Many are aware that dinosaurs disappeared nearly 66 million years ago, after a major climate change that made their environments inhospitable. Most people know about the dinosaurs disappearance, but few know that what happened at the end of the Mesozoic era was actually a mass extinction. Well, maybe even fewer people know that some clues of what happened in that period have been first found in central Italy, close to Saint Francis’ hometown, near a small city in the Apennines called Gubbio. The story is about father and son, Louis Alvarez, a Nobel prize physicist, and Walter Alvarez, a renown American geologist at Berkeley with a love for Italy.
What’s so special about the “sampietrini”, those little square bricks typical of Rome’s old roads? The sampietrini have been used since the times of pope Sixtus V in the late 1500s but the name was invented later in 1725 after the new paving project of St. Peter’s square. “Hard as a sampietrino” is a common expression in Rome. Sampietrini are made of a hard and heavy volcanic rock. It is very interesting to a geologist: at first sight, you might confuse it with basalt; well, maybe a special kind of basalt. Actually, it is not correct to call it basalt. It is a rather rare rock around the world, but not in the Mediterranean area. But everything would be clearer if we knew more about the basalts themselves…
This year I had the chance to celebrate the Thanksgiving with some American friends of mine. I am completely Italian and I still have many doubts about celebrating Halloween in our country or having a Black Friday here. But I am the same one who didn’t believe McDonald’s had a chance in the country of pizza and I am still dubious about any business for Starbucks here. But I was proved wrong, so I gladly enjoyed the thanksgiving dinner in Rome with some dear American friends.
When I was a child, people knew me as the kid who sang the songs also imitating the sounds of the instruments with his mouth. I remember how amused my uncles and aunts were as I covered some famous Italian melodies of the time. Unfortunately I was not exposed as a kid in the 60s/70s to the great music of those years. Rolling Stones, dei Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Doors, Pink Floyd, were there but no one suggested I listened to them.
It is quite incredible that in the age of Spotify and Apple Music a teenager has actually looked for and purchased a turntable off the Internet. Vinyl records sales have surpassed the CDs a while ago. Digital music does no longer need a physical support. Compressed formats have reached an almost accetable quality even to hifi geeks like me. Teenagers largely use their own phones to download or stream their preferred music and MP3 players are disappearing. Nonetheless people have continued to buy vinyl records at an increasing rate. What surprised me was that teenagers would do it, too!
When I first upgraded my Thorens turntable’s cartridge I was adviced to look into Grado’s catalogue. I choose the top of the Prestige series, which in 2005 was the Gold. I was happy with the sound I achieved on the Thorens, so when the time came, I replaced the needle with a Gold1 which was the available choice in 2010.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past. Not actually in a nostalgic way, but as something to be given more value, the correct value. Guitar playing has always been my trademark. The guitar has been central to my youth. I started playing at 11 with clumsy attempts that my 9 year old sister had started. It was an old acoustic guitar, so cheap it hurt our fingertips very quickly. It was at our father’s parents home, seldom played by my father’s younger brother. My father had bought it used in the 50s. Soon a new acoustic followed but, again, cheap. It was new at least. We must have destroyed it by playing it in any circumstances. My parents bought me my first electric guitar just before I turned 16. And they made me the happiest teenager on Earth!
The vinyl record boom of the latest years is often explained as an acknowledgement by new and old fans of the superior sound quality of the analog medium over the digital one. Many do not even imagine how well can a vinyl record sound, though we should make clear what kind of digital we are talking about. But that is not the point. Vinyl’s charm is completely different. It has now become a matter of fashion, following the attraction for “vintage” that many have now, as if modern times were less attractive than the past; it’s as if the objects that remind us of a time gone appear more and more desirable. But there’s more to it…
It is some time now that, in the rare occasions I have to listen to some music with my hifi system, I choose to play a vinyl record on my old Thorens TD-165 instead of a CD. It’s not about what kind of music to listen to, it’s just about listening to a vinyl record: unfolding it, cleaning it, letting the stylus descend, they all are gestures of a time gone but that are part of a relaxing ritual which is typical of using a turntable. Playing a CD would be faster, no time lost, but it would be no different from the frantic life of today’s world. What I’m looking for is an escape from this stress: we’re always on the run, so when I have some time to spend listening to music, I’d like to take a break from the frenzy. Preparing to listening to a vinyl record takes time – and this is just the point.
For the same reason I thought about starting a semi-commercial activity: restoring old turntables like mine and enjoy the hand work needed to eliminate the small defects due to aging; then I would resell the product, taking advantage of the vinyl resurgence of the last years. Where’s the dilemma? My own Thorens TD-165 was given to me by a friend who did not use it. It was the basic model of the brand’s production in the 70s, it was the cheapie. The top of the line was then the TD-160, more expensive still today and also widely considered still worth of high-level modern hifi systems. If I’ll be servicing old Thorens TTs, the TD-160 will sure be one of the models to focus on. But how could I work on one of them for weeks only to part from it without ever thinking about keeping one for myself?