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Busy, busy, busy. So much to do, so many traitors to be shot. You’d think a victorious tyrant would have his hands plenty full in the aftermath of Spain’s murderous 1936-39 civil war. It turns out, though, that Generalissimo Francisco Franco had long nursed a secret desire, one he was uniquely in a position to satisfy at the outset of his nearly four decades in power. But where in the world did he find the time to write the screenplay for a feature-length film? Never mind that the end product is as artistically shoddy and morally repugnant as anything that ever defiled celluloid, it still gives a fascinating peek through the thick velvet curtains that lead to the lobby of a dictator’s mind.

Film-buff Franco didn’t often go to the movies. The movies came to him. On engagement-free Saturday evenings a projectionist would be admitted to the head of state’s residence on the outskirts of Madrid where a screening room had been installed. Ministers on urgent business would be roped into attendance. It went on like that until old age began gnawing at his attention span, decades down the road. Hitler, too, was acutely conscious of the cinema’s potential for manipulating the masses, but left the hands-on part to his deputy, Goebbels. And Mussolini certainly praised the carbon-arc projector as “the world’s most effective weapon.” But his movie producer son, Vittorio, revealed that Il Duce could scarcely make it through 15 minutes of virtually any film you could think of without dozing off. More… “General Franco Jumps the Shark”

Robert Latona is a journalist based in Madrid, Spain.

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The opening movement of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others can be described in many ways: bracing, informed, thoroughly engaged with history, disturbing, even profound. I would, however, describe it simply as reassuring. Consider that I’ve just designated the beginning of her text a movement. If I possessed more poetic leanings, I might contend that it functions as a stanza. Its title is measured, artful, a statement that can be read multiple ways — as an opening clause (Regarding the pain of others, comma, here’s what I have to say) or as a commentary on the act of regarding, of viewing, of assessing and appraising human beings in a state of pain and suffering and death. It is in its literary-ness that I find comfort and reassurance, and in its author’s commitment to truly essaying its subject matter (representations of violence) that this volume shines with a lapidary efflorescence. Sontag’s deeper topic, however, is a consciousness of our shared and frangible humanity. More… “Sparing No Pains”

Sean Hooks is originally from New Jersey and presently lives in Los Angeles. He teaches English and Writing at the University of California, Riverside and Fullerton College. Recent publications include Los Angeles Review of Books, Bright Lights Film Journal, Akashic Books, The Manhattanville Review, and Pif Magazine.

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Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City is a ground-breaking look at American cities in many ways. It takes a deep and richly textured view into places that make up what we call cities and stretches the boundaries of that understanding beyond the often one-dimensional historical, economic, sociological, or political interpretations that try to explain urban environments. The authors do this by re-imagining, recreating, and retelling Philadelphia as a complicated story from the industrial past to the post-industrial present. They view the city through “layers” of the past that both speak to a bygone era, but also the possibilities for the future, seeing Philadelphia in a very nuanced way that challenges all of us to think differently of cities in the American context. On January 19, 2018, I had a chance to sit down with one of the authors, Nathaniel Popkin, to talk about the book and the broader attempt to interpret cities in the 21st century. It was a pleasure to take time to talk about their creative intellectual endeavor. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City

Daniel Dougherty is a political scientist who spends his time teaching, researching, experiencing, pondering, and talking about cities. He is Associate Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Director of the Honors Program at Drexel University.

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crystal bowl filled with toffee candies
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The star shape cuts into the circular handle that tops the lid of my candy dish. The star is echoed as it expands into the many cut diamonds which multiply as they eclipse over the round shape of the lid. The pattern starts again where the lid meets the bowl, continuing on and on all the way to its base. As the diameter of the bowl’s circular shape increases, so, too, does the size of the diamonds, only to follow the reverse pattern as it decreases in size where the bowl’s shape comes together in a nice gathering of diamonds at the bottom. The pattern seems to be infinite, and yet it is not. It finishes at the base of the bowl.

It is an old bowl, a treasured possession of my Gran’s. It always sat on her coffee table, and it was always full of candy, mostly the soft caramel toffees that she loved so much. As children, we were allowed to have one, but only one, and only after we had eaten the sumptuous feast that Gran had prepared for our visit. She always made our favorites — fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. My mouth waters at the memory of these special recipes.

I make Gran’s chicken for supper. I coat the chicken pieces with cornflake crumbs, salt, and pepper and bake it in the oven. Then I make the coleslaw with her unique combination of cabbage and raisins. I add small, colored marshmallows. The salad dressing, another of Gran’s secret recipes, softens the marshmallows so they melt in your mouth. My kids like the spongy sweetness next to the bitter crunch of the cabbage. I don’t recall if Gran ever added marshmallows to the salad. Perhaps she did. More… “The Crystal Bowl”

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is the author of several books including her novel, Personal Notes, which is her grandmother’s story. Several of her creative nonfiction stories and books have received awards, including The Whistling Bishop, which was named a finalist in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; F-Stop: A Life in Pictures, which was named a finalist and received the silver medal in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; and To Be a Duke, which was named a finalist and received the silver medal in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards as well as receiving an honorable mention in the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

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In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the great filmmaker Werner Herzog explores Chauvet, which contains some of the most absorbing cave paintings yet discovered. They also appear to be some of the oldest, dated to 32,000 years before present. Herzog’s camera pans slowly across Chauvet’s bulbous tan walls while his crew moves handheld lights to make the many bumps and angles do a sort of shadow play. The lions, bison, horses, and rhinos outlined in black seem to flex and shift. They nuzzle, sniff, or maybe battle each other. At one point in a voiceover, Herzog says, “The strongest hint of something spiritual, some religious ceremony in the cave, is this bear skull. It has been placed dead center on the rock resembling an altar. The staging seems deliberate. The skull faces the entrance of the cave, and around it fragments of charcoal were found, potentially used as incense.” Amid the flickering beauty in this scene, that monologue got me wondering: How does he know this was a religious situation?

Well. He doesn’t. Nobody will ever know why that skull sits there. While archaeologists agree some prehistoric person did it, the reason why could be anything from a carefully-planned religious rite to a joke. That’s one of the greatest attractions — and the insidious trouble — with cave art. There is no context. Looking at it turns us loose in a wide-open playpen for the imagination where each of us fills the gaps with wishes for what should be there. More… “Cave Artists”

Paul X. Rutz is an artist and freelance writer. His exhibitions include solo shows at Ford Gallery, the Oregon Military Museum, and a forthcoming residency at Purdue University, as well as group shows at Mark Woolley Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution. A former reporter for the Pentagon’s Press Service, he has contributed to HuffPost, Modern Fiction Studies, and Cincinnati Review, among others, and he is a feature writer for Military History and Vietnam magazines.

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History has remembered the Spanish-American conflict as a “splendid little war.” Between April and August 1898, over 72,000 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines steamrolled the larger forces of the decaying Spanish Empire in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, who had given up his position in the McKinley administration in order to create the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (better known as the Rough Riders), became an all-American hero after the war. More importantly, America’s victories at San Juan Hill, Santiago, and Manila Bay showed the world that Washington had now entered into the age of empires.

The Spanish-American War is notable because it conclusively proved that the media can concoct a war without much evidence. The “gay ’90s” in America belonged to the press barons, otherwise known as the purveyors of “yellow journalism.” Competitors William Randolph Hearst (later portrayed as the character Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane) and Joseph Pulitzer fed war fever prior to the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor by writing sanguinary and exaggerated stories about Spanish atrocities against the innocent and helpless Cubans. While thousands of Cubans really did suffer in concentration camps, Hearst and Pulitzer often filled their pages with imaginary Spanish intrigues against the United States and American businessmen in Cuba. As a gross indication of the press’s power, one apocryphal story claims that illustrator Frederic Remington received a telegram from Hearst while covering the Cuban rebellion: “You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war.” More… “Invasions: Real and Imagined”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.

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A hotel is a living organism, a microcosm with a strict hierarchy, an orchestrated timetable of actions and events that unfold according to a particular dramaturgy. Some hotels have even reached the status of living myths — they have succeeded in forming an identity of their own. And in many cases, their status is owed to the writers and actors that have stayed in them. Agatha Christie stayed in room 411 of Istanbul’s neo-Rococo-style Pera Palace Hotel and is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express there. The Park Hyatt Tokyo certainly owes some of its appeal for foreign visitors to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who filmed substantial parts of Lost in Translation there.

More… “If Walls Could Talk”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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One might think this old man at the Marina del Rey Farmer’s Market is in his last days. But the twinkle in his eyes gives away his joie de vivre. He is dressed in a gray herringbone suit, a white shirt with gold cufflinks, and a necktie. Not the usual hey-I’m-going-to-the-farmers-market attire. He could afford the suit: Before he retired he was a furrier. Now he’s a widower on the prowl. His hair is white, where he has it. He is mostly bald with ears that fall from his head like rose petals. He speaks with a heavy Yiddish accent. And behind the accent, behind the eyes, he holds secrets. It’s my job today to get at those secrets. This man, Murray, my Grandma Eva’s first cousin, knew the very house where she was raised, whom she resembled, why she came to America alone. He knew the tenor of her voice, the way she held her tea or coffee, her kindnesses. He knew her. I did not: I never knew her. She died six years before I was born, and I want him to fill in the gaps. He knew her in a way even my father, her eldest, never could have.

More… “A Day With Murray”

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in New Jersey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Jewish Literary Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Minerva Rising, and other journals.

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I have been wondering recently why it’s essential for politicians or diplomats at high-profile meetings and film stars in Hollywood or Cannes to stroll along a red carpet. I assume that the red carpet is supposed to highlight the esteem the public holds towards these famous individuals (or, in the case of hotels, managers want their guests to feel famous — maybe more so than they are in real life). Once the red carpet is brought out, it becomes part of peculiar ritual, and the people and scene around it take on a different meaning.  “Red-carpet outfits” become necessary. Obviously a carpet of superior quality is not enough to be the epitome of fame, power and glamor – it has to have this particular, vibrant color. Why, of all things, does it have to be red?

If we believe the historical record, a red carpet first made its appearance some 2,500 years ago, in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. On his return from Troy, Agamemnon – the leader of the Greeks and king of Mycenae — was offered a red path to walk upon rather than touching the Earth with his feet directly. At first, he resisted treading upon it because he believed that it was reserved for the gods: “I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.” Eventually he gives in, and the red carpet wickedly leads him to the door that will open to his death: his wife takes revenge on him for killing their daughter by murdering him with an axe.

More… “Seeing Red”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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Ask someone who doesn’t normally listen to classical music to name a work from the genre, and it’s a reasonable bet they’ll cite Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. They’re apt to even hum a few bars of the “Ode to Joy” passage — a veritable vocal wellspring of the human spirit — and there’s a decent chance they’ve heard it performed live at some point. After all, few symphonies are aired more frequently than Beethoven’s last. More… “Playing Ninth”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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