Thursday, May 31, 2007

Day 2: wifi still pumping away, life goes on

Lizards have no sense of direction. Grazing sheep make a hell of a racket. And, baby honey bees are fascinated by the keyboard of my MacBook (but not as much as a perspiring, chilled bottle of beer). These are the little things I observed today, working from the Amandola bureau. Yes, the wifi is still pumping away, I type from my patio.

Yesterday evening, Michael and I went back to Fidoka and purchased a 20m cable so we could put the router into his front bedroom window and so I could work from my house. The router's blinking blue light now greets everybody as they come up the road. The 4-legged creatures seem to pay it no mind, but the 2-legged locals seem entranced by the colors. They must think Michael has gone evangelical on them. (There's an enormous blue neon cross on the road to Monte San Martino that can be seen clearly from our little frazione each night. When I first inquired about it, I was told by one of the locals that the man who put it up had "found Jesus". From his expression you could tell this was not a positive development, as if the man in question had found a rival Jesus, one who commanded followers to erect Vegas-style tributes at the highest point on their property. I wanted to point out that most of the old-timers round here still dabble in the black magic, but thought better of it. Now I just draw the shades at night. Not that I'm against electric blue crosses.)

Ok, the wifi... it works. Pretty well. If only I could get the local flora and fauna to be so cooperative. I was interrupted mid-sentence earlier by a heck of a racket. It was coming from a blue water jug. A lizard had climbed in and was now speeding around the tiny circumference trying to find a way out. I am always finding lizards trapped in confined spaces: the gas meter cabinet, between the shutters and my windows. When I come by and lead them to freedom I always wonder how long they'd been stuck there and how they and their friends manage to continually make the same mistake. Today, after a good 10 mins of me tapping the side of the water jug, the little critter scampered to freedom. I'm sure he'll be back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dateline: Michael's garden, Sant'Ippolito, Amandola (AP)

Today is an historic day in lil' old Sant'Ippolito. This little hilltop hamlet has seen its fair share of pilgrims, Napolean's troops, and later, Anglo Saxon house-hunting invaders, but never this: Wifi access! Yes, Michael and I, after 2 months of tinkering, cussing the skies, squinting at invisible data relay points across the valley, have finally established a high-speed data link with the outside world. As Xtina quips, now Vitale will be chatting with "le donne di Firenze" ('the girls of Florence', the headline of a notorious spam making the rounds in Italia not long ago. You didn't get it?) from atop his tractor and Graziella will meet an Australian surfer and run away to make movies. I'm not so sure.

The wifi has its teething pains, not nearly reliable enough to go wrecking marriages or plunge distracted farmers into bankruptcy. The problem is a strange one: whenever I'm surfing, Michael loses his connection. Whenever he re-establishes a connection, I get punted off. So now we have a system. I get to the desired Web page and holler, "Ok, you surf while I read/write". And he does the same for me. It's like sharing a brain, I reckon. Everybody is happy.

I've written up the experience for my weekly Times column. When it's up, I'll update this blog. Update: the story is up. Love the headline. Bravo, Holden!

But in the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo of Gualdo, the (supposed) source of our connection. There are two antennae atop the tallest campanile in town that are, in theory, supposed to pump out the data signal to us. The only problem is the antennae are not hooked up properly, so Michael and I are picking up a signal from the more distant village of San Ginesio, 10 km away! We're told they will properly hook up Gualdo "any day now", which should give us a doubly fast connection speed. Speriamo!

If you squint real hard at the photo, perhaps you can see the antennae. If you can, you're lying!

Here's Michael's version of events. Warning there are a lot of kitten photos. Yes, Marina had 4 mischievous bambini a few weeks back - 3 boys and a girl. In March, Lucy had a litter of 8 puppies. Yep, spring has arrived in the countryside.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The talented Mr. Eldridge

It's been a while since I've paid a visit to Amandola to see my loony but lovable neighbour Michael. How's he been? Busy as ever, he tells me. For further proof he sends links, links safe enough to open at work, I should add. His art (along with the artist) will be celebrated in the northern Italian city of Padova (Padua), beginning this weekend. Here's the link for the mostra. If you're near Padua, check it out.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Party like the poor?

Good news for the world's poor, the Economist reports, erm, last week... Here in the developed world, I only get mail service three days a week and so my magazines don't arrive until Thursdays. Is that the good news? Mail service in Sub-Saraha Africa is at least as good as it is in certain G8 countries? Nah.

It's this: according to new World Bank figures, for the first time since economists began calculating the global poverty index, less than 1 billion of the world's poor live under the highly symbolic $1-per-day measure. Never mind that this measure is exceedingly difficult to accurately measure. It represents some serious progress.

What struck me about this article is this one incredible insight into human behavior: as strapped as they are, the poor reliably budget for the big 3 vices -- booze, cigarettes and parties -- even if it means going without food. From the article:

... the typical poor household in Udaipur could spend up to 30% more on food than it does, if only it stopped devoting money to alcohol, tobacco and festivals

Think about that. The poor in places like Udaipur, a real party town, evidentally, spend nearly a third of their income on vices. The way I figure it, not one of my hard-partying friends or family members comes anywhere near such partying proportions (my brother Doug being the possible exception). Even in my single London years, I might have been maxing out at 20%, maybe 25%. I want to party with these people!

All kidding aside, what is it about the human need to party? Perhaps more so than the existence of logic and problem solving skills and the fact we bury our dead, it is this basic human need to party that separates us from the animals.