Then, at fourteen, I spent a semester at a ski program in Switzerland. I found myself gazing at the Alps wondering what possessed Hannibal to attempt them with his herd of elephant! This country with four official languages, had 450 different varieties of Swiss cheese, with further “variety within the varieties”, which the locals told me was a combination of vegetation and techniques passed from one generation to the next. We studied European history, and Swiss Mountain Guides taught us how to read snow and avalanche conditions. We watched weather to predict whether we would be skiing ice or powder from the way the crystals set up on our jackets. By then, I was a reader but reading comprehension alone could not have guaranteed success in these places. Thanks to my dyslexia, I had the foundation to employ multiple paths of engagement, which helped me draw as much meaning out of these experiences as possible.
Calculating modern equivalences is very difficult and gold prices fluctuate; it may be easier to keep in mind a few “price points” for comparison. In 1500, a pilgrim traveling in relative comfort from Italy to the Holy Land would expect to pay about 150 ducats for the months-long journey. Annual wages of the typical mathematics tutor were 100 ducats, about the same as those of a skilled craftsman, while a hired foot soldier could expect only 15 ducats for a year’s service. The king of Naples, whose yearly income was estimated at more than 800,000 ducats, paid a salary of 500 ducats to his court historian and 400 to his chief advisor for defense, but only 144 to the architect who designed the main reception rooms in the palace. His head cowherd received 24 ducats. The family palace of a wealthy Florentine merchant might cost about 40,000 florins.