Monday, November 23, 2020

Bergamo – Street Sign Language Lesson XXIII – No candles fino al?

Can we just say that the signs in this installment of Street Sign Language Lesson ™ totally prove the point in the post we wrote several years ago about how much writing in Italy – and by extension signs – is in uppercase. That post was Lo Stampatello: How Italians Write.

In this 23rd installment, we have: four signs related to the coronavirus (closures and forbidden items during the lockdown), a sign for a lost cat (and a plea from its young owner), a sign about a poet incarcerated as an antifascist, a sign advertising what's cooking at Il Coccio, and a sign on a van that takes us on a small diversion to learn about flooring. If this overview hasn't piqued your curiosity: close this window now, click your browser's back button, or go here.

INFORMAZIONE AI NOSTRI CLIENTI – In ottemperanza al DPCM del 3 Novembre 2020

INFORMAZIONE AI NOSTRI CLIENTI – In ottemperanza al DPCM del 3 Novembre 2020 non è temporaneamente consentita la vendita di questa categoria di merceologica.
Information for our customers: In accordance with the Prime Ministerial decree of November 3, 2020, the sale of this product category is temporarily not allowed.

There's a lot to unpack here. DPCM is an acronym for decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei ministri and is a decree by the Prime Minister of Italy. Here the DPCM in question is that of 3rd of November with it's attachments

 We know, we should know this cold, but we are a little shaky on our knowledge of how the Italian government works. Here goes an explanation: a decreto (law-decree) is a type of law that the Prime Minister (also know as the premier) can enact that doesn't require legislative approval although that may come later by the Senate – the upper house (Senato della Repubblica) and the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house (Camera dei deputati). Law-decrees are usually used as instruments "in cases of the uttermost need and urgency", as in the cornavirus pandemic. Imagine trying to get laws enacted quickly with 5 or 6 different parties and the law-decree starts to make sense.

So how does this all apply to this Carrefour store suspending the sale of candles and cake decorating item? That's what we were wondering. To the best of our ability in interpreting the DPCM of the 3rd of November, stores in red zones (zone rosse) can only sell essential items that appear in the attachments list (attachment 23). The list is inclusive not exclusive. That is, the items on the list are "essentials" and there is no indication of what can't be sold. Each (chain) store seems to have taken to deciding on what meets the decree as essential, which is a bit arbitrary. In some stores, le candele e i diffusori per ambiente (basically ways to stink up your house with artificial smells) were marked not for sale. Okay, maybe this ban isn't so bad after all.


Bar Perry: (due to red zone restrictions) closed until? Hello everyone and never give up.

X is often written for the preposition per or "for". The question of the day is when will the restrictions be lifted.


What's cooking at Il Coccio.

A coccio is a terracotta – earthenware cooking pot or fragment or shard of pottery. In our sign here, Il Coccio refers to a trattoria in Bergamo. On the sign advertising the menu of the day, it begins with Cosa bolle nel Coccio?. Bolle comes from the verb bollire – to boil or cook. It's an informal way of saying what's cooking. Here it becomes a pun of what's cooking and what's cooking in the pot.

Food at Il Coccio during this time are for take-away only – like all other restaurants in Bergamo for most of November 2020.


No health dictatorship.

The side of the Chiesa di San Bernardino in Pignolo is the source of anti-everything graffiti. A while back (see Bergamo – Street Sign Language Lesson XXVI), it was anti-vaccni [sic]. It looks to be the work of the same folks but their spelling has improved during the lockdown!


For every ending, there is a new beginning.

A sign of the times: businesses closing in these tough times. Here's a sign of one such business on via Santa Caterina that keeps the message positive. The sign continues anche se spesso le chiusure sono dolorose e, qualcosa ha termine nella nostra vita, è sempre una occasione di crescita – which translates approximately as "even if the closures are sad, and something ends in our life, it is always an opportunity for growth".


Imprisoned in Bergamo for being an anti-fascism.

In 1943, the Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo (1901 – 1968) came to Bergamo from Milan on the invitation of Giacomo Manzù (1908 – 1991). Because Quasimod didn't respond to a draft card sent by the Repubblica di Salò, he was imprisoned for several months at La Rocca. Quasimodo's poem "Dalla Rocca di Bergamo Alta" records his imprisonment and is inscribes on this sign here outside La Rocca.

In 1959, Quasimodo was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.

For a quick read on fascism and the connection to our time, check out the book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Finally, what does the Repubblica di Salò have to do with this? It was the second and last incarnation of the Italian Fascist state, a sort of last gasp that functioned between September 1943 (when Italy rejected Mussolini and Germany seized control of northern Italy) and April 1945, as the tide turned definitively against the Axis powers in WWII.

GATTO SMARRITO – Cerco il mio gattino. Si chiama Simon: è bianco, grigio, minuto.

GATTO SMARRITO – Cerco il mio gattino. Si chiama Simon: è bianco, grigio, minuto.
Lost cat. I'm looking for my kitty. He's called Simon and is white, gray, and small.

This sign was written by a little girl who lost her cat. This sign just warms a cold pandemic and apathetic heart doesn't it? The sign includes what is probably her mom's cell phone. Come home Simon!

For the record: gatto (gatta) is a cat, and it sounds a bit like the French word gâteau. A gattino (gattina) is a kitten. There is a famous 1960 song from Gino Paoli called "La gatta" that starts "C'era una volta una gatta", once upon a time there was a cat. Video.

Pavimentazioni f.lli Filisetti. Posa Pavimenti e Rivestimenti – Bettoncini con pompe

Pavimentazioni f.lli Filisetti. Posa Pavimenti e Rivestimenti – Bettoncini con pompe 
Flooring by Brothers Filisetti. Laying of floors and coverings – Cement with pump.

f.lli is a commonly used abbreviation for fratelli. Posa comes from the verb posare – to lay out. The word that caught our attention was bettoncini. When we tried looking it up, we could only find it with one T as betoncino/i. Did they just spell it wrong?

The best definition we could find was on an engineering forum: betoncino is a type of cement with aggregates that don't exceed1.5cm, which seems to be used in restoration work on walls. Beyond that, please call f.lli Filisetti for an explanation and spelling. (This surname is a name characteristically found in the Bergamasco.)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Erigeron karvinskianus – A Mexican (Fleabane) in Bergamo

Erigeron karvinskianus on a wall in San Vigilio, Bergamo.Erigeron karvinskianus on a wall in San Vigilio, Bergamo.
Erigeron karvinskianus on a wall in San Vigilio, Bergamo.

We couldn't resist that title. One common name for Erigeron karvinskianus is Mexican fleabane and when there is a cheap play on words, we go for it.

Before researching the true name for this post, we just called this plant a "daisy" and technically that is correct as it is part of the daisy-family (Asteraceae). More specifically though, it's in the genus Erigeron commonly called fleabane from a belief that dried Erigeron genus plants repelled fleas or that the plants were poisonous to fleas. (A ye olde conspiracy that once had a large following?)

The species epithet karvinskianus honors Wilhelm Friedrich Karwinski von Karwin (1780 – 1855), a Bavarian naturalist who was reported to have collected the plant in Mexico, one of it's native distribution areas along with the Central Americas and northern parts of South America.

Where we really notice E. karvinskianus is on walls – as in these photos taken in San Vigilio, Bergamo. This daisy blooms throughout a good part of the year and provides a welcome splash of color with the white of new flowers and the purple of older flowers.

Asplenium ceterach – Rustyback Fern

Asplenium cetarach botanical drawing ( of Asplenium cetarach on a wall in Bergamo.Photo of Asplenium cetarach on a wall in Bergamo.Photo of Asplenium cetarach on a wall in Bergamo.
Left: Asplenium cetarach botanical drawing (
Center and right: Photos of Asplenium cetarach on a wall in Bergamo.

The upside of the coronavirus lockdown (November 2020 edition) is that we've spent more time walking and exploring parts of Bergamo we usually don't. Case in point, we found ourselves on the Scaletta Scorlazzino, a beautiful and long stair climb up the southern slopes below Via Sudorno. On these sun-exposed walls we ran into Asplenium ceterach, commonly known as the Rustyback fern, another good candidate for a "wall plants of Bergamo" post.

Unlike many other ferns, A. ceterach likes sun and requires little humidity. The Rustyback fern is also known "as a resurrection plant due to its ability to withstand desiccation and subsequently recover on rewetting."[ref] That's an apt metaphor for the on and off again lockdowns and looking forward to getting through this pandemic intact.

The family Aspleniaceae (recall the taxonomy: kingdom, clade, class, order, suborder, family, genus, species) is a family of ferns called spleenworts for their approximate resemblance to spleens. In two previous posts we talked about two other wall-loving ferns in this family: Asplenium ruta-muraria and Asplenium tichomanes, that both look similar to A. ceterach.

Rustyback is found in Western and Central Europe, including the Mediterranean region. It is commonly found growing in fissures in limestone and dolomite rock and on the mortar of stone and brick walls, as in these photos. The English common name Rustyback – according to Wikipedia – is due to the orange-brown hairs (trichomes) on the backside of the fronds.

In Italian, this fern is called la cedracca. According to Treccani, this Italian word derives ultimately from the Persian word shītarak.

A photo of Asplenium cetarach on a sunny wall of the Scaletta Scorlazzino in Bergamo.The underside of the an A. cetarach frond.
Left: A photo of Asplenium cetarach on a sunny wall of the Scaletta Scorlazzino in Bergamo.
Right: The underside of the an A. cetarach frond.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Little Respect for our Italian Scorpion Friends

Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2019-05-02.Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-10-17.Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-05-08.
Left: Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2019-05-02.
Center: Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-10-17.
Right: Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-05-08.

I admit it, I thought scorpions only lived in the desert and had lethal stings. These statements contain a shred of truth but are far off from the full picture about scorpions. I had to come face to face with my scorpion ignorance recently when we ran into a scorpion on the wall of our palazzo.

My first question was: is it natural that there is a scorpion on the wall of our apartment building, in northern Italy? Has the world turned upside down? Has there been a mistake? No, no mistake, in fact scorpions are found on all landmasses except Antarctica. The most northern colony of scorpions in fact is on the Isle of Sheppey in the United Kingdom at 51 degrees N. They were accidentally introduced there.

We saw our first scorpion in Italy when we lived for several months in Florence in 2007. I remember being slightly disturbed when finding it under the sponge on our kitchen sink.

My second question was: are the scorpions we are running into in Italy dangerous? Again, the answer is no, not the type we are seeing (and pictured here). There are very dangerous types for sure but those are typically not found in Italy. And those dangerous types sting as last resort and do not actively seek out humans as prey! In other words, there is nothing to be afraid of from the ones we are seeing. In fact, the scorpions we typically see have a sting that has been described as mild as a mosquito bite to as bad as a bee sting. And again, they sting as a last resort.

My third question is what is the correct name for the scorpions we see? The scorpions we show here and see in Bergamo are in the genus Euscoporpius, commonly called small-wood scorpions. Distinguishing between species in the genus – according to this overview of scorpions in Italy – requires you to look at the underside of the claw of the scorpion and look at something called the trichobothria to be sure. (Not sure I will be doing that any time soon.)

By size, color, and prevalence, I’d say we are likely looking at E. italicus (in Italian), which is typically about 5cm (2 in) in size and found throughout Italy, Switzerland, France, Balkans, Greece and North Africa.

It’s said that scorpions with small pincers and a thick, powerful tail indicate a more potent sting. The idea behind this is that armed with a deadly venom the scorpion does not have to rely on its pincers as much to subdue its prey. In the photos here, the pincers are bigger than the tails.

Scorpions are in the class Arachnid, the class that contains spiders. And like spiders, scorpions eat other things like insects, spiders, and other scorpions. It is a cruel world. Of the over 1700 species of scorpion, only around 20 have venom lethal enough to kill a human and those are mostly or if not all in a different family Buthidae.

And so, I close with respect for our little scorpion friends we find on the walls of our apartment in Italy and all scorpions for that matter.

Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-10-17.A dead scorpion on the doormat of a church Sant'Antonio Abate above Varenna on 2016-06-02.
Left: Wood-scorpion (Euscoporpius) in Bergamo on 2020-10-17.
Right: A dead scorpion on the doormat of a church Sant'Antonio Abate above Varenna on 2016-06-02. Either this scorpion was painted blue (unlikely), there is some process that happens after death (maybe) or it's just this color (maybe)? We can't explain the color of this.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Wind Directions in Italian – The Sundial on the Bastion San Giacomo, Bergamo

Left and center: Example RAI weather forecasts showing named wind directions, on September 28 and 30, 2020.
Right: A sundial in Bergamo Città Alta.

This sundial (meridiana in Italian) is an equatorial bow sundial that shows the time and the compass rose. You can find it on the Baluardo di San Giovanni, one of the bastions of the Venetian Walls of Bergamo. Not only being a pretty example of a sundial, it also is interesting because it provides the common names of the direction of winds, which are used often in Italy when discussing the weather.

In the US, wind is usually discussed in terms of direction from which it originates, using the compass rose. For example, winds from the north are northerly winds. There are exceptions and named winds exist like the Santa Ana winds and the Witch of November. For more examples, see the Wikipedia entry List of Local Winds. If you don’t live in an area where a particular named wind is used, you probably wouldn’t know about it. In other words, the named winds (other than based on direction) are not common used across the USA.

On the contrary, in Italy the names of winds are common knowledge across the country and are easily seen on any weather forecast. On the rosa dei venti (compass rose) as shown on the sundial pictured in this post, there are eight named winds:

  • N – north – tramontana
  • NE – northeast – grecale
  • E – east – levante
  • SE – southeast – scirocco
  • S – south – ostro
  • SW – southwest – libeccio
  • W – west – ponente
  • NW – northwest – maestrale

There are regional-specific names for the eight names above as well as other regional weather phenomenon names, usually depending on local geography.

The English Wikipedia entry on the compass rose states that the eight names come from the Mariner’s compass rose used by seafarers in the Mediterranean during medieval times, maybe as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries. The names come from a pidgin language called Sabir. While the exact origins are not clear, two (Ostro and Libeccio) have classical etymologies and two (Scirocco and Garbino, another name for SW winds) have Arab etymologies. So, we have ancient seafarers to thank for these names.

The Italian Wikipedia entry on the compass rose adds that to understand the NE, SE, SW, and NW wind names you need to put yourself somewhere in the Ionian Sea. The Greek island of Zakynthos is given as one example. Then the directions for the northeast, southeast, southwest and nortwest start to make sense. Northeast of our hypothetical point in the Ionian Sea is Greece (hence, Grecale). Southeast is Siria (Scirocco derives from al-Sharq, east in Arabic). Southwest is Libya (Libeccio is comes from the Greek libykós, meaning "of Libya", or from the Arabic lebeǵ, which derives from the Greek líps-libós, which means "wind that brings rain). Northwest is the direction toward Rome or Venice depending on where exactly your hypothetical is in the Ionian Sea (Maestrale from maestro).

The sundial in Bergamo tells:

  • T.M.E.C. is Central European Mean Team. Italy goes to this time (one hour back) between the last Sunday in October and the last Sunday in March.
  • Solare We are not sure how to use this part. It seems like it helps you know what season you are in and whether to use the T.M.E.C. or Legale hours. But we think it must be read at noon to be sure. In our photos below take two readings at 9:20 am, about one month apart.
  • Legale is daylight savings time or summertime when clocks are advanced one hour ahead.

On this sundial, there doesn’t appear to be a EOT (equation of time) correction.

The sundial is made by OrologioSolare by Mauro Fizzanotti, and was installed in 2003.

Left: An equatorial bow sundial in Bergamo Città Alta.
Center and Right: Named wind directions at the base of the sundial.

The sundial pointing view north at 9:20 am October 13, 2020.
Left: The sundial set to the latitude of Bergamo at 45°41'56"04 N.
Right: The sundial pointing view north at 9:20 am October 13, 2020.

The shadow cast by the gnomon at 9:20 am on September 16, 2020 is just below Solare band.The shadow cast by the gnomon at 8:20 am on October 13, 2020 is above the TMEC band.
Left: The shadow cast by the gnomon at 9:20 am on September 16, 2020 is just below Solare band.
Right: The shadow cast by the gnomon at 8:20 am on October 13, 2020 is above the TMEC band.

The maker of the sundial in Bergamo, "Fizzanotti".
The maker of the sundial in Bergamo, "Fizzanotti".

More example RAI forecasts showing named wind directions, from October 5, 2020.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Asplenium ruta-muraria – Wall Rue

Botanical illustration of Asplenium ruta-muraria.Asplenium ruta-muraria on a wall in La Rocca, Bergamo.Asplenium ruta-muraria on a wall in La Rocca, Bergamo.
Left: Botanical illustration of Asplenium ruta-muraria.
Center and right: Asplenium ruta-muraria on a wall in La Rocca, Bergamo.

Today we spent an hour visiting La Rocca – a fortress that is part of Bergamo’s Città Alta. La Rocca fortress is made up of a memorial park and the Casa dei Bombardieri or Bombardier’s School. The park is free to enter and explore, offering 360-degree views and a great view on to Città Alta as La Rocca is at the east edge of the upper city. The school is the main building in La Rocca and contains one of the museums in the family of Bergamo museums called Museo delle Storie di Bergamo, and even better 360-degree views.

The museum inside La Rocca, also called Museo dell’Ottocento, deals with the Risorgimento (Italian Unification) and while it is a difficult museum to get through it is one of the most rewarding for those that persist. Part of the difficulty is the subject matter. The Risorgimento had many players and events that are hard to keep track of. Also, this museum is currently all signed in Italian, and the exhibits are on complex subjects such as the silk economy, an overview of the Fiera (a very important fair that once existed in the lower city), and demographic and economic facts and figures.

Included in the museum entrance fee is access to access to the top of the Casa dei Bombardieri. On the stairs up to the top of the roof, we noticed this fern that looked similar but not exactly the same as the Maidenhair Spleenwort we talked about in the post Asplenium trichomanes – Another Bergamo Wall Plant.

The plant we noticed is in the same genus and is called Asplenium ruta-muraria, commonly known wall rue. First, based on our obsessive analysis of walls in Bergamo, A. ruta-muraria seems to be much less common than A. trichomanes. Second, A. ruta-muraria has green rachises (midribs), not black like A. trichomanes. And, A. ruta-muraria has pinnules that look like small ginkgo leaves or as suggested by the common name, like the leaves of Ruta graveolens, commonly called rue.

Wall rue is a lithophyte, that is, it grows in or on rocks, and grows exclusively on limestone and other calcareous rocks. In Europe and cities like Bergamo, it can be found on masonry works. Wall rue is called ruta di muro in Italian and according to Flora Italiana (one of our go-to sites), it is present all over Italy. Wall rue is present in the Eastern United States as well but is found more in well-weathered limestone outcrops and rarely invading masonry works according to Flora of North America.

The sori (spore structures) of Asplenium ruta-muraria.Example of A. ruta-muraria on walls in Bergamo.Example of A. ruta-muraria on walls in Bergamo.
Left: The sori (spore structures) of Asplenium ruta-muraria.
Center and right: More examples of A. ruta-muraria on walls in Bergamo.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Asplenium trichomanes – Another Bergamo Wall Plant

Asplenium trichomanes botanical drawing ( trichomanes in a wall on Via Tassis in the Upper City of Bergamo.The spore containing structures (sori) of Aspleninum trichomanes.
Left: Asplenium trichomanes botanical drawing (
Center: Asplenium trichomanes in a wall on Via Tassis in the Upper City of Bergamo.
Right: The spore containing structures (sori) of Aspleninum trichomanes.

We admit it: we are thinking about walls a lot these days. We live in a walled city whose fame rests on having 6.2 km of massive walls surrounding its upper city, Città Alta. Those walls were built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Almost daily, we are walking on and through Bergamo's Venetian walls.

Once inside the upper city, there are a maze of streets that lead you to the Piazza Vecchia, and all of them involve navigating between walls of various types. And lucky for us, interesting plants grow on walls so we are never bored. In the past, we posted about such plants: The Flower that Grows on Walls - Cymbalaria muralis, Pennywort and Pellitory of the Wall (Parietaria judaica). We are back this time with another wort plant, this time Maidenhair spleenwort.

Wort is an ancient English term that simply means "plant". When put together with the name of a part of the body – spleen in this case – it generally meant that the plant was thought to cure problems with that body part. In the case of Maidenhair spleenwort, the sori on the back of the fronds are spleen shaped. 

The wort naming of plants is part of the doctrine of signatures, today considered pseudoscience. Other plant examples with wort in their common name include lungwort, woundwort, toothwort, and liverwort.

Maidenhair spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes, is a small fern in the the genus Asplenium. On first glance, it looks like what is commonly called a maidenhair fern (genus Adiantum) but that’s in the family Pteridaceae. The spleenwort is however in the same genus as the bird's-nest ferns (A. nidus) commonly sold as house plants. For Maidenhair spleenwort, you must content yourself with finding some walls to enjoy them, and all the better if they are walls in an Italian city like Bergamo.

Maidenhair spleenwort in the botanical garden of Bergamo.Maidenhair spleenwort on Via Noca, Bergamo.Maidenhair spleenwort on Via Noca, Bergamo.
Left: Maidenhair spleenwort in the botanical garden of Bergamo.
Center and right: Maidenhair spleenwort on Via Noca, Bergamo.

Examples of Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair spleenwort.Examples of Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair spleenwort.
Examples of Asplenium trichomanes - Maidenhair spleenwort.