On the Radar: When Everyone Had Stoves, But Not Ovens

In Le Val-d’Ajol, Vosges, France, 1934.

Called a four banal (common oven, sometimes called four à pain), the history of this oven’s practice spanned from medieval times until as recently as World War II. French seigneurs provided their serfs with a communal oven, run by a fournier, to meet their baking needs. Every house could build a fire over which they could cook “stove-top,” but this did not allow them to bake the important staple in every Frenchman’s diet–bread. After feudalism came to an end, this practice continued, as the many rural areas of the country did not have the access or necessarily the funds to frequent large boulangeries.

Delivery of bread via bread bags on the door or hung outside the window helped bring this practice to an end, as did an increase in population, public transportation, and further access roads (often as a result of war to help troop movements). Many fours banals still exist, sometimes used during communal celebrations. These ovens also helped reduced the risk of fires in a village by containing one very large portion of cooking to one place removed from the many thatched-roof houses in a town.


Source: Image by Jacques Boyer.

L’art de la bohème in Turn-of-the-Century Montmartre


Now what many Parisians consider an arrondissement almost wholly belonging to tourists, Montmartre was once a bucolic village on a hill where artists flocked to escape from the city. It was a meeting place for the avant-garde, the Paris-rejects, the burgeoning artistic movements not yet accepted by the majority. Picasso got his start in Montmartre before gaining popularity, Van Gogh created an entire series of works on the area, and famed composer Erik Satie created his hauntingly beautiful Gymnopédies upon moving to the town. Something about this cross between city and country inspired the beautiful and, often, the absurd.
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On the Radar: The Optical Phenomenon Behind “The Flying Dutchman”


In a way, the “Flying Dutchman” is real–in the sense that a specific interaction between light and atmospheric conditions causes the human eye to perceive something that’s not actually there. It’s nothing more, nothing less than a “superior mirage,” which occurs when air near the Earth’s surface is colder than the air above it (called temperature inversion–air near Earth’s surface is generally warmer than air above it). This weather condition can cause the formation of an “atmospheric duct,” which refracts light waves, making a ship appear to “fly” over the horizon line. It does not magnify the object, however, as this 19th century engraving erroneously depicts.

This combination of inversion and ducting is also responsible for the “green flash” phenomenon at sunset or sunrise, the mirage of seeing distorted or multiples of astronomical objects like the sun or moon, and the Novaya Zemla effect where the sun appears to rise earlier than it should in polar regions due to differing temperatures across atmospheric strata and the curvature of the Earth. It can also enable individuals to pick up radio signals otherwise too far to reach.


Image source: Stockton, Frank R. Round-About Rambles In Lands of Fact and Fancy. New York. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1872. 1910 ed. Retrieved via Project Gutenberg.

The Unsung Concept Artist Behind Disney’s Mid-Century Blockbusters

Concept art for Johnny Appleseed, Mary Blair, c. 1948. Source: The Magic of Mary Blair

Disney’s teams of animators and designers are known around the world for their unparalleled creative, innovative artistic vision and, historically, most of these great talents were men. But as it turns out, one of the most influential concept artists in the Disney arsenal was a woman named Mary Blair. Disney lovers everywhere have her to thank for the amazing imagery of well-loved mid-century favorites and one of Disney World’s most iconic rides. Continue reading