G(oats) for Breakfast?

‘Capra’ means ‘goat’ in Italian. So what are ‘capre nane’ – nanny goats? No, ‘nano’ means ‘dwarf’ so we’re talking about ‘dwarf goats’ – (AKA pygmy goats).

Longoio used to have these goats which were tended by a certain Giacomo, now sadly departed. The little ones were a delightful adjunct to the domestic scene in our village and, looking back at these photos taken in November 2005, I can only regret that the caprette no longer wander about our fields.

Capre Nane or Caprette are today more and more regarded as companions rather than just farmyard animals. The trend is increasingly to have them as pets grazing in one’s garden (mind the flowers…) rather than having them bred for their milk or meat (or, until quite recently, for their wool). A dwarf goat, in fact, doesn’t give enough milk for the needs even of a single family, and certainly it wouldn’t (luckily!) provide for a Sunday roast.

Now should I get one to keep my grass down next growing season?

(PS Miniature goats are sometimes known as Tibetan goats. They are also called African goats since they originated in present-day Somalia).





A Carrot and Stick?

On the way to Chifenti from Ponte a Seraglio on the Via Brennero there’s a metal factory. I’ve used it to provide a drain cover in the past but haven’t stopped there for ages.

Yesterday, however, I had to pause there since these donkeys (and horse) in the adjoining field looked so appealing.

The same space has also hosted ostriches and lamas. Now am I seeing things? Not at all. Next time I’ll try to find out if the metal factory owner still has them somewhere. Don’t think I’m eggsaggerating!


The metal owner is also responsible for this tower. It’s so sad that this item now reminds us all of something dreadful that recently happened in that city:

11282015 012

A Baker Passes On

Sad news. Shortly after the death of a well-known and much-loved person at San Cassiano another noted figure has left us. He’s Albano Fini who died in his sleep. Albano ran the delicious bakery and pizzeria at the forno described by Debra Kolkka in her post at http://bellabagnidilucca.com/2015/02/13/bread-and-pizza/

Albano’s bread was certainly the best in town and he and his bakery will be much missed. Although Albano did say that he was thinking of giving up the business, having been there for over twenty years, higher forces regrettably made the decision for him.

In a smallish community like ours it’s all the more sad when someone leaves us and when they’re just fifty-one it’s even worse.

There’s an obituary at





How to Get Rid of Nuisance Demons

The frescoed lunettes, painted by Domenico Manfredi from Camaiore, and decorating the cloister of the ex-monastery of San Francesco at Borgo a Mozzano are an utter delight with their naïve but felt devotion. Each lunette represents an episode in the life of Saint Francis who, like the present Pope his namesake, is a quite revolutionary figure in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

For example, Saint Francis entered into dialogue with other world religions. Here he is having a chat with the Muslim Sultan of Egypt.


What a conversation it must have been! Again, the example is today for all of us to follow: dialogue is the only way forwards whether it be in politics, religion or day-to-day social relationships. Without it nothing is possible and lack of dialogue can only lead to confrontation and worse…

When I took a look at the cloister yesterday a restorer of the frescoes was busy at work. For over two years now the lunettes are being brought back to their original bright colours and any damage to them is being conservatively repaired.

Here is a lunette before restoration:

11282015 037

And here it is after restoration:

11282015 035

An artistic cataract operation, in fact!

One lunette has revealed a miraculous banquet – miraculous because Francis performed a later version of the gospel loaves and  fishes when he found the monastery larder was empty:

11282015 027

I bet the cat in the middle of the refectory floor must have been glad that the fish suddenly multiplied. He certainly looks it!

11282015 029

Francis seems to have had an extraordinary propensity for wide-ranging dialogue. He also, as is well-known, preached to the birds and also had to encounter animals of a very different appearance. Here is a lunette showing Francis in the middle of a horde of diabolical creatures. The caption reads that Francis was faced with these unattractive figures sent by the devil, but with the sign of the cross managed to send them packing. How great it would be for us to be able to do the same with all those tedious people we have to deal with!

11282015 034

However, if you want to get rid of any blue devils there’s no better place to do so than at Ponte a Moriano tomorrow, for from 11 am tomorrow there’s a blues festival happening there. Can’t miss that!


The friars departed in 1983 but if you wish to live in the monastery you’ll have to be of a certain age: the place is now an old folks’ home…


Thanksgiving in the Lucchesia

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. A National Holiday in Canada and the USA on the last Thursday of November, Thanksgiving associates a harvest festival together with the commemoration of the Pilgrim Fathers’ survival through their first days when they landed from the good ship Mayflower onto the shores of a ‘new’ continent

The fact that the Pilgrim Fathers survived at all was largely due (somewhat ironically as it later turned out) to the local native Indian population. It was Squanto of the Wampanoag tribe who taught the newcomers from England’s Plymouth where and how to find food. Thanks to him the pilgrims learnt how to catch eels and grow maize. They were also introduced to sources of nourishment such as turkey, pumpkin, cranberries and potatoes, none of which had been known in the country they came from.

download (2)

These foodstuffs featured heavily in the delightful Italo-American menu prepared by Paolo Monti the brilliant chef of La Cucina di Carignano.

11272015 067

The cucina and restaurant nestles below the west Luccan hills and where a motley crowd of fifty odd gathered to celebrate the special day. (See http://www.cucina-italiana.com/it/ for information about Monti’s cooking school).

Here was the menu.

11272015 057

And here were the four courses:

Sea food salad with shrimp, squid, mussels,scallops, peppers and baby corn:

11272015 056

The Italian stowaway’s pumpkin ravioli recipe:

Tuscan-style turkey roast with stuffing. Sweet potatoes with lime and coriander. Peas and ham. Butter smashed potatoes with butternut squash:

11272015 065

Pumpkin Tiramisu:

11272015 066

Thanksgiving is not just an American celebration. Together with widespread harvest festivals from the UK to Italy (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/thanksgiving-for-tractors/) to Australia’s Norfolk Island, it is truly a feast of solidarity and appreciation that one will have enough food and resources to get through another winter.

Such symbolic gestures as ’pardoning the turkey’ (whereby the US President is given three turkeys, one of which is still alive and gets pardoned by him so that it can spend the rest of its days running wild among the fields), and the President himself serving in a canteen providing nourishment to homeless people, are all indicators of the sense of community which permeates the day.


(President Obama pardons Totus the turkey)

It’s therefore, even more important that these ties be strengthened at a time when just two weeks ago an event occurred whose grotesque and mistaken purpose was to divide people and fill them with fear rather than with friendship.

The gentle countryside surrounding Carignano was full of the beauty of the fruits of the earth: it truly spelled concord.

Full and hearty thanks are due to Norma Jean Bishop, editor of our English-language Lucca magazine, ‘Grapevine’ and great organiser of events designed to further the cause of conviviality, exchange and harmony!

11272015 060




Wholly Santinis

Barga’s Chiesa Del Santissimo Crocifisso (church of the most Holy Crucifix) is the second oldest church in the town after the Duomo. It was originally a chapel of prayer founded in the 13th century. In the 16th century the church became the headquarters of the Society of the Crucifix who enlarged it considerably and added some quite sumptuous ornamentation.

Today the building consists of a nave and two aisles with barrel vaults. The exterior has a sober and dignified appearance:

The interior, however, is quite another matter in its exuberant decoration.


The prize piece here is the altarpiece dating from 1646 and which has only recently been shown (after the discovery of his signature) to be the work of Francesco Santini di Cerreto.


There’s also a wooden crucifix dating from the 15th century and several paintings of the Tuscan school dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

There are few churches in our part of the world with woodwork of such a high standard. It’s truly worth talking a look at this building which stands in the shadow of the Duomo but which in my opinion is of considerable worth.

Who was Francesco Santini?

Santini was born in Cerreto which is just above Borgo a Mozzano and there is news of him from 1640 to 1660. He came from a family of highly regarded carvers in the area. Santini’s first work is a wooden altar, dating from 1642, in the monastery church of San Francesco in Borgo a Mozzano. It’s the first altar you see on the right entering the church and was commissioned by the Society of the Immaculate Conception. I have always been taken by this altar. Its superb carving of the serpentine columns, unadorned by any overlying paint, reminds me somewhat of England’s own marvellous Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).


In 1661 came the altar of Borgo a Mozzano’s main church, San Jacopo. Here the play of scrolls and assured architectural features shows the sculptor at his most mature.


Francesco Santini is a good example of an exceptional artist born into a thriving craft tradition. Much in the same way as other creators spring from a family tradition, (a great example is the number of musicians in the Bach family), he was just one of many other Santinis who carried on what they considered a craft but what many of us today would consider an art. A later Santini, for example, Alessandro created the altar of another of Barga’s churches, San Rocco.

At least we are able to give names to the Santinis. I wonder how many other great artistic works lie in our territory with their creator’s name remaining unknown!

There’s a very useful web site at http://sacrumluce.sns.it/mv/html/sacrumluce.html which you can investigate for more religious treasures in our area. My own photographs date from November 2006.


Snowy Mountains (in Lucchesia)

While shopping at Penny Market yesterday I was suddenly made aware of the snow that has recently fallen on the main ridge of the Apennines.

Here is a picture taken near the Ponte Della Maddalena (devil’s bridge to lesser mortals) which is close to the supermarket.

11252015 007-001

Lunch time at la Ruota restaurant at Fornoli confirmed that I was not wrong in describing the food there as excellent. (See my post at


The farfalle with gorgonzola and radicchio (chicory) was delicious.

11252015 008

The scaloppine (thinly sliced veal dredged in wheat flour, sautéed, heated and served with a wine sauce) with mushrooms and, thankfully non-frozen, chips was equally tasty.

11252015 009

All this, washed down with a quarter litres of red wine and sparkling water and ending with a café macchiato, for 11 euros can’t be bad…

11252015 010

Returned home I took my cats for a walk (or perhaps they took me) in the Longoio hinterland.

The long shadows and autumn colours were stunning. The cats had a great time too. It’s a pity that because of traffic many cats can’t be taken for a decent walk. I don’t think they’d appreciate being dragged along on a lead!

11252015 030

Cosily freezing nights and true blue sky days may you long continue!

11252015 021

A ‘Manon’ to Die For

I came to Giacomo Puccini rather late in my music appreciation development. The first recording (it was then LPs) I took out from my local library was Beethoven’s Ninth (Ansermet conducting) and Berlioz overtures. I stood firmly in the instrumental rather than the operatic front. The only Puccini I could hack was an ancient shellac 78 rpm of that ubiquitous aria from Turandot, ‘Nessun Dorma’. My near-allergy to Puccini was reinforced when I visited a family friend who was conductor of the Flemish National Opera in Antwerp. To witness a performance of Madama Butterfly belted out in guttural Flemish was a particularly excruciating experience. After the performance the conductor, Martelli, in answer to my doubts about Puccini’s genius, replied ‘I’d give my right arm to have written just one page of his music!’ I didn’t think so.

There the matter rested until, through my wife’s interpreting contacts we were invited, in 1983, to the Terrazza Martini, then at the top of London’s New Zealand House for a reception to launch Manon Lescaut with Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Kiri and Placido singing! Sinopoli has to be one of the most extraordinary Italians of recent times and one of those rare conductors who wore at least two other hats: a most apposite one of psychologist (quite apart from being a composer in his own write) and an archaeologist.  It’s so sad that Giuseppe died prematurely aged 55 in 2001 from a heart attack while conducting Aida in Berlin


Sinopoli’s rendering of Puccini’s earliest unqualified hit (and perhaps the only one of his operas which was free from any obverse criticism from the start) was devastatingly and fierily passionate.  Puccini knew that after the failure of Edgar he’d have to either make or break it with this one. His room-mate, Mascagni, had just scored world success with Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini felt rather left out. He need not have worried. With the money Manon Lescaut brought in the young operatic composer built himself a brand-new villa at Chiatri (which Elvira, his mistress and future wife, found an immediate objection to because, since the road the council had promised to it never happened, she was forced to reach the house on a mule – the road finally materialised only after WWI).

Manon Lescaut also signalled a change in my previous aversion to Puccini (indeed to all verismo and post-verismo operas). I was hooked and have been getting ever more hooked since moving into the vicinities of the composer’s home town, Lucca.

It was, therefore, with unbridled enthusiasm that I attended a performance of Manon Lescaut in that city’s delightful Teatro Del Giglio during the first winter (in November 2005) I spent at Longoio.


I was in seventh heaven when, entering the theatre’s foyer, I saw this plaque placed to the memory of the city’s greatest musical son.

I can’t remember too much about the production but certainly was swept along by the music of this incredibly fervent work.  Those stunning arias grab me now and shall for ever do so. (Incidentally, if anyone objects to the melting final scene set in ‘a desert in Louisiana’ on grounds of geographical impossibility then I would reply that we are here talking about Louisiana as defined by the much larger area of the ‘Louisiana purchase’ so it could have included Death Valley too!)

Here are some photographs from that memorable performance ten years ago:

There is something worse than disliking Mozart if one is a resident of Salzburg and that is being allergic to Puccini if one lives anywhere near Lucca!

Guitar Trio

Christmas time reached Borgo a Mozzano yesterday evening. On the road leading to the town’s level crossing, and in the area around the schools, stalls were out in force selling not just food and clothes but lots of Christmassy things.

In the distance I could see that snow had already fallen on the upper Apennines and the temperature had fallen ten degrees since the rain and hailstorm yesterday. Time to wrap up warm!

We were heading for the town’s library where, in the orangery of the old aristocratic Palazzo Santini, a concert, featuring a guitar trio, was to be held with Laura Sarti, violin, Giuseppe Cecchi, ‘cello and Dario Atzori guitar. I’d never been to such a combination of instruments before so was curious to know what sound would result.


The programme was equally novel; I’d never heard any of the pieces apart from Granados’ ubiquitous ‘Danza spagnuola no. 5’


De Fossa’s trio was long and contained highly virtuosistic parts for all instruments which the players negotiated with aplomb. In case you didn’t know who De Fossa was neither did I! Actually, he was a French guitarist and composer. Born in Perpignan in 1775 De Fossa was also an officer in the French army, hence his portrait in uniform here:

François_de_Fossa_-_Portrait (1)

De Fossa translated Spanish guitarist Aguado’s tutorial method for the instrument into French and had it published. He also travelled in Mexico and died in Paris in 1849.

I wonder when I’ll next hear another piece by De Fossa.

The programme was a little rejigged so that Piazzolla’s languorously melancholic ‘Café 1930’ referring to Paris came next. I thought of a city of light that has been so shaken by recent events.

The Granados Danza was artfully arranged for guitar and ‘cello and was most effective.

Sarti and Cecchin have also formed their own duo called ‘Duo Vernissage’ (trans. ‘’Debut’) and they came together to play what had to be the most extraordinary (and difficult) piece in the concert.

11232015 031

Martinu’s ‘Tre Madrigali’ was rearranged by the duo from its original violin and viola combination, for violin and cello . Frantic rhythms dominated the first ‘Madrigale’ with astonishing sonorities created by double-stoppings, chord clusters and arpeggios so that the music sounded as if rather more than two were playing it! The second piece introduced a welcomed calm before excitable Czech folk rhythms re-emerged in the last part of this extraordinary work which dates from 1949.

Paganini was also an excellent guitarist apart from being the violin virtuoso we all know about (especially in Lucca where he was promoted from official music teacher to unofficial lover by Napoleon’s sister, Princess Elisa Baciocchi). Paganini was a dab hand, too, at composing and the movement from the terzetto in waltz rhythm is a welcome addition to his famous violin concerti.

If I had a little cavil about the performance it’s the old one of the guitar not being to be heard distinctly enough against the modern use of steel strings on stringed instruments, Perhaps they should use cat-gut? (Not real cat, however!).

Throughout the concert we felt as if the trio were playing just for us, so intimate was the atmosphere.

11232015 028

Long and loud applause followed the end of the programme. No encore was played but I doubt whether either players or listeners would have wanted anything to follow such a dazzling performance.

11232015 036

The musical feast was rounded off by a food one at the nearby ‘Pescatore’ (‘fisherman’ or ‘fisherperson’?) restaurant, which unsurprisingly specialises in fish. One of my friends chose a trout while I stuck to my pizza Napoli with capers, mozzarella and anchovies. Mmmm!

11232015 037

The photographs also show the danger of asking for chips in Italy for ‘chips’ in Italian means the same as ‘crisps’ in English. (For chips one has to ask for ‘patatine fritte’).

11232015 038

The concerts have been arranged by the local music schools of Borgo a Mozzano and Barga together with Valdottavo’s Teatro Colombo under the artistic direction of guitarist Giacomo Brunini. I’ve mentioned the admirable Brunini at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/a-guitar-feast-for-saint-cecilia/ and very much look forwards to future appointments in this series of concerts. The next one’s at Teatro Colombo on Tuesday 8th December at 5.30. Will you be there?

11232015 039



Of Cats and the Weather

Our first cats at Longoio were those we found in a woodpile outside our house. There were five kittens and one mother. With a couple of exceptions they seemed quite feral and would not tolerate even being touched.

Gradually, however, after a naming ceremony in which the little ones were called after the famous ‘cinque terre villages’ on the Ligurian coastline to the north of us – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola Riomaggiore (the mum was just called the mother) – the kittens became a little more domesticated (as far ‘domesticated’ as cats will allow themselves to be…).

Here are some pictures of them taken in November 2005:

What happened to them?

The mother eventually disappeared and the five kittens all survived to grow into mature cats. Two of them disappeared over a period of five years but up to two years ago there were still three of them living. A couple of years ago Vernazza (or ‘Smudgy’) disappeared and this year Manarola (a tabby) died very inauspiciously, having been found on top of our boiler by the boiler inspector who almost had a fit when he came across it, poor thing (the cat, not the inspector)!

Only Corniglia (the last photo in the above gallery) survives out of our original brood and, although she is as intractable as ever towards humans, she is friendly towards our ‘official’ family of three cats consisting of Napoleone, Carlotta and Cheeky.

Here is Corniglia this morning sleeping it off on top of our sitting room sofa.

Corniglia is ten years old and, like all cats, she connects us to an earlier and, perhaps, happier time.


After a truly ‘wuthering heights’ night with wind adding to the rain which had made its first appearance yesterday after almost two weeks dry spell this morning sees cleared skies and a lot of fallen leaves.

It also sees our Japanese maple now almost bare. With the rather colder temperatures winter has definitely put its foot in the door.

11222015 002

But going back ten years ago to those cat pictures, it seems snow had already fallen this day in November!