The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

This is an absolutely beautiful (yet heartbreaking) memoir written in the midst of World War II.

Completed in 1942 (and sent to his publisher just days before he and his wife took their lives), it provides an intimate and fascinating look at life in Europe during the end of the Victorian Era and through two world wars.

I think one of the most striking things about this book (especially in the later pages) is how mournful, almost hopeless, Zweig is about the state of Europe and the world as a whole. And it’s no surprise, right? He was an Austrain Jew who saw the home and the people he loved destroyed.

Take this passage, written about Paris. He lovingly describes his time in Paris after he graduated from university and how it was a city that could always make people happy.

“I had promised myself a present for the first year of my newly gained freedom—I would go to Paris. Two earlier visits had given me only a superficial knowledge of that city of inexhaustible delights, but I could tell that any young man who had spent a year there would be left with incomparably happy memories for the rest of his life. Nowhere but in Paris did you feel so strongly, with all your senses aroused, that your own youth was as one with the atmosphere around you. The city offers itself to everyone, although no one can fathom it entirely.”

And then a paragraph later, we get to the hard truth about the time period this book was written in:

“Of course I know that the wonderfully lively and invigorating Paris of my youth no longer exists; perhaps the city will never entirely recover that wonderful natural ease, now that it has felt the iron brand forcibly imprinted on it by the hardest hand on earth. Just as I began writing these lines, German armies and German tanks were rolling in, like a swarm of grey termites, to destroy utterly the divinely colourful, blessedly light-hearted lustre and unfading flowering of its harmonious structure. ”

Another powerful aspect of this book is that while reading, we know that he would soon take his life and he’d never get to see how this tragic story (World War II) ended and how the cities, art and music he loved would eventually recover.

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

Book Review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

A few years ago, I read Conn Iggulden’s Conquerer series, a fictional account about the rise of Genghis Khan (née Temujin) and his exploits across Eurasia. It was a fascinating book and made me curious to learn more.

I picked this one up recently. While I enjoyed it, I often found myself thinking about how hard it must be to write a book about someone who lived amongst a nomadic tribe about 800 years ago.

The source material for this book is based upon notes found within a tome of (sometimes mythical) knowledge that was written shortly after Genghis Khan died — simply called The Secret History of the Mongols. It was written by an anonymous author and then passed down through the ages where the only remaining copy is a translation created some 200 years after his death.

The book is rarely critical of Genghis Khan, his followers (this is more of an “ends justify the means), and the sometimes ruthless actions they took to subdue a population.

That said, some of the most fascinating aspects of this story were how progressive the Mongols were when it came to improving the lives of the people they ruled: public schooling, accounting, trade, and communication. The book contains a fascinating comparison that puts his accomplishments in perspective:

“In American terms, the accomplishment of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States, instead of being created by a group of educated merchants or wealthy planters, had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves, who, by the sheer force of personality, charisma, and determination, liberated America from foreign rule, united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare, marched an army from Canada to Brazil, and opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across the continents.”

Overall, this was an interesting (if skewed) story about an infamous character in history that many of us might have just misunderstood.

Where the hell is Mentone Beach?

Mentone beach

My cousin is getting married, so Kerry and I came down to Southern California for the weekend and are staying with my parents in Mentone.

A few friends on Facebook left me some comments that said, “enjoy the beach!” Kerry was confused at what this meant. Apparently, I never told her about the history of Mentone Beach! The LA Times explains:

At least 60 miles from the coast, where the San Bernardino Mountains shoot through clouds, a signpost painted on a weather-beaten water tower beckons like a desert oasis: Mentone Beach.


Mentone, named for a Mediterranean resort in southeast France, seemed destined for coastal status: Its founders noted that “the climate and vegetation were the same; only the sea was missing.”

That’s right, this is where I’m from. See also, “In search of Paul Bunyan.”

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Korcula Panorama from the top of Fort Wellington

Click here for larger size.

In 2008, a number of friends and I traveled around the Adriatic Sea on a sailboat, visiting various islands off the coast of Croatia. Toward the end of our trip, we stopped by the small coastal village of Korčula (map).

While there, I decided to take off for a bit and go on a hike outside of town. I stumbled across an old fort hiding in the woods.

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Curious about it, I walked inside to explore it for a bit. I’ll admit, it was kind of dark, dusty, and rather creepy. But also pretty cool!

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

Fort Wellington, near Korcula, Croatia

I even found a way onto the roof of the structure, where I took the awesome panorama that you see at the top of this post.

As I was falling asleep a few nights ago, I thought about this trip and this structure specifically. I still didn’t know anything about it and random internet searches over the past two years revealed nothing.

I had the idea to load up Google Earth and view a layer of Panoramio, which shows photos embedded at where they were taken. While viewing the area near Korcula, I noticed a number of photos near the fort I had stumbled across. And they were named!

The mystery was solved: Fort Wellington!

This is the English tower Fort Wellington that was built in 1813 on the place of the Venetian fortification of the open type from 1616. It is located on the hill above Korcula Old Town, about 20 minutes walk along the steps from Plokata – the main square.

This building is currently deserted and is dangerous to climb the staircase inside the tower, as they are old and unreliable. Forteca tower is also devastated by horrible mobile phone network cables and transmitting masts that are placed there by Croatian mobile phone company.

Built in 1813, dangerous to climb, but awesome views. So fun! Interestingly enough, when I visited in 2008, they had actually taken the transmitting masts off the top of the building and moved them to a structure located near the building.

Anyway, it was a fun mystery to finally have solved! I’m glad I took the chance to go exploring for a bit. Bonus: the views on the hike back down to Korcula was top notch as well!

Hiking to Fort Wellington from Korcula

Market Street in 1906

Footage from the front of a cable car, traveling down Market Street, circa 1906. Fantastic. I absolutely adore these old videos of San Francisco!

Originally, this video was thought to have been recorded sometime in 1905. Recently, someone analyzed the weather, vehicles, and shadows from people / objects and concluded it was filmed four days before the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906!

This film, originally thought to be from 1905 until David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum figured out exactly when it was shot. From New York trade papers announcing the film showing to the wet streets from recent heavy rainfall & shadows indicating time of year & actual weather and conditions on historical record, even when the cars were registered (he even knows who owned them and when the plates were issued!). It was filmed only four days before the quake and shipped by train to NY for processing.

[Via Long Now Foundation and Flixxy]

Contrasting an American Life

Last year, I read Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography on Albert Einstein, titled, “Einstein: His Life and Universe.”

Earlier today, I decided to look for more work by Isaacson and found that he wrote another great biography, this time about Benjamin Franklin. The book was titled, “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.”


The tagline, “an American life,” struck a chord with me because it sounded so familiar. Where else have I heard that term recently? Ah yes.


Seriously? It’s kind of insulting and sad that these books share the same tagline. Here are a few differences between the subjects of each book.

  • One book is about a great person, who had a profound effect on the founding of our country. The other is about someone trying to inadvertantly destroy it.
  • One book is about an inventor, intellect, and scientist. The other is about someone who despises those descriptions and the people behind them.
  • One book is about is about someone who strived to persevere in all facets of life. The other is about someone who perpetually quits when things get too tough.
  • One book is about a great American. The other is not.

The dark side of Dubai


Source: Mohamed Somji, via flickr (2007).

Just read this fascinating article about the dark side of Dubai, posted by the Independent in April of this year. The article is quite long, but it’s a pretty gripping exposé on the seedy, behind-the-scenes underworld of Dubai and the blind eye that rich tourists, ex-patriots, and locals take to the city.

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means “City of Gold”. In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Of course, there are numerous choice quotes in this piece, and it’s pretty hard to cherry pick just one.

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. “Well, how could I?” she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. “I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything,” she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. “Oh, the servant class!” she trilled. “You do nothing. They’ll do anything!”

You can read the rest of this article here.

More information about Dubai can be found via this write up I posted to Laughing Squid earlier this year, titled, “BASE jumping off the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building.”

[Via personal correspondence with Mark Rebec]

Tut at Twilight in San Francisco

Source: Unknown

Last night, Kerry surprised me and took me to see the King Tutankhamun exhibit that is currently on display at the de Young museum in San Francisco. This is an exhibit I’ve been wanting to see for a long time and it was an absolute blast.

It’s hard to believe some of the artifacts on display were so well preserved and over 3500 years old. I mean seriously, how much of the stuff that we have today will still be around 3500 years from now and be in immaculate condition. (Note, my mom mentioned all our plastic products. Hah, good point I guess.)

Anyway, it was a fascinating opportunity to peer back in time and contemplate what life was like so long ago.

Bonus: We bought print outs of our cartouche, allegedly spelling out our name in hieroglyphs. Here is “David.”

Cartouche -