Thursday, May 29, 2008

Industrious ants

I am particularily proud, as a do-it-yourself agriculturalist, of the peach tree (variety Poppa di Venere [Venus Breast], with white flesh) that we planted last year in our garden. Last summer it gave us eleven wonderful fruits, with a taste that brought me back to my childhood (i wonder why the stuff one can buy at the stores have no taste at all!). In short, you know those peaches that when you bite into, all the juice spills over your chin and you have to lean over in order not to stain your shirt?
This year the budding was prolific, and thanks to a premature spring, in March a wonderful pink color brightened our garden. The flowers looked more "convinced" than last year (probably thanks to the maturity of the tree). But then (meteorological freak!) the cold weather came back, we even had snow at the end of march, and i thought that there wasn't enough time for the pollinating bugs to do their duty. When a decent weather came back, infact, the flowers already started to wither, and it was instead a pleasant surprise to see, some weeks later, that where the heroic flowers had fallen, a big amount of little fruits were born, promising an abundant harvest.

Detail of the peach fruit in different phases of maturing. From left to right: the buds on March 8th; on March 15th; the flowers begins to blossom (March 20th); after the snow on March 23rd; the sun is back (March 30th); some time later, after the withering of the flowers, fruits begin to develop (May 4th); the last photo is from yesterday (May 28th).
But now, i wonder if those fruits will ever be able to mature. The peach tree infact, little by little was infested by aphids, that are slowly eating all the leaves. I asked the help of my favorite agronomist, that i gladly publicize, who suggested to spray some laundry soap dissolved in water that is safe for man, for the peach tree and for the environment in general, so much so that it is also approved as a remedy in organic agriculture, although lethal for aphids. The inconvenience is that it doesn't keep them away entirely. They die, but all of the sudden others arrive, and so one must keep spraying soap.

Peach leaf damaged by the aphids attack
The problem is that the aphid infested leaves at first they fold, then they crumple up, and at the end they die, and so they cannot produce the nourishment the tree needs, just when it is necessary for feeding the fruits.

Anyway, there is a really surprising story, told me by the agronomist i mentioned above (graduated in entomology), behind the aphids infestation.
It is a story of symbiosis between bugs of different species. The ants seem particularily fond of a sticky substance (secreted by the aphids) that is clearly visible on the infested leaves. The aphids themselves, prefer the leaves of some particular trees, for example the peach one. So, the ants carry the aphid larvae on their backs and transport them to the peach leaves, after which two or three ants constantly stay on each one of those leaves to garrison the "farm" and defend it from any predator. This defensive behavior is easily observable bringing a little wooden stick near the infested leaves. The ants in the neighborhood gather and, with a grim expression on their faces (but maybe this is only effect of suggestion!?!), they heroically attack the intruder with their lethal pinchers.
In other words, the behavior of the ants with the aphids is somehow similar to the one of man and cattle-raising, and, looking at the devastated conditions of my poor peach tree i can't avoid to ask myself if the human analogy wasn't less devastating... But let's not digress to philosophical discussions and compassion by the intelligence demonstrated by the damn ants: don't forget that they are compromising the pleasure of eating that delicacy! No mercy then, against those damn aphids and their protectors. La guerre est la guerre!

The devastating amount of parasites that in this period torment our beautiful peach tree makes me think that this year spraying soap won't be enough, as it was last year, and i am already planning a strategical offensive for next year:
It looks that ladybugs are terrible predators of aphids, and i discovered googling the internet that there are some online shops that sell ladybug larvae, for example over here.
The fact that these bugs in their pijamas are a little rare at our place makes me think that perhaps the climate isn't suited to them. On the linked website infact they say that larvae develop to adults at 20 to 25 Celsius [68 to 77 Fahrenheit] from March to May. In that period over here its usually colder. Will i be successful at raising ladybugs? Has any of you ever tried?

And you, what color is your thumb?

Friday, May 23, 2008

I am for saving

This post starts from a discussion started on Maurice's blog, about the habit, to drink, of the water sold in the stores, typically in plastic or glass bottles instead of the "mayor's water" (the one coming from the aqueduct [in Italy it is a service by the Municipality], that is declared drinkable, and often purer than the one sold in bottles).

We, at home, use water in returnable glass bottles. The attempt is to cut to the bone the waste of plastic, fighting not only the scattering of this polluting material, but also the environmental damage, smaller but still not insignificant, given by the recycling processes.
Nevertheless also the returnable glass bottles cause a useless environmental damage, because this system produces some wastes: for example the detergent to wash the bottle, the plastic cap to close it (note that in a regular plastic bottle, the amount of material in the cap is bigger than the much in the bottle itself), the paper label and the glue to attach it, the energy for the machines that fill the bottles, the fuel for the transportation to the groceries, the fuel to take the bottles home, and then all the path backward of the returning bottles till closing the cycle.
But, the "mayor's water" in our village, also admitting that it is bacteriologically pure, is really disgusting. It tastes like chlorine and it is very calcareous. For this last problem there are efficient filters in commerce, but against the chlorine there's no simple solution, as far as i know.

In that discussion, Maurice himself writes:
Credo che sia necessario anche mettersi d’accordo sullo sviluppo sostenibile, come sostengono alcuni ecologisti fra i quali vorrei collocarmi.
Una semplice bottiglietta d’acqua inquina il pianeta, ma dà anche lavoro (e quindi produce ricchezza) a chi deve produrre la bottiglia ed il tappo, a chi la imbottiglia, a chi la trasporta, eccetera.
Leggiamo spesso cifre precisissime sull’inquinamento - ricordo a memoria che una bistecca inquina quanto un’auto che corre per 50 km - ma non ho mai letto quanto valore produce la bistecca in termini di lavoro e di ricchezza.
Credo che si possa vivere con agiatezza rispettando la natura e l’ambiente, senza con questo ritornare alle società primitive. Ammesso che esse rispettassero l’ambiente, come non hanno fatto i pellerossa distruggendo le foreste delle grandi praterie per permettere la sopravvivenza delle mandrie di bisonti e di loro stessi.

I believe that it is also necessary to agree about sustainable development, as some ecologists, among whom i would put myself, assert.
One simple water bottle pollutes the planet, but it also gives work (and so it gives wealth) to who produces the bottle and the cap, to who fills it, to who transports it, etcetera.
We often read very exact numbers about pollution - i remember that a steak pollutes as much as a car that runs 50 km's - but i never read about how much value the steak produces in terms of work and wealth.
I believe that we can live in prosperity respecting nature and environment, without having to go back to the primitive societies for this. Also admitting that those ones used to respect the environment, as the native american did not, destroying the forests of the big prairies to allow the survival of the bison herds and of theirselves.

[Free translation by me]
I believe it's a mistake to justify consumerism with the excuse that it is a system that allows a fair redistribution of wealth. Firstly because it doesn't seem fair at all to me.
But above all, the hole in the capitalist consumerism is right intrinsic in the mechanism, according to which the amount of commercialized goods (and services) must always increase, and so, also the useless has to be sold (and bought) anyway.
From one side it is true that the commercialization of a water bottle gives wealth to those who are part of its production/distribution chain. But let's consider, for example, the driver that transports it on his truck, which we can name Mario. At the end, how great is the wealth that Mario gets from the delivery of a bottle? For sure less than the cost at the store of that bottle. Mario, indefatigable worker, will eventually be thirsty, before or after, won't he? And how will he quench his thirst? Will he drink from the tap the "mayor's water"? No! Carefully applying the logic of consumerism, he will go to the shop to buy a water bottle similar to the ones he hauled (spending more money than the amount he made for each of them).
Now, it is also true that our Mario doesn't deliver only one, but an entire truck of bottles, and I'm not going to say that the necessary physical exertion for that job gives him such a thirst to drain the entire charge. But it is also true that Mario would have the need to buy other products, which probably suffered similar commercial stages. If Mario buys an apple because he's hungry, it means that there is somebody else that hauled apples. And maybe this last delivery person would have the need to quench his thirst with Mario's water besides to appease his hunger with his own apples.
In short, applying this mechanism to the whole closed system, society consumes exactly the entire amount of products that are commercialized, spending exactly an amount given by the sum of money that any single individual made as fruit of his work. In this system, so, no wealth is created. At most it has been re-distributed in higher or lower amounts belonging to how hard any individual worked. Since the amount of wealth in the closed system is not infinite, if wealth is proportional to work, when an individual works more, the other individuals must work less. And this mechanism generates social inequalities, which is the exact opposite of the system purposes.

One could raise the objection that instead of spending the entire amount of money made it would be wiser to save something. Or, that Mario should decide not to buy the apple, if he's not that hungry but to keep that money. But doing this way, that apple would remain unsold, and the wealth destined to who worked on it won't be available. In substance if the savings increase, in our closed system the consumes would decrease, and so also the money to be re-distributed would.
In other words, in our closed system, if we avoid to buy the useless, it is true that we would decrease the circulating wealth, but it is also true that this reduction is exactly equivalent to the value of the unsold useless goods.
To come back to our example, if we all used the "mayor's water", it's true that, as Maurice says, the wealth that would have been distributed in the commercial chain of the water in bottle would decrease, but its also true that globally that lost wealth would be exactly equivalent to the amount we save not to buy the water bottles.
And so, where's the social advantage in buying the water bottles?

A remark is needed about the fact that, in this analysis i considered a "closed system", which, apparently, doesn't apply very well to reality. In the capitalist westerner world (and also pretty much in the rest of the world), economical systems are not closed, meaning by this that they are based on export (and import).
The statement that working more one makes more money to the detriment of others that, working less, make less money, in a context of a non-closed system, it is false, because the eventual exceeding of product wouldn't be lost but exported. But this assumption presupposes that there is, elsewhere, another non-closed system (an importing country) that buys the surplus.
But this means that the importing country wouldn't have the need to produce the imported good, and so it doesn't have the possibility to employ workers in that productive cycle, and to produce the relative wealth, necessary to buy that product. And this looks to me a non-ethic side of the system, since it implies the increase of public debt, which means political dependency, of the importing country, increasing the social difference between rich and poor countries.
Considering instead the global economy of the world, which is obviously a closed system, since it's not possible to export outside the planet (and it looks it won't be for a lot of time), no wealth can be created, if by wealth we mean the purchasing power. Wealth equals the sum of all the goods globally produced, and so it is clear that the one coming from the production of a useless good is useless itself, because it allows only to buy a useless good.

The real wealth should be computed not in the basis of purchasing power, but according to the ownership of goods useful to better our lives. For example, the invention, production and distribution of cellphones didn't create wealth meaning purchasing power of individuals. Simplifying, the wealth given by the salaries of the workers that contributed in invention/production/distribution of cellphones is even to the wealth spent by consumers to buy that product... that's to say, at the end people that work get a salary that, after, is useful to them to buy the same goods they produce. The real wealth given by progress, instead, is the possibility to use those goods. If cellphones weren't there we wouldn't be able to send each other all those short messages to tell us romantic stuff like "TVTTTTTB" [in Italian it's the acronym of "ti voglio tanto tanto tanto bene" ("i love you very very very much"), typical teenagers' language].

Adimitting that water in bottles has the same quality of the "mayor's water" (which is clearly false in my case), to buy water bottles is absolutely useless from the economical point of view, and only a damage from the ecological one.

Anyway i am not an economist. Where's the error in my line of reasoning?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This incredible place is named Castrovalva and it is a fraction of the municipality Anversa degli Abruzzi.

Driving the motorway Roma-Pescara take the exit Cocullo, heading towards Scanno. Once crossed Anversa degli Abruzzi, you enter the Gole del Sagittario canyon, and after a little bridge a fork on the left heads to Castrovalva.
After few hairpin bends on a tiny road you can start to see the little village on the top of the mountain ridge coming, until the road thread its way in a cave digged in the rock to come suddenly out the other side of the ridge. Just another little bit and you're done. The road ends up over there, with a couple of parking lots.
It's all about a few houses, three churches, a (closed) bar and a bed and breakfast with few rooms and a couple of little apartments, one of which we rented (the B'n'B is easy to find but i will avoid to praise it, since the keepers belong to those kind of people that, allthough never missing to complain for the services not working, they carefully avoid to give their due contribution to the community, giving the fiscal receipt to the customers).

The thing that amazes the most of this village is the absolute, almost deafening silence, broken only by nature noises... a flock of birds, the swish of the wind, the meowing of a cat... During the holidays (we spent over there also May the 1st [Labor day, in Italy]), some people go there, and some noises can be heard from the neighboring houses, and from the motorbikers, three hundred meters [1000 feet] below, on the Gole road. But the mood of peace and quiet is still prevalent. Also the scents are different, they smell like rare herbs, exotic gardens.

M. C. Escher, Castrovalva (1930)

The disconcerting idea that one thinks of, observing Castrovalva, is that it looks suspended up there challanging any gravity law. This sensation is well given on the painting by M. C. Escher that lived there for some time. Yes, I'm speaking about that painter of the Moebius ribbon rid by the ants, and of the monks busy climbing forever the impossible stairways... (looking to the painting, in the landscape, bottom right, you can see Anversa, and behind, far away, Cocullo).

Map of the excursion
(from the WWF brochure)

The climate was perfect for a good excursion. Let's put on the hiking shoes, then!
We started walking on the white road signed as path n. 18, that goes to the little cemetery and follows on a comfortable hiking path in the woods. At a certain point you can see from the top the town of Anversa, which, covering the path, can be kept as a reference. We went down under the level of Anversa, till the Cavuto sources, on the Sagittario river, where there is the WWF park center, reachable also by car from Anversa. We stopped for a rest in the garden, where Maddie had plenty of cuddles from a bunch of Roman tourists come there by bus. R. shot some photos to the bushes of herbs that are grown in that garden, each one with its sign that shows the name, from the most common ones like thyme to some others never heard before (Anversa was famous in the middle age for growing medical and magical herbs...).
After a half an hour rest we took to our hiking again along path number 17, which at first follows the coast of Sagittario river, a hundred meters under the level of the road, and then it goes uphill till it reaches the little bridge where there is the fork to Castrovalva. Here the forest finishes and the main road must be followed, till the hiking path starts to climb steeper among the rocks, cutting the hairpin bends, till Castrovalva, at the opposite side of path 18 starting point.

Walking slowly we took about three hours and a half.
The excursion is wonderful, except maybe the last part which, if made in the afternoon, is the most demanding tract under the hot sun. Infact my suggestion is to hike the ring in a different way: park the car at Cavuto sources, climb to Castrovalva on path 17 in the morning, still fresh, and get back on path 18, much easier and downhill, after.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A rainy weekend

For this past weekend, encouraged by the wonderful sunny days of the week, we decided to go hiking nearby in Valsassina, not too heavy nor long, considering that the puppy Mr. Bentley has a still limited fuel range, and we were expecting we would have to carry him on the backpack.
Anyway, at the end we didn't go, because it was raining cats and dogs all the time, making a little clear only sunday evening, and giving us a wonderful view that looked stolen from a documentary about tropical forests. Allright... the excursion will be postposed to the next weekend.
This is what one could see from our terrace yesterday evening.

Landscape from our terrace
What kind of view can be seen from your house?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A new boy on the terrace

Mr. Bentley
He was born February 11th, but he has this new family (or, to say it in his shoes, this new pack), only last saturday. He is a wirehaired dachshund and his name is Mr. Bentley.
He's still lost, poor thing, and night time he makes so much noise we are not able to close our eyes (hopefully the neighbors will bare him for a while). Incredible that a thing so little can produce that much noise!
Maddie, the other doggie of the pack, for now ignores him. Or, atleast she pretends to ignore him, because any time we try to pet Mr. Bentley, all of the sudden Maddie comes and steals all the cuddles.
We attached a little bell on his collar because he doesn't do other than follow any of our steps, and he risks to be smashed under our feet.
And what about you, do you have pets?