Dead Can Dance

The Hotel for the Departed, a City of
Mausoleums & a Coffin-Making Class

In the age of transcontinental traveling, it’s not easy to be buried in your hometown. Unless you choose to live where you plan to die. But for your grieving loved ones, nothing like a hotel to send you off in style. Better yet, why not build your own coffin?
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. Like our ancestors, we angst about what to do with the deceased and imagine those we’ll leave behind will surely grieve over us. By then, though, the great absentee of this party – us – won’t care one way or another.
We build crypts, enact rituals and come up with ways to memorialize the lives that were, so to transcend, or rather forget, the natural fact that once we’re born, we’re ever closer to the end. But even as we’re off and running towards oblivion, there’s still a lot of candles to light up.
Granted, there are those who truly couldn’t care less. Others never saw a life they didn’t want to murder. And yet, another class of hopefuls spend their waking hours, and loads of cash, trying to outlast the unrevealed count of the days already allotted to their name.
For when that moment comes, regardless of who you’ve been so far, monk or gambler, pious or psychopath, well, it will come. Regardless. The only thing that it’s up to you is whether you’ll ease into that night, or resist. Word of caution, though: it won’t make a damn difference.
CITY OF THE DEAD
Creeped out yet? Let’s climb an ancient mountaintop, where each family has its own mausoleum. From the distance, the remote village of Dargavs looks like a collection of medieval white houses, popping up at the tip of one of the five ridges of North Ossetia, Russia.
It’s only once you get closer, after a trying three-hour trek through steep hills, that you realize that the structures are actually stone crypts where locals have been burying their loved ones for centuries.
The ‘city’ is an ancient Ossetian cemetery and each family knows (more)
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* Grace Ushers
* A Life, Abridged
* Spooky Rites

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Unanswerable Prayers

Between Prediction & Petition,
We Beg to Differ With Our Lot

Someone once said that faith was created so man could argue with fate. Or god. Or whatever the hell we weren’t pleased about. A last ditch effort, our first and ultimate resort against reality, as we can’t change the outcome, and evidence usually points the other way.
David Bowie’s death was too much? A petition demanded his immediate return. Falling oil prices? That’s because the year started on a Friday, according to a Medieval prediction. A woman remained a virgin after her new born? 2000 years and many still care to vouch for that.
We simply can’t allow the thought that things may happen at random. Unable to accept that everything around us out-scales us by physical distance and impossibility of time, we choose not to ever be ready to hand over our self-appointed role of comptroller of the universe.
Which, as most things, remains as oblivious to our existence as a cat is to frantic calls to come back at once. We’ll scream, and curse, and swear we’ll move mountains if necessary. But the cosmic enigma, and that little ball of fur, won’t even give us the benefit of a glance.
So we create our temples, and churches, and rituals, and commandments. So to make sure that we won’t be forgotten. And our deeds on this planet will last. And our presence will be memorable. We’ll do that even knowing full well that our ashes will be scattered.

VENETIAN FORETELLING
That’s what we do; we’re convinced that if we tell a story enough times, it’ll become part of the historical record. Science may have amassed crushing evidence against it, but we’ll still recount our tales as if there’s a purpose to it all. We’ll still do it, bless our bleeding hearts.
The Zibaldone da Canal, a compendium of relevant issues to 14th century merchants, such as Arithmetics, spices, weights and (more)
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Happy New Weird


If the World Gets Upside
Down, Learn How to Float

Much has been lost in 2017, or is under threat. Our dignity as a nation, shared respect for facts, telling the truth without a subpoena involved. But we’re not giving up our ownership over what’s weird just yet.
See, since we’re ruled by someone with no regard for clarity, the very concept of what’s bizarre has become twisted. Well, no longer. Weird belongs to reality itself, has its own shine, and we’re its keepers.
But before highlighting some of the brightest spots, where the nonsensical and the truly odd reign supreme, and where no orange human has been before, here’s where the quirk and the surreal are actually enlightening. The Improbable Research, for instance, with its gloriously instructive Annals magazine and annual Ig Noble Awards.
Yes, it may never occurred to you that how long a cow stands may determine how long it will lie down (a 2013 award), or the effects of music on angry drivers (a recent paper), but boy, what a delight to learn. For these are accomplished scientists, fulfilling the ‘first laugh, then think’ motto. Yes, now you know.
On another end, there’s I Fought the Law, a book about some American laws, which may or may not be real. It all could’ve come from the same warped realm where the 45th seems to belong to, including suspicions that its author is pulling our collective legs. But what if somebody does want to ban the Stripes and Stars from being planted on a bar of soap?
In between, Pareidolia and your garden variety abnormalities of all suits, from time travelers, their blurry pictures and eerily-looking guns, to kinky children’s plays and traditional, but no less unsettling, national habits. Some quite unsavory indeed, but hey, haven’t you heard about the working, golden-platted toilet boil they’re shipping to the White House? So there you have it.

A NEW YORK CITY BAR BARS LITERALLY
The East Village Continental used to be a dive where $5 would get you good drunk to go. Now, $20 buys you only a literally washed-down Appletini. Just don’t dare saying ‘literally’ to the bartender; it’ll get you banned. That and mentioning the bankruptcy that will close it in July.
Or maybe it’s the clientele of NYU bros, who came with the onslaught of school dorms in the area. In any case, this dive is doomed and yes, the only good thing still good about the place is that it’s still a dive. Or maybe it’s now something else. Literally. Whatever.

NO, THIS BIRD CAN’T FLY WITH YOU
One of the most enduring cartoon characters ever created is Linus and his blanket, which he uses for emotional support. Charles M. Schulz knew a thing or two about Freud, and therapy, and how sometimes we all reach out for something to provide us relief from a troubled world.
But United Airlines sees it as a stunt, apparently. Even as animal companions are as common in air travel as, well, lack of leg room, the company has recently refused to let a woman board the plane with her pet peacock. And mentioning Freud or Schulz didn’t help her either.

BOILED BATS, COLD IGUANAS & FROZEN SHARKS
Evidence of climate change has been overwhelming. Hurricanes, wild fires, and that’s just talking about last year in the U.S. (more)
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Hallow Talk

Dolls, Dummies & Porcelain Gore: the
Unsinkable Allure of the Talking Dead

Most people would never admit it, but there are no two ways about it: we like Halloween because it’s creepy. We like the gore associated with it, the scary stuff, and the lure of death, breathing coldly upon our neck. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
What’s curious in American culture, however, is that even talking about death and the departed and what happens to decaying bodies and what we’re supposed to tell our child about their deceased relatives remains taboo for the whole year, except on October 31.
We use the children’s still unguarded approach to the world as a perfect Trojan horse of an excuse for peeking into the depths of our dark corners, where fears reign supreme, and the sun never shines. And tell everyone that it’s all for their own good.
But heaven forbid if they’re to inquiry about the finality of death, or the possibility – fiercely denied by billions but ever and again confirmed by all the evidence anyone can come up with – that this is it, there’s nothing beyond the Big Sleep, and one’d better making it count while it lasts.
We entrust the wee ones with the task of facing the most terrifying recesses of our psyche, while at the same time disenfranchising them from developing a critical mind about, say, coma, or rigor mortis, embalming, or cremation, and all fun things in between. No wonder they place so much currency on material goods these days.
Whether there’s a point in this cheap thrill of vicariously exposing children to dread towards the unknown, which we all share throughout life, just so they get use to feeling frightened, is truly up to discussion.
For what we, grownups, get out of Halloween is so rewarding to that nook within us which enjoys being spooked that all damage it may inflict on tender minds seems negligible. After all, we tell ourselves, soon enough, they’ll have to handle all of that on their own.
We’d have no problem assuming whole heartedly that we love Halloween. Even as memories of spending those hot South American days of our youth at cemeteries, visiting families and friends who went before, are not our particularly favorite recollections.
We still treasure that we did the time, and remember the smells of fresh flowers and sweat, mixed with a faint scent of recently dug up graves still encrusted deep in our brains. Not quite like the Mexicans, who actually party and camp at the gravesite on the Dia de los Muertos, but still a day to honor all souls, specially the finados.
So we could now proceed to tell rehashed tales about ghosts, goblins, strange apparitions and odd Jack O’Lanterns, stories about unexplained occurrences supposedly told to trustworthy people, rumors from the friend of a friend who’s heard an eerie chime echoing somewhere, perhaps even a dead celebrity sighting or two. But we’d rather not.
As usual, we’ll divert, digress, er, depart from that general theme and find our own niche to mark the date. We’ll focus, (more)
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Robbers Like Us

The (Bad) Cons That Men Do
& One Hell of a Clever Woman

If opportunity breeds the thief, con men are born ready. Any seasoned pro will describe an one-trick pony like it’s the Mona Lisa. Or sound it as if it’s rocket science. Just keep an eye on your wallet. Few get away with it, though. For every Ronald Biggs, who robbed a train in 1963, and spent his life in Rio, there’s Andy Thoothmans, who broke into a Kentucky store and came out naked, covered in peanut butter.
There’s the Parachute Jumper, the unknown daredevil who jumped off a plane over the Pacific Northwest in 1971, with a lot of cash. And there’s João dos Santos, caught opening a banking account with a Jack Nicholson picture ID. Still, none is in 
Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramseys’ league. She made us all proud turning tables on the notorious brotherhood of Nigerian scammers, by swindling one out of $30,000.

The sudden urge to raid Colltales files for this old post was prompted by the arrest of Geddel Vieira Lima, a former Brazilian government official and personal ally to President Michel Temer. As it goes, he’d had hidden a record breaking $16 million in cash.
Far from the sharpest tool in Temer’s circle, he released a tearful self-produced video. Not to explain the dough, but to thank cops for finding it, because, poor soul, he’d ‘forgotten’ where on earth he’d stashed it.
Fact is, in all crafts, there are highly-skillful artists and ridiculously inept blunderers who’d do everybody a favor switching professions. Point taken. But if you rob people for a living, while keep failing at it so spectacularly, a simple change of trade may not be enough to get you anywhere.
It’s another story for those who succeed. Even when they’ve never heard of Victor Lustig and his 10 Commandments for Con Artists, those are the ones who show a particular streak of sociopathology as to make them both incredibly talented at deceiving everyone around, and often times, very likable chaps too.

Some professions are actually text-book examples of such double standard. Wall Street is full of financial wizards whose amorality and disregard for rules are routinely rewarded with obscene personal wealth. Politicians and security experts too, with the added aspect that they can be either legit or criminal or both. And technology hackers are always looking for opportunities within the industries they hack.
Such is the nature of the beast, that often society is eager to incarcerate the inept and reward the clever. Persecute the meek but let the friend-of-a-friend walk. Go after the messenger but ignore (more)
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Everything Must Go

Houdini, Who Was Not a Believer,
Died on the Day of the Living Dead

Harry Houdini once made a promise that he was sure not to honor: if there’s life after death, he said, I’ll let you know. If he could pull that trick, it’d be a treat. But since that Halloween, 90 years ago, he’s sent no message, denying validation to many a believer.
The irony is that the great illusionist was a debunker of mediums, and left a coded message with his wife to unmask fraudsters. He knew the Big Sleep pulls no bluffs. Just don’t tell that to pilgrims who every year flock to his grave at New York Machpelah Cemetery, in Queens.
It must have taken guts. And those he had, until they literally burst out by blows, administered with his consent, by an admirer. When he died of acute Peritonitis, hundreds of new cults had flooded the world to claim ownership over the ‘supernatural’ phenomena and challenge organized religion.
The dominant figure of the so called Occult Movement, Helena Blavatsky, had died less than 30 years before, but not before inspiring a lot of deranged minds into believing that they too, had something different about them. And they did, alright, although not exactly what they believe they had.

NO RESPECT TO BELLS & WHISTLES
At the turn of the 19th century, backwater America was festering too with the roots of these messianic cults, led by an assortment of lunatics, snake oil salesmen, and plain mentally ill visionaries, many of which turned later into some of the tax-exempted religious faiths we have today.
A crucial difference between those who time forgot and say, a Joseph Smith, who went on to ‘invent’ Mormonism, was arguably sheer survival skill. And maybe an absurdly non-sensical ‘origins’ story, to rival any of the astonishingly fantastic tales upon which all three major religions of our time stake their claims.
In many ways, Hungarian-born Erik Weisz, whose ‘Harry Houdini‘ stage name topped a string of less known aliases, was ahead of his time in two main ways: he worked really hard to perfect (more)
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Thinking With Tentacles

Mad Penguins & Whale Accents
in the Court of the Octopus King

Research into the natural world has been a reliable way of gauging our walk on this planet, and where we’re probably heading to. But a new approach, devoid of any rancid anthropomorphism, has offered fresh insights into animal intelligence. And the results are remarkable.
Heard the one about whales with a Caribbean accent? Or penguins having sex parties wilder than drunken priests? But no one was ready to witness an octopus opening a jar from inside, or sneaking out at night to feed on crabs nearby, before returning to its tank. Or not.
What these and other animals prove is that cognitive ability is not a human monopoly. In fact, whenever the need to compare them with us is subtracted from the equation, crows, cephalopods, and pigeons, to name a few, can outsmart a thinking bloke often in a radical way.
Evolution has proposed alternatives to some species so far from our own, that they could be almost aliens raised in Pluto for we know. Since we no longer equate physiology with identity, it’d be better get acquainted with mental prowess that owes nothing to rationality.
Not that we even apply it to everything, and yes, to us, there is something wrong with that. But elephants have always cried of sadness, and chickens do side up with individuals in danger. We were just too busy trading their tusk for the ivory, or simply eating them, to pay any attention.

ADÉLIES JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
Let’s get this out of the way: penguins are not humans, thus morality is not an issue, even if a colony, in the distance, looks like a black-tie cocktail party. And for belting out loud, the Adélies have nothing on the singing lady Adele. But when it comes to parties, theirs do get wild.
During Capt. Scott‘s second, and doomed, trip to Antarctica, between 1910-13, George Murray Levick wrote of widespread necrophilia, males sexually coercing young chicks, before killing them, and shock, having sex with other males. To him, it was ‘depravity,’ and his notes (in Ancient Greek, to harden access to them) went missing.
Till now: they’ve been uncovered and bad ‘science’ journalism have ensued, of course. But the biggest recent news about the Adélie had nothing to do with sex. In February, it was reported that 150,000 penguins died, after being landlocked by the fracture of a giant iceberg.
But it was a hoax, better researched stories have confirmed. Neither sex fiends nor massacred by climate change, yet, penguins are just, once again, being victims of bad reporting. Why we care has nothing to do with humanity either: they just look like us. We’re already changing their history. Time to tell their stories way better, too.

DEEP SONGS & ACCENTED CLICKS
Since at least the 1970s, news about whales is always surprising, even as their numbers keeping receding towards extinction. The size of their brains, rich social lives, their songs, complex and uniquely identified with their pods. And then there’s the loneliest of them all.
The fact that research into these massive but elusive species has reached such a level of sophistication is, in itself, (more)
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