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Ligabue Magazine n° 78
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Ligabue Magazine

Number 65
2nd Semester - 2014


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* Digital versions from no. 1 to no. 57 are obtained from a scan of the magazine. May therefore present the imperfections in the display of text and images.


It’s a legend that everyone has heard of. The name alone, the Orient Express, immediately conjures up lost atmospheres from distant times. In the first article in this issue Silvia Manzoni brings those atmospheres back to life as she guides us on board what will always be
the most celebrated and romantic train of all time. Those 3,050 kilometres across Europe created a bridge from West to East as well as a world that only existed on rails. Kings and queens, maharajahs and revolutionaries, diplomats and spies, not to mentions writers, all
embarked. Agatha Christie immortalised that ephemeral world as brief as a good journey with characters who became historic household names, like Hercule Poirot. The result was a legend that lives on today. Donald Johanson, on the other hand, takes us on a much different kind of journey into the past. Exactly forty years ago, he discovered Lucy, a hominid who lived over 3 million years ago. What would have become of him if, instead of going round one side of a sediment hill, he had gone round the other? He would probably have remained a little-known paleoanthropologist. But he was lucky enough to come across an area where no one had previously been to look for hominid fossil bones. It was a kind of “supermarket” of petrified bones just waiting to be collected. Often simply being a “pioneer” in a place
or profession catapults you onto the world scene. What has all this meant for Donald Johanson? For some time now he has not made any finds and rarely appears in the arena of great discoveries. But his crucial find has continued to generate unexpected spinoffs, as he himself explains. Can a plant be “intelligent”? Of course not. It has no brain or even less a nervous system, and therefore can’t behave like an animal. So it’s utterly pointless to speak to plants, as some do, or play them classical music (as if plants were tuned into lofty Western culture). And indeed when interpreting natural phenomena it is very dangerous to project human or animal forms of behaviour on beings that physically, structurally, biologically and evolutionally can’t express them. What plants can do, on the other hand,
is invent surprising survival strategies. In Africa, for example, some trees have found a “passive” way of fending off giraffes. When their shoots are cut by a giraffe tongue, they give off volatile substances that cause nearby trees to release into their leaves substances that have a nasty taste for the giraffes, which are thus forced to move elsewhere. Can we speak of intelligent plants? Certainly not. Neither can we claim that they can speak or communicate. But in this case they did adopt a good group strategy in terms of the
species. And this is the way we should approach the article by Alessandra Viola, who explores the surprising world of plant intelligence. The Egyptians had already began to understand the importance and symbolism of equilibrium. The goddess Maat placed an ostrich feather and the heart of a dead person on the pans of scales: if they balanced, then salvation was assured. In life and in passing away equilibrium is all. A sense of balance is vitally important because it enabled humankind to become bipedal and evolve towards what we see today. Luciana Boccardi takes us on a stroll - but she also makes us jump and dance - to explore that development by interlacing philosophy, art and creativity. In telling the story of equilibrium, she started from the inspiration of the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. The life of humanity has been a life on the move - for millions of years. There are still many secret and surprising aspects to equilibrium, which this article partly reveals. We then go to southern China to discover the unusual buildings that one people, the Hakka, has been constructing for centuries: tulous - enormous fortress-farms. Around forty of these buildings were considered to be so beautiful and significant that in 2008 they were included among the UNESCO world heritage sites. Graziella Allegri visited a large number of them for us and she describes how people live in these fortified farms, principally made of raw clay. Although usually still inhabited by clans made up of dozens of families, some tulous have become museums or hotels. They are, however, still one of the most fascinating attractions in the architecture and life style of a region in inscrutable China. We end on a typically Venetian note, with spices. As Andrea Zannini explains, for centuries the Venetian Republic dominated world trade by importing spices, more precious than gold or jewellery, from the East and Africa. Understandably Venice was hit by something similar to Black Tuesday 1929, the day of the Wall Street crash in New York, when the news reached the Rialto “stock market” that Vasco De Gama had circumnavigated Africa and had found a new sea route for spices. Cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, turmeric, nutmeg, etc., could now be shipped and no longer required caravans. The world, and especially the world of luxury, was changing and the Serenissima was quick to realise it: “he who controls Malacca” - it was said - “has his hands tight round the neck of Venice”.

Bon Voyage!

Real all editroial... Alberto Angela
In This Number...
Aequilibrium. The great human balancing act

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Aromas from Eden. Spices in the Middle Ages, luxury commodities from a fabled world of savoury gold.

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Earthen dwellings. In search of tulous and the Hakka in China

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Green brains. Perception and languages in plant intelligence

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In the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy turns forty

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Orient Express. West meets East on rails. History, journeys, tales and romance

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