Saturday, June 17, 2017

Franklin University

Franklin University, the university that hosts the Mosaic study abroad program, was a lovely and fascinating part of my experience in Switzerland. The campus is high in elevation, so it overlooks Lake Lugano, it is spaced out over a large area with pleasant walkways and beautiful scenery in between the classrooms and housing, it is conveniently located within walking distance to the downtown area (about a 15-20 minute walk), and it is located along a line of metro stops and and bus stops.

Dining at Franklin University was completely different from other schools I have attended. In place of a cafeteria, the university has a small restaurant-like dining area called the grotto. It is a stunning spot to have meals at, the university makes excellent use of it with events like the 4th of July BBQ, and the staff members are very hospitable.

The housing in Lugano is simple but very well maintained and safe. My room was the perfect fit for me, with a big window and a view overlooking the mountains and all the necessary amenities (a large desk, a closet, a comfortable bed, and a cupboard). The apartment was relatively large as well, with 4 bathrooms in a six-bedroom apartment, a large kitchen and even larger communal spaces on both floors where we often had 10-20 people over, a small balcony upstairs we would often times watch storms from, and very quick and easy accessibility to both the classrooms, convenient stores, and nightlife.

View from student housing 

Studying at the park 

An outdoor class - roughly 80% of class time is spent outdoors

The campus
An outdoor class on Swiss specialties (this is raclette) 

View of Lugano from my hammock

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lugano, Switzerland

Before arriving in Switzerland for the 2016 summer mosaic program, I had preconceptions about what it might be like. I knew what many people know of it's reputation - the snowy, mountainous landscape and wilderness of the Alps, the country's multicultural history, its notability for sustainability, and its neutrality. This reputation drew me to the I program. Upon arriving in Lugano, I found that my preconceptions had some bearing but that the country was much different than I expected. These differences were pleasant surprises that would teach me a lot about just how different life could be from that of American life ways.

After a much anticipated wait to depart for my first trip to Europe, I arrived in Switzerland just before the June start of the 2016 MOSAIC study abroad program. Though I had traveled to a few foreign countries previous to Switzerland, my first impression of the country was enveloped by culture shock. My preconceptions of Switzerland were much different from the way it actually is.

The first image that came to mind when I thought of Switzerland before my arrival were snow-capped mountaintops and wilderness. As I had originally enrolled in the program with the intention of taking a sustainability course, I had imagined I would be involved in a lot of hands-on work in the mountains. As it turned out, there really are breathtaking snow-capped mountains, and the Alps are awe-inspiring. However, I quickly discovered how much more topographically complex Switzerland's landscape is than I had anticipated when I arrived in a Swiss city with palm trees everywhere.

My first impression of Lugano included the Italian flare of southern Switzerland - the busy brick streets and alleyways between pastel-toned architecture that cuts creatively and sharply through a curvy, winding infrastructure that lines a stunning lake Lugano. Gelato stands and shops line the water, boats and paddle boarders move casually over the lake, and historical water fountains available to the public bring fresh water directly from the Alps to the city.

This initial impression of Lugano was only the beginning of a long line of discoveries that would surprise me about Swiss culture.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Coming soon...

Not sure if I'll have time to gather info, but here's a critter I hope we see:

Do we all recognize this guy?

later, bob

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Not Ireland, Not Idaho...

Here's why we should be so excited about potatoes in Peru, their land of origin:
More than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru, Boliva, and Ecuador.  Selected over centuries for their taste, texture, shape and color, these potato varieties are very well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes, at altitudes ranging from 3,500 to 4,200 meters. Farmers generally produce these native varieties with minimal or no use of agrochemicals.
Diversity is conserved on farms and in communities for subsistence use and as a highly valued heritage. Most of these varieties never see a market; they are traded among highland and lowland communities and given as gifts for weddings and other occasions. The varieties differ from community to community.    Native Potato Varieties  

[This by the way from the CIP, the International Potato Center, in Lima, another place, which, as usual, is too serious for us to visit, like that nuclear plant in France, or that cool solar tower in Spain, or a solar industry in Shanghai...]  

Lima Easy will add, in "The 3800 Different Potatoes" in Peru, "The oldest archeological [potato] findings were made in the area of Lake Titicaca, the area around Ayacucho and in the Valley of Chulca. The word "papa" is originally Quechua and simply means tuber," and that "As wild potatoes taste bitter and contain small amounts of toxins, early cultures must have spend quite a bit of an effort to select the right tubers for cultivation that are more tasty and less toxic."  This article continues with a lengthy visual list of different types.  Cool!

The Smithsonian gives an intriguing account of "How the Potato Changed the World."   Not only this amusing trivia:
When potato plants bloom, they send up five-lobed flowers that spangle fields like fat purple stars. By some accounts, Marie Antoinette liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes. The flowers were part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to eat this strange new species.
but also that "the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there" and "set the template for modern agriculture—the so-called agro-industrial complex."

And one more bit, from the Washington Post, on Peru's celebration of potato diversity:
Along the frigid spine of the Andes, men and women in bare feet uproot tubers of multiple shapes and colors _ yellow, red, blue, purple, violet, pink with yellow spots, yellow with pink spots; round, oblong, twisted, hooked at the end like walking canes or spiraled like spinning tops.
     Their names in Quechua, the ancient language of the Andes, evoke an intimate human connection: "best black woman," "best red woman," "makes the daughter-in-law cry," "like a deer's white tongue," "red shadow" and "like an old bone," to name a few.
     In their annual harvest this year, the villagers of Aymara gathered more than 2,000 types of potatoes from a 2 1/2-acre field. Scientists from the Lima-based International Potato Center were there to replenish their bank and provide more seeds to Andean communities.Respect for the many variations of potatoes is so profound among Aymara's 650 villagers that it was a natural place for the world's agronomists to produce seeds for a gene bank to preserve their diversity. The cold climate also protects against parasites that infest low-lying potato farms.  
Well, let's hope we see even a fraction of these amazing tubers, and figure out a way to sample at least 10 different types

later, bob

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Nazca Lines

Did you know that the Nazca lines were not created by alien visitors or from the air, but were made by ancient Nazca people, in situ, over a long period of time? 

The forms of the geoglyphs on the Pampa include biomorphic and geometric figures as well as lineal geoglyphs. The biomorphic forms include as many as thirty different figures, which include a flower, monkey, killer whales, spider, and hummingbird. The geometric shapes include spirals, trapezoids, quadrangles, and squares.

According to Silverman and Proulx the Pampa geoglyphs were made using a subtractive technique where the top rocky layer of dark, angular rocks were swept away by hand, revealing the unoxidized, lighter-colored layer below. A rock border was then placed along the swept lines. This contrast allows the geoglyphs to become visible. 

Several suggestions are made as to how the figures could have been made without the use of aerial viewpoints. For instance, warp and weft grids may have been sit up across the land to help transfer the image, while straight lines may have been mapped using wood posts and cotton string, as well as view holes, which further challenge the popular alien visitor theory.

spondylus seashell
Some scholars feel the geoglyphs were walked or were “danced or tranced into existence, making them dynamic rather than static.” Hall suggests the purpose of the lines may have changed from images to be seen to images to be experienced. They were stages for walking, dancing, and ceremonial processions. He concludes that the lines appear to be related to water based on the 2000 discovery of a spondylus seashell, an important religious symbol for water and fertility. 

Other viewpoints suggest the lines were directly related to mountain deities, water supply, rainfall, and agriculture, especially as they do not line up with celestial bodies, but to places of ritual relating to water and fertility for crops.

A group of us are staying behind to fly over the Nazca lines. I doubt we will spot any long-lost alien space ships, but the lines sure will be cool to see.


--> --> -->
Silverman, Helaine and Donald Proulx. Chapter 7, The Geoglyphs of the Rio Grande de Nazca Drainage, in The Nasca, pp. 163-192. Blackwell, Malden, Mass. 2002.

Hall, Stephen S. Spirits in the Sands: the Ancient Nasca Lines of Peru shed their secrets. National Geographic. March 2010:56-79.

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The Dangers of Modern Travel

As we prepare for our adventure to Peru, I though I'd share a few interesting bits from a book I am currently reading - A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru by Hugh Thompson.

Early in the book, Thomson discusses the dangers of modern travel. He writes  “… in the speed of arrival made possible by modern technology, the mind often gets left behind, leaving the traveler dislocated and vulnerable. It is not just the luggage that can get lost in transit.” According to Wikipedia, the typical cruising airspeed for a long-distance commercial passenger aircraft 546–575 mph. That IS fast. We take off from Atlanta and arrive in Lima in less than 8 hours.

Were past explorers, like Hiram Bingham (the guy who discovered Machu Picchu), better prepared for their expeditions after long ocean voyages that took about five days? This travel time served to clear their minds of home and daily routines and allow them time to mentally prepare for the journey ahead.

Machu Picchu covered by overgrown jungle in 1912

Thompson also wonders if it is possible to be too prepared for an expedition stating, “as an explorer, you only ever find what you are looking for.” He suggests that what is required is not an open mind, which perhaps lets too much in, “but an infinitely responsive one, alive with the possibilities of each discovery, approaching without any preconceptions.”

Now, I realize we are not archeologists about to embark on an expedition to discover a long lost Inca city, but today, many of us are likely scrambling to wrap up work and family duties before we depart, only to find ourselves on foreign soil in less than a day. And, with smart phones, emails, social media and the like, do we mentally leave home? We check in, answer emails, post pics and status updates, and work online, all of which keeps us perpetually connected with home life.

As we explore archaeological sites, taste new foods, and meet new people, we will discover so much, about Peru and ourselves. Hopefully, we can all unplug for a while, leave home behind, be alive with the possibilities each day brings, take a deep breath and try not to lose our minds in transit.

Three days!

Hugh Thompson. A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru. Overlook. 2006.
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Talking Knots

Here's one of those cultural twists and turns, well, knots, that I hope we encounter in Peru, the quipu [kee-poo], which our friends at Wikipedia describe this way:
Quipus, sometimes known as khipus or talking knots, were recording devices historically used in a number of cultures and particularly in the region of Andean South America. Similar systems were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians... A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.
 Our pals continue, saying,
The cords contained numeric and other values encoded by knots in a base ten positional system. A quipu could have only a few or up to 2,000 cords. The configuration of the quipus have also been "compared to string mops." Archaeological evidence has also shown a use of finely carved wood as a supplemental, and perhaps more sturdy, base on which the color-coordinated cords would be attached. A relatively small number have survived.
[And let's just stop to say, yes, Wikipedia may not be the best choice for that research paper, but it is our friend--don't let those dinosaur teachers tell you otherwise!]

The Ancient History folks will add this:
In the absence of an alphabetic writing system, this simple and highly portable device achieved a surprising degree of precision and flexibility. Using a wide variety of colours, strings, and sometimes several hundred knots all tied in various ways at various heights, quipu could record dates, statistics, accounts, and even represent, in abstract form, key episodes from traditional folk stories and poetry. 
Notice here the idea that these elaborate knots may have done more than been tallies for a useful, but limited accounting system.  This same article comments on the Incan math system (someone quiz Ann on this, and see if she's keeping up...), 

as well as a class of professional 'knot-talkers':
Naturally, to maximise the quipu's potential for information storage, it was better to have an accompanying oral record and so there grew a body of experts or masters, the khipu kamayuq (also quipucamayos). These individuals memorized the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu and, as the job was hereditary, the oral part was passed from generation to generation. There was a certain pressure attached to the job, however, as lapses in memory could be severely punished.
Ok, and I'm just going to speculate that 'severely punished' here meant more than getting zero on that quiz.  I haven't yet read much about the sense of humor among the Incan elite.

And here's a study that has investigated more recent, similar knot-communication systems, and may have more insight into the Incan method:  "Twisted Textile Cords May Contain Clues to Incan Messages."

I have to admit I don't know where we might encounter these on the trip.  I'd guess most likely in a museum in Cuzco.  Something to ask Jessica, our tour guide.

(This will be on the quiz.)

later, bob

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