Cabling London

Often criticised, London’s transport system served us well and we were more than satisfied with the ease we could get from a to b. Certainly, the oyster card helped very much and there is now a contactless system in operation. We used, underground, overground trains, buses (including the jump-on-and-off “Boris” bus), the Croydon tram, the riverbus on that vast but so under- used thirty-lane motorway called the Thames, and yesterday we even tried a “flight” over the capital.

The cable-car system, financed by the Emirates airline company but administered by Transport for London, was opened in time for the country’s 2012 Olympic games to connect the O2 sports hall on the Greenwich peninsula with  the edexcel centre on the river’s north bank. Rising to a height of over three hundred feet and with 34 constantly circulating gondole the system  offers superb views over the city’s fast developing docklands area.

Although not an alternative to the London wheel, which provides the classic views over the city’s most famous landmarks, the telepherique is an added bonus for a city lacking the kind of high hills like the pizzorne which give eagle-eyed views over the urban landscape of Lucca..

It‘s just a twenty minute journey there and back in a gondola, which comfortably holds eight passengers, and the views extend from the Ally Pally in North London to the Crystal palace tower in south London,  and from the great river’s estuary to the isle of dogs. Don’t expect to see Big Ben, however!

At the end of the “flight” we visited the aviation centre where we could “fly” a plane of the Emirates fleet, have pictures taken of us in exotic locations the company flies to and even arrange for jet liner pilot training through a fully equipped simulation training cockpit.

Great fun was had by all and it was certainly a good way to keep an otherwise temporary, even “white elephant” project, continuing as yet another novel London transport system.

Going, Going, Gone

London is, of course, famous for its museums. It’s great that, despite efforts by previous goverments, the national collections still remain free, except for their specialist exhibitions.

Apart from the great institutions, there are what I would term “pseudo-museums”. One knows the ones – they generally relate to highly offensive subjects like torture and capitalise on the less discerning public’s fascination with the darker side of human nature and history. Starting from a certain dungeon the fashion has spread to Italy where the medieval high rise town of San Gemignano apparently has three of these blots. Regrettably, the trend has hit Lucca, as anyone going down the via Fillungo will know. I avoid these exploitative “museums” like the plague. In fact, I have fantasies that their perpetrators would be infected by the same mediaeval pox they gorely publicize. Perhaps, I’m being unfair…we all have to make a living, somehow.

In London, however, what is even more deplorable than these “musea” are the true museums that have disappeared altogether in the past twenty years. I point to at least three wonderful places which have been taken away from the enjoyment of the discerning visitor.

The museum of mankind, which concentrated on social anthropology, had magnificent premises in Burlington house which gave ample scope to fascinating exhibitions which even managed to re-created south Indian craftsmen streets and simulate earthquakes in Japan. I used to take my multi-ethnic college classes, when a lecturer in the great wenn, on a regular basis with immense success. Now that museum’s quite vanished, closed down in 1997.How sad for London’s increasingly cosmopolitan population.

The museum of the moving image, otherwise known as MOMI, illustrated in a lively way the history of the cinema from early Victorian experiments through the first flea pits to the glamour of Hollywood palaces, with diversions to Soviet and French films. We would be diverted by role-playing guides and the whole experience remains unforgettable in my mind. This fantastic museum shut its doors in 1999. Again, how sad!

Even in the centre of theatreland, in the very area where Nell Gwynn sold her apples, museums dedicated to the stage do not seem to be able to survive for long. London’s theatre museum, for so long wished for and finally opened in 1980, closed in 2007. Again, how terribly sad and such a waste!

The list could go on but it would be too heart-breaking. The fascinating museum of labour history, for example, in London’s east end closed in 1986. ( I am, however, happily informed that it will re-open soon somewhere in the North of England).

Another wonderful museum which closed was the North Woolwich railway museum which finally closed its doors in 2011. This was a museum we were particularly involved in as we contributed some of the old enamel advertising placards as seen here:

The museum had been opened by the then Queen Mum in 1986 and I still have the letter she asked her Secretary to write to us when we informed her in 1999 that the museum was first threatened with closure.

Regrettably, it is doubtful if we shall ever see this museum open again. The station itself is closed as a result of the new dockland extension under the river to Woolwich arsenal and the remaining track, which was to have been used to run vintage trains, has now been taken over by the consortium used to built London’s crossrail link.

If you are in London please try to enjoy Woolwich’s firepower museum, the Kirkaldy testing museum, the Fire brigade museum and the Imperial war museum for these are just a few of several other museums in London which, even  in the hundredth anniversary of the great war, are scandalously threatened with closure. They just may not be there when you next visit this marvellous, ever-changing world city.

On Tearing Up Letters

London’s Covent Garden Royal Opera House still represents very good value when one compares it with the inflated prices of so many other London theatres. For just over twenty pounds a decent seat we were treated yesterday to a supreme night of ballet in the form of John Cranko’s choreography of Pushkin’s verse-novel Eugene Onegin, originally produced for the Stuttgart ballet in 1965.

I am no expert on ballet – I just love it and yesterday evening’s performance utterly enthused an audience who applauded and cheered with almost Italian fervour.

The story of a typically “superfluous” young Russian (one bored with and cynical about the society he inhabits – cf Oblomov) who infatuates a budding country girl, Tatiana, with tragic consequences for himself, his loves and friendships, is too well-known to repeat here. The wonder is that Cranko manages to create an equally valid balletic version to Tchaikovsky’s searing opera on the same subject and uses Tchaikovsky’s music without quoting a single note from the opera!

I recognized none of the music except for an excerpt from “Francesca da Rimini” in the last act which reminded me of that magnificent walled city of Gradara in the Italian Marche, which we’d visited last year and where that tragic love story was supposedly played out.

Later I found out that most of the ballet’s music had been orchestrated from the composer’s lesser known piano pieces, including, appropriately, “the seasons”.

To come to the dancing: Frederico Bonelli, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet since 2003, comes from Genoa and his expertise in “serieuse” roles fulfilled itself to perfection in the quasi-byronic title role – quite apart from his considerable physique required in the numerous portanti actions of collaborating with his scorned and scorning love, Tatiana, through some of the most complex pas-de-deux figures I have witnessed. The dream sequence concluding act one was particularly sublime.

Spanish-born Laura Morera, who became principal in 2007 has a difficult role, changing from the infatuated teenager of act one, literally throwing herself at the indifferent Onegin’s feet and then metamorphosing into the radiantly beautiful and confident society lady in the last act’s society ball who, in turn has the remorseful Eugene throwing himself uselessly at her feet. This development was achieved with flying colours and the audience was rapturous at Modera’s curtain calls. Who said anything about British reserve there?

The corps de ballet were, as usual, brilliant and I greatly enjoyed the polonaises, mazurkas and Contre-dances they performed at the ball-scenes in intricately original figures.

What more can I say? How sad that Cranko died such an avoidable death on that jet flight in 1973 aged only 45, for his creation of this immortal ballet is surely his masterpiece.


Moral of the story? Always think twice about tearing unwanted letters and at least three times before writing them and, quite definitely before sending them! Duels can still take place, especially in today’s Italy, and even Russia as the great Pushkin sadly found out to his own cost when d’Anthes put a sword through his spleen and killed Alexander in 1837 aged only 37.

A Little Welsh Abbey

The dissociation of sensibility remarked upon by poet T.S. Eliot when referring to a separation of thought and feeling that entered into seventeenth century poetry and distinguished the earlier metaphysical poets from writers like Milton onwards remains a much debated theory among critics today.


What for me, however, remains an even greater dissociation of sensibility is that between pre-reformation and post-reformation Britain. When one considers that art and crafts from the British isles were admired in the highest degree by Italian artists in mediaeval and renaissance ages, quite apart from wool from British sheep which not only created some of that island’s most magnificent churches, especially in east Anglia and helped the Florentine guilds amass their wealth through the import of this commodity, as the “arte della Lana” so amply demonstrates (as does the woolsack in the British parliament on which the speaker of the house of lords sits and which represents the great wealth Britain supplied during the middle ages) then one realises just how much was lost and destroyed through the dissolution of the monasteries by that pre-ayatollah, Henry VIII.


Yes, Britain has had its Taliban not once but several times and, most disastrously in the sixteenth century. What that century failed to achieve in bamiyan-like destruction it finished off in the civil war of the seventeenth century.


I remember being told by my Welsh teacher many years ago that Wales anciently was a smiling country with festivals galore, famous for its merry dancing and laid-back moral attitudes.


The anti-romish destructions of previous centuries was cemented by the spread of anti-conformism in the nineteenth century as witness the many typical chapels, erected in a variety of styles from neo-norman to neo-classical, scattered around the country, many of which today have found a variety of alternative uses from visitor centres, private homes, sports venues and even night clubs.


There were, however, once great abbeys in Wales, the greatest being the CIstercian foundation at Tintern, still magnificent in its fallen glory and which I was reminded of when I saw that other great Abbey ruin last summer in Italy at San Galgano.


Tintern was the mother house and on our way back from the bay of Cardigan we visited one of its dependencies, Abaty Cymer, near the village of Llanelltyd. The abbey, dedicated to Saint Mary, was founded in the twelfth century by Maredudd Ap Cynan Ap Owain Gwyneth and never became very large or opulent. Its income came largely from horse-breeding and sheep-rearing.


The entrance to the Abbey ruins was through a delicate carpet of snow-drops. Again,  this was, for us, a trip down memory lane as we’d last been here over thirty years ago. Here are some pictures from that visit.


And here are some from our trip this week:


I wonder how many years will pass before we return again….


Two Welsh Lakes

Central Wales has some of the principality’s largest lakes.


We visited two of them: Vyrnwy and Bala (in Welsh Llyn Tegyd). Lake Vyrnwy is an artificial lake formed by building a dam which, at the time at the end of the nineteenth century, created the largest manmade reservoir in Europe. At its start there’s a visitor centre and bird hide where the wild life can be abundantly observed. 


The lake is surrounded by dense forests. A road goes all the way around it. I remember during one particular hot summer when the lake level fell that I was able to see the traces of a village which had been drowned when the dam was built by the Liverpool water authority. It reminded me of what I experienced at lake Vagli on the rare occasion when that lake was emptied and the submerged village of fabbriche Di careggine saw light again.


Lake Bala is instead a natural lake which hosts a unique species of very ancient fish called gwyniad. The town, which gives its name to the lake and is largely welsh-speaking, has a famous inn, the white lion, praised by George Borrow in his classic book on travels through Wales.

Bala also has a chapel dedicated Our Lady of Fatima, the statue of which was brought here in the 1930s. It’s unusual to find a catholic shrine in this otherwise very non-conformist area. 


Bala was once joined to Llangollen and Dolgellau by a railway which closed down many years ago. However, part of the railway has been reactivated and made into narrow gauge. Along it are these little steam-hauled trains with wonderful views over the lake.


Both lakes Bala and Vyrnwy are absolutely idyllic places and it would be easily possible to spend whole summers here, as we have done in the past, swimming, walking and sailing.


it was really good to be back and re-explore these old haunts!

When I Have Crossed the Bar

As we drove towards the sea the clouds lifted and a gentle sunlight beamed over one of Wales’s most beautiful estuaries, the Mawddach, welcoming us to Barmouth, one of this country’s most picturesque coastal resorts perched between rocky outcrops. We decided to take a turn on the beach and what a beach! So much sand and so few people to walk on it – a slight difference from most ItalIan resorts but also a slight difference in terms of the bracing chill sweeping over the sands and the surrounding hills…

We took a little rest in the quaint seamen’s institute, reading the papers, browsing through old books and observing the boards displaying the various rescues which the lifeboats had carried out in past years.


There were many chapels in Barmouth but most of them had been taken over by antique shops and cafes and restaurants – at least they hadn’t been demolished.


There was also a closed-up drapery store which must once have known glorious times.


Visting Barmouth was a lovely end to a day down memory lane filled with a variety of landscapes which few other areas can supply: we’d travelled over mountain passes, by lakes, over rivers and now the sea was before us.


I thought of that poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – I don’t know if he wrote it here but those lines seemed somehow evocative of the beautiful place we found ourselves at:



Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,


But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.


Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;


For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.





Friday the 27th (9.15 PM Oratorio degli angeli custodi) Cluster, the contemporary music association, begins its spring concert season. It’s a composers’ showcase with twenty four members who participate in concerts both in Italy and abroad. For example, the opening concert on Friday 27th features the Utopia Ensemble from Genoa who perform Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time (see photo) and the Quartet for violin, cello, clarinet and piano, L’arte della scorrevolezza, by Cluster member Manfredo Giampietro (first performance). Free admission.




FLAM music workshop presents on Friday 6th at 9 pm (S. Micheletto), a chamber music concert of works by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, with the women’s voices of Livorno’s Pietro Mascagni choir, sopranos Elena Fioretti (see photo) and Francesca Scarfi and baritone Paolo Morelli. Piano Giorgio Maroni, choir director. The concert will be repeated on Sunday, March 15th at 5 PM in Altopascio’s Sala Granai. Free admission.




The “Sunday Concerts” season continues at Villa Ugo Ferrario Bertelli (Forte dei Marmi) with always packed audiences. There are five concerts this month beginning at 12 am. The Trio Miro (C. Alberto and Claudio Valenti, Carlo Benvenuti) on Sunday 1st perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations arranged for string trio. Sunday 8th Michela Lombardi sings jazz, accompanied on piano by Piero Alice. Sunday 15th recital by guitarist Giampaolo Bandini, while on Sunday 22nd Paolo Carlini (bassoon, see photo) and Fabrizio Datteri (piano) will perform “bassoon magic” . The series closes in March with the Firenze piano duo (Sara Bartolucci and Rodolfo Alessandrini). We should also mention the concert-talks on Saturday afternoons at 5.30 PM: 14th jazz with Nadine Rush and pianist Vincenzo Genovese; 21st with pianist Giovanni Passalia; 28th with the “Bolling Suite” for Flute and Jazz Trio (Walter Menichini, Oscar Casiero, Matteo Cammisa, Francesco Lorenzetti). Info: 0584787251




On Sunday , March 15th at 4pm the Schola Cantorum Ave Maria di Viareggio will perform, in the Cathedral of St. Martino, Marco Trasatti’s Stabat Mater with Pietro Castellari piano and Leonardo Tarabella. flute. The performance will use narrators and projections depicting the Via Crucis by viareggino artist Franco Anichini. The artists create a show that combines music and visual art inspired by the Way of the Cross as a symbol of an universal experience of pain, death, faith and finally hope. Stabat Mater will be repeated on March 28th, at 4 pm, in Florence’s church of Santa Trinita.


Zeno Marchi attended Borgo a Mozzano “Salotti” music school studying classical piano, and guitar. He founded “Astronomics “, a group performing in concerts, clubs and other venues in Europe in countries twinned with the School. After several courses in piano and guitar, in 2013, together with Giuseppe Venturi (bass) and Filippo Galli (drums), the band created “JoZenFeel” with performances in Barga Jazz, Sardinia and Siena. Currently the band is working on a live recording at “Barga Jazz Club” where he plays regularly taking part also in jam sessions. This month he performs on March 13 at the “Amami Alfredo” bar (Via Barsanti and Matteucci, 178) and on 20th March at Castelnuovo’s Grind House. Info:




Lucca’s “Dance Meeting”, the great festival of dance, with shows, festivals and competitions is on from March 10th to 15th. The Teatro del Giglio will be the venue for shows, exhibitions and competitions, but dance will also be featured in the squares (see photos of last year), streets and shops of the city in partnership with the young musicians of the Istituto Musicale Boccherini and the dancers of Codarts Rotterdam. It also includes the “Dansa al Museo”, touring show for children in primary schools at Palazzo Mansi and “Talent on the Move”, with fifteen Dutch dancers at the Teatro del Giglio on Friday, March 13th. Representatives from important international institutions of dance from London, Paris, Rotterdam, Stuttgart and Munich will be present.




“Diari della fine” is the name of a band made up of Filippo Suffredini, bass; Iacopo Cortopassi, keyboards; Alessandro Fratoni, drums; Nicolo’ Ossino, guitar and vocals. Active from 2013 they have already won TubeContest2013 and in March 2014 issued their first video, “Datore malato”. At the end of that year they released their first EP: “L’educazione provinciale”. Their music is very direct, and has an independent, alternative style, with a good use of synthesizers and keyboards. The lyrics, by Nicolo’ Ossino, singer and guitarist of the band, are all in Italian.




The season opens on Wednesday 4th at 5 PM with a special event dedicated to “The great protagonists of song writing” with the famous singer Roberto Vecchioni. Winner of several awards, the Italian pop music singer-songwriter, author, poet, teacher and actor will also present his latest novel “Il. Mercante della luce”, (Torino Einaudi, 2014).

The “Boccherini International Bass Fest” continues on Monday 2nd at 4 PM with a talk on  violin-making with bow-maker Walter Barbiero. The second meeting (March 30, 4pm) is with double-bassist and luthier Cristiano Scipioni from Mantua. Tuesday 31st (9 PM) concert “bassist inside” with the Polianilich Quartet, double-bass students from the “Boccherini” and teachers Gabriele Ragghianti and Ubaldo Fioravanti. The program will range from music by Bottesini, Mozart, Verdi and Mascagni to Reinhardt, Zappa, Riley and others. All events, free admission, will be held in the Auditorium of the Institute in the Piazza del Suffragio. Info:




After the first of Saturday, February 28 (8.30 pm) Mozart’s Don Giovanni will be staged again on Sunday, March 1st at 4 pm at the Teatro del Giglio, directed by Rosetta Cucchi with conductor Aldo Sisillo. The cast will be formed by Alessandro Luongo (Don Giovanni), Constantino Finucci (The Commander), Yolanda Auyanet (Donna Anna) Francesco Marsiglia (February 28) / Blagoj Nacoski (March 1) (Don Ottavio), Raffaella Lupinacci (Donna Elvira), Roberto De Candia (Leporello), Felipe Oliveira Correia (February 28) / Fumitoshi Myamoto (March 1) (Masetto), Ayse Sener (Zerlina); Orchestra Regionale Emilia Romagna.

The tickets, from 20 to 60 euro, can be purchased at the ticket office of the Teatro del Giglio from Tuesday to Saturday from 10.30 am to 1 pm and from 4 to 7 pm; tel. +390583 465320




The new association promoting musical “Animation” presents “Il 700 musicale a Lucca – concert series”, which aims at performing past masters from Lucca. March 14th (at 9 pm Church of St. Peter Somaldi), in collaboration with the Lucca section of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the “Bruno Pizzi” choir conducted by Silvano Pieruccini (see photo), will perform the St John Passion by Francesco Corteccia. Admission is by donation and the proceeds will be used to support the charitable works the Order of Malta in the territory of Lucca.

Sunday 29th, (at 9 pm, St. Peter’s Church Somaldi, there’s a “Concerto for double choir,” with music by Palestrina and Puccini senior, with the participation of the “D. Savio” and “Ensemble of Lucca” choirs accompanied by the “nuove assonanze” orchestra conducted by Paolo Rossi and Silvano Pieruccini. The event is sponsored by the City of Lucca, with the Puccini Foundation, the Centre for Studies and Boccherini Foundation Carilucca.




Until July at the Tenuta dello Scompiglio at Vorno there will be concerts, screenings and meetings with journalists, writers, directors, musicians, on the theme of Italian creativity. “Made in Italy, 3×1” is the title of the series promoted by Dello Scompiglio, under the artistic direction of Antonio Caggiano.

The first event is on March 28 at 7.30 PM in the Church of St. Cristoforo in Lucca. The Ensemble Odhecaton (Alessandro Carmignani, Matteo Pigato, Andrea Arrivabene, Gianluigi Ghiringhelli, countertenor; Gianluca Ferrarini, Vincenzo Di Donato, tenors; Marcello Vargetto, Giovanni Dagnino, bass; Manuel Tomadin, organ; Paolo Da Col, conductor (see photo) present “Polifonie notturne”, a concert devoted entirely to Italian polyphonic music. The program includes Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa, Arvo Pärt and Alessandro Scarlatti, with a performance of the unpublished Missa defunctorum for 4 voices and continuo. The concert will be preceded at 7 PM by a meeting with Luca Della Libera. Tickets Adults: € 12, reduced € 7; complete information on:




Continuing cultural activities with free admission promoted by the “Catalani” club on  Monday, March 23 at 9.15 pm, at the San Luca Palace Hotel (via San Paolino), the soprano Silvia Tocchini presents a listening guide to Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”. There will be a selection of music from the opera in the usual Easter concert on Saturday 28th at 9 PM in Porcari’s “Vincenzo Massa Carrara” auditorium. The work is presented in semi-staged form with the sole exception of the choral parts. The cast: Alessandro Moccia (Turiddu), Maria Francesca Sassu (Lucia), Gianfranco Montresor (Alfio), Gaia Matteini (Santuzza) and Marta Lotti (Lola); conducted by Alberto Paloscia; Laura Pasqualetti piano and violin Cristina Papini. Daniele Rubboli also reads the novel by Giovanni Verga. Monday 30th at 5.30 pm in the Auditorium of the vecchia zecca of Lucca, there will be a concert by the “Port Washington” band from the United States. Free admission, reservations on 347 9951581.





The repertoire ranges from the Goldberg Variations to a tribute to Peter Zadek


The March chamber music concerts of the AML chamber music season at Lucca’s San Micheletto all begin at 5 PM. First concert is on Sunday, March 1st with Laura Marzadori violin and Leonora Armellini piano, two young artists who have won many international awards. The program includes Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, respectively with three sonatas for violin and piano, and pieces from the Album for the young. Sunday 8th is a concert dedicated to Peter Zadek, who died in 2009, the great German director and one of the leaders of the Berliner Ensemble, the theatre founded by Bertolt Brecht. Artists will be the musical quartet Noûs formed by Tiziano Baviera and Alberto Franchin, violin; Sara Dambruoso, viola and Tommaso Tesini, cello. The program includes quartets by Haydn, Debussy and Mozart. The chamber music season of the AML ends on Sunday 15th with a concert by one of the most famous Italian pianists, Pietro De Maria, who will perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the Suffragio auditorium. Tickets cost 12 €, reduced 10 €. Under 14’s free. Info +390583469960.




This month also concludes “Musica ragazzi’, the concert season dedicated to school children organized and curated by the AML with Carla Nolledi. Thursday 9th (10.30 am, Auditorium del suffragio) is L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti with singing classes from the “Luigi Boccherini” institute whose teachers are Giovanni Dagnino and Maria Pia Ionata. Admission to the concert is 3 euro. Friday 20th and Saturday 21st (10:30 am, Conference hall St. Vincenzo Di Massa Carrara, Micheletto, Lucca) show entitled “Musica e cinema quando la musica cambia la vita.” There will be a screening of the film “A Slum Symphony” by director Cristiano Barbarossa. Free admission. For information on “Musica ragazzi” contact the Lucchese Music Association AML by calling +390583469960