Well, the first week of Ecological Restoration just ended! We have two professors, Marion Hourdequin, a philosophy professor from Colorado College, and David Havlick, her husband, a geography professor from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. We’ve already read a lot of material, from ecological articles trying to pin down a technical definition of “ecological restoration” to layman interpretations of how we ought to regard the environment in terms of our humanity. Since I’m a biology major concentrating in ecology, I began this class with preconceptions, but we’ve already read several articles that have made me question science’s hegemony in the field of ecological restoration. While ecologists are often the ones who lay down the laws, ecologists aren’t the ones who are doing all the ground work. Ecological restoration only works with community involvement, and while science may have all sorts of highfalutin’ hypotheses, these community members often have their own ideas. Some sort of compromise will always be necessary.
The class only has eight students, which is a great size for discussions. The class mainly consists of discussions about the readings, but we also have presentations by various people involved with ecological restoration. On Thursday, Gary Rapp, a retired Colorado Springs city planner, came and talked to us about his work regarding Shook’s Run- a creek that runs through Colorado Springs very close to Colorado College. He has put an incredible amount of time and personal money into restoring Shook’s Run. I particularly appreciate all the work he’s done, because I bike alongside Shook’s Run to get to school every day. On Friday, we spent the morning helping Gary remove invasive species like Siberian Elm and Black Locust from Shook’s Run. We also watered the many native plants that he has planted in the area, from Golden Currants to Plains Cottonwoods and Box Elders.
On Sunday, we leave for Baca, a secluded place for classes to go in Crestone, Colorado, right by the Sangre De Cristos mountain range. There we’ll hear from a variety of speakers.
Here are some pictures!
Shook’s Run (the park)
And the actual creek
Ellen (a student) and Dave Havlick (one of our professors) weeding
Watering one of the planted trees (the black circle is a pipe that takes the water and feeds the roots of the tree).
And Gary Rapp standing next to one of his Plains Cottonwoods
The last couple days have introduced a bit of levity to our material. As we learned last week, neorealist films focus on real life, everyday experiences of average people – usually the underdog – and often addressed World War II and contemporary social justice issues. Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan) is another film by De Sica, the director of Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) which continues in this tradition of showcasing normal, disenfranchised characters and addressing social issues, but with a comedic aire and the addition of fantastical elements. Where as in Ladri di Biciclette, De Sica brings our attention to the isolation and hopelessness of (the protagonist) Antonio Ricci’s plight, in Miracolo a Milano, De Sica proposes community, ingenuity and hard work as the solution. The protagonist of the latter builds a community of the little he has: raw creativity and determination.
In this scene, we see the young protagonist of the film with his adoptive mother figure. From a very young age, he learns not to fear the world, but that it is a wondrous place full of magic and possibilities. The old woman teaches Toto to actively construct his own reality. To add to this constructed and even fantastical nature of this scene, and, it follows, of Toto’s world outlook, our point of view is almost that of one of their little toys; low in the corner of the kitchen floor. This peculiar camera angle adds to the playfulness of the scene while allowing us to look up at Toto; he is a figure of power simply by taking reality and life into his own hands.
De Sica layers each take of both films with similarly masterful use of the camera, lighting, sound, symbolism and extensive mise-en-scene to bring us into the story and into what André Bazin* calls De Sica’s “way of feeling.” Camera angles such as the above that remind us of the artificiality of film as a construction are part of what we categorize as the ontological side of film
Discussion of this scene sparked a short lesson on the original Pinocchio, to which this scene explicitly alludes. Toto and his “mother” are like Pinocchio: the poor of Italy rebelling against the apparent hopelessness of their circumstances. In Toto’s case, he rises above through reason, creativity, optimism and hard work.
(The following scene starts at 3:08)
The role of math and counting in this scene really interested us. We concluded that for Toto – and presumably for De Sica – education holds power. Toto recites his multiplication to the old woman, his mother and teacher. He even wears the apron of contemporary young school students. The old woman leaves him only her playful worldview and his education, but with that Toto enters the world confidently.
The doctors count off numbers as a rote display of authority. They establishing power over the dying woman with their words as well as their body language with no regard fir the fear or even just confusion they seem to incite in her. These numbers hold little meaning for the doctors. For Toto, in contrast, nothing is empty. Numbers, gestures, and greetings all hold real and personal meaning for him. Later scenes emphasize that when Toto says “Good morning!” he truly means a very good morning!
* As quoted by Bondanella, Peter in “The Masters of Neorealism.” Italian Cinema from Neorealism to the Present. New York: Continuum, 2007. 52-63.
In the second half of the week, we shifted our focus to the post-World War II reaction to fascism, exemplified in a cinematic and literary movement known as neorealism. Neorealist directors like Rossellini sought to strip away the artificiality of propagandist films of the previous decades and explore not only the effects of reality – that is to say the subjective range of the actual human experience – but also as a form of activism, exploring the effects of average people upon reality itself. In Rome Open City, Rossellini employed natural lighting, non-professional actors, and on-site filming to let the audience into an intimate day in the life of his characters, many of whom are appropriately based upon real historical figures.
Through articles and class discussion, we were able to characterize Rome Open City as anti-rhetorical, quotidian, and a chronicle, to use the language of Marcus (the author of one of our assigned readings).
As a Romance Languages major who chose Italian as one of my specialties, I’m lucky that the few upper-level Italian courses we’re offered are so interesting! Many, like this one, are cross-listed courses, so I get to take class with not only Italian students (it’s a pretty small department – the few of us overlap a lot!) but also a lot of new faces. The course is taught in English but incorporates a substantial amount of Italian vocabulary related to film studies and Italian culture and history.
We began our first week with an introduction to cinematic terminology and then practiced applying that terminology to closely analyze the various visual, sound, and editing elements of a shot to draw conclusions about the scene or film as a whole. We needed to learn to read a film, or even each individual shot, like we would a text for many other classes.
We then moved to political theory, with a discussion of what makes and nation and then a lesson on the historical context for our first film, 1860 directed by Alessandro Blasetti. Although I knew much of this from previous classes on Italian fascism, the history of the unification of Italy and the rise and fall of fascism always fascinates me. Italy was made up of many political kingdoms until the middle of the 19th century, when Giuseppe Garibaldi invaded Sicily with only 1000 soldiers and the help of local unification fighters, known as picciotti and successfully unified Italy under the parliamentary monarchy of Piedmont, although there remained a clear division between the industrial north and the rural south of Italy, resulting in mass migration northwards in search of work. Italy was united, but weakly, and it is to this “weakness” that the successful rise of fascism is often attributed. World War 1 brought staggering casualties and economic hardship to Italy, and the following decades saw increasing unrest from the working class.
Mussolini’s vision offered a popular and attractive escape from the troubles of contemporary society – an Italy returned to its imperial grandeur and united by a fervent national pride. This necessitated defining the essence of “Italian-ness,” a task which started with the family outward. Fascism was successful in Italy in large part because it worked simultaneously from the top – down and from the bottom – up. Mussolini was a master propagandist and invested extensively in local cinema beginning in the 1920s. Although the message of these fascist newsreels and films came from the top on down, the effects was very grassroots in style, infiltrating the daily routine and entertainment of the average people with fascist ideals, most essentially the value of the hetero-normative, working family unit as the most essential building block of the fascist state.
1860 is considered one of the most quintessential fascist films in Italian cinema. It glorifies the unification of Italy as a proud and patriotic success and celebrates men as idealistic nationalists fighting to defend their home and women as pure, doting mothers – or future mothers – of the next generation of proud Italian fascists. Blasetti incorporates natural imagery throughout the film to emphasize the authenticity and purity of his vision of Italy and contrast it with the death and destruction that he shows as the result of foreign rule. As a class, we analyzed how details such as the establishing shots of nature, the recurrence of dark, cloudy long shots, low angle shots and staging of actors contributed to the overall effectiveness and tone of various crucial scenes.
In the era of netflix, there’s a wide array of available films to watch online. One of the features that made Netflix so successful was its ability to recommend new movies. This ability is equivalent to answering the following questions:
If a person likes a particular movie, what are some similar movies? If a person likes a given set of movies (and rates them accordingly) what is a good estimate of their rating of another movie?
One method for answering these questions is called K-Nearest-Neighbors, or KNN. The way this works, basically, is that we use a function that calculates the ‘distance’ between two movies. Distance is is quotes because it’s not entirely clear how to do this – and in fact, there are multiple methods. Our method was to compare how similar the ratings were for those two movies over all users. So if movie1 was rated 3 by user1 and 4 by user2, and movie2 was rated 2 by user1 and 4 by user2, then the distance between movie1 and movie2 would be sqrt( (3-2)^2 + (4 – 4)^2) = 1.
Once we have all these distances (from a given movie), we just return some of the movies that had the lowest distances as our recommendations!
For our homework assignment yesterday, we had to write a program that performed this sort of analysis. Here’s an example of the output:
2.69947506562 Star Wars (1977)
2.85147058824 Return of the Jedi (1983)
3.01114649682 Independence Day (ID4) (1996)
3.1107266436 Rock, The (1996)
3.37230769231 Fargo (1996)
3.41573033708 Mission: Impossible (1996)
3.43060498221 Twelve Monkeys (1995)
3.46153846154 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
3.5 Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
3.60740740741 Jerry Maguire (1996)
3.72161172161 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4.171875 Men in Black (1997)
4.18067226891 Back to the Future (1985)
4.18571428571 Empire Strikes Back, The (1980)
4.2012987013 Twister (1996)
好久不见！(Translation: Long time no see!)
I’m back blogging for CC, but this time I am not blogging about a grueling 400 level Environmental Science class… This time I’ll be filling you in on a class that is difficult in an entirely different way: Elementary Chinese. And my name is no longer Margo Davis. In this class, we go by Chinese names, so my name is now 岱曼华.
Intro language classes at CC are taught as two block courses, rather than the standard one-block class. This allows us to get more exposed to the language, which is very much necessary for students with no background in the language. After the ‘elementary’ or 100 level class in a specific language, more advanced courses go back to being just one block.
I am quickly realizing how necessary this extra block is, perhaps even more so for Chinese. Of course, there is a learning curve for any foreign language, but Chinese seems to have a particularly steep learning curve. The language is incredibly removed from anything I have any familiarity in. Most noticeable is that there is no alphabet in Chinese. For beginning learners, the sounds of characters can be represented by ‘pinyin,’ which is certainly helpful, but still kind of confusing because the sounds represented by English letters are much different than most English pronunciations. Beyond that, the language is tonal. So slight variations in pronunciation completely alter the meaning. For example, the phrase “Qing wen” can either mean “May I ask you a question?” or “May I kiss you?” depending on the tone used on ‘wen.’ Therefore, in class, many of us unintentionally cross some boundaries because our pronunciation skills simply are not quite there yet.
Luckily, we have lots of tools available to us for help. Our online workbook has many listening exercises to get us used to these new sounds and we have a Chinese tutor that we meet with in small groups once a week to help with our speaking. We also have a very patient professor who kindly corrects us as we get flustered and inevitably butcher the language.
The one thing about the Chinese language that makes it easier to learn is that there never is a need to conjugate. I have to admit that even after two weeks I still get a lost sometimes, but it is amazing how much we have already learned. We can read, write, and speak in complete sentences about our families, hobbies, and plans with friends. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be confident enough to walk into a room of Chinese speakers and say “May I ask a question?” without the fear of giving people the wrong idea.
I sometimes wonder if I’m the right student to have blogging as the student curator. The term has connotations. Connotations that I’m actively involved with campus life, that I’m someone always around, a student other students know. Connotations that there isn’t an event I’m not aware of, and that I’m relentlessly enthusiastic and never shy away.
Or maybe those are just the connotations “student curator” has for me.
Because, truly, while I am a Colorado College student, while I’m passionate and involved as much as my rather-exhausted body allows, the truth is, I rather read in bed or scribble in a notebook on a Friday night than venture over to Wahsatch or Weber.
On the Facebook CC Confessions page, a term has recently been coined: The Phantom 500, referring to the introverts on campus, the students that the others–the presumably normal students–never see because phantoms don’t go to events or parties or eat in Rastall. We are ghosts, floating the quads, randomly appearing in classes, or in the line at the Preserve, a mirage of students who exist somehow unseen and unacknowledged.
What a silly term, right? Talk about connotations of insignificance.
But again, maybe I’m jaded, as, despite my impacted schedule, all the incredible people I adore between Cache La Poudre and Uintah, and my seemingly endless campus wide obligations, I’m rather certain I’m one of the Phantom 500. And, you know, I wouldn’t change a thing. I may not be the most well known, most involved student on campus, but I feel nonetheless connected. Infinitely blessed. Still a member of this bizarree, fabulous community–even if I don’t have over a thousand friends on Facebook or go to the loudest house parties on the weekend. CC is still absolutely woven into who I am today.
I went to the senior dance theses performances last week. In the dark of the theatre, I was able to smile with hot wet eyes without explanation. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop grinning. And then I went to the advanced fiction reading three nights back, where I had to veil my face with my hair as I cried off and on, unable stop the warm sparks flicking down my spine. (Though, for the record, I’m an easy crier.) I don’t know why I so often feel the way I do, why I feel so much light on my skin when walking across Armstrong Quad, why I want to embrace CC students I don’t even know… but maybe it’s because we’re all threaded, we’re all connected, even us phantoms, we’re intricately a family in the most beautiful, absurd kind of way.
Does that make sense? Surely I’m not alone with these emotions. Maybe I’m just dramatic. You can call me dramatic. I promise I won’t be hurt. These feelings are just too intense, too real, not to share.
Before I was officially a CC student, back when I just a high school drop out taking summer courses as a “visiting student” in Summer 2011, I felt what I felt now as I walked home from a friend’s house on Wahsatch (a friend who graduated that same year). I felt the warmth, the spark, this insistent feeling I needed to come to CC, that I was meant to be here. And so, I wrote that night, wrote of my walk home and the overload of emotions.
My feelings then are still relevant today. If not more relevant, even as one of the Phantom 500, if such a group truly exists. Fair warning, in the summer of 2011–as I always have been and always will be–I was often incredibly cheesy.
A man sticks his head out of his van and says, “You doing okay?”
He passes me on Cache La Poudre and makes a U-Turn on Cascade due to my meandering walk being too slow, too content with the midnight mosquito parade, too at peace to be bothered to pick up the speed for safety’s sake. He passes me a third time, but now only observes. Simply lets his headlights flash on the green of my pants. Simply lets me continue on my wine heavy way.
Am I doing okay? Am I doing okay, Mr. CC Security Guard Who Hopes That I Will Be Accepted As a Full Time Student in January Because This Place Is Lovely Despite the Roaming City Kooks And I Am So Obviously Happy Here At CC?
“This is my home,” I will tell him later. “My home.”
Dear Andy, can’t you see? Can’t you see the gleam? Am I not floating down this entirely vacant street totally at ease? For the last six years I’ve tumbled from place to place in pursuit of an answer for what I should do, where I should be. Berkeley, Aix, Granada, Colorado Springs, Chipita Park, Umbria, Kinsale, Arcata, Orange County again and again and again, only to return to the most obvious yet seemingly unattainable place, Colorado College in Colorado Springs—this small intoxicating college where I once finally slept during 2010’s humid summer afternoons when insomnia made the nights resemble something numb and cruel, but here at CC, last year, 2010, dizzy on the grass of Armstrong Quad wishing that the quad was my place to be, a place to call mine, to call home, I finally found sleep.
And now, eleven months later, in a sense my wish has come true, as CC is finally my place to legitimately be. I can finally sleep on the quad legally with a student (visitor status aside) Gold Card and Student ID.
For the last six years, since bowing farewell to high school, I’ve stretched and yanked and screamed in pursuit of direction. Where? Where? Where? Nowhere fit. Contentment was a fantasy. Nothing beyond my word dribbles and Pikes Peak offered stability. No where stuck my swollen pieces together with the necessary bundle of mountains and academia and writing and companions and so I searched and searched and searched. But now I am finally here. Now it appears that I have found my glue.
I cross through Armstrong’s parking lot and walk across the quad. Mr. Security Guard now watches from his car on Cascade. I’m smiling, grateful for his protection, but also grateful that he hasn’t abducted me into his safe proximity, even as I cross the street and skip right in front of him, for the night is kind to me—the sagging shadowed cottonwoods, the warm muddy grass, Shove Chapel watching my back, and the row of orbs leading up to Cutler Hall. I question bowing down to Cutler’s front doors. Let me in, I’d whisper while kissing its stairs, let me in. I restrain myself, as I worry that my kneeling would alarm the still-watching CC Security Guard. And to be pulled away from the summer sky’s shine would be a tragedy.
The stars are what keep me aligned, watching me, giving me light to see campus, giving me words to think so I can express my gratitude, the words like drops of candle wax that slowly fill my ear reminding me to listen, always to listen, listen to what is unable to necessarily be heard, listen to the tsunami spinning within.
My mantra: I am here. I am here. I am here.
I approach Antero and Mr. CC Security Guard pulls up beside me in the roundabout.
“You doing okay, dear?”
“This is my home,” I say. “I am here.”
Obviously, lack of whispers aside, the powers that be accepted me as a CC transfer student the following December, despite my nineteen-year-old dramatic tendencies. And nearly two years later, I feel the same. Nearly two years later, I wouldn’t take back a day. Even the days that follow a mere 30 minutes of sleep. Even the days when I want to curl up on my hardwood floor and cry for a minute or three. Even on the hardest of days, I am blessed to be here. I only have a year and a month left at CC before I graduate, and success and opportunities and friendships aside, I will be most grateful for the blessing of always having the freedom to call Colorado College a home, a home that gave me the means to change my life.
So if you believe in the Phantom 500, know that some of us ghosts are no less entranced, no less woven into this tapestry of fabulous chaos that is life at Colorado College.
And speaking of summer… Summer on campus is an INCREDIBLE and MAGICAL thing. Take summer courses. Just do it. They are small and intimate and often outside and something like half cost and just simply wonderful. I for one will be here for all three blocks.
I confess to not being a pottery person. What gets my neurons firing are human remains and the stories that these ancient remnants of life can tell about a persons life and environment. Earlier this year in Osteology, where we studied both human and comparative skeletal anatomy and pathologies, I mentally declared myself a bones person and scoffed at recovering something as menial and commonplace as pottery. But this class is giving me a new appreciation for pottery specifically and the material culture in general, without which bones would have no cultural context for interpretation.
The wealth of information that you can learn from a single pottery sherd (again, I am spelling this correctly, it is the proper term for a fragment of pottery), provided that it shows significant diagnostic traits, is quite remarkable. A single piece of pottery can help in determining chronology for a site or a stratigraphic layer, the trade routes that passed through a site, where the pots were made and how far they traveled, what technology was available in the production of those pots, which goods were used and in what quantity, which in turn can help determine the demographics of a population. All that from an old piece of clay! I am genuinely amazed by all the information that can be deduced from a piece of pottery that has been preserved since 4th century CE. Because of the wealth of information and the knowledge that is required to interpret it correctly, I have a new and well-deserved appreciation for the analysis of this aspect of material culture.
But I am not about to be the person that specializes in pottery. Part of what makes me hesitant is the “significant diagnostic traits” part. Such a trait could be a rim, a base or a handle, in descending order of importance. But the vast majority of pottery sherds that we encounter are pieces of the body that hold little diagnostic information. Excavating up in The Jungle, what we have termed the topsoil area that half of our class is working to excavate, yields pottery fragments that are rarely longer than my thumb and primarily pieces of the body. So though we are coming across a fair amount of pottery, it is rarely something that will add to the already extensive body of information provided by larger pottery sherds. Those pieces being excavated in the lower stratigraphic levels, where sherds are much larger and still contain distinct rims or whole bases. These are pieces to be excited about, not the little guys that frequent the baskets in The Jungle.
Only a week into the class and I already recognize the error of my initial perceptions of pottery and its importance to material culture. Still, if I continue on and specialize in anything, I can promise you that it will not be pottery. I’ll leave that to someone with the patience of a nun and the accuracy of a surgeon.
Find of the Day:
Tawny found and successfully excavated an intact base to a pot about 20 cm in diameter. The pot could be as old as 1500 years old and is a pretty unusual for two reasons: 1) because it is uncommon to find pieces this large and in this good of shape and 2) because it was found upside down. How the heck did that happen?