Siena, Italy

Although it is rather unexpected to find a passage about Siena in a book about fine bourbon in Kentucky, self does have good memories of visiting this part of Italy with her niece, Irene, in 2015. Maybe later, when she has time, she can find a few pictures from that trip and add them to this post.

Wright Thompson travels to Siena so he can watch Siena play Florence. He’s met at a train station by his friend, Fred Marconi.

Rows of trees lined the road, pine and cypress. Castle keeps rose from the hills.

Marconi’s family has lived in Siena for at least five hundred years . . . and he is proud of his history. This wasn’t some old man talking. He was a forty-two-year-old graffiti artist who plays bass in a rock band. He’s got a Ramones tattoo. He baptized his three-year-old son on the 750th anniversary of the battle that took place on the peaceful field he was driving me to see.

“This was one of the biggest battles in the Middle Ages,” he said. “It was September fourth, 1260. Dante talked about this battle in The Divine Comedy and said it was a terrible day. The Sienese turned the Arbia River into a red river of blood.”

Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last, p. 20

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Chapter 8, ASHOH

Chapter 8 is the mother lode. Self started reading it, she thinks, two days ago.

On p. 183 the authors tell us that all those millions of deaths in Europe — for example, half the population of London was wiped out — were caused not by various strains of the plague, but “by identical versions of a single bacterium.” In other words, a clone.

This “tells us that the plague bacterium only came to Europe once. Previously it was thought that the Black Death might have been brought to the continent repeatedly on ships through trade. But if this were the case, we would have found various different strains dating from this period and not an identical bacterial clone that caused millions to die.”

What was that one instance that proved fatal to millions? Which ship, which trader, which entry port? The authors don’t say.

The Black Death “was the origin of all later European strains, slowly collecting mutations before it disappeared from Europe in the eighteenth century for good.”

Sentence of the Day: A SHORT HISTORY OF HUMANITY

  • According to today’s more modest calculations, a third of Europe’s population died during the Black Death, 27 million people out of a population of approximately 80 million. — p. 180

Quaranta, Italian for Quarantine

The word quaranta came out of Venice during the period of the Black Death: self learns new things every day!

Over the following centuries, the plague struck certain cities with particular frequency, including Venice, where traders from across the world did business. Shortly after an outbreak, Venice would ban foreigners from the city; captains who disobeyed were fined and threatened with ship-burning. Closing the port was the authorities’ preferred way for preventing the spread of disease.

Quarantine, which involved isolating newcomers for forty days (quaranta in Italian) was invented during this period.

— Chapter 8, A Short History of Humanity

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Plague in the Roman Empire

The Justinian Plague, which started in the sixth century — and was named after the reigning emperor, Justinian, who caught the disease but survived — was really an epidemic of the plague or some other illness. The historian Procopius of Caesarea recorded detailed symptoms of the sickness, which afflicted millions of people from the mid-sixth century onward.

“The Justinianic plague first proliferated in Constantinople. The proximate cause was probably a terrible earthquake in 542, which reduced parts of the city to rubble. One theory suggests that corpses — as well as food that had tumbled out of storehouses — may have triggered a sharp rise in the rat population, creating ideal conditions for the spread of the flea-infested rats. Because Constantinople was extremely well-connected to other Mediterranean port cities by sea, the epidemic that eventually swept across the whole of Europe probably moved along shipping routes.”

— Chapter 8, A Short History of Humanity

“A Largely Depopulated Landscape”

Self just discovered that A Short History of Humanity is a translation from the German. The translator is Caroline Waight. Self realized that whenever she reads a novel by a German writer, she automatically assumes it’s a translation, but this is the first scientific work she’s read by a German writer, and the fact that it’s a translation is frankly mind-blowing.

Still on Chapter 5! It’s her favorite chapter, so far.

As migrants from “the Eastern steppe” arrived in Central Europe, one can chart their progress from east to west by the presence of “immense barrows . . . constructed everywhere on the steppe.” These were burial mounds, ranging from two to twenty meters in height, filled with human remains and sometimes “generous grave goods.”

In contrast, in Central Europe itself, “between 5,500 and 5,000 years ago,” the period during which the newcomers are said to have arrived in Central Europe, there are “almost no skeletons and hardly any usable DNA.” What are the reasons for this largely “depopulated landscape”?

People were not fleeing from the new arrivals. Nor have any “mass graves” or battlefields been discovered. On p. 105, Krause makes the dry observation that “the oldest decoded plague genome dates from this period.”

PLAGUE??? Scientists have decoded a plague genome? And it went that far back?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

A Little Early: April 9 BRIGHT SQUARES

The host of this challenge is The Life of B.

Love her A bright evening.

For her 9th picture of BRIGHT SQUARES, self chose (1) a picture of another of her buttons, and (2) an umbrella on Courthouse Square, Redwood City, directly across from the historic Fox Theatre, sadly still closed due to the pandemic.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Day 4: BRIGHT SQUARES

More about the theme for April: Bright Squares

Self will attempt to post squares every day through April.

This installment (#4) is all about BRIGHT BOOK COVERS.

  • Caroline Kim’s collection won the Drue Heinze Literature Prize.
  • Horacio de la Costa was a great historian. Self thinks his books are classics.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Mousehole, 1595

Mousehole is a quaint fishing village in Cornwall, which features in a book called The Mousehole Cat that Lamorna Ash remembers her mother reading to her as a child.

In 1595 a Spanish naval squadron landed at Mousehole and sacked it, burning down almost every building, before continuing their violence upon the coast in Newlyn and Penzance.

Dark, Salt, Clear: The Life of a Fishing Town, p. 11

Sentence of the Day: Barack Obama

As a general rule, I’m a slow walker — a Hawaiian walk, Michelle likes to say, sometimes with a hint of impatience.

— Chapter 1, A Promised Land

The words of 44 are very clear and precise. He was a great President. You can tell by the way he writes, which is also the way you can tell how a man thinks. And 44 is a very, very good writer.

America was so lucky to have him.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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