Robert "Luigi" Folk with namesake on island of Ischia. Original title "Two Apes On Ischia."


Some old bridge near Portovenera.  The whole place stinks of culture.


Schiavo Leo (always a fashion statement, with tee-shirt wrapped around his head to prevent angry Eurobees from getting into his hair)  sampling aragonite crust at Viterbo hot springs.

Lovely accommodations in $10/night hotel on Vulcano.


The author, Leo "Claynac" Lynch (Ph.D. 1994), joins 19 other UTDOGS people (Earle McBride, Pam Tiezzi, Victoria Pursell, Karen Carter, Steve Dworkin, James Miller, Joe Greenberg, Dianne Pavlicek, Paula Noble, Mary Crabaugh, Jeff Crabaugh, Steve Cather, Martha Cast, Henry Chafetz, Rick Major, Emma Troy Rasbury, Rachel Eustice, Dave Wiggins, and Lynton Land) who've experienced Italy on the Folk plan.  Leo didn't like Italy.



In Search of Italian Bacteria
with R. L. Folk


The Fall of the Roman Empire

by Leo Lynch

"You're doing a month of field work in Italy with the R. L. Folk?!" exclaimed my friend. "How did you manage that?" How indeed. Like my geo-friend (who still doesn't know better), when I arrived at UT I already had a mental picture of the R. L. Folk. I expected the author of over 130 articles, plus the famous orange book of sandstone petrography, to be a sagely, serious, Professor Kingsfield-type academic. Ha! I certainly didn't envision this geologic legend to be a little, hyper-active pseudo-elf, who can bank a piece of chalk off my forehead from 20 feet when I can't correctly remember the birefringence of illite (Ouch! g - µ = 0.025 - 0.037, straw yellow color). But there he is. Hand/eye coordination aside, it doesn't take long to realize that the thing that sets Folk apart from so many other scientists is his drive. The full measure of that intensity became apparent when the department got its new SEM in 1988. 75,000 X magnification allowed Folk to see the world in a whole new light - and what he saw in that light was covered with nannobacteria. Since then, already a professor emeritus, he threw himself into a completely new field - the bacterially mediated precipitation of minerals. And so for over the 20th time, Luigi made his summer migration to Italy, this time with me in tow, in an effort to see if 0.05 um geochemists are involved in the alteration of lava to clay minerals.

Italy with Luigi is a whirlwind of train trips (which do, in fact, run on time), bad hotels, excellent food, and geology. We returned with altered rocks from Mt. Etna, Mt. Vesuvius, assorted lava flows from Viterbo and Ischia, and the original volcano on the island of Vulcano. And the science is good - as I sit here in my office I can hear Luigi screaming "Leo you oaf! Come look at this!" in the SEM room. Apparently the same weathered basalt samples that I'm X-raying are full of tiny little balls that have gotten him into one of his moods.

But back to Italy. "Dov'e un albergo che costa poco?" Translation - where's the nastiest, crummiest, most uncomfortable little rat's nest we can stay in for ~$10 a night? Why? "To experience the culture, you oaf!" Only one thing pleases Luigi more than a hotel with bathrooms in the hallways - that's a hotel where you've got to make an appointment to shower in the morning or at night, cause the water heater's only going to be on once a day (Traveler's tip - while staying at the Albergo Moderno in Taormina, choose "morning." The owner usually forgets to turn it on in the afternoon).

Italians are, by in large, not large. But how they stay that way with all that incredible food is a mystery. For a little guy, Folk can really pack away the chow - antipasto, a pasta dish, a main course, a vegetable, and a desert was the normal dinner. The swordfish was incredible, and I will always regret not trying the gnocchi with elk sauce in Pisa. All that food required exercise. I managed to run 17 of the 31 days we were there (It takes 3 minutes to cruise around the Colosseum - if you do 15 laps or so it's a pretty good workout. You also get cheered on by the machine-gun wielding cops who enjoy watching the crazy American). Luigi's after-dinner exercise was mostly limited to dice baseball, which he plays out-loud and can be pretty exciting. I'm sure it's just a weird coincidence that one of the best power hitters in the league is some guy named R. Folk.

It's amazing to watch Luigi interface with the locals. His fluent Italian and apparently laid-back attitude (though we who know him know better) immediately puts them at ease. And he's lucky too. There was a Mercedes-driving cabbie in Acireale who had a "holy vision" that morning to wait for Americans at the train station, but the most unique character we hooked up with was Rafael Lucchesi, a flour-covered, bare-foot, baker in Barga. Lucchesi is the president of the local rockhound club (Gruppo Mineralogico Paleontologico), and he was utterly thrilled that real geologists from a big American university sought him out for advice. He directed us to outcrops we hadn't been able to find after a whole day's searching. He also gave us huge quantities of melt-in-your-mouth bread (and quite a bit of grappa too).

So were the primative living conditions, ear-splitting snoring, and high calorie meals worth the experience of Italy and Folk? You bet. I got to fulfill a geologist's vision quest and look into an active volcano. I also got the chance to visit the village in Sicily where my family comes from (and all I can say about that is god bless America), moreover, I got to do it with a remarkable spirit who complimented me at every stop, by telling whoever would listen "Il mio schiavo e stupido e brutto!"


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