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 are on the Isle of Sheppey in the United Kingdom at 51 degrees N. They were accidentally introduced there.


We first saw our first scorpions 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 through 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 is 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 Unificatoin) 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 (www.biolib.de).Asplenium 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 (www.biolib.de).
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 this 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.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Archeological Museum of Bergamo – Funerary Epigraph Abbreviations

Example of abbreviation HMHNS on Roman tombstone (100 - 0 BC). Grassobbio, villa Colombiani.Example of abbreviation TFI on Roman tombstone (100 - 200 AD). Bariano.Example of abbreviation TFIS on Roman tombstone (100 - 200 AD). Bolgare.Example of abbreviation VSLM on Roman tombstone 100 - 200 AD). Martinengo.Mosaico di Calcio (200-300).

Left: Example of abbreviation HMHNS on Roman tombstone (100 - 0 BC). Grassobbio, villa Colombiani.
Center left: Example of abbreviation TFI on Roman tombstone (100 - 200 AD). Bariano.
Center: Example of abbreviation TFIS on Roman tombstone (100 - 200 AD). Bolgare.
Center right: Example of abbreviation VSLM on Roman tombstone 100 - 200 AD). Martinengo.
Right: Mosaico di Calcio (200-300).


Do you draw a blank when staring a Roman inscription on a monument such as the one pictured above and feel embarrassed that you can’t figure it out? We do. Don’t feel bad because it’s not easy and there is a profession whose job it is to know this. They are called epigraphers and the field is called epigraphy. Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions, or epigraphs.


Recently, we were visiting the Civico Museo Archeologico of Bergamo and came across some Roman funerary stelae. That subtle feeling of stupidity came over us as we stared at the Roman square capital letters but no meaning came from them. Fortunately, the information placards in the museum were super helpful in the interpretation and taught us a few tricks.


One of the tricks we learned reading Roman funerary inscriptions is how to interpret some commonly used abbreviations. An abbreviation is a series of letters acting as a shortcut – a formula – for representing a sentence or complete idea. For example, one of the most common that you might have seen is SPQR an acronym of the Latin phrase Senātus Populusque Rōmānus meaning “The Roman Senate and People”.


Here are a few abbreviations that we learned about today at the Bergamo Archeological Museum:


TFI

  • Latin: testamento fieri iussit
  • Description: The funeral monument was made after the person died, usually by heirs to whom the deceased donated money to build the monument.
  • Our take: This tomb not a fake!?

TFIS 
  • Latin: testamento fieri iussit sibi
  • Description: Like above, but with emphasis that deceased ordered this done for himself.

VSLM
  • Latin: votum solvit libens merito
  • Description: The deceased fulfilled his/her vow gladly, willingly, e.g., to a deity.

HMHNS
  • Latin: hoc monumentum heredem non sequetur
  • Description: The monument is not to go to the deceased’s heirs; this monument is not part of the inheritance.
  • Our take: There were feuding families back then too!?

VF / VSF
  • Latin: vivus (sibi) fecit
  • Description: The deceased prepared this monument in his/her lifetime for his/her family, generally when one of his/her relatives died.

DM

  • Latin: dis manibus
  • Description: Renders the burial place sacred, protected from profanity by the gods; sort of like in the hands of god.
  • Our take: Good luck with that.

The Archeological Museum of Bergamo is tucked away in one corner of the Cittadella. The nearby Natural History museum draws a greater number of visitors but if you want to get glimpse of the history of Bergamo from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, from the Golasecca culture to the Romans, then this museum is the place to go.



"Ancient Pelabrocco" spoon. Date unknown.Perhaps a portrait of bust of Bergimus - god of Celtic origin (300 - 100 BC).Brembate Sotto Anthropoid hilt (500 BC - 100 AD).Table showing correspondence between Greek, Phoenician, Etruscan and Latin letters.
Left: "Ancient Pelabrocco" spoon. Date unknown.
Center left: Perhaps a portrait of bust of Bergimus - god of Celtic origin (300 - 100 BC).
Center right: Brembate Sotto Anthropoid hilt (500 BC - 100 AD).
Right: Table showing correspondence between Greek, Phoenician, Etruscan and Latin letters.

One of the three principal rooms of the Archeology Museum of Bergamo.One of the three principal rooms of the Archeology Museum of Bergamo.One of the three principal rooms of the Archeology Museum of Bergamo.
The three principal rooms of the Archeology Museum of Bergamo. Small but interesting.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Pellitory of the Wall

Parietaria diffusa (syn. P. judaica) botanical drawing from biolib.de.Parietaria officinalis botanical drawing from biolib.de.A wall in Bergamo with Pellitory of the Wall.
Left: Parietaria diffusa (syn. P. judaica) botanical drawing from biolib.de. Center: Parietaria officinalis botanical drawing from biolib.de. Right: A wall in Bergamo with Pellitory of the Wall.

Living in any Italian city, you are going to encounter stone walls: recent, roman, smooth, rough, short, and tall, and Bergamo is no exception. Bergamo is surrounded by one huge wall of 6.2 kilometers that the Venetians built in the second half of the 16th century.


Some plants like growing on walls. We talked about one such plant in the post The Flower that Grows on Walls - Cymbalaria muralis, Pennywort. As ubiquitous as Pennywort, is another wall-loving plant called Lichwort or Pellitory of the Wall, a plant in the genus Parietaria.


Parietaria is a genus of flowering plants in the nettle family Urticaceae, native to temperate and tropical regions across the world. The leaves of of Parietaria are non-stinging, unlike the common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, annoyingly found exactly where you want to take a bathroom break while hiking.


There are two species of Parietaria, P. judaica (synonym P. diffusa) and P. offinalis that look similar. We believe what we are presenting in this post is P. judaica because it “seems” to be the more common of the two with a wider range, smaller leaves, a less upright habit, and a tendency to have woody stems at the base. However, we are not the only ones confused. Check out the confusion over the two species described in this Watsonia Journal article.


Both species of Parietaria are annual or perennial herbaceous plants growing to 20–80 cm tall, with green to pink to red-brown stems. The leaves are alternate, simple, entire, often with a cluster of small leaves in their axils. Individual flowers are produced in clusters of three to many together in the leaf axils.


The common name of Parietaria in English is the strange word “pellitory” thought to derive from Latin pariēs, meaning wall. (To our ears it sounds like a medical condition of the wall. Get that checked out ASAP.) In Italian, a wall as in a house wall is parete while the wall of a city is mura. Wall pellitory is not related to the Aster-family plant, Anacyclus pyrethrum, also called pellitory or Spanish chamomile.


One of the common Italian names for this plant is “vetriola” because this plant was commonly used to clean the inside of bottles and flasks aided by the microscopic hairs of its leaves. As a guess, we’d say this common name derives from from glassmaker – vetraio in Italian – with the suffix -iola added to  indicate one who practices a profession. Other examples include boscaiolo – a woodcutter, who works in the forest or bosco and pizzaiolo – a pizzamaker or one who makes pizza. Sometimes the -iola suffix is used in a negative sense as in borsaiolo – a shoplifter or taker of a bag/purse or borsa.

Tired yet? Still reading? Another common Italian name for this plant is “muraiola” probably derived using similar logic above, except this time the ending is feminine probably because a plant is feminine in gender (la pianta) and not because a city wall (la mura) is.



Pellitory of the wall examples in Bergamo. All taken from the same wall, all likely Parietaria judaica.