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Jac’s Frozen Fountains

January 22, 2012 1 comment

Dave the WriterJac was a clever guy.

It’d been below freezing in this part of Italy for almost two weeks. Farmers with orchards or vinyards were tearing their hair and wailing in despair, but the crystal-clear air and magnificent views of the snow-capped Apennines in the distance went a long way toward consoling my bride and me.

We’d booked a few weeks’ stay in a romantic room at the recently refurbished 14th century Palazzo Catalani about sixty miles north of Rome. From there, we took day trips all around to explore the countryside.

This day, we were in the small town of Bagnaia to see its major attraction, the gardens and fountains of the Villa Lante (not to be confused with several others of the same name elsewhere in Italy). That’s where Jac comes in.

In the late 15oo’s, a rich* Cardinal asked Jacopo Barozzi of Vignola to create a water wonderland using a small spring that bubbled up on the churchman’s hillside hunting preserve. Jac did fine work.

In our travels, we’ve seen a lot of beautiful fountains, but this one was unique. It was frozen in motion. No pumps or electric-powered mechanisms made the lovely water art there function—just gravity and Jac’s masterful skill. The modern management didn’t have anything to shut down and preserve from cold-weather harm, so they just let it flow.

How perfect for us! Lovely arcs and cascades of ice were everywhere. As the weeks of cold weather had continued, the fountain heads froze last. So, they had the chance to make rare and beautiful paintings in the air before they too stopped working. The beautiful result grabbed us then and has held on in our memories to this day.

Given the skills Jac showed in every other aspect of his work there, we believe that these frozen fountains were no happy accident, but the result of a superb architect’s design intention. And a lucky Cardinal’s bottomless treasury, of course. 

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 By the way, doesn’t it seem that all the Cardinals were seriously rich back then? That’s probably for the same reasons that modern politicians mysteriously and regularly join ‘the one percent’ on nothing but 30 years of honest Public Service and government salaries. Or, maybe, it’s Divine Intervention helping the Future Saints among us, just like it was 500 years ago. Yeah. Sure. That’s it.

Your Hands Are the Enemy!

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Anastasia had just come home to the medieval Italian hill town of Soriano nel Cimino. After three years in equatorial Africa as an aid volunteer, she now worked at the delightful, 650 year old Palazzo Catalani, where my wife and I were staying.

Palazzo Catalani from the Castle Parapet

We talked a lot with Anastasia about her work and conditions in the third world. Based on many friends’ experiences, we had concerns about the potential for ugly, hygiene-related illnesses, with chronic dysentery being the least on our list. But Anastasia said that she had not been sick even once during her time in the poorest parts of Africa.

I said, “Amazing! No one I know has ever spent that long in those conditions and stayed healthy. How did you manage?”

Anastasia & My Wife in Vitorchiano

Anastasia told us that just before she left Italy, a Swedish friend with lots of experience in Africa had advised her, “We all know about clean, cooked food. The other part of staying healthy is simple. Always treat your hands as the enemy. Never let them near your face. Ever.”

Anastasia said that she had practiced every minute after that. The mantra of ‘Enemy Hands’ was always in the front of her mind. And it worked.

So, ever since I learned this from Anastasia, I’ve tried to do the same under similar conditions. Sadly, even after years of working at it, I inevitably catch myself in the midst of rubbing a tired eye, or scratching an itchy ear or touching something I’m about to put in my mouth. Anastasia is much more self-disciplined than am I. Hooray for her! Lameness, rushing to the lavatory and über doses of fungicide for me.

Major Suckitude!

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