holding a piece of degrading plastic for use in trying out new methods of preservation. Credit Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times

The irony of the need to conserve aging national treasures or works of art configured from plastics and other petroleum-based materials in the time of the “Pacific Vortex” and other plastic-created environmental disasters is difficult to miss. It never would have occurred to any of us that a field called “Plastics Conservation Science” has any need to exist.

And yet, it does…

These Cultural Treasures Are Made of Plastic. Now They’re Falling Apart.

Museum conservators are racing to figure out how to preserve modern artworks and historical objects that are disintegrating.

The custodians of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit at the National Air and Space Museum saw it coming. A marvel of human engineering, the suit is made of 21 layers of various plastics: nylon, neoprene, Mylar, Dacron, Kapton and Teflon.

The rubbery neoprene layer would pose the biggest problem. Although invisible, buried deep between the other layers, the suit’s caretakers knew the neoprene would harden and become brittle with age, eventually making the suit stiff as a board. In January 2006, the Armstrong suit, a national treasure, was taken off display and stored to slow the degradation.

Of an estimated 8,300 million metric tons of plastic produced to date, roughly 60 percent is floating in the oceans or stuffed in landfills. Most of us want that plastic to disappear. But in museums, where objects are meant to last forever, plastics are failing the test of time.

“It breaks your heart,” said Malcolm Collum, chief conservator at the museum. The Armstrong suit’s deterioration was arrested in time. But in other spacesuits that are pieces of astronautical history, the neoprene became so brittle that it shattered into little pieces inside the layers, their rattling a brutal reminder of material failure.

Art is not spared either, as Georgina Rayner, a conservation scientist at Harvard Art Museums, showed at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Boston this month.

Claes Oldenburg’s “False Food Selection,” a wooden box containing plastic models of foods like eggs and bacon, a banana and an oatmeal cookie, now appears to be rotting. The egg whites are yellowing, while the banana has completely deflated.

In museums, the problem is becoming more apparent, Dr. Rayner said in an interview: “Plastics are reaching the end of their lifetimes kind of now.”

Of all materials, plastics are proving to be one of the most challenging for conservators. “I find plastics very frustrating,” said Mr. Collum. Because of the material’s unpredictability and the huge variation in forms of deterioration, he said, “it’s just a completely different world.”

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Immigrants Get The Job Done, And Then Some

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Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and chief executive of Chobani, arrived in the United States 24 years ago with $3,000 to his name. He now runs a company with annual sales of $1.5 billion.CreditCole Wilson for The New York Times

A few contributors on this platform are children of immigrants. Some are immigrants. And we love Greek yogurt. And we love a good shepherd to riches story. So, why not celebrate one of our own, so to speak?

Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani Talks Greek Yogurt and the American Dream

A Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent, Mr. Ulukaya brought Greek yogurt to the mainstream. Along the way, he began hiring refugees, a move that drew threats from fringe websites and far-right commentators.

Hamdi Ulukaya arrived in the United States in 1994 with $3,000 in his pocket. He was an immigrant from Turkey, hoping to learn English and find his way in a new country.

Today, Mr. Ulukaya is a billionaire. Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker he founded in 2007, has annual sales of about $1.5 billion, and Mr. Ulukaya owns most of the privately held company. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Valorizing Places And Things We Love

One decade ago I made the journey to Rapa Nui while on an extended project in southern Chile. It was another bit of fortune that came with the occupation I accidentally found myself in. The video above, excerpted by the Atlantic from Max Lowe’s film, hints at the value tourism can infuse, as well as the perils it can represent, with regard to cultural heritage. We have long used the archaic word “valorization” to explain what we do as a company and the Celine Cousteau Film Fellowship seems to believe the same, in supporting Max’s film:

Tourism to a Dying Ancient Culture

“The modern world has come for our little island,” says Heu Rapu Haoa in Max Lowe’s short documentary, Amo. Heu is one of the 800 remaining speakers of his native tongue. His home, Rapa Nui, known widely as Easter Island, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Continue reading

A Mom’s Pride & Joy, Heirloom Berries

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Heirloom berries growing outside the White home. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

Pondering the future of a heritage dairy in Costa Rica is our 2018 summer pastime. The future of a heritage berry is a welcome distraction. With more moms like Jeanne Lindsay and more sons like Richard Stevens Jr. we can trust that the uniquely North American flavor produced on this farm is in good hands. Thanks to Rachel Wharton:

Extreme Measures, No Good Outcomes

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A Mapuche gathering in Ercilla, Chile. The Mapuche are protesting the presence of agricultural firms on their land. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

During the two years I worked in southern Chile, 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of members of the Mapuche community, and heard a deep frustration bordering on despair. Their forests were being extracted, wholesale and rapaciously and there was little to nothing they could do about it. The news here, even with the exposure I had to the situation, still shocks me. It is not good news:

‘We burned the forest’: the indigenous Chileans fighting loggers with arson

Chile’s Mapuche people are resorting to increasingly radical tactics to reclaim their ancestral land from exploitive industries

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 6.00.13 PM.jpgIt is late autumn in southern Chile, and in the region of Araucanía, the leaves have turned copper and gold. But on the road to the mist-shrouded town of Lumaco, the hills are covered with rows of charred pines.

“We burned these forests as an act of legitimate resistance against the extractive industries that have oppressed the Mapuche people,” says Hector Llaitul. “If we make their business unprofitable they move on, allowing us to recover our devastated lands and rebuild our world.” Continue reading

Food Items Not On Our Radar Until Now

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The razorbill Wellington at Koks, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands. Chefs wrap the seabird in a pancake and serve it with a sauce made from beet, elderberry, and rose hip.
Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The dish above is not one we would likely think to offer in our hospitality operations, which may explain why we have not (yet) developed any entrepreneurial conservation initiatives in the Faroe Islands. Nonetheless, this is the type of reading that makes a Monday morning full of thoughts of where to travel next:

Koks, the World’s Most Remote Foodie Destination

People are flocking to a Nordic archipelago to sample cuisine—like fermented lamb tallow—that challenges even the most adventurous palate.

By 

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The Faroe Islands, a mountainous archipelago two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep.Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The Faroe Islands, an austere, mountainous archipelago marooned in the North Atlantic two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep. But, looked at another way, the country, an autonomous outpost of the Kingdom of Denmark, is much larger: its territorial waters extend for more than a hundred thousand square miles around nearly seven hundred miles of coastline. Only one village, Vatnsoyrar, isn’t on the coast, and wherever you are on any of the Faroes’ eighteen islands you’re never more than three miles from the crashing, frigid ocean. Like the human body, the Faroes are mostly water.

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Fermented lamb, a Faroese specialty. “Fermented food is maybe the most important cultural heritage we’ve got,” Johannes Jensen, the entrepreneur behind Koks, said. Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The inhabitants of the islands, which were settled by Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, have always depended on sustenance from the ocean. But the local diet is surprisingly selective. The waters of the Faroes teem with edible creatures that the Faroese do not eat. They don’t gorge on the mahogany clams, buried in underwater sand, that can live for centuries. They ignore the abundant mussels that cling to coastal rocks, and consider langoustines and sea urchins to be revolting. It’s a favorite game among Faroese children to pick up sea urchins and hurl them at one another, because they make a satisfying splat on impact.

The Faroese do eat cod and haddock—masses of it, typically prepared in one of two ways. When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). Continue reading

Some Regrets Are Better Than Others

OaklandInstitute.pngThere is a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain (though it appears nowhere in his published writings), that history never repeats itself but it often rhymes. That quote comes to mind reading this report below by the Oakland Institute, in light of yesterday’s news from Greece. There is a rhyme with no reason that echoes between the two stories. It also brings to mind, for me, an ever-present question about the work I have done for the last two decades. Tourism, even if it is sustainable tourism development, has its downsides. So, I am always on the lookout for ways to avoid regret in projects I take on, and how they are executed. More often than not, if I sense regret it is about not having had enough impact. I prefer that to the regret of too much of this type of impact:

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Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever is based on field research, never publicly-seen-before documents, and an in-depth investigation into Tanzania’s land laws. This report is the first to reveal the complicity between Tanzanian government officials and foreign companies as they use conservation laws to dispossess the Maasai, driving them into smaller and smaller areas and creating a stifling map of confinement. Continue reading