Ancient Roman Aqueduct

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  My wife Mary and I just returned from our first trip abroad–to Rome and the Cinque Terra region of Italy—and this Twain quote rang in my mind numerous times.  The trip was a great adventure and wonderful in many ways, but for this Water Wednesday I will compare and contrast in natural resources between our countries.

Mary by one of many ancient public fountains

In modern Italy, natural resources are noticeably less abundant.  The lack of wildlife and open spaces was stark in comparison to what we have in the US.  Even on our long train trips, almost all of the landscape we saw was “working” and probably had been for hundreds if not thousands of years.  I could count the species of birds I saw on the trip on one hand, and lizards were about the extent of our other fauna sightings.  Flying over the US, man’s impact on the land indicated by the geometric patchwork of roads and agricultural fields shows our development in that direction as our population increases.  But, I find solace in the fact that we still do possess and protect some wild and relatively untouched areas in our country.  Vineyards and Olive groves are beautiful, but as Aldo Leopold put it, “to what avail are the forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”

Water was the strength and weakness of ancient Rome.  Great aqueducts that brought water from the mountains to the City were

Tiber River

constructed from about the time of Christ until about a thousand years ago.  The aqueducts provided clean public drinking water to a series of fountains and baths to the ancient city, some of which still work today!  This infrastructure also proved to be the “Achilles heel” of Rome as conquering empires were able to destroy sections of the monolithic plumbing and turn off the tap to the City.  Still today, access to clean drinking water is a make or break factor for cultures and society to flourish.

I am proud of our stewardship of water resources in comparison to what I observed in our travels, but perhaps more discouraged about how we shape our built environment.  We encountered numerous waterways with obvious sewage impacts.  In the US we have pervasive problems with aging infrastructure, but at least we don’t need to signify B.C or A.D when we refer to our plumbing woes!  On the other hand, structures in Italy are “built to last” much more so than the structures we tend to build here.  For example, the 1700’s farm house we stayed in with 2 foot thick walls will probably be around for another 300 years pretty easily—I’m not so sure many subdivisions and strip malls will stand that test of time.

Trevi Fountain, suplied by Roman Aqueducts

In general, one of the cool things about Italy is the sense of community and national pride.  In the small towns we visited, locals gathered, walked, and talked in the evenings, and held markets stocked with incredibly fresh local food.  Textiles and leather goods proudly boasted “Made in Italy” and the fashion sense of the Country also reflected it’s preference for things Italian made.  Here in Springfield, I sense a shift towards local agriculture, local economy, and improving our sense of community, and if the examples we saw in our travels apply, the results are beautiful.   Ciao!


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