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The Things That Cheered Us Up This Week

By AFAR Editors

05.22.20

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Indulging in and sharing good news where we find it.

Photo by Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Indulging in and sharing good news where we find it.

Looking for some good news—or at least a delightful diversion—in this time of uncertainty and isolation? AFAR’s editors share the positive little things that have brightened long days spent inside.

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You know the feeling: your shoulders slowly descend from their usual position up by your ears, your jaw unclenches, your resting freakout face softens and, perhaps, even manages a smile. You’ve found it! That playlist, that podcast, that YouTube video, or that website allowing a few delicious minutes of escape from the buzzing of the news. 

Dedicating some time each day to exploring, indulging, listening, celebrating creativity, and challenging ourselves to make our own work provides the lifeline we need to keep us tethered to the good things in life. With this in mind, AFAR editors have gathered a few of our recent favorite pastimes. We update this good news weekly, so come back to gather more inspiration!

Added the Week of May 18

Probably Tomfoolery

OK, maybe the last time you read a poem was when you had to in school. And maybe you think anything that rhymes is dreck and fairy tales are only for kids. You might change your mind with this poem/verse/fairy tale by Tomos Roberts (aka Probably Tomfoolery), “The Great Realization.”

Yes, it rhymes. It also works, even if you’re weary of anything related to COVID-19. I’m certainly tired of the subject but was glad to hear what Roberts has to say. As the American poet and doctor William Carlos Williams noted, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Here is another of his recent works, on Instagram. —Pat Tompkins, Copy editor

 

NextDraft newsletter

When my colleague, Anni Cuccinello, recommended the NextDraft newsletter as a source for interesting news reporting and opinion, I had no idea how avidly I’d look forward to each day’s ridiculously masterful headlines. To wit, yesterday’s article about the quantity of baked goods Americans are making and consuming while under lockdown is entitled “Bake News,” and includes lines like “Almost overnight, America's carb footprint expanded dramatically.” The subject line of another newsletter about the lockdown read “Quarantine Age Wasteland.” Article titles like “He Said, Xi Said,” “Slaughterhouse Jive,” and “Now is the Winter of Our President” appeal to my shameless love of clever wordplay. The news-obsessive writer, Dave Pell, is not only prolifically clever, his cranky, lefty politics support and inform my cranky, lefty worldview. Yes, sometimes getting me riled up about politics can actually make me cheerful. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides

Added the Week of May 11

What We Do in the Shadows on FX

There’s so much to adore in the premise alone of this mockumentary comedy series, now in its second season: Four vampire roommates who have been living together on Staten Island for hundreds of years navigate modern life (and maybe try to take over the borough?) with the help of a quiet but capable human familiar. Creators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, who also helmed the 2014 feature film of the same name, lead the show’s sharp-as-fangs writing team, and the main characters—Nandor the Relentless, an effete with a marauding past; Nandor’s devoted familiar Guillermo; the superstitious, whip-smart Nadja; her sensual, “bat!”-exclaiming husband, Laszlo; and the purposefully boring Colin Robinson—are interminably lovable. —Sara Button, Assistant editor

Watch It: iTunes, Google Play, Hulu

Virtual Tour of Studio Ghibli

I’d planned to go to Tokyo for the first time this October but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the current state of the world. In addition to sushi and temples and retracing Bourdain’s bar-hopping itinerary, I’d been eager to check out the Studio Ghibli Museum. When my kids were little, we regularly rewatched Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, and later, Spirited Away. (I was mortified—and secretly proud—when someone asked my 4-year-old daughter what her favorite movie was and she thought and then said, “Well, my favorite director is Miyazaki, so any of his films.” Yikes.)  To placate their fans while closed for COVID-19 lockdown, the museum has released a few short films that reveal a museum even more full of whimsy and magic than I could have predicted. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides

Malted flour for addictive waffles

When I ordered Golden Malted waffle and pancake mix, I was braced for a Bisquick-level letdown. Surely the canned stuff couldn’t live up to a mix made from scratch, even if the pre-mixed flour is good enough for Disneyland. My waistline regrets to inform you that the mix is fantastic and produced the best waffles I’ve ever made. The batter didn’t get particularly dark when cooking, but the golden waffles disappeared quickly, whether or not they were drowning in syrup. The mix provides a good foundation for salty or sweet palates—chicken tenders paired with the waffles just as well as syrup or strawberry jelly. My plan is to wait until some maple syrup arrives from Vermont before whipping up a batch of pancakes, but my taste buds may not be able to hold out that long.—Nicole Antonio, Managing editor

Add a word, ruin a book

A bookish pal sent me a list of books, ranging from classic novels to kids’ tales to best sellers, that all had been slightly altered. The list of titles—“add a word, ruin a book”—was new to me. After laughing over The Shelf Life of Pi, Charlotte’s Web History, A Brief History of Hammer Time, Bud Light in August, Mansfield Skate Park, The Lion, the Witch, and the IKEA Wardrobe, and others, I shared them with several AFAR editors and tried crafting a few myself; the limit of adding only one word makes it a challenge: Taxes From Here to Eternity, The Beautiful and Damned Smartphone, Recipes of Mice and Men, The Little House on the Prairie Dog, Restrooms on the Road. Fellow editors came up with A Farewell to Flabby Arms; Wallet-Sized Portrait of a Lady; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Heartburn; and No Love in the Time of Cholera. A fine distraction offering mindless, silly, free fun for all. —Pat Tompkins, Copy editor

Snoop Dogg sitting in his car listening to Frozen’s “Let It Go”

This tall drink of bong water has somehow become the Henry Fonda-Everyman of the pandemic lockdown. That is all. —A.S.

Added the Week of May 4

An Inspiring International Music/Dance Collaboration

Violinist and composer Mauro Durante, of music ensemble Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, had been locked down in the southern Italian city of Lecce for a while when a new melody suddenly came to him. Instead of his usual warm-up, an arpeggio burst forth and with it a title: “We’re All in the Same Dance.” He knew he wanted to release the song a little differently than he might otherwise in an album. “I kept thinking, ‘All in the same dance, hundreds of feet, dancing to that same tune. Different feet, different moves and colors, different backgrounds, same dance. That’s when I knew I wanted to make a video out of that,” Durante told me via email. So he took to social media and put a call out to dancers to take part in a music video of sorts, all dancing to the same song. More than 200 dancers across five continents responded! The result? This stunning two-and-a-half-minute dance video that I have watched probably a dozen times. Durante enlisted director Gabriele Surdo to put all the footage together, and his masterful editing and direction really make it feel like all the bodies are dancing as one. —Sara Button, Assistant editor

Home: A 30-Day Yoga Journey

I have never been a morning person but I started to force myself to wake up a little earlier than usual and do some Yoga with Adriene on You Tube. In particular her series “Home: A 30-Day Yoga Journey” is what makes me jump out of bed every morning, and day by day my morning self is less grumpy and definitely more flexible.

For the first time in my life, I am now creating a daily routine and I can finally understand the extra time and extra energy that every morning person talks about.  —Claudia Cardia, Motion graphics video editor

Mimi & Brownie

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Though Mimi and Brownie’s story was first performed as part of Pop-Up Magazine’s live touring show in 2018, it has been dusted off and redone as a video for those who missed it the first go-round: The two were best friends for 74 years, inseparable since they served together as Army nurses during World War II. For decades, they talked on the phone every day, up until Brownie passed away in 2016. “I think of her very often, and I find myself occasionally talking to her,” says Mimi, now 104. “You know, I’ve accepted the fact that she’s gone, but I also accept the fact that I’m going to see her again.” It’s a heartwarming story about the many joys of deep friendship, and it will definitely make you want to call your bestie. —Katherine LaGrave, Digital features editor

Li Ziqi on YouTube

In lockstep with everyone else in lockdown, we finished Tiger King and have begun watching Ozark lately (definitely not recommended for those seeking cheerfulness). Ozark’s violent mayhem is somewhat cathartic, but mostly troubling, so I need to watch something else to cleanse my brain’s palate before bed. Tejal Rao at the New York Times’s food section recently dubbed Li Ziqi, a Chinese YouTube star, her “quarantine queen.”  Since Rao is a favorite of mine, I watched Li Ziqi’s  “The Life of Garlic” and, in 12 and a half minutes, felt better, calmer, lighter. The young Li Ziqi is beautiful and patient and knows how to live well off the land; she lives on a fairy-tale version of a farm nestled between misty, pointy mountains in Sichuan Province; she has chic-ly rustic clothing and kitchenware that I envy; she lives with a yummy round little granny. Li Ziqi’s reality is surely not as internet-perfect as it seems and is definitely nothing like my urban apartment reality, but I love watching these mysterious and lovely fantasy videos. I find myself carefully rationing these videos out to myself like the last cherries in the fridge. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides

Added the week of April 27

Beautiful Graphic Design Inspired by the U.S. National Parks

Sure, National Parks Week may have been last week, but as far as I’m concerned, every week should be National Parks Week. So of course I was still clicking around the internet, daydreaming about my next national park trip after the official celebration ended. That’s when I stumbled on a collection of national parks–themed graphic design shots on the online art community Dribbble. The artworks feature some perennial favorites, like Rocky Mountain National Park and Zion, as well as some parks that just don’t get enough love, like Hot Springs National Park and Carlsbad Caverns. My favorite? It’s a toss-up between the Badlands National Park badge, with its ruddy hues, and the abstract representation of Everglades National Park, with all its simple, geometric shapes. But be warned: Since Dribbble is a platform where artists can promote their work, you might find yourself lost down a design hole, clicking different prints, then exploring the other works their creators have made. —Maggie Fuller, Associate editor

Wayne White’s WW Puppet Show

I guess we’ve all discovered that creativity does not take a pause, and one of my favorite artists, Wayne White, is driving that point home with an Instagram series of puppet shows. The puppet thing is more than a hobby: Before turning to fine art, Wayne was one of the visual geniuses behind PeeWee’s Playhouse. (He was also the subject of a terrifically funny and moving 2013 documentary, Beauty Is Embarrassing. There's a book—Maybe Now I'll Get the Respect I So Richly Deserve—about him, too.) The puppet show series launched with a social distancing–inspired quickie that (a) made me laugh out loud and (b) makes me eager to see every new installment.  —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides

The Dr. Seuss Rap

The mashup you never knew you needed: Dr. Seuss and Dr. Dre. Found on the @goodnews_movement Instagram, it’s one of those things that will make you laugh for no reason at all, and you’ll want to send to everyone you know. I hadn’t followed or even heard of @goodnews_movement before this, but after watching the Dr. Seuss rap roughly four times, I scrolled through their posts and have officially followed for feel-good news and hilarious videos. —Rosalie Tinelli, Senior social media manager

The Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Silly Walks Instagram

A couple of true geniuses in Yorkshire erected signs on the sidewalk at either side of their property announcing the beginning of the Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Silly Walks and urging walkers to “commence silly walking immediately.” Then they posted the results, filmed from what seems like a security camera on their front porch, on Instagram for the rest of us to enjoy. There are some excellent John Cleese tributes, as well as some brilliant originals. It’s basically guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. —M.F.

Added the week of April 20

NYCB’s spring season

I just found out that New York City Ballet is going digital for its spring season and streaming recordings of different ballets every Tuesday and Friday at 8 p.m. for the next six weeks. It will be playing actual performance footage from more than 20 works filmed in recent seasons, so you can catch ballets you missed back when you could still go to Lincoln Center—and rewatch old favorites like Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing resident choreographer Justin Peck’s latest work, Rotunda, which airs this Friday.  — Natalie Beauregard, Travel guides editor

The spring ice breakup of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers

I guess, for some, this is tantamount to watching paint dry, but I’ve been checking the website and Twitter account that track the spring breakup of the ice on these behemoth Canadian rivers a couple of times a week, as a way to revisit this part of the world I can’t wait to get to again. Thaw di Gras 2020 may be canceled but the ice breakup waits for no virus. When I visited Dawson City, where the rivers converge, I heard stories from some locals about the noisy and dramatic breakups in years past. There’s a betting pool on the date and time of the thaw this year (as well as stats, charts, and video of previous years here). The Yukon ice bridge—which connects the east and west sides of the river all winter—was closed for the season this week after a rainy night weakened the ice, so the breakup could happen any day now. Watch with me? —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides   

National Theatre Live’s Treasure Island on YouTube

My husband and I went on our first date since February this weekend—a two-hour car picnic where we ate sandwiches and watched a free performance of the play Treasure Island on YouTube, adapted and recorded by London’s National Theatre. National Theatre Live is a popular program already, with epic stage productions usually screened in massive movie theaters, but the theater is offering a new stage production weekly #AtHome on YouTube through May. And in this time of simple pleasures, the Robert Louis Stevenson story still transported us, albeit via laptop. We gleefully watched pirates have sword battles over treasure maps and hand out the dreaded “black spot” as the angry waves crashed in front of our car along the waterfront. —Laura Dannen Redman, Digital content director 

Earth Day Documentary Binge

I’m honoring the natural world from my living room this week with a deep dive into all the new documentaries premiering on April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. There are too many to name, but top of my list is National Geographic’s Jane Goodall: The Hope, the follow-up to a 2017 biopic of the famed primatologist, who is also one of my personal heroes. While there are several great documentaries that document Goodall’s field work in Africa, this new film traces her transition from a researcher into an international symbol of environmentalism. Also premiering April 22 is BBC America’s She Walks with Apes, narrated by Sandra Oh and featuring Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas—all extraordinary women who dedicated their lives to studying the great apes. And then how could I miss PBS’s Climate Change: The Facts, which features the Voice of God for the natural world, David Attenborough, who will outline the key issues of climate change. —Jennifer Flowers, Deputy editor

Alton Brown’s No-Rinse Rice Recipe

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I’ve been loving our friend Alton Brown’s DGAF tone in Pantry Raid, a series of YouTube videos that have no affiliation with the Food Network. In “Pantry Raid: Rice Edition,” Brown blew my mind with a rice cooking technique that skips the annoying step of thoroughly rinsing starch off the rice. The secret? Toasting the dry grains in a saucepan with butter, then adding boiling water when the buttered rice begins to smell like nutty popcorn. This week, I perfected my jazzed-up version with sea salt, garlic powder, and a touch of cayenne. The result is way more flavorful than what I used to make in my dedicated rice cooker, and avoiding all the water waste by eliminating the rinsing stage feels good. —Nicole Antonio, Managing editor

Stuffed Animal Street Safaris

From Florida, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., all the way to New Zealand, a number of residents in tight-knit neighborhoods are organizing stuffed animal “street safaris” to entertain kids during coronavirus lockdowns. I first learned about the concept in early April when AFAR covered its occurrence in Christchurch, New Zealand, but the incredibly sweet international movement still cheers me up every time I read that it’s reached a new neighborhood. Around the world, people are placing stuffed teddy bears, turtles, tigers, and other toy animals in their windows—sometimes even hiding them in bushes or trees on their front lawns—to provide local children with a game they can play on walks while safely social distancing. Many communities have even created online maps that list the locations where kids can go stuffed animal–spotting in their neighborhoods. I love the sentiment so much; it’s news of people’s efforts to support one another from a distance that makes me feel hopeful about the future. —Sarah Buder, Digital assistant editor

Dance Church Go

COVID-19 has clarified for me that we really don’t have much control over anything, so why not lean into that? Dance Church Go—a biweekly, live-streamed class—allows me to dance with abandon in the safe space of my apartment and it’s sheer joy. Sure I may look entirely insane to my neighbors, but who cares anymore? Every Wednesday and Sunday, Dance Church Go is led by three dancers who groove right along with you and lead little sections of aerobic workouts. And, of course, it’s all set to extremely danceable tunes. It’s free, it’s fun, and you’ll finally feel good about losing control.  —Anique Halliday, Director of product

GeoGuessr

I love getting a little bit lost when I travel; picking a likely neighborhood and then letting chance take over my route. I felt a spark of that serendipity this weekend via GeoGuessr, an online game that drops you into a location on Google Street View, asks you to figure out where in the world you are, and then rates your accuracy (in meters, for added international flare). We played as a team in our video chat and the game took on the vibe of a pub quiz or low-stakes escape room: One player on our team recognized an onion dome, another zoomed in on a sign and confirms it’s in the Cyrillic alphabet, another knows which landmarks to look for to decide between Moscow and St. Petersburg (Or not! Minus a few points for being off by 700,000 meters.) And, like travel, the activity seemed to invite story-sharing. 

Of course, we could all wander around in Google Street View any time, but landing in an unknown place and navigating unfamiliar streets felt like a virtual spin-the-globe adventure. While I’m locked down in my house where everything is on-demand, personalized, and curated, a little randomization reminded me how big the world still is. —Chris Pacheco, Digital analytics manager

 

Added the week of April 13

Shopping the Southeast Asia Food Group

This week, I discovered the Southeast Asia Food Group, which sells grocery items and cooking supplies in bulk and then delivers them to your door. Since I can no longer stroll leisurely through the aisles of my neighborhood H Mart, scrolling through this spreadsheet of items has been a similarly soothing experience. I can get a case of sparkling calamansi juice for $37 and pork and kimchi dumplings for $45—sorta like Costco, but better. —Katherine LaGrave, Digital features editor

Some Good News with John Krasinski 

I love everything about this no-budget YouTube series that actor/director John Krasinski started three weeks ago. How he’s “broadcasting” from his home office, fronting a DIY “Some Good News” sign made by his young daughters. How he rarely wears pants. How he calls on his costars and famous friends—Steve Carell from The Office days, wife Emily Blunt (aka Mary Poppins to your kiddos), David Ortiz, and the original cast of Hamilton—to do good things for real people. This week (spoiler alert) he worked with the Red Sox to gift four tickets for life to health-care workers fighting coronavirus in Krasinski’s native Boston. Not enough? Then there’s the actual good news Krasinski reports, submitted by fans around the world, showcasing the light and hope during this dark time. I’m obsessed and inspired. —Laura Dannen Redman, Digital content director

A Ski Movie

My Luddite husband successfully shared this link with me, which itself was a bit of a happy surprise, but when I clicked, I actually gasped in delight. This wildly creative, 57-second, stop-action movie depicts a monumental day of skiing. It was shot inside the filmmaker’s home with just a few props. (Plus, how did he secure the camera?)—Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides   

Stay Homas’s quarantine songs from Barcelona

After Spain went under national lockdown during March in response to the coronavirus, these Catalan musicians and roommates sat on the terrace of their Barcelona apartment to write lighthearted songs about coping with the lockdown. Since then, Rai Benet, Klaus Stroink, and Guillem Boltó, who are all in their 20s, have created a dedicated Instagram page and YouTube channel where they post their original quarantine-themed songs on a regular basis.

Written in English, Spanish, or Catalan, the tunes cover a range of genres from reggae to rumba, with hand-clapping beats and humorous lyrics like “Please stay homa / Don’t want the corona / It’s OK to be alona.” Some of the video performances even feature collaborations with other Spanish musicians, who make appearances from their own homes via FaceTime. Every time a new @stay.homas post pops up on my Instagram feed, I feel an instant sense of glee—which, even if momentary, is good enough for me. —Sarah Buder, Assistant editor

French butter-making

Food Insider published (or republished?) this video of a passionate, eccentric butter-maker in Brittany last week and I swear I can feel my blood pressure drop whenever I watch it. Look at how they fold those giant sheets of butter! Listen to that musical language! Look at how they infuse their French butter with French emotion! It’s everything I want from life right now. —Aislyn Greene, Senior editor

Rick Steves, the piano teacher

My love for Rick Steves is no secret around the AFAR office, so I was thoroughly delighted when he posted a video to his Facebook page earlier this month showing off his impressive piano skills. (Did you know that before he became a European travel expert and TV show host, he was a piano teacher? Neither did I.) In this three-minute video, he talks about using quarantine as a time to revisit past passions and walks viewers through how to improvise a song on the blues scale. The combination of his soothing voice and jazzy tunes are a balm for stressful days. —Lyndsey Matthews, Destination news editor

This cheeky A Quarantine With Art video

Art history humor has to be one of my favorite extremely niche genres of writing (oh how I miss the Toast!) This video, made and posted by Friking, a Spanish clothing company, renames famous masterpieces with more quarantine-appropriate titles and really had me laughing: The Creation of Adam becomes No Contact; nine Modigliani portraits together become The Group Chat. I haven’t seen an English version yet, but here’s a rough translation of the slides:

Una Cuanentena con Arte—A Quarantine With Art

  • The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo)—Nada de Contacto/No Contact
  • The Lovers (Rene Magritte)—Los Besos/Kisses
  • Cestello Annunciation (Sandro Botticelli)—El Metero de Distancia/One Meter Apart
  • Self-Portrait with Loose Hair (Frida Kahlo)—El Estetista Cerrado/The Salon Is Closed
  • Two Women at a Window (Bartolome Esteban Murillo)—Las Charlas desde los Balcones/Chats From a Balcony
  • Piazza d’Italia (Giorgio de Chirico)—El Centro Ciudad/The City Center
  • After Breakfast (Elin Kleopatra Danielson-Gambogi)—Las Mañanas Interminables/Endless Mornings
  • Portrait of Helena de Kay (Winslow Homer)—La Primera Semana/Week One
  • Woman Reading on a Settee (William W. Churchill)—La Segunda Semana/Week Two
  • Joven decadent (Després del ball) (Ramon Casas)—La Tercera Semana/Week Three
  • The Fall of Phaeton (Jan Carel van Eyck)—Tápate Al Toser/Covering a Sneeze
  • Picnic (1998) (Fernando Botero)—Verano 2020/Summer 2020
  • From Fruit Stall (Frans Snyders)—El Enésimo Paseo/The Umpteenth Walk
  • Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (Vincenzo Campi)—La Compra Para Dos Semanas/Two Weeks’ Shopping
  • The collection of Modigliani portraits—El Chat de Grupo/Group Chat
  • Embrace of the Demiurge (Luis Key)—Cuando Todo Pase/When This Is All Over
  • Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)—Los Reencuentros/The Reunion

(Nerding out and finding all the titles of these paintings made me pretty happy, too.) —Maggie Fuller, Associate editor

Noel Fielding’s art club

Every other Saturday since March 15, Noel Fielding, the goofy goth cohost of The Great British Baking Show, has announced a new theme for art projects on his Twitter page (@noelfielding11). The theme is set precisely at 3 p.m. London time, and artists everywhere have two hours to create a work based on the theme and upload a photo of it to Twitter tagged with @noelfielding11 or #noelsartclub.  

This past Saturday’s Music theme resulted in a LEGOs sculpture of a pre–social distancing rock concert constructed by 11- and 9-year- old brothers, lots of Bowie portraits (the cover art from Aladdin Sane mostly), a beer keg embellished with a painting of a rainbow guitar, some punk-themed Easter eggs, and tons of other inspired entries. No prize, just a good word from the ever-positive Fielding. Everyone’s a winner, mate. —A.S.

>>Next: How to Help the World When You Can’t Leave the House