Rabbit Hole #0 — A Redesign and an Introduction

And, uh, whatever the part in the middle about a Buddhist republic in Russia was supposed to be

Hello friends,

Hopefully you aren’t too confused by the new logo, new name, or new background color. It is I, Étienne, the author of what used to be called — until today — Light Gray Matters.

Starting now, this newsletter becomes the Atlas of Rabbit Holes. The Atlas part allows me to indulge in my love of old maps, and so the new cover images are details from the Carta Marina, a map of Scandinavia from 1539. The Rabbit Holes part allows me to justify talking about whatever I want, so long as it’s interesting enough for me to have lost myself in it for a couple of hours.

I will keep you updated about what I’m up to, so that this newsletter also functions as, you know, a newsletter. But—


ok whatever I’m taking over now

hi I’m Étienne’s idgaf writer persona

Étienne’s “i’m a serious newsletter writer” persona has been in control for the entire day and yet he’s been struggling to write anything beyond the above three paragraphs. he was like, “should i include a rabbit hole about this, or that, or should this just be a post that doesn’t say anything and just introduces the project” and, like, dude, the past two weeks have also been that and you need to make your f*cking newsletter interesting for once!!! so here i am

now we’re going to talk about the Republic of Kalmykia

wtf is the Republic of Kalmykia?

it’s “the only region in Europe where Buddhism is the predominant religion”, says wikipedia. did you know there was a Buddhist area in Europe? i think this is super cool. i reread this wikipedia page every once in a while, just because it’s cool.

where’s the republic of kalmykia? here:

so it’s in Russia, north of the caucasus region. Relatedly, did you know the Caucasus was a big mess of ethnic groups and languages?

anyway, Kalmykia’s population consists of about 57% Kalmyks, most of whom are Tibetan Buddhists. That’s not actually that many people since the total population of the republic is only 289k. wikipedia says the Kalmyks descend from the Mongols and settled in the area in the 17th century. Back then they had their own independent country, the Kalmyk Khanate, top-left:

that lasted until Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, conquered the area in 1771.

it doesn’t look like the Kalmyks had an easy time. After 1771, many of them decided to migrate east back to Mongolian homelands. Many died during the move. And then Catherine dissolved their khanate. But some Kalmyks stayed behind and kept the culture alive. Fast forward to 1943, and now we’re under Stalin, and Stalin decides to relocate all of the Kalmyks to siberia. of course he would. stalin loved to relocate people to siberia

most kalmyks came back after Stalin was gone, but obviously the place has suffered a lot as a result. they’ve been rebuilding their pagodas. And also they really like chess apparently!

okay im done

i hope you enjoyed this extremely random rabbit hole. sorry that i had to seize control of the newsletter for a little bit. it really didn’t look like étienne’s normal persona was going to get anything done.

i’ll transfer power back to him though. hopefully by next week he has his shit together somewhat more


…what just happened?

I suppose it might make sense to go back and edit the middle part. But I don’t really feel like it. There’s something good about the rawness of it. It’s a reminder that this newsletter has and should always be written for fun. And Kalmykia is actually a good example of a topic: random, interesting, probably not well known, and easy to just grab stuff from Wikipedia to share. Ideal!

So, thanks, IDGAF-Étienne, you helped a lot. I’ll try to channel your energy (but in a more polished way) next week.

Cheers everyone,

Étienne