The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Urban Oases: Getting Lost in 'Invisible Cities'

Jan 21, 2013
Originally published on January 21, 2013 1:11 pm

Eric Weiner's latest book is Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine.

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities might be labeled travelogue. It was, in fact, the traveler in me that first fell under its spell. The places Calvino describes, though, don't exist on any map. Technically, this is a novel, a work of fiction, but one without any storyline. The only characters are an aging Kublai Khan and a young-ish Marco Polo. They're sitting in a garden, where the Venetian explorer is regaling the Mongol ruler with tales of the cities he has seen journeying to the far reaches of Khan's vast empire. Each short chapter describes a different city, 55 in all.

These are fantastical, beguiling places, where things are never as they seem. There's Hypatia, a city of beautiful blue lagoons but where "crabs were biting the eyes of the suicides, stones tied around their necks"; Laudomia, the city of the unborn, whose inhabitants have constructed a parallel city for those yet to come; Octavia, the spider-web city, whose residents live suspended over an abyss, supported by a net they know won't last long; and Argia, a city with earth instead of air.

At some point, you realize that Calvino is not talking about cities at all, not in the way we normally think of the word. Calvino's cities — like all cities, really — are constructed not of steel and concrete but of ideas. Each city represents a thought experiment, or, as Polo tells Khan at one point, "You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders but in the answer it gives to a question of yours."

The question that Calvino seems to be asking is a big one: How should we live?

The inhabitants of Calvino's cities are a tortured lot, ensnared in various traps, largely of their own making. I'm not sure if Calvino intended this, but I find the book very Buddhist. The city dwellers are trapped in cycles of despair — a sort of urban samsarafailing to realize that they hold the keys to their particular prison. Beersheba, for instance, a city with a subterranean twin of pure gold, does not know that "its only moments of generous abandon are those when it becomes detached from itself, when it lets go, expands." Or Raissa, a city of sadness that nonetheless "contains a happy city unaware of its existence."

There's also something pleasantly disorienting about this book. It should come with a warning about operating heavy machines while under its influence. When I'm reading it (which I do often), I see the world a bit differently, at an angle.

This is a slim book, only 165 pages, but it's not the kind you devour in one sitting. I find myself pausing every two or three pages to process what I have just read. Not because Calvino's writing is difficult to penetrate, but simply because he packs so much into each sentence. There is so much there there. It's best, I think, to read Invisible Cities like a traveler — slowly, luxuriously, as if you have all the time in the world.

Calvino ends the description of one city, Tamara, with a warning: "You leave Tamara without having discovered it." So it is with Invisible Cities. I leave it, again and again, and yet never discover it — never really know it. That is precisely what keeps drawing me back to this strange and wonderful little book.

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