L’Aquila: The other casualty

18th-century Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio. Image courtesy of The New York Times.The earthquake in central Italy last week zeroed in on the beautiful medieval hill town of L’Aquila. It claimed the lives of 294 young and old, injured several thousand more, and made tens of thousands homeless. This is a heart-wrenching human tragedy. It’s also a cultural one. The quake razed centuries of L’Aquila’s historical buildings, broke the foundations of many of the town’s churches and public spaces, destroyed countless cultural artifacts, and forever buried much of the town’s irreplaceable art under tons of twisted iron and fractured stone.

Like many small and lesser known towns in Italy, L?Aquila did not boast a roster of works by ?a-list? artists on its walls, ceilings and piazzas; no Michelangelos or Da Vincis here, no works by Giotto or Raphael. And yet, the cultural loss is no less significant, for the quake destroyed much of the common art that the citizens of L?Aquila shared as a social bond. It?s the everyday art that they passed on their way to home or school or work; the fountains in the piazzas, the ornate porticos, the painted building facades, the hand-carved doors, the marble statues on street corners, the frescoes and paintings by local artists hanging on the ordinary walls. It?s this everyday art – the art that surrounded and nourished the citizens of L?Aquila – that is gone.

New York Times columnist, Michael Kimmelman put it this way in his April 11, 2009 article:

Italy is not like America. Art isn?t reduced here to a litany of obscene auction prices or lamentations over the bursting bubble of shameless excess. It?s a matter of daily life, linking home and history. Italians don?t visit museums much, truth be told, because they already live in them and can?t live without them. The art world might retrieve a useful lesson from the rubble.

I don’t fully agree with Mr.Kimmelman. There’s plenty of excess and pretentiousness in the salons of Paris, London and even Beijing and Mumbai, not just the serious art houses of New York. And yet, he has accurately observed the plight of L’Aquila. How often have you seen people confronted with the aftermath of a natural (or manmade) tragedy sifting through the remains, looking for a precious artifact – a sentimental photo, a memorable painting, a meaningful gift. These tragic situations often make people realize what is truly precious (aside from life and family and friends), and it’s not the plasma TV.

The Strange Forests that Drink—and Eat—Fog

[div class=attrib]From Discover:[end-div]

On the rugged roadway approaching Fray Jorge National Park in north-central Chile, you are surrounded by desert. This area receives less than six inches of rain a year, and the dry terrain is more suggestive of the badlands of the American Southwest than of the lush landscapes of the Amazon. Yet as the road climbs, there is an improbable shift. Perched atop the coastal mountains here, some 1,500 to 2,000 feet above the level of the nearby Pacific Ocean, are patches of vibrant rain forest covering up to 30 acres apiece. Trees stretch as much as 100 feet into the sky, with ferns, mosses, and bromeliads adorning their canopies. Then comes a second twist: As you leave your car and follow a rising path from the shrub into the forest, it suddenly starts to rain. This is not rain from clouds in the sky above, but fog dripping from the tree canopy. These trees are so efficient at snatching moisture out of the air that the fog provides them with three-quarters of all the water they need.

Understanding these pocket rain forests and how they sustain themselves in the middle of a rugged desert has become the life’s work of a small cadre of scientists who are only now beginning to fully appreciate Fray Jorge’s third and deepest surprise: The trees that grow here do more than just drink the fog. They eat it too.

Fray Jorge lies at the north end of a vast rain forest belt that stretches southward some 600 miles to the tip of Chile. In the more southerly regions of this zone, the forest is wetter, thicker, and more contiguous, but it still depends on fog to survive dry summer conditions. Kathleen C. Weathers, an ecosystem scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, has been studying the effects of fog on forest ecosystems for 25 years, and she still cannot quite believe how it works. “One step inside a fog forest and it’s clear that you’ve entered a remarkable ecosystem,” she says. “The ways in which trees, leaves, mosses, and bromeliads have adapted to harvest tiny droplets of water that hang in the atmosphere is unparalleled.”

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

[div class=attrib]Image courtesy of Juan J. Armesto/Foundation Senda Darwin Archive[end-div]