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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

How Things Work

One of the things I love about being in medieval era towns is seeing how things work in their medieval streets. There is a building on a street about 10 feet wide that is getting a complete facade redo. It is 4 stories tall. They put in a crane, which arrived in pieces, in a piazza 50 feet from the building. It was the only place the crane would fit and its boom is long enough to reach all of the building being refaced.

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The tight fit on the street for the truck bringing a piece of the crane in

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The truck in the piazza preparing to unload the piece

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Truck with boom putting the crane together

Below is a picture of the scaffolding on the facade of the Duomo with the elevator taking people up to do restoration work.

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The following are from Lecce.

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Cleaning the street with a broom and dustpan, getting around with this little vehicle. Later we saw three women systematically sweeping up a street this way. Lecce is incredibly clean.

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The streets are a whiteish limestone and here they are scrubbing it. They were all over town doing this!

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Pastry delivery vehicle for the cafe we frequented

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And finally a vendor delivering his fruit and vegetables with this “ape”, complete with contents on the roof. Just love how creative this all is!!

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Layers of Seriously Old

Sometimes the depth of the history in this country astounds me. It is there in Orvieto every day, but is so part of the scene to me anymore that I forget to marvel at it. In a new place I am once again reawakened. The depth at the Faggiano Archeological Museum both historically and literally is amazing.

The owner had a rental apartment with a blocked sewer. The repair led to the uncovering of 2000 years of history over the last 20 years. He’s found silos, cisterns, granary, tombs, secret passageways extending from the third floor of his apartment to about 20 feet below ground.

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Here I am at the bottom of a cistern about 20 feet underground. The shaft at left was where a bucket on a rope was lowered to get water.

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Looking down into the cistern from the ground floor.

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The third floor access to the same cistern. Beautiful isn’t it?

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Room full of artifacts discovered on site

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This is the tomb of a baby. He also discovered a “dead drier” – a place where deceased nuns in the convent occupying the place at one point would be mummified. Yow!

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How beautiful the construction. That is a drain pipe going through the wall to the right of the door.

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This is the third floor giving you an idea of the size of the place.

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These stairs go up to the tower above the third floor. Well worn!

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Fireplace, and you can see circles in the ceiling. These are 16th century earthenware jars used in ceiling construction. The practice made for a lighter ceiling and also provided insulation. This technique was first developed by the Romans.

Just an incredible place all done by a private individual who made the discovery and has been pursuing it for years.

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More Heat

Following up on yesterday’s post about the book Heat, which I finished last night. The author, Bill Buford, is summing up his experience in Italy, and he talks about food there and as it is done modern day.

My theory is one of smallness. Smallness is now my measure: a variation on all the phrases I’d been hearing, like the Maestro’s “it’s not in the breed but the breeding” or Enrico’s “less is more.” As theories go, mine is pretty crude. Small food – good. Big food – bad. For me the language we use to talk about modern food isn’t quite accurate or at least doesn’t account for how this Italian valley has taught me to think. The metaphor is usually one of speed: fast food has ruined our culture; slow food will save it. You see the metaphor’s appeal. But it obscures a fundamental problem, which has little to do with speed and everything to do with size. Fast food did not ruin our culture. The problem was already in place, systemic in fact, and began the moment food was treated like an inanimate object – like any other commodity – that could be manufactured in increasing numbers to satisfy a market. In effect, the two essential players in the food chain, (those who make the food and those who buy it) swapped roles. One moment the producer (the guy who knew his cows or the woman who prepared culatello only in January) determined what was available and how it was made. The next moment it was the consumer. What happened in the food business has occurred in every aspect of modern life and the change has produced many benefits. I like island holidays and flat-screen televisions and have no argument with global market economics, except in this respect – in what it has done to food.

The watery eggs Gianni bought when he fell asleep after lunch: big food. Granny’s eggs sold under the counter to Panzano regulars: small food. Th pig I brought home on my scooter: Small food. A ham from a chemically treated animal that has spent its life indoors in a scientifically controlled no-movement pen (every cut perfectly identical as though made by a machine): big food.

The Italians have a word, casalinga, homemade, although its primary sense is “made by hand.” Just about every preparation I learned in Italy was handmade and involved my learning how to use my own hands differently. My hands were trained to roll out dough, to use a knife to break down a thing to make sausage or lardo or po;pettone. With some techniques, I had to make my hands small. With others, I made them big. With hands, cooks express themselves like artists.

And perhaps that is the difference: food made with your own hands, reflecting care and investment and love. It is unrealistic to think we will go back or that we can feed the numbers we have to feed otherwise. But we can at least make conscious choices. We can shop local, support local farmers, buy in season. Thankfully, this seems to be happening. Buon appetito!

Making food by hand

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I read today that Facebook is about to release 100 apps for use with their program. It got me thinking about Facebook and social media. Few will agree with me, but I just am not a fan. It is so not what we do in Italy, which is to pay attention to where you are and what your are doing. Italy, and I hope life, is about living the life that surrounds you, aware of what is taking place in front of you.

Facebook is so much the opposite. I’m sure I will be taken to task for not appreciating and understanding what it offers. But it seems to me that Facebook lets people live life at arms length from everyone. Yes you follow what everyone is doing so you stay current. But while you follow everyone else, you do nothing. And you aren’t involved in the lives of the people you follow, you are simply observing from afar. It is so much more fulfilling and alive to talk with the people who travel with us in Italy than to sit before the glow of a computer screen and see what people all over the world are doing.

She could be uploading to Facebook

Who has time to put the often irrelevant details of your life on Facebook. I’m sure it is a thrill to have lots of followers, although putting your life in front of everyone to see seems a bit bizarre. And if you spend all this time uploading to Facebook, you really aren’t present where ever you are. You aren’t truly living. It is more like putting yourself in a zoo for others to watch you.

We have a Facebook account and page for Adventures in Italy because we are told you have to do so in today’s world. Social media is where it’s at. We have one, but I rarely go there, I rarely put anything on it. Essentially then, it is worthless from a business standpoint. Frankly, I am not going to spend my time thinking of ways for people to follow what we do on Facebook, because for me it is a waste, has no value I can discern.

This blog I do for the business. But it is tied to our passion for Italy. It is a place to express what I’m feeling (such as in this post) as opposed to letting people know what I’m eating, or drinking. I don’t write here that often either, but when I do I at least care about what I am writing. Somehow, for me, there is a big divide between sharing something of importance versus something meaningless.

Perhaps I show my age. Yet I take some solace that I am not just being a Luddite when my son doesn’t have a Facebook account, and my daughter uses it sparingly. I apologize to all the Facebook fans, but I find more in life by being with others face-to-face.

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We’re in Italy with our fall trips. I was just out on the streets and heard an exchange between four Americans that made me wonder. One of the two women said,

“That is unbelievable. I’m going to call Sandra and tell her.”

One of the two men replied,

“Can’t you just be in the moment. Why do you have to call her.”

So. Is this ability to call home a blessing or a curse? My gut reaction is curse. Curse because it means she isn’t really experiencing the event. She is behaving like a camera: Capture, distribute. Something has struck her and rather than enjoy it, or even share it with her 3 traveling companions, she wants to call someone thousands of miles away to relay the event. It also conveys the message that the person to be called is more important than those you are with. In a way it is like so many tourists from Asia who I see walking with camera glued to the front of their face, taking pictures but not looking at anything because the camera is all they really see – a filter from the true experience.

But maybe this is a blessing. This woman can share whatever moved her with a friend far away, who, perhaps, was unable to make the trip. It is a way to engage her. This connectedness does indeed make the world smaller.

The chance to really see

Ultimately, however, I think it is a curse. We have largely forgotten to live in the moment. Because we can, we call, we get on the Internet using our phone to check something out, we are present with our body only, not our brain.

This is why I love our trips, which are a combination of art and Italy. Having the focus of doing an art project – be it painting, journaling, photography, textile, mixed media, book making, mosaic, writing – means that our participants are in the moment, taking it in and then expressing it in their art. Even though they do connect via e-mail or phone with those not here, they are very much here when not connected, enjoying and savoring Italy. Italy, being such an incredible place in its ability to make all the senses come alive, brings you alive – even if you are connecting to the world outside.

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I recently read an interesting article about people who don’t use cell phones. These aren’t Luddites, they are people who have decided it is a question of them taking control of their lives. The article describes it as a “power move.” The list of folks includes billionaires Warren Buffet and Mikhail Prokhorov, PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, and a general counsel at the Justice Department.

The article points out that not having a cell, means the world runs on your time – a novel concept today in our pressure filled existence. These folks use the computer and e-mail, they just don’t have a cell.

One person, a dean of arts and sciences, said, he loves going to Italy “where everyone talks to everyone all the time.” This fact, and the fact that most Americans don’t have their cell phones in Italy, serves as a real eye opener for those traveling with us. It is amazing for them to see the person-to-person exchange that goes on everywhere, all the time. I think this is one of the reasons Americans love Italy, though few would identify it as a reason. As humans we need face-to-face contact. We don’t get it much in the U.S. In Italy it is everywhere, and we respond with delight. It is a subtle pleasure, one of many subtle pleasures Italy affords.

Many arrive in Italy with concerns about being out of touch. A week of slowing down on our trips and no one wants to get back in touch! One of the great pleasures people take away from Italy is a connection to themselves enabled by the absence of cell phone, computer, e-mail.  In many ways it is a more lasting and memorable feature of an Italian sojourn than all the spectacular art and architecture.

I love this about it Italy – its subtlety. It doesn’t hit you over the head. It creeps into your blood. It is the most seductive of places.

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Patience

I was thinking about phones and phone calls recently. I remember when we would wait to make long distance calls until the evening or weekend because it was cheaper. How that has changed. While there is much to be said for easy connectivity, I wonder if it is a net benefit. We used to have the patience to wait to make a call. Now, everything has to be right now, faster. It makes for a frenetic life.

Italians talk to each other!

Italians talk to each other!

Italians are farther down the road to managing technology than we. In the middle nineties I remember they always seemed to be on their cell phones. More people had them and used them than here. Today, most Italians have them, but they use them judiciously. People are not constantly plugged into their phones everywhere. You rarely see people in restaurants on their phones.

Not a scene much seen in Italy

Not a scene much seen in Italy

This may be because personal relationships are so important to Italians. They are truly present when you talk to them. It is very nice – no “continuous partial attention.”

I do think it is a matter of maturity – maturity in their having used the technology longer, resulting in a greater sophistication in its use. Our Adventures in Italy trips, I hope, provide a bit of exposure for us, and perhaps a recognition that Italians are farther down the road with phone use, and there is something to learn. Ever the optimist!

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