Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes



The Lady Vanishes, released in 1938, was Hitchcock’s last British film (until the 1970s), and is considered to be his finest. Hitchcock’s 3 previous films had not done well at the box office, but The Lady was extremely successful in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. and helped launch Hitchcock in Hollywood.


The plot of The Lady Vanishes has clear references to the political situation leading up to World War II.  It is hard to imagine yourself back in 1938, before the world would experience the atrocities of the 2nd World War.  Spies on trains and coded messages drive the plot.

I recently watched the film and was surprised by how slowly the plot moves in the first third of the film.  Even though this film is always rated in the top 40 best British films, for me it was surprising that Hitchcock directed it.  But, that is just my opinion and I am no expert! For a more positive assessment of the movie, see this source: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jul/24/my-favourite-hitchcock-lady-vanishes


Old wine, I mean really old wine!

Deep inside Monte Kronio on Sicily seen above, an ancient secret has been kept for millennia in the hot, humid and sulfurous caves.


People have been visiting the caves of Monte Kronio since as far back as 8,000 years ago. They’ve left behind vessels from the Copper Age (early 6th to early 3rd millennium B.C.) as well as various sizes of ceramic storage jars, jugs and basins. In the deepest cavities of the mountain these artifacts sometimes lie with human skeletons.

One of the most puzzling of questions around this prehistoric site has been what those vessels contained. What substance was so precious it might mollify a deity or properly accompany dead chiefs and warriors on their trip to the underworld?

Using tiny samples, scraped from these ancient artifacts, the analysis of scientists revealed a surprising answer: wine. And that discovery has big implications for the story archaeologists tell about the people who lived in this time and place.

How the discovery of prehistoric wine in Italian caves made us rethink ancient Sicilian culture


In November 2012, a team of expert geographers and speleologists ventured into the dangerous underground complex of Monte Kronio. They escorted archaeologists from the Superintendence of Agrigento, going down more than 300 feet to document artifacts and to take samples. The scientists scraped the inner walls of five ceramic vessels, removing about 100 mg (0.0035 ounces) of powder from each.

It was found that 4 of the 5 Copper Age large storage jars contained an organic residue. Two contained animal fats and another held plant residues, thanks to what was believed to be a semi-liquid kind of stew partially absorbed by the walls of the jars.

But the 4th jar held the greatest surprise: pure grape wine from 5,000 years ago, and these Monte Kronio samples are some of the oldest wines known so far for Europe and the Mediterranean region.

This is an incredible surprise, considering that the Southern Anatolia and Transcaucasian region were traditionally believed to be the cradle of grape domestication and early viticulture. Later studies used Neolithic ceramic samples from Georgia, and pushed back the discovery of traces of pure grape wine even further, to 6,000-5,800 B.C.

There are tremendous historical implications for how archaeologists can now understand Copper Age Sicilian cultures.

From an economic standpoint, the evidence of wine implies that people at this time and place were cultivating grapevines. Viticulture requires specific terrains, climates and irrigation systems.

Archaeologists hadn’t, up to this point, included all these agricultural strategies in their theories about settlement patterns in these Copper Age Sicilian communities. It looks like researchers need to more deeply consider ways these people might have transformed the landscapes where they lived.

The discovery of wine from this time period has an even bigger impact on what archaeologists knew about commerce and the trade of goods across the whole Mediterranean at this time. For instance, Sicily completely lacks metal ores. But the discovery of little copper artifacts – things like daggers, chisels and pins had been found at several sites – shows that Sicilians somehow developed metallurgy by the Copper Age.

The traditional explanation has been that Sicily engaged in an embryonic commercial relationship with people in the Aegean, especially with the northwestern regions of the Peloponnese. But that doesn’t really make a lot of sense because the Sicilian communities didn’t have much of anything to offer in exchange for the metals. The lure of wine, though, might have been what brought the Aegeans to Sicily, especially if other settlements hadn’t come this far in viticulture yet.

Wine has been known as a magical substance since its appearances in Homeric tales. As red as blood, it had the unique power to bring euphoria and an altered state of consciousness and perception.

All of this is taken from https://www.thelocal.it/20180215/prehistoric-wine-italy-inaccessible-caves-rethink-ancient-sicilian-culture

The awesome riches of Venice in late 16th century


Giovanni Botero (1544—1617), an eye-witness, wrote of Venice:

Not only is there bread in abundance; there is also an incalculable wealth of all goods and delicacies, which are brought hither, not only by the rivers and canals of the mainland, but also by the sea, from as far afield as Egypt, Syria, the Archipelago, Constantinople and the Black Sea.

To Venice come the oils of Apulia, the saffrons of the Abruzzo, the malmseys of Crete, the raisins of Zante, the cinnamon and pepper of the Indies, the carpets of Alexandria, the sugar of Cyprus, the dates of Palestine, the silk, wax and ashes of Syria, the cordovans of the Morea, the leathers, moronelle, and caviar of Caffa.

There is such a variety of things here, pertaining both to man’s well-being and to his pleasure, that, just as Italy is a compendium of all Europe, because all the things scattered through the other parts are happily concentrated in her, even so Venice may be called a summary of the universe, because there is nothing originating in any far-off country but it is found in abundance in this city.

The Arabs say that, if the world were a ring, then Ormuz, by reason of the immeasurable wealth that is brought thither from every quarter, would be the jewel in it.

The same can be said of Venice, but with much greater truth, for she not only equals Ormuz in the variety of all merchandise and the plenty of all goods, but surpasses her in the splendor of her buildings, in the extent of her empire, and, indeed in everything else that derives from the industry and providence of men.

Scotti, Dom Paschal. Galileo Revisited: The Galileo Affair in Context (p. 28). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

The wine windows of Florence.

Anyone with a careful eye can spot interesting little windows, set in century’s old palazzi, all around Florence.  There are allegedly 130 of them in the city.



These little windows, known as the bucchette del vino, are relics of Florence’s wine trade in the medieval period.


Whenever such a window appeared, indicating the home of a wine producer, a customer could knock on the nearby door of the palazzo, order the amount, and collect their merchandise from the small window.  The windows thus served as a counter for the exchange of the product and the money.  The small openings were a crucial component of how local wines were bought and sold, directly from producer to consumer.

Customers typically brought their own jug, bottle or glass, placed it through the window, waited for a servant inside to fill it, and then passed money through to complete the transaction.

A typical window featured a small door, and when the customer knocked, it was opened for business.

Windows were generally large enough to accommodate a fiasco, the straw-bottomed bottle traditionally used for Tuscan wines.

Millions of bottles were passed through the windows without the need for “go-between” taverns or wine vendors: this intriguing commercial enterprise was unique to Florence.

Of course there is an association devoted to preserving the historical heritage of Florence’s wine windows: http://www.magentaflorence.com/association-ancient-wine-windows/ You might be surprised to learn the the Association was formed formed only last year, but has the mission of  acquainting the modern world with the story of the wine windows.

Of the more than 130 extant wine windows in Florence, most of them belonged to prominent dynasties such as the Ricasoli, Antinori, Niccolini and Martelli families.  The wine producing family would bring wine produced on their Tuscan estates to their city homes and market it in the city using this informal manner, a forerunner to the ever-present vinaio (wine and sandwich counters) of today.