Posted by Ellen

Next to Tokyo''s famed neon nightclub district is Golden Gai, which we're told is the old nightlife neighborhood, packed with tiny dive bars, many of them up steep stairs from the street.

Somehow, Golden Gai escaped the urban renewal boom that destroyed almost all of old-timey Tokyo. These two staircases lead to two different bars. A patron with a furled umbrella descends from one of them.

Posted by Ellen

"Where There Are People, Money May Be Made" is what seventeenth-century Dutch painter Adriaen van de Venne called this work.

The scene is based on the annual spring fair in The Hague, but the figures are all caricatures intended to entertain relatively sophisticated viewers.

Posted by Ellen

About two weeks after this photo was taken, the Cuban national capitol building reopened following an eight-year renovation project.

The building, completed in 1929–during an era when Cuban dictators were, let's say, sucking up to the American governmen–is an exact replica of the U.S. Capitol and was used for the national congress. After the revolution, Castro repurposed it as an office building, most recently for the Ministry of Science and Technology.

El Capitolio will return to its original use April 12, when the Cuban national assembly convenes in the building to choose a new president. For the first time since the revolution, nobody named Castro will be in the running.

Posted by Ellen

Open pit mining in Germany.

Posted by Ellen

Easter and Passover have their religious significance, but on the level of humble material culture, both holidays come down to eggs. So here are some really pretty chickens, photographed in a barnyard portrait studio by Tamara Staples.

Posted by Ellen

A camel is the beast of choice for hauling shepherds on their sled across the steppes of southern Siberia, near the Mongolian border. 

An estimated two million of the two-humped Bactrian camels live today throughout central Asia, most of them domesticated for work as pack animals, a job they've been doing since ancient times. Like their one-humped cousins in north Africa and the Middle East, Bactrian camels are drought-tolerant; they can also survive extreme cold and high altitude.

The shepherds riding in the sled are from the Russian Republic of Tuva, where they tend a flock of sheep and goats that must travel long distances to find good pasturage throughout the year. 

Posted by Ellen

Ticket sales stopped about a week ago, but we're still looking forward to the main event: the Iron Mountain Car Plunge, when the ice on the water in the East Chapin mine pit finally gives way and the orange car sinks into the depths. At that moment, it can truly be said: spring has begun on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Tickets were three for $10–three chances to guess the day, hour, and minute of the ice-out; whoever guesses closest to the actual sinking of the car, as determined by video evidence from a webcam trained on the car on the ice, wins $1,500. The local Rotary club uses the rest of the money from ticket sales to support local organizations and events.

Ice-out raffles like this one are an old Upper Peninsula tradition, popular into the 1950s. The Iron Mountain Car Plunge was revived four years ago, using a donated 1998 Saturn stripped of its engine, battery, fluids, and anything else that might be environmentally hazardous. Students at the local technical school scrubbed the car inside and out to remove all traces of road salt and grime, and then painted it orange to attract attention. A chain on its rear axle allows it to eventually be hauled up out of the water and stored till the ice comes back next year.

The East Chapin pit looks like a good-sized lake but is actually an abandoned underground mine that collapsed in on itself and flooded.

As of this writing, the ice is still looking solid. Last year, the car did its plunge thing at 4:07 PM on April 2, 2017; in 2016, it sank in mid-April, and in 2015 in late March. For those who may be thinking about buying some chances on next year's plunge: data clearly show that the car always goes down in the late afternoon.

Below is a webcam image from right around the moment of last year's plunge.