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Happy Friday, dear readers! If you celebrate Shab-e Yalda, I hope you have a joyous evening of pomegranates and Hafez. If you recently wrapped up Hannukah celebrations, I hope they were full of bangin’ latkes of all sorts. For those of you preparing for Christmas, here’s to panettone and stollen, my sweet-carb guiding lights of the holiday season. And for everyone else, holiday or no, here’s to the final days of 2017, and may its memory lay forever on the trash heap of history.
I asked my colleagues to send me some of their favorite stories of the year so that I could share them with you. (About half of them didn’t do it, of course, begging forgiveness on their way to Malaysia/Vienna/Paris/etc. Did I mention we’re hiring?) I understood their hesitation, however; in a year of calamitous news and heart-rending cultural upheavals, no one article or single essay seemed to encapsulate everything we went through. Something too negative seemed like a concession; something too positive was not even in the running (what would that even look like?) Finally, I decided, for once, not to overthink. Hardly encapsulating a complicated year, here are two that I loved. From the pages of my darling dearest R&K, I chose a story that has really stayed with me: The Fighting Azov Dolphins. Waaaay back in February, we ran this tale of a group of Ukrainian teens forming their own American-style football team. But it doesn’t just stay with them on the field; we’re able to see their homes and loved ones, their fears of poverty and a nearby war, their determination to bring joy, camaraderie, and meaning to their lives. And elsewhere on the internet, I think often about an essay Zadie Smith wrote for the New York Review of Books. I spend a lot of time thinking about other parts of the world, and that’s partially because—for all of its massive and unending failures and disappointments—my own city reflects these places back to me every day. Smith writes:
Cities are full of all kinds of people. Some of them watch ISIS videos all day long. Others read conspiracy blogs and hate-filled online screeds. Such material acts as a screen between citizen and reality; it functions like virtual-reality headsets. You slip them on and they allow you to walk into a Charleston church and see only “scum,” or drive along a downtown bike lane and see only “scum.” We can tighten visa laws and build our walls, but they will be poor defense against such ideologies, which are free-floating and borderless and whose goggles can be worn by anyone. Most of the terror attacks in America have been committed by Americans. (Some of the most terrifying have been committed by gun-toting Americans with no obvious ideological commitments at all, employing a different kind of mask between citizen and reality: narcissism.) It’s amazing what a narrative can make someone do. We cannot give up on offering alternative stories. Here’s one about the people of New York: we are not scum. We are every variety of human.
If there is one lesson I’ve tried to hold onto this year, that would be it. If you want to give me a holiday present, get yourself a subscription to that fine publication.
And from the R&K family to yours, more picks for your reading pleasure, and a happy New Year!
From R&K co-founder Nathan Thornburgh:
The Inside Story of the Great Silicon Heist. I’m a homer on this pick, since Brendan Koerner is both a longtime beer buddy and one of my all-time favorite heist writers. His recent dispatch for Wired about two Alabama factory workers who managed to smuggle 43 tons of polysilicon over the years—with a street value in the millions—*in their lunchboxes* is classic Koerner. It’s immersive, surprising, ridiculous yet poignant, a fable with a familiar moral: Next time you’re thinking of skimming, don’t do it. The house always wins.
Death on the Hippie Trail. Ariel Sophia Bardi’s guru-laced murder mystery from the Himalayas ticks all the boxes: death, spirituality, YouTube, hummus, and hash. She brought both a seeker’s curiosity and a reporter’s skepticism to telling the story of Justin Shetler’s demise, and it’s a winning combination.
From associate editor Michael Snyder:
Why We Fell for Clean Eating. Bee Wilson’s story for The Guardian captured perfectly, pithily, and humorously nearly everything in contemporary “food” culture that sends me into regular paroxysms of rage and despair. With scalpel sharp reporting and prose, she exposes the corporatized hypocrisy of our current culinary moment.
China’s Camel-Milk Mogul: Everything in Christopher St. Cavish’s charming story about the Wang Yuan Milk Co. Ltd. is simultaneously familiar and remote, populated by characters whom every traveller has encountered in one form or another in a landscape and region that feels both mundane and totally other-worldly. There’s propaganda, a surprise visit from the police, a princess revived from a wasting disease: it’s got it all.
From senior producer Alexa van Sickle:
A Hammam to Forget the War. Before the Iraqi town of Hammam Al-Alil was occupied by ISIS jihadists for over two years, it was famous for its geothermal baths—which still survive, offering a “respite from wartime stress for soldiers, refugees, and dusty foreign correspondents alike.” McDiarmid’s photographs capture the palpable sense of peace and leisure within the walls of the hammam—life, as it goes on, in a region that generates endless conflict headlines.
How the Sandwich Consumed Britain. This #longread about how the sandwich conquered the British palate (and lunch-hour) was a much-discussed piece in the U.K. Full disclosure: I don’t like the British sandwich that much. When I lived in the U.K., these cardboardy, triangular supermarket staples came to symbolize, for me, the blander spectrum of the country’s culinary offerings. Sad wedges of ham and mustard mayonnaise aside, this story is about the sandwich visionaries and obsessives, the eccentricities and quirks of the business, and the years of science and thought that have created some of the UK’s most-craved comfort food. And it’s seasonally appropriate: this year, peak sandwich-buying day in Britain fell on Dec. 15—the last working Friday before Christmas, when Brits reach for their favorite sandwich to combat their office Christmas party hangover.
From fellow Karen Gardner:
A Bakery in a War Zone. I loved this glimpse into the lives of people trying to get by and continue to run their business despite the chaos and frustration of a war going on around them.
Baby hippo steals limelight in couple’s engagement photo. Everyone and their grandmother has seen the story of Fiona the baby hippo crashing a wedding proposal at the Cincinnati Zoo, but it still delights me. Fiona’s nose dimples are really something special, and I very much needed her presence in our news cycle this year.
From producer Erich Hehn:
The Marsh Arabs of Mesopotamia. Perhaps it’s the American in me, born of a young nation somewhat insecure, but I’m always in awe of places so historically deep. Emilienne Malfatto takes us to such a place in “The Marsh Arabs” and lays bear the impact of political war both foreign and domestic.
The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea. This article by Evan Osnos treats the saga for what it is: a classic showdown of super villains vying for narcissistic validation.
See you in the New Year for more in food, travel, and politics from around the web. Tweet me stories you’d like to see here @caraparks, and have a happy holiday season.