The science meeting ended on the Saturday but I’d been asked to stay on through Monday to give the graduation speech at the University of Bergamo. Down the hill, this relatively new institution (1986) is housed in the cloistered campus of a former (from the sixteenth century) Capuchin Monastery. My Rita Levi-Montalcini lecture at the Teatro Sociale had simultaneous translation (Where is Davie?) and that was also true for several other keynotes by imported speakers. But it wasn’t the case for the majority of the talks, as I discovered when I walked over to hear Antonio Lanzavecchia, a long-term immunology colleague.
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Realising that this might be the case for my university address, I provided a written text, anticipating that an Italian version might be handed out. Though a brief account did appear in the local paper, there was no translation available on the evening. It seemed my words of wisdom for the Bergamo graduates were likely even more irrelevant than is usually the case, though people listened politely. In such situations, the advice of Polonius (Hamlet Act 2, scene 2) that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ is spot on!
We had plenty of time to explore. The old town of Bergamo is dominated by churches, which, along with the 1786 Angelo Mai public library, cluster around the Piazza Vecchia (old square). Science also has a place here. Embedded in the Piazza’s dark stone is the 1878 Analemma, a seven plus-metre meridian line of white marble that, covered by an arched roof, tells the time via a beam of sunlight shining through a hole in a metal plate mounted above. Davie Map The adjacent seventeenth century cathedral and the twelfth century Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore have frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and house the tomb of a Bergamo native, the composer Gaetano Donizetti. Most would know him for Lucia di Lammermoor, a signature opera for Australian diva Joan Sutherland. An elaborate and magnificently decorated annex houses the mortuary chapel of the immensely wealthy and powerful military ‘godfather’ (Condottiero) Bartolomeo Colleoni. Born nearby, he switched allegiance back and forth between fifteenth century Milan and Venice when what is now Italy was an agglomeration of city-states.
In 1940, the Italian Condottieri-class cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk in the Mediterranean by the Australian Leander class cruiser HMAS Sydney. Patrolling the Southern Indian Ocean under a different captain in the following year, the Sydney got too close to the German raider Kormoran and was lost in 1941 with all hands. Though many from the Kormoran survived, the fate of the Sydney remained a mystery until marine explorer David Mearns found both wrecks seventy years later. The body of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the Condottiero not the cruiser, also disappeared for centuries till somebody looked more closely at his ‘empty’ stone sarcophagus and realised that, to avoid being disturbed, the old boy had himself interred under a false floor in the coffin!
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