Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Coincidence ahead of an Italian journey

An interesting person serendipitously landed in La Cañada recently. Let me tell you about her.

A week ago Monday, I was minding my own beeswax, sipping on a cup of Earl Grey and engrossed in writing the scene where Penelope Anne O’Grady and Juliana Lu Bravo plot to steal an artifact from the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi.


Over the din typical of an early morning Starbucks, I hear my friend Palma Vincenti exclaim, “Dr. Joe, when you’re in Italy, you must go to Assisi.”

Across the table, a young woman whose head was deeply buried in a laptop proclaims, “Vengo da Assisi” (I’m from Assisi).


I wondered what the odds of that reaction were. On hearing someone mention Assisi, the sparkle in Angelica Tarpanelli’s eyes intrigued me. Vincenti, sensing a good opportunity to press her case, said “See, Dr. Joe? Assisi is a special place.”

Tarpanelli is a visiting scientist from the Institute of Geo-Hydrological Protection of the National Research Council in Perugia, Italy. With a master’s degree in civil engineering and a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering from the University of Perugia, she is an esteemed scientist. She has come to our town on the request of NASA/JPL to develop an algorithm to measure the flow and depth of rivers, and to implement and launch satellite technology to determine such variables.

Her work is humanitarian, as it allows underdeveloped countries to anticipate the blight of monsoons and take appropriate flood control measures. Also, her analysis of rivers is essential in bridge design and building, managing drought, irrigating and flood forecasting.

“I feel I am using my knowledge to better mankind,” she said. “By using rational thought and scientific data, I can control certain outcomes.”

Tarpanelli has the credentials of a laureate. She has published 22 scientific papers, received numerous professional awards, presented throughout Europe, and reviewed and contributed to many scientific publications.

I’m not a “subject-verb-object” kind of guy. Instead, I look for the Zen of story. That’s worth writing about. Subsequently, I was convinced there was more to Tarpanelli than science. The magic that defines her is her sense of place, Assisi, a cittadina (small town) perched among the hills of ancient Umbria. Surrounded by mountains, Assisi maintains it idyllic charm and has given Tarpanelli a base from which she could expand her horizons of rationale conscientiousness, worldly experiences and metaphysical wonder.

“I am on a journey,” she said. “The most common questions I attempt to answer are: Why am I here? Who put me here? After my life, what is there?”

We agreed the scientific method would not provide rational outcomes to such questions. Regardless, even the most rational and scientific minds such as hers realize the world is metaphysical.

“What is the best part of Assisi?” I asked.

“The Church of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare),” she immediately responded. “The church is plain and austere, but when I walk from the church and into the courtyard, I’m overcome by the magic of Assisi, which rests in front of me.

“I walk along the streets and breathe the silence and the peace, a magical sense, which leaves me in wonder.”

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi enshrines a small 9th-century church called the Porziuncola, the most sacred place of the Franciscan order. There, Francis of Assisi renounced the world and started the Franciscan movement.

In 1781, Spanish settlers founded the city of Los Angeles. They took the name from the Basilica in Assisi, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula and gave it to us. Our original name is “Town of Our Lady Queen of Angels of the River Porciuncula.”

As you read this, I’ll be backpacking throughout Italy, searching for the magic of Assisi that Tarpanelli expressed. I want to breathe it, just as she does.