Dining Inside a Giant Barrel on Germany’s Wine Road

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Seeing the world’s biggest anything is always a thrill, even when it’s something stupid like the world’s biggest ball of twine. So when you have a chance to not just see but to eat inside the world’s biggest wine barrel, you take it.

The restaurant in question is Dürkheimer Fass, located in the small town of Bad Dürkheim in Rhineland-Palatinate. This gigantic wine barrel, nearly 50 feet in diameter, could hold almost 550,000 gallons of wine — if it were ever to be filled with wine. Instead, the barrel is a landmark on the German Wine Road, or Weinstrasse, a rite of passage for wine lovers and home to some amazing sauerkraut (hint: wine is involved).

When you dine inside Dürkheimer Fass (aka Giant Cask), you’ll be in a built-out section known as the Weinbutt. It has the same folksy, old-fashioned decor as the main barrel, with the addition of smaller barrels that hold low-lit booths. Most of the clientele are wine lovers, not tourists wearing baseball caps, lederhosen and “Ich Liebe Deutschland” T-shirts. The main barrel was erected in 1934 by a local wine grower and barrel enthusiast shortly before local Nazi leader Josef Bürckel officially established the Weinstrasse. After the war, Nazi symbols were scrubbed off, but the Weinstrasse remained.

The barrel can hold approximately 430 people, although the restaurant isn’t usually open outside of festival season or prearranged group outings. During offseason, you’ll be seated in the Weinbutt, which holds about 150 people.

All the wines served are from the surrounding region, says Dürkheimer Fass employee Birgit Schmidt. That attracts not just busloads of tourists, but “many, many people from the surrounding areas like Heidelberg, Mannheim,” she says.

The menu is surprisingly good, considering this is a wine Disneyland. Its focus is Palatinate specialties like liver dumplings and local roasted sausages — Schmidt says they are de rigueur for visitors from outside the area — served alongside Riesling sauerkraut and brown bread. Unlike in France, food and wine in Germany are less about pairing, explains German-born wine expert and writer Anne Krebiehl, and more about eating whatever is in season, like mushrooms, asparagus or game, along with whatever wine you like.

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A man checks the diameter of an oak wood barrel at a cooper’s workshop in Bad Dürkheim near Ludwigshafen, Germany.

And there are so many local wines to like. Krebiehl particularly recommends the dry rieslings of the Pfalz region. “Non-Germans have an idea of Riesling that comes in a blue bottle and is sweet,” she says, but Pfalz Rieslings are dry, partly due to the area’s sunny climate. And don’t neglect the sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine, a treat that has led the country to be the world leader in drinking bubbly.

The kitsch of the wine region hasn’t scared anybody away yet, nor has its historical connection to the Nazis. Dürkheimer Fass, and the town of Bad Dürkheim in general, hosts the world’s biggest wine festival, the Wurstmarkt, every September: Six hundred thousand people gather outside the barrel to drink. One of the region’s unexpected charms, says Krebiehl, is that the local measure for wine is a Schoppen, or 16 ounces, though sometimes those 16 ounces will consist of wine mixed with water. Imbibe just a few, though, and you’ll have to be rolled home.

Go There: Dürkheimer Fass

  • How to get there: The restaurant is located on St. Michael Allee 1, roughly a 1.25-hour drive from Frankfurt. It’s walkable from the Bad Dürkheim train station. Map.
  • Hours: 11:30 am to 10 pm, April to October; 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, November to March
  • Cost: Wines start at $4.28 for a glass or $15.37 for a liter. Main courses start at about $14.10 a plate.
  • Pro tip: While you’re here, visit some other wineries — but call first to find out which ones have tastings, and consider walking from one to another rather than driving.  

The European State Teaching Us a Thing or Two About Referendums

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When discussing Europe’s great breakaway regions, Saarland rarely comes up. Catalonia, Basque Country and Wallonia are typically top of mind, but the Saar valley, disputed for decades, is today solidly part of Germany, which is what makes it such a striking success story.

Thickly forested and just 992 square miles, Saarland was part of France for much of the 19th century, until changing hands to become a German area during the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s. And so it remained, until after World War I, when the territory was administered by the League of Nations and given a 15-year cooling-off period, after which its citizens could decide whether they wanted to be part of France or to rejoin Germany. That referendum came around in 1935 — and Germany’s then leader, Adolf Hitler, wanted Saarland back. 

He got it — via propaganda, says Matt Qvortrup, a professor of political science at Coventry University. “The Germans used the referendum as a test case. They actually handed out radios for free to everybody, with just one frequency, and the only frequency was Hitler talking about how Saarland must be returned to the Reich.” 

Saarland achieved what recent referendums in Britain and Spain failed to achieve: It resolved a dilemma, rather than stirring up more trouble. 

 

Reclaiming the Saar was by no means a sure thing prior to the propaganda campaign. After Hitler’s rise in 1933, many anti-Nazis had taken refuge in the region and worked to preserve its independence. But they were no match for the Nazi campaign, which combined fear — by spreading rumors that the ballot wouldn’t be secret and anyone voting against Germany could be sent to concentration camps — with nationalism, declaring a Day of the Saar and devoting entire broadcasts to the German character of Saarland’s residents.  

Not surprisingly, Germany got its way. Nearly 90 percent of the voters opted to join the Reich, considered a major foreign policy win for Hitler and a proof of concept for the propaganda machine that would churn throughout World War II. The referendum wouldn’t be considered rigged by today’s standards, says Qvortrup, but it was certainly the first to deploy modern technologies to such successful, and sinister, ends.

 

After World War II, Saarland was once again under French control, this time as a protectorate. Other German provinces were annexed and had their native populations kicked out, but not Saarland. France chose instead to take economic control of the region rather than absorbing it. That rankled some in the region who felt Saarland was being treated as a colony: “For Saarlanders, the tricolor had gone from a symbol of liberty, fraternity and equality in 1946 and 1947 to that of imperialistic control in 1954 and 1955,” writes Bronson Long in No Easy Occupation: French Control of the German Saar, 1944–1957. Nine years after the takeover, France put forth plans for Saarland to become an independent state, with the decision left to residents in the region’s second decisive referendum. The option to rejoin Germany wasn’t on the ballot this time, but when more than two-thirds of voters rejected a plan to go it alone, it was interpreted as Saarlanders’ wish to be part of Germany again. On Jan. 1, 1957, that’s exactly what happened. 

“What’s interesting about the 1955 vote is that it’s a case of a very contentious issue actually being resolved by referendum,” Qvortrup says. “It puts a line under what had been almost 100 years of ethnic conflict.… It’s almost a model of how you can solve contentious issues by direct democracy.” Saarland achieved what recent referendums in Britain and Spain failed to achieve: It resolved a dilemma, rather than stirring up more trouble.

So what did the second Saarland referendum do right? It didn’t hurt that the two main governmental parties, France and Germany, refused to let the issue stir up animosity between them. But perhaps more consequential was the voting split: With 68 percent denouncing independence after what was considered a free and fair campaign, there was little debate about what Saarlanders wanted. Allowing for the occasional exception, Qvortrup says, “as a general rule, if you have a very large majority in a democratic country, you can say, ‘Well, that’s it.’” Naturally, in undemocratic countries the rule may not apply: South Vietnam passed a referendum in 1955 in which Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm and his proposals for a republic reportedly garnered 600,000 votes — even though only 450,000 people were registered to vote. 

Economic issues tend to dominate discussions about a shift in national identity, but the question of whether autonomy or rejoining Germany would be more economically advantageous for Saarland isn’t thought to have been the deciding factor. Instead, the motivation was far more emotional than practical: Saarlanders felt they were German, so they voted to remain German. That type of appeal, says Qvortrup, is often underestimated in referendum votes. It’s thought to be responsible for the Brexit upset, and while failing to give Scottish independence campaigners a victory, it provided a better-than-expected outcome in their 2014 plebescite. “In the Saarland referendum,” Qvortrup says, “as in the Scottish referendum, as in the Brexit referendum, emotional issues are more important than we tend to think.”

When Will Sex Toys Make a Real Play for This $8 Trillion Income Market?

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When disability activist Andrew Gurza imagines a sex toy, it doesn’t necessarily look like a penis. It might look like a bean bag. It might look like a noodle. “Things that don’t necessarily look like sex toys that could be used to create pleasure,” he says. “Stuff that’s completely outside of the box.”

Gurza is one of the founders of Deliciously Disabled, an organization devoted to researching and designing sex toys for people with disabilities. It has completed the first stages of research and is now on the hunt for investors. Deliciously Disabled says it would be the first line of sex toys designed by and for the disabled community. But it’s not the only organization trying to tap into this demographic, which not only controls an estimated $8 trillion in disposable income but is also anticipated to grow in the coming years. 

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Hot Octopuss has been founded on principles of inclusivity, including that of people with disabilities.  

Source  Hot Octopuss

Bloggers concerned with issues of accessibility have long been issuing recommendations of sex toys suitable for those with mobility issues. Now, companies and sex shops around the world are beginning to catch on to the fact that they should be catering specifically to the market of people with disabilities. Just in the past six years, at least one high-end sex toy brand — Hot Octopuss — has been founded on principles of inclusivity, including that of people with disabilities, and multiple sex shops have opened or expanded services to cater to this community. 

 

Hot Octopuss toys can be used on flaccid penises and don’t require vigorous hand motion or penetration. Meanwhile, guides specifically for people with disabilities can be found on major sex-positive toy sites like Good Vibrations in the U.S., Désir in South Africa or the multilocation Adult Lifestyle Center in Australia. While the sex toys highlighted may not have been designed exclusively with the disabled community in mind — and often the websites for these toys still feature only able-bodied people using them — sexperts have identified them as particularly friendly to those with physical mobility concerns. And the shops do sometimes stock gear aimed at those with mobility issues, like the Intimate Rider, a Michigan-based business that manufactures sex furniture designed for couples where one member is in a wheelchair.

Products should come with the features to make them for everyone.

Ernesto Morales, Université Laval 

Still, this is only the start, suggests Julia Margo, one of the founders of Hot Octopuss, which began trying to manufacture a male vibrator and has become a flagship firm catering to older people and those with disabilities. While she thinks the next five years will likely bring expansion in the market of sex toys aimed at seniors, she says it’ll likely take longer for people with disabilities — partly due to enduring but fallacious stereotypes about who has sex and who doesn’t. 

“The whole sector is kind of complicit in selling this narrative that to have sex you need to look sexy, and looking sexy requires you to look a certain way,” says Margo. 

There are myriad issues of accessibility at play here, some logistical — the weight of a toy, the grip strength required to use it, the accessibility of its buttons or the length of its battery life — and some cultural. While the former is a huge problem (Gurza points out that even sex toys made for those with disabilities often design for a narrow slice of the community that has a lot of dexterity), the latter may be the more difficult to design away, given long-standing societal prejudices about people with disabilities and sex. Some companies have seen a backlash in recent years for what was interpreted as ableist language on their instructions or disclaimers, but very few companies explicitly reach out to the disabled community or feature anyone other than able-bodied young people on their websites. 

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Founders of Hot Octopuss, Julia Margo and Adam Lewis.

These aren’t the first sex stores to cater to the disabled community. Dallas Novelty, a small Texas outlet, has been specializing in this arena since 2003. The Intimate Rider was launched in the 1990s. But those were isolated pioneers. The broader shift with major sex shops targeting customers with disabilities marks an empowering change.

Still, a real sea change in the industry may require a rethink of how sex toys are designed altogether, says Ernesto Morales, a researcher on accessibility at Université Laval whose work has involved a significant focus on sex toys. “Products should come with the features to make them for everyone,” he says, comparing a sex toy to an iPhone that can be customized to the needs and desires of each individual user — and makes everyone feel their circumstances are taken into consideration. 

Change has come slowly to this industry … and the activists, designers and academics interviewed for this story were nearly unanimous in hoping that that change will snowball and lead to a radical reinvention of the market — and unanimously skeptical that it will actually happen. That would mean “we have to open our minds and change how we think about disabled people having romantic relationships and having sexual relationships,” says Gurza. “We really have to start there first before we can expect a huge shift in the industry overall.” 

Secret Lives

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Nobody truly interesting is ever entirely as they seem. Everyone has secrets — but some people have secret identities, and we’re not talking about Batman. The people in this series on “Secret Lives” are spies, killers, national heroes and film footnotes, a motley crew that has one thing in common: They all lived a completely different life behind the scenes.

Charles Lindbergh’s Secret Double Life in Germany

A national hero, the groundbreaking pilot was also known as a family man. Turned out, he was a multiple-family man: He had several children by multiple women across the Atlantic, a fact unknown to the world until his kids came forward after their mother’s death.

 

Pham Xuan An: The Spy Who Tricked America

This Vietnamese journalist was the first Vietnamese person hired by Time magazine to cover the Vietnam War. He was also a pioneer in a key spy program run by the Vietnamese government, which sent him to train as a journalist and used him to direct American press coverage — and thus American public sentiment — over the war.

Luca Brasi Sleeps With the Fishes No Longer

Leonardo Passafaro, aka Lenny “Bull” Montana, was a security guard for a mobster on the set of The Godfather when he found his true calling: acting. One actor down due to unfortunate circumstance, Montana was called in to play a mobster … and eventually left his life of crime for the silver screen.

One of America’s First Nursing Homes Was a Killer’s Playground

Amy Archer-Gilligan was a pioneer in the health care industry, opening what’s thought to be one of America’s first nursing homes around the turn of the century. She was also a killer, suspected of dozens of murders, largely by poisoning. She lives on though in a Cary Grant movie that fictionalized the story as a black comedy. 

More Secret Lives

Tips for Leading a Secret Double LifeOur guide to what would-be double lifers are risking.

Leading a Double Life as a Member of the MobJoe Pistone, aka Don Brasco, risked his life to go undercover. 

Russia’s Cross-Dressing War HeroAleksandr Sokolov proved himself on the battlefield in the early 19th century … while hiding the fact that he was born a woman. 

Was This Blond Bombshell the CIA’s Secret Weapon? Candy Jones was a pinup girl. But she also claimed to have taken LSD as part of secret CIA experiments. 

 

Her Gender-Fluid Graphic Novel Took Off. Now for the Encore

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If you make it to the end of The Prince and the Dressmaker without crying, you have malfunctioning tear ducts and should immediately make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The fairy tale, published last year, has already picked up two of the most prestigious awards in comics: a Harvey and not one, but two Eisners. 

The woman behind this cultural phenomenon, which has already had film rights optioned, is 35-year-old Los Angeles graphic novelist Jen Wang. And with her latest book, Stargazing, she steps out from behind the fairy tale to tell a story that, while not directly autobiographical, includes characters experiencing childhoods strikingly similar to her own. 

The child of Taiwanese immigrants, Wang grew up in the Bay Area. She studied sociology in college, thinking that it could be a real career while she continued to do comics on the side. But she managed to make it as an artist quite early on. Dressmaker is her first truly massive hit, but it’s not her first book — in fact, her first book was published nearly a decade ago, in 2010. That was Koko Be Good, a graphic novel aimed at adults that told the story of three shiftless, manic young people and their adventures in San Francisco. Next up was In Real Life, a collaboration with cult novelist Cory Doctorow. She launched a web comic called “The White Snake” (no relation to the ’80s hair band). And then came the hurricane: The Prince and the Dressmaker put her on the map with a whole new audience. It’s a book that appeals not just to adults but to kids and teens as well — it’s Amazon’s No. 1 seller in the Young Adult Romance Comics & Graphic Novels category.

In Stargazing, she ditches the brush for a ballpoint, making the art more down-to-earth — but no less striking.

 

The story, in short: Frances, a young and talented seamstress, is fired from her job for being too daring — and immediately rehired to take on a singularly daring job, designing dresses for a mystery woman … who turns out to be a prince. The story plays on gender fluidity, friendship, love and finding your calling, swept along by finely drawn characters and an endless parade of dresses that were clearly a lot of fun to create and to draw.

 

“The titular prince, Sebastian, is a relatively rare type of character, exhibiting a fluidity of gender expression not often seen. As a young person, Sebastian sometimes feels like a prince and at other times more like a princess,” says librarian and critic Ash Brown. “Sebastian is treated with such tremendous empathy by Wang, something that is becoming more common now in the North American comics industry, but wasn’t as common in the past as a whole.” Brown, who praises Wang’s “gorgeous and expressive” illustration, says that while the publisher and many librarians categorize the book as young adult, it also deeply resonates with adults.

 

Wang’s new book, Stargazing, goes far deeper into the author’s own experience. It tells the story of two Asian American children growing up and blends the everyday of a child’s life with some hairpin twists based on Wang’s own childhood. “Almost every element in the book is some kind of autobiographical, but just not in a literal way,” Wang says. One of the characters is a Buddhist vegetarian, for example, which is how Wang grew up too. 

Wang’s art style in Dressmaker was lush and romantic, but in Stargazing she ditches the brush for a ballpoint, making the art more down-to-earth — but no less striking.

“With just a certain angle, a few pen strokes, even, she’s able to do the whole ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ thing with such seemingly effortless ease,” says critic Terry Hong, who created Smithsonian BookDragon, a blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

But following a massive hit always has its stresses. “I think I was a bit nervous not because of the popularity of the last book, but because Stargazing was a more intimate story, with details taken from my personal life and my experience as an Asian American,” Wang says. Still, she says, readers from different backgrounds seem to have no trouble connecting with the story.

For her own part, Wang isn’t just plowing ahead with new work — she’s trying to create a community. That manifests in general ways, like a hobby of volunteering with composting services and homeless charities in an effort to improve the city where she’s settled, and in more specific ones, like being part of a group spearheading Comic Arts Los Angeles, a free graphic novel festival showcasing independent creators. For a solo artist like Wang, work can be a lonely thing — but as she’s gotten older, she’s learned to treat art as something that doesn’t have to take up all 24 hours in the day. “The more I stepped away from thinking that [work] was the only thing I had to do,” she says, “it’s gotten a lot better.” 

That doesn’t mean she isn’t working, of course. “I am just in the very early stages of writing something new,” she says. With Wang, it’s always something new.

Read more: How to create Sixteen Candles for queer teens.

Solidarity Fridges: How French Firms Feed Their Neighbors for Free

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If you’re hungry and broke in the 18th arrondissement in Paris, you might want to stop by La Cantine du 18, tucked behind the Sacré-Coeur. Not to buy yourself lunch — you’re broke, remember? — but to partake of the restaurant’s Solidarity Fridge.

It’s a simple system: Businesses and community members with packaged food they can’t use and that would otherwise go to waste put it into the fridge. People who can’t afford to buy food are welcome to take some and eat it. France has been on the warpath against food waste in recent years: It was the first country to ban supermarkets from just throwing away unused food. As of 2017, French people waste an estimated 233 pounds of food per person per year. In the U.S., that number is 612 pounds per person.

Dozens of people come visit the fridge at La Cantine daily. 

 

“Neighbors and neighborhood businesses donate the food,” explains Dounia Mebtoul, who runs La Cantine du 18, a family restaurant, and started the first French Frigo Solidaire. For example, when people are about to go on vacation and have extra food, or if businesses weren’t able to sell fresh food during that day, it can go in the Solidarity Fridge, she explains. As for who uses the program, they’re mostly locals — but not only locals. “Some people who know about the fridges make their way around the whole network,” Mebtoul explains. Dozens of people come visit the fridge at La Cantine daily. 

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Voila: Dounia Mebtoul, creator of the association Les Frigos Solidaires.

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For people wanting to start their own food version of a little free library, she says it’s important to have someone in charge of the fridge, looking out for it and making sure it stays clean and useful to the community. Mebtoul’s organization, Les Frigos Solidaires, works with restaurant partners around France to establish new outposts, finding restaurant owners who welcome the chance to make a difference for hungry people. There are also some basic rules about things that can’t go in the Solidarity Fridges: no home-cooked food, nothing expired and no meat or fish

 

That’s not to say everyone supports the community fridges. Similar initiatives in Germany fell victim to a government crackdown when opponents argued that because the fridges are open to the public they are food businesses, and thus must comply with all attendant regulations. But France’s food fridges have been luckier: Despite the country’s reputation as a regulatory nightmare, the city of Paris is on their side. In fact, it was Paris that offered a grant last year to finance 15 new fridges for Les Frigos Solidaires at a cost of $1,435 each. 

That’s evidence that the fridges are working. And, in fact, they’re expected to become even bigger. Since the first Solidarity Fridge opened at La Cantine du 18 in June 2017, there are now 19 fridges in Paris alone, and 38 in France — a number that’s expected to nearly double by the end of this year. 

The Beauty Entrepreneur Who Built a Lasting Legacy

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Tune in to Black Women OWN the Conversation, an unprecedented “speak-easy” TV show produced by OZY and the Oprah Winfrey Network, on OWN each Saturday from August 24 to September 14 at 10 pm (9 pm CT), and catch 100 Black women discussing beauty, motherhood, love and mind, body and soul.

Last month, California became the first state to ban discrimination based on hairstyle with the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, a response to several high profile cases where people of color were denied jobs or sent home from school for wearing locks or braids. Weeks later, New York followed suit. Meanwhile, Netflix has announced that it’ll produce a four-part series about Black cosmetics icon Madam C.J. Walker, starring Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish.

But while we’re all remembering Walker — née Sarah Breedlove, a Black cosmetics entrepreneur who is often referred to as the first self-made female millionaire in America — let’s not forget about her precursors. Specifically her mentor and inspiration, Annie Turnbo Malone, a Black woman and inventor who built a cosmetics empire valued at $14 million half a century before the repeal of Jim Crow and long before Walker. 

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Diploma day at Poro College, 1920.

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The daughter of former slaves, Malone was born in small-town Illinois just four years after the Civil War ended. As a child, she did the hair of family and neighbors; in high school, she discovered an interest in chemistry and mixing compounds. Malone had noticed that many of the people whose hair she worked on had scalp ailments, likely caused by the hair care products available at the time, which included bacon grease and heavy soaps. She started making her own products, working on formulas that would soothe scalps rather than irritate them and would stimulate hair growth. Toward the end of adolescence, Malone and her sister Laura decided to go into the hair business together. 

 

Before the age of 20, Malone had developed her own shampoo formula, along with compounds designed to both grow and straighten hair, including one known as “Wonderful Hair Grower.” She sold her products door to door, riding a buggy around her small town to advertise and sell her wares. In 1902, she moved to St. Louis, where she opened a shop and recruited a fleet of women to sell her products in town. 

Her focus was on uplifting women and giving them financial freedom.

Chajuana Trawick, Lindenwood University

“A lot of the business models that came after her like … Mary Kay … stemmed from Annie Malone and her agents,” says Chajuana Trawick, the chair of fashion and design at Lindenwood University. One of those agents was Madam C.J. Walker, who worked as a laundress and suffered from chronic hair loss before getting hired by Malone. Later, Walker would market her own “Wonderful Hair Grower” tonic using Malone’s formula, which prompted Malone to copyright her cosmetics under the name Poro. Walker and Malone would be compared throughout their careers, even after Walker’s premature death in 1919. Both would be credited with inventing the hot comb, though Trawick’s research suggests that neither invented it. Another difference between them, Trawick found, was that Malone’s products rarely tried to sell ideals of White beauty to Black women: Her single skin-lightening cream was for dark spots, while some of Walker’s products (and White-owned beauty brands marketing to the African American community) leaned heavily on ad copy promising lighter skin and straighter hair. 

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Annie Malone, 1921.

Source Creative Commons

Malone, a deeply religious woman, kept her focus on the mission, which was nothing less than uplifting her community in St. Louis, particularly the African American neighborhood known as the Ville. “She wanted to uplift her community of women by employing them — she wanted them to have these skills and training so they could be self-sufficient and earn money,” explains Trawick.

At a time when Black women were largely confined to jobs of domestic servitude, Malone opened a large manufacturing facility that doubled as a beauty college, intended to train African American women to make and sell cosmetics. The plant also served as a community center and entertainment complex, featuring an auditorium where Black entertainers — often barred from other hotels — could stay in the dorms and earn their keep performing for the plant’s workers. Malone also donated tens of thousands of dollars to orphanages and Black universities. She’s said to have helped her employees buy property when banks refused them loans, and she paid to have the roads paved in the Ville. She opened dozens of Poro beauty colleges around the U.S. 

In 1927, Malone’s empire was threatened by an acrimonious divorce when her husband demanded half her fortune. With support from charitable institutions, the press, church leaders and the president of the National Association of Colored Women, she won sole ownership of the Poro brand and moved her business to Chicago. By the 1950s, when Malone died in her late 80s, there were 32 branches of her cosmetology school. 

Throughout her life, Trawick explains, Malone’s objective was not personal fame — it was something greater. “Everything now is about self-promoting and branding,” Trawick says. “Her focus was on uplifting women and giving them financial freedom.” 

Correction: A source quote mistakenly referred to Avon (which was founded earlier than Malone’s business) as having been influenced by Malone’s work.

Makeup Makes Progress With Disability-Friendly Cosmetics

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Sumaira Latif had been working at Proctor & Gamble for more than a decade when she decided to make them see things her way. Literally: Latif is blind, and she got other P&G employees and decision-makers to experience disability, even for a short time, with the use of dark glasses, wheelchairs and special gloves that simulated motor disabilities. “I got them to experience living just even one hour with a disability, accessing our own products and services that we’ve created,” she says. After that, she explained the business case for catering to people with disabilities: It’s a population with an estimated $8 trillion in disposable income that the company wasn’t pursuing. “They said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”  

A week later, Latif was appointed the head of P&G’s diversity initiative and swiftly set about tackling a major problem for the blind and visually impaired: In the shower, all bottles feel basically the same. Bottles of the popular Herbal Essences brand were redesigned last year to put tactile reminders of which is which, with raised vertical lines on shampoo bottles and a grid of circles on conditioner bottles. The labels don’t use Braille, because fewer than 10 percent of blind people in America can read it, and, Latif says, the point was to make a system that worked for the largest possible number of people. The company’s also working with the app Be My Eyes — which connects the visually impaired with random sighted people who can help them distinguish between two cans or fix smudged lipstick — to offer a hotline about its products through their software. 

Latif’s revolution within P&G is part of a broader shift. Fashion has, in recent years, started signaling greater awareness of the needs of people with disabilities — disabled models have been seen in Fashion Week events from New York to London, and retailer ASOS premiered wheelchair-friendly clothes last year. Now, the beauty industry, which was lagging behind, is starting to catch up too, with a mix of small companies and major initiatives from larger ones. They’re recognizing what Latif explained to her bosses: that there’s more than just social responsibility at stake; there’s a relatively untapped market out there too. An estimated 15 percent of the world’s population is disabled, and as societies everywhere age, that number is forecast to rise. 

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Kohl Kreatives’ Flex Collection.

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British startup Kohl Kreatives last year launched what it calls the Flex Collection, which is a set of makeup brushes tailored for people with a motor disability or disease, featuring easy-to-grip handles and flexible heads that make them easier to use than standard brushes. “As I ran our free workshops supporting people in their makeup journey, I noticed a variety of different issues people had from tremors to challenges in coordination,” explains Trishna Daswaney, founder of the firm which is described as a vegan and cruelty-free makeup company.

I hope other companies copy us as fast as they can.

Sumaira Latif, Proctor & Gamble

Many of the others driving these initiatives are beauty industry professionals with disabilities of their own. Celebrity makeup artist Veronica Lorenz launched the Vamp Stamp in 2017 after she developed a spinal cord tumor and lost feeling in her hands. It’s meant to make winged eyeliner easy for people with limited control and works like an ink stamp to create a wing at the edge of one’s eye. Yet these products are also reaching out to a much broader audience than just people with disabilities. Since January, all Herbal Essences products, for instance, carry the tactile reminders. Herbal Essences shampoos were used at least once a week by more than 10 million Americans last year. And the Vamp Stamp is marketed at large through major makeup retailers like Sephora, catering also to the many people without motor disabilities who nevertheless find winged eyeliner difficult to use. 

 

“Everything we make has to work easily for Veronica or we don’t make it,” says company spokeswoman Sarah Heath. “It also has to work for me, the non-makeup artist, who does not have motor issues, but I do have skill issues.” The company is currently launching products aimed at similarly making eyeshadow and eyebrow makeup easier to use. 

To be sure, not all companies catering to this market thrive out of the gate. This spring, breathless articles abounded about a company called Grace Beauty, which had promised through Instagram to market easy-to-grip mascara wands and other products aimed at customers with disabilities. But now the company website brings up a 404 error, and there’s little information about when products might be available. “It’s taking a little longer than we’d hoped, but we are still working on getting to market,” a company spokeswoman explains via Facebook message. 

Latif also points out that real structural change depends on companies recognizing the problem in the first place. With 80 percent of blind people unemployed, for example, most will never have the opportunity she did to convince their company to take disabled consumers into account. But there’s hope: She found that solving the problem wasn’t complicated once she got decision-makers to recognize that there was a problem. 

For Latif, the system of lines and circles on shampoo and conditioner bottles has the potential to become an industry standard — something that expands beyond Herbal Essences and becomes ubiquitous, like the dot on the 5 key of a keypad or the lines on the F and J keys of a standard QWERTY keyboard, which help blind people to enter the correct characters on an ATM, phone or computer. “In the same way, I would love every shampoo bottle to have the stripes and every conditioner bottle to have circles. To me that’s what success is,” says Latif. “I hope other companies copy us as fast as they can.”

 

The Philosopher of Love Who Lived and Died Alone (Except for His Poodles)

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When Arthur Schopenhauer met Flora Weiss, he was 39 and she was 17. They were attending a boating party on a lake in Berlin, and the German philosopher, pleased by her youth and beauty, slipped her a bunch of grapes. Weiss later wrote that she surreptitiously tossed the grapes overboard, grossed out that “old man Schopenhauer” had handled them. His follow-up move was to ask Weiss’ father for permission to court her. The courtship did not go well for Schopenhauer, despite his being one of the foremost philosophers of the era. 

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Schopenhauer with his pet poodle.

Source ullstein bild Dtl. / Getty

He was also one of history’s great pessimists, and the more you learn about Schopenhauer, the more that designation makes sense. A principal focus of his was love and relationships — and how they make us deeply unhappy. In his 1818 essay “Metaphysics of Love,” Schopenhauer writes that “one cannot doubt either the reality or importance of love,” only to name the primary purpose of love as the creation of offspring, an expression of the “will to live,” which was one of his central preoccupations.

When we fall in love, he posits, we are unconsciously choosing someone who corrects all our flaws. Short men fall for tall women, large-nosed people for small-nosed people, and so forth, though some of the considerations are less overtly physical — “the most manly man will desire the most womanly woman,” he says. But that rarely leads us to a person who can truly make us happy. The drive to procreate, Schopenhauer writes, is so consuming that “the lover shuts his eyes to all objectionable qualities, overlooks everything, ignores all and unites himself forever to the object of his passion. He is so completely blinded by this illusion that as soon as the will of the species is accomplished the illusion vanishes and leaves in its place a hateful companion for life.” Requited love, according to the philosopher, is more likely than unrequited love to lead to an unhappy life, Shakespearean melodrama notwithstanding. 

That Schopenhauer’s “Metaphysics of Love”  was largely theoretical, as he had not at that point had a major relationship, didn’t seem to bother the budding curmudgeon.

 

“He was one of the first thinkers to depict the importance of sexuality in human life,” says R. Raj Singh, a professor of philosophy at Brock University and the author of two books on Schopenhauer (although Singh confides that he himself is actually more of a Heideggerian). “He says arranged marriages happen in a more rational fashion due to the intervention of the family and the community. People explicitly seek two compatible individuals … whereas you fall in love romantically seemingly for no reason, because this vital force, the will to live, is bringing you together.”

 

Schopenhauer considered himself a singular philosopher on love. While others had covered the subject, he deemed their critiques shallow, dismissing Plato’s and Immanuel Kant’s philosophies of love, among others, in favor of his own ideas about romance. That his 1818 work on the subject was largely theoretical, as he had not at that point had a major relationship (at least as far as is known), didn’t seem to bother the budding curmudgeon. Still, his criticisms of other philosophers suggest he may have had some experience in the area. “He says Kant has no personal experience of the phenomenon of love,” says Singh, “which means he believes that he had had some experience.” 

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Caroline Richter

Three years after “Metaphysics of Love” was published, the 30-something Schopenhauer met Caroline Richter, with whom he’s thought to have had his longest relationship. The two never married, and their fling was decidedly on again, off again. Schopenhauer had mused about the benefits of marriage but apparently couldn’t convince himself that Richter was the right woman. After they broke it off, he did his best to court Flora Weiss, but the adolescent disliked his grapes and his glower, and the philosopher of love eventually settled for going solo, living for 27 years with a succession of pet poodles, whom he adored. They were all named Atma, supposedly because Schopenhauer believed dogs had little individuality, even while he considered them very intelligent creatures. Throughout his 72 years, Schopenhauer maintained that the work he’d completed as a young man, including “Metaphysics of Love,” held true. “He was very proud of not changing,” Singh says. “He thought that his chief work, which he published at the age of 30, was the last word in philosophy.”

Schopenhauer may be known as one of history’s great pessimists, but, as Singh points out, many people — even non-philosophers — are drawn to his work because of his relatively jargon-free style and his focus on everyday problems. “His philosophy is very practical; it’s about mundane life,” Singh says. “Like how mean people are to each other … or the problem of love.”

The Enemy Chairman Mao Could Not Defeat

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In 1958, Mao Tse-tung was one of the most powerful men in the world, founder and leader of the People’s Republic of China, with his eyes fixed on the future of his country. 

Sometimes that meant keeping his eyes fixed both in the air and on the ground. Specifically at animals that flew and crawled: 1958 was the year Mao launched the Four Pests Campaign, one of the earliest salvos in his Great Leap Forward, a push to transform China from a predominantly agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse. The four pests? Rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. The objective was their systematic extermination. 

The mosquitoes, flies and rats were easy to explain — they spread disease. Mao’s beef with sparrows was simple too: They were capitalist animals, stealing the hard-earned grain of China’s peasants and doing nothing to earn it. He called for the wee birds’ elimination from China, for the good of the whole population.

People all over China would bang pots, pans and drums to keep the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they dropped dead from exhaustion.

 

And the people answered. It was a wholesale slaughter of the plump, brown birds. Some people shot them from the air, others found nests, killing the fledglings and destroying the eggs within. Perhaps the most gruesome and creative attack was the noisemaker method, in which people all over China would bang pots, pans and drums to keep the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they dropped dead from exhaustion.

According to reports from the time, birds began to take refuge in the gardens of foreign embassies, where they could rest in relative quiet. When the sparrows were discovered at the Polish Embassy, Chinese authorities asked permission to exterminate them — and when the embassy refused, its garden was surrounded by people banging drums, who harassed the sparrows until they died en masse, and the embassy workers had to remove the bird corpses by the shovelful.

 

While there are no solid numbers on how many sparrows were massacred, due to the routine inflation of such targets in China during this time, experts believe the sparrows may have been nearly driven to extinction. And they weren’t the only casualties: There are numerous reports of people falling from roofs they had scaled to destroy sparrow nests, and other birds and animals were shot out of the sky, mistaken for sparrows, or consumed poison that had been left out for the birds. 

“[The campaign’s] negative effects were obvious quickly, as an outbreak of locusts the following season did far more damage to the crops than any sparrows,” says Judith Shapiro, a professor at American University and author of Mao’s War Against Nature. She interviewed people who’d been in China during the campaign, and everyone remembers taking part in it. “Children were praised for bringing the dead sparrows to a central location,” Shapiro says. “People told me that a local delicacy of roast sparrows on a stick was no longer available after the campaign since the birds had basically been wiped out.”

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Chinese refugees lining up for a meal in Hong Kong during the famine.

Source Hong Kong Government / AFP /Getty

But Goliath lost the fight anyway. It turned out that while sparrows eat grain, they also eat insects — and without sparrows to keep the insect population in check, China’s crops were fair game. Locusts, leafhoppers and other insects descended in droves. By 1960, Mao realized his mistake and called a halt to the war on sparrows, but the damage had already been done. Without the birds — or any pesticides, since the store had been mostly used up during the early days of the pest campaign — China found itself powerless against the insects. For example, an estimated 60 percent of Nanjing’s crops in 1960 were damaged by bugs. “Peasants tried to kill the insects at night by setting up huge lamps in the middle of the fields so that the insects would fly around them until they dropped down dead,” writes Jasper Becker in Hungry Ghosts

What followed was the largest famine in history, with estimates of the dead ranging from 35 to 50 million people in the two-year period between 1959 and 1961. The sparrow apocalypse wasn’t the only culprit — Mao had ordered tens of millions of peasants to abandon working in the fields to focus on smelting steel. There was widespread deforestation as trees were cut down to fuel charcoal ovens, and peasants were forced to surrender whatever metal they owned to be smelted, including iron stoves and cookware. Meanwhile, many fields lay fallow and grain harvests plummeted, even as regions inflated their reported grain harvests to stay in the government’s good graces. When shortages were reported though, Mao and other high-level officials allegedly blamed grain hoarding rather than their own policies.

“The sparrow-killing campaign underlines the risks and promises of ‘environmental authoritarianism,’” Shapiro says. “When the dictator is right, there are good results, but when he is wrong, the results are chilling. In this case, Mao was wrong.”