Sunday, July 25, 2004


JULY 24, 2004

We had an interesting experience last night.  We had taken a short walk and were sitting at the bar closest to our house.  Art had a gelato and I had some water before we went back home.

Our neighbor Adamo drove by in his car and stopped in to talk with us.  He told us that there was to be a lecture of some sort given by a professor from Siena.  It was to be held in a park on the other side of Ospedaletto, and he asked us if we would like to go.  Of course we said yes…why not?

We went back to the house, put on slacks in stead of shorts, and headed out the door.  Although we weren’t exactly sure where we were going, we hoped we would find it. 

Luckily for us, Adamo was in his car waiting to lead the way.  As we wound our way up the road that leads to Ospedaletto, then past Ospedaletto, we began to wonder where we were going.  Eventually we reached the crest of the mountain and began our descent towards Orvieto. 

Finally we saw a group of cars parked alongside the road, and we pulled in behind Adamo.  Another car was there with some people that Adamo obviously knew, and the five of us began walking down a wide gravel path. 

After a short walk we saw a building of some sort, but our lecture wasn’t there.  We passed a large outdoor amphitheatre.  Adamo told us that shows were often given here.  But this was not our destination either. 

The gravel path was wide enough for a car, but Adamo told us that cars never drove this way.  The path took us deep into the woods, with a steep drop-off to the left and a slight hill to the left.  At last we saw a path branching off to the right, and Adamo indicated that this was where we were headed. 

We headed up a hill to a large stone building.  The sign indicated that this was the area for the study of the flora and fauna of Monte Peglia.  I asked if this was the Volcano Park, but Adamo said no, that was located in San Venanzo.  We’ve looked for that park and still can’t find it, so I was hoping that this was it. 

Once we got to the top of the hill and the stone building, we saw several people outside, and also several cars.  Apparently it is possible to drive up this path! 

Adamo introduced us to several people, always introducing us as the newest residents of San Venanzo.  I’m not sure exactly what word he used…it wasn’t “San Venanzites”, but something to indicate that we were a part of the town, not tourists, not guests, not temporary. 

We were introduced to the professor from Siena who was giving the lecture.  He was originally from Papiano, a small town not far from Marsciano, and told us that he always liked to come back to San Venanzo…that it wasn’t at all like “work” 

We were handing a printed sheet which was a map of the stars in the July sky, and amazingly it was in English!  Our lecture tonight would be about the stars!  The print-out was from the University of Michigan. 

People were still milling around in the outer room, and we had the good fortune to be introduced to the (new) mayor of San Venanzo….I had seen her picture in the paper, and knew that she was the only woman mayor in our area. 

Her last name was Valentini, and the last name of her husband was Rellini…she told us both names were very common in San Venanzo.  Since our geometra AND our electrician are named Rellini, and since the Hotel is called the Villa Valentini, this didn’t come as a big surprise. 

I made it a point to congratulate her on her victory, and Adamo made sure that she (and everyone else) knew that we were HIS neighbors…he was almost territorial about it!  We felt like we were the prize in some unknown contest!

As everyone began moving to the next room, we saw that a computer had been set up in conjunction with a large screen.  There were plenty of chairs, and a man graciously offered us seats in the front. 

The professor began his introduction by telling us that we would see a movie about the Mars Rover.  He asked if we had seen it before, and we said no.  He turned the (English) narration down (damn!)  and explained the movie in Italian.  Fortunately, most of it was self-explanatory.  We watched computer simulations of the take off and landing of the Rover on Mars.

After the short movie was finished, we all went outside, where a telescope had been set up to view the moon.  The moon was moving towards a half moon, and gave off plenty of light.  I had never looked through a telescope at the moon before, and it was too cool! 

Our next assignment, and apparently the object of these meetings, was to locate a specified star in the sky.  First we had to locate the Big Dipper.  Then we had to look at the middle star in its handle.  He told us the name of this star, and then showed us how this star would lead us to the handle of the Little Dipper.  Our job was to find a very faint star located in between these two areas. 

Although the moon was bright, we did find the star!  Cool!  Then we were directed to find other stars.  We saw Cassiopeia, and several other constellations whose names I don’t remember.  We were supposed to see a satellite moving across the sky, but I never did find it. 

The big deal of the night was to be the space station moving across the sky in about an hour.  The professor showed us the location and direction of the space station on our maps. 

As people continued to look at the stars, it became obvious that this was a regular event, and that many of the people knew the location of many different stars.  Adamo seemed to know many stars, and he told us that he had invited us so that we could get to know some of the people in San Venanzo.  How nice!

People were also joking with Adamo about his lectures…since he seemed to know a lot about the stars and their locations, he tended to lecture the others.  Everyone seemed to know each other and I guess this group meets whenever this event is held.  We have no idea how often this is. 

One of the incredible sights, in addition to the moon and the stars was that we could see the lights of Orvieto by looking to the west, and the lights of Marsciano in the other direction. 

We decided to leave before the space station came by so that we could find a darker location.  There were streetlights surrounding the building which made the conditions less than optimal.  We said our goodbyes, and started our walk back.

As we left the glow of the streetlights and entered into the darkness of the forest, it was incredibly dark.  We stopped a few times just to look up and watch the stars appear in increase in number as our eyes became accustomed to the darkness. 

We were also glad that a car made it’s way down the road while we were walking, just to light the way and confirm that we weren’t about to walk off into the woods! 

Once we got back to the car, we headed back towards San Venanzo.  Trying to find a good place to watch for the space station was difficult.  There were few places to safely pull off the road, and then we had to make sure that we had a view of the section of the sky we needed to watch. 

Once we had passed Ospedaletto we finally found a place to pull off.  The moon had turned golden.  We watched the skies expectantly, but I think we must have been just a few minutes too late.  The professor had told us that the space station would only be visible for about three minutes.  We probably needed to be looking at the end of its path rather than at the beginning.

 Despite missing the space station, the stars were incredible.  Since I had always lived in a city, I never saw the stars from a remote, totally dark location.  I had just asked Art to drive down to the cemetery a few nights before so that we could look at the stars.  I would love to take a blanket and just lie there, letting my eyes take in more and more stars. 

We hope to attend the next lecture, although I have no idea how often these meetings are held. 


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