Friday, September 25, 2009

Valle d'Aosta and the cow

The cow is almost a symbol of the mountain region Valle d'Aosta. Over there, in fact, cow breeding is a good business, and bovine products are particularily valuable. Cow milk, cheeses, bovine meat are very good.
In that region we tasted for the first time a particular product obtained by bovine udder: the "Teteun" [pronounced teh-TEHN, where the 'eh' sounds like the vowels in the english word "bird" or the french "beuf" or the german "Köln"].
During the past August holidays we attended a festival of that product in the little town of Gignod, "la Fëta di Teteun" and we ate it in three different recipes: plain boiled, stewed with tomato sauce and sliced thin as a cooked ham. I expected to taste something tough. Instead the meat is very tender, a little spongey, very similar to cooked ham. As it often happens with Italian traditional cooking, this kind of food was originated by the need not to waste any edible part of the animal.

Bataille des Reines
Speaking of cows, we also attended to another traditional event. The "Batailles de Reines" [the battles of the queens]. As the host of our bed and breakfast explained to us, the cows of a herd, lacking a dominant bull, naturally fight each other to establish a hierarchy, at the top of which there is the Queen. Those fight usually are symbolic and don't involve any blood. They terminate when one of the two contenders submits to the other, escaping from the push of her head.
The "Batailles de Reines" event is the fights between queens of different herds and they are organized like a knockout competition. We went to one of the preliminary where about 100 cows of different producers were divided in pairs. Three fights taking place contemporarily in a big rounded space. A lot of spectators were intensely involved. The strange thing was the language spoken by the speaker: the local dialect, which sounds like a mixture of italian and french. Obviously the show is played for the locals.
Unfortunately we couldn't attend to the final match that was going to be fought October 11th in Aosta. We were told that this annual appointment is usually a big event that is faithfully attended to by Aosta citizens.

More informations about these events on Rubbah Slippahs in Italy, here and here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

San Marco - Valcava

This excursion was quite obvious to find - for us. In fact it is enough to go out from the house and start walking uphill.
To reach the small village of Valcava at the top of the mountain, you can walk on the asphalted road, but this way is not that beautiful in the weekends because it is invaded by hordes of Milanesi cars.
There are several other hiking paths that reach the same destination, cutting across the hairpin bends or ascending next to them.

The first time we tried (August 17th), after a long time without any exercise, we and the dogs decided to turn back half way, tired for the lack of exercise and for the heat of the day. We walked on the paved road and it was easy enough, apart from the last kilometer where the slope is very steep (18%).

After a couple of weeks (September 5), back from the holidays, we tried the second part, parking the car exactly at the end of the previous time. This time we tried to avoid the paved road, in fact we found a nice hiking trail. This part was much more interesting, walking in the fields and the woods and

Stone wash-tub
checking out some views impossible to see driving a car. At a certain point, we found a crossing connecting some different paths where there is a stone wash-tub still in use.
At the top of this excursion we arrived to Valcava village, without reconnecting to the main road.

Last sunday (September 13) we tried the whole distance. To climb the mountain we walked exactly the same paths of both the previous excursions. To return back we tried to stay on the hiking trail. If the middle section is really steep on the road, it is even more on the path, and that, actually, is the only hard part of the whole excursion.
Unfortunately during the descent the battery of my GPS died. That's why we took a lot of time to notice that at a certain point we took the wrong way. The detour was about a couple of kilometers, but fortunately it was enough flat.

First hike
  • Time: 1:03
  • Distance: 3.95km [2.45mi]
  • Difference of level: 285m [935'] (302m [991'] uphill and 17m [56'] downhill)
  • Altitude: between 681m [2234'] and 1008m [3307']
  • Backward (on the same path)
  • Time: 1:01

  • Second hike
  • Time: 0:52
  • Distance: 2.73km [1.7mi]
  • Difference of level: 256m [840'] (266m [873'] uphill and 10m [33'] downhill)
  • Altitude: between 1000m [3281'] and 1266m [4154']
  • Backward (on the same path)
  • Time: 0:42

  • Third hike
  • Time: 1:59
  • Distance: 7.14km [4.44mi]
  • Difference of level: 585m [1919'] (612m [2008'] uphill and 27m [89'] downhill)
  • Altitude: between 681m [2234'] and 1266m [4154']
  • Backward (on the alternative path, about the same length and altitude)
  • Time: 2:00
  • GPS track of the excursions.
    A: start at San Marco; B: stone wash-tub; Z: end at Valcava
    In red the first excursion, in green the second. In blue the shortcuts on the hiking paths we made during the descent of the third excursion. In yellow the unwanted detour (the yellow and blue tracks were not recorded by the GPS but built on GoogleMap)
    Cumulative statistics from the beginning of this year
  • Total time: 26:33
  • Distance: 101.29km [62.94mi]
  • Difference of level: 5522m [18117']
  • Minimum altitude: 343m [1125']
  • Maximum altitude: 1550m [5085']
  • Friday, September 11, 2009

    Why to vote for Ignazio Marino at the primary elections of Partito Democratico

    I consider myself "leftish" from since when i was old enough to understand, but i am also very critical towards the Partito Democratico since its foundation a few years ago.
    My aversion to PD is in its roots. Its founding fathers, through Veltroni's "Corro da solo" ["i run by myself" - a tactic in which he refused any alliance with other minor parties], have managed to build a big party plundering the votes of the Left. They did it riding an electoral system considered by everyone a terribly unjust thing (so much that its creator Roberto Calderoli himself named it "Porcellum" ["pig thing"]). And they took advantage of the "voto utile" ["useful vote"], that is, the leftists realization of the need to stem the fascist tendency towards which the country was already going. The leftists, therefore, preferred to address the strength of their votes to PD instead of wasting them on a minor party. In fact, votes to parties that obtained less than 4%, for the perverse mechanism of the "Porcellum", ended up enforcing the most voted party (the Berlusconi's and his fascist mates' one).
    To tell the truth, for PD, the use of this perverted mechanism would neither be such a bad thing if, other than taking advantage of the votes of those electors, it would also take in charge the task to represent their values.
    But no. PD did never assume the responsability to give a voice to the values of the Left. To most people, like me, PD became more like a big set of seats that allowed a soft support to the fat butts of who was already well seated in the parties that originated it. PD has never taken any firm position against Berlusconi's extra-power, just when the Country really needed it and waited till now, in the guilty incapability of giving any alternative to Berlusconi's fascism.

    So, it's clear for everyone that the old leadership doesn't represent the Left anymore, and for this reason, even without considering the reasonable suspicion of collusion with the "enemy", it should resign allowing new entries to take their place. But it looks like for those old leaders it is more important to preserve their warm ass on the soft throne than the good for Italians.

    Ignazio Marino
    In the beloved American democracy, anyway, they do exactly that: respectful goodbyes to the losers. Personally, i liked Al Gore a lot. He lost by a few votes in some elections which results were suspicious. But if he didnt give up America wouldn't ever had Obama - and i doubt that Gore, in his pants, running as a loser, would ever been able to win against McCain.

    Ignazio Marino is running for the leadership of PD. I'm not comparing him to Barack Obama here, but it is clear that, while Franceschini and Bersani [the other candidates of PD leadership] have already clearly lost against Berlusconi (which suggests that they will loose again), Marino is the New Way. And this statement is valid without even giving a look to his program.
    Reading the program one will be astonished by the strength of his positions, an absolute novelty in the context of PD, even before evaluating the contents, which, incidentally, looks to me reasonable and agreeable for anyone naming himself "leftist".

    In fact, the Italian media, totally subservient to Berlusconi, publicizes the PD primary elections as a duel between Franceschini and Bersani, giving no visibility to Marino. Obviously because Berlusconi would prefer an opponent who agrees not to contradict him, in exchange for a peaceful coexistence in the puppet theater.

    In short, I believe that the staunch Democrats should support Marino, hoping that upon winning the primary elections, he will be able to defeat Berlusconi at the Political Elections, where the rest of the leadership of PD always failed in the past.
    Those like me who flow into PD for the "useful vote", should prefer Marino in the hope that finally some conditions will be created to reconcile the values of the whole Left in one only political force. In this way PD could represent their values, the very same values that the old leadership had failed.
    I would also say that the supporters of Italia del Valori [another political party, allied to PD] should like Marino leading PD. This party, in fact, can hardly aspire to govern Italy alone or to find allies other than PD. And it is certainly better to relate to a force that has clear goals rather than a rabble of selfish people like Berlusconi's flunkies.

    Dario Franceschini and
    Pier Luigi Bersani
    Obviously, the leadership of the Right would prefer a "subservient" opposition as the one leaded by Franceschini or Bersani: the weakness of the opposition goes hand in hand with the strength of the majority.
    But if I were an elector of the Right, I think i would prefer a minority but viable opposition, which tends to make the Good for the citizens, although with different methods. And pressing the Right to always do the best for the Italians (after all this is the proper task of the opposition, isn't it?).

    In short, shouldn't it be in the interest of any voter to have loyal and honest opponents?
    At the end I think that Marino, as leader of the new PD, would be good for all Italians, except for some politicians and any kind of corrupted persons.

    My contribution to this will be to vote for him at the primary elections October the 25th. Also non-members are allowed to vote, at a cost of 2 euros as a contribution for the expenses.
    The mechanism for the election of the Secretary, however, is rather complicated. Here are the rules.
    What I understand is that voting is permitted to any Italian citizen, EU or with a valid residence permit. But it looks like these elections are decisive only if one candidate obtains more than 50% of the votes, a result that is not realistic for Marino. Otherwise, the secretary shall be chosen among most voted via secret ballot restricted to the National Assembly. So Marino will likely lose, in which case I think PD will have to manage without my vote.

    But a relative majority or even a good success of Marino may be a sign of change and an indication of the will of the electorate - that this time, the usual dinosaurs can not ignore.

    I believe that the corrupt and fascist regime in which Italy is falling into is primarily a serious responsibility of the Left, which was unable or unwilling to offer a decent alternative. I think Ignazio Marino is an opportunity to fix the problem.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Daniele Bonfanti: L'Eterno Sogno

    At first sight it looks like a good book.
    Minimalist cover, i would say. All black, with an irregular patterned gradient in the lower half and, in gray, the title "L'eterno Sogno" at the top, written with a simple font.
    On the side there is the title, again, with the name of the author, Daniele Bonfanti as well as the logo of the editor Lulu.
    On the back the white square with the barcode clashes a little, but it's not that bad. As it often happens some notes describe the author and the story, and it looks like those notes are written by the author himself, and not, as it usually is, quoted from reviews.
    And what a self-congratulation!
    The first note, in italic, pretends to be a reply in the context of an interview:
    "Qualcuno dice che il fantasy e' 'letteratura di serie B'... Credo che Omero si stia rivoltando nella tomba." ["Somebody says that Fantasy is 'second-rate literature'... i believe that it would be enough to turn Homer in his grave."]
    If with the word "fantasy" we mean a genre whose characters are elves, dwarves and similar, i think i have never heard anyone dare to define... say... Tolkien's trilogy as "second-rate literature". It would be like reducing The Betrothed (Manzoni novel) to a romantic novelette, or the Divine Comedy to Don Camillo's homily [Don Camillo is a funny character of a popular italian comic show in the 60s, playing the role of a priest].
    Maybe Bonfanti refers to some detractors of a "lighter" literary current.
    I don't know if it makes big sense to throw things like L'Eterno Sogno, Lord of the Rings, brothers Grimm's tales, the saga of Shrek, the Smurfs and the Odyssey in the same literary boat, but of course, all these works tell of fantasy characters (therefore they are Fantasy Literature?!?), and I think this is just a little pretentious.

    Okay... one cannot judge a book from the back cover! Especially after my positive earlier judgement of the front and side.

    One of the "reader's rights" established by Daniel Pennac ["Comme un roman" (1992), published in English as "The Rights of the Reader"] speaks of the freedom to stop reading a book at any time.
    I don't like anyway to take advantage of this right. To tell the truth, there are some books i quit reading well before the end. For example, I gave up with "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Nietzsche in the preface, or, with "Kant and the Platypus" by Eco, I was not able to overcome chapter 1. But in these and other similar cases, I beat a retreat admitting my incapability (or recognizing excess of pride when i started reading). Those books were too difficult for me, and their understanding would have required more energy than I could spend, without being sure to be able to go on.
    It has never happened, instead, to leave a book because i didn't like it.
    In fact, if i am passionate about a book, there is no reason to stop. Even if I do not like it, there is always the curiosity, or at least a hope, that reading it would eventually become more interesting further on.

    This one is a book that i didn't like, but i continued till the end, hoping to find something worthy in all of it.
    In vain.

    Language is heavy, style is boring, even the vocabulary is limited and fastidious. It's surprising to note, for example, the massive and unjustified use of the verbs "emergere" and "riemergere" ["to emerge" and "to emerge again"] (also considering that they end up in water in only one episode three or four pages long!). In Daniele Bonfanti's world, the characters emerge from the grass, from the sleep, from the battle, from the cave. Elves' ears emerge from their hair and the Moon emerges from the mountains!
    The characters are described only approximately, and you feel this lack of knowing them fully until the end of the book. For example, I couldn't imagine the protagonist dragon much different than Hanna-Barbera's Wally Gator. Which, actually, in a dramatic context like the story of this book, it comes out totally inconsistent. Especially when he flirts with the all-tender pussicat with her beautiful green eyes.
    And what about the story! An amount of adventures unrelated to each other, absolutely without any metaphoric meaning and useless for the developement of the main plot. It looks like their role is just to give some action.

    The heroes of the novel are four dragons, two elves, two kennins (a sort of cat), a dwarf, a lerlet (a biped horned reptile) and a... mmmh... a hooded guy. During their trip on the Via, following the blow of the Western Wind, they massacre a bounch of bogolids and goblins (evil and disgusting creatures). At the end they arrive to the Gray Town, where they form an alliance with other bogolids and goblins in order to fight against elves and dwarves who, surprisingly, form the army of the bad magician. Inverted parts, then. Why? No idea!
    Everything is resolved by the final duel between the dragon Xaas and the magician. Among spells and charms, this last cannot cope with the brutal strength and he dies in the most concrete way: decapitated by a bite with an ax in his chest. I wonder if atleast this fact does have a symbolism that I can not understand!

    At the end the dragon manages to close the magic door, from which the Element of Water could come out flooding the world. But he doesn't destroy it, as he was supposed to. Which suggests the future publication of a second part of the story.
    Aenasyan forbid!

    Here is a sample from the book, where Bonfanti honors us with his fastfood-style theology.
    Characters: the elf Aelorn; the girl-kennin Aina; the dragons Dhrek, Xaas and Kab; the dwarf Ghrun.
    Aelorn chiese a Aina: "Ma come un solo dio? Io credo che quello che tu chiami Leone di Fiamma potrebbe essere il vostro Spirito Guida. Ma non puo' essere che esista soltanto il vostro, e' assurdo."
    Aina sorrise. "Forse quello che tu chiami Aenasyan e quello che io chiamo Leone di Fiamma sono la stessa cosa, che si mostra con volti diversi."
    Aelorn riflette'. "Potrebbe essere come dici. Ma gli altri Spiriti? Ce ne sono centinaia, quanti sono i fiumi e le montagne e le foreste."
    Aina scosse la testa. "Noi crediamo che soltanto il dio Sole sia il creatore, e che abbia schiere di demoni a proteggere la sua creazione."
    Aelorn annui', ragionando febbrilmente. "Forse questi 'demoni' sono gli Spiriti..."
    Dherk chiese, visibilmente incuriosito, rivolto a Aina: "Da quanto dici, questo 'Leone di Fiamma' puo' fare quello che gli pare. E' cosi'?"
    "Tutto cio' che vuole, e cioe' cio' che e' bene e cio' che e' giusto."
    Xaas scosse la testa. "E perche' non lo fa?"
    "Cosa intendi?"
    "Ti sembra 'bene' tutto questo?"
    "Forse vuole metterci alla prova."
    "Complimenti. Bel dio buono. Si diverte a metterci alla prova e per farlo ha proprio bisogno di far morire Kab e Ghrun. Per vedere cosa?"
    "Chi puo' dirlo... Lui e' talmente grande che il suo volere per noi e' incomprensibile, a volte..."
    "E allora, se non lo capisci, come fai a dire che e' buono, giusto, e tutte quelle cose?"
    Aina non ebbe esitazioni. "Per fede."
    "Fede? Uno la fiducia dovrebbe meritarsela. Non do fiducia a uno che fa morire i miei amici per mettermi alla prova. Comunque il tuo ragionamento non ha senso. Dici che questo dio vuole il bene. Ma il bene di chi?"
    "Di tutti."
    "Ma non ha nessun senso. Cio' che e' bene per me sara' il male per un altro. Per noi e' bene uccidere il mago, ma certamente lui non e' d'accordo. Non trovi?"
    "Ma c'e' un bene assoluto. E un giusto assoluto."
    "E chi le stabilirebbe queste belle cose?"
    "Il dio Sole, naturalmente"
    "Naturalmente. Allora che le stabilisca per se'. Io preferisco scegliere da solo, senza che mi dicano cosa devo fare, e cosa non devo fare."

    Aelorn asked Aina: "How come one only god? I believe that who you call Lion of Flame could be your Spirit Guide. But it cannot be that it exists only yours. It's absurd."
    Aina smiled. "Maybe what you call Aenasyan and what I call the Lion of Flame are the same thing, which shows itself with different faces."
    Aelorn thought. "It could be like that. But what about the other Spirits? There are hundreds of them, as many as rivers and mountains and forests."
    Aina shook her head. "We believe that only the god Sun is the creator, and He has legions of demons to protect his creation."
    Aelorn nodded, thinking feverishly. "Perhaps these 'demons' are the Spirits..."
    Dherk, clearly intrigued, addresses Aina: "From what you say, this 'Lion of Flame' can do what he wants, right?"
    "Whatever he wants, which is what is good and what is right."
    Xaas shook his head. "So why doesn't He do it?"
    "What do you mean?"
    "Do you think it's 'good' all this?"
    "Maybe he wants to test us."
    "Congratulations. What a good god. He enjoys himself testing us and, to do that, he really needs to let Kab and Ghrun die. To see what?"
    "Who can say... He is so great that his will is not understandable to us, sometimes..."
    "So, if you don't understand, how can you say he is good, right and all those things?"
    Aina had no hesitations. "For faith"
    "Faith? One has to deserve trust. I don't trust somebody that let my friends die to test me. Anyway your argument doesn't make any sense. You say that this god wants the good. But whose good?"
    "But it doesn't make any sense. What is good for me would be the evil for somebody else. For us good is to kill the magician, but for sure he doesn't agree. Don't you think?"
    "But there is an absolute good. And an absolute just."
    "And who is the one that decide these nice things?"
    "The god Sun, of course"
    "Of course. So, let him decide for himself. I prefer to choose by myself, without others tell me what i have to do, and what i don't have to do."

    English translation of mine.
    To be honest, i don't very much like to speak badly about what i don't enjoy. I much prefer to say good about the things i do like.
    But in this case, really, irritation for having wasted my precious time is enough to induce me to reconsider my personal interpretation of the rights of the reader. The hope that a book would eventually become more interesting is not a good reason to continue reading.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    La Clusaz

    View from the path
    The Via Francigena is a route marked by the pilgrims from all over Europe in the heroic enterprise of reaching Rome all the way from Canterbury in England.
    Once crossed into France, to overcome the Alps, the path forks. A variant reaches the current Piedmont, Val Susa precisely, the Montgenèvre pass beyond. The high road instead, via Switzerland, reaches the Valle d'Aosta crossing over the pass of the Great St. Bernard. From here, after declining further downstream, it climbs up back to run along the highway, heading to Aosta.
    The Via Francigena can be reached by parking the car on the highway.

    Mr.B e Maddie and me
    We joined it on a path leading from the parking lot of the restaurant La Clusaz, in the homonymous village of Gignod. After a short climb we reach the Via. A stream runs alongside and refreshes the excursion. The walk is flat and without any difficulty, parallel to the highway. At a certain point you cross a paved road on a hairpin bend.

    From here the excursion deviates slightly from the path of highway and goes into the countryside, in the forest and cultivated fields. We then reached a bridge over a stream next to a shrine. Getting closer back to the highway we met another paved road. Here we decided to turn back, also not to overstress Maddie, on her first excursion after the operation of the crossed ligament.

    The path is really very easy and covering it gives a sense of peace, in lush woods beside the little brook.

  • Time: 1:16
  • Distance: 7.63km [4.74mi]
  • Difference of level: 28m [92'] (335m [1099'] uphill e 307m [1007'] downhill)
  • Altitude: between 1184m [3885'] and 1301m [4268']
  • Backward (on the same path)
  • Time: 1:09
  • GPS track of the excursion.
    A: start; B: bridge and shrine; Z: end
    Cumulative statistics from the beginning of this year:
  • Total time: 18:56
  • Distance: 73.65km [45.76mi]
  • Difference of level: 4288m [14068']
  • Minimum altitude: 343m [1125']
  • Maximum altitude: 1550m [5085']
  • Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Teresa Sarti

    (thanks to devex for the photo)
    Teresa Sarti passed away.

    She was in the "top-ten" of a list that i wanted to write on this blog.
    A list of silent heroes, whose passage in the world digs a track. A deep one, although just whispered in the general noise of that circus which is our society.

    The quiet echo of her life will never die.
    Teresa Sarti is still in the top-ten of my list.

    Teresa founded, in 1994, together with her husband Gino Strada, the association Emergency, and since then she's its president.