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The Money Supply and me.

“No thanks,” I say. It’s my standard response when the Hub invites me to come along to some work conference in an exotic location. I picture myself in a glamourous foreign locale I’ve only ever seen in a James Bond film or the windows of mall travel agents. But instead of being surrounded by Daniel Craig and/or foreign locale residents holding out perfectly shaken-not-stirred foreign alcoholic beverages, I know I’ll be surrounded by economists. Because here’s the thing. They might be in paradise, but economists will still be talking about economics. They can’t help themselves, poor things.

Economists tell each other hilarious inside jokes about the money supply.

But when the Hub mentioned the conference on Ischia, an island off Italy’s Amalfi Coast, I hesitated. When he showed me pictures of the flower bedecked pools and charming old world villages, I wavered. And then—because he has no shame and has known me for over forty years—he sweetened the deal. (Sadly, he did NOT try to claim Daniel Craig would be in the next room. I’ve known the Hub over forty years as well.)

HUB: “Did I mention we’ll be in Naples? Where pizza was invented and achieved its most perfect form?”

ME: (Cursing his diabolical knowledge of my fatal weakness): “When do we leave?”

Pray (for me)

I’ll spare you the details of our trip from the Naples Airport to the ferry port, except to say that driving in Naples is a Darwinian process. Only those drivers who’ve evolved nerves of steel, pinpoint precision swerves, and the honed ability to drive while using both hands to er…communicate with the other drivers could survive.

At one point, our very tall driver yelled, gestured, and shook his head at another, more diminutive driver. “He’s-a too large,” our driver confided. “My very small.” It took us several more cardiac-event-inspiring blocks before we pieced out that he was claiming the other driver was too old, while he himself was young and (presumably) better able to swerve.

At the ferry port, roughly a million people swarmed up to force their way onto a waiting ferry. Our own crowd-forcing skills have been severely atrophied by residence in the UK, where proper queuing is taught in the cradle. By the time we made it onto the ferry, the only seats left were in 100+F/38+C degree blazing sun. Remember the pizza, I told myself, when you’re going through the inevitable skin cancer treatments.

Finally we reached Ischia and the charming old world elegance of the Hotel Continental Terme. From our room’s tiny, flower bedecked balcony overlooking pools and gardens, I could hide out from earnest discussions of obscure economic theory. Mario, the all-knowing concierge, spent quality time with me, plotting each of my daring daytime escapes from econo-land.


Armed with Mario’s map of the island, I set off on Day One for Castello Aragonese d’Ischia. Since I am congenitally map-impaired, I walked all over town (9+ miles according to my little mechanical Nazi fitness watch). But at last I spotted the tiny island connected by stone causeway, leading to the castle that has dominated the approach since 472BC.


It was absolutely gorgeous, and rewarded my making it to the top (2KM) with the best iced coffee I’ve ever experienced—served on a flower-filled terrace where a tourist was banging out concert-level old rock songs on a piano.

This cheeky little guy stared me down while I was drinking my iced coffee. We finally agreed on a compromise. He got to keep the half of my biscotti he stole, and I got to keep both of my eyes.

And then there were the dead nuns. I came to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, only to find this seriously different “installation” by artist Franco Lanzio. **[See below for quick Google translation.] The sound of dripping water and random bits of hymns provided a musical score against the luminous chapel setting, while goldfish swam around under banners depicting dead nuns.

**[Google translation of explanation for the installation. And no, I could not possibly make this up.]

“The first Poor Clares arrived at the Castle of Ischia in 1577. Sixteen of them left the convent definitively in 1809.
This work of purification is dedicated to them and to the other sisters.
Silence, prayer, chastity, cloistered life was the path of the nuns kept within the walls of the convent until their death.
Then the body, taken away from the light of earthly life, was sitting on the drains, dedications which slowly gathered the moods of the nuns, definitively emptying every impure part from them.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, above the Putridarium, welcomes its latest nuns, iconically depicted in the ghost of their dress on sixteen hanging cloths.
The body, liquefied in clear water, survives through the flicker of goldfish, living flames of their spirit.
The words of the rule warn and delimit the space of the Poor Clares. The sound of terse drops marks the time and envelops the dazzling space of the church together with the voices of Ligeti’s requiem.
The irregular rhythm of the dripping of the drops recalls the liquefying in the clear water of the body of the Poor Clares. It follows independent temporal cycles whose random combinations immerse the space in a three-dimensional, dense and changeable sound plasma.
At regular intervals to the dripping is added the prayer chant of the requiem, the Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti.
The sixteen solo voices, as many as the Poor Clares, simultaneously sing the same melody and the same words, but each following an independent line of different duration.
In the continuous phase shift of sounds, the perception of the individual in favor of the whole is lost.”


But that wasn’t even the beginning of how seriously weird this got. Under the church was the “Putridarium” which—still SO not making this up—consists of stone chairs where the bodies of dead nuns were set up, while their decomposing bits dripped into bowls under the chair. Apparently, in an object lesson of what can happen when a bunch of women give up sex and live together, the live nuns had to pray to their dead sisters every day, increasing the general disease vector and their chances of joining them on those stone chairs. [Image: Unfortunately, my phone was out of juice by the time I got to the Pudridarium, so here’s a quick sketch.]

Please come back for my next post where I eat, pray, love, and try to avoid the money supply in Italy.