Saturday, May 15, 2010

Italian journey, 8: Technology

Saturday, May 15—

YEARS AGO IN simpler times my technology, on these trips in Europe, amounted to a notebook, a triple-aught Rapidograph, a spare bottle of ink, and a camera. Communications back home were via postcards, not many of them, often mailed days or even weeks (not to mention miles or even whole countries) away from their writing.

I wrote largely (and still do, you'll have noticed) for myself; it's how I process my thoughts. (It's also how I remember things these days, but that's another story, a sadder one.) I treasure — well, the word's a bit strong — I'm glad I have those old journals full of tiny writing and the occasional sketch; I page through them and re-live, often vividly, the hotels and the dinners, the mountains and the villages; I return to thoughts about painting, landscape, food, music, national character — subjects that continue to absorb me.

Things have changed. I gradually gave up the notebooks for the same reason I gave up smoking a pipe: there were just too many damn things to juggle, too much clutter in the pocket. The advent of what Simon calls the murse, short for man-purse, didn't really help: in addition to the juggling you had to deal with the zipper. And then there was the constant danger you'd leave the murse somewhere. One fell off the back of my motorcycle, in fact, and I'll never know what happened on that year's travels.

A few years ago I enthusiastically adopted the Palm handheld computer. It's still something in the pocket, and you have to juggle it and its stylus to take notes, but it doesn't leak. Technology developed further; the Palm gave way a year ago to the iPhone: no stylus, alas, but it does take photos. One less item absolutely needed: the real camera — which in the meantime has moved from film to digital technology — is broken out only for 'important' subjects and when flash is needed. (Look at the recent photos, URL below, and see if you can tell which apparatus took which.)

Two years ago I walked five weeks in the Alps, and took almost no notes at all — I won't go into the reasons for that just now, maybe later. I did take 2500 photos: with camera; that was in pre-iPhone days. It was the last trip with the Palm, which still managed to keep up with e-mail from time to time, when I found a connection.

On that walk I did not carry my laptop, which at the time weighted five pounds. I did carry it on the previous walk, a hundred miles along the Lingepad in Netherlands; and I've always brought one along, ever since I first had one (1995, I think), because the advent of e-mail changed everything. One now could receive mail as well as send it; one no longer counted on Poste Restante or American Express for the occasional reassurance from back home.

Then too there came the Travel Dispatch, later to become this blog. Various friends said they enjoyed reading my travel notes and wanted them sent by e-mail. The number of readers grew to over a hundred, and it became increasingly difficult to send out batch e-mails in that number; many hotel internet hookups flatly refused to do it. I think they thought I was that Nigerian fellow with the temporary money problem.

For this trip, which I thought would involve a fair amount of foot-trekking (I don't now think it will), a new jump in technology looked promising: the iPad. I bought one a few days after they hit the market, and bought also a small lightweight Bluetooth keyboard. On the laptop I use MarsEdit for my blogging software, which simplifies formatting and the addition of photos; similar software (though not as good) has turned up for both iPhone and iPad.

I'm enthusiastic about the iPad; it worked beautifully for me on last month's shakedown trips to Ashland and Los Angeles. It doesn't hurt that as well as a writing instrument it is a library, carrying more e-books than you need, and crossword puzzles, and language dictionaries, and all that; and it's lightweight, and displays photos beautifully (though it has no camera of its own), and and and.

BUT. It depends on wi-fi for its internet connectivity (the AT&T-configured model wasn't yet available, and wouldn't work in Europe anyway). I though that would be no problem, there'd be lots of wi-fi here. But so far that hasn't been the case in Sicily, and it's not likely to improve as we start driving into more remote parts of the island.

Fortunately we brought the laptop along. On Wednesday, our first full day here in Palermo, I bought a USB modem with a prepaid hundred hours of connection time; it's worked beautifully so far. Our e-mail accounts won't send anything; I don't know why; but they receive, and we can write (as well as read) webmail, so we're in touch at the moment.

Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and drive away from this crowded, noisy, dirty, fascinating city. I'm assured the TIM network will reach my modem all over Italy: we'll see. In the meantime, pen and notebook are still in my shoulder-bag, and occasionally still see action.

Notes on our meals during this trip can be found, as always, at Eating Every Day; photos of Campania can be seen at this webpage; photos of Palermo can be seen here.

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