East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


What are you learning?

reader-512This is something I am planning for my Italian blog, but then I thought, what the heck, why not do it on Karavansara, too?
So here goes.

The basic premise:

The brain, if you don’t keep it working, it shrivels and dies

From which, the basic question:

What are you learning?

The comments are open.

And here I go first, to give the good example:

I am currently refreshing my Latin and my French, and I am learning a bit of Bayesian logic. I am also about to start reading a book called The Singing Neanderthals, about the origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body.

And you, out there?
Are you learning something new or refreshing some old knowledge?

Also, what are you using as a learning tool?

I am currently using old-fashioned books and ebooks, with a side serving of Youtube videos.


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Brushing up the language of the Caesars

I started doing Latin in middle school – Latin was not part of the curriculum, but my Italian teacher was really old school and he considered Latin to be essential fr the intellectual education of us kids.
Which makes sense.
This meant I got to high school – where Latin was part of the science curriculum – with a basic knowledge of the language and grammar.
It was a disaster.
For the first time in my student life I faced teacher hostility – I was “the upstart” who had “cheated” by studying Latin before.


What was really shattering to me was my poor performance in translating Latin.
I’d be the first to acknowledge that my knowledge of the grammar was not organized and orthodox, but I did have a knack for languages (or so I thought), and translating Latin had never been a problem for me.
And yet all my translations came back loaded in red marks.
My average score was 3/10.
And while all students in my class had started poorly as I, suddenly, after the first trimester, a lot of them made a quantum leap and started getting very high marks, while I kept being a disaster. Continue reading

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An artifact from a more civilized time: Mangajin

Paint me happy, oh so happy.
I was doing my old and wise bit talking with a friend that is a respected author of essays on Japanese comics and animation, and I remembered with nostalgia the magazine Mangajin, that to us Orientalists Anonymous of the last century was a source of delight and information in the wild years between the end of the ’80s and the early ’90s.

Mangajin_01Mangajin was an English-language magazine for students of Japanese, that used Japanese comics, that is, manga, as a learning support for both language and Japanese culture.
It was quite good, and here in Italy old copies, six months out of date, were sold for fifteen or twenty times the cover price by astute retailers that were capitalizing on the new fad (bastards!)

I have a few issues, and the two volumes of collected material that were published after the magazine shut down in ’97.
But now, in order to show my friend this artifact of a more civilized time, I did a quick web search, and found out the first 30 issues of the magazine can be browsed online, on the SPCTRUM NEXUS website.


This is a wonderful find for me – a fun, user friendly Japanese-learning tool, that was to many of us the first gateway into the wonders and horror of Japanese language.

So yes, I am absolutely happy.


Learning Sumerian?

There’s a sort of silly rule of thumb, that goes more or less like this

no matter what stupid search string you type in Google, you’ll find something you will feel the need to bookmark and check later

For instance: a friend of mine over at his blog, suggests that when we get asked

and what do you do?

we should reply

I study Sumerian magic

instead of “I write”, because we’d get more respect and consideration. Continue reading


An unusual writer’s resource – QI

qi-logoIt started because I wanted to dust off my English – because reading and writing is all right, but you need to keep your ear trained for the spoken language.
So I went for a few BBC programs available on Youtube. People talking, with a variety of accents.
Talk shows, comedy shows, and panel shows.

Now, panel shows are something that does not exist in my country.
Basically it is a bunch of guys and girls – usually TV personalities, stand up comedians and actors – sitting around and talking about some kind of subject, following some kind of loose TV game show format.
It was as I was looking for these shows that I discovered one of the best – and most idiosincratic – writer resources on the web.
It’s a show called QI (short for Quite Interesting) and it’s simply great. Continue reading

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The Karavansara summer reading list for students (and everybody else)

I don’t know how it is there where you are sitting, but hereabouts schools are about to close for summers, and teachers are busy assigning homework and projects and stuff.
One of the things that hit the kids every year is the dread read at least five books from this list list.
I always hated that when I was in high-school – I usually approached summer with a stack of a dozen big books I wanted to read, and here I was forced to slip more dull novels in the mix. And now I’m told that with the lowering standards of our school they are reducing the required reads to three, but you get the idea.


And I thought, why not put together my own suggested reading list?
For kids out there, high-school level, to broaden their horizons, and provide some much-needed food for thought.
I’ll also do a list in Italian for my blog, as a form of service – but putting together a list of English-language titles is easier, and I’m told list posts are quite popular.
But with a twist: I’ll focus on a list of books in theme with the usual topics of this blog. Books that talk about science, nature, philosophy, literature, history and imagination.
With an eye for adventure, exploration, and a modicum of swashbuckling – because this is, after all, Karavansara!
Continue reading


On a country hike with Alfred Watkins

watkinsToday is Easter monday, and traditionally it is the day dedicated to field trips and picnics.
With my brother, we are planning a short hike across the hills here where we live – a matter of a few miles, following dirt paths through the vineyards.
We’ll take a few photos, taking our time and enjoying the quiet, and make it to a place where we will find ice cream.
Because that’s our goal – ice cream!
Once our ice cream raid is done, we’ll walk back.
And I’ll be carrying in my small rucksack, my copy of Alfred Watkin’s The Ley Hunter’s Manual from 1927.
That is a bogus sort of pamphlet, and scandalised my old colleagues back in the days of fieldwork for the university, but it’s a fun thing anyway, and perfect for such a hike. Continue reading