Atlas Obscura

27 Jan. 2023

In 1932, Italian culinary magazine La Cucina Italiana awarded their Best Pasta Sauce prize to one chef’s Sugo Marinetti, or Marinetti sauce. Said sauce stood out not only for its unique combination of chopped pistachios and artichokes sauteed in butter, but also for its ironic title: the firebrand poet Filoppo Marinetti, for whom the pasta sauce was named, was at that very moment fighting to banish pasta from Italy.

La Cucina Italiana, a magazine founded by wealthy, fascist editor Umberto Notari and his wife Delia Pavoni Notari, had helped launch Marinetti’s war on pasta just over a year earlier. In their December 1930 issue, Marinetti published the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, where he declared pasta to be “an absurd Italian gastronomic religion” and called for its abolition.

The essay was one of many fascist-leaning Futurist manifestos published in the early 20th century that called for the destruction of the old in favor of the new in fields such as poetry, painting, and cinema. Along with his proponents, Marinetti, who founded the Futurist movement in 1909, blamed tradition for Italy’s declining world stature. Futurists embraced technology, war, and masculinity, while decrying museums, libraries, and many other long-held Italian treasures—pasta among them.

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In the Manifesto of Futurist Cooking and the 1932 Futurist Cookbook, Marinetti imagined a world in which Italians absorbed nutrients through pills, freeing mealtime to become a form of performance art enhanced by technology, perfumes, and music. He advocated for experimental, oftentimes absurd dishes—salami cooked in coffee and cologne, for example—and the abolition of the fork and knife.

And, most significantly, Marinetti cast pasta as a prime cause of Italy’s backwardness. “Pasta is not good for Italians,” he wrote, citing a “very intelligent Neapolitan professor” who said that pasta caused disorders in the pancreas and liver, leading to “laziness, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity, and neutralism.”

Many artists and intellectuals rushed to Marinetti’s side. “Pasta is like our rhetoric,” chimed in the fascist theater critic Marco Ramperti. “Only good for filling up our mouths.” The French poet Gabriel Audisio called pasta a “dictatorship of the stomach” that necessitated an “insidious, slow process of rumination … the unctuous conciliatory rhythm of the sloth.” In Genoa, an anti-pasta advocacy group formed under the acronym PIPA, or “International Association Against Pasta,” in English.

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As one might imagine, many Italians did not take well to Marinetti’s anti-pasta crusade. In the city of Aquila, women joined together to sign a letter of protest defending pasta’s honor. The mayor of Naples spoke up in favor of his city’s beloved starch, saying, “the angels in paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro.” Marinetti, a fierce critic of Catholicism, retorted that the mayor’s claim “consecrates the unappetizing monotony of paradise and the life of the angels." The periodical La settimana modenese called Marinetti and his Futurist allies “past their proper cooking-time.” This furor meant that Marinetti’s manifesto garnered attention in newspapers from London to Chicago, under headlines such as “Italy May Down Spaghetti.”

Marinetti’s anti-pasta campaign may have had another inspiration: Prime minister and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who was busy attempting to convince Italians to abandon pasta in favor of rice. He wanted to wean Italy off of foreign wheat imports, which were becoming increasingly difficult to acquire amidst international sanctions and a suffering domestic economy. Rice grew well in Northern Italy, so Mussolini sent free rice samples throughout the country and bombarded Italians with pro-rice propaganda.

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In 1931, La Cucina Italiana waded into the middle of this controversy when it hosted a contest, sponsored by the Italian pasta company Puritas, to determine who could make the best sauce to serve with one kilogram of Puritas maccheroni. La Cucina Italiana’s Notari “was a capable enough entrepreneur … to understand that the controversy would certainly have attracted readers,” writes Samantha Cornaviera, an expert in early 20th-century Italian culinary history, over email. Adding to the drama was the fact that the panel of judges, a who’s-who of Italy’s cultural elite, included the Notaris’ friend and the anti-pasta crusader himself, Marinetti. As Cornaviera recounts on her website, when it came time to judge the myriad sauces, Marinetti, in typical firebrand fashion, arrived late to the panel only to immediately demand to taste the sauces over rice or soup rather than his reviled pasta.

Though the competition attracted thousands of entrants, Marinetti and the other judges picked a predictable winner: Amedeo Pettini, former royal chef, leading food critic, and an editor of La Cucina. Pettini presented a sauce of tomato, anchovies, sauteed artichokes, ham, and chopped pistachios. He named it, somewhat surprisingly, “Marinetti sauce.”

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The ironic title “was neither an insult nor a joke,” Cornaviera writes, “but a real tribute.” Pettini was a shrewd marketer, and in 1930s Italy, “it was fashionable to name recipes after national characters and heroes.” Marinetti’s name added a sarcastic cultural cache to the sauce, although it is safe to say that Marinetti did not enjoy his namesake dish over Puritas pasta—not in public, at least.

With time, Marinetti sauce faded from public consciousness, Cornaviera writes, as did Marinetti’s fight against pasta. Both Musollini and Marinetti died in the 1940s, and during Italy’s postwar economic boom, pasta became even more popular than ever before. Today, Cornaviera recommends that people try Sugo Marinetti, first and foremost, because it’s delicious. “That buttery and tasty sauce, the crunchiness of pistachios and the crunch of fried artichokes,” she writes, and adds, “It is also full of stories to tell.” And though it might make Marinetti roll over in his grave, Cornaviera maintains that the sauce tastes great over spaghetti.

27 Jan. 2023

A sign declares this the oldest bar in Nevada.

Walking this bar, which a sign proudly proclaims to be “Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor” is like stepping back in time. Locals in the area know Genoa Bar & Saloon for its signature Spicy Bloody Mary, but there’s much more to this place than its cocktails. Opened in 1853, this watering hole predates the state itself by a good 11 years. 

Many famous names have bellied up to the bar, among them Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Carole Lombard, Lauren Bacall, John Wayne, Red Skelton, Clark Gable, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and John Denver. During the lean years of Prohibition, the saloon stayed afloat by pretending to be a soda fountain. Since then, it’s served as the backdrop for a number of films.

As you enter the bar, there’s a taxidermied moose head with Raquel Welch’s bra dangling from it. Meanwhile, the mirror that runs along the back of the bar is decorated with crushed diamonds. Made in the 1840s, this unusually lavish accent piece sailed across the Atlantic from Scotland, before being loaded onto mules for a trip over the Eastern Sierras. Up on the walls hangs a rather eclectic collection of art, including what may be two original sketches by Frederic Remington.   

27 Jan. 2023

The statue of Bob, a ginger street cat.

Most of the 1,100 monuments scattered around London are dedicated to individuals who carried out heroic deeds in the service of the Crown. Others applaud the achievements of persons in the fields of arts or sciences. However, there is one unorthodox statue dedicated to a furry, famous Londoner who once walked on four legs.

In the south-east corner of a park in the borough of Islington, lies a life-size bronze of a cat named Bob, who rests perched on a stack of books. This feline was immortalized in a series of novels written by his adopted owner, James Bowen. These two individuals were able to look after one another, and in turn, their lives became the stuff of legend.

Bowen published the first book of their adventures together in 2012. The story of how this wayward grimalkin was able to help the busker overcome homelessness and drug dependency has warmed the hearts of many. In 2016, the first novel, A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life, was made into a film. A series of five more books followed. Bob passed away at the age of 14 in 2020.

In 2021, British artist Tanya Russell, who is known for her animal sculptures, was commissioned to depict Bob wearing his signature scarf. There is also a pink granite bench with a quote from Mr. Bowen: “He is my companion, my best friend, my teacher and my soulmate. And he will remain all of those things. Always.”

The dedication ceremony took place across the street from the Waterstones bookshop where Bowen would write. He had this to say at the time: “My hope is that when people visit Bob’s statue, or as they simply pass by, that they will take a moment to remember that everyone deserves a second chance and that no-one is alone.”

27 Jan. 2023

If you find yourself in San Francisco's Castro District, be sure to take a small detour to see the celebratory mural for Gilbert Baker, located on the gates of a building at 3745 17th Street. Baker was a pioneer in the fight for LGBT rights, and he is best known for creating the rainbow pride flag.

Baker was born in Kansas in 1951 and moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he became involved in the city's burgeoning LGBT rights movement. His work helped to raise awareness of the struggles and challenges faced by the LGBT community. He created the first pride flag in 1978, a rainbow with eight colored stripes: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, light blue for magic, dark blue for serenity, and purple for spirit. Over time, due to production constraints, the flag has evolved, with some colors being removed and others being added.

This mural was created by April Berger in 2017 in memory of Baker, who died that year. It features the rainbow as its theme and serves as a tribute to Baker and his contributions to the LGBT community. The building where the mural is located served as an informal meeting place for LGBT activists and as a base for those affected by AIDS between the 1980s and 1990s.

27 Jan. 2023

Rare foggy day

The "white rocks" of Piedra Blanca are huge sandstone formations located in the Sespe Wilderness in Southern California. These monoliths seem otherworldly, rising from chaparral and pines to create an alien landscape dotted with caves, cliffs, and bowls. They are an ideal place for stargazing, and the (hidden) rock art by the native Chumash tribes indicates that this is an ancient, sacred site.  

27 Jan. 2023

Pewsey White Horse

The white horse was cut by volunteers from Pewsey Fire Brigade in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI. Originally the date it was cut appeared above the horse, but this has since disappeared. This current horse replaces one that had been originally cut in the 18th century, then lost to overgrowth over time.

Measuring 66 feet wide and 45 feet tall, the Pewsey White Horse is one of the smaller of Wiltshire's eight white horses. The figure is surrounded by a fence to prevent grazing animals from disrupting the design of the chalk figure.

27 Jan. 2023

Marlborough White Horse

The Marlborough White Horse can be found on the grounds of Marlborough College. At 62 feet long by 47 high, it is the smallest of the white chalk horses in Wiltshire.

Also sometimes called the Preshute White Horse, this hillside horse figure was designed and marked out on the hill by William Canning, and cut in 1804 by a group of students at Mr. Greasley's Academy, a nearby school. Students kept up the maintenance of the horse, but after Greasley's closed it started to become overgrown. By the mid-19th century, the grass was once again cut back so that the horse could shine.

27 Jan. 2023

Stockport Air Disaster Memorial Site

The sound of aircraft passing overhead is just part of the background hum to the residents of south Manchester. Stopfordians are accustomed to the drone of aircraft powering back as they make their final approach into Manchester International Airport, just a few miles outside the town. It's part of everyday life in these neighborhoods, and there's rarely an issue. But on June 4, 1967, 72 passengers on a British Midland Canadair C-4 Argonaut on an early flight from Palma de Mallorca didn't get to go home after their holiday.

Engine failure caused by fuel problems brought the plane down at 10:09 a.m. at Hope's Carr south of Stockport town center. Of the 84 passengers and crew, only 12 were successfully helped from the wreckage by brave locals before the plane caught aflame, preventing further rescues. The incident remains the fourth-worst crash in U.K. aviation history.

It took until 1998 for the tragedy to be appropriately commemorated. First, a modest plaque with a granite base marked where the accident occurred. Over time further additions made the memorial site evermore fitting to the gravity of the disaster. An additional plaque was placed in 2002 that acknowledged the actions of the locals who aided the rescue efforts. Finally, in 2017 at the 50th anniversary, the memorial expanded to give more information about the accident and the names of those who perished.

The monuments stand on a discrete corner about half a mile from the town's main thoroughfares. One has to go out of one's way to see them. That's the thing with bad luck and tragedy; it happens anywhere, anytime. And that's why we sometimes need to make the time to go, look, and remember.

27 Jan. 2023

Devizes White Horse

The newest of Wiltshire's White Horses, this equine figure in Devizes was cut in 1999 to mark the new millennium. It is located on Roundway Hill to the north of Devizes. Officially known as the Devizes Millennium White Horse, this figure is the eighth white horse figure cut into a hillside in Wiltshire. It measures 45.7 meters (150 feet) long and 45 meters (148 feet) high.

The Devizes White Horse was cut at the side of a previous white horse figure that had been cut in the mid-19th century. Without regular maintenance though, grass grew in around the figure, and by the 1920s it had largely disappeared.

27 Jan. 2023

Broad Town White Horse

This chalk figure white horse measuring 86 feet by 61 feet, situated on the hill to the east of the village of Broad Town.  There are multiple stories of how this hillside horse came to be, but the most likely story holds that it was completed in 1863 by local farmer William Simmonds.

The Broad Town White Horse Restoration Society was formed in 1991 with a goal of restoring the figure, which had become overgrown and barely visible. 

27 Jan. 2023

It is easy to see why Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh is one of Morocco’s iconic tourist attractions. The lush garden, cactus-dotted landscape, bamboo arches, lily ponds, and, most of all, its signature blue buildings make it feel like an oasis in the heart of Marrakesh, a desert city of reds and browns.

Most people might describe the paint as a striking cobalt or aquamarine but legally, it is known as Majorelle blue and trademarked under this brand name with the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property. This raises an interesting question about how and why an entity has the rights over a color that has long been a part of Morocco’s heritage.

The story of Jardin Majorelle starts with the celebrated French painter Jacques Majorelle who lived a large part of his life in Morocco back when it was a French protectorate. He bought a plot of land in Marrakesh, and in the 1930s he started building the landscaped garden and house using Moorish and Cubist architecture. Majorelle was inspired by the vibrant shades of aquamarine blue prevalent in Morocco, be it intricate floor tiles, window edges of a kasbah, or turbans won by Amazigh men.

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Toward the end of his life, Majorelle sold the estate when he fell into financial distress. Fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé later bought and restored it. Today, Foundation Jardin Majorelle manages the space and opens it to the public. (Foundation Jardin Majorelle did not respond to requests for comment on this article.)

Majorelle’s link to the house is obvious. After all, he envisioned and designed it. But his name is also synonymous with the shade of blue because he very savvily trademarked it before his death in 1962. Specifically, Majorelle blue is 37.65% red, 31.37% green and 86.27% blue. Majorelle is neither the first nor the last person to trademark a color, and intellectual property laws facilitate this. Corporations for example, are known to trademark colors to increase their brand recognition. Tiffany blue or Target red are instantly recognizable because the companies standardized the shade globally and made it a legal asset. It is important to note that this does not mean they created or own the color. Others are free to use it, as long as it is for different goods or services.

Similarly, since Majorelle blue is trademarked in Morocco, the commercial impact there is clear cut. Jardin Majorelle is the only place that sells this shade of blue acrylic paint, labeled Majorelle Blue. Trademark rights are protected country by country, so a paint company in another country could sell a vibrant aquamarine paint labeled “Majorelle blue” to cash in on public interest. However, entities prefer to play it safe and offer near matches instead. For example, United Kingdom-based Bristol Paints directs customers to its Ultramarine Blue, which it calls a “very acceptable alternative to Majorelle Blue.”

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The response from locals, particularly artists, are more nuanced. Many agree that Majorelle’s reputation as a talented artist and association with Morocco has increased global interest in Moroccan culture. The issue comes from the trademark, because it ensures Majorelle’s name and legacy is forever linked to the color blue, above other local artists, designers, or Indigenous communities.

This is contentious because the color blue—particularly indigo and ultramarine—features heavily in Moroccan culture. “Indigo is the dominant color in many cities such as Chefchaouen, Asilah, and Tetouan,” says Younes Laassouli, a Moroccan painter and digital artist. “Almost all ancient ports in Morocco have blue doors, windows, and even boats. It can also be found in tiles, rugs, and kaftans.”

This partly explains why many Moroccan artists use blue shades in their artworks. “Personally, I believe that it is impossible for me to achieve the correct values and shades in my portraits unless I use blue, like cobalt and Prussian,” Laassouli says.

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The trademark on Majorelle blue might have limited people’s access to this particular shade of blue paint, but they have other means for creating color. For example, the plant Indigofera tinctoria is widely available in Morocco and is used to create affordable indigo dye or powder. There is no need to rely on the supply in Jardin Majorelle. As artist Najoua El Hitmi explains, “I paint and do industrial art and sculptures. If I want a particular shade of blue, I experiment and add different pigments.”

Yet, the question is more than who can access or mix blue paints. It’s about who gets to lay claim on colors. Samir Ghoudrani’s family home is walking distance from Jardin Majorelle, but he only recently found out about the trademark and Majorelle’s deep association with the ultramarine color. “I understand if as an artist, you want to own the painting that you drew. But this is like wanting to own the colors. Imagine a singer who wants to own not just a song, but the sound.”

Moroccan visual artist Zakaria Ramhani has similar views. “Majorelle blue is an appropriation of ultramarine. I also find it quite weird that someone thinks they have a right over a color. Colors are in nature, for the eyes that can see it,” he says. He concedes that the Majorelle estate is a valuable tourist attraction for Morocco but notes, “Majorelle was protected by colonization and I don't believe he gave any attention to my culture. He painted as an Orientalist and focused on his own ‘blue.’”

27 Jan. 2023

Kate

Between a major highway and a new apartment development, there is a small patch of pine forest left over from a time when it was all farmland. There, between 1930 and 1946, tobacco farmer Fabius Haywood Page laid to rest his beloved horses and mules.

There are 10 graves in all, very difficult to find but well-maintained. They display both practical and heartfelt memories (“Very gentle,” “Very Intelligent,” “3 White Feet”). Mules Maud, Kate, Lulu, and Rose are joined by horses Bessie, Nell, Prince, Starr, Ted, and Dan, named “Best of all” on a gravestone “erected by F.H. Page owner of the animals he loved so well.”

F.H. Page lived on this land from his birth in 1889 to 1978, first with his parents and then with his wife Annie Lee Walton and their five children. He never owned a tractor and loved his animals so much that he swore to never sell a mule. He told a reporter that he stipulated in his will that the small graveyard can never be sold or traded but it’s unclear what the current legal status is of the plot.

In the times before tractors, these draft animals would have been essential to the operation of a farm and the survival of the farmers. Everyone recognizes the importance of horses, but the mule—an infertile hybrid bred from a female horse and a male donkey—has been part of human history since at least 1000 BC. Their hybrid nature made them unable to reproduce, but mules are gentle-natured, hard-working, strong, long-lived, and, while not as bright as horses, they are considered smarter than donkeys. They are mentioned in the writings of Homer, Charles Darwin, and William Faulkner, among many others. George Washington bred them and they became widespread in the U.S. in the 19th century. They are named in the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” an early but unkept promise to compensate formerly enslaved people after the American Civil War, representing land and essential farm equipment to set them up for success.

The mule is part of North Carolina history, especially for their important role in tobacco farming. Nearby Creedmoor, North Carolina, was known as “Mule Town” and was once the largest mule trading center in the world. As demand for mules fell thanks to widespread mechanization on farms, in 1949 Benson, North Carolina launched a Mule Days festival that still takes place each September.

This little graveyard is unique, historic, and a sweet reminder of the love of a human for his animal companions.

27 Jan. 2023

On a sunny afternoon in the heart of Dijon, just steps from the lucky stone owl that gives rue de la Chouette its name, the last Dijon mustard maker in the city has been at work for just under an hour. By the time I step into the diminutive shop, Nicolas Charvy has already soaked the tiny mustard seeds in a mixture of water, salt, vinegar, and white wine to make what he terms “our verjuice,” a stand-in for the more traditional juice of the tart Bourdelas grape (a historic variety that once grew throughout Burgundy, but has now been largely abandoned, in part due to the fact that, according to Les Cépages, it makes wine that is "frankly bad”).

In the middle of the afternoon, the Edmond Fallot shop is bustling with activity: Tourists fill their baskets with local specialties such as gingerbread or crème de cassis, but they mainly flock to the mustard, available in a range of varieties. In the heart of the small store, Charvy is hard at work, pouring the soaked mustard seeds into a custom-made stone-grinder, which dominates the space. A thick paste oozes in irregular dollops from the grinder's spout, plopping into a large ceramic jar placed underneath. As tempting as it looks, Charvy tells me, it’s far from palatable: It will take at least a week of fermenting before the natural spice of the mustard overtakes its bitterness, and it will be ready to enjoy.

Charvy is the latest in a long line of local mustard makers in Dijon, a status first protected here in the 1600s. Following the 2009 closure of the Amora-Maille factory, he also became the last.

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If mustard has long been linked to Dijon, it’s mainly thanks to the local availability of mustard seeds, first coplanted with grapevines by ancient Romans and persisting thanks to 17th-century charbonniers, who produced coal in open fields, providing natural fertilizer for cruciferous plants such as mustard. But following World War II, farmers turned instead to the production of botanically similar (and subsidized) colza, and Burgundian mustard seed cultivation fell nearly into extinction.

It was thanks in large part to efforts by Charvy's business partner, Marc Désarménien, the current owner of the family-run Moutarderie Edmond Fallot, that the trade has been recovered, with about 300 independent farmers cultivating mustard across 6,000 hectares of Burgundian land, mainly in the Côte-d'Or.

Despite being a Dijon native, Charvy did not always intend to be a moutardier. After a first career in IT, he transitioned to work purveying local specialties ranging from wine to gingerbread at the nearby shop B Comme Bourgogne. It wasn’t until 2014 that he teamed up with Guillaume Vieillard and Désarménien to open this boutique—a satellite of the nearly two-centuries-old Moutarderie Edmond Fallot—and restore mustard-making to its rightful place in the heart of the historic city.

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Oddly, Fallot has never been a Dijon-based brand. Founded in nearby Beaune, 50 kilometers away, by Léon Bouley in 1840, the company was purchased by Désarménien’s maternal grandfather, Edmond Fallot, in 1928. It has, however, always been a bastion of the recipe named for Dijon but beloved throughout Burgundy. These days, at its flagship factory, the company still relies on time-tested stone-grinding techniques that notably allow for cold processing, a boon for the heat-sensitive seeds. As a result, and as compared to other local Dijon mustards such as Maille or Amora, Fallot stands out for its slightly grainier texture and more potent flavor.

Unlike Désarménien, Charvy does not come from a mustard-making dynasty. Despite recently being sworn in as a member of the confrérie de la moutarde—the brotherhood of mustard—his career as a maître moutardier seems to be something the erstwhile IT professional stumbled into nearly by accident. But his previous experience has lent him a natural predilection for problem-solving that’s useful given the trial-and-error nature of his work.

“Each mustard, each batch, is a little bit different,” he says, evoking the “small adjustments” he is frequently called to make.

“Mustard production is a balance of the height [of the stone], of energy, and of the quantity of seeds you use,” he says. “That all contributes to getting to a proper mustard.”

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Today’s batch (108, if you’re counting), however, is proving to be far from proper, emerging far too runny from the spout. But Charvy is unperturbed.

“I add some more seeds, I adjust it a bit,” he says with a shrug and a smile. “It takes time to get to the right consistency. We’ll need an hour or so for it to be perfect.”

This estimate stems from experience rather than any formal training. Charvy’s crash-course in mustard-making took place at Moutarderie Edmond Fallot’s flagship factory, where he learned the time-tested recipe and sought-after texture. But to hear him tell it, this initial introduction was just the tip of the iceberg. In Beaune, after all, mustard is being made on a far larger scale: about 20,000 jars of mustard per day, amounting to a yearly average of 2,300 tons, sold both at the company’s Dijon store and in specialty food shops and grocery stores across France. Charvy, by comparison, makes just 60 to 80 kilos at a time, a rhythm that, he says, has led him to be far more "interventionist" in tinkering with his recipe on each of his twice-monthly visits to the shop.

And he’s not just making mustard on those visits, either. “He’s also our electrician,” pipes in Florine Humbert, store manager.

Humbert and Charvy make a perfect pair of opposites, Charvy’s reserved, shy smile juxtaposed against Humbert’s bubbly exuberance. But they share more than a workplace. Humbert, too, came to mustard after a first career in accounting.

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“I never thought to myself, growing up, ‘What if I worked with mustard?’” she says. But these days, she’s proud of the path her career has taken her on. “Especially with the artisan process. We really respect the work of master mustard makers of yore.”

They also seek to show it off. Charvy's work at the shop is spurred less by the company's production needs and more by a desire to return to tradition, both in bringing the time-tested craftsmanship to the heart of the city and, perhaps most importantly, in sharing these techniques with interested visitors. Locals and tourists alike linger by the massive machine as Charvy works, sometimes watching shyly, sometimes stepping forward with questions or simply to take a photo.

Compared to well-known Dijon mustard brands such as Amora and Maille, Fallot is relatively tiny—perhaps another reason why a presence in the center of Dijon was so important.

But the company’s smaller size has also been a boon, making it far easier to transition to exclusively Burgundian mustard seeds (a rarity in the French Dijon mustard industry, which currently sources about 80 percent of its seeds from Canada). Fallot’s commitment to local seeds meant that when international supply-chain disruptions left French mustard aisles empty this past summer, Fallot was the last Dijon mustard purveyor standing.

Of course, as a result, demand spiked and Fallot’s shelves emptied as well. Humbert spent the summer fending off miffed regulars.

“‘There’s no more Dijon mustard…even for us Dijonnais?’” she recalls them demanding.

This August, she even opted to close the shop for three days when the only available flavor of the 37 varieties they produce was a limited-edition cacao bean.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea,” she admits.

These days, however, stocks have returned at the shop. The shelves are lined with flavors ranging from mustard spiked with gingerbread spice to a sweet-and-savory marriage of honey and balsamic vinegar, the latter of which both Charvy and Humbert cite as their favorite.

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But the shop isn’t quite back to business as usual.

“We have to limit people to two jars per flavor per household,” says Humbert. “We want to make sure there’s enough for everyone.”

While quantities remain limited, Charvy, at least, is finally back to producing his signature: a coarse-ground mustard sold in terra cotta pots complete with an old-fashioned cork stopper, the label proudly boasting the AOC Meursault wine at its base.

“Since it’s a prestigious shop, we used a prestigious white wine,” says Humbert, who notes that the mustard also stands out thanks to its texture, which is grainier than most produced by Fallot. At the Dijon shop, sieving is foregone due to space constraints, resulting in a mustard halfway between smooth and grainy, with a profound spiciness and that balanced acidity Dijon mustard fans love.

“It’s unique to this shop,” says Humbert proudly. “You can’t find it anywhere else. Not in Beaune, not anywhere.”

27 Jan. 2023

Rightly labeled as the “Niagara” of all springs, Niagara Springs is an impressive waterfall nestled in the cliffs of the Snake River Canyon west of Twin Falls, Idaho. Part of the Thousand Springs complex along Idaho’s Snake River, Niagara Springs emits 250 cubic feet of water per second and is said to grow the volume of this stretch of river tenfold. Because so much water emits from the springs, it is used for hydroelectric power, irrigation, and trout farming, which explains the existence of the neighboring Niagara Springs Fish Hatchery.

True to its designation as a spring, visitors will first notice that the waterfalls do not pour over the cliffs of the Snake River Canyon. Rather they originate from a groundwater spring within the cliffs themselves. This groundwater spring is a result of runoff from the snowmelt and precipitation accumulated in the mountains of southern eastern Central Idaho. Such runoff water falls into the porous lava plains that separate the Snake River from the mountains. As a result, these plains hold a large underground aquifer of water that spans about 10,000 square miles. Some of this water then emerges as a system of springs and waterfalls along the Snake River, including the majestic Niagara Springs.

The aquifer and the Snake River Plain that is home to Niagara Springs is one of the largest underground water systems in the world. In addition, the aquifer water emitting from Niagara Springs could have been flowing underground for up to 200 years. Niagara Springs is under the management of Idaho’s Department of Parks and Recreation and is free to the public.

27 Jan. 2023

A survivor of the cypress logging after the Civil War, this bald cypress is the sixth-largest tree in the U.S. and the largest tree east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It boasts a height of around 83 feet and a circumference of over 57 feet. Located in the back of the remote Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, across the aptly named “low water bridge,” due to how close it frequently is to the rushing creek, this tree is one of a few in the area that are impressively large.

The tree is believed to be 1,200 to 1,500 years old, meaning it began growing around the same time as the death of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor of Europe.

Cat Island is not actually an island at all, but the surrounding area is so often flooded that it would be easy to mistake it for one. The refuge is bounded by the Mississippi River and Bayou Sara, and it tends to be flooded from December through June. During those times, the area where the bald cypress stands is only reachable by boat.

26 Jan. 2023

In Atlas Obscura’s Q&A series She Was There, we talk to female scholars who are writing long-forgotten women back into history.

Horses neighed and fires crackled as Queen Tamar of Georgia walked among her troops on the eve of battle in July 1203. Her enemies outnumbered her soldiers nearly two to one. Still, the queen did not waver as she spoke words of courage to the assembled army. In a show of humility, she stood before them barefoot while wearing lavish garments full of religious symbolism to inspire a righteous bravery in all who saw her. As she finished her rousing speech, hardy, battle-worn soldiers stood, raised their spears, and shouted, “To our king!” The next day, the Georgian army decimated their foe.

In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Tamar the Great ushered in Georgia’s golden age. She expanded borders, oversaw massive architectural projects, and helped define the kingdom’s unique identity at the crossroads of East and West. She sat on war councils and, as one chronicler wrote, “took counsel with them, not like a helpless person, or a woman, and did not neglect the dictates of reason.” As father/daughter historians Jonathan and Emily Jordan demonstrate in their book, War Queens: Extraordinary Women Who Ruled the Battlefield, Tamar was far from history’s only warrior queen. The pair recently launched a new podcast with Diversion Audio (also called War Queens) where they dig into all the twists and bloody turns of Tamar’s story alongside other battle-hardened queens. Atlas Obscura sat down with Emily Jordan to talk about why Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli had it out for her favorite fortress-seizing countess, an African queen who went toe-to-toe with Portuguese enslavers, and why so often these women’s stories go overlooked.

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How did you first become interested in history’s war queens?

I grew up with my dad being a military history author. I looked up to him a lot for that. As I was growing up, we would play little writing games. He’d asked me in the car, “What's a good word for this?” That instilled a love for writing in me. So it started there. And I remember growing up, I would say, “Hey, were there any women who did these kinds of things?”

I remember once I was visiting my grandparents and there was a news segment that was talking about Hillary Clinton possibly running for president, and it said, “Could a woman actually lead a country through a war?” And I said, “That is so stupid. Of course, they can.” And that's really the first time that my dad and I got together and were like, “Maybe we should write about this.”

Who is your favorite person you highlight in the book or on the podcast? And why?

I think in terms of courage, I'd have to say Caterina Sforza. She’s really just an incredible Renaissance woman. She learned all about medicine, botany. She got to interact with Botticelli and Da Vinci. She went to people during times of plague with medicines that she created and studied. My favorite story about her is when her husband's political interests were compromised when the pope died. Her husband was a paranoid, vicious man, but his family member was the pope. And when the pope passed away, that got Caterina thinking, “We may not be confirmed as the ruler of this city, of Imola.” So she rides down to Rome, while pregnant, in her early twenties, and she takes hold of this great fortress, Castel Sant'Angelo. The cardinals have to cross in front of the castle on this big bridge to get over to Vatican City. So she points the cannons right at them and says. “Rome, hold up. Stop. I'm in charge.” She stops all of Rome and stops the cardinals from electing a new pope until they confirm her and her husband's titles. The fact that she did this in her early twenties while pregnant is insane to me.

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Did any of these war queens have experience in battle?

Queen Njinga Mbandi of Ndongo-Matamba [two African kingdoms located in present-day Angola] is by far the most physically capable of all the women we write about. Very few of our women really had a lot of hand-to-hand combat experience; Caterina Sforza had a little bit. But Njinga [sometimes spelled "Nzinga"] would charge into battle with her people. She lived during the 17th century and was the leader of her tribe. She had an older brother who was in power before her, but she was a better hand-to-hand combat fighter, leader, and diplomat, so she kind of takes charge. She was this amazing chameleon and takes on different types of cultures in order to unite her people.

She was trained to do this martial art. It's linked to the Brazilian art of capoeira where you almost do dances as exercises, jumping side to side out of the way of arrows and bullets. Certain scholars even claim that a part of the art, called ginga [pronounced and sometimes spelled "jinga"], is named after her. Their main weapon was a form of battle axe, and she was really well-trained with that axe as well.

How does history remember these women?

A lot of history is affected by misogyny. It doesn't always necessarily come from the most hateful place, but oftentimes it does. There have been times when we were researching women and their own sons destroyed statues of them and records of their accomplishments because they didn't want their mother’s shadow hanging overhead. Hatshepsut is an excellent pharaoh we were going to write about but so much of her history was destroyed by her prodigy. Sometimes we get a few accounts of people who actually met these women. Caterina Sforza was a contemporary of Machiavelli, and he did not like her. And so he writes about her I think with a little bit of admiration, but with a little bit of distaste as well. Richard Nixon didn’t like Indira Gandhi because she was blunt, which meant she was to the point. She was great with her commanders. She was respected by them for those exact reasons. Caterina Sforza was not ladylike, according to Machiavelli, but she could do something daring and courageous. So I would definitely say views on women throughout time have affected how we see and remember them.

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What have you learned from studying history’s war queens?

Have the courage to take up space. Once you tell yourself that, that you can achieve this position or this job or be an equal in a conversation that you're intimidated by, even if everyone is telling you you shouldn't be there, you can do it. See yourself in a place where maybe no one else has seen you.

I work as a nurse and it can be really hard when you're new. A lot of the doctors are men. When I have to walk into a room and advocate for a patient, I think back to these women who marched into war rooms and said, “No, don't do this. Do that.” I think about that and I think I can do this too, and I walk in and ask for better care for someone.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

26 Jan. 2023

Listen and subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all major podcast apps.


In this episode of The Atlas Obscura Podcast, we visit with Rae Wynn-Grant, a wildlife ecologist specializing in large carnivores. And in this episode, she unfolds a mystery for listeners.

Our podcast is an audio guide to the world’s wondrous, awe-inspiring, strange places. In under 15 minutes, we’ll take you to an incredible site, and along the way you’ll meet some fascinating people and hear their stories. Join us daily, Monday through Thursday, to explore a new wonder with cofounder Dylan Thuras and a neighborhood of Atlas Obscura reporters.

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26 Jan. 2023

In the arid desert of Argentina’s Mendoza Province, Mariella Superina waits patiently for a fantastic creature to emerge from its lair beneath the sands. Her quarry, the pink fairy armadillo (Chlamyphorus truncatus), looks like it could have scurried straight out of the illuminated pages of a medieval bestiary. The animal's shell, paws, and tail are a vibrant bubblegum pink that contrasts with its silky, milk-white fur and black eyes. About the size of a hamster—a mere six inches from head to tail and weighing just a quarter of a pound—it's the smallest of all armadillo species. It’s found only in Argentina, in a broad swathe of sunbaked scrubland that stretches from the foothills of the Andes to the coastal province of Buenos Aires. And that is about all we know of these wondrous animals. “They are a total enigma… We don’t even know if they are common or rare,” says Superina.

In fact, some people doubt whether they’re even real. “The first question that hits on Google is, ‘Do pink fairy armadillos exist?’” says evolutionary biologist Simon Watts, author of We Can’t All Be Pandas (Ugly Animal Preservation Society). “‘Pink fairy armadillo’ does frankly sound fictitious.”

Watts, whose podcasts and tv shows champion the less charismatic members of the animal world, doesn’t count the pink fairy armadillo as one of his unsung uglies—between its cotton candy colors and curious name, he says, “people tend to be fascinated when they hear of them.”

Instant fascination was certainly Superina’s reaction the first time she saw one of the tiny mammals. “I was speechless,” she says. “At that moment I knew I wanted to learn everything I could about it. It became an obsession.”

Originally from Switzerland, Superina began studying armadillos in western Argentina 25 years ago. Today, she leads an international team that monitors global populations of anteaters, sloths, and armadillos but, thanks to her pink fairy armadillo obsession, she has also become the leading expert on the diminutive and enigmatic animal. She even hosted a live pink fairy armadillo—which turned out to be a real diva—in her living room in the name of science.

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Studying the animal in its natural habitat, however, has eluded her—and everyone else. For centuries the armadillo has evaded the most determined scientists; even Charles Darwin failed to collect a specimen during his visit to Argentina. The pink fairy remains as mysterious as its name suggests because of its subterranean lifestyle, the result of adaptation to a changing environment millions of years ago.

That’s when global climate patterns shifted, transforming the Andean foothills from grasslands into semi-arid deserts. As its habitat became less hospitable, the pink fairy’s ancestor retreated from the surface, evolving into a burrowing, or fossorial, animal. “Burrowing habits tend to appear when habitats become open, going from tree cover to grasslands or deserts, or when they get really hot,” said the University of Oregon’s Samantha Hopkins, who studies small mammal evolution, in an email.

Underground, in the absence of predators, most of the pink fairy’s shell softened, losing its defensive function. It serves instead as an air conditioning system: In hot weather, the armadillo flushes its shell with blood, radiating heat and cooling down its core body temperature. Using its brawny foreclaws, the armadillo burrows through the sandy soil hunting for worms and insects. As it digs, it uses its armored butt plate to compact the loose soil in its wake, shoring up tunnels to prevent collapses.

The elusive armadillo does appear above ground, when excessive rainfall—unusual in this desert region—floods its burrows. But the sight of a pink fairy is so rare that, “Octogenarians who have lived all of their lives in these rural areas (may have) seen this animal only once or twice,” says Guillermo Ferraris, a provincial ranger who works primarily in wildfire management. “But they never forget it.”

When the pink fairy armadillo does leave its subterranean sanctuary, it encounters a bewildering and perilous world. Towns and vineyards are gradually replacing what was once vast scrubland. Herds of feral goats overgraze vegetation and compact the soil under their hoofs, hindering the armadillo's ability to dig its burrows. Oil fields and asphalt roads busy with trucks and cars bisect the desert landscape, isolating armadillos from one another.

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Out of their element, pink fairy armadillos are highly vulnerable to speeding cars and predators, including dogs and cats. Sometimes, however, Superina gets a call: A live armadillo has turned up. She rushes to the scene to collect data vital to understanding the species. “It's always a magical experience to see a pink fairy armadillo in the flesh, up close, but I put my awe to one side because we have to work fast to avoid causing any unnecessary stress, so we can immediately release the animal,” she says.

On one occasion several years ago, however, she did take one of the rescued animals home. The provincial department of natural resources had requested her help: The idea was that, by studying the basic needs of an animal under her care, Superina could improve the chances of successfully rehabilitating injured armadillos, so they could be released back into the wild. Despite being obsessed with the armadillo, it was not an easy sell for Superina.

“At first, I refused because these animals are very sensitive and usually die within a few days,” she says. “But then I realized that, for their conservation, we need to understand if it's possible to keep them alive in captivity.”

Even now, as she recalls the event, she stresses that it’s not only illegal but also unethical to keep the animals as pets. Undertaking her role as armadillo caregiver required a special permit—and some serious home renovation. Ferraris, Superina’s partner, built a huge, sand-filled terrarium for the armadillo in their living room, creating natural hiding places and setting up infrared cameras to record its behavior. “It was quite an experience,” says Superina, laughing. “Our lives revolved around this pink fairy armadillo. We couldn’t go anywhere because we had to be in the house every night to care for it, and study its behavior.”

The unusual houseguest was rather demanding. Superina brought it a variety of insects and worms, but the pink fairy turned up its pale nose at everything offered. Undeterred, the scientist tried one idea after the next. Finally, 36 meticulously-prepared recipes later, the armadillo tucked into a meal that apparently satisfied its gourmet tastes: a premium brand of cat food mixed with finely mashed banana, and sprinkled liberally with insectivore pellets. The finicky fairy would leave its burrow to eat the food at exactly 9 p.m. each night.

“If only the slightest thing was moved in the terrarium, the armadillo would start scurrying around making this eerie, high-pitched scream until everything was put back exactly in the same place,” says Superina.

Her fussy subject, alas, lived only eight months, but the experiment provided valuable information about how to care for injured individuals during rehabilitation. Learning about the animal in the wild, however, remains difficult.

The pink fairy is particularly problematic because standard field observation techniques are of limited use. Radio transmitters used for tracking mammals, for example, are usually attached by placing collars around the neck; the armadillo’s body shape makes this nearly impossible. So Superina decided to use special glue to fasten a tiny radio transmitter to the pink fairy armadillo’s armored rear.

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When a farmer found one of the animals out and about, “We went and attached a transmitter and released it back into the desert,” Superina says. “And off it went, looking like a little bumper car with the antennae trailing behind.” The next morning they found the tracks in the sand and began following the signal to look for the animal—only to discover that the transmitter had fallen off while it was digging itself back underground. She’s now exploring other options to track the armadillos, including one that relies on an animal that is usually more foe than friend to the pink fairy: the dog.

Superina is working with an organization that has successfully trained scent detection dogs in Africa to track down another secretive, armored insectivore: the pangolin. Superina hopes that a dog could be trained to locate pink fairy armadillos so researchers can fit them with improved radio transmitters.

For Superina, the search for the pink fairy has taken on an added sense of urgency. So little is known about the species that scientists can’t say whether it’s endangered—or how climate change is affecting it. “We just don't know how these animals are going to cope,” Superina says.

For now, she waits, with a tiny transmitter at the ready, for the next appearance of her obsession. Tracking the animal underground will be a scientific milestone, but, perhaps more importantly, says Superina, it will be “a small step to better understanding this species, its needs, and what it needs from us for its conservation.”

26 Jan. 2023

In early 2019, freestyle stunt biker Tana Luciya Joji was practicing on a remote stretch of asphalt in Kerala, India. Street Lordz, her stunt biking team, was set to perform at a local college in only a few weeks. Expertly, she executed a wheelie, followed by the human compass, steering her bike in tight circles around one leg stretched to the ground. Shifting to the high chair, she swung her legs up over the handlebars of the moving bike. Her final stunt was the most dangerous, the Christ. Joji locked the throttle to 10 mph, hopped up to squat on the seat, then stood upright on the moving bike, her arms outstretched. Once safely back in her seat, Joji gazed up at the sky and said a silent prayer, just as her coach had taught her. Safety is never guaranteed in stunt biking.

As she wheeled to the exit, she hit a pothole. The bike tilted and fell. Too heavy for her to pick up alone, she waved over a male biker. He stopped, but rather than help, said, “Why do women do things that are not meant for them?” and sped away. Furious, Joji lifted the 300-pound bike in one go.

As stunt biking has gained popularity in India, more and more female riders are joining in. Together, they are pushing back against traditional gender roles and inspiring one another through education and community-building.

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Stunt biking’s popularity in India soared with the launch of MTV’s Stunt Mania in 2009. While the show’s three seasons largely featured male riders, several female bikers made the cut, including Firdaus Shaikh from the western Indian city of Pune. Initially encouraged by her mother to pick up the sport, Shaikh says, “stunt biking is an adrenaline high, very addictive. You do it for the thrill.”

Despite her father owning a motorcycle showroom, Shaikh didn’t get her own bike till she was 21, when her mother gave her one. Her father disapproved, getting angry if Shaikh even mentioned riding. When Shaikh was growing up, few women owned bikes—let alone practiced stunt biking. But Shaikh quickly excelled at stunting and was thrilled when Stunt Mania cast her on their first season. Her father, however, refused to watch a single episode. “It was hurtful,” she says.

Akhitha M D, a biker from the state of Kerala in the southwestern corner of India, grew up watching Shaikh on Stunt Mania. Inspired by Shaikh’s tenacity, Akhitha, who goes by her first name (a common practice in Kerala), started riding her father’s Bajaj CT100 scooter when she was only 11. By the time she was a teenager, she was practicing stunts in empty parking lots on a Bajaj Pulsar 180, a larger, more powerful bike her father had bought her. When she told her family she planned to go pro, they were taken aback—but no one tried to stop her.

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Akhitha quickly realized she needed a coach. Her search led her to a Mysuru-based stunt biking group in southeast India. Impressed by her enthusiasm, the group’s founder, Syed Shadab, decided to coach her. Akhitha went on to become the sole female rider with Shadab’s Legendary Stunts Inc, a stunt-riding team that performs across southern India. Akhitha was lucky; many male coaches refuse to train women altogether, often leaving female stunt bikers, like Shaikh and Joji, learning dangerous tricks from internet tutorials.

Regardless of how you learn a trick, every stunt biker needs safety equipment, a lot of it. “There is a jacket with elbow pads, trousers with knee pads, a back protector, chest guards, shoulder caps, a helmet, gloves, and big, shiny boots,” lists off Joji. But women have a difficult time finding gear that fits. “All this gear is for men only. We have to make do with smaller sizes of the men’s range,” she says.

When Thanooja Nizar, a stunt rider from Coimbatore, a city in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, started riding at 14, she didn’t have proper gear or a coach. Nonetheless, at 16, she came in second at 2021’s South India Women’s Stunt Biking Competition. But no one from her family watched her clinch the title, says Nizar, who eventually did find a coach years later.

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While no laws forbid women from stunt biking in India, some female bikers have had run-ins with the police. Nizar remembers one instance when she was in a hurry to get home and didn’t notice a police officer trying to pull her over. The next day, an officer snatched her bike keys and ordered her to the police station. “The officers pointed to a woman in the lockup and said that I would meet the same fate if I did not stop stunt biking. They said that women who did stunt biking had loose morals and that they had arrested many for drug peddling.” After charging her a fine for speeding the previous day, the police released her. Undeterred, Nizar was back on her bike days later, practicing a wheelie.

Despite the challenges, female stunt bikers continue to make inroads in the sport. In May 2017, 22-year-old stunt biker Anam Hashmi became one of the first Indian women to win an international stunt competition. In 2020, director Saumitra Singh announced that he would be making a feature film about Hashmi’s life. At the 2022 India Republic Day parade, the all-female stunt team Seema Bhawani performed trick after trick to thunderous cheers. As the bikes rolled onto the main boulevard in New Delhi, team member Anita Bharti lazily read a magazine while cruising with her legs up over the bike’s handlebars. Determined to support women in the sport, Shaikh co-founded the Bikerni in 2011, India’s first group for female motorcyclists; the group now has local chapters in 17 states. “There will always be folks who will tell you that you should not be riding a bike. Do not pay heed to such negativity,” Shaikh says. “It doesn’t matter what you are riding, a 200cc or a 1000cc motorcycle. The point is you love riding. You love the feeling when you are on the road—that is the only thing that matters.”

25 Jan. 2023

Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten wasn’t content to take over Thebes, the splendid capital his father ruled before him. For his reign, only a city dedicated to the sun god would do.

Akhenaten built Amarna hastily 250 miles to the north, its mud brick temples, estates and roads rising from the banks of the Nile in just four years in the mid-14th century BCE. The pharaoh moved into the Northern Palace and filled his court with paintings of birds.

By the artistic standards of the day, the murals in the palace’s Green Room were its most unusual. Instead of stylized and symbolic, they were painted naturally with such realism that researchers Christopher M. Stimpson and Barry J. Kemp believe they have identified most of the 3,300-year-old species. Six of the nine birds are almost certainly pigeons.

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That wasn’t especially surprising; pigeons regularly appear in ancient Egyptian art and are depicted elsewhere in the art of Amarna. But here, they are out of place. Rock pigeons don’t fancy riverbanks and marshes; they roost up high in cliffs and caves. So, why are there so many in the bucolic riverside scene in the Green Room?

“This is, and remains, a puzzle,” says Stimpson, an honorary associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who co-authored an article on the birds in the journal Antiquity.

What archaeologists do know is that pigeons were probably one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans, a kind of avian Swiss army knife for the ages. Not only can they be eaten, but their feces make excellent fertilizer and they can be trained to complete fairly complex tasks.

Images and carvings of the pigeons first appear in the Middle East and North Africa around 3,000 years ago, according to Colin Jerolmack, professor of sociology and environmental studies at New York University and author of The Global Pigeon. They’d probably been lurking around North African and Middle Eastern cities for close to 2,000 years before that.

“Until the telegram, pigeons were the most reliable messaging system in the world,” Jerolmack explains. There’s even evidence that ancient Egyptians used pigeons for communication around the same time Amarna was occupied. “An Egyptian bas-relief from around 1350 BCE depicts a flock of pigeons being released from their cages to fly and then return.”

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Dovecotes—earthen towers built to house domestic pigeons—offer more evidence of pigeon domestication along the Nile beginning around 2,000 years ago. In densely packed Mit Ghamr about 175 miles north of Amarna, hundreds of historic dovecotes are still packed into its city streets today.

But at Amarna, which was inhabited for less than two decades between 1346 and 1332 BCE, there aren’t any dovecotes. There is virtually no archaeological evidence that pigeons were ever present at all.

“While rock pigeon bones have been found amidst the archaeological remains at Amarna, they are quite rare and were likely the remains of meals of local workers in the Pharaonic period,” says Stimpson. “This rarity would seem to suggest against pigeons being held in captivity, certainly in any numbers.”

But pigeons “have been in cities as long as we’ve had cities,” says Jerolmack. Even if the people of Amarna didn’t intentionally raise them, the pigeons may have found favorable living conditions in the city of around 30,000, putting them in closer proximity to the rivers and marshes nearby.

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“It’s thought that pigeons gravitated to cities to feast on the fields that surrounded them, and found walls and cornices to be suitable places to roost and nest,” explains Jerolmack. In a large city from the 14th century BCE, “I would certainly expect to find pigeons.”

It’s likely that pigeons were attracted to Amarna, agrees Stimpson. But unlike modern urban landscapes in which pigeons are often considered “rats with wings” or vectors of disease, if the city did have feral pigeons, they probably weren’t viewed as a problem. “Quite the opposite, in fact,” he says. “Given that pigeons feature as votive offerings and were consumed as food, these birds [would] have made a positive contribution to both spiritual and practical life.”

Without direct evidence from Amarna, though, Stimpson’s and co-author Kemp’s best guess is that the depiction of rock pigeons in a riverbank scene where they would never have been found in real life was nothing more than a whim of the artist or artists responsible.

“Ultimately we felt it was artistic license and that the rock pigeons were included in the scene as simple motifs or tokens of wild nature,” he says. But Stimpson stresses that although their conclusions are one interpretation of the evidence, they’re not absolute. “We certainly hope the article encourages others to review the art and judge for themselves.”

25 Jan. 2023

Listen and subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all major podcast apps.


In this episode of The Atlas Obscura Podcast, we visit Empress Anna’s Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the site of an incredibly strange wedding. Was it a cruel joke? A strategic power move? Or something else?

Read more about it here.

Our podcast is an audio guide to the world’s wondrous, awe-inspiring, strange places. In under 15 minutes, we’ll take you to an incredible site, and along the way you’ll meet some fascinating people and hear their stories. Join us daily, Monday through Thursday, to explore a new wonder with cofounder Dylan Thuras and a neighborhood of Atlas Obscura reporters.

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25 Jan. 2023

With most of the country just under the Arctic Circle, Iceland does not experience true polar night, where the sun stays below the horizon and darkness lingers throughout the winter.

However, some parts of Iceland do experience a version of this phenomenon. Due to the nation’s steep mountains, many people live in areas where the peaks block the sun’s rays. This includes Ísafjörður, a small town in the Westfjords of Iceland. There, from late November to late January, the rays of the sun fail to reach the town, leaving it in shadow.

On January 25 each year, the sun finally arrives at Sólgata, or “Sun Street,” in Ísafjörður. To celebrate, families and friends gather for Sólarkaffi, “Sun coffee,” to welcome the return of the sun.

If it is a cloudy or stormy day, which is not uncommon for Iceland at this time of year, many will postpone the celebration. But even if the sun’s rays can be felt for just a few precious minutes, out comes the strong coffee and Icelandic pancakes, along with wishes of gleðilega sólrisu, or “Merry sunrise!”

Around Iceland, many people celebrate Sólardagur (“Sun Day”) around January 25 with sweets and hot drinks. But in villages such as Ísafjörður, many families choose to have their Sólarkaffi on the exact day that the sun hits their home.

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Ásdís Guðmundsdóttir has lived in Ísafjörður for the majority of her life. She can remember celebrating the holiday when she was eight years old, with her mother making pancakes when the sun finally reached town on a clear day. Now, she celebrates with her great-grandchildren, making and eating pancakes the same way she did as a child: with whipped cream and jam.

Icelandic pancakes, pönnukökur, are crepe-like pancakes best served with homemade rhubarb jam and whipped cream. Some people like to cover them in sugar and then roll them up to be eaten like a hot dog. The golden pancakes, with their resemblance to the sun, are eaten to celebrate making it through the darkest days of the year. “We like to call them Sólarpönnukökur ("Sun pancakes"),” says Edda Björk Jónsdóttir, a specialist in education and communication at the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður.

In Siglufjörður, a small town surrounded by steep mountains in the north of Iceland, Sólardagur is celebrated on January 28, the day that the sun’s rays shine over the mountaintops and fall on the town.

In addition to celebrations at home, companies in town set aside time for employees to have sun pancakes together. At noon, elementary school children gather on the church steps to sing songs such as “Sól er yfir Fjallabyggð,” an ode celebrating the light reaching the Fjallabyggð region.

These days, most people tend to leave their small fishing villages to move to the capital of Reykjavík, often for employment or education. Yet Sólardagur is such a meaningful day to people from places like Ísafjörður and Siglufjörður that it is also celebrated in Reykjavík, even though the city receives direct sunlight throughout the winter.

Ísfirðingafélagið, founded in 1945, is an organization based in Reykjavík that connects people from Ísafjörður who have moved to the city. Their big event of the year is Sólarkaffi.Since 1946, it has been held annually, except for when the Covid-19 pandemic prevented large gatherings of people.

What began as a small gathering over coffee and pancakes on a Sunday afternoon is now a Friday night event with a ball and dancing—but only after the traditional coffee and pancakes are served, of course. “Even though we moved to Reykjavík and could see the sun all year around, we kept this tradition to celebrate the day of the sun, in honor of our hometown and those who live there and have not seen the sun for a long time,” says Rúnar Örn Rafnsson, the current chairman of Ísfirðingafélagið.

“Pancakes and coffee are a vital part of the celebration,” says composer and pianist Halldór Smárason, who is from Ísafjörður but now lives near Reykjavík. Smárason performs at Sólarkaffi every year, and wouldn’t miss it for the world. “I really love this event as it’s an opportunity to reunite with old friends and familiar faces from my hometown,” he says.

For many people, Sólardagur marks a return to easier times. “The sun makes everyone happier, the grass gets greener, fishing becomes more manageable, and the long-awaited light creates a true and deep feeling of appreciation in all of us,” says Smárason.

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The celebration is especially meaningful, considering that the winter darkness can be detrimental to mental health. Thelma Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the head of the mental health team at the hospital in Ísafjörður, notes that the arrival of the sun in dark Icelandic towns is a genuine cause for celebration. “It means a lot to us when it happens, because of how it can affect us to be in darkness for so long,” she says, “which people might not quite understand unless they live with it.”

Jónsdóttir from the Herring Era Museum shares that sentiment. “I think that most people associate hope with the Sólardagur,” she says. “Some people have said that it’s almost like the sun fills you with light, hope, and joy on the inside.”

More than simply coffee and pancakes, Sólardagur and Sólarkaffi are a chance for families and communities to celebrate the first sign of winter’s end, together. “It’s definitely a turning point,” says Jónsdóttir. “We have been without the sun for over two months, and when the sun finally comes back, it means that there will be less darkness.”

24 Jan. 2023

The year of 1930 was a whirlwind for Washington, D.C. socialite Roxana B. Doran. Between hosting Daughters of the American Revolution chapter meetings, leading local church groups, and presiding over garden parties in Georgetown with husband Dr. James Doran, a government chemist, the 41-year-old Minnesota native was hard at work completing and promoting her authorial debut: a much-buzzed-about mixology guide called Prohibition Punches.

The compilation of fruit juice-based drink recipes—dozens of frothy, alcohol-free concoctions that today could only be described as “mocktails”—was politically conscious, health-conscious, and status-conscious. It boasted a foreword by Harvey Washington Wiley, former chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, and its illustrated pages were filled with the all-natural libations supposedly enjoyed by Washington, D.C.’s elite.

This no-booze book aimed at the housewives of America could be nothing but political. The book amplified not just Doran’s platform as a prominent Women’s Christian Temperance Union leader but her husband’s agenda as well: Dr. Doran had served as Commissioner of Prohibition and was the government’s Administrator of Industrial Alcohol. “Proudly,” Time magazine observed in late 1929, “his wife tells friends that she ‘brings up the reinforcements.’”

Roxana Doran’s publishing foray made headlines, some in praise of her efforts, and some gently mocking the book’s crusading recipes. But Prohibition Punches, surprisingly, turned out to be a commercial success. Even more surprisingly, the book may have provided a genuine contribution to American public health.


By the time Roxana Doran began writing her book, the “Drys” were edging toward political defeat. Black-market alcohol had caused skyrocketing crime and alcoholism rates, and the financial fallout from the Great Crash of 1929 added political pressure to repeal the 18th Amendment. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union itself had waned in power since playing a key role in the amendment’s passage years earlier. Still, the international organization was as committed as ever to the cause.

In September 1929, the scuttlebutt in society pages was that Doran was to be appointed director of WCTU’s newly created Non-Alcoholic Fruit Products Department. The cumbersome name obfuscated a simple goal: to promote healthy and tasty drinks made of fruit juices in lieu of the much-reviled liquor. The WCTU had recognized that, for the masses to truly embrace Prohibition as a way of life, non-alcoholic drinks needed to be made fun, festive, and glamorous.

Enter the movement’s new unofficial first lady, Roxana Doran. “Since Dr. Doran is chief prohibition enforcement officer in the United States, appointment of his wife to serve as head of the new department for the promotion of nonalcoholic fruit beverages would place them in two of the most commanding positions in the fight against the liquor traffic,” observed a front-page article in the Indianapolis Star that September.

Ever the consummate hostess (her name was a fixture in society pages), Doran preached that party libations could be crowd-pleasing while still following the letter of the law. "Prohibition took something away from the American people, but we can give them something just as good—a cocktail that satisfies but does not inebriate,” she announced.

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Doran by no means invented the modern-day mocktail (let alone coined the term “prohibition punches”). But her project aroused excitement among temperance-toeing women in both her elite D.C. social circle and across the nation. She spent several months picking brains and perfecting 12 initial “punches,” which she sent to the WCTU to distribute via pamphlet. She wasn’t above name-dropping, proposing that “each recipe be sponsored and named for some person whose opinion carries weight, perhaps a Senator or Congressman.”

To this end, she snagged recipes allegedly created and enjoyed by Laura Volstead Lomen, the daughter of infamous Minnesota congressman Andrew Volstead, and Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the tenacious former U.S. Assistant Attorney General. Eventually, she even induced men such as Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, then history’s most decorated Marine to contribute a recipe, consisting of tea and several juices.

By February 1930, the Ladies’ Home Journal had highlighted Doran’s project, and promotional photos of the mocktail maven whipping up drinks in her home kitchen circulated in newspapers across the country. “Mrs. James M. Doran, wife of our prohibition commissioner, tells us she gets letters from Maine to California asking for her recipe for kickless cocktails,” noted an Indiana paper’s news correspondent in Washington, D.C.

With all this media attention Doran’s WCTU initiative soon ballooned into a full-length book. Each of the seven chapters are dedicated to a different hour of the day, with drinks ranging from “Frosted Orange Juice” and “Cantaloupe Cocktail” (to be served with breakfast) to lunch refreshments like “Raspberry Shrub” and “Honey Iced Chocolate.” Other recipes, including “Pineapple Smash,” “Mock Champagne,” and “Loganberry Frappé,” were to be ladled out during “Teas,” “Garden Parties,” “Summer Suppers,” and “Evening Parties, Receptions, Balls, etc.” Children had their own special drinks section. “There is even a vegetable cocktail for those interested in vitamins,” the book’s jacket advertised. “Cocktails or the breakfast room, the living room, the veranda, the dining-room, the ball room and even for the nursery. Drinks that are fizzy and drinks that are quiescent—smashes and swizzles and floats and sherbets and frappés and just plain punches—a generous assortment. Try them in your cocktail shaker!”


Considering Prohibition’s polarizing nature (and the book’s purple prose), it’s no surprise that Prohibition Punches, published that summer by Philadelphia-based publishers Dorrance & Company, was received with mixed reactions. With every positive review—“It is written so colorfully and intelligently it would tempt even cocktail crusaders to mend their ways,” raved the Pittsburgh Press—mild criticisms arose. “Mrs. Doran has padded out this slender volume on a rather restricted subject,” sniped “The Literary Lantern,” a syndicated Southern newspaper column. “When you boil out the duplicates and come down to basic recipes there are not so many different tricks in the mixing of these non-alcoholic drinks.” Other magazines had humorous takes, notably Vanity Fair writer Corey Ford’s December 1930 tribute, “Have One on Me, Mrs. Doran,” which noted that the author’s elaborate recipes could all do with one simple extra ingredient: liquor.

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Doran reportedly gathered hundreds more alcohol-free drink recipes, yet Prohibition Punches was her first and only published recipe collection. In mid-1933 a new WCTU member stepped into Roxana Doran’s shoes as the organization’s elected fruit-juice proponent, only a few months before Prohibition was repealed entirely. Still, the book was moderately successful, receiving a second printing and generating enough chatter to keep its author in the news for several years. And while Prohibition Punches might read by some today as treacly or propagandist, there was a genuine public-health purpose behind its publication.

Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who wrote a glowing introduction to Prohibition Punches shortly before his death in June 1930 at age 85, “was fairly fanatic about food safety and food purity,” says Deborah Blum, director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program and the author of The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. He had spent his entire professional career fighting to pass 1906’s Pure Food and Drugs Act, but he couldn’t have done it alone: his strategic relationship with women’s groups like the WCTU had in no small way helped clean up America’s food, drink, and medicine.

It’s fitting that one of the scientist’s last public writings prior to his death would be in the WCTU’s service. But why would Wiley, a noted enjoyer of fine whiskey, endorse Prohibition Punches at all? Much less as “a new line of thought” helping to pave the way for “a healthier and more contented mental attitude than American society has known since the chaotic period of the World War?”

Wiley had fought against one thing for decades: poison. Bootleg liquor was frequently tainted, of which the crusading chemist would have been all too aware, and consuming it could lead to blindness, paralysis, and death. And as Blum wrote in another book, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, the federal government had also poisoned U.S.-manufactured industrial alcohols in the 1920s to enforce Prohibition. Their program alone may have resulted in the deaths of as many as 10,000 drinkers.

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“People like Al Capone were stealing industrial alcohol and trying to clean up the bad ingredients in it, and then repackaging it as bootleg whiskey,” Blum explains. “The bootleggers all hired chemists to clean up the whiskey, so the federal government came back and hired chemists to figure out how to make the whiskey so poisonous that it couldn't be cleaned up.” Among these government chemists was Roxana Doran’s own husband, James M. Doran.

“I don't think Harvey Washington Wiley was ever out there pushing for Prohibition,” Blum says. “But I think he was always out there pushing for healthy eating and drinking habits. And I think that Prohibition would have made him very wary of what people were drinking. Unless you had an absolutely reliable good source of real alcohol, you were really risking your life every time you drank.”

With this all in mind, one could read Prohibition Punches and “make a case that not only are these better for your body, but they could actually save your life,” Blum observes. Given the ubiquity of the era’s cocktail parties, she adds, it was shrewd for influencers like those in the book “to come in and say, ‘You can have a great life with these fancy, non-alcoholic drinks.’” Roxane Doran’s attempt to make fruit juice fashionable, in a way, may have helped protect Americans from tainted mixed beverages.

With Prohibition’s repeal in December 1933, both the temperance movement and Roxane Doran’s mocktails slipped into distant memory. But irony remained alive and well: as the decade progressed, Dr. James Doran, husband to one of Prohibition’s most vocal cheerleaders and himself once described as occupying one of the nation’s “most commanding positions in the fight against the liquor traffic,” found himself acting as director of the government’s Distilled Spirits Institute.

24 Jan. 2023

This week marks the start of the Year of the Rabbit or the Year of the Cat—depending one's cultural traditions—and communities throughout Asia and around the world will celebrate the Lunar New Year, marked by the second new moon after the winter solstice. These stories are some of our favorites that go deep into the fireworks, feasts, and family time that make this part of the year so special.

Blacksmiths Create Fiery Sparkling Rays With Molten Metal

The farming town of Nuanquan, China, celebrates the holiday with a 300-year-old spin on fireworks.

Every Lunar New Year in a farming village in China’s coal country, a group of daring blacksmiths dons wide-brimmed straw hats and sheepskin vests. Those are their only layers of protection as they fling molten metal against a cold stone wall and stand beneath bursting showers of fire. This pyrotechnic display is known as Da Shuhua, which translates to “beating down the tree flowers.”

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The Magic Behind the Lunar New Year Is Lots of Hard Work

A peek behind the scenes of celebrations from Vietnam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and beyond.

For Atlas Obscura visuals editor Winnie Lee, the most memorable moments of the Lunar New Year aren’t the celebrations themselves, but rather the bustling times spent preparing with loved ones. And as families make their own preparations, around the world, armies of dedicated craftspeople, cooks, and more work around the clock in the days leading up to the festivals to ensure unforgettable experiences.

How a Monster-Repelling Cake Became a Lunar New Year Staple

Nian gao is a sticky cake for sticky situations.

During Lunar New Year a prosperous future belongs to those who eat their weight in luck. Diners slurp long noodles to ensure long lives and scarf down bone-in fish to swim to new fortunes. But in China, the sweetest of these auspicious New Year dishes may be nian gao, a sticky cake eaten with the hope that the upcoming year will be more fortunate than the last.

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The Easy, Edible Art of Lunar New Year Dumplings

Celebrate family and good fortune with a recipe for these simple goldfish.

Tāngyuán (汤圆), or literally, “soup balls”—tiny rice dumplings with chewy, mochi-like wrappers and sweet fillings, served in a fragrant syrup—are a classic Chinese dessert often served at holidays. Traditionally, this dish is as minimalist as it gets. But recently tāngyuán have taken on a new look as canvases for edible art.

Malaysia Has Turned Lion Dancing Into a Gravity-Defying Extreme Sport

A fixture of Lunar New Year rises to new heights.

The lion dance is performed to bring in luck and prosperity and is a common fixture at the Lunar New Year. The pantomime performance has always required a degree of style and athleticism, but over the past 30 years Chinese Malaysians have raised the stakes, turning the ancient tradition into an extreme sport.

13 Dec. 2022

Topped with garish pink icing and baked in a sheet pan, Tottenham cake is an old-fashioned treat. Slices of this coconut-bedecked cake are sold in bakeries around the United Kingdom. But it has one particular feature that sets it apart from other cakes: its connection to football (or, as it’s known in the USA, soccer) victory.

First baked by local Quaker Henry Chalkley in the early 20th century, the cake’s bright pink icing came from mulberries plucked in Tottenham, a town within the unassuming North London district of Haringey. In 1901,  slices of the cake were handed out to children for free to celebrate the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club winning the Football Association Cup in 1901. Ever since, it has been indelibly associated with the sport, to the point that a century later, the cake is still served at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium for special occasions.

Siobhán Haire, deputy recording clerk and member of the Tottenham Meeting House, says that the cake is a symbol of traditional  Quaker values. It's “cheap to produce, and sell and thus accessible to everyone, which probably speaks a little to Quaker testimonies of simplicity,” she says.

There is still a mulberry tree to be found in the Quaker burial ground, which has found a new life as a community garden today. Until recently, local historian and Quaker Peter Brown was known for baking Tottenham cake with the mulberries. Sadly, Brown passed away in 2022, but the Haringey government website has archived his recipe for curious bakers to try.

According to culinary historian Regula Ysewijn, the cake's main feature is its pink icing is thin enough to soak through the sponge and turn it even pinker. The cake then can be decorated either with colorful hundreds and thousands (sprinkles) or desiccated coconut.

In her book Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The History of British Baking, Savoury and Sweet, Ysewijn described a version of the cake that she found in a cookbook from 1909.

That early recipe produced a “giant” cake made with five kilograms, or around 11 pounds of flour, but no egg and barely any sugar, so Ysewijn concludes that it was “clearly cheap to make.” Since oddly-shaped side pieces were even cheaper back in the day, even more children were able to enjoy it, making nostalgia a huge part of its appeal.

“It appeals to children because of the colors, and it appeals to parents because it doesn't cost a lot to buy a treat,” says Ysewijn.

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