Road-Works (At Last!)

It may be extra funds coming in or just a final major work-job launched by the mayor, who within a few months will be seeking re-election in the local elections, but the road to our part of the world, is receiving some much needed improvements. Black tops are being laid on those sections to the Controneria which were notorious for their pot-holes:

And walls damaged by cars bumping into them or just by the vagaries of the weather

are being repaired.


It’s nice to see these things happening. Every little bit matters and I’m glad that us hill folk are not being forgotten.


Cat Walks in Longoio

Hi all you cats out there. Do your owners servants let you go on walks with them? If not complain! However, I should say that if you live in those horrible places full of traffic then your adorers are probably wise in not letting you follow them wherever they go. We are lucky, however, for where we live there’s only one road to cross and that has just one tractor a day on it. We can hear it in time and so can avoid the fate of so many of our compatriots.

After this road it’s all fun and games, Cheeky has a propensity for climbing up trees and she’s clever in coming down them too – just by reversing.


Carlotta is persevering and just walks and walks. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth now (what teeth I have left) and so I’m happy just to blaze the trail, have a good rest and let the others release their feline energies.

It’s so wonderful to sniff new smells, experience different sounds and generally have a nice sleep after our epic journey from my devotee’s house in Longoio to the little paradise field. I think we are quite lucky cats after all!


Ford Anglia Sighted at Diecimo

Diecimo’s mercantino ‘Ti Riuso’ is a veritable treasure trove if you like to delve into second-hand stores. There’s everything to be found there from sports equipment to books to kitchenware to heaps of furniture and even a wooden spiral staircase. I visited it yesterday and found a young couple attempting to load four garden chairs into their hatch-back. They were still trying to work it out when I left.

Here are snaps of some of the items on sale. Don’t miss out on the tents outside which are a prime source for exercise bikes, among other items!

For me the most exciting find was a Ford Anglia with its distinctive raked-back rear window, 1960’s vintage.

Did I buy anything? Yes, an excellent and recent illustrated guidebook on Umbria priced at less than one Euro.

The Ti Riuso mercantino will also take items for sale if they are suitable. The seller must present his or her ‘documenti’ including fiscal number and the items are duly noted in a database and a receipt issued. The seller can set the price for the item and the mercantino takes a commission. It’s worth investigating if your Italian attic is getting a bit full or if you want to return to enjoy post-Brexit Britain.

Which reminds me: thinking about politics is bad for one’s health and talking about it to people with opposite view to one’s own is even worse.

Let the United Kingdom – or what will be left of it at the end of the process – pursue its lemming-type course. By that time I’ll still have a passport with EC printed on it – Italian, of course, courtesy of my wife’s lineage. However, you can still apply for one if you have no such luck. See for more details.

Do I still hanker after Diecimo’s Ford Anglia? At least that car was built in a country which could support itself with its own manufacturing base. I really do wonder what will happen after the UK leaves the world’s largest free market……

My Life – as a Woman

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Or are they? Men have visited Venus and women have visited Mars. The truth is that we all have both genders mixed up in varying proportions within us. I defy most hetero people, for example, to admit that they have not attracted same sex followers because of their mix of genders. The trouble is that many of us repress this fact; and that is so much to our disadvantage in our relationships. Luca Sereni has been writing poetry for some time and in his first published novel ‘Mavì’ he explores in fictional form his often fraught  pre-marital relationships making a noble attempt to understand them by writing a story of a woman.

‘Mavì’ is someone who leads an intense life in search of elusive happiness which never seems to arrive. Trapped in a marriage where she is unable to satisfy her officious and critical husband (although she cooks for him her most delicious meals and offers herself sexually utterly) and at all times Mavì makes a chance meeting with someone who for the first time in her life places her centre stage in her life. Suddenly she becomes transformed both physically (she loses fifty kilos), emotionally (she is able to enjoy her sexuality as never before) and mentally (she realises she is gifted intellectually).

The virtuoso nature of this first novel is that, unless one sees the cover and finds it was a man who wrote it, one would immediately jump to the assumption that a woman has set it down. In the nineteenth century there were novels written by women who, in their nom-de-plume, passed themselves off as men. A good example of this is Charlotte Bronte who wrote ‘Jane Eyre’ under the name Currer Bell. A percipient novelist, Thackeray himself, was the first to sense that this was essentially a novel from a woman’s pen. It’s, therefore, good to know that in our century there are now men who, Tyresias-like,  write from a woman’s point of view.

Mavì, derived from the French Ma Vie (my life) has further resonances in Luca’s life which he has brilliantly transformed into a creative work of some persuasion. Fifty quite short chapters describe in intimate detail and exquisite delicacy the transformations of Mavì’s life.  It’s worth quoting some of the passages from the book without, of course, giving the storyline away.

The book starts with a quotation from Erasmus of Rotterdam. From his ‘In praise of Folly’ which begins: “observe how with such providence nature, mother of mankind, took the care to spread even a pinch of folly and infused into man more passion than reason in order that everything could be less sad, brutish, insipid and boring”.

The book itself is full of revealing insights in the development of a woman’s psyche and self-realisation. For example (my translation):

‘For the first time I see the woman behind the mirror’s reflection’.


‘That part of me which had fallen asleep in the forgetfulness of an unfulfilled life has returned to knock heavily on my mind and on my heart’.

In last Saturday’s interview and book presentation at Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley House Luca Sereni in conversation with Luca PB Guidi suggested that the main reason for his writing ‘Mavì’ was to understand women. This, of course, seems to most of us men a fabulous and well-nigh impossible task to achieve convincingly but for those with wives or female partners it must be a daily exercise. What better way, then, to write a novel from a woman’s angle and where the protagonist is someone supposedly from Venus?

(Luca Sereni – left -. in conversation with Luca PB Guidi at Shelley House, Bagni di Lucca)

The book is both sensitively and racily written and speeds the reader through a multiplicity of emotions. Particularly well-written – because they are often the most difficult parts of a novel to avoid from descending into bathos – are the sexual encounters and the love-making which is beautifully described without any puritanical restraint. This aspect of ‘Mavì’ does however provide a page one caution that the book is only suitable for an adult audience.

I admire Luca Sereni’s valiant entry into the skin of a woman and his undoubted success in evoking the joys, disappointments, passions and illusions of the ‘fair sex.’

Women are even today not equal to men, In fact, as far back as 1953 the anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote a book with the title ‘The Natural Superiority of Women’ … and so women are – in every sense of the phrase – far superior to us males…..



PS The book is available during Shelley House opening hours: Thurs to Fri and is priced Euros 13. The interview was the last of events celebrating  Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Settimana della Donna’ for International Women’s day.


La Primavera

The earth is ready to burst with multicoloured energy. The soil below my feet is vibrating with the force of a new spring season and it’s just two days before spring (la primavera) officially begins. Here is the scene in my main field:

The daffodils and crocuses are showing off their last displays before they go to sleep again and primroses are exploding everywhere on our slopes. Our little house at Longoio is also displaying its own modest contribution to the advent of the season of rebirth and love:

Bagni Di Lucca and the Lie of War

2017 commemorates the hundredth anniversary of perhaps Italy’s greatest military disaster, certainly its most costly one: the Great War’s battle of Caporetto, otherwise known as the twelfth battle of the Isonzo. The Italian army’s front line, under the command of General Cadorna, was broken and had to push back to the Piave river. Only the battle of Monte Grappa stopped the Austrians from entering wholesale into the Adige and Po valleys. It was the great resistance at the Piave that stopped the Austrian reconquest of Italy, a fact that is still recognized today when we crossed this river – which ran red with the blood of soldiers in 1918 – while driving on the A4 motorway through Veneto.

The Italian army comprised 874,000 soldiers as against 350,000 Austrians. The Italians also had 6,918 artillery pieces against just 2,213 Austrian. So what went wrong?

By the end of the battle there were 305,000 Italian casualties as against 70,000 Austrian, more than four times as many… In addition, over half a million civilian refugees poured into Italy escaping from well-documented rape and pillage (in the town of Portogruaro alone there were over three hundred illegitimate children born nine months later).  Many refugees were welcomed by Bagni di Lucca. Indeed, the companion of Evangeline Whipple, (the author of ‘A famous corner of Tuscany’ about Bagni di Lucca) died as a result of contracting Spanish flu while nursing the refugees. (See my post at for a fuller account).

The ‘disfatta di Caporetto’ was notorious for the Austrians’ use of what would later develop into the Hitlerian Blitzkrieg: intensive fire with highly mobile units and widespread use of machine guns, flame throwers and light trench mortars. Notoriously too, arsenic-chloric and diphosgene poison gas canisters were launched causing devastating effects on Italian casualties and morale.


(A trench at Caporetto)

The defeat was blamed on Cadorna, a martinet and an incompetent commander who brought a new level of ineptitude to the management of the Italian army. Cadorna was infamous for his application of military discipline. For example, Italian soldiers made prisoners-of-war were termed deserters and were not allowed any Red Cross food parcels or medicines. Thousands literally died of hunger or disease in Austrian camps such as Spielberg and Mauthausen. Those who were not captured by the enemy but retreated when ordered to advance were decimated i.e. one out of ten were selected to be court-marshalled and usually shot. It’s been estimated that 6% of the Italian army was found guilty in this way. Unsurprisingly, Cadorna was relieved of his command after the rout of Caporetto and the Italian army was placed under the command of General Diaz who led it to final victory at Vittorio Veneto the following year.


(Luigi Cadorna)

Bagni di Lucca played a role in the Great War out of all measure to its population: over 250 young men lost their lives in action out of a total population of just 5,000.  I’ve written a post on the part our comune played in WWI  at and local historian prof. Natalia Sereni has also written a fascinating book on the subject titled ‘Bagni di Lucca nella Grande Guerra. (See )

There’s nothing, however, more poignant than to focus away from the broad perspective of WWI and delve into its effect on individual young men. The Uni-tre’ lezione’ this week was delivered by Prof Marcello Cherubini who read and commented on letters written by two soldiers from Bagni di Lucca, Arnaldo and Amos Contrucci. Censorship is a major issue in any correspondence during a war situation and these letters were no exception to the rule. Specific places could not be mentioned – just an ‘area of operations’ or ‘zona di guerra.’ Some soldiers got round this by writing where they were stationed underneath the postage stamp (and then sometimes adding on the envelope ‘please find where I am by looking under the stamp…!) Furthermore, soldiers could not say they were freezing to death or dying of hunger on the front. Everything had to be couched in positive terms. Indeed, Cadorna would cancel soldiers’ leave with the excuse that soldiers returning home might tell friends and relatives what conditions were really like at the front. Another problem with writing home was that almost half the Italians at that time were illiterate. So even if one could write a letter, who, in the family would actually be able to read it?

The letters of Arnaldo and Amos, two local brothers,  describe not only their military conquests – they were part of the first regiment to march into the newly conquered city of Gorizia ‘la Maledetta’ – the damned – otherwise known as the sixth battle of the Isonzo and in which 20,000 Italian soldiers lost their lives as against just (!) 9,000 Austrians. The letters also describe amorous conquests too with a ‘bella goriziana’. All letters state that the soldiers are in the best of health (even though the true situation might be utterly the opposite) and winning every battle they fight in. They conclude with best wishes to their family members all listed by name in highly concentrated sheets of densely-written paper.

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Sadly, in the twelfth battle of the Isonzo – the terrible defeat of Caporetto (now Kobarid in Slovenia) Amos was taken prisoner by the Austrians and languished in the concentration camp of Mauthausen – which subsequently became the notorious extermination camp under the Third Reich). Now the letters make desperate pleas to send food especially flour. Clearly, Amos was still being retreated as a ‘deserter’ like so many other Italian prisoners-of-war. The letters finish with a note from a fellow prisoner to Amos’ family poignantly describing their son’s last moments and death through – probably – Spanish flu and a follow-up letter of condolences from the military authorities.

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(From left, Profs Natalia Sereni, Marcello Cherubini, Valeria Catelli)

Cherubini’s talk was captivating and moving in equal measure. Statistics of thousands missing or dead may often be too enormous to comprehend by the individual human mind: read out, however, the correspondence of named soldiers from Bagni di Lucca, now stuck in atrocious condition of mud, cold and sleeping in water-logged trenches often filled with excrement and unburied bodies of previous fatalities from ‘over-the-top’ and attacked by vermin of all sorts and then war and the pity and the lie of war come out to the forefront in massive measure. As that greatest of war poets, Wilfred Owen, wrote:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

PS On a lighter note I’m giving a ‘lezione’ for Bagni di Lucca’s Unitre on Thursday April 6th at 4 pm. The subject is “Giovanni Battista Cipriani: un artista Toscano in Inghilterra” and is about the famous painter of the royal gold coach, co-founder of the Royal Academy and ancestor of my wife.