Rome in December 2005

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Our visit has been a whirlwind of weather and visits to museums, churches, and notable places.  The Palazzo Barberini turned out to be a highlight for some incredible paintings and the Borromini stairway, also a trip by bus to the town of Frascati in the hills southeast of Rome.  It was a beautiful sunny but cold day and we decided to get out of Rome.  At an osteria in Frascati overlooking the Tiber Valley I drank young wine right out of the barrel (it includes some bugs which swim in the top of the wine, perfectly normal.  You just skim them off with a napkin if you don’t want to drink them.)  The wine was great, and so was the pasta.

A decorated shop window in Rome.

A decorated shop window in Rome.

We tried to go to St. Peter’s last Friday, but the crowds were too much.  The holiday season is in full swing now, many parts of the city decorated with strings of lights arching over the streets so you walk down a lit boulevard, beautifully decorated windows, and holiday cakes and candy being sold everywhere.  St. Nick is in evidence and there are creche scenes in some of the churches (baby Jesus not there yet, however….).  A very large chreche scene is being built in front of St. Peter’s, between the two fountains, at the foot of the obelisk.  It is still behind walls, and may not be opened until Christmas.  We will go back again to see if it is on view before we leave.

Yesterday we went to calcio (that’s football in Italian, soccer to Americans.)  We went and watched Roma play Palermo, in the Stadio Olympico in the north of Rome.  The stadium was built for the 1960 Olympics, and it really needs someone to take a firehose to all the ranks of seats and walkways… it was very grimy.  The trick is to sit on a newspaper.  It was raining and the players got wet, but we were dry since there is a roof over the seating areas. The game was fun to watch.  We had some season ticket holder Romans in front of us who followed the game closely and, lucky for us, they were not smokers.  At the far end of the field in Curva Sud (the

Fans of Roma in the south seats demonstrate throughout the game.

Fans of Roma in the south seats demonstrate throughout the game.

cheap seats in the south curve) were The Fans, about 10,000 mostly men, who stood throughout the game and sang and waved flags and banners and set off flares throughout the game.  At the Curva Nord were the Palermo fans, about 1,000 (Palermo is a long way away) who were almost as loud as the Roma fans, set off more flares, and were very spirited.  There were many security officers, and the Palermo fans were not allowed out of the stadium until after all the Roma crowd was gone, to avoid the possibility of fights.  Palermo won 2-1.

Saturday was another beautiful day, and we went to Via Appia Antica, the Roman Appian Way, and walked on the Roman paving stones.  We visited the catacomb of St. Callixtus, a very interesting slice of late Roman-early Christian history.

View of Rome from the Janiculum Hill above Trastevere.

View of Rome from the Janiculum Hill above Trastevere.

We have had several opportunities to overlook the city of Rome from high places – there was a distant view from Frascati, and also from the top of the Janiculum hill behind our neighborhood, and then from the front porch of the church at the top of the Spanish Steps at sunset.  Rome is a lovely place in December.  The weather has occasionally been tough, with pouring rain, but we brought enough clothes, and we are on our second umbrella.

Now we are embarking on our final week, and we still hope to fit in an expedition to Ostia Antica, but it will depend on the weather, because the site is undeveloped and we need a sunny day so it won’t be a quagmire.  The 5 day forecast does not look too good for it, but the forecast has been wrong before.  We have reservations at the Borghese Gallery for Wednesday.


California Dryness

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It’s dry.

At the end of January, I visit Sacramento, California for four days.  The moment I step out of the airport terminal at 9:30 p.m., I feel that all is not as it should be.  I grew up in the Sacramento valley.  In January, the weather should be rainy, overcast, maybe windy.

My mother and brother pick me up at the airport, and in the car the drought is the main topic of conversation.  When I step out of the car in one of the city’s famous tree-decked neighborhoods, I smell the acrid scent of a heavy layer of smog.  The temperature is a spooky, not-normal 60 degrees.  Dry leaves fallen from the huge trees have turned to dust underfoot.  My mother hacks and coughs because of the dust and smog.

“It hasn’t rained at all for 51 days,” my stepfather says.  He has a long memory of the local weather; he has lived here since the 1960s. The governor of California declared a drought emergency and asked people to voluntarily cut back water use by 20%.

What does reducing water use by 20% mean? my mother wonders.  It means watering the lawn with their lawn sprinkler system only about every 10 days.  The lawn grass is thin and dry.  They do not have a dishwasher, but wash dishes in the sink, using an environmentally friendly dishwashing soap.  We start transferring the used dishwater into a bucket to pour it on the roots of the roses, geraniums and raspberry bushes.

We turn off the water when we brush our teeth, and flush the toilets less often, unless what occurred requires flushing.  Run the washing machine with full loads only – check.  Don’t wash the cars or hose down the driveway and sidewalk – check.

When we walk the dog and find ourselves crossing a soaked sidewalk next to someone’s emerald green front lawn, I feel resentful.  Don’t the occupants of that house realize the seriousness of the water situation?  Water for drinking, washing and medical uses is more important than their green lawn.

I remember the western Washington drought of 1987.  We took brief “Navy” showers, and stopped watering the lawn, which turned brown and looked dead.  We collected water from warming up the shower, and from dishwashing, and used it to try to keep the most valuable landscape plants alive.  I had no vegetable garden that year.  It took care and dedication to achieve our goal of using less than 60 gallons a day, but we did it all summer.  Our water agency applied large surcharges for excess water use, to make people comply.


Ripples on a section of dry lake bottom near Folsom Dam, east of Sacramento. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

If it doesn’t start snowing in the Sierrias soon, California is in for a tough summer.

First inDesign Project Garners Admiration at the Copy Shop

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First inDesign Project Garners Admiration at the Copy Shop

In working my way through tutorials using a free trial of InDesign, I practiced font formats and placing images, and made this project for my dance troupe.

Touring Stonehenge with an Archeologist # 2

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Friday, June 7 (continued)

We are touring Neolithic sites on the Salisbury Plain with archeologist Dr. Edward Shepherd of the University of York, and Tours From Antiquity.  This is part two.

Leaving Stonehenge, the tour’s next stop is the city of Bath for lunch.  This involves a temporal shift of huge proportions.  We had spent the morning immersed in neolithic thoughts and open English countryside, and suddenly we are in a tidy Georgian town, with thoughts of Jane Austen.  We have a couple of hours to visit any sights we want to see, and have lunch.

The coach drops us in Terrace Walk, opposite Parade Gardens.  Ed and I go down York Street and step into Bath Abbey for half an hour, then we head west from the square and have lunch in a pub.  We walk toward the river and the 18th century Pulteney Bridge, which we admire, leaning on the parapet of the Grand Parade.  Below us is the Avon River, the same river that was the route for Neolithic people to float huge stones quarried in south Wales, destined for Stonehenge.

Avon_River_BathThe bluestones were floated up this river past…what? We need Dr. Shepherd.  We later ask him:  What was here before this tidy English gem of a town, and before the Romans?  There is archeological evidence, he tells us, that the natural hot springs, which were incorporated into a Roman bath in the first century AD, had a shrine to the goddess Sulis established by early Britons.  Viewing my photo of the Avon River, I can imagine that there may have been people on this high bank, watching the huge stones go upstream on log rafts, and perhaps helping provide refreshments and overnight lodging for the people managing the rafts.

Our tour coach takes us to West Kennet Long Barrow, which is in the countryside a few miles west of Marlborough.  Trevor pulls the coach over in a layby on the busy two-lane A4, and we carefully exit the side door, watching for cars zooming past , and sidle along the verge to pass through a wicket that gives access to the footpath.  We can see the barrow, a long, lumpy mound at the top of the ridge.  Our party walks up the path past fields of corn.  Behind us, on the other side of the A4, we have a view of conical Silbury Hill.

West Kennet Long Barrow is a chambered tomb formed of upright stones, covered with an earth bank, where archeologists found 46 burials.  It was in use by Neolithic people from 400 years before Stonehenge to 2500 BC, in the middle of highest activity at Stonehenge. The gloomy chambers are completely empty.  Edward points out grooves in one of the standing stones which holds up the roof of the tomb; archeologists believe the grooves are where people sharpened their bronze knives on the stone.  We modern people don’t consider hanging around a tomb in order to sharpen our knives to be an appropriate task, but early people may have had a different idea about burial in their culture.

Silbury_Hill_fromWKLBFrom the ridge, I look back at Silbury Hill across the valley.  It is the tallest prehistoric manmade mound in Europe, and required careful technical skill and, as Wikipedia phrases it, “control of resources” for neolithic people to build this artificial hill.  In its original state, no grass grew on the slopes and the hill was white.  The land around us has a chalk layer, and the chalk was used to finish the slopes of the hill.  The hill likely was hard to miss in daylight and looked ethereal by moonlight.  The hill’s purpose is debated by archeologists, however a theory we saw in a television program before we came on our vacation posits that the top of the hill was the location for a beacon fire.  What message the beacon fire conveyed — not sure.  Poor Silbury Hill; visitors are no longer permitted to hike up the  winding path to the top.  The hill has been subject to so many archeological digs, both careful and careless, that its structural integrity is threatened by further trampling or digging.

Our coach takes us to nearby Avebury, the largest ditch-and-stone henge in Europe. As we approach, Edward on the coach’s microphone points out a widely-spaced row of short, scarred upright stones that mark a neolithic avenue leading to the Avebury stone circle.  Avebury henge was constructed about 2600 BCE.

Part of the English village of Avebury is situated inside the henge.  Dr. Shepherd calls Avebury a “muscular stone circle,” meaning it is both huge and inward-looking, unlike Stonehenge which is outward-looking.  We walk along a curving row of tall, wide stones among sheep pastured in the circle to keep the grass mown.  Our archeologist tells us that the stones here have been moved, knocked over, buried, used in buildings, retrieved, and restored to their actual or possible positions. The henge has a mysterious, worn feel to it.  The ditch is deep and the bank, which is outside the circle of the ditch – the reverse of a defensive wall — is high.  It is astonishing that the earthworks are still so imposing after more than four thousand years of weather and human traffic.

Avebury_henge_villageEdward guides us to a spot where there is an inner circle of small stones.  Standing within that circle, it is possible to see the flat top of Silbury Hill beyond Avebury’s encircling bank.  This gives some weight to the idea that the role of Silbury Hill was to host a fire or other signaling method, which conveyed the start or completion of an activity occurring over there, which meant something to people within the Avebury henge. Or not.  It is one theory.

We have time to walk around before we need to return to the coach.  Ed and I walk a quarter of the way around the ditch on a path along the top of the bank. Strolling up the lane that roughly bisects the circle, we exit the circle and visit the Henge Shop, where I purchase locally-printed cards.  Houses in the village are neat and English, with lovely gardens, and the church has surely been featured in one or two BBC costume dramas.  I wonder what it is like to live in a village with a henge at the end of your street.

We find the coach and take our seats for the return to London.  We are all weary, and there is little conversation during the long drive, much of it on the multi-lane M4.  Between Slough and London the traffic crawls.  The tour ends, as it began, at the Natural History Museum on the Cromwell Road.

Dr. Edward Shepherd steps aside to bid goodbye to Ed and me.  He tells us how special it was to lead the tour today for such interested and well-informed people.  We made his day.

Recommended!  Tours From Antiquity.

Touring Stonehenge with an Archeologist #1

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Friday, June 7

It is Stonehenge visit day of our two-week London vacation.  At home on the internet, Ed and I  purchased tickets for a tour of the major prehistoric sites of the Salisbury Plain, from Tours From Antiquity.  At 7 a.m., we board the 16-passenger coach on the Cromwell Road, across the street from the Natural History Museum.  We have backpacks with coat, hats, and snacks.  After a week of pleasant June weather in London, today it is raining.

Our archeologist introduces himself as the coach proceeds out of London, as Dr. Edward Shepherd of the University of York.  The other tour patrons are a couple of families —  parents with older children – and other couples like ourselves.  We fill the coach.  The driver’s name is Trevor.

Dr. Shepherd ventures that it might be better weather out on Salisbury Plain, since we may drive under the weather front.

An hour and a half later we arrive at Woodhenge, not far from Amesbury.  As the coach approaches the site, Dr. Shepherd – Edward – takes the microphone and tells us more about what we will see.  We arrive at a broad flat grassy plot inside a fence, next to a small car park, surrounded by farmland.  There is a pattern of short, round concrete pylons sticking out of the ground, marking where the postholes were located.  In spattering rain, we walk among the markers, trying to image that here stands a forest of wooden posts – perhaps decorated?  Then Edward points to the pastures around us and describes the huge circular structure we are standing in, Durrington Walls.  Almost eradicated due to long years of weather, the bank is still discernible.  My husband Ed starts with his questions.  Has anyone dug within the circle, and if so what was found? Were any artifacts found when Woodhenge was investigated?

A field with concrete posts in it.

Woodhenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire

Edward answers, and begins to look at us with more interest.  He realizes he has a couple of people on his tour who are intensely interested, already have some knowledge, and want to know more.

Next stop, Stonehenge.  Again, an orientation from Edward at the microphone as we approach the site.  Trevor slides the coach into a slot in the small car park, which is already full of cars and some tour buses.  Edward is an active young man and he heads straight in to the ticket kiosk to arrange entry for his tour.  The rest of us are in need of a toilet break.

DrEdwardShepherdAfter an orientation at the map showing what the stone circle looked like at its most complete, we pass under the road and up the sloped path, and look left.  There is the henge, hulking in the field like forgotten project of building blocks mislaid by a giant.  We must walk around the circle on a tarmac path, outside a rope boundary.  No one is permitted to walk among the stones any longer.

Ed and I stay with Edward as we walk around the circle, gazing at the stones.  Edward pauses periodically to talk to members of his group about something underfoot or about the stones.  At the far end of the path, we have almost but not quite circumnavigated Stonehenge.  He points out the pasture where an ancient  wide route marked by stones, called an avenue, once led from the Avon River to Stonehenge.  If it were not raining, he says, we would go out there and walk on the avenue.  I am so sad, I wanted to walk on the avenue, but I did not bring Wellington boots.  And there is nothing to see in the field.  Edward had an archeological season here, in one of the many recent investigations of Stonehenge that continues to shed light on what occurred at the henge four thousand years ago.

In the other direction, at the far side of the grassy sward that surrounds Stonehenge, I see a small cluster of travel trailers parked on a dirt road near a lone tree. I ask Edward, “Is that a group of archeologists conducting a dig?”  He smiles ruefully.  “No, that’s the Druids.  They stick around and keep an eye on the site.  There is no proven connection between the people who built Stonehenge and Druid beliefs.”  But the site has been adopted by modern Druids, who gain full access to the site on the summer stolstice.

A field with some large gray standing stones

Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire

In heavy rain, we return to the coach, which becomes steamy inside.  Trevor drives west down the road, and we start to see heavy construction machinery along the road.  Edward tells us some astonishing news.  British Heritage is building a large new visitor’s center a mile from Stonehenge.  When it is complete, they will tear out the A360 that goes so close to the site.  Visitors will be ferried to the circle in battery-powered coaches.  No more diesel trucks roaring past the stones.  They will stand alone in a field again, except for the visitors.  I cheer.

Tours From Antiquity was founded by Dr. Edward Shepherd in 2011.  In seeking additional archeologist-guides in addition to himself, he wrote in the University of York Department of Archeology newsletter, “The USP [unique selling proposition] of the tours is the opportunity to visit these landscapes, the whole landscape, as we walk between many of the key monuments … guided by an archaeologist, offering hopefully a more detailed, passionate guiding experience.” He added, “The job itself is lots of fun, visiting famous archaeological sites, talking to small groups of people who are interested in the subject, and the daily pay is great … at least compared with the daily wage of many heritage-based jobs: I should know!”

I will return to the next portion of the tour in my next blog post.

Recommended!  Tours From Antiquity

Cook with the Sun

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A solar oven with reflectors open.

Photo: A Sun Scoop – Solar Cookers International

On a sweltering morning in his Sacramento, California kitchen, my stepfather, Don, places a raw chicken in a dark blue oval enameled roasting pan.  He adds a little oil to the bottom of the pan to keep the chicken from sticking, puts the lid on the pan, and carries it into his back yard.  He is not going to barbeque.

His solar oven is on a table in the middle of the lawn, its shiny silver reflectors unfurled like the petals of a modernist flower sculpture.  The unit is angled toward the brilliant mid-morning sun.  It has been there for more than half an hour gathering warmth into the central chamber, which has a glass lid.  The temperate inside is 350 degrees.  The whole thing, when its reflectors are folded down, is the size of a large suitcase.  He lifts the glass lid and places the roasting pan inside, lowers the glass, then makes a final adjustment of the oven in relation to the angle of the sun.  He goes back in the house and washes some salad greens, then takes a nap.

Two hours later, he opens the solar oven and brings the pan into the kitchen.  The chicken is nicely roasted, tender and moist. We enjoy a lunch of salad and roasted chicken – preparing and cooking it did not add a penny to the bill for natural gas and did not raise the internal temperature of the house on this 100 degree day.

Why does Don cook with solar power when he has a perfectly good stove and oven in his kitchen, and a microwave on the counter?  Because he wants to use resources responsibly and live lightly on the planet.  He uses a Solar Oven, a commercial item made in America.

In 1987, retired from a job with the state, Don was one of the first two volunteers for the fledgling Solar Cookers International, a non-profit organization formed in Sacramento, California.  He began to volunteer regularly with the organization, and he constructed numerous solar ovens out of recycled materials, and taught others how to do so in the US and in Central America.  He and my mother attended the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero as members of a solar cooking demonstration group.  At the conference, they joined people from several countries in showing the official  delegates various methods of cooking food and purifying water for drinking, using the heat of the sun.

Now Solar Cookers International Network has a global reach.  It is a league of organizations around the world that is promoting cooking with the energy of the sun to save lives, save forests, and benefit the environment.

Solar cooking is happening in more places than most people think.  Look in California backyards, Australian bungalow patios, in Kenyan open-air village kitchens, refugee camps in Uganda, Afghan communal kitchens, parks in India, villages in Mexico.  In my garden.

It is not difficult to cook with the free energy of the sun. All it takes is a little planning, and some equipment that a person can make or purchase.  Solar Cookers International Network

Lessons from Steve Rubel, EVP Edelman, on Social Media

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In 2011, I attended a seminar by Steve Rubel on social networking.  Here are my notes.

  1. Learn about Attentionomics – realize the value of attention, not just the number of friends.
  2. Be a digital curator – separate the “good stuff” from the junk.  In a business, curation needs to be collaborative and social.
  3. Develop engagement – make information about user needs accessible to those who develop apps and content.
  4. Use transmedia storytelling – “People crave stories.”  Stories need to be more visual; the classic beginning-middle-end is no longer the best model for a corporate story.  Equip employees or users to tell their own stories.
  5. Engage thought leadership – in a business setting, use the right people to engage in the social media space.  Educate them and fan them out in media areas.
  6. Integration – in business, social media needs to be everyone’s job.  Learn how to be a social media-engaged business or organization. Build a social media command center. Integrate and share intelligence.
  7. Ubiquitous social computing – social media is going to be everywhere.
  8. Content is no longer going to be consumed the way you “designed” it.  For example, what does your website look like on a smartphone.  Do your social media channels link to each other?
  9. Blend local, social, photo, mobile, tablet.
  10. Deal with social media overload – people begin to choose only certain channels because they are overwhelmed by too many choices.
  11. Make social participation effortless.  An example: Google will (or as of this writing already has) engineered their way to index Facebook and other social media content.  To leverage this, you need to change your headline to what you think people are searching for.
  12. Make your website more elegant and integrated with social media.
  13. ROI = Reach (how many)+Engage (how long)+Sentiment (what do users say to others about you)+Participation (do they sign up)

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