Although it might be easier to ignore in an age where nearly ever American carries thousands of songs in their pocket, the unmistakable sound of Muzak still haunts us all. An estimated 100 million people (nearly a third of America’s population) are exposed to Muzak’s background music each day, whether in an elevator, on hold with the cable company or elsewhere. Although the Muzak brand technically went bankrupt in 2009 and lost its name in 2013 after new owners moved in, its technology set the stage for almost a century of bland, instrumental music that became the soundtrack to postwar America and continues to this day.
Despite decades of Soviet atheism, Russia remains a deeply religious country. Part of that devotion expresses itself in vibrant displays of faith. The saints of Russian icons, for example, look almost like…
Inside Russia’s Surreal Summer Sculpture Festival
It started with an army of snowmen. From there, Russian artist Nikolay Polissky moved on to a castle made of firewood and a 50-foot lighthouse made of branches. Soon, he launched the Archstoyanie festival and drew other artists and architects to the small town to the quiet, rural Kaluga region. But with over 40,000 visiting the sculptures of Polissky and company last year, the region is becoming a little less sedate. Given the fascinatingly surreal character of the festival’s sculptures and installations, it’s no surprise that more and more are flocking to Kaluga. See for yourself at Smithsonian.
In October 1974, ascendant horror writer Stephen King and his wife spent a night in a cavernous old hotel at the foot of the Colorado Rockies. With the winter barrage of snow and cold looming, the hotel was about to close for the season, leaving King and his wife as its sole guests. After eating in a grand yet empty dining room – with the chairs up on every table except his – and walking through the endless empty hallways, a new novel began to take shape in King’s mind.
That night, King had a terrifying dream about his son being chased through the hotel’s halls by a fire hose, and immediately after, he knew he had to write. “I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies,” he later said, “and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
That book, The Shining, introduced that hotel, the Stanley in Estes Park, Colorado, to an entirely new generation. Soon, this faded remnant of early 20th century high life was reborn as “The Shining hotel.” Once you step inside the Stanley, you realize just how much life both does and does not imitate art:
In 1332, a Franciscan monk from Ireland visited the island of Crete. While there, he wrote this description of what he called “the descendants of Cain,” whom he met outside the town of Heraklion:
“They rarely, or ever remain in one place more than thirty days; but ever, as though bearing God’s curse with them, after the thirtieth day, go like vagabonds and fugitives from one locality to another, in the manner of the Arabs, with small, oblong, black, low tents, and run from cavern to cavern, because the place where they establish themselves becomes in that space of time so full of vermin and filth that it is no longer habitable.”
This was the first written account in Western Europe of the people who would come to be known as Gypsies, or Romani. Over the next four centuries, these people, who began their journey in northern India a thousand years prior, would cross every kingdom and principality in Europe. By the 18th century, they had traveled to America, and today they live all over the world.