Among the stained glass windows and marble statues in Siena’s biggest church is a more alternative relic: the decaying head and finger of Saint Catherine. Nina Strochlic takes a look.
Italian churches are known for many things: extravagant architecture, historical frescoes, and smooth-cut marble statues.
But the Catholic Church doesn’t shy from the macabre, either. In smaller churches far away from the well-trodden holy sites, like Florence’s Duomo and the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, a strain of more unusual relics can be found: the semi-preserved bodies of ancient Catholic saints. Many have been interred in the back of worship sites, displayed in gilded cases behind panes of glass.
In the scenic town of Siena, the resident mortal remains take an even more morbid turn. Prominently displayed in the vast Basilica di San Domenico is the disembodied, decaying head of Saint Catherine of Siena wrapped in a white nun’s habit. Nearby, her thumb is positioned upright under glass cover. These appendages are separated by 150 miles from the rest of her body, laid to rest under a sarcophagus displayed at the Basilica Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome.
Think you’ve spotted a UFO on a remote mountaintop in Bulgaria? Think again. The now-abandoned, saucer-like structure was built in the 80s to host large gatherings of citizens to celebrate socialism.
UFO sightings tend to be fleeting, occasionally captured in a photograph, but, more often than not, merely a lingering and dubious memory. But on a remote mountain in Bulgaria, the extraterrestrial-like structure of a once-magnificent temple to socialism shows us what an alien landing might look like.
In mid winter, the eerie Buzludzha Monument (Buzludja) sits in deep snow on the historical peak of Mount Buzludzha (1441m) in Buzludzha National Park. (Timothy Allen/Getty)
In 1981, on the 1300th anniversary of the founding of Bulgaria, proud citizens made the three-hour journey en masse from the capital of Sofia to see the newly opened Buzludzha Monument. It had taken workers seven years, the collaboration of 60 artists, thousands of “volunteers,” and the equivalent of $10 million to build the shrine to socialism. The resulting saucer-like structure with a connecting, star-inscribed tower was meant to commemorate an early gathering of socialists in the late 1800s who met on that same spot of the Central Stara Planina, where Bulgarian and Russian forces had once defeated the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War, to form a clandestine movement that set the foundation for the future political system.
The first sign on the path up the mountain is a pair of giant metallic hands clutching torches and built into the stone, followed by an imposing set of stairs that leads to the enormous concrete structure. Inside, massive, crumbling mosaics depicting Lenin, Marx, and Bulgarian workers encircle a vast auditorium. A hammer and sickle are set against a red backdrop at the center of the domed ceiling with words that translate to, “Proletariat of every country, unite!”
What makes Etgar Keret think of his home of Tel Aviv as a short story? He talks about his childhood, why he’s Jewish rather than Israeli, and his love of the beach with Henry Krempels in this edition of “Literary City.”
If, at random, you picked an Etgar Keret short story to read, you would likely come across one of a few things: humor, sex, and, or an urban Israeli setting.
The 46-year-old Keret’s work remains a guiding force for contemporary Israeli literature, and his more recent success in film has since introduced him to a whole new generation of admirers. He is also currently a part of Miranda July’s We Think Alone, a project that has allowed us to be privy to his, and others, personal correspondence. It’s a selection of emails ranging from advice on writing to an amusing recollection of a dream, and Keret’s are, perhaps predictably, both touching and hilarious.
Here, the Tel Avivian native talks about what it means to live in the city known to outsiders as “the Bubble.”
Where are you now?
With roosters for alarm clocks, oddball characters, and rum punch so potent the ice won't float, the Grenadines are blessedly untouched by time. Gully Wells revels in these tiny specks in a sea of blue.
by Gully Wells
The very first time I went to the West Indies, which must have been more than forty years ago, I flew in a small private plane that shook, rattled, and rolled its leisurely way on the seventy-five miles between Grenada and St. Vincent. Perhaps to amuse himself or to terrify me or quite possibly both, the pilot swooped down low—so low that people waved cheerily up at us from the decks of their yachts, giving me a closer view than I might have wished for of the tiny islands that lay carelessly scattered across the ocean below. "What," I shouted above the roar of the engine, "are they called?" "The Grenadines," he shouted back. Which was the entire extent of our conversation.
There's not a 3,000-passenger ship in sight as the New Moon, the 32-foot sloop chartered by the author, sails by one of over 600 islands that make up the Grenadines.
Some of the smaller uninhabited islands resembled oddly misshapen loaves of bread, others protruded from the sea like a giant's rotting molars; some reminded me of the elegant spires of submerged cathedrals, while others lay low like lurking crocodiles. Dotted about were sandy crescents covered in palm trees—cliché cartoon desert islands surrounded by reefs and limpid aquamarine water. Even the larger islands, most of which were no more than a couple of miles across—volcanic cones draped in dark-green velvet cloaks—looked scarcely big enough to be inhabited, but I could clearly see toy villages set high in the hills and toy boats bobbing in the harbors. I remember wondering what it could possibly be like to live your life on an isolated dot of land not much bigger than New York City's Central Park.
Watch out humans, the cat invasion has begun. On one island off the coast of Japan, four-legged felines outnumber residents and are driving the tourist trade. Nina Strochlic reports.
On one idyllic Japanese island, there's no such thing as a dog person.
Tashirojima is a dwindling two-port, 100-person fishing community where cats outnumber humans many times over. It's a real-life cat haven, where dogs are reportedly banned from entering and monuments to the feline overlords are plentiful. The story goes that cats first prospered on the island back when occupants raised silkworms and enlisted their four-legged friends to help keep the destructive mice away. Later in the 1800s, when Tashirojima's fishing grounds became popular, fishermen came to believe that the island’s cats gave hints about weather patterns and the day's catch. They doted upon the strays that would wander into their inns and thought that feeding them would guarantee prosperity.
A resident of the island feeds some of the cats. (Sankei/Getty Images)
A few years ago, a documentary crew filmed a TV segment on the cats of Tashirojima, focusing on one black-and-white male with a droopy ear. He was dubbed Jack the Lop Ear and has become somewhat of a local celebrity. Not long after, the famous feline residents found themselves attracting a much-needed rush of tourism to the island, drawing in curious camera-and-treat-wielding visitors on the slow ferry that connects Tashirojima to the mainland. The cat population has inspired novelty souvenirs, including calendars.
World leaders are heading to Russia’s second-largest city for two days of photo-ops and meetings. Fun, right? Instead, may we suggest pulling a Ferris Bueller and sneaking out for a day on the town?
On September 5, leaders from the world’s top nations will arrive in St. Petersburg and begin shuttling between very important plenary sessions and photos ops with their fellow rulers—and sometime rivals—during the annual two-day G20 summit. But let’s face it, these international confabs can get a little dull. Rather than resorting to a covert game of online poker to get through the monotony, political and business leaders should slip out to see a little of what St. Petersburg has to offer outside of the conference-room walls.
The good news is G20 participants will be holed up at the Constantine Palace, which is a historic landmark in its own right; the bad news is they’re a semi-isolated, 30-minute jaunt from the city center. But don’t worry, no one will notice a prime minister slipping out—they’ll be too distracted by President Obama’s plans to ruffle the Kremlin’s feathers by meeting with human rights activists on the first day of the summit. While he’s busy getting under Putin’s skin, here’s a guide for what other, more rebellious, leaders should do around St. Petersburg.
GAWK at the unparalleled treasures of the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace. You could spend a whole day wandering through this complex comprising the former royal residence, hermitages, a theater, auxiliary showroom, and more. Since time is of the essence, check out the current “Europe Without Borders” installation on the Bronze Age before rushing back for a G20-style lesson on European borders.
From a submerged Bar Refaeli to a Mediterranean idyll, a voyeur’s look at the stars’ sun-soaked scenes.
Wildlife, storytelling, dung, and other things I encountered on my Zambian safari.
The bouillabaisse is just as tasty, but Europe’s 2013 Capital of Culture now has a lot more to offer. Anna Watson Carl reports.
More than a natural wonder, Cappadocia's formations have been a safe haven to many. Nina Strochlic reports.
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications, remembers the fun early days of travel guide writing, but says they're not over yet.
Miley Cyrus’ fav new haunt is Beacher’s Madhouse, the craziest club in Los Angeles.
Take the vacation of a lifetime—in beautiful North Korea? That’s Uri Tours’ pitch. Lloyd Grove reports.
In ‘Mapping Manhattan,’ explore the city via 75 New Yorkers’ personal geographies. By Allison McNearney.