Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Short Cuts to Learning Italian - In a Hurry

(A post motivated by my tardy behaviour with Italian language learning tapes. I have done my best but time grows short)

Lets face it.  Italy does not have a tradition of being an efficient place.  At least not since the early Imperial times.  Things happen.....ah, when they happen.

So it is a surprise to me that the Italian language seems to be overstocked with synonyms for "now" and "hurry".

Hurry can be expressed as sbrigarsi, or spedire in fretta, or maybe even as urgenza.

Now can be rendered in all sorts of ways.  In what I think is descending order of urgenza it could be:

immediatemente - obvious meaning there
rapidimente - with haste
subito - at once
atualmente - presently
allora - well, in that case...

Missing from the list are a couple of words that are certainly Italian that have picked up new meaning when sliding over into English.

Pronto - In English this is a rather peremptory command.  "Clean up that mess pronto, young man". In Italian pronto just means "ready".  In Italy I think a lot of things are pronto, ready to go but just not happening today.  Tomorrow does not look good either. Pronto is also the word Italians speak when they answer the phone.  But don't assume that when you call a Governmental agency in Italy that when they pick up and say "Pronto", that they actually will do anything quickly.  Or at all.

Presto - In English this is basically a magical incantation.  "Presto, Chango!" means I wave my hands and it happens.  Alas, in Italian presto just means....soon.  Could be any time really.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Four Years and Change

My goodness.  Where does that time go?  It appears that I have been pecking away at the keyboard now for four years of blogging.

I understand that "blogging is dead".  I know this because I recently read it on the internet.  On somebody's blog.

The argument in favor of this being true is that other modes of communication, generically lumped together as "social media", have supplanted the old school method of blogging.  Blogging after all is simply a matter of writing things down and appending a few pictures when useful.

It has gotten me to wondering just what people are doing with their time, if not creating and perusing blogs.  For a while the answer was Facebook!, but that has apparently also had its moment.  Now that has become a place for old people to post pictures of their cute pets and grandchildren.  I have tried to comprehend Twitter, but if short, banal tweets have become the default method of communication I proclaim our civilization to be officially Doomed.  I am aware of other "stuff" out there, Instagram, Pinterest and so forth, but none of them seem like places where one could sit down and think for a minute on anything specific.

So I intend to keep plugging away.

It has been an interesting year at Detritus of Empire.  Visits roughly double in the spring and summer month, correlating I imagine with travels and archeology postings.  Or maybe that is just the time of year when the various eastern European spambots emerge from winter hibernation.

Barring obstacles not yet visible, this year's jaunt to visit the actual detritus of Empire should be great.

A certain amount of upkeep is needed on any venture so I am trimming and adding a bit.  On the "blogroll" I am dropping a couple of links.  I am very much a fan of Roadside America and of Gravely Speaking, but each is a niche site, of the sort that a periodic visit will suffice.

We are heading into a year of intense politics, and since it can't be avoided altogether I like to have sites that can counterbalance each other.  In addition to the Conservative viewpoints of Borepatch and the enigmatic Gormogons I am linking to Contrary Brin.  David Brin is a sci fi writer and Progressive thinker, and we have had many cordial if energetic discussions down in his comments area.

If blogging is in a reputed decline, web based comics are doing great.  Girl Genius is rollicking good fun but has been running long enough to have some inertia.  I am freshening up by adding Stand Still, Stay Silent, a newer creation that is following a fascinating narrative involving a post apocalyptic Scandinavia. It does not have a functional RSS feed so you can't see the latest updates, but the author posts great looking stuff five days a week.  Worth the visit.

A few links make it on in probationary form.  The Vindolanda excavations have been running a sporadic blog that, when updated, is very good indeed.  If they don't keep it current I will, as we say in archaeology, back fill it.

I have come very close on several occasions to adding a link to Red Letter Media.  This is a collection of brilliant crazy people who are both independent film makers and film critics.  Film philosophers might actually be closer to the mark.  Their work is often the stuff of true genius, but alas has a little too much profanity to be recommended to a general audience.

Ah, what the heck.  I'll probably get embarrassed by their juvenile antics and delete them after a while, but they are very entertaining.

A few other touch ups and Detritus of Empire is ready for another year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

After School Special 2015

Back in the 1970s one of the Big Three Television Networks - ok it was ABC but close enough - started a program called "After School Specials".  It was aimed at school children who were just getting in the door and gluing their eyeballs to the glowing screen. It tried to help them deal with life's difficult issues.  Divorce, depression, self esteem, etc.  The Specials were earnest, heartfelt and damn near unwatchable even to that less than critical audience.

They lend themselves so readily to parody that a recent domestic problem brought back the late 70s vibe in a disturbing, vivid flash....


"What's wrong Billy?"

"Uncle Dave, Mom has been acting kinda different lately.  In the mornings she is really crabby for no reason.  And later in the day she's falling asleep all the time.  What's wrong with her?"

"Billy....I'm afraid that your Mommy has lost somebody very dear to her."

"Gee, do you mean Mr. Nichols who lives down the hall?  I don't like him very much, he's over here all the time, and he smells like black licorice, and he's always telling jokes that Mommy says aren't very funny."

"No Billy, we're still stuck with that worthless loaf.  I'm afraid your Mommy has lost someone much more important to her.  Someone almost as important to her as you are."

"I don't understand Uncle Dave."

"Billy, I'm sorry.  Last week Mr. Coffee died."

"........oh.......but Mommy loved Mr. Coffee."

"I know she did Billy.  And sometimes when grown ups have to get along without something very important to them, like really strong coffee, they get unhappy.  Just like kids do."

"But Uncle Dave, can't she find another coffee maker?"

"Billy, your Mommy should be proud of how smart and how strong you are.  Of course she will find another coffee maker.  And if it is not quite the same as Mr. Coffee, it it is not quite as good a helper for her in the morning, well, sometimes even Mommies have to be strong.  I know it will all turn out OK if you are understanding and don't make loud noises too early in the day."

"Uncle Dave?"

"Yes, Billy?"

"The other day when Mommy was really sleepy, I showed her my Report Card, the one one that had a couple of C minus grades on it.  She didn't even seem to notice.  I liked that.  Is that wrong of me?"

"No Billy.  But be careful, that trick won't work once she gets a new coffee maker."

"Uncle Dave, what am I going to do next quarter when the Report Cards come out?"

"Billy, let me tell you about Mommy's other friend.....Chardonnay"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Short cuts to learning Italian - An Orderly Garden

Planning a trip to Rome involves a close look at the map.  When people of different, albeit overlapping, interests journey together this becomes important.

So, while I spend my time taking in a variety of ancient sites I try to locate nearby things that my wife might enjoy.  Gardens for interest.  There is a huge rose garden overlooking the site of the "Circo Massimo", and on the way to Castle San Angelo we go right past the "Orto Botanico".

This sent me down another side trip into the world of etymology, this time looking at how Latin, Italian and English intertwine.

Orto is "garden" in Italian.  It immediately made me think of this:

Ortho Weed B Gon.  It is some kind of hideous poison that promises to make your green growing stuff look great.  They actually make a wide variety of garden products under the "B Gon" banner. My personal faves are Ortho Mole B Gon and - honest to God - Ortho Snake B Gon.  Eve could have used a can of that stuff.

So, does the company name Ortho relate to the Italian word Orto?

Alas, probably not.  Ortho comes from Greek, not Latin.  It means "straight, true, correct".  Hence orthodontia meaning straight teeth.

Orto on the other hand comes from the Latin "hortus" for garden.  That root also gives rise to horticulture.

So an appealing theory on interconnection of words appears to be simply a matter of coincidental sounds.  Even though a garden free of weeds, moles and snakes would be a more orderly place.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Domus Alumina ?

In conversation the other day it came up that a neighbor's house was in the "Queen Anne" style of construction.  The opinion was offered that like as not Queen Anne would turn over in her grave knowing that the place had been covered in aluminum siding.  "Not so", I insisted.  "Aluminum was once a substance so rare and valuable that an abode covered in it would be an extremely impressive place.

In fact it would go beyond Regal and out into the rarefied category of an over the top, ridiculous and ostentatious display of wealth.

I would put such an edifice almost up there with the Domus Aurea, the Golden House built by the mad Emperor Nero as an expression of his megalomania.  Nobody is even sure how big the damned thing was, it is now largely buried under later buildings.  Some say 100 acres, others say 300.  The private lake for the estate was so big that it was later drained as the site for the Colosseum, which actually got its name when a colossal statue of Nero was moved there from the Domus Aurea, being towed by a team of 24 elephants.

But I digress.  The Domus Aurea was so named because it was covered with gold leaf.  Pricey stuff to use as as a large scale decorative accent but no doubt very impressive in the sun light.  Without knowing how thick the leaf was or how big the Domus was, or how much other stuff (ivory, mosaics, semi-precious stones) was used you can't put a price on it.  But as to a house covered in aluminum....

First off, Queen Anne could not even imagine such a thing.  She died about a century before aluminum was purified into a usable form.*  Of course it was known as a salt, alum, still handy for making pickles and such.

So lets pretend that my neighbor instead had a Victorian style home and figure out the worth of a "Domus Alumina" in the late 19th century.

There is a story that claims Napolean III of France gave a dinner party in the 1860s.  The most important guests got aluminium cutlery.  The B-Listers had to get along with gold.

The most precise measure of aluminum's worth in the Victorian era comes from a lofty, if less aristocratic source.  When the Washington Monument was completed in Washington DC in 1884 they made a special capstone for the great obelisk.  It weighed 100 ounces (2.8 kg) and was the largest piece of cast aluminium then in existence.  At the time one ounce of aluminium cost the equivalent of one day's wages for a worker on the project.  If one extrapolates the cost of the same worker's salary today it means that aluminium was then worth, in current value, about $300 an ounce.

Pigeon spikes?
My neighbor's house is a good sized place.  Using some quick math from home building sites I would say it would require 3,000 square feet of siding.  It takes about 1/3 pound of siding per square foot and at 16 ounces per pound and at our 1884 price.....

It worked out to $5,280,000 worth of aluminum!

Of course in the early 1900's newer refining processes made the price plummet, but still a time traveler would be impressed by the Domus Alumia.  Why, they even have a container out on the curb filled with empty aluminum cans.  And they are throwing them away!

Behold the Neronean Splendor of the Domus Alumina !
* To be fair there are some fascinating tales of Roman or even Chinese discovery of aluminum.  Per Dr Beachcoming these can end badly for the far sighted inventor!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Building a Beer Cave

 When you study beer caves you soon learn to detect various "types", various methods of construction.

The ideal set up of course would be a cliff with a natural cavern that you can simply expand and move into.  Next best would be an area of what is called "St. Peter sandstone", a type of stone that can be easily worked but which becomes quite solid once exposed to air for a while.

But what to do if you are starting a brewery where there is no handy cliff face?  My special fascination is with the smaller breweries, the "also rans" that sprang up in little towns across the Midwest.  Deep in a text regarding the history of one of them I found a discussion of how to build a beer cave, or cellar if you prefer, in uncongenial settings.

 Making Brew Cellars
 ...The earth in the selected location was usually excavated down several feet to where the dome of the cellar would start.
...Then the earth would be dug/scraped away in the form of a dome,over which carefully shaped limestone blocks would be fitted together, using the earthen dome as a form.
...At the top of the dome carefully fitted keystone blocks were put in place to form a self supporting structure.  
...Earth was then packed tightly on top of the limestone dome to the desired depth. 
...The earthen ‘form’ inside the limestone dome was then removed.
...End walls and doors were built.
...Limestone mortar was sometimes utilized but in general the limestone blocks of the cellars dome were shaped so accurately that they were self supporting and mortar not needed or used.
...Not only brew cellars were made in this fashion but merchant and home cold storage cellars were constructed by some settlers, as were bridges and culverts

This perfectly describes a number of "caves" I have seen in my wanderings.  Here are some examples:

Sometimes bricks, sometimes limestone blocks.  Sometimes it was the entire structure, other times just the entryway.  These "beer cellars" were not always the ideal solution for a small brewer, but did serve as the best available option in many places.  I suspect that most of them did not provide ideal temperature control even when stocked with ice from local lakes.

Since these were clearly less durable than solid rock caves they are harder to find and are easily destroyed by later building.  I think that in cases where a brewery existed and no traces at all of a cave are to be found, that this sort of thing is what was once present.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Arcadia Wisconsin

Arcadia Wisconsin is one of those out of the way little spots that manages to somehow attract a fair bit of industry.  It is home to Ashley Furniture, a rather large outfit.  And it also has a big "Gold n' Plump" chicken processing plant.  This sits on the site of a brewery that operated from the 1872 to 1949.  In 1910 it was a modest enterprise, a single building under three stories tall.  And only three employees.

The site has been extensively altered with a large area of limestone hillside sculpted out to make room for the factory site.  Take a look at the Google Earth view of the place:

                                                  Gold n' Plump

And in the parking lot right next to where trucks make deliveries I found what I think is the remnant of a cave from the Arcadia Brewery;

It has absolutely nothing to do with brewery caves but the Gold'n Plump company deserves kudos for some really fun ads a few years back.  Military Chickens!