Monday, December 17, 2007

Lake Garda in a nutshell

Lying between the Alps and the Dolomites, Lake Garda is the largest and most 'Mediterranean' of the Italian lakes. Beautiful villas and gardens line the south-western shores and semi-tropical flowers flourish in the mild climate. Vines and orchards of olive trees and lemons fringe the region and the vineyards of Bardolino and Valpolicella, amongst others, are nearby. Hydrofoil, catamaran and steamers ply the lake with possible destinations including the harbour and fortress of Peschiera, the elegant resort of Gardone Riviera with its fine villas and parks, Sirmione's meticulously made mosaics, and Gargnano del Garda.
The popular resort of Salo, once the capital of Mussolini's short-lived republic, has a 15th-century cathedral and a good selection of cafés and characteristic restaurants.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Great Wall of China - The Farming Garrison

Continued from: The Great Wall of China – The Builders of the Great Wall

It was not until the Ming Dynasty that the army became the sole builder of the wall. The idea of a permanent or shifting farming-garrison had improved during the centuries and it had reached its perfection during the late thirteen and fourteen century A.D.. The Mings had made the military service hereditary, and once a man was enrolled his family became a military
 household. The military colonisation assumed impressive proportions, one who was stationed at the Great Wall could have his family join him and he would be provided with a plot of land, which averaged 3.3 hectares per soldier, and the necessary means of production, thus assuming the status of combined soldier-peasant. His duties during peacetime alternated between farming and military training and garrisoning, while during war he had to leave his land to his family and take only part in the military activities. These farms were situated near the beacon towers, and specific barracks were built to keep the harvest, small towns were also built and a network of administrative and managerial bodies within the army was created, to supervise the work.
The Ming military system was based on a hierarchical level; its leaders were chosen from among the dukes, marquis, earls, military governors of provinces and provincial military commanders and each of them had precise duties, which varied from being the commander in chief of military forces, the sub-commander, the defender of the city, the commander of the garrison forces who also had its deputies and so on going downwards to the simple officers1 . These latter three had the duties of routine defence, as well as building, repairing and maintaining the wall, the passes, the beacon towers, the barracks, collecting animal dung, and looking after all the other edifices that were part of the Ming’s military system, which
 consisted of fortressed towns, garrison cities, stronghold cities, wall towers, watchtowers, buttresses and ramparts. Interestingly enough, these structures were always connected to each other, with a highly functional network of defence system along the wall. Furthermore, the military areas along the Great Wall was divided into nine garrison zones known as zhen, which were protected by a giant defence force deployed along its length; and at times it reached a total strength of over a million soldiers. Each zhen was divided as follow:
The zhen were divided into Wei. Each wei commanded 5,600 men, and was sub divided into qianhu suo (qianhu meaning one thousand households) each commanding 1,200 men, which again split into baihu suo, or hundred-household suo, each having 120 men. The latter again consisted of two zonqi (big banners), each leading 50 men. The smallest or basic unit was xiaoqi (small banner), each made up of ten men.2
And, as Hayes notes, a single warrior could guard two hundred yards of the wall and nine men would be sufficient for a mile of fortification3; this gives an idea of the effectiveness of this structure and its unique system of communication.


1- Cheng Dalin, The Great Wall of China, New China News LTD., China, 1984, Web page:
2- ibid.
3- L. Newton Hayes, The Great Wall of China, Kelly & Walsh LTD., Shanghai, 1929, p. 15.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

In brief how not to become food for the Somali Jackal.

The year abroad and the programmes for study exchange are becoming more and more common. However, there are some unwritten rules, which must be respected, these rules may differ from country to country. Here are some examples of what you should or shouldn’t do if you were to decide to go to Mogadishu (Somalia).

You made it finally! You convinced your Mum, packed your bags and you are ready to land in Somalia for the best year of your life (yeah right). You have just stepped out of the airport and you are waiting, impatiently, for your host. The burning African sun is making you sweat profusely. All of a sudden you see a tall, robust men walking towards you while waving desperately his hands. He is talking to you in an alien language now. He smiles and then embraces you, kissing your cheeks five, six maybe seven times. Do not worry: it is normal routine to greet a guest, now you have to do the same to him (go on do it!).

You arrived in your new home. Relax! Every thing will be fine. Unpack your bags, wash up, freshen up, change clothes, and quickly go downstairs, everybody is waiting for you. Your host with his 52 children and 4 wives, the relatives and their friends with their neighbours are all waiting for you to show up. Eventually you mange to join them, (NO!!! NO!!! DON’T DO THAT!!!) You sat down and you crossed your leg facing your foot towards your host, then you lit a cigarette and started smoking your way away while chatting up his daughter. Well done to you! You just broke the world record by becoming the fastest most unpopular person in Mogadishu and you are one step away from being taken to the local market and being sold to the worst buyer. Don’t panic! Apologise! And start making excuses, first, tell your host that you have a wooden leg because of the Gulf War, that’s why you have to sit with your legs crossed and that you never meant to insult him by showing your sole. Second, tell every-body that you have a very rare kind of asthma, which needs cigarette smoke to make you breath, now apologise again to everyone. Last but not least, tell your host that the air journey caused you a stiff-neck and you were actually talking to him and not to his daughter, erm… start crying… (Ehm… ehm… no need to be bothered anymore: you are dead now).

Don’t worry the time abroad is not always as drastic as this. Gaffes do happen. The best thing to do, however, is to learn about the culture, religion and other basic facts of that particular country. And finally, remember be ready with your excuse making expertise...

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Messico eterno.

Messico senza tempo!

Que Viva Mexico!

Lunga vita!

Atterrate di notte a Città del Messico e avrete un'idea di che cosa sia una megalopoli del Duemila. Inizia qui, su questo altopiano a 2.300 metri, il viaggio in una terra che, come diceva un suo poeta, «sogna i sogni di tutti»

Un Paese immenso, terra di violenti contrasti, di fiestas e di colori. "Non si può raccontare il Messico" dice il filosofo Manuel Zamacone in un romanzo di Carlos Fuentes "Si deve credere nel Messico, con rabbia, con passione, con totale abbandono". E tantomeno ci si può illudere di capirlo, scoprirne le molteplici facce e gli idiomi nascosti, con una breve visita, con la fretta del viaggiatore alla ricerca di storia e miti. È un intrico di civiltà e rivoluzioni, di leggende e di sorrisi tristi. Come diceva uno dei suoi grandi poeti, Octavio Paz, il Messico "sogna i sogni di tutti", raro esempio di commistione, di odio e amore, tra Europa e America. Un gran guazzabuglio per il turista frettoloso alla ricerca di spiagge da favola, melanconici mariachi, rovine pre-colombiane e tacos ardenti di habanero, il peperoncino folgorante. C'è tutto e di più. Basta avere un po' di tempo e tanta pazienza.