The gondolas are a popular attraction in Venice, Italy.  It has been theorized that gondolas have been used since around 697 AD, but only 1094 AD has been a confirmed year of early use due to documentation.  The early need for gondolas were due to the lagoons in Venice.   Because of the shallow areas and mud flaps, the boats were crafted to float easily in low water levels.  In the earlier installments of these boats there were small, enclosed cabins called “felze” with wide uses for the passengers.  They could shield from the rain or sun and protect the riders’ privacy.  This was sometimes used to help criminals escape as well.  And for now the tradition stands that men drive the gondolas with a single oar.  Women are allowed to test to become gondola drivers, but so far none have passed these tests.

Gondolas are more complex than a simple boat.  They are now designed to have the off center imbalanced look by weighing the boats against the drivers.  They are also made from eight different types of wood (cherry, oak, walnut, elm, mahogany, lime larch, and fir).  The oars are made from beech and each gondola has a rowlock to allow different types of maneuvers.

The most common uses for gondolas today are mainly tourist attractions, weddings, and quick crossings of the Grand Canal.  Most of them have a dark finish and a clean, decorated look to them.







If you live in America, chances are high that you’ve had pizza before.  But it definitely wasn’t anywhere near the true Italian pizza!

Pizza originated as simple flatbread created by people of ancient Greece, Babylon, Egypt, Israel, and Rome.  Some believed that the Jewish Matzoth, a simple type of flatbread, introduced it to Italy.  The flatbreads in these times were used as edible bowls and were easily made with just water and flour.  Other ingredients were introduced to start making the familiar pizza we know today.  Herbs, spices, and olive oil were the first things to be added to the flatbread to give it some flavor.  Next was mozzarella cheese from Indian water buffalo.  And unlike the cheese we Americans are used to, this cheese is fresh and not dried out.  Tomatoes were the last things to be introduced.  They were thought to be poisonous at the time and then soon became a “peasant food.”  Tomatoes were eventually brought into the aristocratic society and they became a part of this beloved dish soon after.

So what’s so different about the Italian pizza?  One was mentioned: the cheese.  Most American places used processed cheese in their recipes, while the mozzarella used in Italian pizzas are fresh.  The ways the two are cooked are also drastically different.  Traditional Italian pizzas are baked in an open wood fire oven, opposed to a regular, electric oven.  And last but not least, the toppings vary.  In Italy, toppings range from just cheese and spices to vegetables and anchovies, to boiled eggs and bacon.  A much wider variety is available for any set of taste buds.

If you ever visit Italy, make sure you don’t leave without trying a true Italian pizza…or two or three or six.






Why Italian?

There are two main reasons I chose to take Italian: family history and the desire to go to Italy.  Unfortunately I cannot say much about the first.  From what little I (and my parents) know is that my grandfather on my dad’s side was full Italian, thus we have the last name of Lago.  I do hope to dig up more information about him in the future.  But because Italian is in my blood, I wanted to learn it (and by that logic I should be taking German and Polish too but that’s for another time).

As for travel, Italy has always been one of the places I wish to see before I die.  It has such a vast history to it and an interesting culture that I feel it would be great to see where it all came from.  I’m not an extreme artsy person, but the art in Italy is one of the main attractions for me.  The architecture, the paintings, the statues, and just the cities in general all have a whimsical look to them (and I’ve only seen pictures).  Another reason to go would have to be the food.  I don’t think that needs much explanation.  I have grown up with the Italian food that my grandmother used to cook for my grandfather.  They might not have been the “fancy” foods but they were the real, homemade foods.  And nothing beats spaghetti with fresh-from-the-garden sauce!

I feel that I have somehow worked my way language-wise toward Italian.  The first language class I ever had was Spanish in 8th grade, which was easy to pick up but at the time didn’t properly keep my attention.  In high school I took three years of Japanese because of my (then) current obsession with the culture. (So I apologize in advance if I start speaking Japanese in class instead of Italian). And before this year I took Latin in my senior year of high school.  So it feels like I have made a loop.  It is in no way a bad loop!  Because of the little Spanish and Latin I had I am used to the idea of conjugation and gender-based words, and the Japanese language has some strangely similar ways of pronouncing certain letters such as the double letters in Italian.  All those other languages can only help me learn Italian.


Double Jeopardy & the Italian Legal System

In current news, American Amanda Knox is facing double jeopardy in Italy for the murder of her roommate.  This contrasts to American customs that do not allow a return trial after an acquittal, Italy allows such trials.  Amanda Knox served four years in prison in Italy before her acquittal and must now go back for another trial.  She does not plan on returning to Italy for her retrial.

According to many people worldwide, Italy’s legal system is corrupt.  When it comes to criminal trials, they are very drawn out.  It could take years for a criminal trial to come to a close and all that time could be taken away from the convicted who may spend their time in jail.  Another problem is that the scientific evidence from laboratories is not thoroughly looked over like it is in the United States.  Because it comes directly from a lab the court does not question what is presented and most likely doesn’t take account for human error.  According to a 2009 poll in Italy, only 16% of Italians trust their legal system.  And judging by the fact that people are still claiming that it is corrupt today, that percentage is most likely still accurate.

Italy’s justice system needs to be updated.  Not just because an American is to be put on trial there, but because it necessary.  For anyone to get a completely fair trial, some changes must be made.





The Black Death in Italy

One thing I have always had an odd obsession with is the history of the Black Death.  It was a major event in history and the way people handled the outbreak has always interested me.  So for this blog entry I will focus on its spread to Italy.

            The Black Death started in Mongolian Desert in the 1320s before making its way to China and then to Italy.  Italy was the first of Europe to obtain the disease and therefore was blamed for its cause. Because of Italy’s numerous trade routes, it was the first country to contain major contractions of the sickness.  In other neighboring countries, Italian travelers and residences were killed in fear that they would somehow spread the disease (even though most of these people wouldn’t have had it).

            The Black Death itself is a disease caused by a bacterium that is carried by rats and transferred by fleas.  Because rats were prominent on ships, the illness spread easily from trade route to trade route (same as a virus being spread by planes today).  The disease had early signs such as fatigue, fever, and aching, but the more famous signs were in the more developed stages: swollen and blackened lymph nodes called buboes, and coughing up blood.

            Treatments of the plague actually led to a larger spread of it and more deaths.  Bleeding was a popular treatment at the time and caused more people to become infected or bleed out.  Similarly, doctors would break open the buboes to drain the fluids, but that is where most bacteria lived.

            Italy suffered the main portion of the plague between its initial arrival in Europe and becoming the blame of the disease’s existence by the rest of Europe.  The plague passed around 1350, but Italy had the most deaths per area due to its dense population.  About 1/3 of its population was wiped out.

            I feel it is important to know about the Black Death because of its medical relevance on how disease is spread and treated, but also because it had a major impact on the populations.  Anyone who has Italian descent remember: the blood of a plague survivor runs in your veins!




& Previous knowledge

The Colosseum

By Sarah Lago

In 80 AD a massive construction project was completed under the rule of Emperor Titus.  A large amphitheater was erected in Rome called the Flavian Amphitheater, or the Colosseum as it is known today.  Within this structure around 50,000 people could be seated in the spectators’ seats to watch everything from dramas and mock sea battles to gladiator fights and public executions until it closed in 523 AD.

At first glance one may think that the name “Colosseum” came from the fact that the amphitheater is so massive, but that’s incorrect.  The name actually came from the colossal bronze statue of Nero (the final emperor of the Flavian dynasty) that stood outside of the amphitheater.  This statue was changed to resemble the sun god, Helios, after Nero’s death, and was taken down until the Middle Ages.

The uses for the Colosseum are what make it an important structure in Rome’s history.  Aside from the entertainment, after closure of the Colosseum it was used as building material for Roman homes, a short-lived wool factory (1590 AD), and a location for botanists to collect various types of plant life (337 recorded species).

Raiding of the structure’s stones lasted from around 526 to 1749 AD when Pope Benedict XIV stopped the looting and set up the Stations of the Cross within the arena.  Popes that succeeded Benedict XIV had put many restorations of the Colosseum that are still continuing today.

Overall, the Colosseum is not only a popular attraction in Rome, but has a vast history involving several different uses and building projects.