Essays and Articles

Villa Della Torre a Fumane

La storia d’Italia è complessa, intricata ed intrecciata sia da forze della natura sia da forze al di fuori dalla sfera delle influenze peninsulari italiane. La nostra destinazione finale in questo saggio porta i segni di profonde cicatrici psicologiche, paure, rivalità, competizione e alleanze passeggere. E’ un periodo scarsamente credibile in confronto ai nostri standard moderni. Durante il XVI secolo, nell’Italia di Machiavelli, c’era una sola regola da seguire: quella di "ognuno per se stesso".

Verona era una città attraente, in buona parte anche per la confluenza di strade e la presenza del fiume Adige che rendeva possibile alle barche l’accesso al mar Adriatico. Sopra Verona, la Via Claudia Augusta era un po’ più ardua e le strade furono costruite dai Romani per il passaggio dei soldati, della posta e anche per chi vi avventurava in tutte le direzioni. Al nord c’erano le alte colline e poi le Alpi, con delle vallate che si dipanavano come serpenti fino all'Austria per arrivare fino a Monaco. Già nel XV secolo, le Alpi fungevano da punto divisorio tra La Serenissima – la Repubblica Veneziana – l’Italia Papale e i territori rivendicati dall’Imperatore romano. Durante i primi anni del XVI secolo, la chiesa e lo stato erano divisi e in contrasto uno con l’altro, mentre gli astuti Veneziani giocavano a mettere una parte contro l’altra e nel frattempo continuavano a tenere rapporti commerciali con il Medio Oriente Islamico. Ora la storia comincia a suonare familiare… di nuovo…


Winter Solstice

More than fifty years ago, as a young child, my family was driving in Montana, east of the Rocky Mountains near the Canadian frontier.  My father, fascinated with weather conditions, was focused on the road ahead as the temperature was dropping, skies darkening, with a narrow road and an ever tightening valley: clearly he had a family to  consider.  It was oddly quiet in the car.  My sister and I were in the back seat of an old two-door green Ford.  I began to look out the rear window.  The clouds were forming into the most eerie, soft round shapes.  The skies continued to darken, the odd sphere-shaped clouds tightened their grip on the heavens overhead.  My father may have named the shapes; I no longer recall if he did.  But forever those clouds have haunted me.  I knew the world was coming to an end.



Our first 2006 Architectural Salad historical essay of the built environment examines a specific building and ponders some of the reasons for its design and existence. We hope such essays may launch discussions and become a part of a larger corpus during years yet to come. The oft-used quotation of Hegel’s that “…governments and people never have learned from history” could be examined in the life of a villa in the rising hills above Verona, Italy in the village of Fumane, the Villa Della Torre a Fumane.

Villa Della Torre a Fumane

Italian history is complex, convoluted and interwoven by both forces of nature and forces outside the sphere of Italian peninsular influence. Our final destination in this paper bears the marks of deep psychological scarring, fear, rivalry, competition, and fleeting alliances. It is a period that is barely credible, when compared with modern standards. During the sixteenth century, in the Italy of Machiavelli, there was one rule to follow: that of each man for himself.


Ur and Cuneiform


When I seriously embarked to learn another language, not simply inhabit the labs we had in high school, I questioned why my language had no identifying female and male nouns. La luna, la natura, il sole, la pioggia each was a female or male: the Moon, nature, Sun and rain. English occasionally gets close with Mother Nature, but it does not seem nearly as etched as even the German language, part of our Saxon heritage.

Perforce, the next step is to ask why English-speakers have no gender to our nouns. That may be answered by identifying why other languages do have genders. The moon, female in Latin-based languages, may reverberate to an ancient time when there was a moon goddess. The moon, unlike the sun, may be stared at for the entire night, and sometime even most of the day. It shimmers blue-white and could be identified in, say, silver metal, for the Moche peoples of coastal Peru.


Reginald Pole in Viterbo


You may have forgotten Reginald Pole. I think he is one of the most interesting characters in Italian history. English history, you remark? Well, yes, that too. This is the fellow who enticed his queen, Mary, to lob off a few heads while he served as the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Think that through next time you order a Bloody Mary!

Reginald is one of the last of the royal Plantagenet lineage and should have been England's king. Leverage following the English War of Roses permitted Tudor Henry VII to assert power sufficient to become king once Reginald announced his intention to join the clergy. His cousin, bombastic Henry VIII clearly loved women and, unfortunately for him he also had a wife or two, or three. By 1533, Reginald had arrived at a high position of power within the Catholic Church. Henry thought, wrongly, that he could cajol his man to permit a little divorce (god knows that other high ups in the Church had annulled marriages, even after issue, for "non-consumation"). The pope said no and Reginald said no and in 1536 Pole wrote, Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione Defense of the Unity of the Church. Henry was politely, but firmly told no and all his errors were made public. Henry now wanted his favorite cousin killed. Assassinated.


Khmer Astroarchaeology

Picture3 Many years ago, in a quiet campground not too distant from Bryce Canyon in Utah, my daughter and I lay on our backs looking into the starry midnight sky overhead, awaiting the Perseids meteor showers of August. Coming from a city, she had never seen so many stars. A few seasons ago, along a vacant stretch of California central coastal headlands, we again saw the stars; this time, in a different month, the stars were more skewed to a glorious display of the Milky Way.

In the stillness of that night, we could let our minds wander into the skies, as I am certain so did ancient men. For them, understanding and predicting the heavens was deadly important. Before electric lights dimmed the heavens, time and capacity to see the heavens were all that was required. You and I would have arranged stories from the stars, if for no other reason than to remember their positions one year henceforth. Would we see Orion again, his two dogs fighting that big bull? Orion, the Hunter, is best seen in January and is not seen in the late summer. The heavens, barring clouds, rain, cold or snow, were the absolute best show in town.


Papal Experiment


Constantinople had begun as a Roman hope for security and safety. It was to be a haven safe from alien terrorists, safe from the barbarians. Back then, they were Vandals: stern-looking, focused foreigners. Too bad the citizens of Constantinople decayed into the abscesses of arrogant decadence.

Once long ago, so many dreams for a fresh start, for a new beginning, for a world of peace, spurred the Roman Empire to relocate from the Italian peninsula to Byzantium. Now, for more than one thousand years, Christianity focused upon the politics and policies, the pomp and feigned rituals of Constantinople caused her to lose her vision. The Islamic Ottoman capture of Constantine's city in1453 rocked a little Italian borgo called Corsignano as indeed it shook the Christian world as a whole. Such a cataclysm was almost replayed in 2001.


Ancient Maya civilization

ImageAncient Maya civilization has a remarkable appeal to the general public, partly because of the exotic contrast of their world with our industrialized society. Also, the popular press usually can be counted on to characterize Maya civilization as mysterious, unknowable, unique, as well as bizarre, weird, and awe-inspiring. The exotic, tropical setting of most ancient Maya ruins adds to the appeal for those who do not have to live there.

The environmental realities are quite different. The jungles offer maximum heat and insects, alternating deluge and drought and a milieu in which bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing organisms flourish. And cultural realities can be just as different as some romanticized perceptions. Sadly, the exotic image has often masked the truth. The real Maya are truly one of the most interesting and important early civilizations to evolve in place from simple beginnings.


Lawn Mores


Only in America, with its 50-million households participating in lawn care and its 16,000 golf courses, is turf an estimated $40-billion-a-year industry. That is roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Vietnam. The United States is far and away the world's leader in cultivating perfect, weed-free, ultra-trim, super green grass.  How did the greening of America come to pass?

The leading theory, mentioned in news reports, rests on genetic predisposition.  According to the "savana thesis," human beings are attracted to grassy open expanses because we evolved as a species in Africa.  "We spent 98% of our evolutionary history in those savanna-like environments," the ecologist John Falk once explained.  "Our habatat preference for short grass and scattered trees seems to be a vestiage of that history."


Pink Salt


We have some salt of our youth in us.
William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

I was born a freshwater child.

Growing up in Buffalo, with a father whose fascination was Niagara Falls, I couldn't help but be intimately linked with this wonder of the world. Not the Falls in themselves, although I've seen and loved them in every season; but the Falls as the passage point of one-fifth of the world's fresh water. There was always fresh water in abundance when I was young: for watering my grandfather's vegetable gardens, for filling the swimming pool (where my sister and I pretended to be mermaids; the irony never struck us), for washing clothes and dishes and cultivating tadpoles. (My mom wasn't as keen on this last one...) Fresh water surrounded the young me, falling from the sky in various forms, running under my feet in creeks and pipes, and hanging in the air on humid August days.


Under the Stars

ImageAs a child I remember seeing a mano and a metate, a dark metamorphic rock quern (grind stone),  near the back door of my grandfather’s home. When he replaced the dirt-floored cabin where my mother was born with a more solid brick house, he was still on the fringes of the American West. I remember hearing stories of how my mother, as a young girl, interrupted transient Navajo laborers as they attempted to casually “share” the goods of a neighbor who was not home. My mother’s presence scared off the would-be thieves before they were able to steal anything. Of course, during the Depression, the only thing there was to steal was food. These stories were always made more real when I saw the grind stone by my grandparents’ backdoor.

Later in life when I lived in Italy, people used to ask me about my native country. I began to realize how very little I really understood about the pre-Columbian times in America and how one-sided many of the black-and-white Saturday morning television programs I had seen as a child had been. For example, the John Wayne hero movie, Fort Apache, was filmed around the Kayenta area (with the great standing mittens of Monument Valley). Today this area is part of the Navajo Reservation near the Four Corners, the common boundary between Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Except for the scenes in this movie, I have never heard of Apaches living this far north.


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