Two Unmissable Events Tonight

There are two major events tonight in and around Bagni di Lucca and, as usual, they are on at the same time (9.15 pm) so you’ll have to decide which one to go to.

The first is  the ‘Volo della Farfalla’ (the flight of the butterfly), an annual event remembering the tragic death a young and highly promising actor, Stefano Girolami, from Bagni di Lucca who died, aged only 28, on September 24, 2010, after falling a victim to Ewing’s sarcoma. Here is the event’s flyer:

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Ewing’s sarcoma is a malignant  tumour: a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue such as the  pelvis, the femur, the humerus, the ribs and collar bone. This terrible condition particularly attacks young people, mostly males.

The “Volo Della Farfalla” raises funds for the Rizzoli Institute in Bologna, which is responsible for the research and treatment of bone tumours.

The other event is at nearby lower Ghivizzano and is again given for a charitable cause – the central Italian earthquake which has killed three hundred people and devastated so many communities.

The four choirs, which include our own, are all well-worth hearing especially as two are conducted by the brilliant young Andrea Salvoni, and Don Fiorenzo Toti’s Gallicano choir is well-known for its mastery in polyphony. This is the flyer:

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So do decide on which charitable event you’ll be thinking of attending if you are in the area or, at the very least please tell your friends and acquaintances about them.

 

 

Virgins in my Field

Our orto (allotment) may not have flourished too well this year because of the very wet start to June and then the weeks without any significant rain that followed (and are still with us…).

The cabbages seem a slightly sorry lot and the tomatoes would barely satisfy a handful of salads.

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However, the up-side is that our olive trees which range from three years to ten years of age are producing more fruit this year than ever before. The start of the olive harvest could be any time between the middle of October to November before the frosts start. It’s a sort of intuitive thing. What I like to do is to see when the other local olive growers pick theirs. After all they’ve had generations of experience.

Here are some of ours:

It’s not just the height of the olive grove – we’re at an altitude of 1745 feet which is exactly the height of Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire that tells one when to pick the fruit.

Normally, the olive fruit starts to accumulate virgin oil once its seed has reached the highest grade of hardness which normally happens here around mid-October. The olive skin colour turns from green to a red-violet colour and even goes to brown. The fruit can also be tested by seeing how hard it is. As it matures the olive softens to the touch. But beware of not letting it get too soft otherwise oxidisation can take place diminishing the quality of the olive. If the fruit is left too long on the tree then negative effects can occur – after all the olive is the flower of the tree and it can burst into bloom if left too late.

As with wine there are good years and not so good years for the olive. 2014 was a particularly bad year for this wonderful plant with 40% lost due to a parasite otherwise known as the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae). In 2012 I remember a terrible frost which had disastrous effects on olive groves in our area. The worst, however, which I can still recollect was that of 1985 which killed off nine out of every ten Tuscan olive trees.

I love my olive plants more than I can think of many humans. They are faithful; they are lovely with their silvery sheen now with their fruit ripening in the autumnal sunshine. They are as ravishing as the most beautiful women, and time spent in their company can never be wasted.

I am reminded of that wonderful poem on the olive tree by Federico Garcia Lorca:

Tree, tree
dry and green.

The girl with the pretty face
is out picking olives.
The wind, playboy of towers,
grabs her around the waist.

….

The girl with the pretty face
keeps on picking olives
with the grey arm of the wind
wrapped around her waist.
Tree, tree
dry and green.

 

I wonder when the day will come to pick them?

To say nothing yet of the other wonderful corners of our orto:

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Ancient Organs

It’s often not realised that the Lucchesia has over three hundred organs which testify to the immense musicality of this area of Italy. In addition, a very large number of these organs are precious historical instruments dating as far back as the sixteenth century. In the UK it’s very much a different matter until the nineteenth century. Many of that country’s historical organs were destroyed by the taliban equivalents of the time: the reformation and the puritans. It’s, thus, a major experience to hear some of the wonderful kings of instruments which still grace so many of the churches in the Lucchesia and which are increasingly being revalued and restored.

In our own Bagni di Lucca, for example, restoration of the organ at our parish church at Corsena is planned to commence soon. This organ, which has remained silent since 1987, was built by Paolino Bertulucci in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is the same organ on which Giacomo Puccini played the accompaniment to his youthful ‘Vexilla Regis’ commissioned by our mayor Betti’s great grandfather, Adelson Betti for Holy Week in 1878 when the composer was barely twenty years old and very much in need of some cash..

Also of interest is the fact that our parish church’s organ was originally built for the church of San Michele in Foro in Lucca. It was remounted in Corsena when San Michele received a new organ built by Odoardo Landucci in 1864.

LUCA SCANDALI OPENS THE SEASON OF ORGAN CONCERTS

Now in its twenty-second season, the ‘Domenico Lorenzo’ Association this year presents four recitals performed on historical organs in the Lucchesia with the support of the Cassa di Risparmio di San Miniato S.p.A. and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca.

The first recital is on Sunday, October 2, at 9.15 pm, at the Church of S. Micheletto, where organist Luca Scandali performs works by sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Italian composers on the Bartolomeo Ravani organ dating from 1660, accompanied by Mauro Occhionero on traditional Renaissance percussion. On this occasion the “Balli, battles and songs” CD (Brilliant, 2016), recently recorded by the two artists on the Zeffirini organ (1551) in St. Stefano church, will be presented.

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 All concerts are free entry.
For information: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128; Fax 0583 370460
Website: assvol.comune.lucca.it/dilorenzo

GABRIELE GIACOMELLI PLAYS ON THE FARNETA ORGAN

In the second concert, on Sunday, October 9 at 6 pm, Gabriele Giacomelli will perform music by Italian composers of the seventeenth and nineteenth century on the Odoardo Landucci and sons organ (1867-9), recently restored by Glauco Ghilardi, in San Lorenzo church, Farneta.

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 THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN’ WITH ACCOMPANYING IMPROVISATION ON ORGAN

As per tradition, the season includes an evening dedicated to the screening of a silent film accompanied by an organ improvisation. The film is Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925), and the event will take place on Wednesday, October 12 at 9.15 pm in the splendid setting of the church of St. Francesco, with Edoardo Bellotti (see photo) on the organ and with a historical and critical presentation by Pier Dario Marzi on behalf of “Ezekiel 25:17” Cineforum which organizes the event.

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CHORUS AND ORGAN IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF S. STEFANO

The season ends on Wednesday, October 19 at 9.15 pm in the church of St. Stefano, with the ‘Gesualdo Consort of Gesualdo’ chorus accompanied by organist Daniele Boccaccio (see photo), who will perform music by Pietro Vinci (Sonetti spirituali, in the version for choir and organ) and other authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the precious Zeffirini Onofrio organ which dates from 1551.

 

Vernal Woods

There are no better walking months in our part of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines than May and September-October. The mornings become ever fresher and by the time the sun warms up at mid-day one is well within the beautiful beech forests that shade from excessive heat.

I was invited to a walk yesterday which normally should have taken four hours but which somehow lengthened itself partly because, I admit, I was not in the best state of fitness, but also because there was so much to admire and see on our excursion.

The Apennines are probably some of the best walking country anywhere in Europe and my delight at being able to join a friend to tread the footpaths in an area which was quite unknown to me was unexcelled.

The first part of the walk took us from a point a little above Coreglia Antelminelli at a height which was already above 900 metres (2952 feet). We proceeded through unmetalled forestry roads traversing the most wonderful beech forests whose trunks shone silvery in the slanting sun beams.

At one point we met up with a forestry worker who was thinning the beech forest. Beech is all very fine but too many trees will completely cut out sunlight from the forest and impeded the growth of indigenous flowers and grasses. The worker informed us that beech forests were planted mainly after the war and that few trees were over fifty years old. Previously this had been pasture land but poverty, the seduction of emigration and the lure of the paper mills had caused a massive depopulation of the area after the last war and, consequently, the abandonment of pastureland and fields used to grow cereal crops. There was also the problem of drainage. Blocked channels and torrent would eventually lead to landslips – the bane of so much of Italy.

Beeches are fine if kept thinned but there are two trees which have proved to be rather more dangerous for the area. The first is the fir tree whose shallow roots cause devastation in the case of high winds. My friend pointed out to me a whole area which had once been populated by Douglas fir but which has been flattened by the hurricane of last February. The Acacia is an aggressive tree, again relatively recently introduced but which is the area’s equivalent of the rhododendron in Wales. Another problem is of course finance. So much more money should be spent on maintenance of Italy’s forests for Italy is, indeed one of the most wooded countries in Europe. A third of Italy is forest – almost three times as much as the UK!

Our route took us to a little plateau called Il Pretino standing at 1215 metres (almost 4000 feet) whence considerable views could be had both of the Tuscan side of the Apennines and the Emilian side.

Normally humans are rarely seen in this area but it’s now the mushroom season and, sure enough, we met several people in search of the prized porcini (cep) mushrooms which should normally abound in this area. I’m not sure whether those who say that it’s a bad season so far for mushrooms this year say this just to discourage others from coming and picking these valued natural commodities of the Italian Apennines!

We carried on towards another pass – the foce di Fobi – following footpath no 38 (why footpaths aren’t similarly numbered in the UK is beyond my ken). Here more splendid views unfolded before us and there was even a table where we had a picnic of dates.

We then traced our way back to the starting point through a wide un-numbered and unmetalled forest road wending its way more wonderful beech forests now scattered with that one-time sustainer of human life here – the chestnut.

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Through various vantage points in our ramble I was able to see well-known mountains to me at quite different angles: the Prato Fiorito, for example, which rises behind us in Longoio:

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The Apuans on the other side of the Serchio valley were slightly hazy but they still presented a wonderfully jagged silhouette in contrast to the gentler contours of the Apennines.

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I was particularly fascinated by the almost dry torrents which had, as pointed out by my friend, an almost Japanese flavour.

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Man can make very beautiful botanical gardens but the ultimate gardener has to be Nature: As Wordsworth so aptly wrote:

One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can.

 

 

 

 

Vespers for the Archangel Michael

The Concerto per San Michele at Lucca’s church of San Michele in Foro mentioned in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/music-for-saint-michael/ was as superb as it gets and the choir and orchestra performed divinely. Despite the somewhat cavernous acoustics of this church the concert came through with clarity and precision in all departments.

I’ll leave the main musical description of the concert to my colleague Paula Chesterman in her blog at http://www.tuscantalent.com/. I’ll just say that I imagined Luigi Boccherini to be the composer of a large number of chamber music works and a few outstanding symphonies. I’d never thought of him as a vocal, let alone a sacred music composer. Yet there are a handful of religious works that are worthy of resuscitation from dust –filled monastic shelves…

In addition to the four-part Domine ad adiuvandum G534 and Dixit Dominus G533 for four voices and orchestra with words taken from two psalms from the vespers for the ‘Volto Santo’ and performed at the concert Boccherini also wrote the following religious works:

G 528: Missa solemnis Op. 59 (lost)

G 529: Kyrie in Bb major

G 530: Gloria in F major

G 531: Credo in C major

G 532a: Stabat Mater in Ab major

G 532b: Stabat Mater Op. 61 in F major

G 535: Christmas Cantata Op. 63 (lost)

G 536: Cantata for the feast of Saint Louis (fragment)

G 537: ‘Gioas, re di Giuda’ oratorio

G 538: ‘Giuseppe riconosciuto’ oratorio

G 539: Villancicos al nacimiento de nuestro Senor Jesu Christo

I’m sure that trawling through Youtube would pick up some performances of these religious works (e.g. this wonderful ‘Stabat Mater’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXK-W5BlTCg ) and, who knows, perhaps one day the Missa Solemnis might turn up in some remote abandoned Spanish seminary.

As much as Boccherini’s sacred music was an absolute discovery for me, when the first opening strains of Mozart’s Vespers were heard among San Michele’s vaults I realised that I was altogether on a different level of inspiration. I first heard this divine work when I bought a (vinyl) Nonesuch recording with that wonderful singer Theresa Stich-Randall singing the ‘Laudate Dominum,’ which has to be one of Mozart’s most heavenly pieces of vocal music ever.

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The performance I attended was beautifully sung and paced and the entry of the choir towards its conclusion, stealthily magical. If ever I had to choose a piece of music for my final order of service this would be the one.

(Complete recording of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore San Michele)

What is a little sad is that Lucca’s greatest composers all found their recognition outside Lucca. Puccini found fame and fortune in Turin’s Teatro Regio for his first successful opera Manon Lescaut. He lies buried, of course, in his favourite little villa by Lago Massaciuccoli. Geminiani made it big in London and Ireland where he lies buried in the former church of Saint Andrews, now the central tourist office. Boccherini went to Spain where he regrettably died in straightened circumstances when his Spanish patrons expired. It was Benito Mussolini who brought back Boccherini’s mortal remains where they now lie to this day in Lucca’s recently beautifully restored San Francesco church. Catalani had to go to Milan to find his daily bread (and that with difficulty). His TB riddled-bones were brought back and now lie in Lucca’s main cemetery which one passes on the ring road.

So of the ‘great four’ only Geminiani lies outside his native city. Any chances of bringing his remains back to rest in Lucca?

Beating Brexit with Food

That six-letter word starting with B, ending in T and with an X in the middle has clearly made inroads into many expats’ disposable income in various parts of the European Community.

In Bagni di Lucca there has been very roughly a 15 to 25 per cent reduction in the spending income of most people due largely to exchange rates between Sterling and Euro. (I’m not going to add the shocking increases in Rubbish tax – actually most taxes in my opinion are rubbish – and the water bill.)

Rather than moaning about it all there are, in my opinion positive actions to take to reduce the pain in one’s purse. I’ll concentrate just on food this time.

  1. Shopping for food. It’s of course possible to grow much of one’s own and, frankly, scrumping among abandoned fruit trees is as acceptable as blackberry-picking. It’s also worth using discount stores with own-brand names.
  1. The other day I was amazed at noting that the price difference between famous brand names in non-discounts and own-brand in discounts was as much as 40% in favour of discounts. Italy appears to have the greatest price differential of any products in relation to many other European countries. One might think that the difference in quality between expensive cat food in a non-discount store and an own-brand name cat food in a discount might be noticeable. Laboratory tests have, in fact shown, that usually own-brand names are of an equal quality. I am at this moment testing how effective lab tests are on my three cats and so far have noted that for them texture of food is often more important that brand name. Napoleon goes in for paté-based cat food and Carlotta and Cheekie rave for gelatinous sachets.
  1. It’s Italian law, in keeping with avoiding food waste, that when you buy a meal in a restaurant and can’t finish it you can ask what in the UK is known as a ‘doggy bag’ but what in Italy is known more accurately as a ‘family bag.’ (After all how much of that delicious arrosto really gets to the dog?). The problem is that many Italian families think that it’s shameful to ask for a family bag. Nothing of the sort! You’ve paid for all your food whether you’ve eaten it or not. Families with American origins are much more forthright in asking for left-over food to be packaged for them. If any restaurant refuses to give you a doggy bag then avoid them for they are truly breaking Italian law, no matter how ‘high-class’ they are.
  1. Income spent on food. It’s been worked out that an Italian  family with two children spends around euros 8,000 on food, that couples spend 6,000 and that singles spend 4,000. It’s also been calculated that with wise shopping i.e. discount stores, own, brand, loyalty cards and special discounts these figures could be reduced by at least 30 to 40 %!

If there’s a will there’s a way. Beat the bloody Brexit effect on your income by trying these shopping tips if you don’t already do so.

I could go on about clothes but women are much dabber hands about this than men. I just head for Primark when I’m in the UK (although there are real moral qualms about the far-eastern sweat shops where so many of their products are made).

There’s another test to be done on food – at least cat food in my case. Here are some examples of my cats enjoying a four-mile walk on discount own-brand cat food. Would they fare any better with expensive ‘superior’ brand cat food from non-discounts I wonder?  I’ll let you know the results of that test in due course.

 

 

Il Paese Dei Balocchi!

Toy town was back again in Bagni di Lucca Villa yesterday – a lovely day with warm sunshine, a good presence of children of all ages from 6 months to over 60’s, and plenty of entertainment.

The stalls were many and great and some of the stall holders selling their own hand-made goodies looked even greater.

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A witch declared that I was a fast trout – taking the cue from Hogwarts’s academy, of course – after I passed a special exam in level 1 sorcery.

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If you got fed up with the street scene then there was a helicopter to whisk you up to the dizzy heights above the town.

‘Il paese dei Balocchi’ is a celebration which can only grow in Bagni di Lucca. Cynics will declare it’s all a matter of ‘bread and circuses’  to sedate the often unhappy state in which too many people now find themselves in Italy but I think they’re just spoil sports.

For me the highlight was the ‘Girlesque’ marching band of highly talented girls with great musical skills and racy choreography. It was girl power at its best.

If you missed yesterday’s fun and games there’s still today!

 

Truly, as Wordsworth said ‘the child is father to the man’.