Ciao, it’s me, Carlotta.

It’s been so hot recently that I’ve taken to sleeping outside on the terrazza where the tiles are nice and cool by night. It’s funny that not so long ago I’d sleep on the tiles during the day in the colder weather because they kept the heat of the sun.

I’m getting really high on this jasmine that surrounds me – it’s so intoxicating! Hiding in the jasmine is Corneglia. She’s a pretty wild cat and was already here for some time even before Napoleon. She hovers around us and likes to hide, as you can see.

Anyway, it might rain today so perhaps I might even decide to sleep on Francis’ bed again tonight.

Francis would like to know what those orange flowers are called. They always come out at this time of year.

Have a nice day from a very busy cat. Or I should be if I wasn’t such a great procatstinator!

PS One thing my butler has done is to continue his blog at


Do remember that you want to carry on following me and my friends!

Mediaeval Times are back in Lucca

The mediaeval Lucca festa is only in its second year but it’s certainly developing into an ever more delightful part of Lucca’s festival calendar. Although not quite on the scale of such events as Volterra (one of the best mediaeval feste in Tuscany – see my post mentioning that one at  ) it is becoming unmissable.

It’s not often realised that the English term ‘quarter’ e.g. ‘the Latin quarter’ comes from Italian ‘Quartiere’ which originally denominated one of the four quarters a mediaeval town was divided in. Lucca was, however, divided into terzieri or thirds. Lucca’s terzieri were formed on the 20th July 1653 (before that the city was divided into five ‘contrade’) and are:

  • Terziere di San Paolino
  • Terziere di San Salvatore
  • Terziere di San Martino

Here’s a map of the terzieri of Lucca. San Paolino is to the left, San Martino is to the right and San Salvatore is to the north.

Each terziere has its own coat of arms and is divided into areas known as gonfaloni (banners) which are in turn divided into pennoni (pennants).

For Terziere San Paolino there’s the:

  • Gonfalone of the sirena (with the pennoni of S. Tomeo, S. Giorgio, S.Masseo e S.Maria Corteorlandini )
  • Gonfalone della Luna: pennoni of Dalmazio, S. Giusto, S. Pietro, S.Maria;
  • Gonfalone del Granchio: pennoni of S.Maria Filicorbi, S.Alessandro, S.Maria Rotonda and Magione;
  • Gonfalone del Falcone: pennoni of Donato, S. Giustina, S. Pellegrino and Ospedale di S. Matteo;


For  terziere San Salvatore there’s the

  • Gonfalone del Sole
  • Gonfalone della Corona
  • Gonfalone della Rosa
  • Gonfalone del Gallo


For terziere San Martino:

  • Gonfalone della Rota
  • Gonfalone del Pappagallo
  • Gonfalone della Stella
  • Gonfalone del Cavallo


I’ll leave you to work out the English equivalent of the Italian term. Just look at the pictures!

Of course, today postal codes are used – the CAP (short for Codice di Avviamento Postale) but in the medieval Lucca festa the old divisions are used. So there’s no point in asking the postman to deliver your letter to the person you know in Lucca who is living in terziere San Paolino, Gonfalone Della Sirena, pennone di San Giorgio!

Lucca’s city gonfalone reflects these old divisions of the city.

The city’s Festa Mediovale last week-end had all the ingredients to make it a fun day out.

There was a mediaeval market with its fortune teller and craft objects


Birds of prey including barbagianni (barn owl) and Corvo (raven, like the ones at the Tower of London which are supposed to fly away if that city falls).


A display of arms to suit all defence purposes including huge cross-bows weighing over 20 kilos.


A gorgeous procession of lords, ladies and squires.


Divisions of cross-bow men.


There were several other events. On the walls there was mediaeval fighting and in some churches there were ceremonies reflecting ancient allegiances. The full programme is at

I love these occasions and am so glad that Lucca has truly got into the swing of it. I’m sure next year, third time round it’ll be even bigger and better. Don’t miss it if you’re here next year!








Animal Encounters

Italians love animals. Or do they? I’ve had some embarrassing moments with animal-derived food: ‘carne equina’ – horse meat a speciality at a restaurant, to which I’d been invited by trusted friends. Blackbird pie, (or was it thrush pie?) was offered to me once as a great delicacy. (I failed to count whether there were four and twenty of the poor little creatures baked in it).

I suppose it’s the same the whole world over. There’s succulent boiled dog in Korea while the inhabitants of the gracious Palladian city of Vicenza are denigrated as cat eaters. As they say, ‘vicentini magnagati’. However, we’ve also all heard of krauts, frogs, choc-ice and bananas used as ethnic slurs.

Incidentally, with regard to the Vicentini there’s a well-known piece of doggerel written in Venetian dialect, and referring to the various cities of the former ‘Serenissima Venetian republic, which goes:

 “Veneziani, gran signori;  

Padovani, gran dotori;  

Visentini magna gati;  

Veronesi tutti mati;

Udinesi, castelani,  

col cognome de furlani;  

Trevisani, pan e tripe;  

Rovigoti, baco e pipe;  

i Cremaschi, fa cogioni;  

i Bressan, tagiacantoni;  

ghe n’è anca de più tristi:  

bergamaschi brusacristi;  

E  Belun? Pòreo Belun  

te sè proprio de nisun!”


In a previous post I did mention that learning standard Italian is only one’s first step. Move yourself outside (or sometimes even within) Tuscany and, even if you’re fluent, you might catch less than half (or nothing at all) of what you hear. So here’s my tentative translation from the Venetian language as I’m learning it from the web page at

“The venetians are great lords

The Paduans are great doctors

The Vicenza people eat cats

The Verona inhabitants are all mad

The Udine lot are all keepers of castles and have the surname of furlani (the furlana is a fast and furious dance from Friuli in 6/8 time and appears especially in such works as Tartini’s solo violin sonatas).

The citizens of Treviso eat bread and tripe

The Rovigo lot are winos and pipe smokers

The people from Cremona are thick as two planks

The people from Brescia can’t be trusted  

And there’s worst: the Bergamo residents are atheists

And Belluno? Poor Belluno

They’re nothing at all”.

 Actually I haven’t found any Vicenza recipes including cat meat although, oddly enough, in Dickens’ Pickwick papers (chapter 19) Pickwick tells  Sam Weller off for telling a grisly (or gristly?) story about a cook who butchered cats and put their meat in his pies.

It’s true to say, however, that the Vicentini, like so many other Italians in the starvation conditions of the last war, did resort to eating cats. This sad fact was brought home to me last night when an intrepid BBC reporter, entering into the last pocket of IS resistance in Mosul, noticed there were no cats left and was told by the inhabitants that they’d eaten them all, as indeed, they’d also cooked carpet fibre to survive.

With regard to human cruelty to animals there’s absolutely no excuse regarding what happened recently in the nearby sea-side resort of Viareggio. The council had drained, refurbished and refilled a swan lake in the western pine-park. They’d also supplied the area with a peacock and peahen. Last week the peahen was found drowned and a scandal occurred as a result – anyone knows that peacocks don’t have webbed feet and should not be placed in an area where there’s a lake deep enough for them to drown in. The widowed peacock became almost a satire for the peacock-strutting town council. Indeed, the Italian word ‘pavoneggiare’ means to walk around showing oneself off in a pompous manner.

Other people commented that the Viareggio council members proved themselves to have a brain even smaller than that of a peacock. But I think that’s unfair on these beautiful birds who screech only because they suddenly look on their claws and see how ugly they are compared to the rest of their ‘pavoneggianti’ selves.

Dogs are ever more popular in Italy, although, since having a dog as a pet is a relatively new thing, many four-legged friends seem to be treated as fashion accessories. The Italian word for mongrel is ‘meticcio’ or, more directly, ‘bastardo.’ Every summer many dogs remain suffocated in their owners’ cars or are even abandoned on holiday and I remember this self-explanatory poster particularly well.

Actually brits are amazed at how easily Italian canines can gain entry into such places as restaurants, bars, hotels and supermarkets where they would be banned in so-called animal-loving UK. Cats are even more accepted. In 2014 we had just become servants to a new kitten, Cheekie, who travelled with us in the Maremma. Quite by chance we chose a hotel whose owner adored cats and had pictures and mementoes of cute felines plastered all over her reception area. While we were busy exploring Etruscan ruins or enjoying Mediterranean beaches, Cheekie was having a whale of a time being pampered and cared for in our hotel bedroom quite without charge by the hotel-keeper.

Hunters claim they are protectors of nature and great dog lovers. Yet I recollect two sad stories involving dogs belonging to people I know. Some years ago, in the village of Brandeglio, a beagle belonging to an English lady disappeared and was later found dead. My vet carried out a post-mortem on the poor animal and found that it had been poisoned. The poisoner has still not been apprehended although it is known who he is.

Yesterday I met a friend from Montefegatesi, a brilliant photographer who was collecting some prints from the local photography shop. He showed me one of them: it was his dog who he discovered dead shot through with several pellets from hunters illegally going for deer.

The world is truly a Manichean universe mixing good and bad in an unending chess-game battle. To conclude on a happier note, however, a little deer was found recently drowning in a small canal within the walls of Lucca. Deer in Italy, like foxes in the UK, seem increasingly to look for food within an urban setting. I just wonder how this little dearling managed to get to where he was. Fortunately, he was saved. The saviour was none other than the now world-renowned tenor and impresario Mattia Campetti (whose productions I have described in such posts as ) and the great rescue was filmed, adding yet another feather to Mattia’s cap as not only a brilliant musician but a brave rescuer. Perhaps Campetti should consider singing the part of Max in Weber’s ‘Der Freischutz’?

(Video courtesy of Giancarlo Monsalve Leyton)




Do Nothing or Do Everything in Italy….

Today it’s the start of another week-end where one is spoilt for choice – ‘l’imbarazzo della scelta’ as the Italian phrase goes.

One event I’m certainly heading for is this week-end’s ‘Mediaeval Lucca festival’ which takes place mainly in front of the beautifully refurbished san Francesco complex in the western part of the city. The festival was only started last year and is proving a great success. For more details see

It’s a pity that here there isn’t a web site like the one they have in my city of birth London. It’s called ‘Time Out’ and is at . ‘Time Out’ has been running since 1968 when Tony Elliott used his birthday money to produce a one-sheet pamphlet. In those days there was a considerable split between the other London events magazine ‘What’s on in London’ which was largely aimed at the conventional tourist and ‘Time Out’ which , in addition had extra information for locals and was definitely counter-culture in stance with lists, for example, of demos to attend and gay bars. Now, in our multifaceted London scene the conventional is definitely out, especially since in 2012 Time Out became free and, in addition, spawned equivalent editions in America and Asia. To crown it all Elliott this year received a CBE for his services to publishing: something which, in that ‘grey-men culture’ still prevalent in the sixties, would have seemed inconceivable.

Although no magazine, whether on line or on paper, could possibly include every event going on in a particular region, Lucca province with a population of less than a thirtieth that of London could well do with a ‘Time Out’ equivalent with a catchy title. May I suggest for the Italian edition ‘Lucchesare’ and for the English ‘Lucca-look’ (sorry!).

Having said that, if you still complain that you keep on missing out on our area’s exciting events, which in summer proliferate to a heady degree, then I suggest you look at the following sites, several of which have English editions. You can, of course, also do what I do, which is to take a photo of every ‘affisso’ or poster hanging on the bar doors.


For things happening in Lucca and environs see:

For music events in Lucca and environs:

There’s an English version of this. (I know that because I edit it!)

For a wider coverage events in Lucca province there are the following sites covering various festivals, sagre and events see:

It’s always good and covers events in Bagni di Lucca too: for example the crossbow competition here this Sunday and the totally unmissable baldoria at Sala this evening. If you don’t know what a baldoria is check out my post at: . (PS having mentioned that one I feel that for all of us who have been affected by the news of the terrible fire at Grenfell tower in London with a death toll of 79 – including a lovely young Italian couple – and mounting, attending a Baldoria  may not be such a good idea right now).

The Serchio delle Muse is yet another Garfagnana-wide festival that chooses unusual locations to hold its events. The concert we attended on the Pania Della Croce’s slopes at a height of above 5000 feet was particularly memorable. See my post for this and other amazing music venues at

Strangely, Bagni di Lucca’s own events web site at doesn’t seem to be operational today. I wonder why? So how would you know, if you’ve just arrived, that this evening there’s a marvellous village festival celebrating St John the Baptist at Pieve Monti di Villa. There’s information about it in Viareggio’s (!) web site at And, of course, you can read all about it in my post at

Probably one of the most comprehensive list of events, beautifully laid out in terms of music, theatre, exhibitions etc, is to be found in the marvellous Lucca area magazine ‘Grapevine’ whose web-site is at

It’s well worth investing either in the paper or the on-line edition for then it would be truly difficult to miss out on our local scene!, Furthermore, you’ll be able to enrich your knowledge of our wonderfully unique part of the world with the magazine’s interesting and informative articles.

Where will we go this Saturday?

There’s an interesting discussion on mediaeval pilgrims at Brandeglio Parish church. It’s described at

There’s a choice between the baldoria and the Pieve di Monti di Villa festa. I think I’ll go to the baldoria because it’s the only occasion when the amazing Pieve di Sala is open. (See my post on this monumental church at )

There is, of course, Debra’s web site at which will give you hints on how to spend this week-end afternoon if you can tear yourself away from the lunch table.

It’s possible to spend hours googling locations in the area to find out what’s happening. The problem is that each comune in Lucca province has its own tourist information site which doesn’t mesh in with any other comune.

Having said this, if you’ve lived in this part of the world for a few years you’ll have ingrained in your brain cells the calendar of events which succeed each other every year, The starting point is the liturgical calendar which can always point to the great ceremonies happening at each major stage in the church year: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Domini, St John the Baptist and, of course, each town’s patron saint’s day where everyone gets the day off, public institutions and the post office are closed, and the day is devoted to that wonderful mixture of the sacred and the profane which characterises the best Italian pageants.

And I haven’t even started to mention what’s happening in Barga. No excuse for missing Monteverdi’s vespers in its cathedral on August 27th (see conducted by the stupendous Sardelli. And Puccini by the lake-side? Quite unmissable. See

Of course, if you have a fast car (there’s a model which actually takes off and flies now, useful for avoiding all those bendy Apennine roads  – see ) then you could consult this list of Italian festivals from Sicily to Siena and beyond at which will give you some indication of where to be and when.

Of course, you could give the whole festa thing a miss and spend your time by the sea or in the mountains as your inclination directs.

My next post may well be on places to recover after a spate of Italian summer festivities: spas principally!









Summer Madness?

The beginning of the brexit talks farce is now in full swing. If it wasn’t so real and hurtful I’d class it as an amusing sequel to the television ‘Yes Minister’ series.

Thank you so much Mrs Theresa Mary May for allowing my 96-year old mother-in-law to remain in the UK. Thank you so much for allowing me to enjoy a decent pizza ‘al forno’ and a proper cup of cappuccino in London. A thousand thanks for allowing us to enjoy strawberries and cream at an English summer fete (appreciations to my ex-students from Eastern Europe working in the Fenland fruit farms). Thank you again Mrs May for allowing us to enjoy’ stupendi’ Italian singers at the ROH,

(La Cecilia)

and for still being allowed to have our medical mishaps attended to in what you’ve been unable to get rid of in the NHS. Thanks awfully for allowing me to go mad without being taxed upon this calamity (some people might say I’ve gone that way already – no thanks to you, however.).

(Straight-jacket from ex-mental asylum of Maggiano near Lucca. PS not available on Amazon)

And yet? Sorry is not enough Mrs May. And it’s not me that’s saying it. It’s the union which saved your country and the country I was born in from plunging into the utter miseries of unproductivity and depression it was faced in the 1970’s before hero Heath saved us and signed the marriage vows.

One positive point – I’m only receiving sympathy from my Italian friends around here and not any dreaded anti-brit backlash. ‘You’ve now got a government ‘all’Italiana’ worse than ours!’ one local said to me this morning. What next? Reduced museum prices for children, pensioners, members of the coop and those brits who voted to remain?

Let those who voted to leave the EU leave Italy and return to support their ever-inflating, price-hiking, increasingly tragi-comic-opera country….and leave la bell ‘Italia to those who love Italy and Europe and speak enough of the local lingo to be able to say more than just how to order un caffé’ ‘Americano’.

O dear! Is it the heat, which now, in Florence, is three degrees higher than in Madras (sorry, Chennai!), getting to me? Let those poor English boys wear their sister’s skirts in the torrid English weather. I’m sure their Scottish counterparts may all be in kilts by now…

(Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave – Courtesy ‘Grauniad’.)

I think I need to take a cooling walk in the nearby woods with the few living beings that have any sense left in this totally mixed-up continent.