Three years ago, I followed in the footsteps of the most successful writers before me and took to self-publishing my first piece on an outdated WordPress blog. In the ensuing years, I’ve committed myself to growth by continuing to do that exact same thing over and over again. Each year, in commemoration of that first piece about my passionate hatred for the state of South Dakota, I write another ten pieces on the same topic. I also compile a collection of my pieces from the previous year, each fitted with spunky little descriptions. This is Grapevine’s Atlas, a compendium of world knowledge curated by someone who’s never left his house.
This year’s publication is a little bit thinner than its predecessors, and I’m coming out of a life-necessitated hiatus to put it together. You can always tell how well things are going by how the balance falls between heavily researched geography pieces and the political rants I throw up on the other page.
But you didn’t come here for that. You’re here to learn about butthole demons, sailing apes, nipples galore, and skull fetishists. And you’re in just the right place.
Sea Monkeys (🇧🇷 Northeastern Brazil) – In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. By fourteen hundred ninety seven, he’d sent a million souls to heaven. Today, guys like me express outrage and disbelief at our continued celebration of history’s best known micropenile marauder. But when we look at him beside the host of other men we continue to hold up as icons, he starts to fade into the canvas as another white dude whose sheer luck gave him the world. If you or I pick the wrong college major, we’ll be righteously castigated for our bad investment. If we had simply miscalculated the circumference of the earth by thousands of miles, we’d have a country, a capital region, and Ohio’s third-worst city named after us. Born too late, y’know.
Anyway, this one isn’t about Columbus. He’s overrated. The Vikings beat him by over four hundred years. But this isn’t about them either. Because even they have nothing on the monkey marine, the great apes who beat their “more evolved” cousins by millions of years.
Paint Me A Pictogram (🇯🇵 Tokyo, Japan) – The Olympic pictograms are those cute little minimalist illustrations that depict the games within the games. These guys can hold rackets, kick balls, and shoot guns. They can also tell Hitler to fuck off.
Demonstration Sports – At the Olympics, it’s the international organization overseeing the games that ultimately decides which sports are included and which ones are fake. But there’s an asterisk appended to their list, one most of us didn’t know was there. From the first modern games in Athens until now, host countries have been able to identify a set of demonstration sports that would be played alongside the official list. Previous hosts have chosen French cane-fighting, sled dog racing, Indian wrestle-tag, and horse-drawn snow jetskiing. Of course, these side stage sports were admitted with the caveat that victors couldn’t win medals. That ruling changed in 2020 leading up to the Tokyo games, opening the way for Olympic skateboarding, surfing, and speed climbing. Future games are set to award medals in breakdancing, flag football, and cricket. After a decades-long absence, demonstration sports are back.
Paris’s Missing Skyline (🇫🇷 Paris, France) – American cities are distinguished by their skylines, partially because they lack history and culture, but also because they’re iconic and easily recognizable. Americans paved the way for the skyscrapered city center, but times have changed and now cities across Eurasia put our urban cloudscapes to shame. London, Tokyo, Moscow, Shanghai — all have well-known skylines. Not Paris, though. And that’s by design.
Halfdan Was Here (🇹🇷 Istanbul, Turkey) – Ethnonationalists and red-faced news pundits like to see human mobility as a relatively new feature. Until the late twentieth century, they argue, people stayed where they belonged. I call bullshit. This is the story of the Varangian Guard, the Viking protectors of the Byzantine Emperor who traveled by river and land through Russia to make it to a city of immigrants and the contemporary pearl of the Mediterranean, Constantinople. Scandinavia is littered with stones that tell their tales. The evidence in Constantinople is more limited. But on a corner wall in its most famous building, a few scratches stand out.
Butthole Orbs and Vicious Murder (🇯🇵 Japan) – Japanese folklore is fucking crazy.
Who has the prettiest skull? (🇩🇪 Germany) — The flawed origins of the Caucasian superrace, featuring more than one freak with a sexy skull collection.
Who Stole Christmas? – Is Christmas a Christian invention or a holiday stolen wholesale from their pagan progenitors? Or is gatekeeping the most wonderful time of the year dumb-dumb behavior no matter who’s doing it?
Should Auld Scots Be Forgot? (🏴 Scotland) – If you speak Swedish, you can (at least mostly) understand Danish. If you speak Hindi, most of Urdu makes sense to you, because these languages are mutually intelligible. Thousands of years of island isolation have detached the English language from most of its cousins, but sharing that home island is Scots, one of the historical languages of Scotland and the only language with which English shares mutual intelligibility.
The definitive ranking of all 50 state mottos (🇺🇲 United States) – I think this one’s self-explanatory.
Grass Mud Horse Fuck Your Mother (🇭🇰🇨🇳 Hong Kong, China) – Cantonese is a tonal language, meaning the same sound can have several different meanings depending on the inflection you give it. Most of the time, all this feature really does is provide China with a rich pun culture. But when the government steps in to censor one phrase, its tonal twins take on a newfound heroic role.
The Best-known Breasts of the West (🇺🇲 Mollie’s Nipple, Utah) – There’s a mountain in Utah named “Mollie’s Nipple”. There’s a mountain in Idaho named “Mollie’s Nipple”. There’s another mountain in Utah named “Mollie’s Nipple”. In all, there are twelve mountains named to memorialize Mollie’s mammaries. So. What the fuck?