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In Madrid, banking on the art scene


La Casa Encendida

The fall of 2008 will be remembered for the meltdown of the international banking system, but it’s also been a great season for international art in Madrid, thanks to the free-spending ways of some of Spain’s largest banks.

This is not another morality tale about self-aggrandizing corporate honchos trying to put their names on museum wings before pulling the cord on their golden parachutes. Rather, it’s a case of old-fashioned social responsibility that has been codified into a legal obligation.

Because of a peculiarity of Spanish law (with origins that reach back nearly 500 years, when banks were lending societies associated with religious orders), modern Spanish savings banks — commonly known as cajas in Castilian and caixas in Catalan — are strictly nonprofit institutions. While they may make money, they have no shareholders and pay no dividends.

Profits, therefore, are meant to be devoted to the “public good” and the banks are at liberty to define this however they see fit.

Back in the day, it typically meant helping out farmers through lean times and troubled harvests. Today, however, through a vast array of obra social (public work) foundations, the savings banks support medical research and reforestation efforts, grant scholarships, finance historical preservation, sponsor art exhibitions or even establish their own cultural centers.

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The Bush Shoe

When a pair of black leather oxfords hurled at President George W. Bush in Baghdad produced a gasp heard around the world, a Turkish cobbler had a different reaction: They were his shoes.

“We have been producing that specific style, which I personally designed, for 10 years, so I couldn’t have missed it, no way,” said Ramazan Baydan in Istanbul. “As a shoemaker, you understand.”

Although his assertion has been impossible to verify – cobblers from Lebanon, China and Iraq have also staked claims to what is quickly becoming some of the most famous footwear in the world – orders for Baydan’s shoes, formerly known as Ducati Model 271 and since renamed “The Bush Shoe,” have poured in from around the world.

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British team discovers lost Eden amid forgotten forest of Africa

It was one of the few places on the planet that remained unmapped and unexplored, but now Mount Mabu has started to yield its secrets to the world.


Olive Sunbird

Until a few years ago this giant forest in the mountainous north of Mozambique was known only to local villagers; it did not feature on maps nor, it is believed, in scientific collections or literature. But after “finding” the forest on a Google Earth internet map, a British-led team of scientists has returned from what is thought to be the first full-scale expedition into the canopy. Below the trees, which rise 45m above the ground, they discovered land filled with astonishingly rich biodiversity.


Pygmy Chameleon

Read more here.

See slide show here.