Monday, 16 July 2018

test audience

Having recently indulged the imagination by envisioning how iconic film directors might stage a meal presentation in their signature styles, we appreciated Open Culture’s showcasing of the very non-hypothetical compilation of television commercials (previously) created by David Lynch. Some were targeted for specific markets only, like advertisements for a very early incarnation of canned coffee in Japan featuring the cast of Twin Peaks (including the Log Lady) and a duly disturbing anti-litter public service announcement for New York City, but there are also some pretty anodyne and universal ones as well.

i would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough—that i should have gotten saint petersburg in addition

After reducing relations between the United States and its NATO partners to the worst state since the founding of the alliance (calling the EU a “foe”), Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin convened for a private meeting in neutral Helsinki.
Uncertain about objectives or talking-points, I think that this event was orchestrated not only to inflame Europe but also to disrupt (maybe primarily) Amazon Prime Day—to uncut the press outlet owned by the same entities, which Trump again called the enemy of the people. In his preamble, Trump made no mention of the annexation of Crimea, treatment of dissenting voices, the proxy-wars in Syria and Iran or the broad subterfuge operation directed in order to skew outcomes in the US presidential and other elections as cause for tensions but instead choose to blame “many years of US foolishness and the stupidity, and now the Rigged Witch Hunt!” for strained relations characterised as never worse—eliding over the entire history of the Cold War and dashing hopes that Trump will make any demands of his Russian counterpart or again don the mantle of leadership befitting a super power, rather than stooping to elevate tyrants.

relativistic astronomy

Ambitious projects like Breakthrough Starshot (previously)—which aims by means of a laser propelled solar sail to achieve a velocity of twenty percent of the light-speed and to reach the nearest star system to our own, Rigel Kentaurus, within two decades—could yield unimaginable scientific data even prior to arriving at their destination, as Universe Today reports, by demonstrating what traveling at low-warp looks like to for the vessel and payload of instruments.
In other words, the voyage itself becomes a practical exercise for the thought-experiment of imagining what a photographer finds in the scope of a camera accelerating to such speeds.  It’s difficult to say how much distortion that this so-called method of Doppler boosting might have, but the speed of the probe should result in observations that overcome—to a degree—the predominating red-shift (caused by cosmic expansion) and turn the light of distant stars bluer and to ranges easier to measure, bringing our picture of the Universe into sharper focus.  Furthermore, testing some of the tenets set forth in the theory we would be wiser for the journey, either reinforcing or causing us to revise our understanding of the Cosmos.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

he told me i should sue the eu

purl 2.0

We were delighted to discover that among the wide array of peripheral devices and accessories (previously) for Nintendo’s range of video game consoles included a full-sized, functioning sewing machine, manufactured by the company Jaguar and licensed by Singer, that plugged into the Game Boy Colour handheld and could be programmed to produce elaborate stitches and embroidery—as well as learning a practical skill.
It would have been pretty keen to monogram all one’s clothes. There’s a really in depth and well-researched video documentary of the sewing machine’s history, available in Japanese, European and America markets back in 2001. A fitting sort of homage to the fact that the first punch card readers were used in industrial looms to produce increasingly sophisticated textiles and patterns, there was also a video game (apparently only for domestic markets) called Mishin Sashi Senyou (みしん さし せにょう, Let’s have a Seat!) Soft: Mario Family that was a sewing sampler challenge of Mario Brothers goodies and baddies.

hole number five is called fin me oot

Now apparently turned out of Castle Mayskull, the self-described consistent and (again) very stable genius is staying at his Scottish stronghold.
Trump (we’re giving this monster too much coverage but he deserves no peace) is unwelcome there as well, what with the PM revoking his status as a business and trade ambassador and a prominent Scottish university stripping him of his honorary degree well ahead of his latest conniption of reckless impolitic diplomacy. New Yorker correspondent takes a look at another one of Trump’s soi dissant titles, “the king of debt” through the lens of the dearly rehabilitated golf resort. What do you think? Outlays of over two-hundred million dollars (the biggest expenditure by far other than the campaign) of other people’s money have gone into this revenue-losing under-utilised venture, leaving a lot of unanswered questions about Trump’s business model and again who has leverage over him.


heliotrope: a crab-like robot-plant hybrid follows the sun to ensure its symbiont stays fully-charged, via Super Punch

everyone expects the spanish inquisition: FBI agent discredited for having political opinions while the controlling party of the US government ignores the fact that its electoral system is compromised

because I was not a trade-unionist: “The Hangman,” an animated short from 1964 that explores what can happen when no one is willing to stand up against evil

caviaя: to celebrate Russia’s hosting of the world cup, a German brewery makes “caviar” beer, via Coudal Partners

keep calm and carry on: the Queen has outlasted twelve US presidents and can certainly survive a pretender to the throne

town cube: sensational Japanese car designs from the 1990s, via Things Magazine

choreomania: a look back on the dancing compulsion that seized Strasbourg five hundred years ago

Saturday, 14 July 2018

rumour has it

Notwithstanding conspiratorial thinking and demagoguery has all but replaced ideology in political discourse and repairing to such impulses is very dangerous for society, what conspiracy theories—aside from the Mormon account for periodic encounters with sasquatch being just sightings of Cain doomed to wander the Earth as an outcast for eternity—strike you as nearly plausible?
My favourite, the above excluded naturally, is that New Coke was not a marketing blunder but rather cover for a two-pronged conversion to its original family of products: one, the original formula switched from using cane sugar as a sweetener to cheap and abundant high fructose corn syrup; two, in order to placate those on the front lines of the US war on drugs, the new recipe dispensed with all coca-based derivatives, seeing its supplies in Colombia under threat. There’s apparently some credence to the latter while the timing is off by a few years on the former, the message is don’t drink sodas. If there ever was any merit or tonic to it, that’s long gone by now.  The above rumour is at best an instructive folktale or at worst, an affront against cryptozoologists.

l.a. looks or magic sharker

From our friends at Lewis & Quark (a.k.a. AI Weirdness, previously), we discover what results when a neural network is given the task of naming bespoke nail polish colours, with the help of a group of manicure enthusiasts contributing their name collection to the cause. Via my OED subscription earlier this week, I learnt that in 1999 a new portmanteau was put forward in the form of artilect, from artificial and intellect, but never really caught on.  Should we do something about that?  In any case, some of our favourites (many with a rather inexplicable gothic bias) included:

  • Ink Flame
  • Bloshing Glip
  • Batberry
  • Space Holly
  • Fire Splat
  • Murder Earth
  • Gold Be Tangeling
  • Social Mace
  • Twilight Mashery

Be sure and visit the site to see more and learn about the machine learning methodology and to even order a few select nail polishes named by their AI.

alien and sedition acts

The four bills passed into law on this day by the Federalist Party dominated US congress of 1798 made it more difficult for immigrants to acquire citizenship, granted the president the discretion to deport or imprison immigrants deemed a threat to national security and criminalised statements critical of the federal government.
Critics successfully argued that the acts were too onerous and persecuted those who disagreed with the Federalists or their values, codified at the time as a counter-measure to revolutionary fervour in France and the rest of Europe that was seen now as a threat to the newly-minted republic, and were three-quarters repealed during the Democrat-Republican administration of Thomas Jefferson. Remaining in statute, the Aliens Enemies Act was invoked during World War II to intern mostly Americans with Japanese heritage but also Germans and Italians and is still part of US code.


On this day in 1933, the German Reich passed a law outlawing the formation of new political parties, making the National Socialist German Workers’ Party the sole and de facto and unopposed ruling power and effectively ending parliamentary democracy in the country. The legislative branch, rendering itself redundant under extreme duress with some going into exile and many others imprisoned, ceded control to the executive, the chancellor and his cabinet ministers of justice and of interior affairs.

it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country

It boggles the imagination to guess how this might be spun or buried by distraction—perhaps the release of the petulant man-baby’s tax returns or the pee-tapes, but one unsettling coincidence, call and response that came out of the indictment of twelve Russian GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate, Гла́вное разве́дывательное управле́ние) agents for meddling in the democratic process—specifically and with standing in the US 2016 presidential election—is that when Trump dared the Russians to recover the missing email traffic of his rival, the Russians seemed to comply and deliver.
Scarier than the fact that some think that the condemnation of foreign actors exonerates Trump and any Americans involved in the campaign is that we knew about the timing of this request and attack at the time it was happening. The revelation of this indictment occurred on the anniversary of the disclosure that there was a secret audio recording system in Nixon’s White House.  At one of his Nürnberg rallies (which unfortunately have continued a-pace in support of his re-election and those loyal to his nihilistic agenda) on 27 July 2016, Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the thirty-thousand emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” following up this statement with a tweet. Though not addressing whether Russian operatives were responding directly to an order or invitation by Trump, within twenty-four hours Clinton’s servers were compromised


John F Kennedy with significant input from the First Lady choose the iconic design of the airplanes bearing the designation Air Force One and that standard has endured out of respect for both Kennedy’s memory and aesthetic principles for fifty-five years. Now reportedly, Trump plans to change the design, decrying that the fleet of planes don’t look American enough unlike his signature transport whilst campaigning and are lacking red accents, calling the particular shade of blue a relic and a Jackie Kennedy colour. One can only guess what sort of crass and gaudy redesign that might be proposed.

Friday, 13 July 2018

chamomile tea party

Under the guise of his subversive collective, we learn via Hyperallergic, the creative graphic designer Jeff Gates has channelled his talents to make a statement on the sorry state of civil discourse in the United States of America (their chief export it seems) by remixing antique propaganda posters to reflect the current atmosphere, a decline that was fermenting for years and whose vintage predates but possibly prefigures the slovenly scourge of Trump and his best people. Also curated under Google’s Arts & Culture portal, Gates has been prolific in his activism and there’s an entire gallery of images, newer renditions juxtaposed with the origins, to reflect on.

me, poor man, my library!

Discovered via Coudal Partners’ Fresh Signals, we appreciated the introduction to the vibrant art work of graphic designer Manuja Waldia, whose illustrations have been featured in several prominent publications, in the form of her commission with Penguin Random House paperbacks to design the covers for a new edition of the Pelican Shakespeare series, regularly re-issued with new research and scholastic updates since 1956. Be sure to visit the website at the link above to see more cover art and her other works that can weave a story all on their own merit.


In 1975, electronic and experimental music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen (*1928 - †2007) composed twelve melodic character pieces representing the twelve signs of the zodiac, structured in a mathematically interesting manner and originally arranged for music boxes, though it can be played on any suitable instrument or even sung. Contracting with a Swiss manufacturer (which is one of the last firms specialising in making music boxes), Stockhausen made the custom music boxes commercially available and continued to be sold through the 1980s with later commemorative editions. Learn more and listen to other performances at the link above. Here’s a rendition of my sign, Skorpion, by clarinettist Liam Hockley below:


On this day in 1973 during senatorial investigation the White House deputy chief of staff revealed the existence of a secret taping and tapping system installed in the Oval Office and Camp David and on chief telephone lines. Richard Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had installed a similar system in the White House during his administration to preserve historical moments, which Nixon had initially removed.
Two years into his presidency, however, Nixon conceded that there was no alternative other than an audio record to preserve conversations and decisions and had the elaborate, voice-activated system installed covertly, known only to a select few aides and the secret service. After the revelation, citing executive privilege Nixon refused to turn over the tapes to the senate committee, knowing that they contained incriminating proof that the president conspired to obstruct justice by directing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation halt their investigation into the Watergate break-in. Nixon’s compromise offer was to release summaries to the office of the special prosecutor, which was rejected and precipitated the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” when Nixon tried to dismiss the prosecution and intermediaries resigned rather than do so. The audio recording system was removed a few days after its existence became public knowledge on 18 July but a legacy of over thirty-five hundred hours of record, most of which has not been reviewed or transcribed, remain.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

judicial advocacy

For those of us playing along but liable to fall for the prat-falls of distraction and chaos in civil affairs Fresh Air steps in once again with a helpful synopsis and discussion of those events of greater gravity that may have gotten buried by design or apathy with the Trump regime’s work-around to its poor and stymied legislative track-record by bolstering the influence and power of the judicial branch (a kritarchy in the making) with a sort of gerrymandering that makes the law-givers more supportive of the triumvirate’s executive’s agenda.
Trump’s handlers have discovered a means to short-circuit the democratic process and duly expressed mandates of society by installing judges whose conservative interpretation of the law and the US constitution leaves few matters untouched ironically by the guarantees of freedom from compulsion and coercion. Landmark rulings of this past session have—like the perversion of corporate personhood—have twisted the intent of the protections of the First Amendment to broaden its coverage to the extent that even safety regulations become an imposition and grievous infringement, affecting the standard of American exports and in general its considerable largess oblige. While I can patently say that such interpretations are abusive, it’s also fair to say that voters are responsible for not having done a better job in protecting and cherishing democracy’s norms and institutions—especially for suffering fools such as these. Being a participant on the world’s stage is not being a dues-paying member of some exclusive country-club.

minor arcana

Via Boing Boing, we’re treated to a suite of Tarot cards generated with a procedural, algorithmic model that is similar to the technique used in video games to create virtual universes and randomised, extended landscapes and textures. This demonstration from developer Watabou was an entrant to a symposium dedicated to exploring the craft of making software that makes things.

illegals programme

Though not adapted for prestige television until a few years after the revelation, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s infiltration into a network of sleeper agents of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR RF, Слу́жба вне́шней разве́дки) carrying out long-term, deep-cover assignments in target countries—the US and the UK—that culminated in July of 2010 was code-named Operation Ghost Stories.
The modus operandi was to pose (some assuming stolen identities) as ordinary citizens and ingratiate themselves to academia, industry and government in order to obtain intelligence on US posture and economic strength. The spy ring of ten members was uncovered just days after of then-president Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to the White House and is blamed by some as the initial cause of the collapse in good will between Russia and the Obama administration.


Thanks to a FOIA request filled by a group that advocates for greater transparency in algorithmically based decision making, we are given a glimpse into how software companies are peddling predictive policing to law enforcement authorities across several jurisdictions. Whether or not the programme has any merit in preventing infractions before they are committed, the best practises and techniques outlined in the training guide make concessions to the accuracy of its precognitive abilities by encouraging intrusion and over-policing and seeking out minor offenses in order to boost metrics.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

no, you’re the puppet!

Idiot Trump’s predictable, petty
antics at the NATO summit are fomenting a dangerous distraction as the real and consequential crisis in the making (despite all the tantrums and threats) is the turning of Erdoğan’s Turkey away from its Western allies and towards Russia—a re-balancing act whose execution is seemingly more and more perfectly polished. I hope that the other members aren’t fully taken in by this side-show.

portrait studio

Considering all the horrors that the USA les enfants terribles are perpetrating, it’s a real challenge to provoke any sort of relief or respite touching this regime—so we are appreciative of the clever photo-editing work of an individual called Chest Strongwell. Such a repulsive collection of people have never looked gentler (or at least candid) but none of us are being fooled by this feigned innocence.

one-armed band-width or the magic of maybe

Via Miss Cellania—realising that all this wasn’t on the consent form, here’s a lecture worth considering before one next indulging in social media—or signing up in the first place.


Via Present /&/ Correct we are treated to a lovely antique collection of Samurai clan banners and cloaks from the 1850s, the late Edo, Bakumatsu era, sourced from two woodblock printed manuscript books. The name for the traditional garment draped over the Samurai’s armour is a specially tailored kimono tabard (a surcoat designed to show off one’s heraldic pedigree) called a jinbaori (陣羽織). Find a whole gallery of arms and supporters and learn more at the link up top.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018


wild boars: all thirteen team members and coach trapped in an underwater cave in Thai are rescued

i’m in the business of vegetables, let’s take a selfie: covers of popular songs with auto-complete lyrics

the purge: Erdoğan’s government dismisses an additional eighteen thousand civil servants (previously) and cancels their passports

art-o-mat: cigarette vending machines repurposed to distribute tactile unique collectibles

moral panic: how Tom Hanks’ debut film Mazes and Monsters informed parents about the danger of role playing games, via Miss Cellania

rip: heartthrob Tab Hunter has passed away

department of child-labour: more on the Trump regime’s plot to destroy the US educational system

omnishambles: UK Foreign Minister resigns over soft-peddling BREXIT

living daylights

The European Commission is soliciting feedback on the option to end the requirement for harmonisation across the EU for daylight savings time, citing the potential for negative health consequences caused by the bi-annual change and prompted by Nordic members who’ve dutifully sprung forward and fell back despite the fact that no hour of sunshine at these higher climes is won or lost.
Railway and telegraph networks necessitated synchronisation and standardisation in the late eighteenth century and the concept of adjusting the clocks with the seasons was first proposed by an insect collector and astronomer (and frequent train passenger) named Charles Hudson in 1895 and was not implemented until the spring of 1916 with the German Sommerzeit as a way to conserve coal during the war. The current EU compact dates to 1980, in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, and if repealed, the change wouldn’t be automatically nullified, just the participation of each member state. What do you think? Modern time-keeping devices can assuredly handle the changes and dispensing with the ritual will be certainly welcomed by many but time and tide admit politics and identity as well.

highlighting the remarkable

I know it’s an advertising campaign but this series, found via Swiss Miss, from German marker manufacturer Stabilo takes a highlighter to historic photographs to help call-out the overlooked contributions of women to science and governance is pretty enlightening.

There’s just a few images in this print-run but surely there’s a lot of untapped potential out there. First Lady Edith Wilson, who assumed the roles and responsibilities of the US president after her husband was debilitated with a stroke in October 1919 (prior to the Presidential Succession Act and even before universal suffrage in the US) is included, as well as the pictured Austrian- Swiss physicist Lise Meither, whose celebrated career and academic recognition is overshadowed by the failure of the Nobel Prize committee to acknowledge her essential role in the discovery of nuclear fission in the 1930s.

Monday, 9 July 2018

distracted boyfriend

English Rococo painter and portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds is perhaps best remembered for his commission depicting celebrated theatre manager, playwright and Shakespearian company actor David Garrick. Reynolds’ Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy from 1761 and displayed at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is an allegory of the Renaissance romancing of Hercules’ uncomfortable choice between pleasure over virtue and seems quite memetic indeed. How would you caption these characters? Do let us know.

master negotiator


For his upcoming coffee table edition of Habitat, Augsburger crop-dusting photographer and graphic designer Tom Hegen, we learn via My Modern Met, has scoured the Earth capturing one of humanity’s oldest forms of environmental interventions—harvesting salts and other minerals through evaporation. The intermediate and legacy effects of these pools and ponds yield vibrant and brilliant abstractions from a privileged perspective—hosting high concentrations of different halophilic algae and bacteria at various stages that looks like a Mondrian composition, and hopefully stirs the observer to consider our intrusions and mediations in a different manner as well.   Be sure to visit the links above more explosively colourful landscaped gradients.


For hundreds of years people have observed the phenomena of ballooning or kiting behaviour by small spiders that allow them to launch themselves and glide for hundreds of kilometres over land and sea, suspended aloft on gossamer leads.
Even the German term for “Indian summer,” Altweiber-sommer, references the season when the winds fill with errant webs, but for nearly as long as people have noticed this mode of transport, we learn via Dave Log, something has also struck naturalists as aerodynamically incomplete about the explanation that they were just haplessly bobbing along. Researchers, experimenting on past suppositions, are discovering that spiders are not only harnessing the wind but also electrostatic forces to take to the skies, steering their course by sensing and negotiating the Earth’s inchoate magnetic field and the discharge of lightning. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

main street, usa

Our gratitude once again to Nag on the Lake for acquainting us with the enigmatic and extensive catalogue of historic, nostalgic photography of Barry L Gfeller.
A seemingly solitary person who lived and died in his childhood home was surprisingly well-travelled and his survivors were shocked to find among his legacy over fifty thousand snap-shots documenting over two decades of road-trips across the United States and Canada, fossilising impressions of Main Streets that in many cases no longer exist. Caretakers are actively searching out a permanent home that could host all the pictures and make them available to the public and to researchers. The current host website is pretty sophisticated, nonetheless, and features interactive maps where one can trace Gfeller’s travels and perhaps find a vintage scene of one’s own town. Be sure to visit the links above to learn more.

purse-spective or beyond the valley of secret treasures

Via the splendiferous Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links (a quite nice tradition) we encounter street artist Thrashbird who has turned an abandoned cement factory on the Oregon-Idaho border—all the limestone has been quarried away and now with the bust following the boom, the place is a veritable ghost town—into a giant and expressive canvas to make a statement on exploitation and industrial decay. Huge concrete blocks—perhaps test or sample structures worked up for potential clients—were strewn along the former factory grounds and Thrashbird envisioned them transfixed as monumental handbags—the luxury sort that attracts counterfeits.  Visit the links above to learn more.

it happens again and again, like the sunrise

A series of entries from marginal illustrations of a 1922 collection of southwestern Native American folktales prompted us to dig a bit deeper to discover an interesting anthology of Pueblo parables and myths gathered for a young girl with an insatiable appetite for a good story, sort of a Scheherazade character.  
Taytay’s Tales (being the grandfather who most often is the one to impart this oral tradition down to the next generation) feature dozens of Hopi and Pueblo stories retold with analysis by ethnographer Elizabeth Willis De Huff (in a fairly enlightened way for the time) and illustrated with the help of two young Hopi natives, Fred Kabotie (whose Indian name is the title) and Otis Polelonema. All the stories and pictures are available to peruse at the link above.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

thrones and dominions or patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

Though thwarted by the rise of fascism and its spectacular failure in Europe with the film being kept out of circulation for seventy years along with other laudable efforts of the Warner Brothers studio to make sure that the politics of totalitarianism weren’t glorified in North America as well (more here), the 1933 pre-Code Hollywood (the era before the Hays’ rules on self-censorship that curtailed what had previously been rather frank depictions of profanity, violence, illicit drug-use and promiscuity as well as rhetorically dangerous and subversive points of view, unchecked) production of Gabriel over the White House, starring Walter Huston, father of director John Huston. With the financial backing and creative input of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, the bizarre political fantasy, wish-fulfilment piece, named for the archangel, depicts a typically partisan United States president transfigured after a near-death encounter (resulting from a automobile accident) by divine intervention.
Congress makes good on their commitment to impeach the president (please visit this link if the video does not display), who responds by first nationising the production and sale of alcohol—the country’s ill-fated experiment with Prohibition (previously) having just concluded—then dissolving the legislative and judicial branches and declaring himself dictator (presumably in the imperial Roman sense, or perhaps not) and seizing absolute power. In order to speed the US recovery from the Great Depression in the interbellum period, the president directs the creation of a corps of construction workers to be employed improving national infrastructure and creates a federal police force of ‘stormtroopers’ to enforce martial law. Threatening to destroy the world with America’s new secret weapon, the president successfully lobbies global powers for a lasting peace and having accomplished his divinely-appointed mission, the president is quietly assumed into the bosom of heaven.


epa epa eeeeepaaaaaahhhhhh: Scott Pruitt falls on his sword finally but the US Environmental Protection Agency Chief in-waiting is an even bigger corporate shill

there are nicer ways to do it but the nice always fail: the power of protest music

a broken chain lies at her feet as she walks forward: Therese Patricia Okoumou scales the Statue of Liberty in the name of her fellow immigrants

angry baby: London’s mayor approves the display of a blimp over the Houses of Parliament during Trump’s visit to the capital

phantom islands: an atlas of maritime artefacts, via Things Magazine

mud larking: a massive curation of seven hundred thousand articles recovered from a single canal in Amsterdam, via Waxy 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

post-dated post script: sirmione

Having learned rather late that Manerba did indeed have a port sufficiently deep enough to permit ferries to dock and connect it to the other towns and villages along Lake Garda, we crossed towards Dusano and boarded the ferry to take another look at the ancient town and strategic port fortifications at the head of the promontory that divides the southern part of the lake.
Helpfully there was a chart of Lidl di Garda in the passenger ferry that we had mostly to ourselves to aid with orientation. A popular retreat from Verona and Venice for Roman administrators for millennia, one of the early house-proud famous residents of the resort town was the poet Catullus—versifier of love, invectives and works of condolence (opera singer Maria Callas was a later one), whom also lent his name to a grotto containing one the best-preserved examples of a private home of the first century and one of the town’s chief sites.
The other landmark of Sirmione is the bastion in the harbour, the Scaliger (nobles of Verona) castle compound built in the late eleventh century.
Surrounded by a system of moats and drawbridges that are navigable by nimbler boats still to this day afforded a protected place for the fleet—becoming an outpost of the thalassocracy of Venice and later part of the Austro-Hungarian holdings—to be launched and serviced in safety and shielded from enemy scouts trying to assess their opponents’ strength.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

post-dated post script: lago benàco

Framed by the edge of the Dolomites—between Venice and Milano—Lake Garda (originally Benacus in Latin, both stemming from the Germanic root for warden and guard) and hewn by glaciers, we found ourselves lured out on the waters for another, extended boat trip that afforded us the chance to see most of the towns and villages along the shore and experience the majestic sweep of the forested foothills that rose steeply into mountains, the Gruppo del Baldo.
We passed camp at Isola San Biagio with Isola dei Conigli (the isle of the rabbits) no longer connected by a land bridge and thus isolating the bunnies. I had wondered about this change since first arriving and noting that one couldn’t walk there any longer and wondering if there was that much more snow melt flowing down into the valley or if before we had just visited at a particularly dry time.   In any case, I was impressed by the efforts of the residents to curb plastic waste by installing rubbish bins exclusive for recycling packaging along side every regular receptacle.
We also inspected the larger Isola de Garda where Francis of Assisi founded a monastery originally in the eleventh century (now marked by a Venetian façade), the promontory of Sirmione with its Veronese defensive castle, the bathing spot at San Felice del Benaco, Torri del Benaco and Salò, once the seat of government of Socialist Italy.
Not long after we docked at the old port in Manerba and returned our boat, there was the sudden and intense onset of a storm that first kicked up a lot of dust into the air and turned the sky a quite peculiar and ominous shade.
The geological history of this region informs very a favourably mild Mediterranean, to include support for citrus fruits, generating winds (i venti—all of which are named for their characteristics) at the mountain tops that rush into the valley, only to return to higher altitudes at the end of the day. I was a little worried about the ducks but they seemed to take to the surf and the rough waters like champions and seasoned veterans—even the babies.
The swans too seemed especially dramatic, staying together and blending in with the white-capped cresting waves and the buoys that bounced around. Protected as we were in the cove, I couldn’t imagine what it might have been like on the open lake. It grew stormy over the next few nights but by morning, all appeared back to normal and the hot, still conditions returned, with hardly a trace of wind or rain.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

post-dated post script: manerba del garda

The town on the southwest side of the lake is the namesake Minerva (according to legend though some argue it was a later Roman assimilation and syncretism of a local deity) and is dominated by the promontory of the cliff of Manerba (previously) jutting out into the waters.
The rocky outcropping itself covered in the ancient remains of a high fortress where the local population is to seek refuge during raids—the Rocca, and other strata of ruins that document over ten thousand years of human occupation.

Thirteenth century medieval towers are built on the foundations of older Roman forts, which in turn follow the outline of a Copper Age necropolis, only discovered through excavations some four decades ago.  The entire site is well-marked and there is also a museum nearby with exhibitions of artefacts recovered from the area.
The shrine to the Etruscan and Roman equivalent to—wise and born fully-formed though less warlike than her Greek counterpart, Athena is found here with a view over the lake and countryside. Below is the peninsula and island of San Biagio, where we are staying.

Monday, 2 July 2018

post-dated post script: shore birds

We’ve returned to a very fine campsite on the southern end of Lake Garda (previously) but this time were graced with a pitch directly on the water, just behind a copse of reeds that despite the foot-traffic of campers and dogs, a variety of sea birds use as a living and breeding habitat.
There were the familiar friends in mallards and those more mysterious and wary black plumed birds with the white beaks that I called Nō theatre ducks until learning that they’re properly called bandicoots (Fulica—Latin for coot, a mud hen, apparently oder eine Blässhuhn) but judging by the multi-voiced chorus each morning, a crescendo of calls that formed this wall of sound, there were more sorts of birds hiding in the tall grass.
Later some sea gulls, crows, pigeons (the latter being strange candidates for cohabitating I thought) revealed themselves but we still weren’t able to identify all the cries, which was quite the persistent wake-up call with no snooze option. For warmth, growing ducklings sleep all tangled up, like a rat king.
I recall reading how in huge colonies, bats and other swarming creatures distinguish their vocal signatures by choosing unique places in terms of frequency or pitch but in situations where range is shared, I wondered how confusion was avoided—except that these diverse species seem to respect one another and wait their turns, going in a sort of coordinated, pre-arranged sequence. Here are a couple of audio samples, which became a pretty endearing accompaniment over the next few days. I wish I had taken a recording during the first few days before the weather turned stormy as the sounds seemed more distinct and there was less lapping of waves but happily all the residents and the reeds weathered the winds and driven rains just fine, if not a bit off key.