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Whoever wants to know something about me – as an artist which alone is significant – they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognise what I am and what I want.

Gustav Klimt

Infrared Saunas Will Not ‘Detoxify’ You – The Atlantic

Infrared Saunas Will Not ‘Detoxify’ You

The popular spa treatment is certainly relaxing—but its purveyors make a lot of false claims.

In a basement in Manhattan, people are sweating. And—this may interest you—they’re naked. They’re sweating to detox, to lose weight, to improve their complexions, and to experience euphoria, and if you listen to purveyors of infrared saunas they’re going to achieve not only that, but also more. They’re going to improve their circulation, they’re going to relieve their pain, and they’re going to emerge from their tiny personal sauna boxes relaxed, all of their earthly stressors and pains and toxins, whatever they are, soaked up into a fresh white towel.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But as the adage goes: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is exactly as good as it sounds, especially when you look closely at its nebulous claims. Or, wait—how does that adage go?

Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the body from within rather than the air from without, as a traditional sauna does. Because of this, the saunas are able to operate at a lower temperature, usually around 157 degrees Fahrenheit rather than over 200, while providing the same (sciencesupported) cardiovascular benefits. Infrared saunas claim the light penetrates skin more deeply than the heat of a traditional sauna, which leads to more sweat, which leads to a more abundant release of “toxins.”

The infrared craze has recently grown from a mostly-just-Los Angeles trend to a New York City-and-everywhere-else trend, and it is a favorite of the Kardashians, various Real Housewives, Dr. Oz, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Chelsea Handler. The saunas have been featured recently in Vogue, Thrillist, New York Magazine, among many others, and they were the subject of a New York Times piece last August. The coverage is often credulous; surprisingly, the most skeptical stance I found was in a blog post on Equinox gym’s website titled “The Science Behind Infrared Saunas,” which compares their claims (many) against the science that supports their claims (essentially none). Still, the Equinox blog post comes to the same conclusion as the rest of the coverage: Sure, the claims that infrared saunas make are so far unverified, but … ehh … do it anyway.

For my infrared sauna experience, I visited HigherDOSE—that Manhattan basement I was talking about earlier. The spa currently has two locations in the city, and I visited the flagship, located in the basement of the Bowery’s Alchemist’s Kitchen. The space is dark, moody, and relaxed, and each of the small, individual rooms offers a jug of filtered, ionized, and alkaline water. I went twice, not because I particularly needed to go twice for this story, but because I was able to use this story as an excuse to go a second time. From the start it seemed like it might be bullshit, but I frequently pay money for bullshit, and I love it. For example, I followed my first sauna session with a $10 cup of juice.

HigherDOSE opened in 2016 and comes to us from Lauren Berlingeri, a holistic nutritionist and health coach, and Katie Kaps, a startup executive and entrepreneur. (The DOSE stands for Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins.) They are self-professed “seekers of natural highs” who “believe the key to the ‘high life’ is found through next-level health therapies.” In a phone call, I asked what, in their opinion, was the greatest benefit of infrared saunas. Berlingeri said,

“The most profound thing it does is detoxify. Because it detoxes heavy metals, radiation, and environmental pollutants. That’s almost unheard of, especially with heavy metals. There’s actually no other really good heavy metal detoxifier, other than the infrared sauna. And then radiation, we’re exposed to so much radiation and we don’t even know it, like from airplanes, to computers, to outlets. So to be able to come in and detox from that is a benefit.”

We’ll come back to this.

The actual infrared sauna is a smaller room inside of your little personal room, and it comes enhanced with chromotherapy LED lighting (an informational booklet in the room noted that the green LED light can help heal cancer—incredible!) and an AUX input to play music through your sauna’s sound system. What music did I listen to? Great question, thank you. I listened to Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, which was a great choice. Brian Eno is incredible infrared sauna music. The album is also what this writer listened to while reviewing HigherDOSE. Maybe Brian Eno’s next collection of ambient tones should be titled Music for Infrared Saunas, NOT That I Necessarily Endorse Infrared Saunas.

After pouring myself a glass of filtered, ionized, and alkaline water (the ionized and alkaline aspects of which are at best unnecessary), I took off my clothes, wrapped myself in a towel, lay down on the other towel that was provided inside of the sauna, and started to sweat. I continued to lay and sweat for the 45-minute duration of my stay. It was warm and relaxing. I love to relax and do nothing, especially when it is for work, and I love to sweat, especially when it does not involve any work.

The private sauna within your private room is quite soothingly private, unless you go in with another person, which is allowed. I asked Berlingeri and Kaps if they endorsed the idea of people having sex in the saunas and they said no, they did not. I asked why, then, doesn’t their website say, “No having sex in the sauna”? They said they didn’t want to give anyone any ideas. (I bet people have sex in there.)

Inside the sauna, you’re able to change the LED lighting with a remote, and you’re given a guide to the benefits of each color. I chose the cancer one (green), of course, to fix any cancer I may have; blue, to calm me; orange, for wisdom; and purple, in case I had cerebral spinal meningitis, for which the color is allegedly an “excellent remedy.” So far so good, when it comes to cerebral spinal meningitis. The feeling of the infrared sauna didn’t differ too wildly from any other sauna I’ve experienced, but I did feel comfortable staying inside for a much longer period of time than I have in others. I’m not sure, though, if this was due to the lower temperature, the magical lighting, the privacy, the Brian Eno, or the countdown timer on the wall, which made it feel like a challenge against which I refused to crumble.

According to HigherDOSE, infrared sweat is not just any old sweat. I’ll allow a quote from the website to explain. “Sweat induced from an infrared heat source is comprised of 20 percent toxins whereas sweat induced from traditional heating systems is comprised of 3 percent toxins. This is why it’s accurate to say infrared is 7x more detoxifying than traditional heat.” You may have noticed that, rather than provide a citation to prove why it is accurate to say infrared is seven-times more detoxifying than traditional heat, HigherDOSE opted for a mathematical rephrasing. Very tricky. One might also say that I am 100-percent beautiful and my enemy Susan is 50-percent beautiful, which is why it is accurate to say I am two-times more beautiful than my enemy Susan. I’m sorry, Susan, but, as you can see, that’s just the way it is.

I asked Berlingeri to elaborate on infrared’s advanced toxin removal. “It penetrates your body three-inches deep to pull toxins out of your fat cells, which is a big deal,” she said. “Normally when you sweat it’s a more superficial sweat. Not only that, but normally working out is one of the other big times people think they’re releasing toxins. But when your body is in ‘fight or flight,’ it actually doesn’t release toxins. It’s only when your body is in ‘rest and digest’ mode that it actually releases toxins. So that’s one of the key misconceptions about sweating and working out.”

This sounds wrong to me, but I’m not a doctor. So I spoke with Dee Anna Glaser, a dermatology professor at St. Louis University and the president of the International Hyperhidrosis Society. Hyperhidrosis is the medical term for “excessive sweating,” which basically means Glaser is a sweat expert. First I asked how she felt about the idea, in general, of toxins being released in sweat. “In general,” she said, “sweat can release some toxins and some chemicals, but that is not really sweat’s major job. The organs responsible for detoxifying our system are the kidneys and the liver. Those two do such a good job that, really, sweat doesn’t need to do that. So, for most people, sweating a lot does not detoxify them at all. Because the kidneys are doing it. Sweat’s main job is to keep us cool.”

But what about the idea that toxins aren’t released during “fight or flight”?  “There is something called the fight or flight response to the body. That’s definitely true,” Glaser said, in a way that was funny. “But I have not at all, in all my years as a physician, ever heard that your body doesn’t release toxins or things in ‘fight or flight.’” She explained that it’s true that “fight or flight” is meant to enhance core functions, like how well your brain is thinking, and how well you’re moving and responding to things. “But ‘fight or flight’ only lasts for so long. Your body can’t maintain ‘fight or flight’ for long periods of time. So I’m not sure that’s clinically relevant at all.” While it is possibly true that periods of very intense exercise can ignite the “fight or flight” response, it is not likely that running on a treadmill sustains that response—perhaps unless there is a tiger running behind you, on another treadmill.

About the 20-percent toxin number, Glaser offered, “I certainly have never heard of that.”

Following up with Kaps and Berlingeri, I asked if they could send me a link to the sweat study or other source HigherDOSE used in obtaining that 20 percent number. After a few more requests, Kaps got back to me with a link to this page on infraredsauna.com, highlighting this paragraph:

“These special saunas are believed to be more effective in moving toxins through the skin than steam saunas because in the far-infrared thermal system only 80 to 85 percent of the sweat is water with the non-water portion being principly [STET] cholesterol, fat-soluable [STET] toxins, toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia and uric acid. Using the skin as an essential aspect of chelation therapy is important and makes complete medical sense.”

Unfortunately, although we have been assured that this makes complete medical sense, this website does not reference a study, or provide any sort of evidence. The main page of the site sells Jacuzzi brand infrared saunas, though this specific “mercury exposure” page seems, oddly, to be a different site altogether. (The page later touts the benefits of detox foot patches, which are a scam.)

But HigherDOSE and Jacuzzi aren’t the only infrared sauna brands advertising this number. The 20 percent versus 3 percent distinction is a major selling point for almost all infrared heat retailers, and it’s typically offered without citation. In a few cases I found, though, there is a citation—a parenthetical neither quoting nor linking to anything, while seeming, at the same time, quite official: “(Widmaier, Raff, Strang & Vander).”

This refers to the textbook Vander’s Human Physiology: The Mechanisms of Body Function by Eric P. Widmaier, Hershel Raff, PhD, and Kevin T. Strang.

I purchased a copy of Vander’s Human Physiology from Amazon and couldn’t find substantiation of the claim, nor could I find it by searching for key terms in a PDF of the textbook, which was easier and what I should have done first. But the textbook was very confusing. Maybe, I thought, the evidence was simply beyond my grasp. Rather than rely on my own reading of the text, I sought confirmation from those who I believed would know best: the authors.

I was able to reach Eric P. Widmaier, Hershel Raff, and Kevin T. Strang, through email. Is this claim substantiated by what is found in Vander’s Human Physiology? Maybe you would like to pause in your reading for suspense. OK. The answer is: No. They each told me that it is not. “We do discuss that sweat contains salt (sodium and chloride) that can represent a large loss of electrolytes with a large volume of sweat (e.g. exercising on a hot day),” Raff said. Very tiny amounts of lead, copper, and nickel do appear in sweat, but if you have dangerously high concentrations of these metals in your body it is probably best that you visit a hospital rather than an infrared sauna.

“I have no idea what those citing our textbook would be referencing,” Strang said. “Our book certainly mentions sweating as a physiological response, and that sweat contains [salt] and some ‘other’ substances. But we have no in-depth statistics about toxins.” Each doctor mentioned that it is possible research about this exists, but if it does, they have not seen it.

It’s nice to sit, be warm, and listen to Brian Eno. It’s nice to have nothing to do, and to be afraid to look at your phone because you’re worried that the heat might break it. And I did feel happier after being inside the HigherDOSE infrared sauna. On my way home I almost tweeted “I LOVE NEW YORK,” because I was overcome with joy and my love for New York. (Ultimately I decided against the tweet.) The feeling was similar to the endorphin rush you get after working out, only without getting, you know, most of the benefits of working out. My heart rate had increased, I had relaxed, my skin enjoyed a short-lived glow. It was nice.

But, as far as I can tell, it seems like that’s all you can say for sure about infrared saunas. They are nice. (Aside from how they lie to people about their health while stealing their money.)

Source: Infrared Saunas Will Not ‘Detoxify’ You – The Atlantic

A World Without People – The Atlantic

For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have evacuated or otherwise abandoned many places around the world—large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to suddenly vanish from the planet. Collected here are recent scenes from abandoned construction projects, industrial disaster zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence or natural disasters, derelict Olympic venues, ghost towns, and more.

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  • An overgrown, disused railway tunnel near the stop Pinzano al Tagliamento on the old Sacile-Gemona railway on October 7, 2016, in Pinzano, Italy.

    Andrea Spinelli / Corbis via Getty

  • Birds fly around and inside one of the two 500-foot cooling towers at the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, in Hollywood, Alabama, on September 7, 2016. After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility was preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.

    Brynn Anderson / AP

  • A terrace atop the Sathorn Unique building in Bangkok, Thailand, on January 25, 2017. The 49-story Bangkok high-rise was supposed to feature luxury condos for hundreds of newly affluent Thai families, but was abandoned unfinished when the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997. Now called the “Ghost Tower,” it’s a monument to mistakes made and an object of curiosity to a steady stream of visitors.

    Sakchai Lalit / AP

  • Plants grow on houses in the abandoned fishing village of Houtouwan on the island of Shengshan, east of Shanghai, on July 26, 2015. Just a handful of people still live in a village on Shengshan Island that was once home to more than 2,000 fishermen. The remote village, on one of more than 400 islands in the Shengsi archipelago, was abandoned in the early 1990s as first wealthy residents then others moved away, aiming to leave problems with education and food delivery behind them.

    Damir Sagolj / Reuters

  • An abandoned stadium used for baseball events during the 2004 Olympic games is seen through weeds at the old airport in Athens on July 16, 2015.

    Petros Giannakouris / AP

  • Storm clouds and snow blow from Lake Erie over the temporarily closed Route 5 highway in Lackawanna, New York, on November 20, 2014.

    Aaron Lynett / Reuters

  • Shuttered stores dominate the interior of the Schuylkill Mall which was scheduled to close soon, in Frackville, Pennsylvania, on May 17, 2017. Built in 1980 by Crown American, the Schuylkill Mall originally featured Kmart, Hess’s, and Sears as its anchor stores but is now mostly empty.

    Spencer Platt / Getty

  • An abandoned shopping center approximately one kilometer away from the huge fire and industrial blasts that rocked Tianjin, China, in 2015, seen on August 10, 2016. At least 165 people were killed in the giant explosions, which devastated a huge part of the northern port.

    Nicolas Asfouri / AFP / Getty

  • A view of the facade of an abandoned house in the village of Osurovo, Yaroslavl region, Russia, on October 24, 2016.

    Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

  • A feral cat sits on a sandbag barricade acting as a boundary for the green line, a UN-controlled buffer zone filled with abandoned structures, separating the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia on February 17, 2017.

    Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP / Getty

  • A decaying passenger plane of Cyprus Airways stands at Nicosia International Airport inside the buffer zone on the southern, Greek side of the divided city on March 7, 2017, in Nicosia, Cyprus. The airport was abandoned following the ceasefire of the 1974 war and today stands derelict.

    Sean Gallup / Getty

  • The passenger departure area at the deserted Nicosia International Airport on April 28, 2016, in Nicosia, Cyprus .

    Athanasios Gioumpasis / Getty

  • The wreckage of a van is overgrown by plants in Simacem village in North Sumatra, Indonesia, on November 16, 2015. The village was abandoned following the eruption of Mount Sinabung as it was considered too close to the still-rumbling volcano.

    Binsar Bakkara / AP

  • In this October 24, 2014, photo, an uninhabited old farmhouse sags in disrepair during a nor’easter rainstorm in Searsport, Maine.

    Robert F. Bukaty / AP

  • Frogs inhabit the murky waters of an abandoned training pool for athletes at the Olympic village on the northern fringes of Athens, Greece, on August 2, 2012.

    Thanassis Stavrakis / AP

  • The night sky is seen through damaged windows in the rebel-controlled town of Binnish in Idlib province, Syria, on September 7, 2016.

    Ammar Abdullah / Reuters

  • A deer rests in a rapeseed colza field near the village of Botskovichi, Belarus, on May 21, 2017.

    Sergei Grits / AP

  • A view of the abandoned Consonno, near Milan, Italy, on September 26, 2014. Built in 1962, Consonno was intended to be a large shopping and entertainment destination—a “city of toys.”

    Antonio Calanni / AP

  • Sand fills an abandoned house in Kolmanskop, Namibia, on July 23, 2013. Kolmanskop was a diamond mining town south of Namibia, built in 1908 and deserted in 1956. Since then, the desert has slowly reclaimed its territory, with sand invading the buildings where 350 German colonists and more than 800 local workers lived during its heyday of the 1920s.

    Jerome Delay / AP

  • An abandoned house after Hurricane Katrina stands in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 18, 2015. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls.

    Carlos Barria / Reuters

  • Swings in a kindergarten yard are covered in weeds inside the exclusion zone in Okuma, near Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on February 13, 2016. Survivors exposed themselves to high levels of radiation five years ago while searching for family members swept away by the tsunami that triggered meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. The disaster in March 2011 killed nearly 16,000 people along Japan’s northeastern coast and left more than 2,500 missing. Family members continue to look for the bodies of their missing loved ones, when access to the area is permitted, as they still try to bring closure to their loss.

    Toru Hanai / Reuters

  • A general view of the derelict palace complex of the former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), Mobutu Sese Seko, on May 15, 2017, in Nsele, some 40 kilometers outside Kinshasa.

    John Wessels / AFP / Getty

  • In this October 18, 2014, photo, the interior of concrete structures called “Quonset huts” crumbles inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales province, northern Philippines. Naval Station Subic Bay used to be one of the largest U.S. military bases outside the American mainland. It was partly damaged during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo forcing American troops from the more severely damaged Clark Air Base to relocate at Subic. It was closed in 1992 after the Philippine Senate voted not to extend the lease on the facility.

    Aaron Favila / AP

  • A dog looks out of the window of an abandoned, dilapidated home in Havana, Cuba, on March 21, 2016.

    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

  • Dusty keys sit in the mail slots of a hospital basement post office at the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, on October 2, 2014. The shipyard dates from the 1850s and was the first U.S. Navy base in the Pacific. At its peak in World War II some 50,000 worked on the island. Today about 4,000 either work, live or go to school there. A number of its buildings and facilities are still empty following the closing of the shipyard in 1996.

    Eric Risberg / AP

  • The stands are seen at the abandoned Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom Center at the Hellenikon complex in Athens on July 16, 2014.

    Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters

  • Plants have taken over the entrance of a house in Immerath, Germany, on September 26, 2014. Immerath became a ghost town to be demolished for the approaching brown coal mining. Inhabitants were relocated to a new build town.

    Frank Augstein / AP

  • Dogs walk in the empty Olympic Park on March 18, 2017, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Seven months after Rio hosted the first Olympic games in South America, many of the costly venue sites have been mostly abandoned in spite of promises from organizers that the games would provide a legacy benefit for the citizens of Brazil.

    Mario Tama / Getty

  • Trees surround an abandoned and decaying tenant farmer’s, or sharecropper’s, house in Moundville, Alabama, on October 25, 2015. Cotton farmer Shep Morris describes the decaying tenant homes of former farm employees as “scattered throughout the cotton belt and slowly fading away.”

    Brian Snyder / Reuters

  • Damaged homes are seen after clashes between members of Libyan pro-government forces, backed by locals, and Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels, in Benghazi, Libya, on July 7, 2015.

    Reuters

  • Light enters through the holes of the roof of the abandoned and looted workshop building at the Penallta colliery in Hengoed, South Wales, on June 30, 2016.

    Emilio Morenatti / AP

  • A tree grows out of the door of an abandoned barn in the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Krasnoselie, Belarus, on February 17, 2016.

    Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

  • This photo taken on May 22, 2017, shows new Kandi Electric vehicles parked long-term under a viaduct in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province.

    AFP / Getty

  • Inside view of an abandoned 19th-century manor in Goussainville-Vieux Pays, 20 kilometers north of Paris, on September 9, 2013. In 1972, the farming village of 144 homes found itself under the direct flight path of Roissy’s Charles de Gaulle Airport when it opened. Residents started to abandon their homes, unable to endure the constant noise of the passenger planes flying overhead. Nowadays, only a few families remain living in what has become almost a ghost village.

    Charles Platiau / Reuters

  • A grey seal comes ashore at Blakeney Point on March 27, 2013 in Norfolk, England.

Source: A World Without People – The Atlantic

Scenes From the Moscow Metro – The Atlantic

Moscow’s underground transit system is now more than 80 years old, and carries up to 9 million passengers through more than 200 stations every day. Most of the architecture and decor was built decades ago, meant to be a showcase for Soviet artists, ideals, and icons. The system is now modernizing, in part, preparing for the 2018 World Cup, which will be hosted in Russia. Several Reuters photographers have captured images of the varied and unique Moscow Metro stations, as well as the workers and passengers underground, over the past year.

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  • People gather at Ploschad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) metro station in Moscow, Russia, on March 6, 2016.

    Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

  • The Metro sign is seen at the entrance to VDNKh metro station, with the Monument to the Conquerors of Space seen in the background, in Moscow on June 2, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • Commuters walk through Fonvizinskaya metro station in Moscow on April 13, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • A station manager controls trains coming and leaving the platform as she sits in a booth at Zhulebino metro station on April 18, 2017. Another visible change is the controversial replacement of many of the elderly women who used to sit in a booth at the bottom of the seemingly endless escalators, who were famous for telling passengers off if they sat down on the escalator steps. One attendant known by locals as Auntie Lyuda was famous for telling jokes on Mondays, reading poems and telling passengers to imagine they were in England—if passengers want to walk up and down the steps of the escalator, they should do so on the left. Now the attendants are mainly young men, and have yet to show any skill in bantering with passengers.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • An interior view shows Komsomolskaya metro station on the Koltsevaya (Circle) line on February 20, 2016.

    Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

  • A woman stands next to a bas-relief representing Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin, at Ploschad Ilyicha metro station on March 9, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • An interior view shows Mendeleyevskaya metro station on March 7, 2016.

    Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

  • A sign reading “Schukinskaya” is on display at Schukinskaya metro station on June 13, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • The entrance to Smolenskaya metro station in Moscow, Russia, on February 25, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • Otradnoye metro station on June 7, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • A fragment of interior design at Novokuznetskaya metro station on February 1, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • People travel on an escalator at Park Kultury metro station on March 14, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • Mendeleyevskaya metro station on March 7, 2016

    Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

  • People wait for the train at Kievskaya metro station on April 17, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • A Moscow metro employee drives a train through Paveletskaya metro station on March 20, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • An interior view of Barrikadnaya metro station on February 25, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • People walk during rush hour in Kievskaya metro station on April 17, 2017. At Kievskaya, a station built in 1954, when Ukraine was firmly a part of the Soviet Union, this vivid mosaic dedicated to Russian-Ukrainian friendship occupies one wall.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • An employee washes the train carriage at Krasnaya Presnya metro depot in Moscow on March 20, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • Aviamotornaya metro station photographed on April 13, 2017

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • A child looks at one of several statues in Ploschad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) metro station on March 6, 2016.

    Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

  • People wait for the train at Kurskaya metro station on March 21, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • A detail of the interior design at Dubrovka metro station on February 22, 2016.

    Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

  • A worker restores a stucco ornament during renovations at Kievskaya metro station on March 18, 2017.

    Grigory Dukor / Reuters

  • The platform controller signals that the train can leave at Komsomolskaya metro station in Moscow, Russia, on March 24, 2017.

Source: Scenes From the Moscow Metro – The Atlantic

FRACTAL – 4k StormLapse on Vimeo

A tale of two cities: Why “Eugene Onegin” resonates in Charleston | The Economist

Why “Eugene Onegin” resonates in Charleston

Russia and the American south both mythologise a half-digested history

IT WAS a sweltering evening in Charleston, South Carolina, but snow was falling inside the Gaillard Centre. The performance of “Eugene Onegin” on May 26th transported its audience to an estate in tsarist Russia and then, in the final act of Tchaikovsky’s opera, to St Petersburg. Consider the venue and the setting closely, though, and the mental journey becomes shorter than the weather made it seem.

“Onegin”, directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, was the opening showpiece of the Spoleto Festival USA: an annual arts extravaganza, featuring top-notch music and theatre, which this year runs until June 11th. Like St Petersburg, Charleston, the festival’s base, was once home to a storied aristocracy, members of which flocked to the city from their estates for grand balls. In both, the opulent lifestyles were supported by the backbreaking labour of others, serfs in Russia (until 1861), slaves in the American South. Mythologies have evolved around both of these compromised leisure classes, involving pageantry and elegance, gallantry and, as in “Onegin”, occasional violence. In both places, and especially in the antebellum South, the eras the myths commemorate and whitewash were brief, blinks in history that have come to loom disproportionately in cultural memory.

The landowners may have retreated to the cities, but in “Onegin” they mourn the seeming innocence of the countryside. This tension—between the conflicting pulls of the town’s sophistication and the simplicity of fields and forests—endures in Russia and in today’s American South. Lots of contemporary country music peddles rural nostalgia to big-city listeners; drive around Atlanta or other southern conurbations and you see many pick-up trucks with tell-tale spotless beds, their owners tied to urban jobs but signalling their country roots with their wheels. Many Russians, meanwhile, long to spend time in the countryside where, a century ago, most of their ancestors lived. Witness the traffic jams on the arterial roads out of Moscow on Friday afternoons, as the weekend rush to the dacha begins.

If town and country are one of the shared dichotomies that Spoleto’s “Onegin” evoked, so is light and darkness. The opera is a tragedy of love gone awry, transmuted by the score and Pushkin’s story into art. But it is proof, too, of a bloodier kind of alchemy, in which Russia’s grim history, all those repressions and upheavals, came to gestate the genius of Tchaikovsky and Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Shostakovich. That same discomforting entanglement—beauty bound up with suffering—characterises the South. William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Nina Simone and B.B. King: many of the glories of American culture would be inconceivable without the torments and disgrace of slavery and segregation, of which, as the country’s biggest slave entrepôt and the cradle of the Confederacy, Charleston was the epicentre. Well within living memory, the flirtation in this production between Onegin and Olga—sung by a white baritone and black soprano—might have incited a riot. The Gaillard Centre is down the road from the church in which, in 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine African-Americans during Bible study.

In the South, as in post-communist Russia, a half-digested lump of history sits suffocatingly near society’s heart. And, in both, this painful past takes physical form. Southern cities are littered with statues of Confederate leaders and slaveholders. Russian towns have mostly removed their monuments to Lenin, but the man himself still lies, embalmed, in Red Square.  Even more intractably, Charleston and St Petersburg are themselves artefacts of genius and horror: two of the loveliest cities in the world, both are built on bones and haunted by the ghosts of war and injustice (including, in St Petersburg, those of the Nazi siege and Stalin’s purges). “There is no document of civilisation”, thought Walter Benjamin, “that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” In few places is his observation as pertinent as in the cities combined in this “Onegin”.

As is to be expected of a festival production, the set was minimalist, but the impact was enhanced by the innovative use of lighting and video. Two effects stood out. In the duel scene, the shadows of Onegin and Lensky became eerily unmoored from the performers, seeming to stalk and circle each other independently. Before that, during the overture, a screen showed a film of a wintry forest, snow descending among the trees. They weren’t silver birches, the classic Russian tree that dangled above the stage in the first two acts, but pines, the quintessential Southern one: a fitting visual melding of two overlapping cultures.

Source: A tale of two cities: Why “Eugene Onegin” resonates in Charleston | The Economist

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