31 August 2010

Brief history of smuggling between Ticino and Italy

Smugglers carried goods (25/30 kg.) in their "backpacks" made of jute.
B/W images via swissinfo.ch

Smuggling between Italy and Ticino was since the early 19th Century an endemic economical trend, because of the very basic reason that roughly half of the Ticino boundary lies along the Italian one, and different tax legislations let a convenient income margin for goods that were not declared at the border: this borderland was a strategic hub for goods traveling from north to south Europe and vice-versa. With the construction of the Gottardo railway tunnel (1872-82) this "European" role was strongly enhanced.

Model: in black Ticino; from left Lake Maggiore, Lugano and Como.
White wires are smuggler's main routes. Brown piece of cloth is jute.

Governments in Ticino and Lombardy (Spanish, Austrian, French, and then Italian) always tried to address and stop illegal commerce, but since in Switzerland there is nearly no flatland to cultivate, grain and flour in great quantity was transported (illegally) from the "Pianura Padana" to the Swiss population and smuggling represented an opportunity for both populations, dealing with basic commodities, that is why this activity was seen as a relief for communities on both sides; to get what was necessary, not what was luxurious; a way to resist to the fiscal oppression of foreign powers, ruling the north of Italy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It also represented a way of communication between the two States, since it was necessary to set up a net of personal and fiduciary relationships.
After the French Revolution the Italian State (under the control of Napoleon) promulgated in 1803 the monopoly of salt, tobacco and gunpowder: these goods started coming then from Switzerland, where no monopoly was run, as well as coffee.

Support from the population was necessary: smugglers were well accepted.

In order to avoid patrols smugglers chose demanding routes.

Around 1848, when the constitution of the Italian Republic was still in progress, Ticino was fundamental in printing democratic pamphlets and distributing them illegally in Italy, or hosting central figures of the Italian Risorgimento, one for all, Carlo Cattaneo. As well in 1848, with the purpose of damaging the Austrian Government in north of Italy, in Brissago, on the Swiss shore of the Lake Maggiore, was founded a tobacco factory, producing the same products of Austrian factories: same quality but lower price. Cigarettes were then spread in Italy through smuggling.

Goods left along the way.

Patrolling around Lugano CH.

Towards the end of the 19th Century a fence was built along the border, and smugglers had to organize themselves better and more efficiently.

Jute "shoes" were need to minimize noise while walking.

Between the two World Wars, smuggling was reduced, because of better patrolling, due to the fear that enemies would invade the territory, and because much of the male population which was not fighting found a job in building infrastructure for the Army. Between 1943 and 1948 smuggling arose again: this time the main good to smuggle was rice, coming from Italy to Switzerland. From the 1950s on, smuggling started dealing with monopoly goods, rather than basic goods, as well as with drugs, becoming a international criminal organization.

A moment of rest cleaning out mud from shoes.

11 August 2010

Transportation system: New York 1940s vs. Beijing 2010s

A couple of interesting videos related to mobility in a metropolis, distant in spatial terms but also chronological: first a short movie about New York City in the 1940s; although 1941 appears as release date some footage is more recent, coming from the early '50s. The idea of blood circulation from William Harvey is taken as a main reference to represent and explain mobility and fluxes right from the title: "Arteries of New York City".

Second video, a TV Chinese broadcast about the new "Straddling bus"(to be seen along Beijing's streets soon?).

Related posts:
The Changing City - mid 1960s
Urban renewal: 1955 vs. 2006

08 August 2010

The Changing City - mid 1960s

Though oversimplifying reality and popular in attempt, this short film from the mid-1960s gives you an interesting hint of the debate about suburbia and the city in general in USA at that time, catalyzed
in New-York on one side by the journalist and activist Jane Jacobs and on the other by the urban planner Robert Moses: avoiding the risk of drawing a caricature of them as antagonists, it is nonetheless possible to say that Jacobs, especially with her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", 1961, addressed a sharp critique to the most rigid elements and aspects in terms of urban planning and architecture of Modernism, which Moses happened to represent. This film touches in 15 minutes the questions of sprawl and suburbia, car-dependency, social boredom; urban renewal and investment, decay of city-centers, governance.

Bearing in mind the contemporary tendency and easiness in pointing out the failures of Modernism, one of the main urban and housing modernist catastrophes, contemporary to Jacobs, was the 1954 housing project Pruitt Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri, designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, best-known for the Twin Towers in New-York. The following is a description by Robert Hughes, quoting architecture historian Charles Jencks, claming the demolition of Pruitt Igoe (1972-74) to be the death of Modernism.

Like tragically September 11 and the Twin Towers, Pruitt Igoe became widely popular on screen, as you can see from Kooyanisqatsi, film documentary by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass.

Related posts:
Urban renewal: 1955 vs. 2006