Driven by romantic, spiritual, and medicinal imperatives, the author goes in search of something everyone tells him no longer exists: an opium den. From Hong Kong to Bangkok to the Golden Triangle, he is offered every decadence known to the East—and learns the truth about the perfect drug.
“Fuck this world of $35 onions and those who eat them. Fuck this world of pseudo-sophisticated rubes who could not recognize the finer things in life—from a shot of that vinegar to the first wisp of fall through a tree—let alone appreciate them, these rubes who turned New York into a PG-rated mall and who oh so loved it thus.”
Word, Nick Tosches. As a recent, non-monied transplant to New York, I say word.
The Voynich manuscript, described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”, is a work which dates to the early 15th century, possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.
Some pages are missing, but the current version comprises about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the time period, seeming to present illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses for medical purposes. However, most of the plants do not match known species, and the manuscript’s script and language remain unknown and unreadable. Possibly some form of encrypted ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. As yet, it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a cause célèbre of historical cryptology. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels. None of the many speculative solutions proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified.
“The Ossuary” — Jan Švankmajer (1970)
The Sedlec Ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose bones have in many cases been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel. The ossuary is among the most visited tourist attractions of the Czech Republic, attracting over 200,000 visitors yearly.
Four enormous bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vault. Other works include piers and monstrances flanking the altar, a large Schwarzenberg coat of arms, and the signature of Rint, also executed in bone, on the wall near the entrance.
If you can make it through two minutes of this video without vomiting in your mouth a little bit, you’re a better man than me.
This passage from Don DeLillo’s Libra—in which JFK assassination conspirator Larry Parmenter finds his wife Beryl at the dinner table, clipping newspaper items to send to friends—made me reflect on how much we communicate by Tweeting / Facebooking / emailing links to each other:
“She said the news clippings she sent to friends were a perfectly reasonable way to correspond. There were a thousand things to clip and they all said something about the way she felt. He watched her read and cut. She wore half-glasses and worked the scissors grimly. She believed these were personal forms of expression. She believed no message she could send a friend was more intimate and telling than a story in the paper about a violent act, a crazed man, a bombed Negro home, a Buddhist monk who sets himself on fire. Because these are the things that tell us how we live.”
Pow! To The People