Looking to move abroad? Why not buy an ancient village in Spain

In a pattern that has also been seen in a number of other countries, people in Spain have been moving away from small villages in the countryside into larger centres, and as a result many small towns are dying — and being put on the market. In some cases, you can buy a hamlet with half a dozen buildings for less than $100,000. A site called Aldeas Abandonadas specializes in selling both small villages and stately manor houses that have been abandoned. One listing describes a village with nine houses and about 4,000 square metres of land for just 73,000 Euros or about $80,000 US, and another is for an 18th century manor built for a judge, including a former dungeon that has been turned into a guest house, as well as a pool and an attached farm, for 275,000 Euros or about $300,000 US.

For her recent holiday gift guide, Gwyneth Paltrow advertised a village that was for sale on Aldeas Abandonadas for just $172,000. According to Spain’s prime minister, over half of the country’s municipalities have less than 1,000 residents, and many of them continue to shrink because there is nothing to keep young inhabitants interested in staying and the existing population is aging rapidly. In 2014, the mayor of a municipality in the Barcelona region was willing to give away an ancient village of 12 buildings to anyone who would promise to restore them, and a village called O Penso was for sale for about $230,000 — for 100 acres of land, half a dozen houses, two farms and an ancient wood-fired oven bakery.

The most expensive — and weirdest — restaurant in Ukraine

If I ever manage to get to Lviv, Ukraine, I would very much like to visit this restaurant, which is referred to as The Most Expensive Galician Restaurant. It isn’t really, but it might be the most bizarre. According to the description by Atlas Obscura, the only way to get access to the restaurant is to request entry from a man sitting in a cluttered room in what looks like someone’s apartment. In most cases, he will turn you away, saying he doesn’t know what you are talking about. He may do this several times before you gain entry.

If you are persistent, however, he will allow you to enter — at which point you might notice a number of things, including a piano, but also a full-size automobiles hanging from the ceiling, and another parked in the middle of the restaurant. You may be serenaded by musicians, or entertained by actors, while eating your meal. When the bill comes, it could easily be thousands of dollars — but then, all you have to do is ask for “the 90 percent discount” and magically your bill will be several times smaller.

The story of Carmilla, a female vampire who predates Dracula

For some reason, I was unaware until now that there was a vampire novel that predates Dracula by about 25 years — a novel called Carmilla, featuring a female vampire of the same name who ravishes a young woman at a country estate in the 1800s. I found out about it because I read a fascinating interview with Carmen Maria Machado, a short-story writer who provided the introduction for the latest re-issue of the Carmilla story (which was written by an Irish Gothic writer named J. Sheridan LeFanu).

The interview is entitled “A Perfectly Normal Interview with Carmen Maria Machado Where Everything Is Fine,” but it is anything but. It starts out like a normal author interview, wherein Machado is asked about the theory that Carmilla was in fact based on the love letters between a woman named Marcia Maren and her lesbian lover Veronika Hausle, which were released during the former’s trial for “morbid harlotry.” The first clue that things aren’t what they seem comes when you click some of the links to the supposed research on the case, or on the details of the professor who supposedly came up with the theory. They are all 404.

Then, in the second half of the interview, things take a strange turn and just keep on going, and it becomes clear that this is a work of fiction as much as an interview. Here’s a section:

TM: Certain vague and strange sensations visited me in my sleep. The prevailing one was of that pleasant, peculiar cold thrill we feel while bathing, when we move against the current of a river. This was soon accompanied by dreams that seemed interminable and were so vague that I could never recollect their scenery and persons. But they left an awful impression and a sense of exhaustion, as if I had passed through a long period of great mental exertion and danger.

It’s a lot of fun, anyway, and really well done. I wish more author interviews were like this! Be sure to click on all of the links.

Massive fire at the legendary Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris, otherwise known as the Notre-Dame cathedral, is one of the most iconic buildings in the world — certainly the Western world. And on Monday, it was on fire. Early reports said that the fire began as a result of renovations that have been taking place at the cathedral, but whatever the cause, by the evening of April 15 virtually the entire building was engulfed in flame. Two-thirds of the roof was destroyed, including the cathedral’s famous spire, and many of the priceless works of art inside the cathedral were threatened. Videos of Parisians singing hymns and chanting as they watched the flames went viral on Twitter and Facebook.

Notre-Dame might be the only cathedral, or building of any kind, to be the main character of a story by a famous author — namely, Victor Hugo, who wrote a book in 1931 called Notre-Dame de Paris, which was published in English as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.” Anyone who has seen the innumerable adaptations, including the animated Disney movie of the same name, probably thinks the hunchback is the hero, but Hugo definitely wanted the cathedral to be the main character, and a metaphor for Paris itself. The publicity his book created actually helped turn the church into a global superstar — it sat empty and mostly unused for decades before Napoleon used it for his coronation, and was still mostly unloved when Hugo wrote his book.

Most people assume that the two soaring towers of the cathedral are identical twins, but the north tower is actually slightly larger than the south, probably a result of the fact that the building was constructed piece-meal over several hundred years. That’s one of the interesting facts about the cathedral collected by Mental Floss, including the fact that in 1935, “three tiny relics — an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city’s patron saints) — were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.” The church also houses what is believed to be the Crown of Thorns placed on Christ, as well as a fragment of the original cross.

According to the official list of facts about the cathedral, the roof — which appears to be almost completely gone — consisted of more than 1,300 massive oak beams, representing about 21 hectares of forest.

I’ve been to Paris twice now, but never got a chance to go through Notre-Dame, something that I now regret. When my wife and I visited a couple of years ago, there was a massive line in front of it that looked as though it would take hours, and we didn’t have hours. So we went to the nearby Saint Chapelle cathedral instead, which has incredible stained glass windows that I would highly recommend experiencing if you have the chance. Hopefully Notre-Dame will be restored and we can visit it at some point in the future. In the meantime, here’s something Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay said about why losing buildings like the cathedral hurts so much:

Why do we grieve for ruins destroyed (by ISIS) or for fires like Notre Dame, sometimes seemingly more than for human deaths? In part because we know we only have decades, each of us, but these things MAY last to say ‘We were here and with all the evil we did, we also did this.’

Once There Were Chandeliers in the New York subway

It’s hard to imagine looking at the New York subway today, but at one time taking the subway was a high-class act, and subway stations were designed to be works of art — like the very first station, which opened underneath City Hall in 1904. It was closed to the public in 1945, in part because the curved tracks couldn’t accommodate newer trains, and because riders were mostly using the newer stations with faster trains.

When the city’s first subway station opened in 1904 underneath City Hall in Lower Manhattan, it was a testament to New York’s arrival as a world-class city on par with London, Paris or Rome. The ornate station featured chandeliers, ornamental skylights and soaring archways with zigzagging patterns of terra-cotta tiles.

Source: Failing New York Subway? Not Always — Once There Were Chandeliers – The New York Times

Who knew that you could dance with a canoe?

As a Canadian who loves to canoe and kayak, I should have know that there would be a ballet-style event like the Freestyle Canoe competition, but I had never heard of it before until I came across a video clip of Marc Ornstein competing in 2007 in the mid-west somewhere. Here he is dancing in his canoe (in a tuxedo) to Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red.” Going to have to practice this next time I am at the cottage.

In 1675, King Charles II banned coffeehouses — here’s why

When you’re sitting in your local coffee shop or Starbucks, watching people sip their no-foam skinny lattes and whatnot, it probably doesn’t seem like the kind of place a king would be so upset about that he would ban them, unless maybe he had a hard time finding power outlets or people kept hogging the Wi-Fi. Nevertheless, King Charles II banned coffeehouses in England in 1675. Why? Because as a number of historians have pointed out, in the 17th century coffeehouses were like the ancient equivalent of the Internet, or maybe Reddit. They were filled with intellectuals and merchants gossiping, and that made Chuck nervous, because he figured they might be plotting against him. Here’s what he said in his decree:

Whereas it is most apparent, that the Multitude of Coffee-Houses of late years set up and kept within the Kingdom, the Dominion of Wales, and the Town of Berwick on Tweed, and the great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise by imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs; but also, for that in such houses, and by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath thought it fit and necessary, That the said Coffee-houses be (for the future) put down and supressed