Readers and Audience at Camera Oscura

Of course one can’t take photos of oneself reading or presenting poetry. That would be too much of a selfish selfie! But I’ve got these photo from Jaqueline Varela, prime mover of the Festival ,and thought that they might be presented here as a little adjunct to our space at camera oscura.

Readers shown include Alexandra Pettitt, Jenny McIntosh and me.

A Beautiful Expression of the Imagination at Ponte a Serraglio

Yesterday evening’s reading, as part of Bagni di Lucca’s continuing Arts Festival, at the camera oscura by Mara Mucci of her poems, with English translations by Norma Jean Bishop and Francis Pettitt, was very well attended by a mixed audience as regards their first language, their age, their background and their gender.


It was a truly inclusive evening such as we all wish every event in our Bagni di Lucca arts festival should be. Language, which often divides people, united them here thanks, first of all, to the wonderful poems that Mara writes which, pace T .S. Eliot could be understood as soon as they were communicated.

What was so great was that the audience consisted of local people, people that had come from far-away countries, people who were painters, sculptors, factory workers, technicians, pensioners, housewives. Indeed, every section of the community of Bagni di Lucca was represented giving the lie to some voices who think that such events in some mysterious way often divide the town. This is simply not true!

Mara’s words speak to the heart and the editor of Grapevine and me worked hard to produce translations that reflected as truthfully as possible the original sentiments expressed.

If you buy next month’s “Grapevine” you’ll see the editor’s translation of one of Mara’s poems included in it.

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I first met Mara on International Women’s day earlier this year at Ponte’s Casinò (see my post at and was impressed by the honesty and beauty of her writing. She described herself as a feminist who writes poems.

I added, at the end of a truly captivating evening: “Mara you don’t just write poems. You are a poet.”

Everyone concurred with this sentiment. An encore was asked for and duly given.

Only this morning I received this note from Mara who said (I translate)


I would like to thank you much for the time you have taken in translating my poems and congratulations for your great capacity as a presenter.

You’ve been able to gift a very pleasant evening to everyone present and to me a great emotion which will remain among my best memories


What more does one need at festival? One kind phrase of appreciation is worth all the money in the world. As it is said “there’s no money in poetry but there’s no poetry in money”.

Radix malorum cupiditas est. Let us spend more time giving to each other the truly valuable things in life, warmth, cooperation, love, ideas, dialogue, hope now and for the future. These are the energy cells on which the Bagni di Lucca festival runs and will continue to run.

Incidentally, don’t forget tonight’s event on the theme of water starting at 18-00 (6.00 pm for you, Captain Mainwaring!). It’s yet another unmissable event in the brilliant festival which will run until August 10th.


Mr Kepler Arrives at Ponte

There’s a person in the centre of the river Lima just south of the bridge at Ponte. He hasn’t moved from there for quite a few days. The person is made of metal.

At this time of year he’s not very wet but he could find it very different when the rains promised after Ferragosto (the middle of August Italian bank holiday) start up.

Who is this person?  His name is Kepler and he has landed here after a journey that took him one thousand four hundred light years to achieve. No wonder Kepler’s taking it easy relaxing in the cool waters that bathe this part of Bagni di Lucca.

Johannes Kepler himself was a remarkable man. Born in Weil der Stadt in 1571 he died in Regensburg in 1630. Besides being an astronomer he was also a mathematician, a musician and an evangelical theologian.


His three laws of planetary motion, called Keplerian laws, laid the foundations of modern astronomy just as much as Galileo’s discovery that the sun is the centre of our solar system.

Without entering into more complex arguments all you need to know is that Kepler discovered that the planets move in an elliptical path, in contradistinction to his mentor’s Tycho Brahe’s impossibly torturous planetary paths which involved cycles and circles.


Kepler died in distressed circumstances and on his grave were inscribed the words:  “Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras. Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet” (I measured the skies; I now fix the shadows of the earth. My mind was in the celestial spheres, now my body lies in obscurity)

As for the planet Kepler it’s actually called Kepler 22-B and rotates around a star called Kepler 22. Unless we find a faster way to travel than the speed of light I doubt that most of the next thousand generations to come will get a chance to shake hands (if they use that custom on Kepler 22b) with any of the planet’s inhabitants.

It would be easier to approach our own Keplerian inhabitant in the centre of the Lima instead. It’s a sweet thought that it’s there and makes us earthlings feel that little bit less isolated in the vastness of space. (Although Prof. Hawkins has professed that he’d rather not like to engage in encounters of the third kind just in case they prove less friendly towards us than we might otherwise imagine!).

Mr. Kepler’s surrounded by tall helix-sticks which make a nice noise when a breeze rises up, as this video shows:

Kepler’s nearest relation, however, is not so much us bagnaioli but Anthony Gormley’s amazing “another place “sculptures on Crosby Beach in Lancashire, as a local artist and friend pointed out to me.

But then art builds on art and has always done. Michelangelo wouldn’t have been able to paint his Sistine chapel’s last judgement without first seeing Signorelli’s frescoes in Orvieto cathedral, for example.

Anyway, we won’t have to travel 1,400 light years to visit another Keplerian-like person – just take the plane to Manchester airport instead.

The river installation has now become a prime feature of Bagni di Lucca’s Arts festival and this year Mr Kepler will attract and be remembered by all those who have seen him or even dared to walk across the pebbles to touch him.

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La Cova

This is my fountain of life. It saves me as it’s saved so many from the past: from ancient Romans to Michel de Montaigne, to Shelley and to Puccini with their stomach complaints, their neuroses, and their over-indulgences.

Its waters are hot, soothing, pure, coming from the entrails of a volcanic mountain and they will cure everything from kidney stones to most stomach complaints. And it’s free! Just stop and drink….

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Every winter as I scooter down the extra-cold high street of Ponte a Serraglio to my various activities teaching English they save my hands from freezing. I always stop there and their warmth is balm to my spirit.

With water at 37.1 degree centigrade it’s great for one’s digestion, for one’s one-too-much G & T and, strangely enough (when cooled down a little), for one’s tomatoes in the orto.

Long live La Cova waters! It’s one of the finest reasons for living here. I could never be elsewhere now.

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“You really got me” (Bagni di Lucca) as the Kinks sang in that wonderful song by Ray Davies.

I wish I could paint the extraordinary green colour as the sulphuric waters hit the hard magmaic stone. Artists you have a go!

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PS La Cova means “brood”.

“Covare” is when hens (or my ducks) lie over their eggs waiting for them to hatch. Might be a useful beverage for those wanting kids?

Camera Oscura

If anyone wants to know where the Camera Oscura, Bagni di Lucca’s Arts Festival new poetry space, is then it’s practically the first ex-shop one comes to on the right as one enters Ponte a Serraglio from Bagni di Lucca Villa.

Alternatively, it’s almost the last ex-shop one comes to coming from Ponte a Serraglio to Bagni di Lucca Villa on the left.

Why is the space called camera oscura? It’s not that dark anyway!

It’s because it used to be a photographer’s studio at the time when all those empty spaces were living shops giving life to a community which sadly has diminished or has gone elsewhere for their daily goods.

We’ve seen this sadness in the crisis that’s hit the English high street but it’s all the more poignant for a small and beautiful place like Bagni di Lucca, Ponte.

Indeed, the names given to the other exhibition spaces reflect their old uses: La macelleria (butchers) Spazio Daddo (old shoe shop) La Mesticheria (ironmongers).  (I still remember that shop in use back in 2005, and treasure the hammer and paintbrush I bought from it.)

“My” space has a little back room, presumably the old dark room (camera oscura), and a lovely alcove with a contemporary marble statue, comfortable seating and even a projector.

Decoration is minimal but you can enrich it by adding your own words about poetry on the walls and join company with greats like Wordsworth, Shelley and, last night, Mara Mucci, who will recite her poems tomorrow Thursday at 7 pm.

For a few days a year this space will resound to the words of that quintessential art form, poetry, and then relapse into silence like an ancient Roman triclinium which once heard the odes of Horace or revelled in Petronius’ Satyricon but which now only has bare, ruined walls which not only hide frescoes but also echoes of words which have become faint shadows of those who uttered them.



What pictures emerged from these whitened walls

what portraits of newly-weds or daughters?

What parents faded in their yellowed shawls?

What years forgotten in icy waters?


And will these words also crumble away

written in a summer’s evening stilled heart?

And will our memories also decay

Like this shop’s long-lost photographic art?


Obscure room lighten up for me all your past clients,

bring me into the centre of your heart.

Show me both red dwarfs and hypergiants

mid the stars that set our planets apart.


The film projects upon a blanched background

 where nothing is lost and nothing is found.

A Terraced House?

Our summer project for house-work has been completed

Our two terraces, one over the kitchen and the other over the music room have been more or less finished. Just a little bit more of painting and cleaning is required to make them truly perfect..

The work was absolutely necessary but rather more complex than at first thought. The felt under the tiles had become completely rotted leading to perpetual seepage of damp into the room below. Several items were either being, or in danger of, being ruined including books and, of course, myself who am writing this in that space.

First of all, of course, the terrace had to be completely cleared of its furnishing, plants and fitments which were quite considerable.

The excellent workmen had to go through the work in the following stages:

  1. Removal of old tiles (which were anyway not particularly attractive and more suitable for inner use).
  2. Breaking up of concrete base

1. Smoothing of surface to lay new felt.

  1. Placing of grid to accept new cement.
  1. Laying of new cement (without the cats getting everywhere)

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  1. Retiling the terraces with new tiles and special glue. Special external, slightly rough terracotta was chosen for this.

Quite apart from the tiling the iron balustrades had to be coped with. This meant, with the help of the ironsmith:

  1. Removal of balustrade
  1. Removal of two sets of stairs to other levels.
  2. Scrubbing down and repainting of balustrades and stairs. (This part was largely carried out by my industrious wife).
  3. Replacement of balustrade using the new method whereby the balustrade is placed outside the perimeter of the terrace rather than being supported on it. This clearly saves the felt from being punctured. Because of the greater extension of the balustrade extensions had to be added to it.

Furthermore, the gutters had to be replaced by new squarer ones to accommodate the “modern” method of replacing the balustrades.

We were very pleased with the price, the quality and the times taken in completing the work. Now, of course, the weather has turned rather cloudy today but at least it won’t rain into the room below anymore. Rain is due at the end of next week so we’ll see how effective the work is. I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.