Person of the Day: Giovanna Sassi, Gianni Berti, and Angelo Raveane Giovanna Sassi (pictured in the center) is the telecommunications teacher in the Computer department of the Meucci Technical High School of Genova. An instructor of all things computing for some 20 years, she allowed us to visit her class and show her students how we use the Internet. It was unlikely that her students had seen information provided on the Internet in the way that the BikeAbout site presents it, and so she felt it was good exposure, to keep their minds ticking on how to put their studies to use.
A native Genovese, Giovanna frequently attends forums, workshops, and network development think tanks to aid in the progress of advancing the use of the Internet in the classroom. Along these lines, she, along with Joy Marino, has been a key player in the development of thinking about how to introduce and use the Internet in the classroom in Italy and around the world. The idea is to help teachers and students use the Internet to its full potential, especially as a communication, networking, and shared information tool, not just a giant multimedia encyclopedia. She (and others) very wisely sees how important it is to develop a culture of proper use around it. Which is no small task. With this in mind, an organization was formed whose mission (which she has helped define) is to pursue these objectives. It is called the Associazione NetWork and their "shadow" Web site is called "Internet a Scuola" which can be found (in Italian) at www.nwork.it/iscuola/index.htm.
Giovanna is not alone in her work. Already, at her own school, she and her collaborators have converted other teachers into Internet appreciators. And the credit must be shared with these others. The two other members of the computer department team at the Meucci school are (left and right ) Gianni and Angelo. They too are actively engaged in trying to help students apply what they are learning about computers now, to their futures and careers. We applaud their efforts, and thank them for all their assistance during our meeting.
Place of the Day: Computer and Internet Lab at the Meucci Technical High School
Students at the Meucci Technical High School in Genova learn the basics of computer mechanics, as well as in other area of mechanics and even eyeglasses manufacturing. (A "technical" high school is where students study practical trade skills as part of their program, rather than a purely academic curriculum) This school is named after the Italian inventor of the telephone, Mr. Meucci, a rival of Alexander Graham Bell. Until two years ago, the school was for boys only. Now girls have been allowed to enroll as first year students, but their numbers remain quite low.
Our meeting with the third and fourth year (boys only) students was the inaugural event for the Computer and Internet Lab. It gave the Lab administrators a chance to use their new, excellent facilities and provided the students with an opportunity to learn about BikeAbout, by watching and following Ethan's big screen demonstration , as well as investigating the BikeAbout site on their own using the classroom's networked terminals. Despite the temptations of other sites, these students stayed tuned to BikeAbout-related pages, selecting the photos and dispatches that aroused their curiosity.
Afterwards, as usual, we had Q-and-A sessions with small groups of students. Those with whom Corinne spoke - Flavio Turtla and Alessio Torente - said that they value where they live; however, they also admit that Milano (Milan) and Firenze (Florence) are significant draws for more and better jobs. But in those places, they would miss the sea and the weather that they love. The Ligurian Apennines to the north protect Genova from fierce winters, but are available should the students wish to go skiing or hiking. Beat that!
This great bunch of young people also clued us in to some local information, including where the best gelato could be found, where the best pesto (see our Food of the Day) was served, and the (real and Internet) locations of some of the highlights of the city (which we will have to visit another day - for more links to information about Genova, please see our About Italy page). They also introduced us to some local Genovese slang (check out the Word of the Day).
With our heads full of information and a full program for the day, we finally thanked all the students for their attentiveness during our presentation, and the teachers for their enthusiasm and the opportunity to meet them and their students. We hope to see more and more Italian students using the Internet in the future.
Tech Fact of the Day: telecommunications monopoly in Italy
The Internet in Italy is not growing as fast as many Italians would like it to. This is due primarily to the high prices for service and telephone time; they have remained quite high, despite competition among providers. We hear that this is because of a telecommunications monopoly which charges Internet access companies up to four times the regular price for telephone line services. In order for the Internet service providers to make any sort of profit, they must in turn charge their customers even more. You can imagine, then, that the citizens of Italy don't find the Internet all that interesting, if it's going to cost them so much money.
At present, the Internet is used mostly by companies, while universities offer limited access to their students. Therefore the future of the Internet as a public medium for Italians remains uncertain, though the technology and desire are more than apparent.
Group Dispatch, May 28
The first thing that MUST be said is that for the fourth dispatch in a row, Corinne has been writing about the rain. It can get pretty tiring, just so everyone knows, and if that shows through in the "attitude" of the writing, all apologies! Despite the rain, though, we had an enjoyable time discovering Genoa - or GenOVA, as it's called in Italian - which can get a little confusing but certainly keeps life interesting.
Genova is old. The shallow and wide strip of gulf on which it sits has seen human settlements since long before written history. Yep, Neanderthal remains have been found here, and throughout the centuries, the Greeks (4th century BC), Carthaginians (early 3rd century BC), and Romans (2nd-1st centuries BC) were around as well. But it wasn't until the 11th century AD that anything is really known about the city and its people. At that time, it was an independent maritime republic and engaged in ongoing naval skirmishes with the other three great Italian water powers of the era, Venezia, Amalfi, and Pisa (especially Pisa).
Genova first rose to great prominence during the 12th and 13th centuries when it defeated both Pisa and Venezia. In addition, during the Crusades, Genovese ships transported many soldiers and pilgrims to the Middle East where the former were active in pursuing trade. Genovese forts and trading posts spread through the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and eventually into the Black Sea. It was during this time too that the individuals and families who were largely responsible for Genova's growth and expansion - the ruling class of Genova even put a bank together at one point, which in effect became a governing body - began first to try to outdo and then to outright fight with one another. This infighting certainly contributed to Genova's fall, but it was not until Venezia's final triumph at sea (in 1380) that the end was obvious.
Yet the squabbles continued. And, in the 16th century, coinciding with the Renaissance, opulent displays of wealth and artistry in the city were common, the remains of which can still be seen today. Examples of the lavish lifestyles and glorious decorations adorning large palaces inhabited by mercantile and banking aristocrats are evident everywhere - though today often faded and or in ill repair. Nevertheless, in the 16th century, especially under the iron administrating hand of Holy Roman Imperial Admiral Andrea Doria, the city found its own as a shipbuilding and banking center. Its independence was basically respected until 1797 when Napoleon and then the Sardinians took over.
Finally, in the 19th century, Genova took an active role in the Risorgimento (the Italian national independence movement). Genova was also the first northern Italian city to reject the 20th century Fascists and succeed in freeing itself even before Allied troops arrived in World War II, a time during which it was heavily bombed.
Regardless of the outward success and internal conflict, Genova has always been a city turned toward the sea. The active port was a life and a living for locals to whom the nautical arts were a passion. In fact, one of Genova's native sons is none other than Christopher Columbus. Even today, its shipyards and port remain centers for major industry. Once a leading European trade center on the Mediterranean, Genova remains a major relay point for its neighboring countries, and the largest port in Italy.
Even when rain is pouring from the skies.
Yes, for the BikeAbouters, we awoke to find that the rain had not subsided, even as we prepared to venture out for our daytime activities. Anthony left early in the a.m. for Milan to special-order a bike for himself, while the rest of us planned to meet some Genovese students. Our friend Joy Marino at IT.net had helped us connect with a teacher very appropriately working in the computer department of the Meucci Technical High School, our (Place of the Day) and we were eager to make what would probably be our last Italian presentation.
So, unhappy with the prospect of walking through the rain, we hopped a bus that got us part of the way to the school. Sure, we missed our stop by a few blocks, but the bus wouldn't have gotten us all the way there anyway. So, using a map and Padraic and Ethan's combined honing instincts, we eventually found our way through the mix of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic architecture so common in Italy up to the school.
The brave and industrious team of computer teachers at the Meucci Technical High School include Ms. Giovanna Sassi, Mr. Angelo Raveane, and a freelance technical administrator, Mr. Gianni Berti (see more about them at the People of the Day). This team of teachers ( from left to right: Gianni, Giovanna, and Angelo) covers the multimedia, telecommunications, and computer electronics elements of the ever-expanding field of computing, and together created an extremely up-to-date computer and Internet Lab for the students. Our arrival marked the grand inauguration of the Lab - it's first day in use!
Installed in the lab, complete with networked computers and a large-screen overhead projector, we got down to work, sharing what we know and learning from the teachers and students plenty about what they know.
One thing in particular struck us as very interesting. The young people here feel that Genova is "behind the times" in terms of Internet technology. However, from what we have seen in Genova and elsewhere, this is not necessarily the case. Use of the Internet is not as advanced as it could be all over Italy. Why? Well, we've heard from other sources that all of Italy suffers from the high prices of Internet access. The national Italian telecommunications company has a monopoly over the leasing of telephone lines and it charges very high rates to its Internet service competitors, which is our Tech Fact of the Day. This is one very understandable explanation of the why the Italian Internet use and growth rates are so low.
After some very insightful conversations with the young people and instructors at the Meucci School's Computer Lab (see more at the Place of the Day), Giovanna, on her way to the train station, was kind enough to rescue us from the pouring rain and drive us to the edge of Genova's historical center where we sought out a traditional, regional (and delicious) pesto lunch - pesto sauce being our Food of the Day. This brief escape from the rain prepared us for the trek back to our hotel. Of course we wanted to stay out, but it was quite dark under the heavy layer of water-soaked clouds and in the narrow, winding streets of the old city. Genova is said to have one of the largest historical centers in Europe, something in which it is easy to get lost.
However, we found our way out just fine, stopping to admire the Cathedral di San Lorenzo from beneath the awnings of neighboring buildings and under the arch of the "Cattedrale" itself.
Construction began on this cathedral in the 12th century according to some accounts with the first rich booty from the Crusades. Regardless, work continued for over 400 years. The stark, black and white marble and intricately pieced-together tiles, mosaics and sculptures have created a fascinating fašade. Even to us, though we've been looking at similarly themed mosques, temples, and churches all the way around the Mediterranean. This is perhaps the most spell-binding aspect of this revelation: the similarities among the buildings are as striking as the similarities among the religions, and yet people are separated, even pitted against one another, convinced they are so different!
Making our way through the city's center at Piazza de Ferrari, we headed down the Via XX Settembre - a wide street with covered arcades on both sides (very welcome on this rainy day) and plenty of shops. The decorated interior of the arcade , its mosaic floors and tiled ceilings (please pardon the view up Corinne's nose) match the elaborate designs and variation in architecture to be found on the buildings themselves.
Back at the hotel we, as usual, tried to cram as much work on dispatches and email as possible into the late afternoon and early evening. Corinne had yet another haircut escapade at yet another haircutting school, complete with the language barriers and hand signals to which she is now accustomed. As in most parts of the world, a simple haircut for a woman costs a minimum of twice as much as that of a man. So Corinne resorts to testing her luck at schools we've found in most major cities, or puts her faith in strangers claiming to have the right skills. While her luck has been great in stumbling across the strangers and the schools, sometimes the haircuts leave a bit to be desired. This one worked out all right, but the newly shaved area on the back of her neck revealed some atrocious tan lines. No worries though (and certainly no pictures!). As luck would have it, Corinne's hair grows fast (too fast, hence the frequent forays into the haircut hinterland), and the sun will surely soonly scorch the bared skin... if it ever stops raining on the days we bike, that is.
A few hours later (and after a nap for Padraic), we had a dinner-date with Giovanna's husband, Valerio , who has a shop called Poterie where he sells his own authentic hand-made Mediterranean tiles. When Giovanna had mentioned this shop, we had jumped at the opportunity to visit Valerio's shop since it was a perfect opportunity for us to analyze and recall the various styles, themes, and color schemes of the many tiles we have seen during our jaunt around the Mediterranean, just as Valerio has traveled around studying this art for over 20 years.
Valerio reproduces some of the old familiars dating way back historically , creates some of his own varieties, and is always developing new favorites that are a bit less common in the world of tiles. Any way around it, there were tiles of all shapes and sizes to suit anyone's tastes.
Valerio generously gave us the grand tour, including the upstairs studio where he analyzes and experiments with different designs and then practices his art. All the materials were present including books, dyes and a compact kiln. Back in the presentation area, he then offered us each a small tile to take home and Corinne a pair of ceramic earrings that look just like small pieces of a building embellishment! These will be cherished souvenirs (although forgetful Ethan will have to be content with the pictures since he left his on the counter).
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At closing time, we watched Valerio pull the shop's blinds and then went on a little shopping spree for dinner. Along the way, Valerio gave us an impromptu tour of a few parts of town, and enlightened us about the some of the past history and contemporary dynamic in the old town. Of course, the continued to come and go but did not stop us from gaining a whole new perspective on the historical center.
When we were not being charmed by the narrow, windy, cobblestoned and authentic feel of the Middle Age old city, we were particularly enchanted by the via Garibaldi. A wider boulevard that marks the northern edge of the original city, it was built for the new Renaissance palaces of the ostentatious of the time. Today, the largest of these 16th-century buildings - the Palazzo Rosso and the Palazzo Bianco are museums. Due to the late hour, we missed a chance to get a good look inside another great building on this avenue, the Palazzo Doria Tursi, Genova's town hall where some bones from Christopher Columbus are kept. However, we did take the opportunity to peek in at what once was a huge display of the wealthy class's riches.
With this look into the past, Valerio, a native of Genova, also had much to share with us regarding the current state of mind, as well as how things are changing. Apparently, much of the city's once-cherished and highly flaunted gallantry is fading and not enough is being done to refurbish it, especially since the significant damage done during WWII. The present population of Genova is decreasing, and tourism remains minimal. Valerio seems to think that many locals prefer it this way, so they can enjoy more of the city to themselves! Once independent-minded, always independent-minded...
From the lower city, we took a funicular up to a more chic (and newer - 18th-19th century) part of town (where Valerio had temporarily parked his car) and then drove to a nearby lovely panoramic view out over the city and port. We noted, among other things, that the roofs of Genova were not the classic terra cotta red and Valerio nodded, adding that the hills surrounding the city contain lots of slate which is used instead. We also commented that because the buildings are tall enough (and so few have elevators) and the hills are so near and so steep, some buildings even have entrances accessible on the roofs for residents living on the upper floors who park their vehicles higher!
At Valerio's, while watching and discussing the Italian news, we all helped prepare a huge meal - more pesto (our Food of the Day - woo-hoo)! Dinner consisted of a lengthy discussion about travel (Valerio's and ours). It was easy to piece together how Valerio had learned about, and fell in love with, the various tile patterns he has encountered in different parts of the world. Many were his adventure travel stories, and we soaked in the descriptions of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and India, and even Spain of 20 years ago, which are all very different places today.
After sending and receiving email using Valerio's phone (since we had no phone at our hotel), Valerio drove us back "down" town and straight to our hotel.
As we fell asleep, we crossed our fingers for no more rain during the ride out of Genova and into the beginnings of the famous Rivieras of the European Mediterranean.
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