Archives for category: temporary nest

The gift that keeps on giving. The cultures that can be shared, that connect us all. No, I am not talking about the internet or social media, but the microbial communities that grow our cheese, our bread, wine, makes our food alive and helps our bodies thrive. The Pasta Madre to make sourdough bread, the Mutter Kulturen, starter cultures in alpine cheese making. 

Unfortunately, many of these cultures are becoming extinct, replaced by synthetic bacterial mixes that are all pretty much the same or similar that provide consistency but represent only a fraction of the diversity of the wild mother cultures. 

For thousands of years these cultures sustained our lives. Unrealistic fear of microbes, zealous obsession with hygiene, and hunger for control all contribute to the current eradication of our mothers.

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It’s a man’s world?

No man lives without a mother. It is time to turn the tables.

Many modern cheese making facilities, being it small or industrial type, look like scientific laboratories in which conditions can be controlled and cheese making can be standardized, even for many of the artisan styles. It is a result of our modern lifestyles, in which food consumption is far removed from its sources and intermediate pathways need to be hygienically guarded to minimize any kind of hazardous situation.

Making cheese is actually elegantly simple, and once humans figured out the way to preserve milk in this way over 7000 years ago, there was no stopping us. Cheese has been in the making ever since, but over the last 150 years or so more and more, the natural is replaced by the synthetic.

What happens when you leave milk on your counter. It will turn sour! This is the essence of making cheese. The ambient bacterias (Lactic Acid Bacteria) will turn the sugars in the milk (lactose) into acid and causes it to thicken. We can help by adding some more bacteria, a scoop of yoghurt, some kefir grains, or some whey of a previous batch of cheese. Letting it drain will separate the whey from the curd. Of course over the years we have enhanced our skills and recipes. Cheese, a living thing, starts its life as milk at around Ph 6.7 (7 = neutral), it will lower (acidify) in the making process, but cheeses can have a range of acidic values (>4) and change during their lifetime. Sour blobs on the farm, but that was then. 

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Pasteurization has helped to keep milk fresher longer, especially since it had to be transported over longer distances to reach the growing number of people living in cities. First cows were kept in urban areas before industrialization, but during the early 20th century the supply chains lengthened and risk of disease from raw milk increased. Enter pasteurization.

Through the idea and method developed by Louis Pasteur, the milk is heated up with the intention to eliminate pathogens, to destroy and deactivate organisms and enzymes that contribute to spoilage. 

This was a good thing, but it has also affected our trust in good milk. The milk that comes from healthy cows and other animals living on a grass-based diet. The milk that contains many good bacteria that can turn milk into cheese, not only tastes good but rich in a number of ways. Instead, industry has taken over and provides synthetic mixes to be added to (pasteurized) milk, from which we can make the same cheese over and over, like wonder bread.  Something is lost in translation, biodiversity is diminished. The rich acidified fluid that makes my gut sing, is best when the road from udder to table is short. It is also a great way to get a better understanding of what is going on with a crucial non-renewable resource on a human scale: our soils and grasslands.

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The land looks peaceful, marshland bordered by undulating green field lined with oak and hedges.

Apart from the occasional British flag waved in the villages, everything seems to be the same after independence day. The odors in the land are familiar and omnipresent.

It is winter, the pasture land is regenerating, the animals are inside, except for the sheep. The cows are fed on hay and silage, which together with manure makes up the typical winter pasture land smell. 

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Good hay is good for cows. For cut grass to become hay for winter though, it needs to dry fast. The problem in the UK is that good warm weather in a five to six day row in summer time is scarce. Enter silage. More and more farmers turn to silage to feed their animals through the winter, but it is also affecting the milk, winter milk is just different and you cannot make an alpine style (hard) cheese for instance. Basically, silage is fermented grass, green foliage crops preserved by acidification. When cut and heaped up, the foliage is usually pressed into bales and wrapped in plastic film. 

Grass milk is good. The organic way, very different from conventional practices, where cows are fed  primarily on grains to increase (meat) production. Organic milk is good. Non-organic milk not necessarily.

Milk provides omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are both essential nutrients for humans. However too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, it is a matter of balance.  A recent study found that cows fed on organic grass produced milk with a better fatty acid profile, an omega 6/omega-3 ratio of nearly 1to 1, than for conventional whole milk, for which the ratio turned out to be 5.7 to 1. Take your pick, the odors are a bonus, but do pay attention. 

Silage can be odorless, vinegary, rancid-butter like, or sweet smelling tobacco, but when it smells musty or moldy, move on, your cows won’t like it, and milk and cheese will not be good either. Hay with a little bit of roughage is great, silage only when it smells good.

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Stacked Silage

 

I have been involved in making dairy products from organic milk for over a year now, learning how milk changes with the season, the animals, and the place, the terroir of milk. How love for the animals and taking care of the milk, feeding it, and curating the curd, results in wonderfully tasting forms of nutrition. The Somerset cows, the marsh and upland grass, a specific mix I hope to learn and taste more about.

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I am in Somerset, England, making cheese on a small, nice, family farm that is build up over the last couple of years around the cheese-making business. So far, only one, soft, French inspired cheese is produced here and I am now employed as assistant cheesemaker, together with a cheese making colleague; together we produce this cheese. This is my first time making cheese from pasteurized milk, where the milk is sourced and delivered from elsewhere. It is organic cow’s milk, but it is strange not knowing the animals who gave the milk. 

The idea is that in the near future two more cheeses will be developed by the owner of the farm, who took on cheesemaking as a second career after leaving a city job. Somerset seems to have become a hub for urban escapees re-structuring their life in rural mould.

On the farm, which is located in a broad valley of pasture land, rural roads are lined with hedges leading to small villages with plenty cottages. The  plan is to expand production. We will soon move into a newly built cheese-barn, raised with European rural development funds. One of the requirements of receiving this fund is to employ a certain number of people. I am one of them. Production and sales need to go up to justify all the expenses and to become a profitable farm business.

On the brink of Brexit. In the middle of pasture land. As far as the eye can see, toward the rolling hills bordering the broad valley, green fields, lined with hedges and dotted with mighty oak trees, but not much in terms of produce, vegetables or grains. It is still a bit of a mystery what will happen. Will the price of living go up, will fresh vegetables become an exclusive product only affordable by the privileged?

We will see. For now I focus on mastering a new cheese procedure and a different approach to making and marketing cheese. To be continued…

It is a familiar riddle, if a tree falls in the forest…. 

Not too long ago I was earwitness to exactly this phenomenon. A fierce wind, the tree could no longer stand up, its core was rotten. Over time it had slowly leaned over and now reached a tipping point. It started with short cracking events until at one point the tree fell with a loud crack and a swoosh of the branches hitting the ground, sweeping the nearby vegetation on its way down. 

The question is an old philosophical one, the sound of the falling tree considered an object of perception, without ears in earshot picking up the mechanical (sound) waves, does the sound exist? An existential problem, basically asking if reality exist outside our perception of it. I am not trying to answer that question, I am interested in the perceptual potential of the space in which we are immersed.

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My training as an archaeologist/anthropologist involved a lot of tech of the Earth observing kind. Interested in different perspectives, the view from space is an exiting one, way beyond the ordinary. It was pretty mind-blowing to understand what these sensors aboard the orbiting satellites ‘see’ and collect: reflectance (values) of electro magnetic waves, and how we can use these data to calculate and visualize the changing appearance of our home planet, In some cases, in dry areas, it even let us ‘see’ below the surface. It made me aware that ‘seeing’ is not simple, but complex and multidimensional and related and intertwined with other kinds of wave energy that can be perceived by us and other sensing beings. In a way, learning to process and interpret satellite imagery and other spatial data, extended my natural sensing abilities technologically, but also philosophically. What more is out there that I don’t pick up. 

How about the song of the wings, the dancing fireflies under a starlit sky, and other such subtle and rarely experienced events in our modern lives. Are we losing these perceptual objects? Still there but unperceivable because of sensory pollution? Or worse, transformed into something else entirely? Signal interference that actually changes a message into something unintelligible, and therefore no longer existing as intended. 

It is a new riddle for our times. 

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I cannot decide. It is exciting to have all these technological tools at your fingertips to experience the world in multiple new and different ways. At the same time I search for places that are devoid of technological impact to tap into the natural potential. I count myself lucky to be able to perceive and appreciate these perceptual wonders at opposite sides of the spectrum so to speak and beginning to grasp the complexity of our wavy world. I am not sure which one excites me more: sitting at a computer viewing the whole world on my screen, or dwelling in vast landscape, suddenly becoming aware of the singing feathers. But it dawns on me that these different ways of experiencing the world may not be compatible in the long run and that we have to make some choices. For instance, using our phone actually disturbs the navigation skills of bees in the vicinity.

 A question for our future…

During this winter holiday season I reside in the northern European region with family and friends in mostly urban settings, where the days are short and often overcast. It try to soak up enough daylight, especially when the sun appears from behind the clouds, but what I seek most is places where I do not consciously hear the ‘hum.’ 

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Index of sound architecture

Automobile traffic, rubber tires spinning across asphalt. Sound or noise clouds dispersing in different directions, creating an audible hum, inundating the urban sphere. Vectors of stress, cause of a number of modern day ailments that plague our species.

I am not sure if it bothers everyone else as it does me, but maybe it is because I have a recent sound memory so radically different, a silence so intense, It is inappropriate to categorise it as the absence of sound. A silence so big, it feels like a blanket of potential. 

Walking across the fjells of rocks, moss and lichen, a view of mountain ranges all around, in different formations and character, and nothing to hear but the occasional bird call. When I concentrate I can even spot the bird who is making the call. The air is crisp and clear. Even when clouds fill the sky, their patterns come alive as an organism of aerial performance. It is an incredible feeling: the thought of being a part of this ancient, seemingly inert landscape, stillness in anticipation of potential, vastness into multiple dimensions and scales.

Ma, the Japanese spatial concept comes to mind, roughly translated as ‘gap’, which has been described as consciousness of place, the living breath that measures time and space, not as an enclosed three-dimensional entity but more as the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, an emptiness open to imaginative possibilities that something may enter enter to the invisible, like a promise yet to be fulfilled and the silence between the notes which makes the music.”

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It rings a bell, literally, as my sound memory.

In the morning I accompany the goats up the mountain after milking. They know their land, they move as one, their beating hooves, bleating conversation and the two bells create a sonic object recurring as daily rhythm. Only when leadership is in question and signs of indecisiveness create random movements in the front, I perform my herding duty and lead the way. 

Music, emergent in this otherwise soft spoken surrounding in time and space, subtly changing the airflow, awareness of form and non-form. These movements across the land, its sounds, smells and sights become part of the landscape, aware of the physicality of emptiness. 

The swallows have started to build their nest in the barn, where I milk the goats. Swift and agile they move around, in and out the barn and around the cabin, and one day, quietly observing them I notice something, their wings make specific sounds, it is like they speak with movement. Can that be true? Apparently it is called, aeroelastic flutter, not only do they sing vocally, but communicate in many other musical ways… find ma, and tune in to the edge of perception.

See also: https://kyotojournal.org/culture-arts/ma-place-space-void/ 

I cannot speak for anybody else, but for me the idea of strolling through mountainous lands while accompanying a herd of animals, preferably goats, sounds like a great way to pass time. That is, when they follow you, or an acceptable pathway. Goats! Quite the characters.

Over the last years I have had a chance to get closer to the mind of the goat and transhumance as a lifestyle. Not to be confused with transhuman as a concept, even though in my life the underlying ideas converge. 

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One is quite old (transhumance), the other conceived only mid last century (transhuman), the latter suggesting the possibility of new evolutionary beings, resembling a human, but equipped with powers beyond the ordinary. Enhanced intelligence, awareness, and strength, all to be anticipated!. According to the early futurologists, typical signs of transhumans indicate physical aa well as mental augmentation, and include protheses, intense use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle. Formed during the 1950’s and 60’s, these ideas actually describe our current lives pretty well. Our modern day extensions of our sensory selves come to mind, our phones, a kind of prosthetic to which many of us are almost permanently attached, extending our world into the digital realm. Other sensors and enhancements that enable experience beyond our bodily limits, what else is new. 

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Transhumance, on the other hand, does not refer to the human body directly. The word derives from the latin words, trans, across, and humus, ground. It refers to an action, a nomadic, or globetrotting lifestyle. More specifically, people who follow animals into remote locations, where animals can eat, digest, and transform inedibles into something that can be consumed or processed by us into something digestible and nutritious, milk and mutton for instance, but down the line, maybe something else is transformed in unexpected ways.

When I engage in this lifestyle I am thankful for having some transcending equipment, a ‘smart’ phone that lets me connect to people in different places, that can connect to satellites when I am not sure if the path I am taking leads back to my cabin. But actually I am interested in my innate super powers when I cross these lands. The edges of perception of my natural self, ones that have perhaps been numbed by years of tech-assisted living, of inhabiting uninspiring, signal inundated environments. Somehow I believe that spending time with these roaming creatures in remote regions, piques my senses. Can I tap into my superpowers, increase my intelligence, and heighten awareness in this way? Who knows, what I do know is that it is worth the effort to try. Whatever it is, this is pretty awesome. 

2020

It has been a while since I last posted. My life still revolves around the rural and running, but sometimes life takes over. A lot of catching up to do, but first things first. We are entering a new decade and wish all creatures great and small a collaborative, curious and cozy time of continuiing co-existence.

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http://www.valturio.com

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over the last couple of days I have been listening to some of the talks of the Sustainable Small Farm Summit. If you have chance, check it out:

http://www.smallfarmsummit.org/Welcome/

 

 

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http://dornsife.usc.edu/ilios/amanda-griffiths-ends-and-meanings/

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For instance, read the masters thesis by Norman Albert Anaru for a Māori perspective: “A Critical Analysis of the Impact of Colonisation on the Māori Language through an Examination of Political Theory” http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10292/2463/AnaruN.pdf?sequence=3

To read Il Principe, go to:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm

 

 

 

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It is quiet on the hill. Fog and drizzly rain means limited activity outside during the day. Still, the animals need attention and the neighbors return home return to their house early evening. Silence. Waiting for the soothing sound of the night owl that marks the end of the day.

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https://www.academia.edu/5334114/Food_scarcity_as_a_trigger_for_civil_unrest

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/425019/the-cause-of-riots-and-the-price-of-food/ (old article, time to assess)

 

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http://en.airbornemuseum.nl/

A book that also influenced my thinking on this topic:

Eric Wolf, Europe and the People without History, (1982)

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I moved into the windmill, located within the Ruige Weide polder. From this perspective I hope to gain better understanding of the Dutch planning mind and the dynamic relationships between rural and urban areas that are played out in this process. Is it about food, landscape, recreation, and/or else?

To get your feet wet, you can read about the Delta metropolis:

http://www.deltametropool.nl/nl/association

http://www.deltametropool.nl/nl/veenweidegebieden (report in Dutch)

http://www.deltametropool.nl/v1/pages/english/Deltametropolis.php

http://www.oma.eu/projects/2002/delta-metropool/

 

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Today I move into “the green heart” of the Netherlands

http://www.groenehart.nl/over-het-groene-hart/nationaal-landschap

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No this is not about some exotic way to unearth precious mushrooms in the Dutch polder land. It is a translation of the names of the two dogs I am currently looking after, Truffel & Bliksem. They are super sweet and funny, and each has a distinct but very different character, behaving together like an old, odd couple.

Animals (and plants) can teach us valuable lessons, at least that is the idea of the fable, in which anthropomorphized animals, plants, and inanimate objects take on human qualities to reflect something back to us. Living with Truffel and Bliksem has been very enjoyable, but also confronting. Like living in an animated fable, they have shown me, and taught me something about myself, especially regarding my recently ended long-time relationship.

When it is time to move on, I will remember Truffel and Bliksem, they will guide me on the road ahead.

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Maybe I feel this way because I am putting of my long run in the polder for a few days, my calves felt a little tight, and since my goal is to keep running and not run myself into the ground, I thought it be wiser to stick to regular daily doses. This morning however everything was running smoothly, taking some soggy pasture paths for variation.

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Stop every now and then to take your share of wild vegetables. I am also feasting on the sage in the garden. Great for making tea in support of the respiratory system!

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To learn about mills in the Netherlands:

http://www.molendatabase.nl/nederland/

To read some heritage recipes from even before the time of the windmills visit:

http://landentuinbouw.spinazieacademie.nl/

 

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Also, check out “de Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier”

http://www.wherethefoodis.nl/de-keuken-van-het-ongewenste-dier/

http://kvhod.blogspot.nl/

 

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In anthropology, we can use the term ‘built environment’ to indicate human intervention in the land, and this can range from ephemeral elements to large urban areas. As a concept it is useful to understand the range of landuse as an integrated whole. At the Biennale, the majority of projects are –still– focused on built environment as buildings. Only in a few cases was the larger landscape /rural region at the forefront.

Cultural heritage and preservation efforts (supported by UNESCO) have also long been dominated by large monuments and sites, but as mentioned in earlier posts, this is changing with the recognition of intangible heritage. Even the upcoming conference of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a professional association dedicated to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places around the world, is centered on Heritage and Landscape as Human Values. http://florence2014.icomos.org/en Thinking about this is part of my upcoming writing task.

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Leaving Venice today. The visit was short and… well, nice, since cities are not my ‘natural habitat’. Venice of course is an incredible city, founded in the 5th century it became one of the greatest capitals of the medieval world, now enlisted on the UNESCO world heritage list of sites and monuments. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/394. It is under threat, as it is well-known that Venice is sinking, the anthropogenic causes (ground water pumping) have been addressed but natural causes are still at play ,http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130926/srep02710/full/srep02710.html.

Then there is something else. My host lives and works in the center, near Rialto bridge and has a long family history in the city, but these days he feels he is living in a Disney world, in a city frozen in time. Even the Biennale events to him feel more like amusement spectacles than serious art fairs they intended to be…

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Today I have time for a moderate run (2hrs), and explore the labyrinth that is Venice, configured by the flow of its water. As usual, I don’t take any orienteering devices, but a paper map. Venice is nice city to get lost, eventually you will get to the edge, and while ‘running wild’, it is easy to see lesser-known parts of Venice. Running around, I’m contributing to the flow.

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and the well-known, but different time..

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The rest of the day, I get into the spirit of place (also literally: Genius Loci (Spirit of Place) exhibition at Palazzo Franchetti.)

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Before I came to Venice I thought about Modernity and about the new museum I visited in Como recently dedicated to the works of Sant’Elia, who was the star architect of the Futurist Movement. I always loved his drawings, yet glad that the Futurists’ plans for new cities were not realized. I was therefore surprised that in Como there is an impressive – lakseside– war monument designed by Sant’Elia. He died in La Grande Guerra, as the first world war is referred to, especially in Northern Italy, and many war ruins near Trento remind of the fierce battles that took place over the Austrian- Italian border. http://antoniosantelia.org/

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Yesterday, I visited the Arsenale, one of two main venues of the Biennale, which this year is dominated by monditalia, a scan. Taking Italy as a ‘fundamental’ country this exhibition shows 41 architectural case studies of young architects and researchers, spread over the Italian continent, organized geographically from south to north. The Alps are last. The study investigated the mapping of the border across the Alps, and especially its difficulties. These days satellite technologies make mapping easier, however, new challenges arise. The melting of the glaciers make that the surface of the earth across the Alps is changing at rapid rates. Borders have to be newly negotiated.

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Today I travel to Venice, not to farm, but to visit the Architecture Biennale. My interest in architecture is easily explained, as it is the means by which humans organize and mediate space, influencing and/or determining ecological, socio-economic relationships, but I also ENJOY the creative tangible expression of spatial ideas.

More to come…

http://www.labiennale.org/it/architettura/

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In this part of the Marche region (Montefeltro), wheat is the dominant grown crop and the clay soil is not particularly suited for growing anything else. But, as a friend of Silvia, who is an expert in medicinal plants, told me, parts of the region are excellent sources for wild flowers and medicinal plants.

http://eusoils.jrc.ec.europa.eu/esdb_archive/eusoils_docs/other/eur24131.pdf – page 5

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During my travels I notice that many edible wild flowers and plants are widespread globally, but there are cultural differences in the selection of these, both for food and medicinal purposes, and this may also have to do with the variation in flavor in the diet (see post June 23). One man’s weed is another man’s vegetable…

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Innovation in building material and design practice has transformed architecture. One of my favorites are the liminal spaces designed and initiated by Philip Beesley (http://www.philipbeesleyarchitect.com/) in which the human presence performs a participatory role in creating the space, building with a new kind of material and method. Farm houses on the other hand remain very traditional, but much of the old building material is very strong and can be recycled/re-used, which is in fact very NOW

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The roof is replaced, and now I organize and order all the -centuries’ old- terra cotta roof tiles. They are beautiful, but will not be replaced on the roof, probably be sold. Then there is all the salvaged wood. An ancient building material that can be used in many different ways: light and heavy, traditional and avant-garde. I love the tree and the wood.

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For some inspiration on the use of wood in architecture:

https://www.japlusu.com/news/remarkable-japanese-timber-structures

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The connection between interior (architecture) and exterior (landscape) is something that is central in my own work, understanding differences in spatial experience and design in different cultures, and builds on the work of Tadahiko Higuchi, a researcher/spatial scientist –also- from Japan, He published a book on visual and spatial experience of the landscape in 1983, but more than that, his research also provides insight in the different role that architecture plays in Japan in this dynamic relationship, where the walls are not meant to exclude the outside.

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I am on a hill. The hill is steep. At first I thought it was like any hill, but running around I noticed that this hill is a bit lower than, and protected by the surrounding hills, creating an interesting microclimate. The farmhouse is typical in the region, with thick stone walls and relatively small windows. From inside it is difficult to maintain the (visual) connection with the surrounding landscape. Luckily, I am outside large part of the day, and I am reminded of the stories of Shono and lessons of Higuchi.

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Now a national monument, the Fortress, with its curvilinear walls, and almost round shape represents an ‘architecture of transition’, was created for a new form of warfare using bombards. The fort became also known through rescue operation during WWII, saving about 10.000 artworks from the Marche region, Rome, Venice, and Milan, from the hands of the enemy.

While walking around we noticed the –material– remnants of the procession related to the celebration of San Giovanni that had taken place earlier that day, catholic symbols on the street surface, created with thousands of flower petals, a tradition known as infiorate.

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I was reminded of the beautiful Kolam designs in Southern India and was curious of any of these ephemeral paintings were enlisted on the UNESCO intangible heritage list. It appears that the Kolam tradition was proposed, but not selected in 2011.

This year, a UNESCO “proposal for the declaration of ephemeral art carpets as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” is presented at the V Congresso Internazionale delle Arti Effimere, on June 26-29, in Rome. Here, the events aim to revive the ancient tradition of floral decoration on the feast day of the patron saints of Rome.

http://www.vcongressoartieffimere.it/

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MORRA (rural cultural heritage)

 

What I like about rural living is not only the natural sensory experiences but also the cultural aspects. The correlation between linguistic/cultural- and biodiversity has been recognized for a while, but most people seek cultural experiences in cities. Although metropolitan areas are culturally happening places, the urban is increasingly globalized and homogenized, where people flock to familiar feeling venues and star architects create buildings that often express more about their individual style than the uniqueness of the urban environment.

(see for instance: The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Toward Integration, Pretty, et.al. 2009, open access article on http://www.conservationandsociety.org)

Now in case of the new science museum in Trento the architect can be considered a local (Genoa). Renzo Piano’s building is a wonderful space for the educational science exhibition focused in large on the Alpine region.

BUT, as you may remember during the same weekend I visited Trenro I also went to the Mocheni goat festival. This was not only a showcasing for the typical goats of the region, but also a social event. Two different languages spoken at least and local dialect, it is already a MULTICULTURAL event. Most interesting was the game of Morra, a kind of cognitive game that becomes more vocal with the increasing intake of alcoholic beverage. The game has four players, two on each side of the table. I don’t know the specific rules but it goes something like this: first the players diagonally play and then the players facing each other. The players slam their forearm on the table holding a specific number of fingers out. At the same time the two players shout the estimated total of the two. Whoever shouts the right total number scores a point, while they keep track of the score mentally.

 

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