Pisa diary: Wrap up

The last few days in Italy were a blur of activity.

To begin with, the summer school activities became more and more exciting. Two teachers from Barcelona delivered a crash course on control and realtime scheduling. They were young, funny and I wished I had them as my first control teachers. The day brought a very solid  realization of some concepts that had vaguely existed in my mind. Like the impact of CAN bus loading on control system performance. These are the things sidelined during regular courses, but return to bite you when you do a real implementation. We started with two controllers on a CAN bus and they performed satisfactorily. As more nodes were added, the performance degraded until one node eventually failed. At this point, I declared that the node could be saved by redesigning the controller for an increased sampling period. This led to a spirited discussion and the two teachers ended with opposing viewpoints. So we decided to try it out. I redesigned the controller for the new parameters and w00t, it worked!! As it should have..wonder how the other teacher could have thought otherwise.

On the 16th of June every year, Pisa celebrates the Luminara festival. The lights along the river bank are dimmed and candles are lit up. Not just along the river bank, but also along the buildings that line the bank. The average distance between candles is about 30cm, which amounts to a LOT of candles. One website estimates it to be well over 70,000. So imagine a curving river, darkness and then 70,000 candles lighting up. The effect is mesmerising. Around midnight, the fireworks started up. Flash, bang, wizz! People gathered out on the streets and the crowd was just crazy. It brought back memories of crowded Mumbai platforms. People jamming into each other for kilometeres. Along the roads, over the bridges, along the parapets of the river bank. Then the music started. Streaming in from the open cafes, from street performers..one group  walked around banging on drums. Small shops appeared on the piazzas selling all kinds of goods and foods. And all this happened well past midnight. We went to a local brewery hidden in one of the tiny lanes near the city center and quaffed away..students, professors, assistants and a thousand random strangers. Excitement is infectitious!

The last day concluded early ~13:00. So me, Martijn and Fedor took a train to the town of Lucca. This is a medieval place fortified by big, strong walls and so everything within is perfectly preserved. We walked over the walls, climbed the highest tower in the center, saw a couple of churches, ate plum cake in a park and then Martijn and I made our way to the town of Viareggio.

Viareggio is by the sea and we kicked off our shoes and walked along the beach, as the Sun dipped into the water. A sea side shanty offered overpriced beer with complimentary snacks. Needless to say, by the time we were down two beers, we had feasted so heavily on the snacks that dinner seemed pointless. When you are with other people, you go along with ideas though. Martijn wanted to sample the local wine, and so we ended up in another place with a bottle of the local Chianti between us. That led to the best wine experience ever. I normally don’t enjoy red wine. Plus, a bad wine gives you a bad hangover (the wrath of grapes).

The first sip of that Chianti changed the equation for ever. No drink of the Gods has tasted better. After letting it breathe for a while, the wine simply exploded with flavour in the mouth and left an achingly endearing aftertaste. An observer of the scene would have seen two guys rolling their cups, sniffing, going “oooh”, drinking and grinning like idiots.

Reaching Pisa around midnight, I had a craving for Tiramisu. So we reached the Piazza Garibaldi, which was familiarly buzzing with activity. A stranger in the street had pointed us to a local place and we sat along the river bank under an almost half moon, slowly working our way through the delicious dessert.

“Look thy last upon all things lovely, every hour.” says the poet. I sat there under the faintly glowing stars, moonbeams on the calm river, the babble of voices, ding-dong of the church bells and never wanted the bubble to burst.

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