Castelnuovo di Garfagnana’s Paintbox

One of our favourite shops in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, which we sometimes visit for its very extensive Thursday market, is the arts shop situated just south of the Rocca Ariostesca.

Apart from its artist’s equipment and framing the shop has a very extensive collection of paintings and objects d’art which should please all sorts of taste. I found the examples from Dariush, the painter of Iranian origin, particularly delightful and they not excessively priced.

There are plenty of other things and it would be a strong will to escape from this cave of attractions without at least one purchase.

What did we buy (or rather me)? It was a case of paints and brushes which I gifted to Sandra, again at a very reasonable price.

I’ll let you know how those brushes transform the paints into little masterpieces. Meanwhile, we remind you that there are still copies of our book ‘Septet’ available at the Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca (see

Enjoy your Easter week! The weather here is brightening up every day. No troublesome storms here (cross fingers…)


Mario Bargero’s Exhibition at Bagni di Lucca’s Town Hall

The new exhibition at Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Atrium’ gallery in the Town Hall foyer is a fitting retrospective in memory of a great, sadly recently deceased, locally resident artist.


Many of Mario Bargero’s paintings are in the great tradition of the collage, a technique which first appeared among the avant-garde in the years around World War One. However, the technique adopted by the artist is entirely his own and is fascinatingly applied.

For me, the highlights were the sculptures often made out of unassuming items like bed springs and scrap metal but all transformed into a new reality which I would term neo-surrealistic. Each sculpture has a title which playfully describes it.

Mario Bargero’s exhibition was inaugurated last Saturday, March 26, and continues until to Friday, April 22, 2016.  Exhibition hours are Monday to Saturday From 8:00 to 14:00 and admission as ever is free.

Something about Mario: he was born in Casale Monferrato (Piedmont) in 1935 and participated in numerous collective and national and international competitions from 1965 onwards.

In 1967 Mario held his first solo exhibition and continued with further various exhibitions of sculpture and graphics, together  participating with some of the finest Italian artists.

In 1973 with the sculptor and painter Campese, engraver Di Palma and others, Bargero founded the ‘Aleramica’ cultural circle. In 1996 he moved to Tuscany where he lived in Monti di Villa until his untimely death in 2013.

It is very fitting that, after a short break, the “The Atrium” gallery, situated just inside our municipal hall, has reopened and with such a fine exhibition of Mario Bargero’s sculptures and paintings.

How We Spent Our Easter 2016

For us there’s no better way to celebrate the start of Easter day than to attend morning Mass at the Convento dell’Angelo just above Ponte a Moriano. This year it was a bit more difficult than usual to get up in time since the clocks were put forwards to what the brits call ‘summer time’ but the Italians call ‘l’ora legale’.

Reaching this beautiful building is like reaching nirvana. The great neo-classical Luccan architect Nottolini’s masterpiece, the ex-convent’s whiteness beckons to paradisiacal heights and the music we hear in it is equally heavenly – ranging from Bach to Mozart to Rossini and Puccini.

For the convent now houses the Academy of Montegral, the brainwave of Maestro Gustav Kuhn, born in Styria but brought up in Salzburg, former musical director of Rome opera, who founded it in 1992 with the aim of developing a holistic musicianship on a human scale. In 2000 it moved to the convent, reinforcing the idea of a spiritual and cultural musical community. The results show – I doubt if music making can really get much better than this in Lucca province.

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(Maestro Gustav Kuhn)

Kuhn’s finishing academy for young singers always brings a surcharged start to our Easter festivities and we were so glad to be there again yesterday morning to celebrate and rejoice. The Mass was celebrated by a Passionist father who formerly lived in the monastery (it’s the order which attracted Lucca’s own Saint Gemma so much.)

The extraordinarily beautiful chapel was packed as usual and the Easter eggs on the comunion balustrade received their traditional blessing:

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This was the programme exquisitely combining Easter liturgy and great music. After all,  Saint Augustine is reputed to have said that to sing (in tune, I hope!)  is to pray twice over.

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The celebrations started with a lively organ piece:

Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle (jokingly so-called, because it is conversely rather expansive) formed part of the sung liturgy but there were ample contributions from Puccini in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei and Franck in the ubiquitous Panis Angelicus.  A rather severe but effective setting of the Credo, by “an angel of Montegral” (must be Kuhn himself!) also impressed me. For me, however, the instantly touching pieces were the Alleluia from Mozart’s “Exultate Jubilate” just before the reading from the Gospel.

All the other singers of the Academy were equally brilliant and were excellent when together as a choir:

The one item which should have melted me in sentimentalism but instead always has a great effect on me is that song ‘The Holy City’ by S. Adams sung by the big voiced (and equally big) George Humphrey. May he continue to appear at the Angelo!

Incidentally, ‘The Holy City’ is a religious ballad dating from, with music by Michael Maybrick writing under the alias Stephen Adams, and with lyrics by Frederic Weatherly (1841-1913). It’s mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses and was also used by Duke Ellington. Jeanette MacDonald the great thirties actress also sang it in her 1936 film ‘San Francisco.

The lyrics are so beautiful that I have to quote them here:

The Holy City

Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang,
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And then methought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang.
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna forevermore!

Here’s an excerpt from the ballad:


What a wonderful moment it was to exit from the packed church into the sunny, fresh and breezy exterior and from its scenic platform almost touch the wonderful Luccan plain spread around us like a giant backcloth and the truly celestial city of Lucca and its walls in the centre!

How do you get to the mountain of the Holy Grail? Just park your vehicle in the car park behind the theatre at Ponte a Moriano and wait for the shuttle bus, It’s the only practical way of reaching Kuhn’s Academy of Montegral since it’s accessed by tortuous narrow lanes which, turning ever higher, wend their way above the Luccan plain.

We were so lucky to be here at this time and at this place! It’s Easter-time with the most celestial music and heaven itself all wrapped into one gorgeously sweet bouquet!

How does one spend Easter in Italy anyway?

An old saying goes like this:

“Natale con I tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi” which means “Spend Christmas with the family and Easter with whom you like.”

In our case I decided on our own saying “Pasqua come vuoi” – “Easter as you like it”

There were three main parts to our Easter day.

Part one. Morning Mass at the Convento dell’Angelo

Part two. Our lunch, excellently prepared by my wife, consisted of antipasto followed by the best lasagne al forno Sandra has ever prepared for us:

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A main course included lamb chops which Sandra had brought from Tesco’s in the UK.

Lamb is otherwise difficult to find in Italy at any other time since there is a very strong seasonal element to what Italians eat at any particular time and lamb is clearly associated with Easter-time. There is also, for many of us,  a considerable ethical question about eating lamb. It’s because we’ve literally heard that sad phrase ’lambs to the slaughter’. Trucks loaded with little baby lambs bleating from their stark separation from their mums head across to the local abattoirs at this season. It’s heart-breaking.

Relating to what John the Baptist says in St John’s Gospel when he sees Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”. it could be could say that, as Jesus sacrificed himself for the redemption of mankind, so every little lamb that we eat is a little Jesus sacrificed for the sake of our selfish gluttony.

Our Easter lunch ended with desert which came in two  forms. First, tiramisu (literally pick-me-up). No marks for guessing how delicious our one was.

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There wasn’t enough room for the traditional Colombina – a dove-shaped cake decorated with nuts and candied fruit so we had it later for supper after a constitutional walk,.

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We should also mention Lucca’s very own Eastertide cake, pasimata which we ate last year:.

(A good recipe for it is at


Of course there were also the ubiquitous chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies which, in Italy, are wrapped to make them twice as high and which inside always contain a “sorpresa”. In our case it was a paintbrush bag!

The third part of our Easter concluded with a walk up the mysterious Scesta valley which continues right up to the Apennine slopes. There are many mysteries attached to this beautiful but eerie valley. But that would require a post to itself!


PS For students of architecture and history here’s something nmoe about the Convento dell’Angelo.

The church and the convent, were the gift of the Duke Charles of Bourbon to the Passionist Fathers, and were built by Lorenzo Nottolini between 1827 and 1830. The architect here produced what I believe to be his greatest example of a fusion of ancient classical architecture with later renaissance models together with a complete understanding of the location where his masterpiece would be sited.

The convent’s location, with its pure white classical forms and bas reliefs exalting neo-classicism and rising from the forest slopes of the Brancoleria, is a foretaste of a romanticist sensibility and points forwards to that same kind of pictorial fusion one gets in the paintings of Turner and other great mid-nineteenth century painters.

Il convento dell’Angelo is indeed a blending of the purest neo-classicism forms with the most ardent romantic setting and is one of the finest examples of architecture experienced as “frozen” music one can possibly find in the Lucchesia, (or anywhere else in the world…)

We were, thus, truly privileged to have this music unfrozen for us in the wonderful setting, and with the highly talented singers, of the Holy Grail.


I’m writing this on Easter Monday which is is commonly known as ”Pasquetta” (“Little Easter”) in Italy. In the church calendar it is “il Lunedì dell’Angelo” and commemorates the visit of Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Salome to the sepulchre where Christ has been buried and which they found now empty. An angel then appeared to them saying “Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here.”


(Peter Von Cornelius: the three Marys at the empty tomb)

It’s no longer sunny as it was yesterday. A thick mist covers our village emphasising the mystery of Christ’s resurrection itself.

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Easter / Pasqua 2016



(Piero Della Francesca : Resurrezione /Resurrection : Museo di Sansepolcro)


“This is the greatest picture in the world. Great it is, absolutely great, because the man who painted it was genuinely noble as well as talented. And to me personally the most moving of pictures, because its author possessed almost more than any other painter those qualities of character which I most admire…. A natural, spontaneous and unpretentious grandeur – this is the leading quality of all Piero’s work. He is majestic without being at all strained, theatrical or hysterical. He achieves grandeur naturally with every gesture he makes, never consciously strains after it.

Aldous Huxley, “The Best Picture” an essay originally published in 1925 in “Along the Road”

Travel writer H. V. Morton disclosed in ‘A Traveller in Italy’ published in 1964, that during World War II the town of Sansepolcro was saved from destruction by the efforts of Tony Clarke, a British Royal Horse Artillery officer (a division until recently stationed at the Royal Artillery barracks, Woolwich in the borough where I lived in London) when the allies were advancing up the Italian peninsula. Clarke had orders to shell Sansepolcro, where a German battalion was stationed but remembered the essay by Aldous Huxley describing the painting as “the greatest picture in the world”. Officer Clarke refused to give orders to bomb the town, disobeying instructions from his commanding officer and, thus, risking court-marshal.  Sansepolcro has a street named after Clarke and his brave action.  He was truly a ‘monument man’. For me Clarke displayed all those qualities of character which only great artists and lovers of great art possess.

If war has to continue to be a genetic malformation of the human psyche then may there be many more men like Clarke to save the world’s heritage from fanatic destruction!

I thank with all my heart my English literature Master Brian Worthington (who is happily still with us and who I hope to meet again this May) for reminding me of Huxley’s essay




(Piero Della Francesca Resurrezzione – Sansepolchro)

“Questo è la più grande immagine nel mondo. Grande è, assolutamente grande, perché l’uomo che l’ha dipinta era veramente nobile e di talento immenso. Per me personalmente è la più commovente di tutte le immagini, perché il suo autore possedeva, quasi più di ogni altro pittore, quelle qualità di carattere che ammiro di più. Possedeva una grandezza naturale, spontanea e senza pretese – questa è la qualità principale di tutta l’opera di Piero della Francesca. Egli è maestoso senza essere affatto teso, teatrale o isterico. Raggiunge la grandezza naturalmente con ogni gesto che fa, senza alcuno sforzo artificioso.”
Aldous Huxley, “The Best Picture” è un saggio pubblicato originariamente nel 1925 in “Lungo la Strada”.
Lo scrittore di viaggi, Morton, divulgò in “Un viaggiatore in Italia”, pubblicato nel 1964, che l’ufficiale Tony Clarke durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, salvò l’affresco di Piero della Francesca e la città di Sansepolcro dalla distruzione. Ufficiale della Reale Artiglieria a cavallo (fino a poco tempo fa stanziata presso la caserma dell’Artiglieria Reale, Woolwich vicino il quartiere dove abitavo a Londra) Clarke aveva salvato il dipinto durante i combattimenti, quando gli alleati avanzavano per la penisola italiana. Clarke aveva l’ordine di bombardare Sansepolcro, dov’era presente un battaglione tedesco.  Però si ricordò di quel saggio di Aldous Huxley che descrive il dipinto come “la più grande immagine nel mondo”.

Clarke rifiutò l’ordine di bombardare la città, disobbedendo gli ordini del suo comandante e rischiando così la disciplina del tribunale militare alleato. Sansepolcro ha ora una strada intitolata Clarke ricordando la sua azione coraggiosa. E’ stato veramente un ‘monument man’. Per me Clarke possiede quelle qualità di carattere che solo i grandi artisti e gli amanti dell’arte SUPREMA godono.

Se deve continuare a esserci questa insidiosa malformazione genetica della psiche umana che si chiama, “facciamo la guerra”, prego che ci siano più uomini come Clarke per salvare il patrimonio del mondo dalla distruzione dei fanatici e dei barbari.

Ringrazio con tutto il cuore, il mio professore di letteratura inglese, Brian Worthington (che è fortunatamente ancora con noi e che incontrerò in Italia questo maggio) per farmi ricordare del saggio di Huxley.









Another Garden Center, But……

The Versilia, that part of the Tyrrhenian coastline in the northwest province of Lucca, that stretches from north of Pisa to the Magra and is named after the Versilia river, is famous not just for its beaches, its pine forests, its marble centres, its architecture which ranges from Romanesque to Art Nouveau but also for its mild climate. Like several English seaside resorts which attempt the same thing (somewhat less successfully) it’s a haven for those in search of a retirement in their own country without the undue rigours of a Tuscan winter.

This mild climate has given rise to several garden centres, some of which we’ve already described in previous posts. Our most recent find was a few days ago was, returning from a pleasant ‘passeggiata’ down Viareggio’s promenade, when we came across L’ortoflora versiliese which is just before one of the outer roundabouts reaching to the Via Aurelia near Torre del Lago.

L’ortoflora versiliese is huge and there’s a signed itinerary in it which takes one round to the plants, flowers, garden accessories, ornaments, seeds, fertilizers and anything else associated with gardening.

Rather than giving one a description of it I’ll just show you some of the pictures we took of it.

Perhaps you might ask what we bought there? It was, in fact a peyote cucumber. Now work that one out!




About Tree Goddesses

Tree-worship is one of the oldest of all divinity cults. Right opposite Borgo’s Penny Market car-park entrance is a beautiful plane-tree addressed to the latest incarnation of the dryads and hamadryades. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is yet another example of how ancient beliefs are constantly being transformed and regenerated in our world, especially in Italy. For there are many other trees which I have come across in my walks which have received objects of devotion and worship to them in the form of ribbons, religious icons and rosaries.

Hamadryades are the ancient classical embodiments of the trees themselves and the dryads are those who protect them to the point of themselves transforming  into trees. The story of Daphne escaping from Apollo’s lust by transmuting herself into an olive tree (so beautifully represented by Bernini’s virtuoso sculpture) is a well-known of a wood nymph or dryad, metamorphosing into a hamadryade,


Different hamadryades protect different trees.

I’ve been able to find out the following hamadryades associated with certain trees:

Karya (walnut or hazelnut)
Balanos (oak)
Kraneia (dogwood)
Morea (mulberry)
Aigeiros (black poplar)
Ptelea (elm)
Ampelos (vines, especially Vitis)
Syke (fig)

The essential word-root is Vir, meaning strength and not just manhood. ‘Vim and vigour’ is a popular phrase in English but it is not often realised that the term ‘Virgo’ meant ‘woman’ and not just ‘virgin’ as it seems to do today. The Virgin Mary embodies, in addition to her virginity and her immaculate conception, (i.e. the dogma that she was born free from original sin) female energy too.

There is barely a country in the world without a tree cult. Just think of dressing our Christmas tree for example! Among several of India’s southern hill tribes there is, for example, the celebration of a first marriage by a girl to a tree for eternity – whereas her marriage to a man only lasts as long as either is alive.


(Marrying a Peepal tree in India)

I worship trees. I don’t go as far as kneeling down before one and praying to it to crave a boon but I feel the great power than emanates from it as my fingers touch the tree’s bark and feel its sap rising from the roots to its outermost branches and leaves.

At this quintessential moment, when spring is invigorating the earth, the first sign is the flowering of such trees as hawthorns, plums and cherries colouring the landscape with their ravishing colours. The shrine to the Virgin opposite the supermarket car park might be deemed perhaps a little cranky if it were found opposite a south London Tesco’s and could be even prone to vandalism there. Not here, however.

For me, too, it is a wonderful sign that we must respect the female principle which is now spreading through the teeming seedful soil and finds its most splendid flowering in the growth of trees, those giants of the earth and our major living species which provides so much to us in terms of food, wood, beauty, bird-life and pure joy. That’s why for me – as it was for past generations – each tree is a temple to God and a pathway to Heaven itself.

A Passion Evening in Castiglione della Garfagnana

Yesterday evening we were witnesses to our Saviour’s Last Supper.

We saw Christ wash the feet of his disciples: We saw Judas Iscariot betray him and then, too late, repent.

04182014 041We saw the crowd choose Jesus instead of Barabbas for the one to be crucified. We saw Our Lord scourged and flayed.

We saw him carry the Cross through the steep cobbled streets of the Via Dolorosa.

We saw Simon of Cyrene help Jesus carry the cross when he couldn’t convey it any more.

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We saw Christ enter the Mount of the skull called Golgotha. We heard the relentless beat of the drums of the Roman centurions pressed into a service they knew nothing about nor cared for.

We saw the narrow alleys lighted with torches to show Jesus the way to the end of his earthly life. We saw all this with our own eyes, we felt every blow with our body, we sensed the tears on our cheeks as indeed on the cheeks of all those present and helpless to do anything about the inexorable words of the Scriptures to be fulfilled.

Throughout Italy, indeed throughout the world, the Passion of Christ is re-enacted in so many different variants. In certain parts of Latin America nails transfix the hands and ankles of those who enact our Saviour’s last earthly moments. In more “sober” parts of the world that greatest of greatest pieces of music ever written – the music which will be certainly heard at the last trumpet,  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passion according to Saint Matthew – is listened to in deep meditation without applause and with an inner stillness – as we used regularly to hear at Saint George’s Hanover Square London before moving to Italy.

Different countries, different cultures but the same God. And so, at the incredibly beautiful walled and fortified town of Castiglione di Garfagnana, a veritable likeness of an ancient Jerusalem if there ever was one, every year on Holy Thursday the procession of the Crocioni takes place. We first witnessed this overpowering ceremony over ten years ago when we were in the area for the first time and were very moved by what we experienced. In 2014, after a long absence, we returned to witness this poignant Passion. Again, last night we returned and were equally stirred.

Castiglione’s church is, from the exterior, a wonderful example of an ancient Luccan Romanesque style –

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but its interior reveals a joyous baroque glory, rather like the bright filling of a dark chocolate cake.

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To one side of the church square is the chapel of the confraternity of the Holy Sacrament,  rich with the most wonderful examples of church furnishings and paraphernalia used for centuries upon centuries – truly the faith of Castiglione’s forefathers who, while often so poor themselves, spared nothing to create a little heaven of their own for the Creator to accept.

Inside the church was packed. The priest celebrated Mass and by his sides were the twelve apostles seated at tables with wine tumblers, plates and unleavened bread. The parish priest had now assumed the role of Christ himself – the liturgical responses of the Mass “Take and eat – this is my body….  Drink, this cup is the new covenant established by my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” A reawakened realism had assumed a fresh life distinct from the repetition which sometimes dulls these immortal words of the Eucharist.

The parish priest then enacted the part narrated in the Bible when Christ washes the feet of his disciples as described thus in St John’s Gospel:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him,and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Then from an ancient mediaeval cupboard in the sacristy in which he had been hidden and bound, stepped forth the one who would represent the Christ on his last journey in Jerusalem. Covered with a hood so as not to be recognised by anyone, and so as not to take any pride and glory to himself for enacting, this terrible part, Castiglione’s cross-bearer, chained, with a crown of thorns on his head knelt before the high priest – the parish priest had now become Caiaphas – and then the mob, the relentless mob and the Roman army thrust the cross (weighing 100 kilos I am informed) onto the man – “Ecce Homo” – kissed by Judas.

And so the procession weaved its away out of the church and up and down the often incredibly steep streets of this fabled town transformed into that Jerusalem of two thousand plus years ago and lit only by torchlight and the myriad stars which came out in a night sky that seemed absolutely cosmic. A chorus of girls and women intoned Passionist hymns, the Roman centurions drummed their obsessive loud funereal beats, and the sound, the awful sound of the chains of Christ dragging on the stones, and all this witnessed by the population which was largely local – no coachloads of tourists for this event which is an intense act of Christian devotion peculiar to this part of Garfagnana and which dates back centuries.

And so equally the centuries were wiped away and, more than any Mel Gibson or Zeffirelli film we were transported there, to the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that no other means could have ever taken us.

And as I write this on Good Friday, listening to Bach’s own Passion, so many more things mean so much more to me that no more words can possibly come out to describe what I feel.

And, again, we shall never know who enacted the part of Christ that evening at Castiglione di Garfagnana. Like Saint Peter who felt he was not worthy enough to be crucified the same way as Jesus but decided to be nailed upside down to the Cross, so that local inhabitant of Castiglione, like all those who preceeded him in this timeless ceremony through the ages, would remain anonimous lest pride should exalt his humiliation of acting the part of Jesus.


(Several Photographs by Courtesy of Alexandra Pettitt)

And we could not tear away the thought that at that moment there were hundreds of innocent victims in Belgium who were suffering the pains of their own crucifixion at the hands of mindless, indifferent humans (if such they could be termed) just as it happened over two thousand years ago and just as it was enacted before our very eyes in a remote fortified town in the heartland of the mountains of the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany.




Our Area’s Longest Mural?

At first it was just a plain hoarding put around Borgo a Mozzano’s Istituto Comprensivo (an education centre which can comprise, primary, secondary schools, technical colleges and, in Borgo’s case, a fine music school, the ‘M. Salotti’) to fence off a works area. The school needed important structural work done to it to bring it up to scratch with the latest seismic and anti-earthquake regulations. Borgo a Mozzano is in seismic area no 2 which means that quite strong earthquakes could occur (as they have: see my post at

Then the istituto’s pupils started painting the hoardings which stretch quite some way around the building yard.

Finally, yesterday the painting work was completed and the boring hoarding had metamorphosed into a very colourful and lively mural – perhaps the longest we’ve seen yet in our area.

Of course, there was a master-mind behind scheme. Ilenia Rosati, born in Pisa in 1983 and an ex-student of Florence’s prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence, specializes in art community projects and laboratories involving children and young people. She is an artist in the best possible manner, spreading the concept that art does not need to be restricted to exclusive studios but can happily spread out into the streetscapes (and building sites!) of our towns and cities.

Although Ilenia is very much her own style I spotted a little of that great artist Jacovitti in her lively linear approach.

I loved the finished result and it truly brought a smile into my face. I’m sure that it will do the same to anyone who bothers to look and walk around the mural which is right opposite the entrance to Borgo a Mozzano’s Penny market.

Well done Borgo for turning a mundane temporary building site into something that can truly colour and enhance our lives!


PS If you have a boring hoarding round your building site or just want to make a wall more interesting do contact Ilenia on her facebook page at




(Don’t) Put That Light Out!

‘Silenzi di Guerra’ – silences of war – a moving monologue by Renato Raimo and acted by the writer and actor Raimo closed Bagni di Lucca’s theatre season last Friday, the 18th of March.

A hundred years ago this year the Battle of the Somme began and Italy had already been at war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a year. ‘Silenzi di Guerra’ did not overplay the heroic rhetoric so often associated with war but emphasised the long silences that accompanied the waiting-game before ‘going over the top.’

It was something that several veterans told me. War isn’t a Germanic Blitzkrieg with perpetual fighting, It’s, in fact, a time of long anxious silences – waiting for news from home, waiting for orders, waiting for the next water and food ration, waiting for medical supplies, waiting for death. And waiting doesn’t promote much talk. It’s a time of silence to think about one’s family, children, friends, loved ones.

The play started with the call-up papers and the encouragement by the recruiting sergeant that the young soldier-to-be would ‘make friends’ on the front. I thought of that inexorably powerful line ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’ from Wilfred Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’. ‘You are going to do an honourable thing fighting for your country’, continued the generals. But the novice couldn’t quite reconcile this with the fact that his main job was to kill other humans. Then he remembered the last words from his mum: ‘be a good boy. Behave yourself well’ …. yet another ironic slant on the soldier’s main job of either to kill or to become cannon fodder.

At several points in the play a lone accordionist Marco Lo Russo walked slowly on stage to play his poignant music leading to further reflections on the audience’s part – an audience which was pitifully small as if to suggest that too many of us had heard enough of the whole bloody business.

Incidentally, Renato Raimo, who was born in Puglia 1963, is a well-known and highly respected actor on television crime and ‘fiction’ – Italian for mini-series – like Don Matteo, Un Posto Al Sole d’Estate etc. so there was really little reason for the poor attendance.

War is a waiting game. During the Great War it was waiting for orders to leave the trenches and go over the top into the barbed wire and grenades and wonder how many more minutes one might still be able to live. During the Second World War it was a wait for sealed orders for a major tank and artillery campaign. At home it was a wait to see whether the drone of the enemy air fleet announcing the next bombing raid would hit one’s home.

As so appallingly demonstrated yesterday in Brussels (a beautiful but under-rated city where I spent memorable days as a teenager) today is yet another wait to fathom out where the next terrorist attack might take place. Some Italians believe we are now entering inexorably into a Third World War. Unprepared for the consequences of the first, and certainly for the second (gas masks were still being issued for that) we appear to be unprepared for the third where the enemy is acting ever more presently within our own society.

In a minor way I, too, have experienced the waiting game and the uncanny silence of war. I was an overseas student at Delhi University during the Indo-Pakistan war when East Pakistan broke free and became Bangla Desh. I happened to be in Orissa at the time and managed to find my way through a crepuscular subcontinent to my room in Delhi. I was immediately told to black out my window and shown where the nearest air-raid shelter was. Every night was the personification of silence and darkness. Delhi was completely in the dark and I even imagined I’d come across local equivalent of Chief ARP warden Warren Hodges (remember Dad’s Army?) shouting ‘put that light out!’ Fortunately, Delhi wasn’t bombed although Agra and Amritsar were.

Whatever will happen one thing is certain. Death is the only conqueror in any war and as much as we shall say ‘let’s lead our lives like we’ve always led them, with friendships, love, work and joys’, there will now be, regrettably, throughout the civilized world, a feeling that we’ll have to make many new excuses because ‘there’s a war on’, as Captain Mainwaring would inevitably say when people were frustratedly kept waiting in silence.


I am sure we will all have our moments of silence today to remember the victims of yesterday’s atrocity which will not dim the light of our great European way of life to any degree.

Great Music Events in April for Lucca Province


The spring program of ‘Boccherini Open 2016’, with Lucca’s ‘Boccherini’ music institute, will include many events. As usual, concerts will be accompanied by seminars and masterclasses with famous teachers. These are open to musicians of all backgrounds.

From Tuesday 12th to Thursday April 14th musicians from the Institute and dancers from Rotterdam’s Codarts University of Arts will take part in ‘Lucca Dance meeting’ with music and ballet events all around the city. For more information:


On Friday, April 15th at 9 pm as part of the National Volunteers Festival and as a preview of ‘Lucca Classical Music Festival 2016’, there’s a concert by students who have won ISSM’s ’Boccherini’ and AML’S scholarships in memory of Carol MacAndrew, the first president of the Association.
The concert will be held at the ISSM Boccherini auditorium and is free entry.


On Saturday, April 16th there’s ‘OPEN PIANO’. It’s four days dedicated to the piano. The first concert will be held at ISSM’s “Boccherini” auditorium at 9 pm with Michelle Candotti who will play Haydn, Chopin, Debussy, Granados and Liszt.
The concert is free entry.


As part of ‘OPEN PIANO’, on Sunday, April 17th at 9 pm at ISSM’s “Boccherini” auditorium there’s a recital by Alberto Nosè who plays Chopin, Respighi, Ravel and Scriabin. During the following two days Nosè will hold a piano master class at the Conservatory.
The concert is free entry.


As part of ‘OPEN PIANO’, on Monday, April 18th at 9 pm at ISSM’s “L. Boccherini” auditorium, there’s a concert by Pietro Castellari who plays Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin.
The concert is free entry. For more information:


On Tuesday, April 19th at 9 pm, at ISSM’s “Boccherini” auditorium there’s a piano gala closing “OPEN PIANO” with all participants of the piano master classes during the previous days.
The concert is free entry. For more information


On Wednesday 20th the Boccherini Double Bass Festival opens. After two days of master classes with double-bass players Diego Zecharies, Simón Garcia, Gabriel Ragghianti, the three will perform on Thursday, April 21 at 9 pm at ISSM’s “L. Boccherini” auditorium in a concert dedicated to contemporary composers with music by Rigacci, Hauta-aho, García, and Anderson.
The concert is free entry. For more information


After two days of master classes with double bass players Diego Zecharies, Simón Garcia, Gabriel Ragghianti, there’s a first concert by the three teachers, with a second evening at the “L. Boccherini” auditorium on Friday, April 22nd at 9 pm with students from the Institute’s double bass class.
The concert is free entry. For more information


The Boccherini ‘Open 2016’ April calendar will close with a great vocal and instrumental event. On Friday 29th at 9 pm in the church of San Francesco in Lucca, Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor for choir and orchestra, conducted by GianPaolo Mazzoli with the orchestras of the four Tuscan conservatoires – “Luigi Boccherini” Music Institute Lucca, “Luigi Cherubini” Conservatoire of Florence, Livorno’s “Pietro Mascagni” ISSM and Siena’s “Rinaldo Franci” ISSM together with the choirs of the Lucca and Siena Institutes (choirmasters: Sara Matteucci and Antonio Morelli) and the collaboration of the Corale Pisana. The concert is free entry. For more information



The Rainbow Choir Musical Association presents their 20th year of “Scuolidarietà”, an event created and organized by the Musical Rainbow Choir with the aim of raising funds to schools for teaching materials and meeting the schools’ economic needs. This year there’s a musical, “The Little Prince”, written by Francesco Rinaldi and Cristina Torselli. The show will be held with two performances at Lucca’s indoor stadium on Tuesday, April 26th, at 10 am and at 2.15 pm (the first is for schools, the other is open to the public). Tickets are 5 Euros each. Info:



From Monday 11th to Thursday, July 14th, 2016, Borgo a Mozzano’s Civic Music School will host the 10th year of its Chamber Music with guitar course held by Maestro Domenico Lafasciano. The event is organized by the Municipality of Borgo a Mozzano in collaboration with the Civic Schools of Music of Borgo a Mozzano, Barga and Castelnuovo Garfagnana and the artistic director is Prof. Antonio Rondina. On Thursday, July 14th at 9 pm there’s the final concert of the course, with the presentation of certificates of attendance to pupils. The concert, at the usual setting of the “Teatro Della Verzura”, will take place in Borgo a Mozzano and is one of the musical events promoted by the City of Borgo a Mozzano in collaboration with the Civic Music School. For more information: – Tel. 328 6743603


The music groups that were formed during the 2015/2016 teaching year at the “M. Salotti ” Music School at Borgo a Mozzano will perform in the historic center of Borgo a Mozzano during the afternoon of Sunday, April 17th as part of the town’s famous Azalea festival.

The young students studying drums (under Professor Federico Cardelli), singing (teachers Serena Salotti and Serena Suffredini), guitar (teachers Nicola Rossi and Zeno Marchi) and keyboards (teachers Graziella Corsaro and Riccardo Pieri) are preparing a performance for a wider audience than the usual end-of-year concert. The musicians will play pieces by internationally renowned musicians such as Bob Marley, Oasis, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan. The modern ensemble music groups are trained by Federico Cardelli, who also arranges the pieces.