Venice is Numero Uno! (Or is that #101??)

Venice is not an easy city to live in. But the tremendous cultural offerings and great food (which you'd be hard-pressed to find in another city of just circa 60,000 people!) make Venice number 1 for me! And apparently I'm not alone... From VeniceWord's "Buongiorno Venezia" newsletter:
"The economic daily Il Sole-24 Ore presented the usual yearly results about the quality of the life in the Italian provinces. The results for Venice are in ups and downs. Generally speaking, in comparison with 2005, the city moves up the table by sixteen places and now is forty. More particularly, Venice occup[ies] the first place for its cultural offer and exhibitions as well as the food-and-wine connoisseurship. It is located in the middle for business, health services, quality of transports and standard of living. Unfortunately, it brings up the rear as regards the public order and, above all, the cost of houses: Venice is next to last (place 101 out of 103 provinces in all)."

Wickles in Maine!!

I don't get too much occasion to food-blog when I'm not in Italy, but I just can't resist broadcasting the wonderful news! Wickles, made in Alabama and called by my folks "the world's best pickles," are being sold in Hannaford's supermarkets right here in Maine, the land of the "wicked good"!!

As their website attests,
Using a secret 70-year old family recipe differentiates Wickles products from all others... Wickles (short for "Wickedly delicious pickles!") are a unique blend of dill, garlic, and sweetness with just enough spice to keep you reaching for more.
And it's true! Southern, sweet and spicy... What more could you ask for?!

In Search of Islamic Venice...

"INSPIRED BY THE Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition 'Venice and the Islamic World, 828-179'” (see July 2007 Washington Report, p. 43), this reporter recently traveled to the canal-laden city to seek out the art, in situ, which was influenced by the Islamic world..." (more at Travel Tips: In Search of Islamic Venice)

My "Footnote to History" on MetaFilter

Poor "Michelle's Mental Clutter"! It has been a bit neglected recently... not because I have no more mental clutter, but instead cuz I've got more places I'm spreading it all around!

These days, most of my history posts are going directly up on my Facebook page (in the vain hope that my students might actually read some of them that way!) Anything super-major important I go ahead and post first on Metafilter, which is a community weblog that ranks around 50 in the world's top-read blogs (whereas my blog, ahem, is not quite that well-read!)

That just leaves my more idiosyncratic musings for MMC, usually involving strange news about Venice and Italy that filter through to me while I'm stateside... And that's why my previous blogstorm has slowed down to a trickle!

Still, I'm not ready to join the multitudes of ex-bloggers... It's just a question of there being a place for everything and everything in its place, even if it is ultimately just mental clutter!!

So, today I'm sharing here the link for my most recent post on MeFi about original historical documents available for free through "Footnote"... Footnote to History on MetaFilter. Enjoy!!

The truth behind the Heineken Jammin' Festival?

The first analyses to assign responsibility for the collapse of the stage during the Heineken Jammin' Festival in S. Giuliano Park this past 16 June have been released. Wind tunnel tests that simulated the atmospheric conditions of that day revealed that there wasn't any unusual atmospheric event that contributed to the collapse of the stage's towers (confirmed by meteorological readings taken that day at nearby Marco Polo Airport). Besides, some parts of the structure, which were higher than those that collapsed, remained intact, thus contributing to the hypothesis that the whole structure was improperly constructed.

UPDATED: The High Cost of Pigeons!

Okay, it's been a while... but you can always count on Venetian pigeons to raise their ugly, vermin-ridden little heads sooner or later for a good blog post! :-)

NEWS. Last week in Ravenna, there was a conference about a common subject in Venice -- the overpopulation of pigeons. The findings of the congress contradicted what the municipality of Venice concluded a month ago that the solution to the problem was to abolish the sale of grain in St. Mark's Square. The only substantial remedy, in the opinion of the experts, is the distribution of grain containing sterilising drugs. During the same conference, it was announced that research conducted in eight Italian towns calculated that, just for cleaning and repairs, each pigeon costs the town about thirty euros a year, not including health-related expenses. Venice, currently, has more than 70,000 pigeons.

(from Buongiorno Venezia)

For those who are counting, that's more pigeons residents than Venetian human residents left in the city...


UPDATED: This just in...

A centuries-old tradition - throwing rice at the bride and groom as they emerge from the church ceremonies to ensure the newlyweds' fertility and happiness - is to be made illegal in Venice, the romantic Italian city of gondolas and canals...

The mayor of the historic city has taken this step because, whatever it may be doing in terms of ensuring the fertility of the bride and groom, the rice is causing an explosion in the local pigeon population. The 120,000 feathered creatures now outnumber the local human population by two to one - and their droppings and messy nesting habits are destroying the historic Baroque and Renaissance architecture which - along with the canals and colourful gondoliers - are the city's major tourist attractions. Feeding the pigeons in St Mark's Square, another popular tourist occupation regarded as a ‘must' photo opportunity by many visitors will also become illegal.

"Throwing rice at the bride and groom brings hordes of pigeons who then wait around until the next ceremony. The situation has become unbearable," says Marco Agostini, the city's police chief.

And it is not only the corrosive droppings that are damaging the city's buildings, according to the city's Superintendent of Architectural and Cultural Heritage. "The birds attack the marble and stucco facades of many of the buildings to get at scraps of food and birdseed blown onto and into the buildings," says Renata Codello. "Enough is enough. The studies we have commissioned show that the pigeons are causing incalculable damage to our artistic and architectural heritage," she said. Attempts to lace birdseed with contraceptive chemicals had no affect, she added. he
pigeons were carrying out attacks "like kamikaze pilots, or something out of the Hitchcock horror film ‘The Birds'," said a recent city council report.

Residents were banned from leaving grain or bread for the pigeons ten years ago; however, as part of the city's tourist package, 18 vendors were licensed to sell birdseed in St Mark's Square. Those licensees have been revoked, though the authorities have promised to find alternative employment for the 18 who will lose their present livelihoods.

(via VOX)

Well, lemme tell you... lots of little old ladies still feed those pigeons their day-old bread, and I'm not so sure that those feed vendors are going to go quietly. (They never have before!!)

Yikes... The Birds!

"Recently, following a research report from the veterinary sector of USL, the local health authority, the most pressing problem in Venice has become the pigeons. Eight birds out of ten are carriers of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can occasionally be fatal, while others transmit salmonella, fungal diseases, or ticks. According to the monthly tests, their health is getting worse. The primary reason is related to their excessive number -- more than 70,000 -- which is greater than the human population of Venice. In the opinion of experts, the maximum should be less than 30,000 but, to obtain this result, as has been said many times before, it would be necessary to eliminate the St. Mark's street vendors who sell grain to tourists who, in turn, feed it to the birds."

(from Buongiorno Venezia - The News from Venice)

On a side note, strangely, I seem to post my rare news items on Venice's notorious pigeons on the same day each year...

The Prize Inside

The Prize Inside: Lovely prose on food, family, traditions and origins from this month's Utne Reader. Enjoy!

Garibaldi held hostage by turtles!

CURIO. At the entrance to the Public Gardens in the Castello district, there is a bronze monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi. The monument, created more than 120 years ago, and the fountain that surrounds it are in very poor condition and the municipality has decided to start restoration work in the next few days. Such activity is normal in an old town like Venice, but it is not without problems. Over the years, the fountain has been populated with turtles -- more than two hundred-- that Venetians brought there and abandoned. The firm in charge of the restoration, however, hasn't been able to find anyone who wants to care for the wayward amphibians and, without a home to go to for the duration of the project, the municipality won't authorise it to begin.
[where: Via Garibaldi, Venice Italy 30122]

Even better than the real thing

Anybody who knows me (or at least has read "MMC") knows that my interest in digital photography was jumpstarted this past year by Stuck in Customs!

I just got my rss feed email with this beautiful photo attached, and it reminded me yet again why this is rapidly becoming a passion. As Trey Ratcliff, the brilliant photographer behind the site has written,

When a human eye is actually on location, it is constantly moving, adjusting the pupil size, allowing in more light in some areas, less in others, and the visual cortex actually works to build a patch-like vision of the scene. That is what we remember in our mind’s eye: an idealized super-realistic memory of the scene. [High Dynamic Range Photography] appeals to those people that actually see the world like this.

My own frustration with photography in the past was that the images never quite seemed to capture the splendor of the moment as I remembered seeing it. Now, with digital photography (and, not to mention, LOTS of practice!) I finally have a shot at it!

What's got me thinking again about all this? I've been to that mall in Amsterdam pictured above, and - as unrealistic as the image may seem - that's exactly how I remember it! :-)

Want some more Stuck in Customs (not to mention insight into how I remember stuff...) Check out the slideshow of Trey's "Churches of Italy" photoset! (Sampled below!) In the meantime, keep up the spectacular work, Trey! Someday I hope to be able to capture my own reminiscenses as well as you do!!

"I know my chickens"

Italian sayings are wonderful! "I know my chickens" - originally a farmer's proverb - would roughly translate now as "I know of whom I speak."

The image above is the work of photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia artist Douglas Gayeton, who has a show opening this weekend in California. For those who can't make the trip, here's what Boing Boing has to say about Gayeton's art:

Douglas Gayeton has explored Tuscany and the heart of Italy's "Slow Living" culture since the early 90's. With a keen eye for stories and an ear for Italian dialect, he he intertwines the literal with the figurative in a photographic approach he calls the flat film. To become immersed in one of these works is to experience a world where time is at once collapsed and expanded. Regarding his work process, Gayeton says, "I've always seen photography as being about a single moment, whereas film is about orchestrating a sequence of moments (scenes) to create a larger narrative.
The mix between the realism of Gayeton's photojournalistic photography and the text reflecting Italian popular culture and the oral history of the subject seems a perfect way to transcend "the single moment" and create that larger narrative! (Reminds me a bit of a kind of refreshingly-grounded, photographic version of this lyrical mix by Howard Finster...)

More of Gayeton's work is available on PBS's website in a five-part photo essay called "My shoes are caked with mud: a Tuscan photo diary." I look enthusiastically forward to seeing even more from Douglas Gayeton, and hope you do, too! Enjoy!!

More dissing Venice (and ruining the Redentore?)

Seems that the Telegraph's doing an entire series dissing Venice this week... This time, they're criticising the privatization (and therefore "Disneyfication") of the Venetian Carnival.

Fact of the matter is that Carnival in Venice is already "Disneyfied"! It had largely died out by the 1980s, when it was revived as a way to get tourists into the city during the crappy winter weather months. Most Venetians hate Carnival, and skip town during it if they can!

But privatizing also the Venetians' beloved Festival of the Redeemer?? That would be adding insult to injury for the few, already tourist beleagered Venetians left!! (You can read my past posts about Venice's treasured Festa del Redentore here...)

Newsflash: Merchants of Venice have tourist and 'rude-tourist' prices!

*I* could have told you that! In fact, I did... in an op-ed piece for a Venetian newspaper once (which I alluded to, but didn't get back to on the blog, here).

However, the quote from the article, "We Venetians spend all our time being polite to each other," is still kind of a crock!

Venetian merchants have tourist and "rude-tourist" prices

Getting ready for the Palio!

Here are some more snapshots taken in Siena during preparations for the last Palio in July. (You can read, if you'd like, my blog post about it here!)

These shots are mostly of the little contradaioli, the little kids of each neighborhood who get free bleacher seats for the trial runs (and intensive socialization in their neighborhood fanaticism!)

Want to see more? The next Palio will be run Aug. 16!

Today's Photos: From Rome's Capitoline Museums

Remember my blog post about the "Road Less Taken"? I have a nasty habit of wanting to feel like I've still accomplished something when my plans wind up being thwarted, so - after discovering the Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome was closed - I schlepped back downtown in the blazing heat, past the Colloseum, past the ancient Roman Forums, and up the Capitoline Hill in order to visit the Capitoline Museums, which I'd never seen before.

There are some FAMOUS ancient Greco-Roman statues there... The She-Wolf who suckled Romulus & Remus, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, remnants of the colossal statues of the Emperor Constantine, not to mention "The Dying Gaul," (which I accidently called in Italian "the Dying Rooster... Oops!) All told, I wound up spending FOUR HOURS inside (and afterwards I was so exhaused from walking all around the city and then doing the museum that I could hardly move!)

The photos posted on Flickr today are some random ones of the minor statues in the museum, but ones I really kinda liked nonetheless. You're not likely to see many of these in your average art book, so I thought I'd share them with you here... Enjoy!

Photos for Dr. Dale... (plus site!)

Here's a couple of photos for my favorite criminologist...

First, a police boat on Venice's Grand Canal, then a police segway in the train station of Florence!

Photos Starring... The Gondola!

Tom gives us a couple of links about the new, first female gondolier of Venice. (I've not managed to catch a glimpse of her around town yet though...)

On that note, the latest photos I've posted on Flickr feature that incomparable Venetian trademark, the Gondola!

I'm not sure I've seen a better description of the boat than that from "101 Buildings to See in Venice":
"The gondola is an important part of the Venetian scene, more than folklore it is a typical lagoon boat; it is the product of an ancient constructional art improved on through the centuries to create an object which is perfect both from the functional and from the aesthetic point of view. It might almost be a product of industrial design or, rather, of nature, like the seashell. From the functional point of view the gondola embodies the characteristics of other typical lagoon boats, also very beautiful, such as the "caorlina" or the "sandolo": lightness, shallow draught, minimum resistence to water, great manoeverability, remarkable carrying capacity in relation to its weight and size. These characteristics are strictly bound to the topographical needs of the city. A gondola is a very tough and complex structure, the hull alone is made of 280 pieces of seven different kinds of wood. Intended normally to be rowed by a single oar, the gondola has an asymmetrical plan, being more curved to the left than to the right, to balance the side thrust of the oar; it is also asymmetrical in section, leaning to the right, to balance the weight of the gondoliere. From an aesthetical point of view the gondola has been traditionally famous for its elegant shape; it has numerous interesting details, besides the "ferro" on the prow, there is the "forcola", rowlock of walnut wood, carved like a piece of sculpture. The poop daringly high about the water level, jutting out to take the weight of the gondoliere, with its absolutely pure line, it is perhaps from an architectural point of view the most beautiful part of the gondola."
You can see what they mean in my sidebar slideshow! Enjoy!!

My prediction about Potter...

Actually, I'm not going to make any plot predictions. Instead...

Well, it's now yesterday's news (literally!) that Last Harry Potter leaks online.

All I can suggest is that it would be beyond utter and thorough brillance for the publishers themselves to have deliberately leaked false versions of the book. Decoys, as it were... (Get it?)

Can you just imagine? It might dissuade some folks from continuing to try to get an illicit preview copy if they think that one (or more) is already out there. Plus, you'd have thousands of rabid Potter fans reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of alternative versions in the days before the release... only to announce - at, say, 11 pm on the 20th - that they were all hoaxes. Why, it would be a public-relations (not to mention, security) coup!

It may not turn out to be true... but I hope that it is! It would be such an artful blending of art and reality, fact and fiction... revealing the continuities (even simulacrum?) between the power (and illusion) of both Harry's magic in the world of the books and that of the Information Revolution in the Internet of our own... "Confundus," anyone?

UPDATE: Apparently, some folks on Metafilter have much the same suspicions that I do (although maybe less charitably...)

Still, in the ensuing discussion, there were some priceless "spoilers" mentioned, like...
  • "Voldemort is Keyser Soze."
  • "Rosebud was the name of his broom."
  • "A naked Harry wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and Bob Newhart!!!"
  • "Harry actually dreamed the whole rescue, and is really still in the torture chamber. Oh, and Hermoine is a man."

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat... in Rome!

A note on the new pictures I've posted on Flickr... These photos were taken at the "Area Sacra" at Torre Argentina in Rome at the end of last month.

As you can see from the pictures, the ruins of at least 4 ancient Roman temples (some of the oldest ever found in the city!) were discovered here in the 1920s. Because this is now, as a result, a protected area smack dab in the middle of Rome, it - like the Colloseum and the Roman Forums - became preferred haunts of the Roman stray cats. So much so that now there's officially a cat sanctuary here (which you can visit virtually at and at last count there were something like 250 felines who call these ruins home! (And you thought that your local cat lady had a lot!!)

A few years ago, I actually saw a documentary called "Cats of Rome," directed by Michael Hunt, who spent - I heard - something like 3 years filming the project. In it, they discovered that these stray cats actually behave a lot like prides of lions on the African savannah! In fact, I felt kinda like I was on safari when I took these photos... :-) Not to mention that I couldn't get "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" from "The Aristocats" out of my head!

What's more, in the Italian version (called the "Aristogatti"), O'Malley is actually dubbed with a Roman accent and calls himself "Romeo"! He continues in Roman dialect to say that he's "er mejio del colosseo" (or "the best cat in the whole Colosseum!" And, believe you me, with all those cats, that's really saying something!!)

P.S. Want to lend a hand to the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which has no government funding and lives off donations alone? According to ArkOnline...

Torre Argentina urges animal lovers to send letters to Prof. La Rocca, the Roman authority in charge of the archeological site of Torre Argentina. Please ask La Rocca to approve plans for linking the shelter with the city's sewer system, so that the shelter can have proper drainage, running water, and toilet facilities.

For $15 a month, you can provide food and medicine for the cat of your choice. Torre Argentina will send you a picture and update on your feline friend and their life in Rome. To meet some of the cats... [write]

Additional tax deductible donations can be made in the United States through "In Defense of Animals," 131 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, CA 94941 (Be sure and write "For Torre Argentina Cats" on the front of the check)... Contributions can also be sent to Silvia Viviani, Via Marco Papio 15, 00175 Roma, Italy. Tel: 0348-384-5853 from 11 am to 7 p.m. (Roman time)."

Activating Architecture: Angelo Branduardi plays Venice

Ever heard of "activating architecture"?

Most of us probably hardly notice much architecture... We think of it (if we think of it at all) as a passive structure, doing nothing but sheltering us from the elements as we go about our daily business. But when we "activate" architecture, in the most basic sense, we (consciously or subconsciously) deliberately interact with it, creating new, greater meanings and experiences as a result.

Perfect example was a *free* concert given in Venice last night by a major Italian artist, Angelo Branduardi. Now, it's hard to explain Branduardi if you haven't heard him (which you can do on his MySpace page, if you want...) He's kinda like a mix of Pink Floyd, ELO and Peter Gabriel, that is, if they were to play celtic/medieval music.

And the venue was extra-special! Branduardi played in the Basillica of Saints John & Paul (Santi Giovanni e Paolo), a medieval, Gothic church which would more than suffice as a cathedral in most cities (but just happens to have to play second fiddle, as it were, to Saint Mark's Cathedral here in Venice...)

Now, clever me... I managed to forget any and all of my little electronic gadgets which would have permitted me to share just a small snippet of the experience with you. (Actually, that's not quite true... I had managed to bring my digital camera; I just had forgotten its battery at home in the charger! Argh!!) So, let's see if I can even vaguely reconstruct the experience for you, here and now, approximating it with photos from Branduardi's fan club page...

The picture at right is a photo of the interior of the church (from its Wikipedia page, taken from near the high altar, looking back down the nave toward the entrance of the basilica). Needless to say, it's huge (just check out the difference in scale between the people and the ceilings!)

Imagine, if you will, this scene at night... and the church filled to standing room only. The focus of the concert was a pared-down presentation of Branduardi's album of songs to celebrate Saint Francis of Assisi. So, amplified, electric medieval music was reverberating off those splendid ceilings... (not to mention brooding shadows of the statues of various saints and the tombs of long-dead knights and rulers being cast by the red stage lights and then creeping down the walls).

Now, I've often heard the churches of Venice "activated" before, by organs, choirs, string quartets, and even Tibetan "throat singing" and a Flamenco Mass... although not at the same time! :-) But what a beautiful sound resonated from Branduardi's electric violin, as he sang lauds to St. Francis!

Even more glorious was when he closed the concert with a sweet ballad which had orginated on the medieval pilgrims' road to San Juan de Compostela in Spain called "La stella mattutina" (or "The Morning Star") on a lovely instrument he called the chitarra-arpa (or "harp-guitar"). I found what looks like a cellphone video from a smaller, more informal gig Branduardi played a few months ago, so at least this way you can get a (very!) small sense of the artist, the music, and that magnificent instrument (pictured at left)! Enjoy!!

UPDATED: Tales (and pictures) from the road less taken...

"The Road Not Taken"
by Robert Frost (1920)

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I've developed a new habit when I travel... I ask the locals, preferably in the best aproximation of the local language I can manage, what is the most beautiful thing to see there that few foreigners know about.

In Rome, at a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall trattoria at the foot of the Esquiline Hill, the answer I got was the Church of the Four Crowned Saints (i Santi Quattro Coronati)... so I promptly marched (as promptly as possible under the blazing Roman sun, which was, like, a good hour or two) up the Celio hill to this church, originally founded in 595 A.D.

There I met an elderly English gentleman, who'd just done the same... I told him my story, and he said that the folks at the restaurant were absolutely right... He'd first seen the church over 50 years earlier, when he was studying on a scholarship in Rome in the years after the war. There'd he'd seen a tiny little palm tree just starting to grow in the cloister garden. A few years later, he went back, and the same little tree was by that point astoundingly tall.

And now, here he was a half century later, and he'd come to Rome at least in part just to see the church and that once-little palm, to see how that tree - which was nearly as old as he - was doing... He'd marched up that hill, alone, in the ferocious heat like I did, only to discover that the Augustinian Sisters who occupy the convent and church were in the middle of closed religious devotions, and the church would not be open to the public as a result until the following week. And thus we traipsed right back down the Celio hill (the view of Colloseum at right was taken from that very street on the long way back...)

So, I guess the moral of the story is that we can't reasonably expect everything to be open 24/7 on the road less travelled! :-)

Still, I was glad to have tried, to have met that kind English gentleman and heard his story. Plus, I now have an even greater reason to return to Rome in the future... Someday, I have to see that church (not to mention the palm tree!)

We did the same thing in Tuscany, and the answer we got was the village of Montefioralle near the town of Greve in Chianti (where I got the shot I flickred earlier of the basketmaker at the annual Butchers' festival).

Don't bother to try to look for it in any guidebooks... chances are that it's not there. Not even in the Italian ones! But it has just been officially named as one of the prettiest villages in Italy, and once you see it you know that it's rightfully so!

The village began as a small fortified settlement by at least 1085, and is even mentioned in poetry by the famous early-Renaissance author Boccaccio. What's more, Montefioralle was the ancestral home of the family of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who wound up giving his name to the Americas.

It was at this point that my husband, who'd until now just been patiently waiting for me as I was snapping my own photos, caught the shutter bug himself in this charming, medieval walled village! These photos are from his camera, while mine I'll post - as usual - to Flickr. Enjoy!!

Venice Photos

I wanted to post my "masterpieces" so far here, but I don't like how they wind up being displayed.

So, I'm uploading to Flickr, with links below to viewing them on a "matte". Enjoy!

View On Black: "Afternoon in Gondola"

View On Black: "Gondoliers at Rest"

View On Black: "Venice before the Storm"

View On Black: "San Giorgio Maggiore"

View On Black: "Venetian Sunset"

View On White: "Venus in Venice, '...supine on the floor of a narrow canoe...'"

UPDATED AGAIN: Excitement at the Palio!

Tonight was the running of the Palio, the famous, age-old horse race in Siena, Italy. Every year, twice a year, for hundreds of years, 10 of the 17 neighborhoods of Siena lay everything on the line to win this race, which lasts only 3 laps of the main city square and usually less than 90 seconds.

But the horses are chosen by lot. The jockeys – who ride bareback – are chosen by lot. The neighborhoods (called “contrade”) find most of their chances to win determined by, well… chance.

And yet the Sienese are completely passionate about this race. They organize their entire year around it, they’re utterly ecstatic when they win and they’re thoroughly despondent when they lose. And they’re even worse if their traditional “enemy” neighborhood (the “nemica”) happens
to be the one to win… That’s like adding insult to injury!

Want to see what I mean? These are my pictures from Friday, June 29th in Siena

First was the “Tratta,” or the Extraction of the Horses, in which the race officials drew by lot which horse would be assigned to which neighborhood. As you can see, a few people turned out to watch!

Everybody awaited each drawing with baited breath. People of the neighborhood kept track of every announcement on special forms handed out for the occasion, or else on scratch paper if they didn’t have one. (And the results of the drawing was the one and only thing that everybody in town was discussing all afternoon on their cellphones!)

When the contrada of the Snail (“Chiocciola”) were drawn to be the ones to race the horse Brento, the piazza exploded with joy. The residents of the neighborhood ran forward to collect their horse and lead it victoriously to its special stable (which you can see at right) for the event. Brento was one of the horses most favored to win. And Chiocciola had been feeling cocky anyway... Even prior to the Extraction, the men of the neighborhood (the “contradaioli”) had been leading their jockey to the each of the other neighborhoods and singing taunting songs in front of their headquarters. Now they were sure they’d win the big race 4 days later!

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood group we were standing in for the Extraction, the contrada of the Wave (“Onda”) were soooo disappointed, since they’d wound up drawing one of the most inexperienced horses.

But how quickly the wheel of fortune turns during the Palio! We came back to the main piazza (called the “Campo”) that evening to see the first trial race, or “Prova.” Again, as you can see, just a few people turned out to watch what in the end didn’t even count officially. Even still, against all expectations, we almost saw a real disaster there. No joke…

The one who starts the race, the “mossiere,” was unexperienced, and when he released the starting rope, apparently he didn’t do it quickly enough, and right at the start, Chiocciola's Brento tripped over the rope and fell, injuring himself, throwing his rider and knocking off two other jockeys (as you can see in my photos). But the trial race continued… and the previously despondent neighborhood of the Onda wound up winning. And previously exultant Chiocciola was nearly beside itself with grief, instead of victorious (as you can see at right) like they'd expected. How strange is Palio-fate!

Tonight, the real race was run. But Chiocciola wasn’t there. Painfully, the entire neighborhood decided to withdraw rather than risk the life of the horse (more than one of which has died during the race in previous years).

After 90 seconds and at least three other jockeys thrown, the race was won by the horse of the neighborhood of the Goose (“Oca”) by a nose over that of the Seashell (“Nicchio”), but then the city officials accidentally raced the flag of the 2nd place contrada outside the town hall by mistake. A near riot broke out between the two neighborhoods, until the ruling was corrected and Oca was officially given the win. (And that’s when the Italian national tv coverage ended. For all I know, the riot may still
be happening in Siena...That's how seriously they take the Palio there!!)

When the race is posted online, I highly recommend watching it. The passion of the Sienese over this race defies all attempts at explanation!
UPDATED: You can check out the video here!


  • The Palio della Assunta will be run in Siena on August 16th, at 1 pm EST.
  • The contrade scheduled to run are Giraffa, Leocorno, Lupa, Chiocciola, Onda, Istrice e Civetta, Bruco, Valdimontone and Drago.
  • The "tratta" or extraction of the horses will take place August 13th.
  • The 6 "prove" or the trials will be run between the 13th & the 16th.
  • The corteo storico or historical procession will feature more than 600 costumed marchers and performers, and will run for 3 hours before the race!

UPDATED: Stormy Weather in Venice...

Originally, I was going to take these photos and blog about religious processions in Italy.

(I'm not Catholic - at least not in any way, shape or form "officially" - but I love watching Italian religion processions. My favorite so far was probably the one when the entire village of Capri in southern Italy carried this impossibly heavy statue of the Madonna all the way up the hillside to a little sanctuary, at which point the band inexplicably broke into a rousing rendition of the "Mexican Hat Dance"! LOL)

I went to the saint's day celebration of Saint Anthony of Padua on Wednesday, where the main event is likewise a procession of the saint's huge votive statue through the streets of the city, together with lots of marching bands, boy scouts, firefighters, etc. all parading with him. You can see the Saint Anthony just being carried out of his basilica at right...

But then the sky on the horizon suddenly turned black with storm clouds and it started to rain... The next time I saw Saint Anthony at the end of the procession, he was going about twenty miles a hour as the folks carrying him sprinted for shelter in the church, just before all hell (pardon the expression since I'm talking about a saint!) broke loose with the weather. (See the picture... He was literally just a blur!!)

And all those people you saw above in the piazza? They all took cover under the relatively narrow archways lining the streets, where thousands of people were then crushed together tighter than sardines so that you literally couldn't move. I conveniently decided to take refuge both from the crowd and the storm in a nearby wine bar... (Hey, there are worse ways to pass a thunderstorm!) I did however come out just in time to get a picture of a double rainbow!!

Anyway, the very same thing happened yesterday, with far more devastating results. I don't know if you all heard about the disaster at the rock concert in Venice... No joke!

I had even thought seriously about going to the Heineken Jammin Festival: 4 days of music in a part of Venetian mainland, including the Killers, Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Iron Maiden, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and Aerosmith... But then I heard that the concert organizers were expecting 300,000 people from all over Europe, and I decided that I no longer had the courage to face such a monster concert, and I'm not sure I really ever did in the first place! :-)

Good thing! Weather's not usually too extreme around here, but with global warming and all, it's been acting more and more sub-tropical in recent years, with those relatively rare, but sudden, violent thunderstorms like I saw in Padua.

In fact, the festival had literally just opened, and only a few hours before Pearl Jam was due to take the stage, a sudden squall with hail and wind gusts estimated in excess of 90 kph hit the open field where the concert was being held, and brought 8 of the 10 huge light and speaker towers down on some of the concert-goers... Last I heard something like 50 people were injured with broken bones and the like, but thankfully no one was killed!

I could be wrong, but it does seem that I've been seeing more and more of these violent summer storms around Venice in recent years. I hope that before Venice sinks from global warming that it's not blown off the map first!!
UPDATED: Here's a video of the whole thing!

Who knew? Freshwater crabs thrive in Roman ruins - Yahoo! News

Mmmm... them's good eatin'! In fact, I bet they'll now be poached by today's Romans to within an inch of extinction... :-)

Phantastic Photography!!

I want to be Trey Ratcliff when I grow up!

His photo, Fourth on Lake Austin, just won the Annual Smithsonian Magazine Awards in the "Americana" category. Congrats!!

I not only continually run a slideshow of his stuff at the bottom of my page (page down to see!), I've blogged about his Bloggies-nominated photography site "Stuck in Customs" before. And it just keeps getting better and better... Right now, Trey's blogging about shooting Cambodia in his signature "high dynamic range imaging" style!

What's more, a beautiful overview to his work has just been launched at, where you can gaze and marvel at slide shows of his portfolio, subtitled "Yearn," "Aspire," "Hope," and "Dream." Don't miss a single section!!

The Art of Deja Vu

"Minnesota photographer Thomas Allen cuts illustrations from the covers and interior pages of pulp novels and kids' books, turns them into 3D scenes and photographs them." More at Thomas
Allen's "Pulp Fiction"
This clever online exhibit is not to be missed... but what caught my eye was that I remember the image to the right from my childhood!

It was from that obligatory copy of the children's illustrated Bible that was always in doctors' office waiting rooms at least as late as the 1970s!

2nd Annual Zombie Kickball Game!

I guess I missed the sporting event in Portland this past Memorial Day weekend: the second annual "Zombie Kickball Game"! (You gotta love the timing...)

Coverage of this year's ZKBII is here at Strange Maine.

Group photo of the "Zombie Bleachers" taken by SM's editor Michelle (no relation...)
You can see video taken of this gory group photo here!

Witness all the brain-eating, ball-kicking mayhem from last year in a rough-cut of a documentary which will be screened at the "Fear No Film" Film Festival in Salt Lake City this upcoming June!

(Not to mention the Flickr set... and this year's developing coverage in the Zombie Athletics League Flickr pool!)

Here's hoping that they'll arise again next year!!

Post Script: Wanna be warned if they do? Make "friends" with!

Hieronymus Bosch Action Figures!

You loved "The Garden of Earthly Delights"! (After all, who doesn't??)

Now you can play with all the characters at home with the "Hieronymus Bosch Action Figures"!!

What does your birthdate mean??

Your Birthdate: May 29

You have the mind of an artist, even if you haven't developed the talent yet. Expressive and aware, you enjoy finding new ways to share your feelings. You often feel like you don't fit in - especially in traditional environments. You have big dreams. The problem is putting those dreams into action.

Your strength: Your vivid imagination

Your weakness: Fear of failure

Your power color: Coral

Your power symbol: Oval

Your power month: November

What Does Your Birth Date Mean?

Getting Ready for Venice (or Just Summer!): "How To Save Your Wet Cell Phone"

Dropped your phone in the canal? I haven't (yet) in Venice, but my Venetian hubby has! (Of course, he was rowing at the time, so that's a pretty good excuse...)

The good folks at SquareTrade Warranty just sent an email though that seems incredibly useful! Enjoy!!

(Or, should I say, I hope you won't have to!!!)

So you went swimming with your cell phone again, or accidentally spilled Gatorade on it. Hey, it happens, but there are ways to recover from the Red Dot of Death if you're fast enough. Get it out of the water and remove both the battery and the SIM card. Dry everything off, and then wait. And I mean wait... (read more here!)

"The College Prank as Viral Video"

Type 'college prank' into YouTube and you will be greeted with hundreds of videos. Most will be really, really dumb. Many won't even be pranks at all. Some will make you furrow your brow, shake your head, and fear for the future of our country. But a few of them push the art of the prank to new heights...

Check them out here, at the Chronicle of Higher Education!

(via Arts and Letters Daily)

Yes, they are just plain extraordinarily silly... and yet, they're things of beauty and a joy forever!

And note to my students... don't get any wise ideas!! (LOL)

UPDATED - Back in Business: A "Sinking Feeling in Venice"

Ah, long time no blog... But it's getting to be that time of the year again that my blogging need not be taken up by all my classes, and I can actually do some stuff that's recreational! YAY!!

For example... According to the China Post from earlier this week...

Sinking feeling in Venice over glass and steel bridge:

It has been called "the world's longest bridge", not because of the distance it should cover -- 94 meters, but because of the time it has taken to build -- 11 years and counting.

Now, a planned glass and steel bridge over Venice's Grand Canal is also threatening to cause irreparable damage... Experts have calculated that the 52-ton structure will create a downward force of 1,500 tons, equivalent to 75 large lorries. This weight could sink the sides of the canal, which have been built on a soft, muddy floor..." (read more here)
Uh, oops... As if Venice doesn't have enough problems already!

UPDATE (5/15) - From yesterday's "Buongiorno Venezia" newsletter:

"Drawn by continuing disputes about his 'creature', Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava arrived in Venice last week to view the situation in person. His inspection of the area where the bridge's foundation is being tested to determine whether it meets requirements proved to be, for him, very satisfactory. 'The bridge is wonderful and perfectly in conformity with my plans. I make bold, but not unsafe bridges. The delays and the increased costs certainly aren't attributable to me because I'm only the designer. The blame is on Italian legislation, which calls for the cheapest, not the best, firms and suppliers. In a special town such as Venice, the municipality must be free to choose the best.'"

Forget the "Da Vinci Code"! Learn about the "Waffle House Code"!!

Waffle House is a beloved southern institution.

Open 24/7, its cheese eggs and raisin toast were what got us through our all-nighters in College. (Even if we did - pretty uncharitably - call the place "Awful House"!) In grad school, it was a like a cheery oasis where I once ate breakfast on a lonely drive home on Christmas morning.

But at a short-order establishment where you can order everything in myriad combinations ("scattered," "smothered," "covered," "chunked," and "topped," just to name a few!) what arcane mysteries allow the waitresses and the cooks to keep it all straight?

The truth revealed by Boing Boing: Condiment codes of the Waffle House kitchens!

Mashuped Michelle!

Anybody who's bothered to talk to me about music over, say, the last year or so knows that I'm mad over mashups!

There are a huge number of compilations out there at the moment (which - cuz of the genre - may just not be out there the next, like "Best of Bootie 2006" at right!) Snap 'em up with you can!!

I'm particularly likin'em while working out these days. Both, sooner or later, give you the sublime moment! As they say down under and over at Mashuptown,

You are about to have what I call a "Mashup Moment". It's kind of like when you see a beautiful woman from're not too sure if this Sheila is a winner.... but you eventually get close enough to say to yourself "Wow - there is a God" (please reverse gender if you are female, or a gay male). Now with Mashups it's a bit different. You see the artists involved in the track and think to yourself "hmmm this might be interesting - I dig those bands" but you are still a bit skeptical. Then you start the track. Familiar beats and hooks give ya the warm fuzzies. Familiar memories rush in and take you back in an instant to a time and place in your life that bring back good time feelings. And then.... you get blown away. The track just keeps getting better and better. You think to yourself "How on earth could these tracks be mixed together to sound so amazing?" "How is it possible for someone to poses that much brilliance and talent to be able to figure out and calculate the endless mixing permutations to make the music sound as one?" In an instant your life is better. Your mood is enhanced. You think to yourself 'Life is Good'. And you can't wipe that f*cking smile off your face. That my friend is what I call the Mashup Moment. It is the reason we do what we do here at Mashuptown.

And, yes, there is a God! Mashuptown is my daily purveyor of musical miracles, keepin' me stocked and keepin' me stoked!! :-)

Keep up the jammin' work, blokes!!!!

Newsflash - "Tiny duckling has rare mutation: 4 legs"

I've got just one word for you... CONFIT!! :-)
Plus, the "teabag quote of the day":
Wisdom steeps in youthful moments. - Numi Organic Teas

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Different people have different guiding principles... For example, one of my favorite individuals is personally beholden to "harmony". For myself, if there's any such principle for me, it'd be love. Life is too short not to love all you can... That's why this is one of my favorite days of the year!

Maybe the more cynical might think though that it has more to do with this quote from Robert Frost than anything else: "Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired."
But I think Shakespeare summed it up best!

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Newsflash: Mega-Concert this summer in Venice!!

"NEWS. On Thursday, 8 February, the tenth edition of the Heineken Jammin' Festival, the most important rock music festival in Italy, was officially announced in Milan. This year, the event will take place from 14 to 17 June at S. Giuliano Park in Mestre, facing Venice's northern lagoon. The programme will include famous rockers such as Iron Maiden, Pearl Jam, Aerosmith, Smashing Pumpkins, as well as Italian performer Vasco Rossi. Attendance is expected to reach 250,000 people from the whole of Europe. "With this kind of event," Mayor Cacciari said, "we wish to show that the notion that Venice is a dying city of no interest to young people is completely false. The festival is not only important musically but culturally, as well." (via Buongiorno Venezia)

Stuck on "Stuck in Customs"!

Okay, I admit it... I don't handle obstacles well. Or maybe I do... I guess it all depends on your perspective!

First, I "work the problem," then I "overwork the problem" and finally, barring any success from that, I just go ahead and bulldoze any remaining roadblocks. :-)

Case in point, this morning: I've just discovered a wonderful travel photoblog called "Stuck in Customs," and I wanted to add a slideshow of its breaktaking images to my sidebar here at MMC. Easier said than done! Two hours later I had to strike a compromise... the sidebar proved too much for me, so now it's at the bottom. (Scroll down and click through!)

The photographer, Trey Ratcliff, specializes in High Dynamic Range photography. He writes,

HDR enables the photographer to create a color and light palette that goes beyond the normal aperture and shutter speed of the basic shot.In my judgment, a well-executed HDR image is evocative of the actual scene itself. When a human eye is actually on location, it is constantly moving, adjusting the pupil size, allowing in more light in some areas, less in others, and the visual cortex actually works to build a patch-like vision of the scene. That is what we remember in our mind’s eye: an idealized super-realistic memory of the scene. HDR appeals to those people that actually see the world like this.

HDR normally involves multiple exposures of a scene at different stops (i.e. +4, +2, 0, -2, -4). These images are then processed and tone mapped for contrast and luminosity settings in sort of a techno-custom-software-darkroom until a light balance is achieved.

Technobabble? No, it's pure magic! Just wait until you see the results!!

I first discovered "Stuck in Customs" because it's been nominated for one of the 2007 "Bloggies" Awards. Best of luck, Trey!!

UPDATED: Links for Friends (Plus, AAIIIEEE!!)

At left... Oh yeah, that helps! Yikes!! (Thanks, Presurfer!! :-)

More on evil clowns in medicine previously on "Michelle's Mental Clutter"!

And now, our weekly (or so) links for friends...

Firstly, for all the guys, The social norm of leaving the toilet seat down: A game theoretic analysis (Hey, I'm cool with it, but you never know who isn't!)

For myself & Marky-J, Cute Otters: The Website! (If we're good, maybe next life...)

Plus, for both the philosopher and language-nazi in him, I thought he'd enjoy "Beg the Question"? Get It Right!

Lastly but not leastly, for Doctor Beth, Guinea Pig Rescuers! Sounds like the name for an exciting new reality show, huh? :-)

"Michellaneous" Links, incl. Venice & Mythbusters!

It's been a while since I had time/stuff to post... and this morning I have a little bit of both! So here we go...

First of all, for everybody, Rick Steves writes about Venice's greatest institution next to Saint Mark's Basilica... the Venetian "pub crawl." (Funny thing is, he doesn't mention names of places, but from their descriptions I know exactly which ones he's talking about!) Then, the top crime neighborhood in the world isn't in Sao Paulo or Lagos. It's the Vatican!

Next, for Vippy Zippy, Economics in One Lesson!

For PlanetTom, the erstwhile Wesley Crusher recounts specific episodes of ST: TNG with tongue firmly in cheek at TV Squad.

For philosopher Marky-J, What We Don't Know and Mike Love's Geneaology of Influence, from "a philosophy buff who is researching data visualization, has developed an amazing Wikipedia hack... Genealogy of Influence allows you to visually trace the connections between the most influential writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians of Western culture." Lastly, but not leastly, Scientist develops caffeinated doughnuts!

My most recent entry for "Retired Facebook Quotes":

  • "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein
  • "The Brain is wider than the Sky-For- put them side by side-The one the other will containWith ease- and You- beside." - Emily Dickinson
  • "What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet" - Woody Allen
And the mega-galactic super-link of the day: EVERY Mythbusters Myth ON ONE PAGE!
(I like the 55 that were actually confirmed myself!!)

Newsflash: The March of History Jaywalks Instead!

Good friend PlanetTom pointed out the following news items for me!
Looks like it's a good thing I didn't go to the AHA this year!! But wait... maybe the story's already revisionist?

I sort of suspect - like the good historian I am - that the truth lies somewhere in between these two original accounts! (Thanks for sharing 'em both, Tom!)

Still, I think it would make a great episode of "Cops", don't you?

Next time on "Cops," the valiant officers of the Atlanta PD take down Simon Schama, Jared Diamond and David McCullough for LOITERING!

("Bad boys, bad boys! Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?!")