Why tuples use parentheses ()'s instead of something else like <>'s?

Alex Martelli aleaxit at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 31 21:26:27 CET 2004

Brian van den Broek <bvande at po-box.mcgill.ca> wrote:
> > Have you heard of Villanova, often named as the birthplace of Italian
> > civilization?  That's about 15 km away, where I generally go for major
> > grocery shopping at a hypermarket when I _do_ have a car.
> <SNIP>
> > Alex
> 'Hypermarket' is a new one to me, but seems instantly understandable. It
> also makes me very sad.

Ah, yes, I understand what you mean.

> Italy isn't my country, but for the past few years I've been lucky 
> enough to spend a month or so in the north each year. In the short time
> I've been doing so, I think I've been able to detect the decline of the
> small independent shops and the rampant growth of the american style 
> mall, big-box store and mutilplex.

To some extent, yes.  40 years ago, when I was a kid, I knew of about a
dozen small shops of each kind (butcher, baker, grocer, etc -- each
would sell only and strictly its specific wares; you'd go to different
specialized butchers for beef and pig, versus poultry, versus horsemeat,
etc; ...) which were well within walking distance, in addition to two
open-air markets.  Nowadays, living in the same place where I grew up, I
only know of about four small shops of each kind (but each does sell
more kinds of wares than of yore) and the same two markets (now with
some cover against rain, though still essentially open-air) -- plus
three minimarkets owned and managed by immigrants (so that when on
Christmas day I found out I was out of fruit juice, I _could_ easily
find an _open_ nearby store to buy more;-), and a mid-size supermarket.
But yes, all in all, there has been some noticeable reduction in the
number and variety of small nearby stores.

Many have been replaced by places selling takeaway pizza, falafel,
gyros, kebab, and the like -- considering that my home is very close to
the University quarter of town and the whole neighborhood has been
filling up with students living off campus for over 20 years, I find
that hardly surprising.  The typical student is far likelier to want a
ready-made, ready-to-eat kebab, than to buy the ingredients to prepare,
say, a pot roast.  People who do buy the latter, like me, are likelier
to plan in advance, to have a car, and to be willing to drive 20 minutes
or so to get to a hypermarket, for the small savings (compared to the
mid-sized supermarket that's walking distance) and the vaster choice
(only place I can get really good AND decent priced organic-grown
grapefruit juice, for example).

> The small store to which you can walk and where you likely know the 
> vendor, and even if you don't, run the real risk of having a 
> conversation, seems a thing worth trying to preserve. They surely aren't
> as efficient as the north-american model, but one of the nicest things
> about Italian culture IMHO is that it appears to understand that some
> things are at least as important as efficiency.

The falafel seller is quite as likely to start up a conversation as the
poultry-only butcher that used to be there 30 years ago, although
admittedly it does work better if you speak some rudiments of Arabic
(which, alas, I don't).  And the NA model, where it works right
(requiring _some_ density of population -- it just can't work right
where population is too thinly spread), offers you *choice*, just like
the variant that's growing in my part of Italy.  If you live in Old Palo
Alto, say, you get quite a choice of small shops and open-air markets
(with higher prevalence of organic produce than is common here yet) in
walking distance, as well as the ability to get into a car and go for
cheaper bulk shopping.  Of course, if you live in cheaper, more
spacious, endless-sprawling exurbia, there's *nothing* in walking
distance... that's the inevitable price of wanting that spaciousness,
see: it spreads things out.  Many Americans who can afford to do
otherwise would find it unbearably crowded to live in big apartment
buildings, as a vast majority of the population does here; yet if every
family had its own detached house, with garden and backyard, *boom*,
sprawl.  Geometry just won't be dictated to, see: multi-storied
apartment buildings and a scarcity of gardens is the flipside of the
population density which allows small walking-distance shops to thrive,
and, viceversa, hateful endless sprawl the flip side of everybody having
nice gardens etc.

All in all efficiency is best served by the Italian (and generally
European) preference for crowded cities of apartment buildings over
suburbia and exurbia -- we save a lot of driving that way.  But as my
long-term dream is STILL to restore grandfather's house in the
countryside and retire there, I can hardly speak against the desire for
space all around you;).

> And it is truly heart-breaking to see the beautiful countryside around
> Italian towns being defaced by large fields of blacktop.

The beautiful parts of Bologna's countryside (southwards, towards the
Appennines -- Bologna is halfway up on the foothills of the Appennines,
already) are hardly defaced by anything... it just wouldn't be
practical.  All the hypermarkets &c are northwards, towards the plains
(Pianura Padana), the not-so-beautiful part (the same part which filled
up with factories 100+ years ago, actually, and for similar reasons:
it's very flat, which makes good wide roads quite practical, though it
has nowhere like the beauty of the rugged hilly south side of town &

> Luddites of the world unite!

Making everybody have a single-family home with nice garden and backyard
to ensure sprawl?-)

IOW, I think you have causation the wrong way 'round.  Small stores are
and remain practical, even if not with the density we used to have 40
years ago, when population density makes them so; and it's demand which
mostly drives -- in France, everything may be closed on Sunday,
including gas stations, but you'll ALWAYS find a baker open with freshly
made baguettes on Sunday morning, cause the French consumers just won't
stand for one day old bread; Italians are less particular about that, so
bakers do close on Sundays here.  You can't change people's preferences
between fresh just-made bread, and cheaper bread, by legislating that
bakers must or must not open on Sundays.  Just let the market work (with
decent levels of safety net, to be sure -- hey, I _am_ a European!) and
it will roughly adjust to what people _actually_ want enough to vote
with their wallets -- be it fresh bread or cheap bread, yummy organic
freshly squeezed juices or cheap industrial juices available for sale on
Christmas day, spacious gardens and backyards or the many efficiency
advantages of crowded apartment buildings stacked next to each other...

> Happy New Year to all,

Same here!


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