Back when I was in my archeology stage (mentioned earlier) I thought history was in the past. I made the distinction at least. After living more life and seeing history, I now understand that human nature is pretty much the same through the ages, even as circumstances change.

A pleasant place
If you want to understand ancient Pompeii, indeed visit the ruins, but then go to Sorrento, down the coast. If Pompeii was resurrected to modern times, it would be Sorrento, a thoroughly pleasant place where you can enjoy life.

Sweet drinks

The area is known for citrus and they made make an alcoholic drink called limoncello. We went to a shop and tasted some along with a similar drink made from cantaloupe. We bought a bottle of the cantaloupe drink and some lemon creme. Down the road, we got some lemon ice cream and Chrissy got a nice purse. What attracted us to the shop was the smell of the leather. They instantly gave us a 20% discount. I would like to credit our negotiating skills, but we never deployed them. They just list the higher price and give everybody that special deal.

My picture show Chrissy enjoying the lemon gelato. Next three are from Sorrento. Notice the beautiful clear water. The last picture is a St Francis chapel, popular for weddings. We barged into one.

Pompeii 2

Admit it. What attracts most people to Pompeii is not its wonderful life but its extraordinary death. We saw the casts of some of the victims. Pompeii had an estimated 20,000 people. They documented the remains of around 4000 and of those there are about 103 casts. Scientists estimate that the rest of the people tried to escape into the ocean but were lost at sea, since the volcano shook the earth and water and the gases did not sit only on the city.

The casts are not people covered in ash, like chocolate covered peanuts. Rather, the bodies decayed under the ash leaving cavities, which researchers filled with plaster. There still are human remains. The casts contain bones, but the ash did not make the casts.

Most of the casts are in museums. There are three of them still at Pompeii. You can see them, two men and a dog. The last photo is the Pompeii Forum.

Pompeii 1

I went through a stage as a kid when I wanted to be an archeologist. It didn’t work out, but Pompeii has always since been a place I wanted to visit. Well, we did.

When I first read about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, I pictured lava flows engulfing the city. Of course, had that happened there would be nothing to see today. People were killed and the place destroyed/preserved by gas and a heat shock wave followed by ash that collapsed most roofs and covered everything for posterity and giving us a one of our best looks at daily life in the Roman Empire in the first century.

Pompeii was a Roman colony, planted in the extraordinarily fertile volcanic soil. Until the unfortunate incident in AD 79, life was good. It was a rich little town, with baths, brothels and three theaters – a fair climate with beautiful mountains behind and the Mediterranean Sea in front. The Empire was at peace and competently managed.

If we want a modern analogy to Pompeii, it would be something like a pleasant seaside town in California. Carmel, Pompeii was like Carmel, or maybe like Sorrento closer by.
My first picture shows the streets of Pompeii. Those blocks in the middle of the street were NOT ancient speed bumps. Chariots and carts could not get much speed up on those ancient streets. Rather, they were crosswalks. It was not pleasant to set foot in the street. They were rivers of shit, from horses, donkey and people. The shit flowed downhills and eventually into the sea. They washed it down in the morning. Water was piped in from the mountains fifty miles away. Romans were good engineers. The water never stopped, since it was gravity fed from the mountains. Pipes were made of lead, but Romans did not suffer lead poisoning from the pipes, because the constantly flowing water prevented dangerous buildup. The next pictures is one of drinking the fountains.

Next are a couple of pictures of quality of life. We have the “lobby” of a theater, an oven for baking bread and the arches of an ancient bath house. The people of nearby Naples claim to have invented Pizza. Of course, pizza as we know was unavailable to the Romans, since tomatoes did not make the voyage from the New World until after 1492. They did bake a flat plate-like bread like a pizza crust. Archeologists found remains of bread still in the ovens. The eruptions came as a surprise to all involved. I will add a few more pictures in the next post.

Culture of innovation – Florence

We can identify clusters of innovation and genius. Scientists, politicians and business leaders have been trying to figure out the secret to creating them, but it is harder to make them than to see them. A question that I think is important is whether or not most people know that a genius cluster is flowering when it is doing so.
There is a lot of interpretation involved, but when people make lists, they usually include 5th Century BC Greece, Elizabethan England, Vienna in the early 20th Century & Silicon Valley more recently. And Renaissance Florence is always on the list.
Florence was a multi-faceted genius cluster, including arts, sciences, literature and engineering. We really don’t know the sparks that set off a genus cluster, but we can point to a few things that are necessary, if not sufficient.

You need money
A first precondition is wealth. There must be sufficient wealth to support the innovators, who rarely are paying their own way in the present while they are building the connections to the future. In Florence’s case, they had the wealth of the Medici and their rivals.

You need the competition
Rivals. That is a second precondition. There has to be a competition among ideas and among innovators. We are not talking about the zero sum, destructive sort of competition but rather the sort where rivals want to excel each other. They promiscuously steal ideas and appropriate techniques, which brings us to a third precondition, a community of innovators.

You need the community
The community provides a medium for the growth of ideas and the testing place for innovation. If you look at the famous artists of Renaissance Florence, you find that they often studied together or had the same masters. They could copy and then vary the themes.

You need the rules AND the capacity to break them
Variation. Variation is important for innovation but so are rules to break. W/o some framework, rules to rebel against, innovation can just spin off into nothingness. IMO, it is like lots of the crap that passes for modern art. It is produced only for the individual gratification of the artists. The word idiot comes from an ancient Greek source. It referred to self-centered individuals who valued only their own stuff. If you are the only person who understands you, you are an idiot in the original sense. Sorry for the digression, but it was easier to describe the negative.

Florence had all these things and it had good luck to have so many talents nearby. It was part of a general renaissance in Italy. Italy also benefited from the misfortune of others. Talented individuals moved from other parts of Italy to Florence and in 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks.

Looking back to look forward
The renaissance was a rebirth of ancient traditions. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The ancient empire did not fall in the East and the classics were still known there. We often forget this. But when the Turks carved up what was left of the Roman Empire, texts and scholars fled west, many ending up in Italy to the benefit of the Italians and Florentines.

I thing of genius is an inspiration forever
Anyway, Florence is great and still an inspiration. We visited the main attractions, including the Academia, which houses many great sculptures, including Michelangelo’s David. We also went to Uffiza, the gallery the features mostly great paintings by Giotto, Boccaccio, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello & one (the only one he ever did on a movable piece) by Michelangelo. (The last four, BTW, are not just ninja turtles.)
The Duomo is very impressive,but more on the outside than on the inside and more for the engineering of the dome.

Church bells

We are staying at a guest house, Guesthouse del Duomo in Florence. It is a nice place. Although noisy because of the church bells, the price you pay for being close. Worth it, though.

Roman pines

Stone pines are a big part of the Roman landscape. They are also called umbrella pines and you can see why from their shapes. I didn’t know they were such tall trees. You can see this with my first photo. Look carefully at the bottom. That is me standing there. These trees once formed natural forests in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Today, they are mostly cultivated. People eat the pine nuts.

We had a perfect day in Rome. We arrived just about dawn. It was cool and clear, and we had the chance to walk around near the hotel, which is right next to the Villa Borghese, a big and pleasant park. The picture with the wall on the bottom is taken from our hotel window.


Tourism in Rome

We saw the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain, among other things. Rome is familiar in many ways. For one thing, I have so often seen photos and read about the famous landmarks.

But it is also true that the city shares styles, influenced styles in other places. It is not surprising that parts are reminiscent of southern Brazil. Lots of Italians immigrated to Brazil and they brought styles with them. Maybe more surprising is how much old-town Krakow looks like Italy. Actually, it is not surprising if you know the history. Polish kings imported Italian architects and artists. Italian influence spread far and wide during the Renaissance.

Bolesławiec in Florence

Florence reminds me of Krakow. As I wrote yesterday, this is not surprising since Polish kings brought in in Italian artists and architects to make Krakow part of the Renaissance. Of course, Polish characteristics remained and merged. This is how cultures grow. They appropriate and adapt.

In a funny sideline, we saw some of more contemporary Poland when we were having lunch in Florence. We noticed that the plates were Bolesławiec. For those unfamiliar, this is ceramic from a town in Silesia. When we were in Poland for the first time, these plates and cups were so cheap that you could buy cases for a few dollars. We liked and bought enough for our family. Should have bought more, because it was always high quality and today the world has figured it out and Bolesławiec is expensive.

Mariza has most of our set now. She grew up with it and liked it so much. But the set has dwindled through attrition.



The train from Rome to Florence is fast and passes through some very beautiful country. You see lots of old cities on hilltops, obviously with defensive purpose. Florence too has an old defensive wall and so did Rome, AFTER the Empire declined.

Walls, towers and castles today are picturesque, but consider their purpose. You went through the expense and inconvenience of having walls and living densely on defensible high ground only because the alternative was dangerous. A well-ordered world does not need such things as high walls. Rome proudly did not have a wall until its power declined.

In earlier times people also often avoided living close to the seashore. It was too easy for Vikings or Saracens to sail up, break your stuff and kill or enslave your kids. Of course, you had to be careful if you lived in-land, since Huns, Magyar, Mongols or just ordinary brigands could quickly ride up, break your stuff and …

Yeah, your best bet was a wall and commanding high ground. My first picture is a remnant of Florence’s wall. Next is a picture of the city from high ground, called Michelangelo’s Piazzale. It is a long steep walk to the top, but worth the effort. The wimpier folks can drive or take the bus.

The last photo is Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge over the Arno River, today flanked by shops selling expensive jewelry. It started off as a place where blacksmiths and butchers plied their trade, conveniently disposing of their rancid wastes by tossing them off the bridge into the river. City authorities eventually got sick of the stink and pollution and moved them off.

The bridge is featured in Puccini’s opera piece “O mio babbino caro,” where a girl threatens to jump off the Ponte Vecchio if her father refuses to let he marry the man she loves. I always liked the music and will include it in the comments. Use it as a soundtrack when looking at the photos.

Forest visit September 2016

Went to the farms again mostly to trim vines with my new cutter. You can see in my picture how the wisteria just climbs the trees. I also have Japanese honeysuckle, grape vines and some kind of thorny thing I cannot identify. We have some poison ivy. I try to avoid it, but I am currently immune. I say currently because I read that this can change. About 15% of the population is immune to poison ivy. I am and want to stay that way.

There was a little rain most of the morning. Finally a deluge pushed me out and I left at about 3pm. I could have hunkered down but I was afraid the rain would so muddy the road that I would get stuck.

My second picture shows my 2012 longleaf stand. I know I take lots of photos, but I am fascinated by the changes. It takes a fair amount of work to keep it “natural.” I spend a few hours each time I come down cutting out invading hardwoods and loblolly pines. I use my hand tools for that. I tried by cutter, but it just makes lots of noise and it not that much faster in this situation, although it is great against the vines in the 2003 loblolly in my first picture.

The next to last picture shows the 1996 loblolly. I plan to thin them again next year and the last picture is a feed plot that the hunt club guys planted.