The More Things Change | Issue 20

The More Things Change | Issue 20

19-25 August

This week, some things happen in Europe.

August 23, 79: Mount Vesuvius began stirring, and it was all downhill from there. There’d already been small earthquakes that apparently nobody realised were warning signs, and everybody was left fleeing for their lives when the volcano went off. Unfortunate as it all was, it was one of those times nature gets really hardcore: the eruption lasted two days and involved 100,000 times the thermal energy released by an atomic bomb. The day Vesuvius began stirring also happened to be the feast day of Vulcan, the Roman god of volcanoes, which was probably a coincidence.

August 25, 1330: There was a guy called Nicholas V who was something called an antipope, and he effectively overthrew himself. You get to be an antipope pretty much by saying you’re the Pope, having a bunch of cardinals support you, and going around doing Pope-y stuff while the actual Pope presumably gets really sick of you. Nicholas V eventually confessed all his sins, which was the equivalent of pushing himself off the metaphorical throne, and was honourably imprisoned for the rest of his life. You have to wonder why he bothered in the first place.

August 23, 1617: The first one-way streets were opened in London in an attempt to deal with traffic congestion. There are now whole cities whose streets are arranged in a one-way system: it’s supposed to be for efficiency or something, but one-way streets are good mostly because you don’t have to look both ways when you cross them, and you can park on the “wrong” side of the street and not get in trouble.

August 21, 1911: An employee of the Louvre stole the Mona Lisa in a daring and brazen move that worked better than it probably should have: he just took it from the display and hid it in a broom cupboard until he left with it under his coat. The painting was missing for several hours before anybody even realised that it had been stolen, which is impressive. Slightly less impressive is that the thief just kept it in his apartment for two years and then tried to sell it to a gallery in Florence. (It isn’t clear why he thought that would work.)

August 19, 1960: In another great success for space travel, the Soviet Union sent a whole bunch of animals into space … and they all survived. One of the dogs had puppies a year later and one was sent to the US as a goodwill present, but the President’s advisers were suspicious that it might have had microphones implanted in it. Presumably it didn’t.
This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2013.
Posted 4:47pm Sunday 18th August 2013 by Jessica Bromell.