Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas (Eve) Everyone!

I'm taking a little break over the holidays to practice my sword-fighting skills, perfect the fine art of Swedish cooking, and work on my next book. (Someday, maybe you'll thank me!)

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I'll return on January 2 with more weird facts to blow your minds.

You'll . . .

Take a tour of a town filled with art forgers.
Meet the blue people of Troublesome Creek.
Learn how to build your own tropical island.
Find out about tattoos that change with your mood.
Discover the treasure hidden deep beneath Manhattan's skyscrapers.

See you in 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Need Some Last Minute Gift Ideas?

How about a "South Texas Cow Patty Pen," a hand-crafted writing instrument made out of a cow patty?

Some delicious snail caviar? Supposedly the eggs of African gros-gris (big gray) snails have "just the right crunch."

A set of possessed books for the living room shelves. Sure to get rid of any lingering guests.

A carnivorous plant garden. Great for homes infested by bedbugs, cockroaches, or fleas.

A fish skin bikini. Fashionable AND fragrant.

Octopi t-shirts! For the well-dressed cephalopod lover.

A vibrating alarm ring. For anyone who needs to wake up without alerting her family or her jailors.

(Cool wrapping paper shown above available here.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Williamson's Tunnels

The following information was sent by a reader named Lara, who first learned of this mysterious site while living overseas. Thanks again, Lara!

Beneath Liverpool, England, lie miles of underground passages, chambers and caverns hacked out of solid sandstone. They were built in the 19th century by Joseph Williamson (1769-1840), a rich and eccentric tobacco merchant who was known to Liverpudlians as the "Mole of Edge Hill" or the "King of Edge Hill."

Located in the Edge Hill district in Liverpool, the tunnels were started in 1806. By the time work ended following Williamson's death, the passages featured highly crafted arches lined with intricate brickwork, buttresses and spiral staircases cut out of stone.

No one knows why Williamson built the tunnels. The most plausible explanation is that he wanted to create jobs for unemployed veterans of the Napoleonic wars. But many people don't believe that the answer could be so simple. Some have suggested that Williamson was preparing for Armageddon. Others think the mysterious passageways were used for secret activities. And there are a few who claim that the eccentric Mr. Williamson merely built them as follies. A more recent theory suggests that the tunnels served the purpose of land reclamation.

Williamson's tunnels lay largely untouched and forgotten for over 150 years. But now the "largest subterranean folly in the world" is open to the public. However, discoveries continue to be made. Recently, a "Triple Decker Tunnel" was uncovered, and no one knows what might lie inside the tunnels and chambers that remain filled with Victorian rubble.

The FoWT ( Friends of Williamson's Tunnels) are trying to rescue and renovate this fantastic and mysterious underground world. You can visit their website for more information and a virtual tour!

(Below: Mr. Williamson himself.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fearless Giant Rats of Indonesia

(Photo by lensjockey at Flickr.)

Deep in the jungles of Indonesia is a place so remote, so untouched by mankind that it's known as the "Lost World." In 2006, the first scientific expedition to reach this pristine land discovered a wealth of new species that had never been seen by human eyes.

The latest expedition, however, turned up something even more unexpected--GIANT RATS. According to this brief article, the rats that inhabit Indonesia's lost world are 5 TIMES LARGER than city rats and unafraid of humans. One apparently took a liking to the scientists and would show up in their camp from time to time.

In other enormous rodent news, it seems that another variety of giant "rats" may be invading New Jersey. Click here for more.

UPDATE: The giant rat of Indonesia below!

The Dessert Truck is Coming!!!

(Photo by Richard J. Velasco for New York Magazine)

THIS is the perfect example of why New York is the greatest place on Earth. It's one of the only cities in the US where you can eat like a queen without ever picking up a pan or sitting down in a restaurant. Fact is, you can buy almost anything from a truck here--hotdogs, ceviche, soup, tacos, gyros, smoothies . . . and now extremely tasty gourmet desserts.

The other day I was walking home when I spotted the van shown above parked about a block from my house. Of course I HAD to stop. Who could pass by the Dessert Truck without taking a peek at the menu? I ended up ordering one of the best chocolate dishes I've ever sunk my teeth into.

Today, New York magazine has a short piece on the Dessert Truck, which is run by two young roommates--one a chef and the other a business student. I applaud them for what they've added to the city--and possibly to my waistline.

The Strandbeest

(Above: They're alive!)

I must admit--I have never seen anything like this before. Thanks so much to Cupcakedoll for sending the link.

For years, Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been using electrical tubing and plastic bottles to create artificial forms of life. (No, REALLY.) His wind-powered creations, which he calls Strandbeest (beach creatures), will someday possess simple brains that can help them avoid harm. (By telling them to keep away from the water and anchor themselves during storms.)

Jansen hopes that giant Strandbeest will eventually roam the shores of Holland in herds. That's something I would really like to see.

(Below: Theo Jansen introduces the Strandbeest. Well worth watching! More movies here.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

T-Shirt Announcement

Wednesday, December 19th, will be the last day you can order our t-shirts for Christmas delivery! Also, the Kiki Strike Adult Small shirt is temporarily out of stock. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Demand Justice for New York's Strongest!

New York's Finest (the police) and New York's Bravest (the fire department) both have their own museums. But New York's Strongest (the Department of Sanitation) has been sorely neglected!

It's a shame. Not only do New York's sanitation workers have the coolest logo (shown above), they are personally responsible for making this city liveable. Before the department was created in 1881 (and called the Department of Street Cleaning), New York's streets were foul and disgusting. The mud (mixed with horse manure) could reach shin deep. Snow that fell in the winter would be shoveled into piles that didn't melt until spring. Dead animals (horses, cows, dogs, cats) were pushed to the curb and allowed to slowly decompose. Giant pigs roamed the streets, scarfing down garbage that had been tossed into the gutters. In summer, the city's odor was said to be unbearable.

Not only was the filth smelly and disgusting--it was deadly. For centuries, garbage and sewage poisoned much of the city's water supply, and plagues swept through every few years, killing thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers. They ended after Colonel George Waring was appointed head of the Department of Street Cleaning. As the famous photographer Jacob Riis put it, "[Waring's] broom saved more lives in the crowded tenements than a squad of doctors."

Without the DSNY, there would still be plagues in New York. The men and women who keep the city clean make our lives safer by putting themselves in jeopardy. Even today, sanitation is one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs around. DSNY workers are three times more likely to be killed at work than police officers or fire fighters.

For those interested in the role the Department of Sanitation has played in New York's history, there's a new exhibit called “Loaded Out: Making a Museum,” which will run from December 13, 2007 through January 13, 2008 at 136 West 20th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan. (Open from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM, Thursdays through Sundays.) Guess where I'll be tomorrow!

Here's a great article about the DSNY from the New York Times.

This Little Piggy Went Splat

This little piggy has a hidden talent. Throw him against a wall, drop him from a 30-story building, flatten him with a steamroller, and he will return to his original shape in seconds. He simply can't be squashed.

The resilient porker, which is known as a lokuloku, can be purchased in Japan for about $3. (Very kawaii, too.) I have no idea what kind of plastic they're made from, but it's incredibly cool. (And a little creepy, too.) If anyone is going to Japan, please buy one for me!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The $4 Million Fairy Tales

In the Harry Potter series, The Tales of the Beedle Bard is a collection of stories told to children from wizarding families. When famed wizard Albus Dumbledore died, he left his copy to Hermione Granger in the hope that it would prove "entertaining and instructive". (Which, of course, it did.)

In the real world there are only seven copies of The Tales of the Beedle Bard, each hand-written and illustrated by J.K. Rowling herself. The books are all bound in leather and decorated with silver and semi-precious stones. The first six were given as gifts to people who helped with the Harry Potter books. The seventh was just sold at auction for four MILLION dollars.

The money from the sale will be donated to The Children's Voice charity, which "campaigns for children's rights across Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, where many children and teenagers grow up in institutions."

How absolutely wonderful! Read the CNN article here.

Today's Awesome: Spider Mobile!

This is one of the best things I've ever seen. Seriously.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Christmas Mystery

Starting around Thanksgiving, Christmas ornaments began mysteriously appearing on the trees that line the Garden State Parkway, a busy highway in New Jersey. The first ornament to be spotted was a melon-sized red glass bulb. Over the next few weeks, more began to show up, each hung where passing motorists could admire it.

What has police baffled is the location of the unusual Christmas display. It's on a remote stretch of road that runs through the Pinelands--and there are no houses nearby. Someone must be stopping on the side of the road--probably in the middle of the night--and leaving the ornaments behind.

In my opinion, whoever's responsible has found the true holiday spirit. It shouldn't be about presents, but rather about bringing a little (random) joy to the world.

Read the original CNN story here.

Stranded in Boston?

I've been in Boston for the past few days, and I'm supposed to go home this afternoon. The only problem? There's a huge snowstorm heading in this direction. So I've started thinking of activities to keep me entertained in case I'm stuck here an extra day or two. I've already identified two unusual buildings that I wouldn't mind visiting. The first doesn't really exist. And the second is said to have been built out of spite.

The photo above shows Boston's Scarlett O'Hara House. Located just off Revere Street, this charming building sits at the end of a short alley. But according to the Celebrate Boston website, there's less to this structure than meets the eye. In fact, the only thing real about it are the flowerpots out front. The house is just a three-dimensional painting created thirty years ago to disguise an unattractive wall.

The building below is known to some as the Spite House. According to legend, the 10-foot wide building was built more than 200 years ago to block a neighbor's view of the harbor. It's amazing how far some people are willing to go to make a point--but I do like the house.

Read more about strange Boston here. And if any of you have additional snow day suggestions, just let me know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Frightening or Fashionable: You Be the Judge!

Supposedly, "goggle jackets" are the latest thing in the UK. (Though the minute newspapers pick up on these things, the trends are usually over.) They're jackets or hoodies that zip up all the way over the head. Goggles sewn into the fabric allow the wearer to see where he or she's going.

A lot of people think these garments are intimidating. Others find them functional. I think they might be great if you're riding your bike in the rain, but not so great if you're making a deposit at the bank. Any thoughts?

Read more here.

I Guess Everyone Needs a Hobby

A group of Swedish design students have built (and destroyed) a miniature Manhattan inside a friend's apartment. From what I can tell, it was created for a music video using only wood, glue, plaster and paint.

It's cool, I'll give them that. (And I love the wallpaper!) But why is it ALWAYS New York? Couldn't they have destroyed Stockholm?

See more pictures here.

(Hope You Had a) Happy Hanukkah

Yesterday was the last day of Hanukkah. I hope everyone had a great time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

For the Adventurous Eater: Bacon Cookies

Planning to make some cookies for the holidays? Tired of the same old flavors? Well, the cook behind the Ooh You Tasty Little Things blog thinks she has the perfect recipe for you. Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies with Maple Syrup Glaze.

Now before you start heaving, take a minute to read her post. She swears these cookies are delicious. And who knows, maybe they are. (Though they're certainly not kosher.) But they say witchetty grubs are delicious too, and you aren't going to see me eating those, either.

Manhattan's Mosaic Man

(Above: Photo from Lorcan Otway at Flickr)

For the past twenty years, an artist named Jim Power has been creating beautiful mosaics throughout the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Accompanied by his trusty dog, Jesse Jane, he painstakingly glues shards of glass, pottery, and tile to lampposts and buildings, forming colorful patterns and messages.

Mr. Power's goal? “[To] take the anxiety out of the world with beauty.” If you ask me, he's succeeded--and he's managed to do it with very little money. At times, he's even lived on the streets. But he's still not finished with the 80 mosaics he originally planned. So a neighborhood group has begun organizing donations to help Mr. Power finish his "mosaic trail."

The mosaics are very special for me. I remember first seeing them years ago and being completely charmed. Now there are a few only blocks from my house. And every time I spot one, it makes me smile. I can't think of a better way to spend a little money than to donate to Mr. Power's cause.

Read more here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Brief Review of The Golden Compass

For months and months, I've been dying to see The Golden Compass. Yesterday, I finally caught a matinee. What did I think? Well, as they say here in New York . . . meh. There were certainly things I liked about the movie--the bear fights, the young actress who played Lyra Belacqua, and Daniel Craig. But I found myself checking my watch after the first thirty minutes. It was a decent Hollywood film (and the Ice Bears were amazing), but it just wasn't as weird and wonderful as Philip Pullman's books. I guess I'd give it a solid B.

Have any of you seen it?

Spontaneous Human Combustion

This morning, I came across the story of a five-year-old Indiana boy named Chucky who is believed to have been a victim of an extremely rare and scientifically unproven phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC). Fortunately Chucky survived. Others have not.

Throughout history, there have been numerous accounts of individuals who've caught on fire for no apparent reason. Witnesses report that the flames seem to come from inside the victims' own bodies. Even stranger, the fires often leave the person's clothes, furniture, and surroundings unsinged. In Chucky's case, he'd just emerged from the bath and sprayed himself with some cologne when his body ignited. Doctors are still searching for the cause.

Some say that the first account of SHC can be found in the Bible. (Aaron's sons were consumed by mysterious fires.) And Charles Dickens makes use of spontaneous combustion to do away with an unappealing character in his novel, Bleak House. But most scientists insist that the idea is ludicrous, since the human body is made mostly of water.

Those who dare can read more about Spontaneous Human Combustion here. I must warn you, though. It's not for the faint of heart--or those prone to nightmares.

The Mysterious Long-Eared Jerboa

For years, scientists have been trying to get a good look at the strange little creature shown above. Known as a jerboa, it lives in the deserts of China and Mongolia and boasts "one of the biggest ear-to-body ratios" in the world. But until recently, few of the tiny, nocturnal creatures had ever been spotted. Now British scientists have managed to film a few jerboas in action, hopping around like minature kangaroos. I urge you to check out some of the hilarious footage that's been posted on the BBC's website.

(And yes, I posted this 'cause they're cute. The dangerous post is coming up next.)

I'll Be Back . . .

With all new posts later this evening! (Above: The Hawaiian Happy Face Spider from National Geographic.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Nessie Visits Brooklyn

(Photo from PhotoJeff's Flicker via Gothamist)

Since Halloween, visitors to the Salt Marsh Nature Preserve in Brooklyn have been met with a shocking sight. Sitting in Gerritsen Creek near Avenue U and E. 33rd Street is a twelve-foot long mythical monster that's rarely spotted outside of Scotland.

The Brooklyn Nessie is a sculpture created by artist Cameron Gainer. A 3-D recreation of the most famous picture of the Loch Ness Monster, the artwork will remain in the park until December 15.

Last year, in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, Gaines displayed a Bigfoot sculpture based on a frame from the first video of the ape-man. (See more photos at Cryptomundo.)

I love Gaines's work--and not because I'm fascinated by Bigfoot and Nessie. Imagine jogging through a park and finding a mythical beast in your path. It's not something you'd be likely to forget--and it might just inspire you to open your eyes and pay more attention to the world around you.

Read more here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Cloud Appreciation Society

What would life be like if there weren't any clouds? A clear, blue sky might seem ideal for a while, but can you imagine how boring it would get?

The Cloud Appreciation Society was started by people who believe that most of us take clouds for granted. That's why they've dedicated their time to documenting the strange and wonderful beauty of these natural phenomena. The organization's latest book, Hot Pink Flying Saucers, was named for the peculiar cloud formation shown above. And their website has hundreds and hundreds of photos of the weirdest clouds you'll ever see.

Check out the Cloud Appreciation Society's website here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Best Christmas Tree EVER

Octopi on a Christmas Tree? Why the heck not? A pattern for these adorable little ornaments (called Octophrost) can be purchaed from the futuregirl craft blog.

The Man With Green Perspiration

Say hello to Cheng Shunguo. Cheng has a rather unusual condition. That piece of cotton he's holding--the one that's bright green? It wasn't dipped in a bucket of floor cleaner or a cup of slurpee syrup. That green piece of cotton is covered in Cheng's perspiration. Yes, that's right. Cheng's sweat is bright green.

Doctors in China have no idea what's causing the condition. Cheng is otherwise healthy, and tests have revealed no evidence of disorders of any sort. (Perhaps he's turning into the Incredible Hulk?)

Read more here.

Update: Apparently those doctors don't have access to the Internet. The condition is called chromhidrosis. And not only can it cause green sweat, but pink, blue, yellow, and black sweat as well!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fresh Yeti Tracks Discovered in Nepal

(Yeti Image by Nate Wragg)

Late last week, it was reported that an American television crew may have discovered evidence of the Yeti--the elusive "ape-man" that's said to live in the Himalayas. (And who's known to many as the Abominable Snowman.) The crew had spent a week in the mountains searching for the beast when they came across a series of large footprints on the snow-covered banks of the Manju river.

It's hardly the first time Yeti tracks have been spotted. The picture shown below was taken by a mountain climber in 1951. In 1984, a well-known climber even claimed that a large, fur-covered man had followed him for days as he scaled Mt. Everest.

You can read about the most recent discovery (and see more pictures) here. Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the poll on the AOL site. Over 50% of the people who voted believe that the Yeti exists. Now that's what I call progress!

Staten Island Ninja

For the past seven months, a "ninja" has been creeping into the homes of Staten Island residents and absconding with their valuables. (For those unfamiliar with New York City, Staten Island is the island borough just south of Manhattan.) The few people who've seen the ninja say he (or she!) dresses in black from head to toe, conceals his face with a black mask, and never utters a word. When confronted, the ninja simply whips out his nunchucks and makes a daring escape. He's also been spotted "scaling walls and leaping noiselessly out windows."

According to this story in The New Yorker, the Staten Island ninja appears to schedule many of his capers for Wednesday evenings. (Good to know. I think I'll save my visits for Thursdays.)

Of course a guy who breaks into people's houses to steal I-pods doesn't deserve the ninja title. According to Wikipedia, the original ninjas were Japanese warriors trained in the arts of sabotage, espionage, scouting and assassination. (There may even have been female ninjas--though the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry appears to be skeptical of this notion.)

If you're interested in ninjas (and don't mind a little blood and guts), I highly recommend Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. It's set in feudal Japan and revolves around a secret society known as The Tribe. I loved it!

Why Aren't My Pictures Showing Up?

Blogger appears to be experiencing some technical difficulties. As soon as they fix things, Ananka's Diary will be up and running again!

Friday, November 30, 2007

For All You Slug Lovers

I have to say, the nudibranch pictures on this site are pretty amazing! My favorite? The Chromodoris roboi (shown below).

Even more pictures here.

India's Pink Vigilantes

(Above: The Gulabi Gang)

If you're reading this and you're female, consider yourself very, very lucky. There are many parts of the world where girls and women lead much harder lives than most of us could ever imagine. Like the part of India known as Banda. There, women are rarely educated or allowed to work. Their marriages are often arranged when they're still children (sometimes as young as nine), and bridegrooms can demand large dowries before they'll accept the girls into their families. If a dowry isn't considered large enough, a girl can be severely mistreated, even killed.

But two years ago, a remarkable woman named Sampat Pal Devi formed an organization that seeks to protect Banda's women from violence and corruption. Known as the Gulabi Gang (Pink Gang), the group of female vigilantes gathers together whenever a little butt-kicking is in order. Wearing distinctive pink saris, the Gulabi Gang investigates and protests government corruption. They punish men who've abused their wives and teach other women self-defense skills.

While the Gulabi Gang is starting to make real progress, there's still a long way to go before women in Banda are treated with dignity. But Sampat Pal Devi is already one of my personal heroes.

Read more here.

Inflatable Monsters

Artist Jason Hackenwerth uses ordinary balloons to create enormous sculptures that resemble bizarre, often nightmarish creatures. His monsters have graced the Great Hall of Dinosaurs at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, mingling with the dinosaurs in an exhibit called "The Revenge of the Megadon." For parade and parties, Hackenwerth designed the Megamite (shown above), an anemone-like beast that fires off the balloon missiles whenever it gets excited.

If only he would decorate my next party!

See more photos here.

Kiki Strike T-Shirt Notice

If you or any of your particularly well-dressed relatives intend to purchase Kiki Strike T-shirts and would like them to arrive in time for the holidays, make sure to get your orders in early! (I don't want any sad emails when the Postal Service gets bogged down.)


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Behold the $200,000 Fungus

I'll admit I'm kind of fascinated by fungi. Neither plant nor animal, they can be delicious, disgusting, or downright deadly. (Some species are even rather pretty.) But the fungus that's always interested me the most is the truffle.

Though they often resemble deformed potatoes, truffles are one of the world's most sought after delicacies. A few thin slices can turn an average meal into a gourmet experience. (And add several zeros to your bill.) But high-quality truffles are difficult to find. They grow underground near the roots of deciduous trees. And anyone who intends to gather them must first seek assistance from the animal community.

Traditionally, truffle hunters have relied on pigs to sniff out the fungi. But pigs have an unfortunate habit of gobbling up all the truffles they find. So many have turned to dogs, which aren't always as effective as truffle hogs but show far more self-discipline.

In fact a dog named Rocco was responsible for sniffing out the enormous truffle shown above--one of the biggest discovered in more than half a century. It was more than two and a half feet underground, near oak tree outside of Pisa, Italy. It's expected to sell for more than $200,000. I just hope Rocco gets his cut of the profits.

Read more here.

(Below: A truffle hunt in progress.)

The Case of the Pink Sheep

So I thought I'd follow up that last post with a little light-hearted controversy. Seems Madonna recently allowed the sheep that graze on the land near her home in the English countryside to be dyed pink, green, and yellow for a fashion photo shoot. Now animal-rights groups are up in arms, claiming that the hairdos might have caused the animals unnecessary stress.

However, the editor of Sheep! magazine (can you believe such things exist?) says that dyeing sheep doesn't harm the animals any more than an afternoon at the salon would harm the average human. In fact, farmers often paint their sheep's wool so their flocks can be easily identified.

I'm not a big fan of harming animals (to say the least), but this seems like a lot of nonsense. In fact, I think the sheep look kind of cute. (Feel free to argue.)

The Guardian newspaper appears to agree with me. It even offers handy tips for those who'd like to dye a sheep themselves. The trick? Using "a non-toxic vegetable dye [that's] applied with a sponge or silent spray." If only there were still sheep grazing in Central Park! (They were kicked out in the 1930s.)

Read more here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Regarding the Empress

I've enjoyed reading your recent comments about The Empress's Tomb. (Though I'm sorry if some of you are finding it difficult to get your hands on a copy. It's still pretty new. Don't give up.) I realize there are far more copies of books like the Gossip Girls out there right now. That's because those books appeal to everyone in one way or another.

But I didn't write the Kiki Strike books for everyone. (I have no interest in ordinary people.) I wrote them for YOU. I believe that the right people will find my books eventually. And then we'll all take over the world.

Cause lip gloss is great, but lip gloss and lock-picking skills will get you a whole lot farther.

A Victimless Crime of the Very Best Kind

(Above: The Paris Pantheon, inside and out.)

I had absolutely nothing to do with the story that follows, though I really wish I did.

One of the most beloved landmarks in Paris, the Pantheon is a former church that's sat in the heart of the Latin Quarter for more than two hundred years. But the French government hasn't alway done such a wonderful job of keeping monuments like the Pantheon in good repair. Sometime in the 1960s the building's famous clock stopped ticking, and since then, it's been allowed to slowly rust away.

About a year ago, an group of "cultural guerillas" finally decided to take matters into their own hands. Known as the Untergunther (or les UX), the organization's members have been described as "connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld." Previously, they'd dedicated themselves to restoring Paris's underground crypts and holding forbidden gatherings in the catacombs deep beneath the city. (Among their 150 recruits are the mysterious individuals known as the Perforating Mexicans.) But over time, the Untergunther began to focus their activities on restoring France's neglected historic buildings.

Under the leadership of a master clockmaker with first-class lock-picking skills, members of the Untergunther broke into the Pantheon one night in 2006 and "set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building's famous dome." For over a year, they managed to avoid security guards and building employees as they repaired the ancient clock day and night.

When the work was finally finished, they revealed their good deed to the authorities. And what did the authorities do? They pressed charges. The clockmaker and his cronies faced a year in jail and $20,000 fines. Fortunately, the judge took only twenty minutes to rule in favor of the Untergunther.

The group is currently working on another secret project somewhere in Paris. Good for them. Stupid laws are meant to be broken.

Read the original article in the Guardian here. Those who read French can visit the Untergunther's website here.

Many, many thanks to TheMog for bringing this story to my attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cursed Jewels and Indian Idols

This morning, I came across a story about the Delhi Purple Sapphire, which will soon be on display at London's Natural History Museum. One of a handful of famous gems that are reputed to be cursed, the stone spent decades tucked away at the back of a dusty cabinet, accompanied by a note from its last owner, which read, “This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it."

Like other "bloodstained" jewels, such as the Hope Diamond and the Black Orlov, the Delhi Purple Sapphire was brought to Europe from India. (In fact, a remarkable percentage of cursed gems are said to have been pried from the eyes of Indian idols.) Once it left its native land, the stone began to take its revenge on anyone who touched it.

One by one, the owners of the Delhi Purple Sapphire lost their fortunes, their health, and finally their lives. (A singer who wore the sapphire only once managed to keep her life--but lost her voice.) Eventually, the stone was donated to the museum, enclosed in seven locked boxes and surrounded by good-luck charms. A typewritten warning advised anyone who opened the boxes to cast the rock into the sea.

The Hope Diamond and the Black Orlov share similar dark histories. Those who've owned the Black Orlov (including two princesses) have displayed an unfortunate tendency to fling themselves from high places. The list of lives rumored to have been ruined by the Hope Diamond is even longer, and includes Marie Antoinette herself, who wore the diamond while she still had a head around which to wear it.

Read more about the Delhi Purple Sapphire here.

(Below: The infamous Hope Diamond.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New York's Hidden Houses

(Photos by Marilynn K. Yee for The New York Times)

The New York Times has an interesting story this weekend about some of New York's hidden houses. Among those profiled in the article are the two shown above.

"A gate stands in between two town houses that front on King Street. Beyond the gate is another one, and a tunnel that extends the depth of the town house. But what no one peering through that first gate could possibly see is that the tunnel opens up onto a lushly landscaped courtyard and two carriage houses that, like the town houses, were built in the 1830s."

I'm horrified to admit that I lived less than a block away from these buildings for four years--and I never knew they were there!

Check out the article here, which also features one of the most charming spots in all of Manhattan, Pomander Walk.