A Hole In The Wall

A little “wine window” in Florence.

If you strolled through the cobbled lanes of Florence, you’re likely to see little apertures in old buildings that are about the size of an airplane window.

Well, they are windows.

In the mid-16th century, when the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici, decreed that wine could be sold out of people’s cellars—bypassing the taverns and innkeepers—Florentine nobles built these buchette del vino (Italian for “holes for wine”) into the walls of their palatial residences. By selling directly to the consumers, they evaded taxes in the process.

In the early 1630s, when an outbreak of the plague swept through this town and elsewhere in northern Italy, these dainty architectural features allowed sellers to pass a flask of wine into the hand of a buyer, without coming into contact with him or her.

In the era of the coronavirus, they’re are enjoying something of a Renaissance.

Windmills Of The Sea

The Haliade-X wind turbine is nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

GE is planning to roll out a series of giant offshore wind turbines in the Netherlands. These enormous whirling machines will be deployed at sea as the winds are stronger and steadier there than on land.

Towering 853 feet over the ocean and having blades, 350 feet long, one Haliade-X, is capable of producing as much thrust as the four engines of a Boeing 747 jet. It’ll be able to turn out 13 megawatts of power, enough to power a town of some 12,000 homes. When assembled in arrays, the “windmills” will have the potential to illuminate an entire metropolis.

Offshore turbines now account for only about five percent of the generating capacity of the overall wind industry.

A Fossil That Lives In The Hudson

The logo of the Hudson River Estuary.

Last Sunday, I filled up my gas tank and took a road trip up to Albany, the Empire State’s political cockpit. I drove in silence, keeping an eye on the barns and bakeries that I encountered along the Taconic.

The Taconic Orchards, on Route 82, is an upstate farm that grows fruits and sells local produce, flowers, honey, eggs, jams, ice-cream etc.

Places along the route, where the highway happened to cross the Hudson and its many creeks, were marked by a rectangular blue-and-white road emblem that stood out.

The logo of the Hudson River Estuary, it depicted a primitive fish, with bony plates, whose lineage extends back to the age of dinosaurs. It’s the Atlantic sturgeon.

This ancient sea creature, prized for its eggs, was once found in great abundance, just like the oysters that populated New York’s waterways. And like its bivalve relative, its numbers too, fell quickly due to overfishing, triggered by a craze for caviar in the late 180os. Nearly 7,000,000 pounds of sturgeon were caught in 1887, but by 1905, the catch had declined to only 20,000 pounds and by 1989, to only 400 pounds.

Today, it’s illegal to fish for, catch, or keep sturgeon because there are so few of them left.