Passionate Events in Tuscany

Palm Sunday marks, of course, the start of Holy Week with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. We are regularly reminded of this much mocked creature because there’s a donkey quite near us who sometimes indulges in melodious braying, almost reminiscent of the famous bars representing Bottom in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream overture.

This is a poem I’ve written about Palm Sunday:

PALMS

 

I was standing by the east gate

when I first saw him pass.

Could this man create so much hate

and yet unite all class?

 

Through the thick crowds I caught his face

and for one fleet instance

it seemed as if he could replace

death itself with his glance.

 

People had cut down palm boughs,

waving them before him

with hosannas and solemn vows

in one rapt festive whim.

 

Sat astride the colt of an ass,

prophecy-fulfilling,

he rode through the acclaiming mass

like a king returning.

 

How would this local triumph end?

No blood had yet been spilled.

Would it forevermore transcend

the man, the god they killed?

 

All we knew was that we seemed free –

our happy feast had come.

Yet wine and bread would never be

the same again for some.

 

And as the palm leaves’ cross-shaped folds

are given in this nave

will he say that our future holds

no terror in the grave?

 images

(Icon of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem which is recorded in all the four gospels. The adults are greeting Jesus with green branches and the children are spreading garments on the ground.)

Last Sunday at the parish church of San Cassiano there was the traditional blessing of the palms (in this case including olive branches from the local fields) by Don Vitali and the procession into the church, which happily took place through the main entrance, until recently threatened by the collapse of a cross on the façade because of that terrible storm.

Don Vitali is a highly intelligent preacher who manages to get across quite complex messages to people who may not have had extensive education. I would like to write a good preacher’s guide to Lucca trip-advisor style (as indeed to London) for standards of delivery differ widely in quality. One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to appreciate a good preacher anyway, for the main message behind being a good Christian is also an important indication on how to conduct one’s life efficiently and with love.

I remain an agnostic in this respect and if there’s a book entitled “The God Delusion” by Dawkins, then there well may be another book called “The Dawkins Delusion” by God.

Here is a photograph of the great organist we are privileged to have home-grown in the parish, Maestro Enrico Barsanti, a truly fine exponent of a vast repertoire ranging from the renaissance to contemporary organ music (apart from being a sought-after organ restorer, especially in the Pistoia region so well described by organist and composer Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini as “a magical deposit of the rarest instruments in Italy and maybe in Europe”). Also in the photograph is my wife and her youthfully spirited mother who will be 94 years old this year.

03302015 176

Truly, it was a memorable start to Holy Week which will also be full of the Passion re-enactments, the major ones of which are at Vagli di Sotto, which returns after an absence of almost ten years (see  http://www.luccaindiretta.it/2011-08-07-02-56-16/item/42437-a-vagli-torna-dopo-anni-la-rappresentazione-della-passione-di-cristo.htm )

and Castiglione di Garfagnana (see my posts at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/the-passion-according-to-castiglione-di-garfagnana/

and at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/feet-washing-and-cross-carrying/

for descriptions and photos of that highly involving event.

Whether you are a Christian or not, these are compelling occasions to attend and if you happen to be in Florence there is an equally gripping one which takes place on that city’s outskirts at Grassina. (See http://www.comune.bagno-a-ripoli.fi.it/opencms/opencms/Contenuti/Categoria_Primaria/Comunicati/Evento_70448.html

) which we’ve also attended.

I remembered the words of Don Vitali in which he stated that Christians have never been so persecuted as now. We only need to hear the news to realise that terrible fact re-iterated in places whose names have now become notorious. It seems to me, therefore, that these passion re-enactments have even more relevance today, whether one is a believer or not, for they emphasise the appalling intolerance that is breeding at an ever-increasing rate in the world today and indicate a way through it, as exemplified in the figure and example of Jesus.

La Traviata’s Favourite Flower

The camellias of the Pieve di Compito valley in the Pisan Mountain, which separates Lucca from Pisa like a natural “peace wall” between two formerly warring states, are by now of international status and people come to admire them from all parts of Europe.

Among visitors I did notice a large number of Germans which was explained by an important section of the beautiful exhibition dedicated to PilInitz palace where camellias first arrived in 1801.

PilInitz palace is near Dresden which I visited in 2001. There was a very moving variety called Frauenkirche named after that resurrected treasure of a church which had been part of the photographs of the devastating exhibition at Tate Modern recently.

03302015 103

The varieties of this wonderful tree with flowers that always fall as a whole, without shedding individual petals, (as I know every morning to my cost when have to sweep the garden of those camellias from our own tree) are eternal and exquisite.

There was a very good section on Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, which has several schools and grand masters. I was particularly intrigued by the framing apparatus of this transcendental art.

Pieve di Compito is a lovely place for a visit with its gentle hills and mild micro climate. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (e.g. at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/thankyou-camellia/ ) camellias arrived here in the early nineteenth century, largely thanks to English ex-pats who chose to stay among these hills during the torrid Tuscan summer in the plains.. The camellietum can be visited any time (see my post at  https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/one-hundred-roman-farms-and-one-thousand-camellias/ ) but it’s when the festival takes place during the March week-ends that it’s possible to visit the gardens of the historic villas and truly take in the wonderful ambience of this extraordinary plant without which no-one would have been able to drink their favourite cuppa in this world.

We visited four villas, including the most gracious of them, the villa Orsi and the Villa Giovanetti. These noble, if somewhat dilapidated, mansions can only be visited at this time since they are all in private hands.

The weather was wonderfully sunny and I was so glad that I was able to take my three distinguished guests to this lovely exhibition after an absence of two years.

 

PS If you didn’t get the reason for the title it’s because Verdi’s “La Traviata” is based on Dumas senior’s (a visitor to Bagni di Lucca) romantic novel “La Dame aux Camellias”.

 

 

 

 

Green Fingers on Green Walls

Verdemura is one Lucca’s two main garden festivals. As its name implies (trans” greenwalls”) it takes place on the walls by Porta Santa Maria and also occupies two bulwarks. If you’re into gardening (and who isn’t) then it’s a must on your Lucca calendar and will run until tomorrow, Sunday 29th March.

We went there yesterday on a day which seemed to forecast yet more light rain but which soon turned into some very sweet sunshine. The refreshing start to the morning played wonders on the flowers on show.

There’s a lot more, than flowers of course. There’s the usual host of garden machinery., for example. We picked up some delicious chestnut honey at a very reasonable price considering that because of last year’s bad season and the disease which has been attacking chestnut trees the product is getting a little rare. There were also some picturesque crafts. For example, the metal sculptures made by African self-help consortiums.

Madagascar spices were well-represented.

 03282015 039

This fellow not only does “rompicapo” wooden puzzle games (“brainteasers”) but also wooden flowers creating whole new species!

Cacti abounded in droves.

There were some natural medicines with amazing properties. (No- there wasn’t one to turn you into a donkey”)

03282015 017

Wonderful herb based soaps from Provence:

03282015 018

Beautiful alpine gentians in the sharpest blue. May they flower in profusion on those slopes where such a tragedy recently happened.

03282015 020

Harry Potter fans would have enjoyed these high-speed jobs which apparently have “drone” capacities (or is it “drudge”?).

03282015 043

These pretty animals were all painted on gourds. How imaginative to find animals in the shapes of gourds!

But, of course, the best things about Lucca’s Verdemura garden festival is its unique setting on its wonderful walls with view both into the old town and towards the marble peaks of the Apuans still with some snow on them.

Chelsea flower show may, of course, be tops in scale and variety (if you can manage to manoeuvre through those over-dense crowds) but nothing can beat Lucca’s two delightful garden show. Don’t miss Murabilia which will take place in the first week of September!

 

A Different Way to Enjoy Pisa

Pisa’s greatest attraction is also its greatest misfortune. The leaning tower attracts busloads of tourists, many from Mediterranean cruises landing at Livorno (who instead of seeing that city as a highly interesting example of a Medicean port dating back to the sixteenth century, avoid it) who are whisked to the piazza dei Miracoli to take the statutory shot of the illusion of holding up the tower and then (if lucky) move on to Florence or else equally quickly to be whisked back to their cruise liner.

The fact is that, although the famous piazza is without doubt one of the world’s great sights, there are many smaller miracoli to be seen in Pisa, not least of which is the lively street scene and the greater openness of its people when compared with the more enclosed Luccan character.

Yesterday we had occasion to go to Pisa to meet relatives at the airport and decided to make a day of it. First stop was the Royal Palace, a national museum which again is exceedingly neglected in favour of the better known Museo san Matteo.

Dating back to 1583 when Tuscan grand duke Francis I decided to build a lovely new palace overlooking the Arno it was designed by Buontalenti who also had a big hand in designing the Pitti palace gardens in Florence.

For the two hours we were there admiring its rooms, fine arms collection, paintings (including a Bronzino, a Breughel and even a Raphael), fabulous tapestries from the Geubels factory in Brussels, furniture, exquisite dresses dating back to renaissance times, intimate miniatures and sculpture we actually had the place to ourselves and were left quite alone to enjoy its wonders.

I was particularly impressed by a collection of Japanese ceramics which I am sure fellow blogger at http://sequinsandcherryblossom.com/ will have something to say about.

There were also some fine modern paintings:

We had a great meal at a restaurant recommended to us by a young member of the museum staff: Stelio’s in nearby piazza Dante where we ate beautifully and simply cooked food complete with wine, cover and the addition of a local troubadour for around ten euros a head.

Stelio’s has been here for fifty years and is a veritable Pisan institution. Stelio himself is now eighty and his two sons show every wish to carry on with the business. The restaurant was filled with every conceivable type of client. Apart from us brits, there were students, workers, retired, office workers, and university profs (the university is what gives Pisa its zesty life). Eating there seemed like something out of Bohemian life as it genuinely was.

After the meal the sun came out and our intention to visit the museum of calculating machines didn’t quite work out as we were waylaid by the lovely botanical gardens which, happily, were not badly damaged by the recent great storm.

Pisa’s botanical gardens were created by Cosimo I de’ Medici and developed by the great botanist, Luca Ghini. Founded in 1543 they are the oldest botanical gardens in the world and the first to be connected to a university.

03272015 101

The magical gardens revealed some wonderful plants including a 200-year old magnolia, that living fossil of a tree the Gingko Biloba

03272015 100

and much else, including a huge yew tree (or tree of death as they call it here in Italy where it is very rare) an astonishing Australian araucaria, native of Queensland with a huge trunk and very prickly leaves,

a lovely pond and much, much else.

The view of Pisa’s leaning tower from “i giardini botannici” was transcendental, growing out of the gardens like the most exotic plant and, again, we had the whole place to ourselves!

Then it was time to head to the airport to collect our guests. We were so glad we made a day of it in Pisa instead doing the usual shuttle service tour to the airport from home and back. We would have otherwise missed so much of this truly life-enhancing city.

 

Burials, Royal and Otherwise

On the day of the burial of the much maligned King Richard III, the last of the line of the Plantagenets and the last King to lead his troops into battle on that famous horse, I’ve been ruminating on animal burials. Will one now find the horse he wished to barter a kingdom for?

The subject of animal cemeteries arouses very mixed emotions, yet for many people pets have, in most respects, meant as much as (sometimes even more than) humans.

In London animal cemeteries as the one near Lancaster gate in Kensington gardens have a long tradition but, similarly, in Italy animal cemeteries are becoming ever more frequent. For example, last year a new one was opened up at Scandicci near Florence. (See http://www.lanazione.it/firenze/cronaca/2014/04/22/1055953-animali-cimitero-scandicci.shtml). It is one of the nearest animal cemeteries to us.

Our loved pets have been buried in our own gardens. I have attended an Italian funeral of a beloved cat in a nearby village. The marmalade feline was buried below a large garden pot – a good idea as foxes, pine martens and wolves have been known to dig up their remains.

The following are photographs of memorial plaques to loved pets, kept by a great Englishman who was the subject of a major conference last year organised by the de Montaigne institute, Ian Greenlees.

These plaques are clearly not on public view being in the private garden of the house in which Greenlees once lived and kept his vast library before it was largely moved to Bagni di Lucca’s biblioteca communal in the Chiesa Anglicana.

I wonder where you will bury your loved pets, (provided you outlive them – a friend’s cat lived to be twenty four years old). Will you remember them by a plaque or stone like Greenlees did with his favourite pug or Elgar with Mina, his favourite cairn terrier, the dedicatee of the great composer’s final work?

Who thinks all this stuff about funerary monuments to our four-legged friend is sentimental trash? But it’s part of our life that has gone when they are gone – our memories, our loves, above all our years.

When the moment comes, however, a pet’s death can affect one in a way one never quite expects to be so devastating. Who knows whether I will succumb in Italy to the English habit of having a plaque in memory of those animals that have been so dear to us? Sometimes I sincerely wish they will outlive me but then who will look after them,?

PS This other plaque is in memory of another famous person who stayed here in Bagni di Lucca:

DSCN5642

Rebuilding One’s Life

The whole of San Gemignano, three weeks after the cataclysmic “atmospheric event” (as the insurance companies like to call it), actually a “twister”, remains looking like one big building site. Scaffolding surrounds most of the buildings and bright new red tiles are replacing the old broken and fallen ones. Certainly, if one is a scaffolder or a roofer there’s plenty of work here. For woodcutters too there’s no lack of activities and if you are short of firewood, it’s there for the taking.

The church of San Gemignano is receiving due care and attention which is remarkable as its repairs are for a beautiful church which is actually a redundant ecclesiastical building,

This house is still covered by a plastic sheet. The owners apparrently live in Spain. I wonder when they will turn up.

03252015 007

This house is divided between two owners. Clearly they couldn’t agree to use the same roofer.

03252015 017

There are still piles of debris on the road, but far less than before.

A lot of the damage to people’s roofs and windows was caused by tiles from one person’s roof falling onto the adjoining houses’ roof. Houses are usually quite close to each other in these villages but the force of the wind was such that even well-detached houses suffered too. Insurance companies are having to sort out whether damage is covered by one’s own policy or the adjoining property owners’ third party clauses.

What is certain, however, is that everyone wants to get back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible. In the case of those having to go to work outside the village relatives and friends have been called in to keep an eye on their property while they are away, especially as the number of building workers from the outside is making the local dogs and other pets feel somewhat disturbed.

03252015 002

Although there is solidarity there have been complaints that not enough has been shown. Offers of carting away the remaining debris, giving free transport but asking for volunteers to lend a hand to fill the wagons, have not received much response.

There will be big problems for people with properties with skylights as most of these have been smashed by rubble and badly damaged what lies within the house. Also those with large swimming pools will have to completely reseal them again – a problem if these properties are being let out to holidaymakers.

Actually, I am now thinking of another kind of disaster. That mysteriously tragic airplane crash in a remote part of the French Alps has obviously shaken all of us.

For me, as a music lover, I am always particularly shocked when musicians are killed in such horrible events. I’m thinking of Guido Cantelli, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, Ginette Neveu, the list could go on and on and it does. Last night it was the turn of the exquisite voice of Maria Rader, who died with her baby, to be silenced in that terrible alpine night.

I defy anyone to remain without moist eyes when listening to this exquisite Richard Strauss song Maria sang in London:

German Lyrics:

Morgen!
Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen
und auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde,
wird uns, die Glücklichen sie wieder einen
inmitten dieser sonnenatmenden Erde…
und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen,
werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen,
stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen,
und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen…

English Translation

Tomorrow

And tomorrow the sun will shine again

And on the way which I shall follow

She will again unite us lucky ones

As all around us the earth breathes in the sun

Slowly, silently, we will climb down

To the wide beach and the blue waves

In silence, we will look in each other’s eyes

And the mute stillness of happiness will sink upon us

R. I. P.

Morris Here, There and Everywhere.

No it’s not our little moggy which has travelled to many places all the way from Greenwich, London to the Anatolian plateau I’m referring to in the title. It’s a human.

turkey01

There’s still one famous person’s house I haven’t mentioned we visited London last month. In many respects it’s a house belonging to one of the most remarkable and multi-faceted persons who ever lived. The descriptions of artist, designer, typographer, writer, poet, translator, revolutionary, visionary do not exhaust his activities. Furthermore, he is the one person who, more than ever, links up places where I was born, where I was educated, where I lived, where I worked, where I am now – indeed all those places and more: all those places dearest to me today.

Walthamstow, notorious for its part in the 2011 London riots when large parts of that city were in flames, does not immediately suggest a pilgrimage on the Victoria tube line to visit it. Its multi ethnic high street is lively but has unremarkable shops and modest architecture. Nobody there seemed to know the place we wanted to visit. Had we come to the wrong place?

Of course not. Finally, we were pointed in the right direction. At the entrance of a park stands a fine Georgian mansion where the man whose achievements we had come to hallow was born and brought up: William Morris, Britain’s greatest designer, whose work we have already touched on in a previous post when we visited an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery with a section on him. (See https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/arty-crafty/)

There’s a fine web site at http://www.wmgallery.org.uk/ dedicated to William who was also (naturally) involved with the Pre-Raphaelites, one of whom snatched his wife off him (I’ll leave you to find out who if you didn’t already know).

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_The_Salutation_of_Beatrice_1869

The museum is beautifully laid out and much better organised than when we last visited it  Here are some photographs of that museum thirty years ago (and us thirty years younger!)

But how does Morris link up with all the places I’ve lived and worked in? For a start there’s the Red House in Bexleyheath designed by Morris and Webb, where William spent the earlier part of his married life – a house called  “the beautifullest house in England” which is just round the corner from where I lived in the same borough. We were privileged to have known the couple who saved the Red House  from demolition when such architecture was unfashionable (what a philistine age I was brought up – the number of gorgeous buildings demolished in the Britain of the 50’s to the 70’s is too heart-breaking for me to go through.) We were also among the first visitors when the National Trust realised the uniqueness of that Red House and was able to add it to its list of very precious London properties. Again these photographs date from our distant past:

Red Lion square in Holborn, London, where William Morris had his design company headquarters, was also the square where I worked as a civil servant in the now defunct Wages Inspectorate. (Incidentally, it’s the same square where Sir John Harrington, Queen Elizabeth I’s “saucy godson” invented the first flush toilet in 1596. Hence the use of the word “John” to describe the same useful invention in the states. But I digress…)

The Kelmscott press on the Thames at Hammersmith, which Morris founded and from which he published some of the most stunningly set books in the English language and his masterpiece of printing, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, also has an intimate and living association with me and the great river itself – a river about which Conrad in that book which I am constantly re-reading “Heart of Darkness” writes “what greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.”

Even Bagni di Lucca enters into my associations as among William Morris’s best friends was Robert Browning whose holiday residence in Bagni di Lucca is being so lovingly restored (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/the-most-beautiful-house-in-bagni-di-lucca-villa/

William Morris is fortunate in having several houses in which he lived or is associated with. There’s Wightwick Manor, of course, near Birmingham and Standen in Sussex, both of which we have also visited and both which belong to the National Trust.

If you’re an American you can see this gorgeous stained glass window designed by William Morris in Trinity Church Boston (there’s also an archive of William Morris material in San Marino California,

200px-David's_Charge_to_Solomon,_by_Burne-Jones_and_Morris,_Trinity_Church,_Boston,_Massachusetts (2)

and if you’re an Australian and a fan of William Morris designs you must be the luckiest person in the world for Adelaide’s art gallery has the most comprehensive collection of Morris & Co. furnishings outside Britain).

If you’re in London and don’t want to go that far to see some William Morris you can always have a cup of tea at the V and A  – the dining area  was designed by William Morris and is now appropriately called “The William Morris” room.

download

I don’t have to go too far either in Bagni di Lucca to see that Browning house with its associations with William Morris. After all, not only were they good friends but Morris can justly be counted as the main inspirer of the art nouveau (“stile liberty” as they call it here in Italy movement so gloriously seen in much of Italy, particularly around Lucca and Viareggio, and now revealed like an awakened sleeping beauty in BdL itself.

Few people read much of William Morris’s literary work today but two of his phrases have certainly echoed in the minds of many of us:

There’s this one which some of us try to aspire to:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

And there’s this one too, a little more difficult in this day and age to practice.”

“No work which cannot be done with pleasure in the doing is worth doing”.

To conclude, here are some photographs we took last February of a few of the items designed by Morris in the house that makes a visit to the end of the Victoria line at Walthamstow worth every minute of the journey:

Springtime Food and Music in Lovely Val di Lima

Yesterday was the first Sunday of spring and it was good to remember this gently sunny day of the new season with two events which demonstrate some of the best of Italy: its food and its music.

03232015 042

At the formerly abandoned village of Pian di Fiume, rescued by mayor of Bagni di Lucca Massimo Betti, a spring lunch was laid on for a very reasonable price and of the highest culinary quality.

The menu was as follows:

 img572-001

 In case one doesn’t know what a Cinta Senese is it’s an ancient breed of pig brought back from near extinction and providing the best pork cuts one is likely to taste anywhere. We saw a lot of these pigs in the Maremma last summer and with their distinctive colouring they were really enjoying the wide spaces they need to graze in (probably why intensive farming didn’t like them) for the last thing le cinte like to see is a pig-sty.

download

(apologies for vegetarians and pig-lovers)

Daniela, the mayor’s partner, served the large crowd which was well over a hundred with her usual efficiency and there was truly a buoyant atmosphere in this resurrected village.

Mayor Massimo was most hospitable towards us and showed me pictures I’d never seen before from a wedding album in which I had been asked by him to conduct a same-sex marriage between two charming girls (the civil one having been carried out in the UK). I remember that occasion with great affection and the sweet little open air semi-circular theatre which forms part of Pian di Fiume lent itself well to that equally-packed occasion.

03232015 045

(Me as master of ceremonies with my wife at that special wedding)

As some of you may know the ideal wedding ceremony arranger in this part of the world is Lisa Redgrave who also uses Pian di Fiume for her wedding settings. Her web site is at.

http://www.hitchedinitaly.com/aboutus.php

Sports activities were also available which included white-water rafting, pony trekking, quad excursions and mountain biking. After the meal, however, I was more interested in the music part of my Sunday afternoon which was held at BdL’s Teatro Accademico at the civilized time of 4.30 PM and not at the standard 9.00 pm time for such events which I still cannot get used to (unless I have an afternoon forty winks).

Again, this was another event to welcome in the spring and cheer us up which we all (believe me) needed after the madness of the weather a couple of weeks ago. Our box was in an excellent situation to enjoy to the fullest the vocal concert which consisted of the following items.

All the singers delivered their parts with proficiency but I was particularly entranced by the voice of Valentina Boi, brought in at the last minute, who wore a stunning high-slashed black dress. Her aria “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Puccini’s Turandot was particularly touching as was her dramatic performance of “Pace pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. I look forward to hearing Valentina sing Liu at this summer’s Torre Del Lago festival.

After the performance we had a drink in the nicely refurbished bar of the recently re- opened circolo dei forestieri whose saloon was packed with evening diners.

Our Sunday was certainly “bread and circuses” but of the highest quality and we all returned home with lightened spirits and happier hearts ready now to believe that spring had truly sprung.

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon

“O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon

Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse

Without all hope of day!”

images

I have always been rather disappointed when observing eclipses. I’ve tended to either be in the wrong place or in the wrong weather. In 1999 I motor-biked all the way down to Cornwall from London to sit in a field and feel a slightly darkened earth at around 11 am beneath all those clouds which tend to descend on that Island at the most inopportune times.

Although it was a total eclipse over Cornwall and parts of south Devon (at least the trip was worth it for visiting an old school friend who lives down there) it was almost totally clouded out where I was. My wife, who remained in London where the eclipse was partial, told me she actually got a better view of the phenomenon. I’m told that I should have gone to Newquay where the clouds did clear for a while and would have allowed me to see the totality in all its darkest glory.

Apart from the actual astronomical phenomenon there are allied natural ones. Birds are supposed to fall silent and temperatures fall. Certainly the temperature fell and the birds became silent in Cornwall – a very eerie effect.

A local friend of mine was lucky enough to be in Hungary at the time of the 1999 eclipse and told me that it was one of the most spectacular things he’d ever seen. At the time of the sun’s aura emerging from the moon’s circumference he said that the whole landscape was suffused with twilight and dawn merging into one strange crepuscular light which completely encircled the landscape from the east to the west, quite unlike our standard sunrises and sunsets.

Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NR

Another eclipse, of which I have only the vaguest memories, due to my age at the time, was the eclipse of the 5th February 1961. Perhaps it was because it occurred so early in the morning that it was not so immediately noticeable but 95% of the sun was covered by the moon in south-east London, where I lived at the time.

The eclipse of a couple of days ago was remarkable in that it combined three major astronomical phenomena into one. Apart from the actual eclipse itself, the full and reddish moon was seen at its largest dimension at its perigee, being the closest distance to the earth, and it was also the spring equinox.

150319-007-The-Moon-at-perigee

As far as the eclipse affected Longoio I experienced a dimming of the sun at around ten-thirty but much spookier was the sudden drop in temperature which was amazing. The cats were sleeping on my bed, but then they usually spend most of their time sleeping on my bed. The ducks seemed unaffected and continued pecking for titbits on the lawn and the gold fish didn’t bat an eyelid, (if they had any).

A local man remarked to me that the end of the earth would come soon but then he belongs to a sect that strongly believes in pre-determined dates for this event.

A photograph was pasted on facebook by an acquaintance in Brandeglio.

The lines from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra

There is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.

came to mind more than the great lines from Milton’s Samson Agonistes which prefaces this post.

Anyway, the partial eclipse started in our part of the world at 9.23 am reached its maximum coverage of the sun, which was 60.1%, at 10.31 and ended at 11.43.  The local astronomical society of Lucca set up a telescope on the city walls from which this picture was taken:

eclissex200_800_800

I didn’t feel like taking a flight to the Faroe islands to get a better view of this eclipse although I might well revisit that lovely country, Vietnam, which is due to receive a good partial eclipse on the 9th of March 2016 with little hope of clouds as it’s outside the rainy season (although Palangka Raya in Borneo might be a better bet as the eclipse there will be total.)

In the meanwhile, I suppose I could always re-watch that iconic Antonioni film “L’eclisse” from 1962, with its breath-taking silent final ten minutes showing an eclipse in progress….

Shedding One’s Past

If a lady’s traditional private space is her boudoir then a gentleman’s is definitely his shed! So when my private space was flattened and scattered to what seemed to be the four corners of the earth (how can a sphere have corners?) by the twister which hit this part of the world a couple of weeks ago I was pretty depressed.

I started collecting the shed bits, roof sheets, door, drainpipes and what was in the shed, everything from twine to trowels and such-like.

Happily, we have an excellent carpenter in our village whose recent union has given one of our rare new births last year. We met up the other day and forged ahead with the task of rebuilding the shed.

Amazingly, there were very few bits that needed to be replaced, although some looked a bit contorted and the roof is a bit wholly at the moment – something which some plastic sheeting will put right.

The joy of being able to see the shed resurrected before my eyes was almost overwhelming and the delight of being able to put back into it what belonged to it was most gratifying. It also feels even more solid now!

Of course, as readers of previous posts will know, the sciacalli had been able to remove two of my strimmers and both petrol cans (one for normal and one for two stroke machines) shortly after the storm flattened the shed but before I managed to get to it. This was fully proved by the fact that the door was still padlocked and that there had been no evidence of forced entry anywhere.

Ah well, I don’t have to go too far to realise how lucky I still was. Nearby San Gemignano looks like a building site. Scaffolding is everywhere there but I’m glad to note the beautiful old church is slowly regaining its roof.

What will have changed, however, is the appearance of our valley if one looks down upon the houses. There will be no more antique red and russet hues, no more mossy, ancient tiles. It’ll all start looking clean and “modern” with blazing new red roof tiles giving the whole area a freshly built look.  No problem: a few years’ of weathering (without any more bloody cyclones please!) will gradually restore the traditional hues of our buildings.

Italy truly works best on crisis management! I’ve never seen such togetherness, such solidarity among people when an “atmospheric event” (as the insurance policy states) hits this country. Don’t expect too much if there’s no crisis but there’s a real feel of the Dunkirk spirit entering the nation’s blood when events like these happen.

The buds of one of my fruit tree which last year seemed absolutely dead, but which this year is miraculously sprouting, sums it all up for me.

DSCN5561

 And the wild daffodils around my orto this year are truly wordworthian in their spectacularity!