Painting in Words at Bagni di Lucca’s Arts Festival 2015

Bagni di Lucca’s arts festival will open soon. There’s a space for the written word this time, which could mean anything from poetry to prose to drama.

If you’re a budding, or even a published poet in the BDL area do contact me via my email address at or make a comment on this page.

The theme of this event is “painting in words”.

Even if you’ve never written a poem since you were in primary school this is a great event to attend or even contribute.

How about trying out with a haiku? It’s a European ‘translation’ of a Japanese verse form where three lines with syllables 5, 7, and 5 evoke a feeling, a landscape, a love.

As a former biker these came to mind to me:


Stabbing rain on cheeks

as body becomes ice-cloud:

when will this road end?


Unceasing traffic

crumbling flyover concrete:

is hell’s entrance there?


Do I want to go?

I close my eyes at ninety,

just for a second.


Sudden end of black clouds:

ahead a golden horizon,

a different country.


Sun sets on mountains:

in my bike’s rear-view mirror

rising of new moon.


Wild daffodils spread

along a darkening stone wall

Could I have arrived?


Summer’ a great time for Haiku:


Mist fingers blue hills:

caressing of lovers’ thighs

on dishevelled sheets.


White heat of summer

upon a lost horizon

while souls transmigrate.


Two ducks fly away

from the tarn on the hill-crest:

vanished memories.


Flocks bleat, lone bird sings,

the arm of day lies heavy

on paths crossing tombs.


Dusk lingers on leaves

while open windows embrace

honeysuckle scent.



If you know your Italian you could try haiku in that language


Onde di prati

Verde della gioventu’

Il monte chiama


Abbraccia il vento

Lastriche di nuvole

Bacio d’autunno


Tocca il lago

Spiagge così vicine

Labbra lontane


Questa foresta

Smarrisce la memoria



Due aquilotti

Giocano nell’empiro

Eterno volo


Annera il sole

Questo precipizio

Anime perse


Rumori strani

Campane della notte

Stridano i gufi


Gli occhi s’aprono

La croce sulla roccia

Sconfigge il timor



Farfalline d’amore

Crociano ali


I cardi in fiore

Un gamelan di grilli

Stelle spinate


Reading your own favourite poems or Steven Fry’s book ‘The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within’ may inspire you.

I await your thoughts (and words) on the subject!


(Francois Boucher’s Erato – the muse of love poetry)

Saint John the Baptist Blesses Pieve di Monti di Villa

Church processions in Italy, celebrating the patron saint of a particular community, are, of course, not just religious manifestations. They are also displays of social cohesion and solidarity – occasions when emigrants return to their place of birth, re-establish family ties, bring their own new-world born children and join up for exchange of news and gossip and generally have a good time.

This is precisely what happened at Pieve di Monti di Villa’s Festa patronale yesterday evening.

I entered a village with streets decorated with hundreds of candles and made my way to the church whose façade and campanile would be later outlined by a myriad electric lights. Perhaps before electricity came onto the scene after 1950 there might have been candles on that building too but I’m glad that that fire risk has now been removed.

As you’ll know by now if you read my previous posts on the subject a Pieve was once the only church allowed to perform the sacrament of baptism. That’s why a Pieve is grander than other churches and also because it’s often placed in a central location with regard to other villages. Our own Pieve for Longoio is that at Controni and there’s a wonderful, now sadly unused one, at Sala on the opposite side of our valley.

Now, of course, baptism can be performed at any consecrated church.

Pieve di Monti di Villa’s church was originally dedicated to Saint Julia and dates back to the 12th century. In the thirteenth century it comprised a vast area under its jurisdiction including the now ghost village of Bugnano, Lugnano and the still flourishing villages of Granaiola, Montefegatesi, and Tereglio, It also looked after the hospice for travellers at Cabbi whose ruins I still have to find. The Pieve was rebuilt in 1446 and modernised between 1760 and 1766. Of the original construction it’s only the apse which still remains. Despite all these modifications the church is a very cohesive building and rather beautiful.

Certainly, the adjoining priest’s lodging has an elegant loggia of the twelfth century.

At first I thought the state of Saint John the Baptist ready for transport on his palanquin looked a bit like a re-make of saint Rocco. There was the raising of the cloak off one leg as if to show off the putrefying sore which kept everyone away through its pestilential smell and the saint was cloaked with a fine mantle instead of the animal skin which I always thought the Baptist donned. There seemed to be a dog which brought a piece of bread to the saint since no-one else would approach him. On closer inspection, however the dog turned out to be a sweet lamb, a symbol of the sacrificial Christ.

The Mass was impressively celebrated by young Don Emanuele Rosi who has a fine voice and is certainly a fluent and persuasive preacher. A sad tinge entered into his sermon when he stated that the two old parish priests, who formerly officiated for Corsena and this area for over forty years, had at last found their final accommodation in a clerics’ retirement home. This meant, he said, that soon there would be just two priests officiating the whole of our Valley of Lima. The crisis of vocations is well-known in Italy. Just twenty years ago Lucca’s seminary had around two hundred seminarists. It now has three, two of whom are from outside Italy.

Deacons help. One can get and become a deacon if married. But if one is unmarried and becomes a deacon then one is not allowed to marry, I think that’s wrong. The church needs all the help it can for new recruits to its officiants. Already the local nuns (all from southern India) at Bagni di Lucca Ponte’s children’s nursery help out. In case you didn’t know, deacons can do everything a fully ordained priest can do at a Mass except consecrate the host during the Eucharist, which is done beforehand by the priest.

The relevance of all this for non-religionists is that a village Festa needs a patron saint to set it going and the patron saint has to be blessed by the priest before anything can begin.

There was no shortage of choir members, however, who sang excellently under the direction of Maestro Cipriano Nesti.

After the kissing of Saint John the Baptist’s reliquary the congregation began to get ready for the procession.

This was the order of the procession:


The procession was beautifully picturesque, winding its way through the candle-lit streets of this delightful mountain village with further torches held by the local populace.

The procession ended where it started, at the church, after a long circuit lasting almost an hour round this long and quite steep village – the same village where that wonderful living crib for Christmas 2013 was held.

The strange juxtaposition of readings from the gospels about Saint John, congregational chants, the clanging of the bells personally swung by the campanari up on the top of the campanile, (i.e. no rope are used, the men themselves ring the bell Quasimodo-style) and the almost Fellinian marches played by the fine Corsagna wind and brass band reminded me of the incredible mixing together of so many elements in Italian life from sacred to secular, from pagan divinities to Christian saints into an amazingly coherent syncretism.

The proof of the pudding, is of course, in the eating and the convivial meal at around 11 pm, consisting of farro, pizzas, salami, pasta fritta, coconut éclairs and a dozen other cakes all washed down with whatever drink one might choose from coke to wine, was a tasty ending to a great evening out in the wilds of the Italian Apennines.

I just hope more young people might consider the rather austere but clearly rewarding job prospects of the priesthood for without these clerics a village patron saint Festa might so quickly become a faint memory, a bit like in Longoio where I live and some other surrounding villages.

Actually, of course, it’s not a matter of finding a job: it’ a vocation……

A rather wild thought: wouldn’t it be amazing to stage Wilde’s “Salome” in an Italian translation by a theatre group here!

PS. Two reminders. It’s Bagni di Lucca’s turn to celebrate its patron saint, St Peter, this Monday at 9.00 pm at the Parish Church in Corsena and…….it’s Opera time again in Barga. Full programme at  :

Barga opera unmissable! Thanks friend from Coreglia for reminding me about that and the appearance of great singer Roberta Invernizzi and her master class. I’ll be attending Handel’ pasticcio opera “Catone” this Friday.


Life’s Horror Movies

Why go to see what in Italy are called ‘film orror’ when all you need to do is to watch the news? What’s even worse is when places you loved become associated with this ‘orror’.

Sousse in Tunisia, where we spent our honeymoon and from where we branched out to explore fantastic places like the gorge we travelled up on a narrow gauge railway when a young group of Tunisians started singing to the hypnotic beat of makeshift drums on the wooden seats, has now been subject to a terrorist attack with an unknown number of victims littering its beaches.

I read the next item and find that Air Products, the firm I gained my daily bread as a software developer has a decapitated body on its premises in France after yet another terrorist attack.

And it’s no better in the past. Our wedding anniversary, spent in Bali was followed by the nightclub where we went, being bombed. And as for our lovely trip to the Ukraine…well Chekov’s house doesn’t belong to it anymore. Nor do the lives of too many people….

Going back into the more distant and dim past, the hippy trail we took when we escaped from school is now littered with millions of either dead or refugees. OK fabulous Lebanon, where we worked in a bar, is making a comeback but, again, Kuwait, where we transfused pints of the red stuff to get some money to carry on our trip and even concocted a radio programme, has just had a mosque blown up by fanatics with many dead. And I haven’t even mentioned Syria and Iraq.

Our goal, Kathmandu, has recently had its worst earthquake in living memory. And as for our hitching across Afghanistan and its incredible abandoned Alexandrian cities and those Buddhas…anyone today would think we’d be stark raving bonkers to hitch a ride from Herat to Kandahar.

In the middle of this maelstrom of iniquities we managed a fabulous trip down the Nile in a felucca just a few years ago and our trip to Jordan, the middle east’s Switzerland (we live in hope),  was last year’s biggest dream journey experience for us.

Mongolia was transcendence on earth or was it a lunar seascape? I can still go back there, thank goodness!

My flight  to Vietnam last year was the best escape from Italy’s unpredictable winter weather I’ve ever had. . And a relative of ours waxed lyrical about her journey to Iran this year.

Our journey to south India was much more hassle-free than a typical journey on British rail:

and we are still raring to go to places our feet haven’t trod yet. Galapagos, Ecuador, Namibia, Trans-Siberian, Tahiti?

Sadly, too late for exploring Yemen, though. A big regret and even bigger regret for the suffering of indiscriminate bombing so bravely reported by Bowen.

As for dates. Why should our wedding anniversary, the seventh of the seventh, be now remembered for another ghastly atrocity in our home town ten years ago this year?

I sometimes think the more extreme religious sects are right in predicting the end of the world when they do. But aren’t they too helping along to further these predictions? The end of the world will come, as far as I’m concerned when I crash my scooter into a wall like that poor dad who died just a few days ago near Bagni di Lucca’s mayor Betti’s dream village at Pian di Fiume,  the victim’s feet sticking out at the end of a bloodied sheet too short for him.

Will our part of the world ever be affected by the ‘orror’? I don’t want to think about it although it’s given us its fair share of tongue-biting experiences in the form of regular earth tremors, the tornado earlier this year that ripped out so many roofs and trees and changed the landscape for a long time to come and the usual water bombs due to sudden precipitous rainfall.

Of course, as Sartre so poetically put it in his play Huis Clos, the biggest ‘orrori’ are some people one has occasionally have to encounter, even here…..

Enough of this. Let us enjoy the company of true friends, of harbingers of heaven, of things that make us forget life’s weariness its fever and its fret, nature herself whether it be in the flowers we surround our little homes with

or our animals:

or the wonderful countryside which surrounds them and us!

All Dressed up and Everywhere to Go in Bagni di Lucca

There’s so much happening in and around Bagni di Lucca now that it’s truly difficult to keep up with things. There are, of course, web sites and calendar pamphlets but these are often updated, cancelled or lost at home amid the mountain of other leaflets we seem to pick up!

I find a good way to keep up with events is to take a photo of a poster. Just going down Bagni di Lucca high street the other day I came across these in shop and bar windows:

There’s the ever-popular volley-ball competition outside our local parish church at Corsena:

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Then there’s a tribute band concert to the Nomadi, one of Italy’ greatest groups founded by keyboard player Beppe Carletti and singer Augusto Daolio in 1963 and still going strong. In fact, it’s one of the longest lasting Italian groups. I don’t know if you’re into Italian pop groups but I like some of their songs very much and learning the lyrics is also a great way to learn Italian.  I also recognise the car…

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Daniele Bianchi is presenting his work at the new exhibition space in Bagni di Lucca’ town hall foyer.

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There’ll be more bring and buy street sales, tempting people to clear out their attic at the following dates:

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I’m not sure if I’d be interested in getting one of these, though they look cute enough when small. I think the cats would also object:

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The big patron saint procession and festivities I’ve already mentioned in a previous post:

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Barga get an advert in this exhibition by Mara Angeli, a local artist born at Coreglia Antelminelli.

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The amazing international music master class and festival is still continuing at Castelnuovo di Garfagnanan

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Italians are great at playing the fisarmonica or accordion and there’ a great event showing off this instrument at Coreglia.

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Thi one advertises Maestro Christopher Dyer, director of Music of Cambridge University. Actually, Christopher is director of music at Sevenoaks School, (founded 1432), just south of London, which has an enviable reputation for its high standard of music making. I think what they meant here is that he graduated from Cambridge University.

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It may not be King’ s College (my old college) choir but the event’s going to be a must for me – just to hear the English choral sound again! Evidently, pupils from this school have been having a summer break for a few years now at nearby Corsagna (not to be confused with Corsena!)…

This is definitely an event I won’t want to miss.

So it’s all dressed up and everywhere to go at the moment here in Bagni di Lucca. And that’s just the start of the summer season!

A Great Pick-Me-Up

There are two main fiere paesane or fairs held in Bagni in Lucca: one at the start of the summer on St John the Baptist’s day, which was yesterday, and one at the end of summer on 24th August which is Saint Bartholomew’s day. The high street is closed to traffic and get filled with lots of stalls.

Unless one is in a shopping frenzy there’s not much else happening apart from meeting friends and having an ice-cream. I think they could liven thing up with some music, for example.

I took a look at yesterday’ fair, which was well-attended and returned home with a washing-up cloth specially to dry the cats’ bowls.

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More significantly, on Saturday 27th of June there will be a procession at 8.30 PM at nearby Pieve di Monti di Villa to celebrate the village’s patron saint who is, indeed, St John (the Baptist). The religious part will be followed by refreshments and dancing in that lovely Italian combination of sacred and secular.

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More importantly for liqueur makers is the fact that St John’s day is the day to pick one’s still green and unripened walnuts to make the digestivo known as nocino much favoured in mediaeval times (and still today!) for curing various ailments.

Here’s one recipe I picked up for making nocino:


  • 30 green walnuts to be picked on St John the Baptist’s day. Green walnuts may be difficult to find in the market so just take a walk in the woods around Bagni di Lucca or find a friend whose got a walnut tree they’re willing to share with you
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1-inch piece of vanilla bean
  • Zest of one lemon, cut into strips using a vegetable peeler
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 litre vodka or grappa


  1. Rinse and dry the walnuts. Cut them into quarters with a sharp knife. Don’t wait until the shell gets too hard or else you may find you’re cutting your fingers as well!
  2. Put walnuts, spices, zest, sugar, and vodka or grappa into a large glass container. The spirits should cover the walnuts. Cover and shake to mix well. Store for six weeks, shaking the mixture daily. The nocino colour will get progressively darker.
  3. When you are ready to bottle, remove the walnuts and solids with a filter. Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth into glass bottles. (Coffee filters can also be used). The nocino will be somewhat bitter at first but will become more palatable over time. After a year it should be a great digestivo and help to while away those winter colds, stomach upsets, lack of motivation, general depression…. You name it and a little glass of nocino will do the trick. Those mediaeval monks should know!

(A nice place near us to find green walnuts with our three cats)

Incidentally, the nocino is a DOP from Emilia Romagna. The place to go and wallow in its taste is in the third week of July at Castelfranco Emilia’s big Nocino fair near Modena. I must try to get there this year!










Some Corner of a Foreign Square that is for ever Italy

London’s Istituto Italiano di Cultura, otherwise known as the Italian Cultural Institute, is fortunately on the fashionable side of Belgrave square.

You may remember that, in Wilde’s most brilliant play, Lady Bracknell regarded no. 149, the number of Jack’s house in Belgrave square as being on its unfashionable side. However, the Italian Institute is at no. 39, over a hundred numbers away!


The Italian institute in London mean a lot to me, not just because it’s often got a very good event happening there, but because it’s where I first met the girl that would just over ten years later become my wife. (Her dad was secretary-general of the Institute).

In the inter-war period there were precursors of the Italian institutes throughout the world in the form of centres run largely to propagate the wonders of Italy under fascism. I do not need to go here into the thousands of Italian fascist sympathizers that then existed (maybe some still exist today?) throughout the UK, Churchill among them, who is once reputed to have said “if I had been an Italian I would have been a Fascist. (Well, there wasn’t much of a choice then if you wanted a job.)

After WII something drastic needed to be done to restore Italy’s face in the world as a peace-loving, culturally-enriching place. Apart from artists and the intelligentsia, Italy was still regarded as a country inhabited by a childish band of mandolin players and ice-cream makers (despite the fact that composers like Vivaldi wrote some of his best concertos for that instrument and that Italian ice-cream is enviably emulated throughout the world).

And as for the old adage of Italian tanks having one forward and three reverse gears, just look at the role the Italian army is today playing in world peace-keeping with probably the highest rating of local respect among any such generally ill-tolerated force.

In the 1950’s many British were still able to be conned by that brilliant BBC April fool spoof about the spaghetti harvest and I’m still meeting people who think Dante is just the brand name for a certain olive oil…


That’s when the idea of the Italian institutes, which now number ninety throughout the world, came into being. The aims of these institutes are as follows:

  1. To establish contacts with institutions, agencies and organizations of the cultural and scientific environment of the hosting country and to promote proposals and projects with the aim of knowing Italian culture and facts oriented to cultural and scientific collaborations.
  2. To provide documentation and information about Italian cultural life and connected institutions.
  3. To promote initiatives, cultural manifestations and exhibitions.
  4. To support initiatives aimed at cultural development of the Italian communities abroad, in order to encourage their integration in the hosting country as well as cultural relationship with the home country.
  5. To assure collaboration with scholars and Italian students in their research activities and study abroad.
  6. To promote and support initiatives for Italian language diffusion abroad, making use of Italian lecturers at the hosting country’s universities

I don’t know how the London Italian Institute managed to get such a good address in London. Italy has an even better one in Grosvenor square where its embassy is one of the last original eighteenth century buildings still standing in that square and is enhanced by a wonderful collection of paintings, furniture and tapestries.-

While in London we attended a lunchtime concert at the Italian Institute. It was a piano recital by the young Costanza Principe, whose programme was as follows:

Bach Italian Concerto
Beethoven Variations in A major WoO 71
Schumann Toccata op. 5
Ravel La Valse

The last piece was, in fact, substituted by Janacek’s 1905 sonata supposedly on the grounds of difficulty which was strange as I thought the Janacek was an exceedingly complex work to perform.

All items showed Principe’s technique to the fullest with an ample range of dynamics and excellent tempi. I felt that her great past hero must have been Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and this came out at the very beginning in her rendering of Bach’s Italian concerto, which during the great composer’s lifetime (and perhaps still today) was considered his most popular work.

Beethoven’s’ variations is a slight work but was beautifully played.

Schumann reckoned his Toccata was his most difficult work of the piano but this didn’t seem at all evident in Principe’s flawless technique.

Although I would have enjoyed her playing Ravel’s la valse but the Janacek was a worthy substitute – an ambiguous work with every shade of the weather in it and, again, performed without any problems.

As is so often the case with Italians the pianist not only played well, she looked good and I felt that her very high heels actually helped her with the pedals of the wonderfully toned Fazioli piano, forming an easily graduated triangle.

After the free concert, which regrettably was not well attended, we emerged again into London’s breezy sunshine which captivated us for most of the time we were there.

Incidentally, the Italian institute has an excellent web site at

which also helps in keeping one in touch not only with what’s on at the other Italian institutes in Edinburgh and Dublin but also about Italian-oriented events of all types from gastronomy to painting in the UK.

Finally, the Italian institute is the place in which to learn that country’s divine language.









London’s Secret Jacobean Mansion

When I gave my lesson on English Palladianism to Pisa’s Liceo artistico a couple of weeks ago and compared the Thames as a sort of river Brenta for eighteenth century aristocrats I clearly mentioned the obvious glories like Chiswick house and Marble Hill house.

However, there are plenty more villas along or near the Thames west of London that may be not exactly Palladian in style but are equally fascinating and picturesque.

I first discovered many of these houses as a teenager and it was a challenge I set up to myself to cycle from south-east London where I then lived and visit them all.

These are the main ones I saw:

  • Osterley Park
  • Syon House
  • Marble Hill House
  • Chiswick House
  • Kew Palace
  • Strawberry Hill
  • Gunnersbury Park

There was, however, one house I never visited, Boston Manor, and the reason I gave for not seeing it was that its grounds were cut up by the M4 motorway (which, incidentally does a similar job to Osterley Park) and that it would, therefore, be a great disappointment.

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During my last visit to London we made amends and took the Piccadilly line alighting at Boston Manor station to visit the house and itss gardens

A very pleasant surprise awaited us. The house is a three-gabled grade one listed Jacobean mansion dating back to 1623 and originally owned by the Clitheroe family who sold it to the local council three hundred years later in 1923.

Although the whole house is worth visiting what two features stand out most for me are the beautiful Jacobean staircase with trompe-d’oeil painted sides and an elaborate entry.

There’s also some original wallpaper from the 17th century:

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The other feature is the state drawing room with one of the most amazing strap work ceilings I have seen anywhere in the UK. It was designed by Dutch artist Marcus Gheeraerts and is decorated by many symbolic elements which are well documented on the central table which also has a mirror with which to examine the ceiling’s details without getting a neck-ache. (Perhaps more of these mirrors should be made available in Italian palaces and churches…)

The chimney piece is equally elaborate with a depiction of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac, based on a design by Flemish Abraham de Bruyn.

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It’s no wonder that Boston Manor’ wonderful interiors have been used for several costume-drama film and TV series.

Even though that ghastly M4 cuts the grounds in half, the noise does not unduly affect the peace of the manor house and our walk through the woodland park and lakeside became a very pleasant excursion transporting us miles away from the hurley-burley of this busy part of London.