Casa Terracota

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rotarazona/21011823936
Image: Flickr

To show that soil can be transformed into habitable architecture, Colombian artist Octavio Mendoza made a 5,400-square-foot house entirely out of clay. Casa Terracota (known to the neighbors as “Casa de Flintstones”) contains no cement or steel — the whole building is fashioned from clay, including two floors of living space, all the furniture, and all the dishes.

After a career spent designing more conventional buildings, Mendoza spent 14 years realizing the project, to show that functional buildings can be made using the natural resources at hand. He calls it “the biggest piece of pottery in the world.”

Drammatico

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adolphe_Sax_5a.jpg

Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was alarmingly accident-prone as a child:

Before he was two, he fell headlong down three flights of stairs and cracked his head on a stone floor. When only three he almost expired through drinking a mixture of vitriol and water in mistake for milk, being narrowly saved by the application of liberal doses of olive oil. Three other poisoning mishaps followed involving white lead, copper oxide and arsenic as well as the swallowing of a pin. A gunpowder explosion gave him severe burns and threw him a considerable distance; he was again burned when a frying pan was knocked over. A lifelong scar on his head was caused by a falling roof-stone. Once he went to bed in a room where some newly varnished objects were drying, being found in time to prevent asphyxiation from the fumes. No wonder the people of the locality called him, ‘Young Sax, the Ghost!’

When he was pulled, nearly drowned, from a river, his mother said, “He’s a child condemned to misfortune; he won’t live!” But he survived to 79 and died in 1894.

(From Wally Horwood, Adolphe Sax 1814-1894, 1980.) (Thanks, Jonathan.)

The Cheshire Minstrels

In the 13th century, when the Earl of Chester was imprisoned by the Welsh in Rhuddlan Castle, his constable, Roger de Lacy, rescued him by mustering “a multitude of the shoemakers, fiddlers and loiterers” from the local fair. Pleasingly, in return he was given jurisdiction over all the minstrels and “disorderly characters” in Cheshire. In 1216 de Lacy handed down this privilege to his tenant, Hugh Dutton, and it remained in Dutton’s family, generally recognized as a right to license county musicians, for 500 years. From E.M. Leonard’s Early History of English Poor Relief, 1900:

It was the custom for the lord of Dutton to hold a Court at Chester on Midsummer day and in 1498 he received from the whole body of minstrels four flagons of wine and a lance with fourpence halfpenny from each of them. A Court of this kind was held as late as 1756. In nearly all the statutes concerning vagabonds until that of 1822, the rights of John Dutton’s heirs were preserved, so that in the seventeenth century the minstrels of Cheshire, license by the lord of Dutton, might wander without fear of the penalty inflicted on wanderers elsewhere, — a curious but direct consequence of an incident of border warfare in the early part of the thirteenth century.

“Few facts illustrate better both the continuity of English history and the toleration of anomalies by English law than this perpetuation of the quaint jurisdiction of the house of Dutton for more than six centuries.” (More here.)

(Thanks, Keith.)

Podcast Episode 193: The Collyer Brothers

the collyer brothers' harlem townhouse

In the 1930s, brothers Homer and Langley Collyer withdrew from society and began to fill their Manhattan brownstone with newspapers, furniture, musical instruments, and assorted junk. By 1947, when Homer died, the house was crammed with 140 tons of rubbish, and Langley had gone missing. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the strange, sad story of the Hermits of Harlem.

We’ll also buy a bit of Finland and puzzle over a banker’s misfortune.

See full show notes …

A Quick Walk

The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade starts at 11 a.m. today in the Village of Carmangay in Alberta. It should be over by 11:02.

Mayor Kym Nichols told the Calgary Eyeopener, “About 32 years ago, the owner of the hotel, who was Irish, came over to the village office with his shillelagh stick on St. Paddy’s Day and said to the mayor at the time, ‘Why don’t you come across and have a beer with me for St. Patrick’s Day?’ And that started it.”

The Carmangay parade covers less than 100 meters, but Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas holds a 29-meter parade that starts at 7:30 tonight. Presumably there are also quantum parades that are too short to measure.

(Thanks, Dan.)

Road Tunes

Near the village of Katashina in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture, workers have cut 2,559 grooves into a 175-meter stretch of roadway so that motorists hear the tune “Memories of Summer”:

Japan has now built 30 such “melody roads,” and they’re proliferating. The Singing Road in Anyang, South Korea, plays “Mary Had a Little Lamb”:

And the Civic Musical Road in Lancaster, California, plays the William Tell Overture:

A commenter on the last video wrote, “If you drive it in reverse it says Paul is dead.”

Total Recall

Actress Marilu Henner has hyperthymesia, or highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition that permits her to recall nearly every day of her life in almost perfect detail. She’s one of only six cases that have been confirmed in peer-reviewed articles.

“It’s like putting in a DVD and it cues up to a certain place,” she told CBS. “I’m there again. So, I’m looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as I would have that day.”

Her earliest memory is of her own baptism. “My godmother was a nun, and so she’d talk about my baptism all the time,” she said. “Even as a tiny child, I could recall that event. I know people don’t believe me, but it’s really true.”

The Burger Savant

Phyllis Brienza, a waitress at Manhattan’s Bun & Burger since the day it opened on Oct. 26, 1970, became famous for a unique gift — she had “such an extraordinary memory for the niceties of appetite that regular clients do not have to speak their wishes aloud,” reported Israel Shenker in the New York Times in 1975.

She recognized a customer in a Nehru jacket as “medium with half a bun and French.” A man in a raincoat was a “well,” a well-done hamburger.

“If you order it once one way, that’ll stick in my mind,” she said. “When someone new comes in, I think to myself, ‘That’s a medium,’ or ‘that’s a rare.’ Sometimes they have this serious look and I think, ‘That must be a well.’ Usually I’m right.”

In 1974 she received a Christmas card from a customer whom she remembered at once. It was signed “Medium rare, pressed.”

Eight Lives

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Island,_New_Zealand.jpg

In September 1914, a crater wall collapsed on the marine volcano Whakaari, east of New Zealand.

The resulting mudflow overwhelmed 10 sulphur miners.

Three weeks later, when a resupply ship landed on the island, it found Peter the Great, a camp cat, hungry but uninjured.

The bodies of the 10 men and the other camp cats were never found.

Hybrids

A tromboon, above, is a trombone played with the reed and bocal of a bassoon.

A saxobone, below, is a trombone played with the mouthpiece of a saxophone.

If you could play a bassoon with a saxophone mouthpiece I suppose it would be called a saxoboon, but I don’t think that’s even technically possible.