Saturday, May 20, 2006

wacky bread stuff not only i would know

speaking of the ny times, i just hate their travel section. to my mind, too many of their travel writers are dolts who pretend to be sophisticated.

let's take today's italian example:

"Dreams are usually illogical, and so is one of the first impressive sites up the Serchio River - the Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil's Bridge, in the town of Borgo a Mozzano. The bridge dates to the 14th century and looks like it was built by two groups of people who never spoke to each other. It's too narrow for a car and too steep for a scooter or bike. It's formed by three typical-looking arches and then a fourth, larger, loopier one that rises well above the riverbank."

loopy? you idiot!

thus i screamed to myself -- how do you think people, esp. those who live in narrow river valleys cut through steep mountains, accomplished their most basic heavy-duty economic tasks in the middle ages? with steam power or diesel engines?

to my bread-baking eyes the purpose of the bridge was 100% obvious. as i'm sure it is to you, my gentle baking readers.

and as it would have been to any, oh, person who lived in europe before about 1800. look, what was the mainstay of most peasant diets until the mid-19th century?

yes dear readers, we are talking about bread -- and about the waterwheels that powered the grain mills that ground wheat into flour. that's what the bridge is for, that's what the one higher arch is for -- to house the giant wheel itself -- and that explains the narrowness of the bridge walkway!

when your state-of-the-art transport is a donkey-train to carry the sacks of grain up over the wheel to the millhouse, you don't need a wide path, do you? and the steepness of the path arching up to accomodate the height of the wheel wouldn't have been a problem for donkeys, hmm?

large waterwheels like this were common all over europe, and scholars who specialize in the history of milling -- i'm not making this up, they exist -- document that in the middle ages tuscany alone had 350 such wheels. milling was probably the dominant industry at that time.

it was such an important thing for centuries that even london bridge, which had housed waterwheels for centuries, had giant new-fangled waterwheels installed underneath it in 1582 in an effort to feed the people, increase production, and provide a supply of piped water for the city.

so while the author of the above travel piece prides himself that he's the only american there, he alas doesn't manage to be the only educated, historically aware american any place . . .how can you understand the beauty and poetry of these antique towns when you don't even begin to be aware of why they are the way they are?

how the people lived, or how their needs shaped that? for the ny times author, italy's just a theme-park of wacky stuff for his casual snarkiness, sadly.

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posted by fortune | 3:27 PM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 5 comments

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