Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Strange Geographies: Portugal’s Bone Chapel

Ransom Riggs

I spent a few weeks in Portugal during the spring of 2006, and one of the most striking things about its many churches and chapels and religious monuments was, well, how dark they were. Not literally — there was plenty of light. But it seemed like every statue of Christ was weeping blood, and every church had a display case of gruesome relics in the foyer; a saint’s pickled eyeballs here, a toe with dessicated skin still clinging to it there. But of all these monuments to pain and death, nothing could match the Capela dos Ossos — the Chapel of the Bones. Located next to the Church of St. Francis in the medieval town of Evora, it’s a large room decorated with the bones of more than 5,000 monks, exhumed from local churchyards to be used as building materials way back in the 16th century.

As you enter, you pass under this doorway. Its inscription, translated from the Portuguese, means ““We bones here, for yours await.” Nice and creepy.

According to legend, the 16th century Franciscan monk who created the chapel did it not to freak people out or scare them, but to prod visitors into a spirit of quiet contemplation. “Life is fleeting!” the bones are meant to imply. “See?!”

On the other side of the doorway, as you exit, is this cheerful little motif, restored in 1810.

The monks who built the chapel got creative with their bones, using them not just to fill wall space, but to create all sorts of decorative patterns. It’s more or less what I imagine a Martha Stewart Halloween special would be like.


Not everyone who visits the chapel is inspired to contemplate the mysteries of death, however, judging from the many graffiti-inscribed skulls that line the walls. Ana Gomes, I hope someone writes on your skull when you’re dead.


As an added bonus, the monks decided to hang two corpses on the wall from a chain — that of a woman and a child. They’ve been there for hundreds of years, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. No one is sure exactly who the unlucky pair are, but rumor has it they were cursed by a powerful man and were refused burial in local cemeteries. (That doesn’t explain how they died, though; methinks it was not of natural causes.)


The strangest part about the Chapel was that it didn’t seem all that creepy. There was something sanitized and touristy about the whole thing, with ropes sectioning off the walls so you couldn’t get too close, and an information kiosk just outside the door. I nearly forgot that I was walking around the house of 5,000 corpses.


You can check out more “Strange Geographies” photo essays on my website.

Heinz On Track to Reduce Waste, Water, Energy Impacts by 20 Percent

PITTSBURGH, PA — With the release of its 2009 corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, the H.J. Heinz Company this morning unveiled its progress on achieving its environmental goals of cutting its footprint by 20 percent across four categories by 2015.

The report shows that the company is well on its way: compared to the 2005 baseline Heinz is using as a target, it has made significant progress in cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, energy use and water consumption per metric ton of production.

Heinz has managed to cut its carbon footprint by 13.4 percent since 2005, its energy use is down 15.8 percent, solid waste generation is down 27.4 percent, and water is down 15.7 percent in the same time frame.

And year over year, the rate of improvements are picking up slightly, as the graphic below shows; between 2008 and 2009 Heinz cut its normalized greenhouse gas emissions and energy use each by nearly 10 percent, water use by 12 percent and waste by over 16 percent.


Among the other goals Heinz has set for environmental stewardship are a 15 percent in total packaging used, a dedicated focus on its agricultural methods that will cut water usage and GHG emissions by 15 percent each while improving tomato yields by 5 percent, and a 10 percent reduction in the fuel used by its transportation fleet.

Heinz has achieved its results to date through a number of initiatives. Its CSR report highlights packaging innovations that have cut the materials needed for bottles used in products around the globe, as well as a partnership with Graham Packaging that led to the first food package containing post-consumer recycled content to meet FDA guidelines.

In 2007, reported on some of the ground-level projects Heinz was undertaking to acheive its sustainability goals, including reusing potato peels in biofuels.

As a food company, agriculture figures prominently in Heinz's sustainability projects. Heinz is making some progress on its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and water use each by 15 percent by 2015 while also improving tomato yields by 5 percent: Farms in California, Australia, China and New Zealand have all already surpassed the yields goal to date.

The other sustainable ag goals are slower to progress, but the company is working on carbon sequestration projects with the Sustainable Food Laboratory, and announced today that water-efficient drip irrigation use has nearly doubled on its California tomato farms.

The full 2009 Heinz CSR report is available online at

Does Mexico City Need a Red-Light District?

Prostitute in the streets of
Prostitutes stand around in the La Merced area of Mexico City
Maya Goded / Magnum

As twilight falls over Mexico City's Buenavista neighborhood, the traditional night shift begins. A woman in suspenders and a pink dress takes up right outside the doors of an American-owned bank. Across the street, two girls in miniskirts entice clients at the entrance of a subway station. A block down, a group of transvestites and transsexuals bare their wares outside a convenience store. Quickly, the streets fill with hundreds of sex workers, while their clients lurk discreetly in dark corners, vigilant under the threat of a sudden police raid.

It's a competitive business on the streets of Buenavista, made tougher as the recession has pushed more and more women to make a living here. Mexico's economy is predicted to shrink 7.2% in 2009, its worst slump since the Great Depression. Grim by any measure, the fragile economy is evident in the swelling number of prostitutes working in Mexico City, estimated to have risen 10% in the past year. Residents of Buenavista have long complained of the worsening situation, but now the government has put forth a solution. (See pictures of fighting crime in Mexico City.)

Agustin Torres, the newly sworn-in president of Mexico City's central borough, has proposed taking prostitutes off the streets and into a new "tolerance zone," like Amsterdam's red-light district, where sex workers can operate without the risk of police harassment and with access to contraception and health checks. The suggested circuit road on a nearby avenue away from family homes would help protect the sex workers against pimps and assailants, Torres says. "We have a duty to defend these people, who are simply doing their job," he told TIME. "Most of the residents of the area are poor folks who support a more socially progressive attitude to this issue."

Torres' approach to the oldest trade fits in with the leftist politics of his Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which has run the Mexican capital for the past decade. PRD lawmakers have also legalized abortion, same-sex civil unions and a limited euthanasia in the city.

But the talk of sanctioned prostitution zones has set off alarm bells among Mexico's social conservatives, who fear their capital is turning into a den of sin. Leading the charge is the Roman Catholic Church, which argues that the government should be clamping down on the sex trade, not encouraging it. "It is funny how these groups want to allow women to have abortions and then won't defend them against the suffering of prostitution," says Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the archdioceses of Mexico City. "They should be looking at how much the authorities themselves are involved in the mafias controlling this vice." The church has a special congregation dedicated to freeing prostitutes from the trade and helping steer them toward other jobs, Valdemar said. (See the picture gallery "Tales of the Drug Lord's Son.")

It is also unclear whether the sex-worker circuit would even be legal. Prostitution is a civil offense in Mexico City, and recent efforts to legalize it have gotten snared in legislative gridlock. Torres argues, however, that the rules are ambiguous and that international labor laws recognize sex work as legitimate employment. Further, prostitution zones have long been tolerated along some parts of the Mexico-U.S. border, providing havens for gringo truck drivers and young Texans looking to lose their virginity.

But downtown Mexico City is a long way from the Rio Grande. There are few American clients spending dollars in Buenavista. Mostly the johns are working and middle-class Mexicans who stop here after work and pay as little as $10 for a service. In these conditions, it could be hard to convince many of the sex workers themselves that it would benefit them to relocate to a special zone. "I have been here for 10 years. I had to work hard to get my place, and now I have my regular clients," says Monica, 35, eyeing passing men to get their attention. "Why should I move from here now?"

The women also have a deep-seated distrust of the government. Prostitutes complain that they are routinely shaken down by police, who demand $50 payoffs and threaten to lock them up overnight if they don't pay. Several prostitutes were suspicious that the new circuit was part of a government plan to tax them. And none of the prostitutes interviewed said they had to pay hustlers on the streets. "I don't work for pimps. I don't work for madams. And I am not going to work for the government," says Jennifer, a heavily made-up 24-year-old pacing in place to keep warm in the evening chill. "This is my business to provide for my family. And I want it to stay that way."

Meet the brave 'crystal girl' with rare illness that is turning her body to rock


By Daily Mail Reporter

A five-year-old must a daily cocktail of drugs to avoid her body turning - into a crystal.

Little Lillie Sutcliffe has a faulty kidney which fails to clean her blood - allowing excess a chemical called cystine to build up in her system.

If too much cystine remains, her cells start to solidify.

But to mother Laura Milner and father Simon Sutcliffe, she is their perfect little girl, who has battled against all odds to try and live a normal life.

Lillie Sutcliffe, five, has a rare genetic condition called cysitinosis, where crystals form in her cells

Lillie Sutcliffe, five, has a rare genetic condition called cysitinosis, where crystals form in her cells

Lillie, from Castleford, was diagnosed with Cysitinosis in August, 2006, at the age of 23 months old.

The incurable condition means Lillie has stunted growth, cannot walk long distances or do any sports.

And with her daily dose of drugs, she is under attack from her own body as the very cells in her tiny 86cm tall frame slowly turn to crystal.

Her parents had been worried about her growth as she looked like a baby at a year old, was constantly crying and had little appetite.

But medics stunned mother Laura, an NHS secretary, when they identified the problem after scanning Lillie's eyes and discovering the crystals.

She said: 'I had never heard of the condition so was a bit shocked to hear what it did.

'It means Lillie's body essentially turns to crystal.

'They just load up inside her, if it wasn't treated she would turn into stone eventually because it attacks all the cells.

'She can't do normal things that other five-year-olds do because she is so small - she's got the body of a two-year-old.

'She goes to full-time school and is academically no different, she just needs a step to reach things because she's so little.'

Mother Laura makes sure Lillie takes her daily drugs cocktail to try to help her live a normal life

Mother Laura makes sure Lillie takes her daily drugs cocktail to try to help her live a normal life

Laura, 29, added: 'It's unusual because she doesn't like sweets or anything like that because she craves salt, because she loses so much of it through her kidney.

'I have to make her salty food to try and help her replace the sodium she needs.

'If it had gone undiagnosed parts of her body would have turned to crystal.'

The condition occurs when the mechanism removing excess cystine - an amino acid - from the body breaks down.

It is then the cystine crystals build up in cells in the body, causing problems in the kidney, thyroid gland, eyes and liver.

Impaired growth is yet another symptom of the condition, which shortens life expectancy and causes sufferers to have to have a kidney transplant at some point in their lives.

Lillie has it because of the combination of a recessive faulty gene in both of her parents and sufferers can never completely rid their bodies of crystals.

Every day she has to take multiple doses of potassium citrate, sodium chloride, phosphate solution and vitamin D just to replenish her body with nutrients.

Consultant paediatric nethrologist Dr Kay Tyerman said while the illness could be partially treated, it could not yet be completely cured.

She said: 'This is an excessively rare condition. It's usually present in children who are not growing properly in the first few years of their life.

'They have a salt-wasting problem which means the kidney loses salt in the urine that she needs to help her grow.

'Lillie has such a strong craving for salty foods because she is losing so much salt her body needs to keep.

'Over the past few years she has been working on her medication, which she needs to take a lot of every day.

'The condition does cause kidney failure and can also cause blindness and it is an illness that unfortunately does tend to shorten life expectancy.

'But Lillie is a real star and just gets on with it - she is very brave.'

There are only 2,000 known sufferers of cysitinosis throughout the world, meaning Lillie is one in just 3, 353, 496.

Lillie's parents Laura and Simon, who works as a tiler for a maintenance company, separated four years ago and it was thought her behaviour was down to the break-up.

But tests revealed the truth and two months after starting medication she started showing improvement.

Laura added: 'I am so proud of how she is fighting it.

'It is just a part of life now for her, we have to take every day and month one at a time, but who knows what treatment might become available in the future.

'Science is getting better and better so you never know what might be around the corner.'

Top 10 Martin Scorsese scenes of all time!


Marcus Leshock


Director Martin Scorsese will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement at the upcoming Golden Globe Awards. It's a no brainer when you look at the man's catalog, starting with "Boxcar Bertha" and "Mean Streets," moving on to "Goodfellas," "Cape Fear," and "Casino," and recently "The Departed."

I've compiled my Top 10 moments in Scorsese movie history. He's known for these scenes, series of events that will be stuck in a movie buff's head for eternity.

Here we go...

Honorable Mention: "The Color Of Money" (1986) Pool Scene

Paul Newman and Tom Cruise finally face off in a big match. Scorsese's camera snaps back and forth between the two players. The game is on, and while they each carefully orchestrate their shots, there is chaos in the air, as seen in the spattering of pool balls smacking all over the table. Masterfully edited by Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker.

10. "Raging Bull" (1980) - A Brutal Beating

In this scene, Jake La Motta confronts his wife about her infidelity. Like a sparring opponent, she eggs him on to the point of explosion. The scene finishes in Joey's living room, where Pesci is thrown to the floor and beaten during family dinner. Scorsese is sure to add a tracking shot under the dining room table. The audience needs to see this from a child's perspective. To cap it off, he concludes with a straight medium shot of both children starring in disbelief.

One of the low angle beating shots would be used again in 1990's "Goodfellas."

9. "The Departed" (2006) - Getting to know Frank Costello

I love the scene where Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) walks into the grocery store and first meets Colin Sullivan. It's definitely a nod to earlier films ("Godfather II" and Don Fanucci come to mind), where Costello's character is set up as he shakes down the clerk. But times have changed since the old days, because Costello also lays claim to the man's daughter.

"You get your period yet Carmen?"

8. "Cape Fear" (1991) - Max Cady Goes To The Theater

Robert De Niro will be a frequent contributor to this list. Here, his Max Cady from the film noir remake of "Cape Fear" confronts the Bowden family at the movies. The most disturbing thing about the scene is the film he's laughing at.

7. "Goodfellas" (1990) - Jimmy Plans The Hit

"Goodfellas" is my favorite Scorsese film, one of my favorite movies ever. Here, Robert De Niro's Jimmy takes a few drags on a cigarette. But really, he's planning a massive hit that will reshape the way the crime family is structured. In just 30 seconds, with a little "Sunshine of your Love" thrown in, Scorsese takes Jimmy from thinking about a crazy idea, to fully committed to whacking the people he once loved. Just watch De Niro's eyes.

6. "Gangs of New York" (2002) - Bill the Butcher shares a moment with Amsterdam Vallon

A great example of doing a lot with a little. Here, Scorsese's hands the film over to Daniel Day-Lewis, draped in a tattered American flag, as he confronts Leonardo DiCaprio.

"Cut off his head. Stick it on a pike. Raise it high up so all in the streets can see. That's what preserves the order of things. Fear."

5. "Taxi Driver" (1976) - The Ending

Talk about not glamorizing violence. Travis Bickle returns to the whorehouse to rescue a teenage hooker. Horrible, horrible things ensue.

4. "Goodfellas" - The Club Scene

In one long shot, Scorsese tells the audience who Henry Hill is. He doesn't wait in line, he knows everybody at the hottest spots in town, and by the time the get their table front and center, he has Karen Hill in his pocket.

3. "Taxi Driver" - You Talkin' to Me?

Legend says that Robert De Niro improvised this scene. When it's finished, we will have watched Travis Bickle go from dreaming of being the anti-hero, to becoming a ready killing machine.

2. "Goodfellas" - Am I Funny?

This scene goes from hilarious to terrifying. Again, another few minutes where we see complete change in a character. We witness Joe Pesci's Tommy turn from charming to menacing on his own friend, foreshadowing events that would take place later in the film.

1. "Raging Bull" - Opening Titles

This is Martin Scorsese's crowning achievement. I know what you're thinking, it's the credits! Are you crazy? Probably. But try to watch this without looking away. As the music swells underneath Jake La Motta dancing in the ring, we see man in his element. The ropes could signify Jake trapped in his own personal jail cell, but these ropes are keeping the other things out. That's where the turmoil will be - outside the ring.

Simple. But maybe the best opening sequence ever put on film.

First U.S. marijuana cafe opens in Portland

By Dan Cook

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - The United States' first marijuana cafe opened on Friday, posing an early test of the Obama administration's move to relax policing of medical use of the drug.

The Cannabis Cafe in Portland, Oregon, is the first to give certified medical marijuana users a place to get hold of the drug and smoke it -- as long as they are out of public view -- despite a federal ban.

"This club represents personal freedom, finally, for our members," said Madeline Martinez, Oregon's executive director of NORML, a group pushing for marijuana legalization.

"Our plans go beyond serving food and marijuana," said Martinez. "We hope to have classes, seminars, even a Cannabis Community College, based here to help people learn about growing and other uses for cannabis."

The cafe -- in a two-story building which formerly housed a speak-easy and adult erotic club Rumpspankers -- is technically a private club, but is open to any Oregon residents who are NORML members and hold an official medical marijuana card.

Members pay $25 per month to use the 100-person capacity cafe. They don't buy marijuana, but get it free over the counter from "budtenders". Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., it serves food but has no liquor license.

There are about 21,000 patients registered to use marijuana for medical purposes in Oregon. Doctors have prescribed marijuana for a host of illnesses, including Alzheimer's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Tourette's syndrome.

On opening day, reporters invited to the cafe could smell, but were not allowed to see, people smoking marijuana.

"I still run a coffee shop and events venue, just like I did before we converted it to the Cannabis Cafe, but now it will be cannabis-themed," said Eric Solomon, the owner of the cafe, who is looking forward to holding marijuana-themed weddings, film festivals and dances in the second-floor ballroom.


The creation of the cafe comes almost a month after the Obama administration told federal attorneys not to prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states which have legalized them.

About a dozen states, including Oregon, followed California's 1996 move to adopt medical marijuana laws, allowing the drug to be cultivated and sold for medical use. A similar number have pending legislation or ballot measures planned.

Pot cafes, known as "coffee shops", are popular in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal. Portland's Cannabis Cafe is the first of its kind to open in the United States, according to NORML.

Growing, possessing, distributing and smoking marijuana are still illegal under U.S. federal law, which makes no distinction between medical and recreational use.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies did not return phone calls from Reuters on Friday seeking comment on the Portland cafe's operations.

"To have a place that is this open about its activities, where people can come together and smoke -- I say that's pretty amazing." said Tim Pate, a longtime NORML member, at the cafe.

Some locals are hoping it might even be good for business.

"I know some neighbors are pretty negative about this place opening up," said David Bell, who works at a boutique that shares space with the cafe. "But I'm withholding judgment. There's no precedent for it. We don't know what to expect. But it would great if it brought some customers into our store."

(Writing by Bill Rigby; editing by Mohammad Zargham)