When the elector of Munich requested a festival opera in 1781 Mozart put everything he had learnt into his first mature opera seria, Idomeneo, which tells the archetypal story of a king who, surviving a sea storm, has to sacrifice the first person he meets on land, which turns out to be his own son! The convolutions of the plot, with the appearance of the impetuous love rival Electra, leads Mozart to write some of his sublimest music to-date with choruses that look as far ahead as Die Zauberflote, a voice from the deep that harkens to Don Giovanni’s Commendatore, a quartet of conflicting emotions (a piece Mozart rightly considered the best item in the opera) which is a blueprint for so much of the interaction of ‘Figaro’ and a march which equally points ahead . For me the most melting items are Ilia’s arias which evoke a poignant humanity which reaches its peak in Mozart’s miraculous music.
The cast at Pistoia’s charming and accoustically superb nineteenth century Teatro Manzoni was well up to this magnificent work and provided an excellent and unusual start to this year’s Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival’s seventieth anniversary
Why Pistoia and not Florence? Because Pistoia is this year’s Italian city of culture, a town worth every effort to visit its outstanding sights, especially its mediaeval pulpits so full of wonderful carvings and its fine cathedral square.
I wish I could have as good a word to say for the setting which reminded me a bit of the Thames estuary at low tide and remained much the same for all three acts. Idomeneo concludes with a treble tour de force: an electrifying revenge aria by the spurned Electra, a triumphal chorus and Mozart’s longest instrumental movement: the fabulous ballet which in the eighteenth century would have involved elaborate costumes and effects. Here, instead, there was a sober processional gathering of candles round the departed Idomeneo who has relinquished his Cretan kingdom to his son Idamante who now celebrates his wedding with Ilia.
The audience gave loud applause for the singers, especially Idamante and Ilia, and equally vociferous boos to the stage designer who, nonplussed, joined the cast in the final curtain call.
Let us bless small mercies; Idomeneo is too rarely staged and the cherry on its cake has to be the singing and orchestra which were quite superb at the Teatro Manzoni.
Recent deliberations at Bagni di Lucca’s town council have enabled long cherished ambitions to be finally achieved. If you buy it in Bagni (in other words if you kick the bucket) you can now have your place of honour at the English cemetery, which hasn’t received an inhumation since the early fifties.
There are three conditions before you join the internees:
- Only ashes placed in urns are acceptable. So you must agree to cremation.
- You can be of any religion you like whether it be catholic, Zoroastrian, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, atheist, or even C of E. It doesn’t matter. Your ashes will still be welcomed.
- The time of inhumation will be initially of 30 years renewable by your descendants
This is a great moment for all those who had aspirations to remain in Bagni di Lucca even after the grim reaper.
I’m already a member of the cremation society which has its headquarters at Livorno. I’ve now arranged everything for myself in terms of my posthumous existence except I still have to decide the moment of my departure. I wish the deities would inform me of that in time.
Anyway, you can read all about this exciting news at http://iltirreno.gelocal.it/lucca/cronaca/2017/04/22/news/nuove-tumulazioni-nel-cimitero-inglese-1.15234968
This is the article from that paper in Italian:
LUCCA. Approvato in consiglio comunale a Bagni di Lucca il nuovo regolamento di polizia mortuaria, adeguato alla nuova normativa. Con l’eccezione della parte esterna delle tombe, che ciascuno potrà affidare a chi vuole, ci sarà un bando per appaltare il servizio di sepoltura a una unica ditta, per evitare problemi, ricorrenti, con tante ditte diverse. Un aspetto criticato dal consigliere Marco Pelagalli, secondo il quale sarebbe stato meglio evitara una sorta di “monopolio” e lasciar lavorare ditte vicine e scelte dai committenti. Il vincitore del bando dovrà assicurare tutte le garanzie legali e sanitarie del servizio, in modo da evitare le tante contestazioni del passato. L’altra novità introdotta dal nuovo regolamento riguarda la durata delle concessioni che si adegua a quella prevista dalla normativa, passando da 50 a 30 anni. «È necessario avere un interlocutore certo — ha dichiarato il sindaco Massimo Betti — che si assuma la responsabilità dei lavori svolti e, non come accaduto purtroppo in passato, trovarsi ad affrontare situazioni di emergenza legate a sepolture non fatte a regola d’arte. Da parte nostra cercheremo di garantire un costo limitato al massimo, in modo che non vi siano aggravi economici o, comunque, siano molto limitati, per i cittadini. Abbiamo, inoltre, voluto che fosse chiaro che la parte monumentale o comunque decorativa della sepoltura fosse slegata dalla tumulazione e fosse affidabile a discrezione della famiglia della persona defunta».
Il nuovo testo prevede tra l’altro che i richiedenti possano utilizzare il cimitero inglese per l’apposizione delle urne cinerarie. «La novità più importante — ha aggiunto il sindaco Massimo Betti — è la riapertura delle tumulazioni del Cimitero Inglese, che saranno possibili solo relativamente alle urne cinerarie contenenti le ceneri del defunto. L’approvazione di questo documento è il primo passo, al quale farà seguito la redazione di un regolamento specifico che concorderemo con la Fondazione De Montaigne e con l’Istituto Storico Lucchese. L’altro aspetto rilevante di questa novità è che le tumulazioni saranno aconfessionali, possibili, cioè, a persone appartenenti a ogni credo religioso o atee». Il cimitero inglese è stato tra l’altro oggetto di una ulteriore valorizzazione grazie al fatto di essere stato inserito tra i luoghi da visitare selezionati dal Fai. Nel complesso sono in corso lavori per restaurare altre tombe. Il regolamento è stato approvato dalla maggioranza, mentre le minoranze hanno votato contro. (e.a.)
22 aprile 2017
Don’t leave it too late – that’s my only advice. There could well be waiting list for such a beautiful place to pass your eternity in….
One last wish. I hope you’ll come to visit me there. I may not have much to say to you when I’m there but the views are splendid and I’m sure you could at least have a glass of fine vino over my mortal remains.
PS I forecast all this in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/urn-burial-in-bagni-di-lucca/
The solemn procession consisting of dignitaries, including the mayor of Bagni di Lucca, family members of Italy’s first licensed pilot and ace aviators from the past wended its way down Bagni di Lucca’s high street to line up before the Villa Gamba. The occasion? The unveiling of a memorial plaque to Mario Calderara, Italy’s first pilot, on the façade of the house he lived in in BDL, together with the blessing of our local parish priest on the proceedings.
A private invitation from Pietro, the highly personable descendant of the Gamba-Calderara family, enabled us to visit the gardens and the piano Nobile of the villa, which is otherwise strictly closed to the general public. Pietro showed us some valuable blueprints of his ancestor’s airplane designs.
It was a marvellous event to take place on Italy’s liberation day, a national holiday commemorating the freedom from Nazi-fascism and liberation also in terms of the Italian pioneer and mankind’s ability to fly free from the constraints of gravity into the air and the blue sky such as the day blessed us with.
This was a day to remember for a very long time. The villa, with its immortal connections with Byron and especially Puccini (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/turandots-carillon/ is now graced by a plaque that commemorates Calderara, Italy’s first aviator and inventor of its first flying boat. (For more on this do look up my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/24/bagni-di-lucca-takes-flight/ ).
My sincere thanks to the Gamba-Calderara family and their generous kindness towards us, enabling us to enjoy a very special day of Italian Liberation.
PS It is only so sad that Italy’s flag airline company, ‘Alitalia’, is in such dire trouble at present. (Their ‘Etihad partnership, which I used to fly to Vietnam a couple of years ago, broke down). I’ve flown with Alitalia on several occasion in the past (indeed it was the first ever airplane flight I took at the age of seven and alone….) and never have I been served better by the stewards and been offered such eatable, indeed delicious, food on board – a rare occurrence, unfortunately, on most airlines today.
Bagni di Lucca’s Spring Jazz concert organised by Marcello Cherubini and the Montaigne Foundation is, now in its fifth year, a much-looked-forwards-to event. I admit to great ignorance in matters of jazz but have always enjoyed it when played by such a group of artists as we heard last Sunday.
The line-up was Piero Frassi piano (one of the finest jazz pianists I’ve heard in Italia , Nino Pellegrini double bass and Vladimiro Carboni, percussion with singer, Greta Mirall It was, indeed, Greta’s quartet and they supported her brilliantly. She has an admirably subtle voice, impeccable English accent and it surely tells that Greta is one of the great Michela Lombardi’s students.
The programme was a homage to that supreme of big band leaders Duke Ellington and many of his greatest numbers were included in it like’ It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got a swing’ etc. In addition there was a ravishing little-known piece which the Duke apparently tossed off in twenty minutes called ‘Solitude’. A hushed silence spread over the audience after this number was sung – it was so truly moving.Here is a version sung by the great Ella:
Jazz is truly thriving and swinging in Italy. I wish it were more so in the UK where my listening highlight was hearing Bill Evans live at Ronnie Scott’s.
Bagni’s Chiesa inglese was packed and we were glad we’d pre-booked. The event was free with a contribution of five euros for the restoration of the English cemetery. What with the extraordinary playing and singing of the evening I almost felt the dead there would have been raised and dancing and swinging to the Duke’s immortal melodies. This jazz spring concert at Bagni di Lucca is surely here to stay as a permanent fixture so if you’ve missed it this year watch out for it in the next!
La Spezia, the starting-off point for a visit to that stunning stretch of Italian coastline known as the Cinque terre and to Porto Venere, is an interesting city in its own right. From a small fishing village La Spezia developed into one of Italy’s major naval dockyards, which I was able to visit on a special open day in 2014. (See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/a-top-secret-establishment/ ).
La Spezia has many other interesting sights including several churches:
Cristo Re dei Secoli (“Christ the King of Centuries”, cathedral), consecrated in 1975. The project was by Adalberto Libera. Unless you’re into seventies architecture give it a miss. I found it rather hideous and akin to a second-rate airport terminal although the view from it is rather fine.
Abbey church of Santa Maria Assunta (“Our Lady of the Assumption”, thirteenth century). It houses a considerable series of artworks, some of them coming from other suppressed religious institutes. They include an Incoronation of the Virgin by Andrea della Robbia, the Multiplication of Bread by Giovanni Battista Casoni and St. Bartholomew’s Martyrdom by Luca Cambiaso. Definitely worth a visit.
Santi Giovanni e Agostino (“Saints John and Augustine”, sixteenth century). It has a single nave with eighteenth and nineteenth century decorations.
Nostra Signora Della Scorza. Built in 1900 in the heart of the working-class neighbourhood Quartiere Umberto (Piazza Brin).
Museums: La Spezia is well endowed with these including:
Amedeo Lia Museum. Super collection of paintings from all ages put together by a private connoisseur.
Palazzina delle Arti and Museum of Seals (not the sea mammals but the ones you use sealing wax for). Interesting if you like this sort of thing.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (CAMeC). Not seen yet. Changing exhibitions.
Diocesan Museum. Fine religious art.
Ethnographic Civic Museum. Fascinating insight into disappeared local crafts.
Technical Naval Museum. Great viewing for anyone who loves messing about in boats and naval history. If you enjoyed London’s Greenwich Maritime museum the collection is a must and is located in a building within the military arsenal.
National Transportation Museum. This I haven’t seen yet. It’s evidently filled with old steam locomotives and other modes of transport like trams.
The castle of San Giorgio. I still haven’t managed to see this castle, perched on top of the city, when it is open. It houses the Ubaldo Formentini Civic Museum. A must-do on my next visit.
Other things to see.
Actually, the nicest sights of La Spezia are to be had just walking around this largely late nineteenth century city. There are superb examples of art nouveau buildings, a lively market (on Fridays), an elegant seaside esplanade and much else to look at and enjoy.
One of the places I liked most on our most recent to La Spezia was the not-even-mentioned Parish church of Our Lady of the Snows which is placed right in the centre of the city’s main shopping street, Via Garibaldi. I’d passed this zebra-striped church several times before but decided finally to have a look at its interior this time.
I was quite overwhelmed by the church’s beauty. Its architect, Ferrari d’Orsara, drew his inspiration from local Romanesque, Ravennan byzantine (especially San Vitale) and the plan of Rome’s Santa Prassede. Built to house a miraculous image of the Madonna, the church has three aisles which are covered by neo-byzantine paintings and finished with Verona red marble giving the whole ambience a beautiful sunset-like tinge.
The sanctuary is awesome and the dome’s mosaics are stupendous, transporting one back to Ravenna itself.
Amazingly this church was started in 1898 and finished just three years later. It’s remarkable that such a fine and complex piece of architecture could have taken so little time to complete whereas so much of Italy’s other architecture, whether religious or secular, has seemed to drag on for such a long time to be completed. Moreover, one doesn’t have to concentrate on mediaeval and renaissance ecclesiastical buildings all the time in Italy. There are wonders to be found that have been been built just a century ago. (For example, see my post onn the church of San Camillo, Milan at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/milans-san-camillo/ )
Although not on the list of major tourist sights to a Spezia I would rate the church of Nostra Signora della Neve as one of the most unusual monuments of fin-de-siècle church architecture. It’s a wonder – perhaps due to the miraculous image if the Madonna – that,whereas practically the whole of via Garibaldi was levelled by intensive bombing during World War II, the church remained undamaged. There may be some truth in divine intervention after all!
(The Madonna’s miraculous image)
In my schooldays a little magazine was brought out by Nick Totton (who is now well-known as a therapist and poet – see http://www.nicktotton.net/) and friends called ‘Troll’. I had some things published in it – now all vanished into the dust of time. ‘Troll’ was meant to be a provocative and mischievous publication reacting against the orthodox school magazine and it lasted for at least three copies. I wish I knew where I could find one now. I wonder whether anyone reading this post may know?
In those technologically innocent days we little knew that the word ‘troll’ would come to mean something other than the ugly cave-dwelling creature which was depicted as either a giant or a dwarf and generally wearing a pixie-like hat. Now when ‘troll’ is mentioned it brings out for younger people the experience so many of them have had of having their on-line virtual self attacked by maligners. So many have now been bullied (some have even committed suicide) by trolls who spread discord on the internet by posting malicious comments or starting arguments or just by upsetting people in bizarre psychological variations such as posting messages which are completely off-topic or incendiary. Often these messages are sent using email addresses which may only last as long as the message is sent. Try and reply to them and your reply is returned with the message ‘’unknown address’. These trolls will then continue their action, which can only be described as criminal harassment, by inventing another email address to which, naturally one is unable to answer because it’s already been wiped off.
All of us who write a blog have received spam which by-and-large is filtered off. You know the sort of thing. Here’s a typical example: “Internet site an individual’s content %BT% is very well-accepted currently. How could i find out about information technology to start out my own vlog and as well web resource?”
I don’t quite understand the point of spam. It’s a sort of spamdexing; that is it is the deliberate manipulation of search engine indexes for purposes which may range from simple confusion in searching from terns to downright sabotage, infiltration of mal-ware and even phishing.
Trolling is not spamming. It is not generated against a general community of bloggers but is aimed at upsetting, menacing, harassing and threatening individual bloggers for purposes which are only known to those who indulge in an activity which is essentially internet bullying.
Recently I’ve been a victim of trolling and I think it’s important at this stage to let you know what my experience of it is. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
I set out here some examples of trolling which I’ve received. Fortunately, since trollers can change their email addresses so frequently, it’s still possible to block them and never allow their comments to be authorised on the web.
Here are three examples.
Abbiamo letto con interesse il vostro affisso… Ci siamo però chiesto perché mancava la firma.
Se mi vuole per favore confermare che viene da voi possiamo pensare a presentarci il giorno di Pasqua in piazza Le ringrazio’
Translated it means ‘Dear Madam, we have read with interest your notice. We asked ourselves, however, why your signature was missing. Please confirm it comes from you so that we may meet on Easter day in the square. Thanks.
This refers to a notice the troll put up in various places in our village of Longoio and the square is the village’s car park. What is disturbing about this one is that it refers to Easter day which is traditionally supposed to be a day of peace and highly valued as such in a still largely Catholic country like Italy.
It reads ‘I Heard IT Was THE last one’
and refers to my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/my-wifes-illustrious-ancestor/
In that post I gave a talk about Giovanni Battista Cipriani, a famous eighteenth century artist, painter of the Royal Coach and ancestor of my wife. I have been giving talks to the University of the Third Age of Bagni di Lucca since 2008. As for being the last talk one there were two more speakers to follow in subsequent weeks. (Am I supposed to get done in before I give my next talk I wonder?)
The third one was received on 2017/04/16 at 4:11 pm from nonceranessunoinpiazzaoggi? (meaning t’here was no one in the square’, presumably referring to the message in the first troll.)
?’Ma la donna vestita a stracci faceva parte del gruppo???? (But did the woman dressed in rags form part of the group?)
and refers to my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/15/easter-pilgrims/
The woman is my wife and she was part of a picture taken with Easter week pilgrims as described in that post. Here is that picture which normal people gave such a favourable response to:
The troller always wants to be found out in the end. It is the crowning moment of self-gratification in his miserable life which is filled with envy and ignorance in equal measure. The fictitious title ‘semprealforno’ has a double significance. It means ‘always at the oven.’ This can refer to the fact that the troller spends much of his time cooking at the barbecue. It can also mean that the troller has a fixation with the death camp ovens of such places as Auschwitz. (I can reveal the troller is German. Being a German is not a condemnation – even if Basil of Fawlty Towers warns us about ‘mentioning the war’ to them. But alluding in jest to the dark past of that nation certainly is).
The troller has in the past poured dirty water over Sandra (true!!) and used bullying tactics with me, especially with his dangerous breed dog. What utterly confirms who he is, however, are his emoticons in at least two posts at the Bagni di Lucca University of the Third Age facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/UniTre-Bagni-di-Lucca-126411907831457/
Every time there is a mention to me or my wife the ‘angry emoticon’ with his name appears.
As someone who graduated in computer systems and as a former lecturer in the subject for close onto twenty five years I have confirmed, if the evidence wasn’t enough, through the I. P. addresses etc. who this person is.
I will not give his name here. It would give this specimen too much importance. You can find it for yourselves on the Unitre page mentioned above since the troll fails to understand that a ‘like’ etc emoticon can only be removed or changed by the person placing it there. (Perhaps this is a shortcoming of ‘facebook’ which admits ‘there is no option available right now to remove negative emoticon or feeling’).
Why should I have to be writing this post? I could just shrug the whole thing off and think that the trolling guy is a sad sort of fellow who desperately needs to get a life of his own. However, I feel obliged to write this since, for number one, no-one insults or in any way hurts or disturbs my wife of forty years standing, Sandra, with impunity, and number two, for someone who is both a troller and a teacher of young children at a local school, this behaviour is all the more unacceptable, indeed disturbing, and the children’s head and parents should know about it.
(My last lecture?)
Bagni di Lucca’s Villa Gamba has already been the theme of one of my posts where I described the meeting between Giacomo Puccini and Baron Fassini Camossi. It was here that Puccini listened with fascination to certain Chinese melodies played on a carillon (or music box) belonging to his friend the Baron. Camossi had pursued a diplomatic career in China, was a veteran of the 1900 Boxer Rebellions there and probably acquired the box and other souvenirs in China at the notorious “loot auctions” that followed the Boxers’ suppression, when they met at the Baron’s summer house: that same secretive villa Gamba at Bagni di Lucca in 1920. Evidently Adami, the opera’s librettist, was also present.
To find out more about this extraordinary encounter which led to Puccini’s final, sadly incomplete, but certainly greatest opera, ‘Turandot’, you can read my post at:
Tomorrow, Tuesday 25th April at 11 am, in the Sala Rosa of Bagni di Lucca’s Circolo dei Forestieri, Villa Gamba will feature again. This is because there will be a presentation of finalists for the Premio Corsena (prize) for 2017. It’s the first national literary competition on the theme of aeronautical history. What’s the Villa Gamba connection this time then? It’s because the full name of the villa is Gamba-Calderara and Mario Calderara (1879-1944), one of Italy’s greatest pioneer aviators, lived there.
Calderara was the first Italian to get a pilot’s license in 1909 and was the builder of Italy’s first flying boat in 1911.
He was the son of the Alpini regiment General Marco Calderara and Eleonora Tantini. Attracted to a life on the ocean wave Mario joined Livorno’s naval academy where he graduated as midshipman in 1901. He became fascinated by the problems of flight and studied avidly the pioneering efforts of Lilienthal and the Wright brothers and corresponded with them.
Calderara began his first aeronautical experiments in 1907 and, on a biplane towed by a ship, managed to reach a height of over 50 feet, almost risking his life. Calderara got to know French inventor Voisin and worked with him on aeroplane design. In 1909 he managed his first unassisted heavier-than-air fight at Buc in France.
The big breakthrough occurred when Calderara and Italy’s aero club invited Wilbur Wright to Rome. Wright gave Calderara some flying lessons and, consequently, Calderara’s flights increased in length.
In 1911 Calderara built his flying boat, the largest in the world and managed to fly three passengers on it in 1912.
In 1917 Calderara started a training school for pilots and became one of the founders of what would become the Italian equivalent of the RAF.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Mario Calderara is yet another feather in the cap of those greats that have established Bagni di Lucca as a centre of past excellence. For example, our town was the first in Italy to have electric street lighting, the first one to found a Scout troop, the first to pioneer hydro-therapy, the birthplace of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ (as well as the place where most of the maestro’s ‘Girl of the Golden West was composed. It’s great that Bagni di Lucca will now be remembered as the home of one of Italy’s greatest aviation pioneers and founder of its air force.
The programme for tomorrow includes, besides presenting prizes to the finalists, the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of Mario Calderara at the villa Gamba with a visit to the villa itself (an occasion not to be missed!), a lunch at the Circolo dei Forestieri and a conference on the great aviation pioneer who was Mario Calderara. Don’t forget to fly there!
The name itself evokes beauty – Portovenere, the port of Venus – and indeed it is a goddess-like place. Embracing an arm of the immense golf dei Poeti, the gulf of poets with views on one side towards the fantasiose rocky coastline of the Cinque Terre and on the other looking across to the highest of the Apuan Alps, Porto Venere is a place to return to again and again and never be disappointed.
Porto Venere takes its name from an ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Venus This temple has since been built over by the little church of Saint Peter which stands at the end of the promontory leading to the harbour as if to wish every departing sailor a safe journey and to welcome home all those who have risked the often perilous Tyrhennian sea.
There is yet another connection with Venus in Botticelli’s exquisite picture of the goddess’s birth, now in Florence’s Uffizi gallery. At the right side of the painting you can see part of Porto Venere bay with the islands of Palmaria, Tina and Tinetta which form a little archipelago facing it. The lovely Venus is none other than Simonetta Vespucci, the girl who lived next door to Botticelli when he stayed there and with whom he fell inexorably in love. Considered the loveliest woman of the time, Simonetta tragically died of typhus in 1476 aged just 23. Botticelli immortalised Simonetta in one of the world’s most iconic and gorgeous paintings.
Here is that painting and my thoughts on it:
THE BIRTH OF VENUS
The zephyrs blow: she rises from her shell
while flowered maidens wait with cloaks unfurled.
Within her eyes a thousand heavens dwell,
between her thighs the heart of all the world.
It is a gentle sea and winds drop sprays
of leaves on little lapping wavelet crests
and buds and reeds bend to love-circling days
as slender fingers cover perfect breasts.
Her gold-spun locks enfold like breeze-tinged foam
until long hair entwines her pubic mount;
those lovely arms entice lost lovers home
to arcane planet’s mantle-hidden fount.
Meanwhile, the bay and olive grove awaits
to squeeze sweet juice that always satiates.
On this visit to Portovenere we climbed to the top of the Doria castle, surely one of the most formidable defences built by the Venetians. We had the place practically to ourselves, far from the increasing crowds of tourists visiting this heavenly part of the Italian coastline. The views were magnificent and the sea so blue!
We visited the church of San Lorenzo, the patron saint of Portovenere and saw the miraculous log which was cast on the shore filled with sacred treasures and reliquaries.
Byron was just one of the poets who fell in love with this area. One could add Shelley, Montale, D. H. Lawrence, George Sand, the painters J. M. W. Turner and Arnold Boklin, Baroness Orczy, she of the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, and Dante himself who describes the coastline in his Divine Comedy (Purgatorio Canto V)..
Our hungry stomachs beckoned us to a charming little osteria on one of the caruggi or narrow streets which characterise Porto Venere where we enjoyed an appropriately fish-based meal. It was, indeed fish Friday, my wife is born in the sign of Pisces and the waters around us are fishermen’s paradise.
Another type of beauty beckoned us as we returned to our starting point – a rally of vintage cars ranging from Bugatti to Bentley to Bristol. Their sinuous curves showed me the entrance towards yet another beautiful chamber in the paradise that is Portovenere.
You can see more of Portovenere in my post at
In Italy, Pasquetta or Easter Monday is traditionally a time to go for a journey ‘fuori le mura’ – outside the walls, which here doesn’t just mean getting out of one’s house but out of one’s town which, like Lucca, is often surrounded by defensive walls.
We chose a local coach firm, largely to experience this aspect of Italian traditional life. We crossed the Apennines through Renzi’s greatest achievement – an alternative Autostrada del Sole route (variante di Valico) opened in December 2015. It traverses the mountain range almost entirely through tunnels and has cut the journey time from Florence to Bologna by almost an hour. It’s fine on speed, not so good on panoramas. Luckily the old autostrada route has been kept for more scenic travel.
We then travelled through the lush Emilia-Romagna lands with their rows of San Giovese grapevines and dramatic cloud formations.
Our first stop was Ravenna which should by all rights deserve at least a couple of days to visit decently. Although we felt short changed on mosaics we did, at least see some of the extraordinary sights of this city which, at one time in its glorious past, was capital of the Roman Empire.
Theodoric’s’ mausoleum dating from 520 AD is an amazing feat of engineering with a solid stone roof carved out of one stone block weighing tens of tons and originally transported to cap the structure via a ramp.
The Arian baptistery with its beautiful dome mosaic is unique in the world for being the only architectural evidence of a heresy which believed Christ to be literally the son of God i.e. born from the creator and, therefore, subservient to him without any hint of the Trinity as expounded in the Nicaean creed and which is recited by most Christians today. (There’s a tablet inscribed with the Nicaean creed in Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican church, now library).
Dante’s tomb is surely the holiest secular shrine in the Italy and it’s a moving experience to see where the major formulator of the Italian language and the author of the Divine Comedy now rests.
Although bashed about a lot in the Second World War Ravenna retains many characteristic town corners including a lively main piazza.
The biggest event of the ‘scampagnata’, or Italian Easter Monday trip, is, of course, the lunchtime meal which in this case took place in a vast restaurant with no less than five halls. It was quite amazing how quickly and how well we were served with appetizing food. I sometimes think that if cooks and restaurateurs were elected to run the country Italy would turn out to be far better administered! Our lunchtime company was very congenial and remarkably well travelled too.
After lunch we headed for the valli di Comacchio which is an extraordinary area of wetland – probably the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, approaching the Danube delta in dimensions. A continuation of the Venetian lagoon, the area is flat, often marshy, filled with immense brackish lagoons, canals, dykes, clearly a bird-watcher’s paradise and, above all, famous for its eels.
The main town, Comacchio is the centre of eel fishing and production and is a charming place in its own right with a highly photogenic triple bridge and some delightful traffic-free streets.
Half-way along what must be one of the longest porticoed streets I’ve walked along is the entrance to the eel manufactory where eels are dried and canned. The old factory is now a museum with interesting exhibits showing the boats and basket nets used. Among the photographs were stills from a Sophia Loren film I have yet to see, describing the romantic life of an eel-canner and appropriately entitled ‘La Donna del Fiume’ ‘(the lady of the river.’)
It was then time to return home. Since we’d joined the coach at 6 am in Fornoli by the time we reached Bagni di Lucca close to midnight we were ripe for bed-time, falling swiftly into a dream-world where Theodoric, Arianism, eels, lagoons and La Loren were collaged together in ever unbelievable sequences.