Apricity Combines with Chinoiserie in Villa Ada

If ‘April is the cruellest month’ (as the opening line of one of the last century’s greatest poems says) then surely November is the saddest. It is the start of advent but Christmas seems still so far away (although it will catch up with us before we know it!). The days become ever shorter preparing us for that most mournful of days: St Lucy eve. As John Donne describes it:

 The sun is spent, and now his flasks

         Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;

Yet I should not complain. We have had a sequence of totally wonderful winter days with true blue skies at Bagni di Lucca. But if you just step into a shadow then it’s soooooo cold!

There are blog posts and facebook entries that inspire and two of them joined together to make my day.

The first was that of UK tour guide and writer par excellence Stephen Liddell with his post linked at:

https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2016/11/30/apricity-the-warmth-of-winter-sun/

Yes, Stephen’s introduced me to a word I knew not but could easily apply to describe the sensation of feeling the light squibs of the winter sun upon me. It’s ‘apricity’ and what a wonderful word it is and sounds.

The second was a facebook entry and photo by Rita Gualtieri, a local friend, who showed me a Gingko Biloba in Lucca’s botanical gardens in the fullness of its autumn colouring:

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She then posted a picture of a Gingko Biloba in Villa Ada gardens, Bagni di Lucca. It did look so sorry for itself in the abandoned grounds of what used to be the English Florentine consul’s summer residence.

The whole area seemed so neglected: like a gorgeous nymph left alone in a forest where no-one could find her and gaze upon her infinite beauty.

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The ginkgo biloba is a living fossil of a tree and dates back 250 million years to the Permian era. After the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the only living things found to survive were six Ginkgo trees!

The only other Gingko tree I can remember seeing in this part of the world is in the botanical gardens of Lucca but there’s also one in another tristfully neglected spot – the garden of the Duke of Lucca’s summer villa just above the terme. (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/atishoo-atishoo-we-all-fall-down/ ).  The seeds of the fruit are esteemed in Chinese cuisine – that is, if you can bear to collect them since their smell has been described as half way between very rancid butter and vomit.

Today, walking through the gardens that once had held happier memories but now were falling apart as we all must do in our short lives, I experienced a transcendentally beautiful afternoon with a cloudless sky and a sun promising humanity that it would never let us down even in the coldest of winters.

I even met some friends who showed me precisely the Gingko Biloba so badly battered in last year’s February storms. The tree had been shed of all its fantail leaves by the strong winds of recent days. Scattered among the already dark brown and withered leaves of the other trees they shone a bright gold like nature’s own coinage among the dimming ground.

I was truly experiencing apricity and quite overjoyed about it.

With the bamboos, China’s very special Gingko tree,  and the steps that seemed to lead to a temple I felt I was back in the east. I half expected a Panda to appear in the trance-like state I had entered.

Thankyou Stephen and Rita. Even through the ether, you helped me open my heart to the beauty of this earth at a time when all nature seems to close up on us.

Potala Palace

Everyone’s got their own list of ten buildings they want to see in their lifetime. My own particular ten (which do change from time to time!) are the following

  1. The Pyramids (and the Sphinx)
  2. Petra, Jordan
  3. Angkor Wat
  4. Potala
  5. Avebury (not Stonehenge which you can’t even get close to)
  6. Chartres Cathedral
  7. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
  8. Taj Mahal
  9. Musikverein, Vienna
  10. Cracow main square.

Note that I haven’t mentioned anything in Italy. Since that country contains seventy percent of the world’s heritage sites I think it would be a little unfair to include anything from it!

I’m glad to remark that I can now die happily since all ten on my list have now been seen, the most recent being the Potala palace of Lhasa which I visited earlier this month as part of our journey to Tibet.

We waited for our second day before visiting this wondrous palace since it does include a lot of steps to reach the top and it does require a couple of days to get used to strolling about at twelve thousand feet above sea level on just two thirds of the oxygen supply you’re normally used to breathing back home. We didn’t suffer any undue effects since I’d been suggested a Chinese medicine which worked wonders (or was it the placebo effect?).

Despite the fact that the Potala has been somewhat isolated from the rest of Lhasa, with the demolition of an old village in front of it and the construction of a grand ceremonial square, this magnificent palace still dominates the city like no other building possibly could. Its massive, but strangely gracious shape, looms ever in the background like a beautiful white and red dragon, supinely resting on the hill after which it is named.

Seeing the Potala for the first time is surely one of the noblest sights that can be seen in one’s lifetime.

The visit arrangement was complicated: permissions, passports, daily visitor quota numbers, timed tickets and just one hour to see the palace (although I’m sure we spent rather more than that) were happily arranged for us beforehand. Otherwise, it can be like wanting to see Leonardo’s ‘last supper’ in Milan without booking weeks ahead.

Be prepared for a lot of sometimes steep and irregular steps. Any effort, however, was whisked away from me by the sheer beauty and grandeur of what I was approaching – the sheer otherworldly nature and exoticism of this former seat of religious and temporal power in the mountain kingdom.

People say that the Potala is now just a lifeless museum because its rightful inhabitant, the Dalai Lama, has been in exile for almost sixty years. That’s true and not true, for the Tibetans treat the palace like a shrine and leave their offerings in terms of yak butter candles and little banknotes everywhere and there is a religious quietness about the whole environment.

We were so lucky not only with the weather – the white-washed walls (which were being repainted by a bevy of women at the time) stood out brilliantly against a true blue sky of cerulean intensity – but with the fact that we weren’t besieged by too many other tourists, mostly Chinese. We never felt ‘overcrowded’.

No photographs are allowed in the interior although one can take as many as one likes from the outside. There is, however, a very good illustrated album one can purchase to show the amazing treasures of the thousand odd rooms which the palace encloses. You could also see the film ‘Kundun’ I’d mentioned in a previous post since much of it was shot inside the palace.

Here are a few facts about the UNESCO world heritage Potala. Its two colours divide its main areas: the white part is where the living quarters of the Dalai Lama were housed; the red part is dedicated to religious shrines and chapels, The hill on which the palace is built is called Mount Potalaka and is the abode of Avalokitesvara, a Bodhisattva (i.e. a person who attains Moksha or liberation not for his own sake but for that of all humankind, putting his fellow beings’ liberation above his own).

The present building dates from 1646 although it is, of course built on a much earlier and smaller palace. Its dimensions are around one thousand three hundred feet long and one thousand one hundred feet wide. Its sloping walls are over ten feet thick. And its thirteen floors rise to a height of almost four hundred feet. Its top is one thousand feet above Lhasa street level.

I was very, very moved by my visit to the Potala with its sudden transitions of darkness and light, its unexpected confrontation with both compassionate and war-like divinities, its thangkas, its still existing living quarters of the fourteenth Dalai lama, its amazing views from the upper windows, its variety of steps, ladders: the surprising changes of level left me with an impression that I had entered into a fantasy-world-dream. For all it mattered I could have stood on a different planet in a parallel solar system.

I would rank my visit to the Potala as one of the greatest visits to any building anywhere in the world and I am so glad that my ten great buildings to see have now been concluded. I’m sure, of course that readers will say ‘but you must add this…and this… to the list.’ Ok then, Madurai Meenakshmi temple here I come (again)…

Let these photographs tell some of the rest of that unforgettable second morning in Lhasa’s Potala palace:

Local Concerts You Can’t Afford to Miss

INCONTRI MUSICALI – I LUOGHI DEL BELLO E DELLA CULTURA

The ‘Incontri Musicali – i luoghi del bello e della cultura’ season is on this November. It’s  organized by the “Marco Salotti” School of Music at Borgo a Mozzano, with the patronage of the Municipality of Borgo a Mozzano and the collaboration of Teatro Colombo of Valdottavo, the Barga and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana Civic Schools of Music, the Borgo a Mozzano Misericordia and the Cluster Association from Lucca. Artistic direction is by Giacomo Brunini.

The event, now in its seventh year, will take place in Valdottavo’s beautiful “Colombo” Teatro Comunale, in other beautiful halls of the Municipality of Borgo a Mozzano such as the Palazzo Santini Municipal Library and the convent of San Francesco so as to allow the public to rediscover gorgeous locations in the municipality. The six concerts in the program will range from early music to jazz to contemporary music.

The two remaining concerts are:

 

GUITAR RECITAL BY NUCCIO D’ANGELO

On Sunday, December 4 at 5 pm in the convent of San Francesco in Borgo a Mozzano there’s a recital by guitarist Nuccio D’Angelo. The program includes music by John Dowland and J.S Bach.

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All concerts are free admission with offering.
E-mail: borgoamozzanomusica@gmail.com
Cell. 3498496612 (art direction)
www.scuolacivicasalotti.it

 

ETYMOS ENSEMBLE AT THE LIBRARY OF VILLAGE TO MOZZANO

On Sunday, December 11th at 5 pm in the town library of Borgo a Mozzano there’s a  concert by the ” Etymos Ensemble “organized in collaboration with the CLUSTER Association of Lucca.
All concerts are free admission with offering.
e-mail: borgoamozzanomusica@gmail.com
Cell. 3498496612 (art direction)
www.scuolacivicasalotti.it

Lhasa’s Summer Palace

In the afternoon of our first full day in Lhasa we visited Norbulingka. This was the Dalai Lama’s summer palace and was largely built between 1755 and 1783 by the seventh Dalai Lama. The name translates as ‘jeweled park’ and, indeed, the palace, which actually consists of various large pavilions, is placed in a very beautiful park not too far from the Potala, or winter palace. Like the Jokhang and the Potala, Norbulingka is a UNESCO World heritage site.

Sadly, it was from the south gate of this palace complex that the present 14th Dalai Lama had to make his escape from Tibet in 1959 when he realized he would otherwise end his life as a prisoner of the Beijing government.

Unfortunately, like so much else in Tibet, Norbulingka and its park was damaged during the first years of the Cultural Revolution but since 2003 it has been in phase of restoration and we found the park and palace a great delight after the morning’s hustle and bustle in the Barkhor. Families were out enjoying the wonderful sunshine of Lhasa and there were many picnic places.

Again, however, we were too late to see two things: the full splendour of the flowers in the park and the Sho Dun Festival which is held in the middle of August. It’s also known as the Yoghurt festival since the monks are offered yoghurt in an event which includes dancing and pageants.

Here is a photograph of the festival as it was in 1993:

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We did, however, see aspects of a film they were shooting using the palace as a backdrop. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the film set but took one of some of the extras who were patiently waiting for their next entrance into the scenario. I wonder what the name of the film was.

Of course, Chinese films can be absolutely spectacular and riveting. I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘Crouching Tiger, Creeping dragon.’ Unlike the decaying situation in the west there are on average twenty new cinemas being opened in China every week and a multimillion dollar ‘cinema ‘city’ has just been approved for construction. At the same time, some films like ‘Gundun’ and ‘the Last Emperor’ made from a western point of view are still controversial items under China’s strict political and cultural censorship laws.

For me the most fascinating and moving part of Norbulingka was the new palace pavilion built for the present Dalai Llama between 1954 and 1956. It’s sad to think that His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso spent just three years here but everything has been kept or restored exactly as it was when he lived here. Among the Dalai Lama’s tutors was Heinrich Harrer (mentioned in my previous post) who introduced the young lad to western influences and did much to ease his isolation and somewhat formal existence. It was incredible to see the Philips wind-up record player mentioned in ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ and other items including a Russian radio. The walls of the ‘new’ palace are beautifully decorated with over three hundred paintings illustrating history of Tibet and the whole complex is built in a wonderfully traditional Tibetan style.

I am so glad that the whole Norbulingka is being restored to its former splendour. Fortunately, the ancient skills still exist for such works to be carried out. I only wish that one day the present Dalai Lama could be allowed to visit the place where he grew up and recognise that it still retains an enormous importance not only for the Tibetans but now for the Chinese themselves. After all, it is part of the extraordinary history of a country and we all know that an Orwellian deletion or re-writing of history means the death-knell of any civilization and its people.

A Morning in Lhasa

I realised I would not expect to see the Lhasa depicted in old black-and-white films. I had prepared myself for a city, which counted just around ten thousand inhabitants in 1950 and which had now evolved into a large metropolis of over half a million people, largely modern Chinese in aspect, with skyscrapers and wide avenues.

Landing at the airport this is what seemed to be the case. Would I ever taste even the minutest flavour of a Lhasa, whose name means ‘Home of the Gods’, I’d read about in old travellers’ tales and, especially something of the city  people like Heinrich Harrer had spent seven years in? (Incidentally Harrer only died in 2006 and spent the rest of his life fighting for Tibetan rights. There’s a museum dedicated to him in Hüttenberg, Austria – definitely a must-see when I’m next in that country).

The skyscrapers around the new railway station which, also in 2006, has linked Lhasa to the Chinese railway network, prognosticated my anxiety that I would come across a thoroughly different Lhasa: a Lhasa where half of the inhabitants would be Han Chinese and where the last thread of isolation from the outside world would be broken in 2020 when a rail-link will connect it to Kathmandu through the world’s longest tunnel, under Mount Everest itself.

These fears were there with me and one should always be prepared for them but Lhasa still turned out to be an unmissable place – a city of incredible history, of astonishing life and, underlying it all a sense of deep-seated Tibetan faith and ancient values which are so strongly embedded in the psyche of these wonderful people that it would take a very long time to eradicate them. With inner sadness I would encourage anyone to visit Lhasa for it remains one of the most unforgettable places you are ever likely to stay upon this planet.

I’d come across Tibetan hints while still in Italy. There was the Tibetan bridge at Vagli di Sotto (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/a-tibetan-bridge-in-the-garfagnana/) and only after visiting the lovely city of Pistoia between Florence at Lucca had I realised that the first western traveller to arrive at Lhasa was Ippolito Desideri, born in Pistoia in 1684, trained as a Jesuit missionary and reaching the ‘Home of the Gods’ after a perilous journey lasting months, in 1716. Moreover, there are several Tibetan monasteries in Italy – a positive result of the forced diaspora of so much of the country’s population after the 1959 invasion. A friend of mine recently told me he’d first met the Dalai Lama at Pomaia, near Pisa. (See the post at https://lamiatoscanaitaly.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/pomaia-the-little-tibet-of-tuscany/ )

The wonderful thing about Desideri was that he was entranced by Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and tried to reconcile his own strict Roman Catholic beliefs with them. Desideri was given his own chapel at Sera monastic university (more on that later since it is one of the three great Tibetan monasteries we subsequently visited). The ruler of Lhasa at that time was Lhasang Khan who gave Ippolito full permission to teach Christianity and encouraged him to learn Tibetan.

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How wonderful for a Jesuit to be able to debate with the Buddhist monks of Sera way back in the early eighteenth century and learn their particular mode of dialectic! How amazing to find Desideri compiling the first ever Tibetan grammar for the western world. How pioneering of him to study Tibetan culture for the first time and produce a book called ‘Notizie Istoriche del Tibet’ which described Tibetan customs and culture as he found them during his stay there. Incredibly, this book was not rediscovered in the Jesuit archives until the end of the nineteenth century and was only translated into English as recently as 2010.

My wife was also particularly intrigued by her name-sake: an amazing French woman Alexandra David-Néel, explorer, writer esoterist, opera-singer, spiritualist and anarchist who died in 1969 aged one hundred. Alexandra reached Lhasa under cover in 1924. But that’s another story to write about…..

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(Alexandra David-Néel)

There is still a frisson in reaching Lhasa even today when special permits have to be issued and where, regrettably, one is under frequent observation by the authorities. However, it’s really worth it and our first morning in Lhasa beat all expectations and provided us with one of the most remarkable travel experiences of our lives.

There is still a part of Lhasa which is thoroughly Tibetan in feel and that is the district of Barkhor, an area of alleys, crowds of pilgrims and many interesting shops. In the centre of Barkhor is Tibet’s most sacred shrine, the Jokhang, which contains the statue of Jowo Shakyamuni, sculpted by artist Vishvakarman under the celestial guidance of the God Indra (c.f. so many Catholic statues crafted under Godly guidance e.g. Florence’s basilica della Santissima Annunziata and Lucca’s Volto Santo). The statue represents the Buddha aged twelve and was brought to this city by Chinese princess Wencheng Kongjo as dowry when she married the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo around 600 A.D.

The temple itself is a wonderful place to explore (although photography is discouraged, indeed, almost impossible, since the press of pilgrims, the smoke from the Yak-butter candles and the general mystic darkness of the interior is quite overwhelming). However, anyone who has been into the Jokhang in the morning will understand the impossibility of describing the atmosphere of intense devotion present there. I think I only got near this atmosphere when visiting the monastery of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland. The force of devotion is almost frightening: truly the fear of God is palpable. Just looking at Jowo Shakyamuni’s face filled me with transcendent feelings that seemed to reach the confines of astral planes. It was truly overwhelming.

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I also think that since in Lhasa there’s just 68% of the oxygen you breathe at sea level that must have something to do with how I felt!

Here are some photos we were able to take of the Jokhang temple. Do note the omnipresence of the Chinese state even in this most sacred place for Tibetans. The red flag flies everywhere and one must go through more than one check-point to reach the sanctum sanctorum.

The Jokhang is associated with two kora or pilgrim routes. One is within the temple and the other is outside the temple and circumambulates the Barkhor district. Here are some photos we took of the external route. You’ll also spot that there’s a mosque en route. Muslims like Christians have lived in peaceful co-existence with Tibetan Buddhists for over a thousand years. Oh I wish it were so for so many other parts of this massacred world we live in. Note also the prayer flags, the juniper incense raised from the four great braziers which line the Kora and the prostrations of the pilgrims who come here from all parts of Tibet.

Somehow we did find the true Lhasa that morning; our hotel the ‘Kyichu’ was beautifully placed centrally so we could forget the modern city and immerse ourselves into something which those historical travelers must have felt when they first entered the ‘forbidden’ city: forbidden because it used to be so difficult to get to…forbidden because there are still so many unsolved mysteries to be unraveled in Lhasa.

 

 

 

 

 

Fidel Alejandro Castro

R.I.P. a un grande rivoluzionario, una persona coraggiosissima che si è opposta alla corruzione del governo mafioso che lo precedeva.

Ricordando i nostri amati ricordi di un’isola descritta dallo stesso Cristoforo Colombo come la più bella che abbia mai visto. Rammentando le nostre avventure in scooter poco più di dieci anni fa attraverso paesaggi mozzafiato, spiagge stupende, gente cordialissima e architettura coloniale rinascimentale come mai vista prima; assaporando il Mohito in quel famoso albergo dove sentimmo il club Buena Vista; gustando l’onesta, la veracità di un popolo sofferto sotto dei terribili malintesi degli Stati Uniti che Obama finalmente riconobbe ma che ora dovremo risoffrire sotto un altro che tra poco….oddio!

Fidel Alejandro Castro, ricordiamo la nostra visita alla tua casa, apprezziamo a fondo il tuo eroismo che purtroppo viene sempre più malmesso in questo mondo, nel quale abitiamo, ora sempre più incerto, sempre più senza mete incorruttibili.

Come dicevi tu e come mi ricordo da quella tua trasmissione sulla tele a Santiago di Cuba (come potevi parlare!): “raccontano del fallimento del socialismo ma dov’è il successo del capitalismo? Trovo il capitalismo ripugnante e alienante perché crea solo guerre, ipocrisia e misera.”

Povera Europa….povero mondo. Abbiamo perso un altro grande. Troppi quest’anno……

Quando ci sarà un altro Davide che si alzerà contro il Golia che ci comincia ad avvolgere tutti per un’ennesima volta?

Addio caro fratello di pensiero….e di azione! Con tutto rispetto e solidarietà.

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A ‘mini-Potala’ at Ganden Sumtsenling

Sometimes called the ‘little Potala’, Ganden Sumtsenling is within easy reach of Zhongdian and is situated at a little over eleven thousand feet in height.

First we passed through further typical rural landscapes in this area. Note the dzo (a cross between a cow and a yak) and the frames put up to dry the hay,

Thanks to our gradual ascent we didn’t suffer from altitude sickness which, if acute, can lead to death. The last thing anyone should do is to get to Tibet in one day from near sea-level. Of course, AMS can affect some people more than others. Perhaps living in an Italian village already close to two thousand feet in height can help a little.

My first sight of Sumtsenling monastery was quite awesome: the gilded bronze roofs shone in the true blue sky and behind, the pre-Himalayas framed a stunning view. Sumtsenling is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan and also its most important centre of religious excellence.

Dating back to seventeenth century and founded by the great fifth Dalai Lama (credited with the unification of Tibet) Sumtsenling forms part of the yellow hat sect of the Dalai Lama’s Gelugpa order. (But please don’t mention the present fourteenth Dalai Lama’s name publicly, together with the island of Taiwan if you find yourself in that part of the world…).

Unfortunately, this majestic monastery which once housed two thousand monks, suffered damaged during the now largely discredited cultural revolution of the 1960’s and was actually bombed. It was restored in 1983 and is now home to around seven hundred monks.

It’s free to photograph the exterior of the monastery but one has to pay ten Yuen (a bit over a pound sterling) to take snaps of individual chapels and interior shrines. This can amount to quite a bit, and since no flash can be used, and the interiors can be very dark, there’s little point in paying. Moreover, it seems to me that no photographs can truly capture the extraordinary atmosphere of these monasteries; you just have to go and experience them yourself for, as yet, no virtual reality experience can encapsulate any particle of their arcane ether.

Sumtsenling’s greatest interior treasure is the almost thirty foot tall statue of Shakyamuni, the original Buddha, also known as Gautama or Siddhartha (remember Hesse’s novel?) whose teaching form the basis of Buddhism, and who lived around 500 BC.

Many years ago I was privileged to visit the deer park at Sarnath, India, where the Buddha received Moksha or enlightenment after 49 days of mediation and the age of thirty-five, truly a Dantean ‘Midway the path of life that men pursue’. These photos have been digitised from the colour slides I took there when I was still in my teens.

I always find it strange that in a Hindu-based civilization Buddhism did not immediately take root in India (although Buddha is considered one of the ten avatars, or earthly incarnations, of Vishnu in Hindu belief).

In case you are fully aware of the features of western monasteries but are unsure of what makes up a Tibetan Buddhist one here are its main features. (You can see them all in our photos above). They are arranged, almost campus-like, around an often walled area and are not necessarily interconnected like western ones are:

  1. An often elaborate entrance portal
  2. A steep flight of steps up to the main chapel where an image of the Buddha is kept with permanently lit candles made from yak butter in front of it.
  3. An assembly hall where the monks gather for lessons and the recitation of the scriptures.
  4. Chapels where idols of different aspects of the Buddha and previous lamas are kept.
  5. Murals illustrating stories from the scriptures on the inner walls of the chapels.
  6. A library of manuscripts, many of which are written on palm leaves and stamped with wooden blocks.
  7. Dormitories for the monks
  8. Prayer wheels arranged around a Kora (pilgrimage route – always perform it clockwise please!).
  9. Gardens and agricultural outbuildings.
  10. A shop selling books and religious items.

It’s a pity that we weren’t in time for the monastery’s biggest festival at the end of November. Called Gedong it’s where religious mask dances are performed, including the Cham which impersonates  the battle between forces of good and evil in the form of animals, gods and ghosts. However, we were glad enough to visit this impressive monastery and were glad that its sacred nature and the ancient religious rites of the monks are now being rather more respected than in previous decades.

Our last evening in Shangri-la was spent attending a spectacular show at the local theatre illustrating traditional stories from the area,. It was clearly a touristic honey-pot but the standard of presentation was high.

We should have taken the plane to Lhasa from Diqing Shangri-La airport but no direct flights were available so instead we took a flight to Kunming over increasingly impressive mountain ranges.

Kunming, itself would have been a fascinating place to visit but we were limited to admiring its Changshui airport built by that impressive American architectural partnership Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who have also built the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (height 2722 feet). I loved the waving support structure of this airport terminal. Yes, even airport buildings can have their fascination – if you can forget Heathrow, that is!

From Kunming we flew to our main destination in our adventure – Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and one of the highest cities truly placed on the world’s roof. From the aircraft cabin porthole I could see the landscape becoming ever more arid. Truly Tibet is the roof of the world but it is also a rain-shadow area and in large part a kind of high-altitude desert, a sort of moonscape, in fact.

Finally, the Eastern China airlines touched down on the Gonggar airport serving Lhasa and a new phase of our travels began.

 

 

Let us be Thankful for Being Still Alive

Thanksgiving Day was celebrated yesterday with another gorgeous lunch at the spectacularly good Cantina di Carignano which I have already described in a previous post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/working-for-ones-lunch/

I was invited by the editor of that quintessentially good magazine for our Lucca area “Grapevine”. I doubt that few other “ex-pat” mags could ever match, let alone surpass, the high quality of this publication. Indeed, all back numbers should be treasured as they form the closest we’re ever likely to get to a compendium or encyclopaedia of life, credences, places, traditions events, trends, indeed of everything useful we’re ever likely to find in our promised land of Lucca province.

I realised that Thanksgiving Day is the one day in the American calendar that unites everyone regardless of creed or country of origin. It is also, thankfully, just one day’s celebration of joy and hope (unlike Christmas, which now apparently starts shortly after August Bank Holiday!) We can’t wish happy Christmas to everyone we meet these days when different belief systems run riot. Birthdays are spectacularly easy to forget. We could transform Easter into a pagan feast of spring’s reawakening as we could with Christmas’s rebirth of the sun but, again, there are still many people about who would object to being called pagans.

Thanksgiving should be an important feast anywhere in the world (and is), at least where English is spoken. OK, the UK has imported Halloween and now Black Friday makes a mark but it’s Thanksgiving which should really be given importance anywhere where English speakers meet.

For the first time in my life I think I have truly understood why Thanksgiving Day – that day which celebrates the Mayflower pilgrims from Plymouth survival through their first harsh winter in a completely unknown land – a planet even – means so much to Americans. It began to mean a lot to me too and I regretted that in the UK we no longer have a day which brings people together in one faith; in one God (whichever name may be given to the Deity) I see sadly a Britain divided as I see an America divided by a world changing into beliefs that we thought had long been declared dinosauric, a weary world battered into some sort of quasi-sense by two ghastly eras of mass destruction last century and a Middle Eastern sphere which is throwing the last vestiges of the Geneva convention out of the troposphere of our assaulted planet. Who can possibly stare unmoved at the scene of shattered classrooms and bombed hospitals in countries which formed the cradle of our civilization (if we by the skin of our teeth can so call it) and which border the same sea that gave rise to the great glories of Hellenism?

Yet we, too in Britain have do much to be thankful for – the international touch the Romans gave us during their three hundred year stay here, the great Northumberland monasteries for preserving learning and knowledge while the rest of the world was crumbling into barbarian ignorance, and, dare I mention it, the continuity which our constitutional monarchy has given us and the mother of all parliaments which still manages to protect us from the horrific excesses which so many parts of the world are today subject to and which today is dividing families, friends, acquaintances, associations, even football clubs because of the rant and rave of schicklegrubian-like imitators.

It is all so sad because when the infamous vote result for Brexit took place and the ignorant and the bigoted became faragian triumphalists, the more sensible of those in our area were truly worried about a kind of backlash from the local Italians. None of it. The Italians don’t behave like that. It’s not in their nature. The people we should worry about are those ill-informed brits who voted for the fourth major British political disaster in the last hundred years (the other three were appeasement, intervention in Suez and alliance with the USA in the 2003 Iraq war). Let’s try not to drink or even acknowledge the presence of these unfortunate individuals around us. We realise how this mess (or casino) could finish up as. Emotions could be roused by even a pint of that nice beer they serve down at a well-known local bar. The ignoramuses will leave us in due course and return to their island Kingdom (if it’s still United, that it) if they don’t reach enlightenment on the issue. Karma will do its good turn and we’ll merely ignore them. It’s quite pointless to discuss or argue with those who only believe in lies and have only dinosauric prejudices lurking within the vacuous space of their cranium. Hopefully, they’ll find out the truth soon enough….

Thanksgiving Day is about survival and the hope for a brighter future. Let us believe in it please!

It’s 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.

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Let us believe in Thanksgiving for to do otherwise would be to give way to dark forces. At the very least let us honour our harvest festivals.

We must believe and be true to each other as humans with genuine humanity can honestly be, for, as Mathew Arnold so eloquently and persuasively put it:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

If we are not true to our own humanity then those ignorant armies will always clash whether they be in the plains of Iraq, the mountains of Syria or even in our own cities….

Let us be true to those values which we inwardly truly nurture, as a mother’s breast nurtures her baby, before we sink into a second barbarian dark age whose door is open and welcoming us in with its lurid promises.

Anyway, let’s get back to food which is love itself, like Dali’s loaf of bread (have you visited his great exhibition at Pisa’s Palazzo Blu?) which is the giver of life Himself.

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Here is something of what we ate:

And here are some of a convivial family of guests at our table:

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Full and hearty thanks are due to Norma Jean Bishop (far right in photo above), editor of our English-language Lucca magazine, ‘Grapevine’ and great organiser of events designed to further the cause of conviviality, exchange and harmony! We so desperately need more people like her to nurture the good qualities in us, to release our creative faculties and to celebrate our diversity with joy and not our differences with hate, that detestable word so mailed daily to too many people in the UK.

As George Herbert wrote in the seventeenth century:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

                              Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

                             From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

                             Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

                             I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

                             Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

                             Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

                             My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

                             So I did sit and eat.

A Choro for Saint Cecilia at Borgo a Mozzano

Giacomo Brunini, the guitarist who is increasingly making a name for himself both as a soloist and as part of chamber music groups, is organising, as artistic director, a series of concerts at Borgo a Mozzano’s library every Sunday at 5 pm. They are called ‘incontri musicali: i luoghi del bello e della cultura’.

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I was unable to attend the first two concerts in the season but last Sunday’s concert was an absolute delight. Entitled ‘Choro e Dintorni’ it concentrated on Brazilian popular street music centred on Rio de Janeiro in the second half of the nineteenth century.

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This was a repertoire that I was largely unfamiliar with but the trio consisting of Alessandro Berti (who did all the arrangements), electric bass, Emanuele Poietti, keyboard and harmonica, and Giorgio Rossini, classical guitar, brought élan to a truly infective music.

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Among the composers played were Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha, Baden Powell, Jacob do Bandolim, Zequinha de Abreu, Louiz Bonfá e Celso Machado. This is the full programme:

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It was a happy coincidence that the concert formed part of the Festa di Santa Cecilia at Borgo with its flavour of further Christmas markets to come. (The actual music patron Saint’s day is November 22nd).

The word ‘choro’ means something melancholic, in fact a lament. But then American blues and, indeed, Portuguese fado carry the same connotation. Life is filled with sadness but this sorrow must be accepted if one is to rise above it into something more uplifting and joyful. It’s the same nostalgia that permeates the works of such greats as Chopin and Brahms, both composers who influenced this nineteenth century Brazilian school.

What, however, made the music played totally catching was its rhythmic vitality. Derived from African sources, Choro developed its own brand of Latin American ragtime and one could easily see how such dances as bossa nova and samba developed from it.

The trio played with astonishing virtuosity (I’ve rarely heard, for example, the electric bass guitar used with such brilliance) and were even able to defeat the sudden uprising of bells from San Rocco church next door – not an easy battle to win. (Note local church authorities for next Sunday’s concert. Please desist from clanging away from 6 pm onwards!)

Here are some excerpts from last Sunday’s concert:

Don’t miss this Sunday’s programme. 5 pm is a good time to attend an event, especially as winter draws on and there are at least a couple of good places nearby where good pizzas may be had afterwards.

Here is the full remaining programme of concerts:

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This unmissable season is organised by the Salotti civic music school, Borgo comune with support of Valdottavo’s Teatro Colombo, Barga and Castelnuovo music schools, Borgo Misericordia and the contemporary music cluster association of Lucca.

More information is available at

borgoamozzanomusica@gmail.com

and

www.scuolacivicasalotti.it