Saturday 31 October 2020

French engineer designs minimalist shelters that retain heat during winter for the homeless

Warmth in the cold should never be underappreciated.

It’s sad how the things we take for granted are the same things others would give everything to have. When winter approaches every year, most people are often concerned with buying decorations, gift shopping, and sending out dinner invitations to friends and family. 

In the same energy, some people would only be bothered about finding a safe, warm place to lay their heads on the cold, dangerous nights. Since they cannot afford the luxury of gifts and parties, all they want is a place of warmth from the biting cold. While feeling sorry for them and occasionally handing out blankets might help, this forward-thinking French engineer was tired of seeing his fellow humans freezing out on the streets. 

Geoffrey De Reynal, an M.Eng holder in Energy Engineering spent several months creating a heat-retaining dome called the iglou. [1] These small, portable shelters are big enough to house one or two persons and offer real protection from the dangerously cold weather sweeping into France from the Siberian Alps. When his project was completed, he tested them and began handing out the first set of domes to homeless persons in the streets of Bordeaux and Paris, where the temperatures would occasionally drop to life-threatening levels.

A better option

When Reynal was drawing up the plans for his project, the major factor was warmth and heat retention. While the iglous are incredibly small and would only accommodate a maximum of two people at once, usually an adult and a child, they offered a small measure of protection from the violent nights out in the streets.

The iglous are made of layered polyethylene on the outside and aluminum foil on the inside. These materials are synthetic insulators that keep the temperature within the iglou about 15% higher (or 60oF more) than the outside temperature. This means the domes are only ideal during the winter or on very cold nights throughout the year. 

The domes were smartly designed with a small window to provide solar lighting so the occupants can control their own light and privacy. The aluminum foil interior absorbs heat from the solar panels and the occupants’ bodies to increase the temperature within the dome. 

After he’d created the first ten iglous, Reynal took them out into the streets of Bordeaux, France to be tested. He singlehandedly sponsored the design of the first batch and when they turned out to be a success, people from all over the world were eager to contribute to his cause. The domes were provided at no cost to the occupants and people were instantly in love with them. Everyone who tested one refused to leave and those who couldn’t get a dome pleaded with Reynal to come back with more.

Reynal set up a crowdfunding account for his charity and in short a while, he amassed over $20,000 to continue his work.

Speaking on his motivation for the project, Reynal said to ABC News, “I was living abroad in Montenegro for a year, and there are not many people living outside there. When I came back to France, I was surprised by the number of homeless in the streets, so I decided to come up with an idea to help them.”

A 2012 survey conducted by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies revealed that over 141,000 people were homeless across the country. [2] Compared to the survey from 2001, this is a 50% increase in the number of people without homes in France.

Reynal explains that while his iglou may offer a measure of warmth and protection, they are not permanent solutions, especially as they can only be used properly in the winter.

“I am not trying to replace emergency accommodations,” he argued. “I am just trying to make life a bit less difficult for homeless people. Having one of these igloos does not mean that you are not homeless anymore.”

Reynal hopes the French authorities will support his vision with funds as he plans to build thousands of iglous and make some modifications to the design. He also hopes they’d eventually be available in other countries as cold as France, such as Poland, Canada, Norway, and even Chicago in the U.S.

 According to one of the beneficiaries, Océane, who lives with her boyfriend on the streets, her iglou has provided the best shelter they’ve had in months. “It’s much easier to fall asleep at night, to wake up in the morning,” Océane said. “We have much better nights inside the igloo shelter. It’s very precious.”


  • GLOBAL HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS.” Homeless World Cup. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  • Igloos provide shelter for homeless population in France.” ABC News. Paul Pradier. Retrieved September 15, 2020.

(Source: Family Life Goals)

Friday 30 October 2020

TOP 3 rare Russian AKs used in Netflix’s ‘To The Lake’

 Еverything you need to know about the baddest Russian guns of the hit TV Show. 

The Russian-made ‘To The Lake’ TV show became one of Netflix’s most streamed TV shows just a week later after its premier on the streaming platform. 

It’s a post-apocalyptic drama about families in Russia risking their lives as a fast-spreading deadly virus is on the verge of breaking down society.

The show also features a number of rare Soviet and Russian-made AKs that you don’t often see on a TV screen.


This is a compact version of the AK-74M that became the weapon-of-choice of the main character and his former wife. We know little of how the heroes obtained a fully-automatic version of a compact Spec Ops assault rifle, but for sure, they have a pretty darn good taste in rifles. 

The weapon first appeared in the Soviet military in the late 70s. It has a barrel and a shortened gas piston that are two times shorter compared to the AK-74M. Engineers shorted the twists inside of its barrel from 200 up to 160 mm, in order to stabilise a bullet during flight to its target. However, due to the shortened fore grip, it’s impossible to install a grenade launcher on the bottom of an AKS-74U.

All of its other mechanisms are identical to an AK-74M, with the exception of the trigger turn limiter installed instead of the rate of fire retarder.

The AKS-74U is chambered with powerful 5,45x39 mm rounds, thus making it way more powerful compared to the vast majority of submachine guns. It’s very reliable and easy to clean and maintain. 

It also has great muzzle velocity of a bullet (735 m/s versus 400-450 of 9x19 ‘Parabellum’).

All of these factors make it a great weapon-of-choice for the characters. 

Saiga semi-auto rifle

The ‘Saiga’ series of rifles is based on the AK weapon system. The series was developed for those who wanted the reliability of an AK pattern rifle in a non-military package. 

Basically, the assault rifle used by the characters is an AK-74M, but only firing in semi-auto. This assault rifle earned its fame for its durability, accompanied by reliability and tactical capabilities. This AK modification fixed a number of AK-47 cartridge disadvantages, such as accuracy and range. You can find out why the USSR dropped the most powerful cartridge for the 7.62 x 39 mm Kalashnikov AKM here.  

So, the AK-74M - or Saiga - the main character uses is chambered with 5,45x39 mm rounds. It’s originally used for hunting and at shooting ranges in Russia. As could be seen on screen, the main character mainly uses it as a showpiece at home, as he previously had no experience in firing or holding the weapon. 

The AK-74M is a lighter version of an AK-47 or an AKM. It’s mainly created out of polymer materials, instead of wooden parts of previous AK models. The new weapon also received a muzzle break to decrease the weapon recoil and weapon’s ‘tossing' upwards after firing. 

As for today, Saigas chambered with 5,45x39 mm can be found in hunters’ arsenals all around Russia and is one of the most favourite weapons in the country, due to its price (around $500) and the high reliability of AK models. 


It’s funny, but the AK-12, the most bad-ass assault rifle of modern Russia, is used by the baddest guys in the series - by private military company soldiers, who raid rich people’s houses in the first two episodes. 

The AK-12 increases the classic AK rifle’s ergonomics and accuracy, while saving the reliability of the system.

It received a new retractable side-folding shoulder stock that can be suited for any user’s anthropometry. You can adjust the weapon to any circumstances - even while wearing body-armor, crawling through mud or grass in a field, forest or on a shooting range. 

AK-12 also has a new pistol grip that holds all the instruments required for complete disablement of a rifle. 

Yet, the rifle is still compatible with magazines from the AK-74, RPK-74 and even the 96-round drum mag from the new RPK-16 machine gun.

You can also notice Picatinny Rails on the top and bottom of the rifle. This feature allowed the bad guys to install various scopes, red dots, optics and flashlights. 

Moving forward to the tip of the rifle, you can find an army-style muzzle brake for smashing windows and cutting barbed wire.

Also worth mentioning, the action system of an AK-12 remains the classic one - it’s a gas-operated long stroke gas piston with a rotating bolt.

(Source: Russia Beyond)

Thursday 29 October 2020

In another India, Hindus and Muslims do marry without changing their faith

There has always existed a world in India beyond the imagination of fanatics, where religion is not one’s primary identity

I have lived through the #TanishqAd... my Muslim mother-in-law gifted me a mangalsutra and even godhbharai.”

Architect Rachna Lanewala, who tweeted this at the height of the Tanishq ad controversy last fortnight, is not the only woman to have “lived through” the experience depicted in the jewellery advertisement. Almost half a century ago, writer Saryu Rizvi’s parents would accompany each other to their respective shrines, be it the temple to get their new car blessed, or to the Karbala Maidan during Muharram.

There has always existed a world in India beyond the imagination of fanatics, where religion is not one’s primary identity, and a Hindu can marry a Muslim without either of them changing their faith. So, while in 1972, Saryu’s parents, hailing from Kanpur and Dehradun, could only consider getting married in Delhi, the question of conversion never came up.

Illustration for representative purpose.   | Photo Credit: R. Rajesh

Fully supportive

Neither did it come up in 1999 when Aasif Lanewala married his collegemate Rachna, whose parents, having migrated to Delhi after Partition, had warned her never to marry a Muslim. More than a thousand attended their Mumbai reception.

In 2012, journalist Mustafa Plumber, ignoring murmurs from the men in his family, declared that he wasn’t planning to convert his colleague Prachi Pinglay when they got married. After his younger brother’s nikaah, it was Prachi, guided by Mustafa’s mother, who performed the rituals expected of the eldest bahu (daughter-in-law).

The timeline from Saryu’s parents, who didn’t inform their families about their civil marriage right away, to Mustafa and Prachi, whose wedding was attended by both families, has not been a linear one.

Religious conversions happen even today, but far often than not, it is more a formality to please the families and not some “jihadi trap” as portrayed by the radical fringe. Thus Veena’s (name changed) conversion only meant a change in her official name. Straight after her wedding, her husband accompanied her to Tirupati for a long-desired pilgrimage.

Elopements too continue to take place in this world. In 1996, Vidya and Shoaib (names changed) fled to Vadodara after a secret wedding at the Registrar’s. Both belonged to joint families that had their own businesses. To their surprise, Shoaib’s parents called them back and hosted a grand dinner after a nikaah (marriage ceremony). Vidya’s uncle too, who had objected the most, became fully supportive.

Though Shoaib, despite having grown up in a Muslim locality, happily participated in Diwali pujas with his Marwari in-laws, Vidya took her new religion seriously — until she got drawn to meditation two years ago. Nobody had forced her to do namaaz and nobody objected when she stopped.

Secular upbringing

Contrary to popular belief, these Hindu-Muslim marriages are not restricted to the well-to-do. Masood Akhtar, who till recently lived in a slum, still wakes up to nightmares of the time he was beaten up by the police and put behind bars during the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. But he refused to let the trauma tarnish the secular upbringing he had had. As a boy, he would often accompany his father to his workshop to distribute Diwali sweets to his Hindu workers. When Masood informed his family that his Hindu fiancee’s name must remain unchanged after the nikaah, only his father supported him. Today, his joint family consults his wife Rama Shyam on everything. And every Durga Puja, Masood, Rama and their son go pandal-hopping.

The best part of this world is not the conservatives it manages to convert along the way, but the children born of such unions. Saryu fondly recalls her mother reading the Ramayana while the local maulana who had come to meet her waited patiently. “Accha, baaji paath padh rahi hai (Let sister finish reciting the Ramayana),” he would say. Her father named her after the U.P. river sacred to Hindus.

Aasif still regrets not being allowed to say ‘Indian’ in the religion column of his son’s birth certificate. When the child was four, he was asked by someone in Aasif’s hometown Dahod whether he was Hindu or Muslim. The cricket-crazy boy simply said, “I’m a Mumbai Indian”.

Mustafa finds that his two-year-old son has taken over what used to be his task on Diwali day — ringing the bell while Prachi performs Lakshmi puja. Sometimes, the toddler stands next to him when Mustafa performs the namaaz. “Let him find his own path,” say the parents.

Going forward, it is these children who will prove to be immune to the vitriol spewed by bigots.

(Source: The Hindu)

Wednesday 28 October 2020

William Gaddis’s Disorderly Inferno

 Sixteen years like living with a God damned invalid sixteen years every time you come in sitting there waiting just like you left him wave his stick at you, plump up his pillow cut a paragraph add a sentence hold his God damned hand little warm milk add a comma slip out for some air pack of cigarettes come back in right where you left him, eyes follow you around the room wave his God damned stick figure out what the hell he wants, plump the God damned pillow change bandage read aloud move a clause around wipe his chin new paragraph God damned eyes follow you out stay a week, stay a month whole God damned year think about something else, God damned friends asking how he’s coming along all expect him out any day don’t want bad news no news rather hear lies, big smile out any day now, walk down the street God damned sunshine begin to think maybe you’ll meet him maybe cleared things up got out by himself come back open the God damned door right there where you left him …

—William Gaddis on writing a novel

A magnificent example of rant. A perfect example really. The Recognitions, William Gaddis’s first novel, was seven years in construction. J R, his second, took more than twice that long. In each case the invalid miraculously arose and, with commanding vigor, transformed and transforming, entered the realm of great literature.



Back in 1957, Malcolm Lowry kept trying to deliver his enthusiasm for The R through a mutual friend, David Markson. “It is a truly fabulous creation, a superbyzantine gazebo and secret missile of the soul.” Mr. Gaddis did not respond. He had not read Under the Volcano (“It was both too close and too far away from what I was doing … ”). On the other hand, he wrote a letter to J. Robert Oppenheimer and even sent him a copy of The R and never received a reply.

The R sank like a stone in the sea upon publication. The scholar and excellent biographer Joseph Tabbi notes dryly that critics were “unprepared” for it. Some of the reviews are parodied (though not by much) in J R:

… so ostentatiously aimed at writing a masterpiece that, in a less ambitious work, one would be happy to call promising, for such readers as he may be fortunate enough to have …

… nowhere in this whole disgusting book is there a trace of kindness or sincerity or simple decency …

… a complete lack of discipline …

But Mr. Gaddis wasn’t keen on even the occasional good reaction. He disliked the Stuart Gilbert quote the publishers put on the back cover comparing him to Eliot and Joyce:

… long though it is, even longer than Ulysses, the interest, like that of Joyce’s masterpiece and for very similar reasons, is brilliantly maintained throughout …

He felt this gave reviewers an “escape hatch” and protested that “my Joyce is limited to Dubliners and a few letters.” He maintained throughout his life that he had never read Ulysses. He merely seemed to have read everything else. And as Ezra Pound said when an acquaintance showed him her copy of The R: “You should tell your friend [Gaddis] that Joyce was an ending, not a beginning.” The R with its thickets of allusions and transcendental questing was all ravishing encyclopedic ambition. It was new. J R was even newer. It employs none of the fictive habits, the prompts and crutches and connective tissue of narrative. Time slips around like an eel. Place is bulldozed. Characters have no identity save for the words they speak and they speak the speakable with tireless abandon. There is no communion, no closure. There are rants. Mad soliloquies. Offended ripostes, offensive parries. Almost everyone accounted for is indignant, baffled, enraged, duplicitous, misunderstood, or misunderstanding. There are dozens of players and voices—composers, writers, teachers, lawyers, politicians, financiers, deadbeats, and frauds. And it never lets up. Even the end is poised to start all over again. It is a riotous dizzying discomfiting success beholden to nothing that came before save for its elusive, more elegant daddy, The R, which was beholden to no one.

In 1956, nineteen years before the publication of this second novel, Mr. Gaddis wrote a registered letter to himself to protect his idea for it from copyright infringement:

In very brief it is this; a young boy, ten or eleven or so years of age ‘goes into business’ and makes a business fortune by developing and following through the basically very simple procedures needed to assemble extensive financial interests, to build a ‘big business’ in a system of comparative free enterprise employing the numerous (again basically simply encouragements (as tax benefits &c) which are so prominent in the business world of America today …

This boy (named here ‘J.R’) employs as a ‘front man’ to handle matters, the press &c, a young man innocent in matters of money and business whose name (which I got in a dream) is Bast. Other characters include Bast’s two aunts, the heads of companies which JR takes over, his board of directors, figures in a syndicate which fights his company for control in a stockholder’s battle, charity heads to whom his company gives money, &c.

This book is projected as essentially a satire on business and money matters as they occur and are handled here in America today; and on the people who handle them; it is also a morality study of a straightforward boy reared in our culture, of a young man with an artist’s conscience, and of the figures who surround them in such a competitive and material economy as ours. The book just now is provisionally entitled ‘SENSATION’ and ‘J.R.’

What a surprisingly unpromising précis! This letter to self gives not the slightest hint of the manner in which the earnest Bast, who just wants to compose music, the less than winsome J R, and “the figures who surround them” will be presented, which is in 770 pages of unattributed, intercepted, interrupted dialogue, in “speech scraps, confetti like wiggles of brightly colored cliché” (William Gass, admiringly), the occasional lyrically peculiar description:

For time unbroken by looks to the clock the only sound was the chafing of an emery board, and the clock itself, as though seizing the advantage, seemed to accomplish its round with surreptitious leaps forward, knocking whole wedges at once from what remained of the hour.

snatches of advertisements, radiospeak, and news fragments:

——selection from Bruckner’s eighth symphony brought to you by …

——like sending your mouth on a vacation …

——homes in America, many were trees …

and even the class paper J R wrote in cursive on Alaska:

Alsaka … There is about a hundred billion barrells of oil in Alsaka waiting these millions of years locked in the earth for the hand of man to release it in the cause of human betterment …

But mostly there is dialogue. Dinner is served in dialogue. Here is the unhappy diCephalis family. Dan diCephalis is a psychometrician at J R’s school; Ann, his deeply frustrated wife. They are both so miserable and distracted in their marriage that they harbor a flatulent drifter in their home, both thinking he is the other’s father. The children are Nora and Donny:

— … Nora I said get Donny for supper … Here, sit Donny here and you …

—But Mama Donny has to sit where the plug is so he …

—All right, my God it’s probably too late for a psychiatrist anyhow, we should take him to the electrician … stop talking and eat …

—What is it.

—What do you mean what is it, it’s your supper. What does it look like.

—It looks like lingam.

—Like what?

—Like a lingam.

—Like a lingam! How do you know what a lingam looks like.

—Because it looks just like this.

—Maybe she, maybe she saw that book you had …

Death, too, happens (of course) but is delivered at a remove:

—Jack look you’re spilling that all over the …

—I’m not spilling, it’s spilling. I’m not …

—Damn it just let me pour it will you!

—But about Mister Schramm is he, he’s all right isn’t he? I mean, where is he …

—Down the hall there look, he had an accident Bast he …

—I know it yes I was, you mean another one?

—Yes he, wait listen don’t go in there now!

or in the case of the unfortunate Mr. Glancy:

—Yes no go ahead Vern come in Mister ahm Major that was Gottlieb down to the Cadillac agency, he thinks he can put the financing on the car right into your name without repossessing it from Glancy’s estate to handle it like ahm, like a used car sale that is to …

—What was that about a smell.

—No well of course it was used since Glancy did use it to ahm, I think the Cadillac people prefer to say previously owned yes and he’d only driven it seven miles but of course he’d been in it for a week when they found him down in the woods there and apparently they’ve been unable to remove the, to restore the smell of a new car interior that is to …

We are … swept along. Mr. Gaddis confessed that he wanted us to be, in this flow of unremitting talk—“might miss a lot but that’s what life is, after all? missing something that’s right before you?” His characters can’t or won’t communicate in any meaningful way. “Can’t drive and I won’t ride,” pronounces Jack Gibbs, the stalled writer who is forever sifting through his boxes and boxes of paper, his research, his notes, his material, for his all-consuming impossible to complete definitive Spenglerian “work.” Gibbs is a churlish mess, it is the composer Bast, “a young man with an artist’s conscience,” who possesses a bit of pummeled purity. He so wants to create magnificent oratorios but the closest he comes to a commission is writing “zebra music” for the stockbroker/big game hunter Crawley who wants to make a film about African wildlife in the hopes that the government will import game—prey and beasts of prey—for use in National Parks.

— … wake up some people down in Washington to the idea of stocking our public lands with something more suitable than a lot of trailers and beer cans.

The reader enters J R not as through a dark wood but by way of the churning flush of the Big Commode—American capitalism. J R himself, a bright and slovenly boy, is all canny greedy play, affecting everyone, the good, the bad, and those simply not paying attention. He grasps the capitalistic model perfectly (Mr. Gaddis said he was fascinated by the concept of big business as a fairly childish affair), doing what he does “because that’s what you do!” Here he is in a phone conversation with the “general counsel,” a Nonny Piscator, he has acquired for his J R Corp Family of Companies:

— … see if it’s got any of these minerals in it we should get to take this here percentage depletion allowance the whole … I mean if we can get some tax benefit off depleting something why shouldn’t we … Okay so with these here futures I’m not telling you to do something illegal … I mean what do you think I got you for! I mean if I want to do something illegal what do I want with a lawyer I mean holy shit where do you think we are over at Russia? where they don’t let you do anything? These laws are these laws why should we want to do something illegal if some law lets us do it anyway …

Mr. Gaddis’s manner of composing his novels was amassment and rearrangement. He collected all matter of stuff, paper stuff, heard stuff. “Though I weep for order I still live in a world of scrawled notes on the backs of envelopes,” he admitted. Many of the scraps, fragments, musings, quotes made their way from book to book. A line from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel that he fancied—“the unswerving punctuality of chance”—appeared in all four novels as well as the novella Agapē Agape. He preserved an enormous amount of source matter, “barells and barells” stored in food and liquor boxes and now archived in the Special Collections at Washington University in St. Louis.

——homes in America, many were trees …

There was so much! There could be no end to it, to its possible significance or soulful worth (or lack of it). He well knew the entropy that chaos brings. He believed that America itself was a “grand fiction” exacting not only taxes from its people but more critically a continuing faith, or at least the suspension of disbelief, in its own existence. In a 1973 letter to the theologian Thomas Altizer, he wrote:

… it is this question what is worth doing? that has dogged me all my life, both in terms of my own life and work where I am trying now again in another book to fight off its destructive element and paralyzing effects; and in terms of America which has been in such desperate haste to succeed in finding all the wrong answers. In this present book satire comic or what have you on money and business I get the feeling sometimes I’m writing a secular version of its predecessor …

During all the years he worked on J R, he was dutifully laboring for a paycheck from the corporate machine—Kodak, Ford, IBM, Pfizer (“an operation of international piracy”)—writing ad copy and position papers, managing to stay employed though his efforts were sometimes found wanting. An executive chided one of his industry film scripts as “a little too profound and needed reshaping in a manner that would be informative at a shallower depth.” He knew the cant of marketing well and was ever alert to systems of speech, of persuasion, of obfuscation, seeing and portraying the American way of waste—the waste of nature, talent, energy, the waste that markets, systems, management demand for growth.

A great deal has been written about the works and intentions of Mr. Gaddis, much of it alarmingly erudite yet still interesting in its sort of meanly excluding way. Many are the ways he is perceived and read. Shortly before The R was published, Jack Kerouac met him in a bar and described him as “ironic looking, sporting a parking ticket in his coat lapel.” I picture him at the age of five when he was sent off to a “strict” boarding school, already Mr. Gaddis in my imagination, though small. Intelligent, neatly attired, comporting himself with all the seriousness a suppressed hilarity allowed.

In 1976, J R won the National Book Award—chance arriving with unswerving punctuality. As judges, Mary McCarthy and William Gass were instrumental in awarding it. The other judge, whoever and whatever his opinion, was deeply, deftly ignored. McCarthy found the novel “horrid and funny” and referred to it as Junior. The award provided a respectable amount of fame and increased readership, though not as much as might be expected for J R is not for the faint of heart and mind or the weak of concentration. J R is a rude demanding complex riotous uncomfortably edifying novel, a howling maelstrom of voices, a grabby talky disorderly inferno of the spirit. It is also remarkably knowing about the American character.

Somewhat early on (page 204!), a young boy appears for the first and only time. This is Francis. He has many questions and a few cautious opinions.

—You know what I used to think Mama? if I didn’t talk now, if I kind of saved it up and didn’t talk, that then I’d be able to talk after I’m dead.

How intriguing! But if true we would be unable to experience the figures of J R there (as we have so thoroughly, appallingly, enjoyably experienced them here) for how would we recognize them?

(Source: The Paris Review)

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Death’s traffic light blinks red

Choi Seungja is one of the most influential feminist poets in South Korea. Born in 1952, Choi emerged as a poet during the eighties, a turbulent and violent decade that saw nationwide democracy movements against the authoritarian government. During that era, South Korean poets were predominantly populist, writing “people’s poetry” that protested authoritarian rule. These poets were also mostly men. But during that time, a new wave of feminist poets emerged, such as Kim Hyesoon, Ko Jung-hee, Kim Seung-hee, and Choi herself. When Choi first started publishing in 1979, her provocative poetry was dismissed by the male literary establishment who expected women to write quiet, domestic poems. As the translator and poet Don Mee Choi writes in the anthology Anxiety of Words, Choi’s language and content were “attacked for being too rough and vulgar for a female poet.”

Born in the small rural town of Yeonki, Choi Seungja attended Korea University, devoting her studies to German literature, and afterward made a living as a translator of German- and English-language books. In 1979, she was the first woman poet to publish in the prestigious journal Literature and Intellect. Despite her growing success as a poet over the following decades, Choi mostly lived alone in near poverty. In 2001, she experienced a mental illness that kept her in and out of hospitals. A community of poets came to her financial aid; the poet Kim Hyesoon, for instance, collected money each month to support Choi, and the press Munhakdongne gave her a writing space in their office so she had a place to write and translate.


Choi’s stripped-down poetry is breathtaking and frightening. Her poems are uncompromising because she will stare into the infinite dark tunnel of her solitude and not break that stare. She writes, with terrifying alacrity, the existential despair of living in a hierarchical society where free will is a joke. While it has been changing, South Korea was a paternalistic and Confucian society, where the individual was subsumed by their family unit, especially for a woman, whose worth was measured by her husband and children. When a woman marries, her name is no longer used. She is called “so-and-so’s wife” or “so-and-so’s mother.” Because Choi was a single woman, she was an aberration. The I in her poems is often abjectly alone. The phone in her home is so silent day after day that when it finally rings, she is frightened. Instead of the timeline of a traditional Korean woman who measures her milestones by marriage and children, she has only death to shadow her as she ages. In her poem “Thirty Years Old,” Choi writes, “Death’s traffic light blinks red / in my two eye sockets / my blood is jelly, my fingernails sawdust, / and my hair wire.” In the poem “Already I,” Choi contends:

Already I was nothing:

mold formed on stale bread,

trail of piss stains on the wall,

a maggot-covered corpse

a thousand years old.

Nobody raised me.

I was nothing from the beginning,

sleeping in a rat’s hole,

nibbling on the flea’s liver,

dying absentmindedly. in any old place.

So don’t say you know me

when we cross paths

like falling stars.

Idon’tknowyou, Idon’tknowyou,

You, thou, there, Happiness,

You, thou, there, Love.

That I am alive

is no more than an endless


Metonyms of the body as waste pervade her poetry: the piss, shit, and vomit that the body rejects and that we recoil from because the emissions remind us of our own mortality. The barren womb is also a central motif, evoking the disgrace she feels as a childless woman in a society where a woman is the sum of her children. It is also a metaphor of the motherland whose soul has become corrupted by capitalism. Capitalism has become the only logic that rules her nation, where all human relationships are mediated by money. The citizen does not act but is acted upon. In the poem “The Portrait of Mr. Pon Kagya,” the salaryman Mr. Pon Kagya does not sit on the chair but the chair sits on him; the pen grips him; the pay envelope thrusts him in his pocket. Objects have become subjects who have their way with this salaryman, who is powerless. While Choi’s poems may be despairing, they are simultaneously liberating because she writes in a language both ruthlessly direct and strangely surreal. She does not obfuscate her despair with elegant metaphors but confronts it with nightmarishly strange imagery. In her brutal investigation of her own pain and agony, she cries out for an alternate way of life.

Choi took a hiatus from poetry in 2001 because of her mental illness, but her reputation as a formidable poet in South Korea has only grown. She has published eight books of poetry: Love in This Age (1981), A Happy Diary (1984), The House of Memory (1989), My Grave Is Green (1993), Lovers (1999), Alone and Away (2010), Written on the Water (2011), and Empty Like an Empty Boat (2016). Choi has also translated many books into Korean, including Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Max Picard’s The World of Silence, Paul Auster’s The Art of Hunger, and Erich Fromm’s The Art of Being. In 1994 she participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She has received the Daesan Literary Award (2010) and Jirisan Literary Award (2010) and is now regarded as one of the most important poets in Korea.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Monday 26 October 2020

7 facts about Matryoshka, the iconic Russian doll

These traditional souvenir toys are full of surprises (and smaller versions of themselves, of course).

1. Younger than you think

At first glance, the Matryoshka might look like an ancient folk character, but in fact, it only appeared in 1890 - and it has real “authors”, turner (lathe operator) Vasily Zvezdochkin and painter Sergei Malutin. Both men worked at the Savva Mamontov workshop for kids. Mamontov was a famous Russian industrialist, merchant and patron of the arts.

According to one version of Matryoshka’s creation, the wife of Mamontov once brought a wooden figure to the workshop. It depicted a Japanese wise man and contained five figurines of his students inside. Inspired by this multi-layer idea, Zvezdochkin carved eight wooden figures, and Malutin painted them.

Another version says that they created the doll themselves (there had already been some examples of such figures with “surprise” inside before – resembling Easter eggs), and the “Japanese origin” legend only appeared in Soviet times.

In any case, the first Matryoshka resembled a lady in a shawl holding a black cockerel. Inside were figurines of boys and girls, with the last one being a baby. This doll is still preserved at the Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad outside Moscow.

2. Matryoshka’s real name 

Matryoshka is actually the “pet name” for the female name Matryona, that was popular in the 19th century among peasants and means “mummy”, “respectable lady” or “the mother of a big family”. 

Some rumors say that it was the name of Mamontov’s housemaid. After all, the name perfectly suited this Russian doll with the entire “family” inside.

3. There was a big gap in Matryoshkas production

On the brink of the 20th century, Russian folk style became trendy in architecture, music, and art, thanks to Sergei Dyagilev’s ‘Russian Seasons’ and regular international crafts exhibitions. Russian Matryoshkas were on display in Paris, Berlin, London, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. After the fall of the Russian Empire, the production of these dolls went into decline: the country was engaged in a civil war and then in World War II. 

The “most Russian souvenir” was reborn in the late Soviet Union, when lots of foreign tourists began visiting the country and craftsmen started reviving old workshops.

4. There are five main Matryoshka painting styles

There are several Matryoshka production centers in Russia and therefore more than one main style of painting. The most famous style was born in Sergiev Posad (or Zagorsk in Soviet times), the city that has a long history of making wooden toys. They depict girls in a shawl and a saraphan (folk dress) with an apron, using only 3-4 colors (usually red, yellow, green) with black contours.

Another style of painting belongs to craftsmen from the village of Polkhov Maidan (near Nizhny Novgorod). They decorate their dolls with roses in bloom.

Matryoshkas made in Semenovo (Nizhny, too) wear yellow or red polka dot shawls and hold flowers. Usually, these Russian dolls consist of 6-8 figures.

5. Choosing the right type of wood for matryoshkas is the key

A Matryoshka starts from the right wood. The most suitable tree for making the doll is a linden. However, some makers also use wood from birch, aspen, or larch trees. The tree should be cut in early spring or winter, when it has little to no sap. The bottom part of the doll is made from wood that was dried for two to three years. The upper part is made from fresh wood, which will dry later: that’s why the doll can close so tightly.

6. The double meaning

Russian artists often played with the Matryoshka concept to include irony in their creations. Even before the Revolution, there were such dolls as the groom and the bride with LOTS of their relatives inside. In 1912, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Patriotic War, Kutuzov and Napoleon dolls with their armies inside were made. 

Since Perestroika, craftsmen have been creating Russian dolls depicting famous politicians from all over the world. You can easily find Matryoshkas with Lenin, Trump and Putin in the local souvenir shops. Who do you think is inside them?   

7. The biggest Matryoshka is located in China

Near the Russian-China border, in the Chinese city of Manzhouli, is a mall and amusement park called ‘Matryoshka’ with officially the biggest Russian doll in the world. It’s height is a whopping 30 meters. The main Matryoshka is surrounded by eight smaller dolls and 200 even smaller figures. Moreover, the vast majority of modern Matryoshkas are also now made in China. In Russia, dolls are still produced in some villages in Nizhny Novgorod. So there’s every chance that while on Arbat street in Moscow and/or at other tourist locations in Russia you will accidentally buy a Chinese made Matryoshka. So, double check with the shop assistant.

(Source: Russia Beyond)

Rescued endangered Loa water frogs have 200 offspring

Conservationists in Chile are celebrating after a group of critically endangered Loa water frogs produced 200 offspring in Santiago zoo.

Fourteen Loa water frogs (Telmatobius dankoi) were airlifted to the zoo in 2019 after they were found in a muddy puddle, all that was left of their habitat in Chile's Atacama desert.

Herpetologists managed to nurse 12 of them back to health.

Earlier this month, the frogs successfully mated.

Fourteen Loa water frogs were taken to Santiago zoo in 2019. Reuters

The rescue mission was launched last year after herpetologist Andrés Charrier found that the stream outside the city of Calama - the only place where the Loa water frogs are known to live - had dried up.

The 14 specimens left in a muddy puddle were dehydrated and malnourished and with their habitat threatened by illegal water extraction for mining, agriculture and real estate development, the decision was taken to transfer them 1,500km to the south to Chile's National Zoo in the capital, Santiago.

Challenges ahead

The rescue of the 14 frogs received international praise and even caught the attention of Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who celebrated their safe transfer in an Instagram post.

Zoo Director Alejandra Montalba praised the team which looks after the frogs - and now their 200 offspring as well - for their meticulous work.

To the joy of conservationists, there are 200 tadpoles. Reuters

"They had to replicate the exact conditions of the water... to keep them alive," she said.

Gabriel Lobos, who with Andrés Charrier has spent years studying the Loa water frogs, told local media that the challenge now was to restore the frogs' habitat to allow their return to the wild.

Mr Lobos had said last year that one of the problems of conservation efforts for the Loa water frog was getting attention for the species.

That is where the team at Chile's National Zoo has received some help from their colleagues at Bolivia's Museum of Natural History "Alcide d'Orbigny" in Cochabamba.

Desperate to find a mate for "Romeo", a Sehuencas water frog which was believed to be the last of his species, the team at Alcide d'Orbigny gained worldwide publicity for their search when they placed a dating ad for Romeo.

The team has received praise from the zoo's director and the Chilean government. Reuters

Not only was their approach successful - a mate was found for the lonely frog - but the team behind Romeo has also been helping out other frogs in need.

Last year, a letter "from the desk of Romeo" offered some encouraging words to the Loa water frogs: "I know you're far from home. I know you'd much rather be snuggling up in your own stream, eating the wild snails and earthworms of your choice. But look, there are lots of reasons to be hopeful, there are 14 of you."

And in case words were not enough, a Spotify account under Romeo's name also offered an uplifting playlist for the Loa water frogs including titles such as Al Greens' "Take Me to the River", Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) and Elton John's "I'm Still Standing".

(Source: BBC)

A river that was 'lost' some 172,000 years ago has been found in Rajasthan's Thar Desert

In a discovery that could shed some light on the lives of a long lost civilization centuries ago, researchers have found evidence of a "lost" river that ran through the central Thar Desert.

The river that is believed to have flown some 172 thousand years ago was found near Bikaner.

The findings, published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, represent the oldest directly dated phase of river activity at Nal Quarry in the central Thar Desert.

Britannica/ Representational Image

The study by researchers from The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Anna University in Tamil Nadu, and IISER Kolkata indicates that Stone Age populations lived in a distinctly different Thar Desert landscape than we encounter today.

This evidence indicates a river flowed with phases of activity dating to approximately up to 172 thousand years ago, nearby to Bikaner, Rajasthan, which is over 200 kilometres away from the nearest modern river.

These findings predate evidence for activity in modern river courses across the Thar Desert as well as dried up course of the Ghaggar-Hakra River, the researchers said.

Britannica/ Representational Image

The presence of a river running through the central Thar Desert would have offered a life-line to Paleolithic populations, and potentially an important corridor for migrations, they said.

The researchers noted that the potential importance of 'lost' rivers for earlier inhabitants of the Thar Desert have been overlooked.

"The Thar Desert has a rich prehistory, and we've been uncovering a wide range of evidence showing how Stone Age populations not only survived but thrived in these semi-arid landscapes," said Jimbob Blinkhorn from The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

"We know how important rivers can be to living in this region, but we have little detail on what river systems were like during key periods of prehistory," Blinkhorn said.

Britannica/ Representational Image

Studies of satellite imagery have shown a dense network of river channels crossing the Thar Desert, according to the researchers.

"These studies can indicate where rivers and streams have flowed in the past, but they can't tell us when," explained Professor Hema Achyuthan of Anna University.

"To demonstrate how old such channels are, we had to find evidence on the ground for river activity in the middle of the desert," Achyuthan said.

The team studied a deep deposit of river sands and gravels, which had been exposed by quarrying activity near the village of Nal.

The researchers were able to document different phases of river activity by studying the different deposits.

Britannica/ Representational Image

"We immediately saw evidence for a substantial and very active river system from the bottom of the fluvial deposits, which gradually decreased in power through time," Achyuthan said.

The results indicated that the strongest river activity at Nal occurred at approximately 172 and 140 thousand years ago, at a time when the monsoon was much weaker than today in the region.

Though it has not been established yet, there is a belief that this could be the mythical river Saraswati, for which search has been ongoing for many decades.

Though several states have claimed that they have found the tracks of the river, it has not been proven beyond doubt that these are remains of the river that was lost over 4000 years ago.

(Source: India Times)