Looking for …….?

Bagni di Lucca’s amateur dramatic society put on their summer show last Saturday and achieved considerable success. The play ‘AAA Cercasi’ (‘looking for’) was an amusing ‘commedia brillante’ set in the context of interviews for selecting a suitable cast for a musical. Each of the characters had to deliver a performance which demonstrated their capacity to indulge in quick repartee dialogue, recite monologues, deal with chaplinesque mime and to be able to sing and dance.

The performer on the night were:

  • Erica Stringari
  • Daniela Orsi
  • Maria Pia Pasquini
  • Maria Rita Barbagli
  • Nina D’Amice
  • Elisa Franceschini

The increasing professionality of the company (of which I was a member in their Christmas show – see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/luci-di-natale-christmas-lights-at-bagni-di-luccas-teatro-accademico/ –  but which for personal reasons I had to decline to participate in this year ) was also evident in the fact that at the last movement one of the cast member had to be absent for family reasons.

No problem. I’ve never seen the house so packed for the company; Bagni di Lucca’s own actors received a loud ovation at the end of their captivating performance which showed no sign of hesitation or awkwardness.

Well done. I think they’re now too good for me to ever re-join them!

Thanks are clearly due to the combined efforts of actors and singers Guendalina Tambellini, Michela Innocenti and Claudio Sassetti who trained the cast and put the show together.

We look forwards to the company’s next stage appearance during the Christmas season. perhaps you’d care to join them? Contact Daniela at

https://www.facebook.com/daniela.orsi.507

PS In case you were wondering what the AAA before the ‘cercasi’ means it has no meaning. It’s just a sure tactic many people use so they can have their newspaper announcement at the top of the alphabetical list!

 

 

Two Triestine Castles

It was the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa who laid the foundations of modern Trieste. She decided that the city should become a free port – a gateway between East and West – and planned that part of the city which to this day is called the ‘Città Teresina’. The picturesque grand canal, the church of Saint Anthony and all those other churches, temples and synagogues serving different religious communities sprang up and are testimony to the immense religious tolerance this city has been famous for.

Maria Teresa also took down the walls of the old town built around the cathedral and the castle which dominate one of Trieste’s hills. We decided we’d take the bus to the top of the hill. First, we passed the old Roman theatre.

At the Piazzale della cattedrale the view was already extensive. Before San Giusto stands the remains of a Roman basilica and, indeed, the base of the cathedral tower is built on a Roman temple. The cathedral itself is fascinating. Basically it’s two churches banged into one so it has two apses, one of which has magnificent byzantine mosaics, and double aisles too.

The best thing about San Giusto, however, is its magnificent rosone or rose window.

We almost thought we’d come to the conclusion of our Trieste town visit but were encouraged to visit the castle where we were promised the best views of Trieste bay. This was quite correct!

We enjoyed visiting the armoury, the dungeons now filled with roman statuary and walking along the bastions themselves.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from this wonderfully windy spot. A slight bora – Trieste’s notorious wind which blasts its way through the mountains from the east and is meant to drive people mad – was starting up and we needed to make our way back home.

But we still had to visit the haunted Miramare castle.

Just outside Trieste is probably what must be one of Europe’s finest preserved 19th century summer palaces: the Schloss Miramar. The walk to it is via a dramatic piece of coastline.

Thanks to contemporary drawings and designs the interior has been restored with all the original fittings and furnishings making a visit to the palace a truly time-warping experience.

Miramare was the scene of some of the most passionate and most tragic episodes in the history of the Hapsburgs. It was built by Emperor Franz Joseph’s younger brother the archduke Maximilian. This young man was one of the brightest sparks in an otherwise staid and stuffy dynasty. He reformed the Austrian navy, rebuilt Trieste port, went on several expeditions, issued liberal reforms and fell in love with Charlotte, a Belgian princess.

Maximilian_and_Charlotte

Still on his idealistic bent Max took up Napoleon III’s offer to restore the empire in Mexico. Despite his best intentions he failed to attract support from Juarez and his rebels and was executed at Queretaro in 1867 – a scene dramatically illustrated in Manet’s famous painting.

download - Copia

Understandably Charlotte, now called Carlotta, became insane after the incident and spent much of her later life under care or, as they now say in Italy, ‘in una struttura.’  She died in 1927 having regained some of her sanity.

The palace was subsequently used by the emperor himself and his wife Elizabeth. Nicknamed Sissi, Elizabeth was a paragon of beauty with a highly fashionable sixteen-inch waist, and always kept her weight below fifty kilos. She was also Europe’s best female equestrian and adhered to a strict regime of exercises and walking. Sissi preserved her skin by sleeping with a slice of veal and strawberries on her face.  Her shampoo was a mixture of cognac and eggs and she took over three hours every week to wash her flowing locks. She would also take her bath in heated olive oil. Anybody tried it out there?

220px-Empress_Elisabeth_of_Austria - Copia

After producing a male heir in the shape of Rudolph, Sissi never again slept with her husband and instead entertained a sequence of handsome aristocratic lovers (including an English noble) within the velvets and brocades of Miramar’s love nest, well away from the stiff formalism of Vienna’s imperial court which she could never stand.

DSCN1296

But tragedy did not end here. Her son, Rudolph, unhappy with his marriage to Belgian princess Stephanie, fell desperately for the baroness Mary Vetsera. Opposed to the liaison by his autocratic father he and Mary entered into a murder-suicide pact and their bodies were discovered in the family’s hunting lodge at Mayerling on 30th January 1889.

Actually the mystery has never been properly cleared up. Some say that Mary Vetsera died as a result of a botched abortion: she was just eighteen at the time. Others say that she shot Rudolph first. There is also a murder theory by a jealous third party. The facts, hushed up when they occurred, were never fully revealed and the Mayerling “incident” remains one history’s great mysteries. (Incidentally the wonderful Macmillan Ballet danced by London’s Royal Ballet takes another yet another slant on the story).

As if the death of his son, the crown prince and heir to the throne, were not enough, Emperor Franz Joseph had to witness his beautiful Sissi murdered in 1898 by Luigi Luchesi, an Italian anarchist near Geneva. We visited Sissi’s tomb in the imperial Hapsburg vaults in Vienna way back in 1991.

vienna01a

Franz Joseph died in 1916. At least he was spared seeing the break-up of the thousand year old Hapsburg Empire. His son Charles succeeded him but gave up the throne after World War One when the old empire was carved up between the newly emerging countries of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia. In 2004 Charles was, unusually, beatified by Pope John Paul II in spite of the fact that he had ordered the use of poison gas in the Great War against Italy. He is now known as “the blessed Charles”.

One would never guess all these tragic and often weird events wandering through the luscious rooms of Miramare (literally “Sea view”) and traipsing across the summer palace’s exotic gardens. I hope that in some way this beautiful setting gave solace to Austria’s last imperial family so often beset by calamity and recriminations.

DSCN1326

No wonder, however, that the castle od Miramar is haunted…….

 

The Sartorio’s Aristocratic Triestine Villa

I first thought in my ignorance that (hinting at its name) the Museo Sartorio dealt with fashion or even needlework. I need not have worried. The Sartorio, which is just a short distance uphill from the Revoltella museum (see my previous blog) is another fine nineteenth century Triestine aristocratic villa.

The Sartorio family originated from Sanremo but moved to Trieste in 1775 where Pietro Sartorio bought the beautiful villa from the Faraon family, originally from Alexandra Egypt. Like too many noble families, the family was extinguished when the last heir Baroness Anna Segrè Sartorio died issueless and left the villa and its furniture to the comune of Trieste with the wish that it be opened to the public.

Sartorio’s villa is also important politically in that it became the headquarters of the Allied government after World War Two. It’s not often realised that it was only in 1975 that Trieste fully became part of the Italian Republic with the signing of a treaty with Tito. In the last days of the war atrocities were committed when both Italian and Yugoslav partisans fought it out for possession of the city. The Allies smartly stepped in to stop the bloodshed and declared Trieste a free city dividing it into territory A and territory B.

In my philatelic collection I have Italian stamps stamped with the initials AMG-FTT standing for Allied Military Government – Free Territory of Trieste. It was only in 1954 that a peace deal was finally agreed with the former Yugoslavia to allow territory A to return to Italian government, where it formed part of the new region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and for territory B to be returned to Yugoslavia. I must have received these stamps from an ex-military commander of Trieste who became almoner of London’s Italian Hospital (alas now no longer in existence). He regularly spent half his year living in his flat overlooking a Kensington square and the other half in Trieste, which he swore was incredibly beautiful (I now believe him) and had the best quality of life on the Italian peninsula. According to a recent survey it still does…

We do not need to be reminded too much of the horrible Balkan wars of the1990’s that split Yugoslavia up into the countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Now Trieste’s immediate neighbour is Slovenia, part of the Schengen group. These are countries in the European continent that have agreed to ‘the abolition of their internal borders with other member nations and outside, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services, and capital, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening common judicial system and police cooperation.’

It’s interesting to note that three non-EU countries – Switzerland, Iceland and Norway – are part of Schengen and that five EU countries – Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the UK and Eire are not.

After 2019, under the present administration, the UK will be the only country in Europe not just not to be part of the EU but also not to be part of Schengen. What this will do for the economy and international relations of a country which has always lauded itself for having the mother of all parliaments (although the Icelandic Althing is actually the world’s oldest parliament) and a refuge for persecuted people God only knows!

To return to the Sartorio museum. The villa has fine rooms on its piano nobile  including some decorated in a ‘baronial gothick style.’

There is an exquisite collection of mediaeval and renaissance paintings from the Istrian peninsula (where Trieste is situated) which show how important the influence of the Venetian school (especially Bellini) was to them.

The majolica and jewellery collections are also worth a look.

The Villa has a glyptotheque (plaster cast room) in which both the famous and the infamous are lodged in safety from their detractors and admirers alike.

There is a marvellous collection of Tiepolo drawings used as models for the painter’s grander frescoed ceilings.

Museo Sartorio is yet another aristocratic villa in Trieste fully worthy of a visit and its gardens make a welcome stop on one’s walk-about in this fascinating city.

The villa’s web site is at http://museosartoriotrieste.it/

Luxury Living in Trieste

Trieste has thirty two museums listed. Clearly it would be impossible to visit them all in a couple of days and some of the museums are of truly specialist interest. It’s best to pick a couple which appeal to you and just spend your time in those.

Trieste’s museums can be put into the following categories. I’ve listed the more important ones under each one:

Art museums:

Museo Revoltella

History and art museum

Museum of oriental art

Theatrical museum

 

History museums:

Castle museum

Fatherland museum

Risorgimento museum

Archaeological museum

Postal museum

 

Science museums:

Natural history museum

Aquarium

Maritime museum

Botanical gardens and museum

 

Literary museums:

James Joyce museum

Italo Svevo museum

Petrarch and Piccolomini museum

 

Historical residences:

Sartorio museum

Morpurgo museum

 

Other museums:

Railway museum

Jewish museum

The James Joyce museum also has material related to Sir Richard Burton (see http://www.burtoniana.org/trieste/index.htm). There is, therefore, an important double connection between Bagni di Lucca and Trieste!

First, is the painter Rietti, friend of Triestine Italo Svevo and Bagni di Lucca’s frequent visitor Giacomo Puccini. (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/giacomo-puccini-and-italo-svevo-only-connect/  for more on this fascinating connection).

Second, is the fact that the Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton was British consul in Trieste between 1872 and 1890 and that Colonel Henry Stisted (founder of Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican Church and buried in Bagni’s protestant cemetery) was the father-in-law of Burton’s sister, Maria Katherine Eliza Burton. Richard Burton visited Bagni di Lucca as a young lad during his family’s peregrinations. (To read more about this connection see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/tag/richard-francis-burton/ )

Anyway, with this amazing plethora of connections we clearly had to focus on just a few things and happily found that ignorance was our best arm. I only found out how many museums Trieste had afterwards but, luckily, chance and friendly locals directed us to some of the best ones while we stayed there.

The museums we prefer are those which form part of historical residences and, therefore, have a double allure in presenting not only a collection of fine items but also giving us an indication of how people lived in former times. That’s why London’s Wallace collection, Soane and Wellington museums – to name just a few – are so appealing.

The first Triestine museum we visited was the Revoltella which combines the luscious nineteenth residence of Baron Pasquale Revoltella (who left all his property and collections to Trieste upon his death in 1869) with two other houses adapted to form an art museum by the pioneering modern architect Carlo Scarpa.

Baron Revoltella was a shrewd entrepreneur who struck it lucky when he became vice-president of the Suez Canal Company whose project  revolutionised world trade. Now, trade routes from the East to Europe could pass much more quickly via the Mediterranean and include Trieste (which still remains Italy’s major port) instead of rounding the Cape. There are several documents in the museum relating to Revoltella’s role in constructing the Suez Canal.

The Revoltella museum has truly something to please all tastes. You can enjoy insights into the interiors and furnishings of a rich nineteenth century Triestine town house:

You can delight in paintings from an earlier era:

or more modern times:

or enjoy one of Trieste’s finest town views.

 

The Revoltella museum is a surely a must on any visit to exquisite Trieste.

 

PS There’s more information at the museum’s web site at http://www.museorevoltella.it/

 

 

Fill your page with the breathings of your heart

There are no better palliatives to the disease so many humans inflict upon mother earth than to return to nature and all those beings who are one with it. There are delights upon this planet that will never change our lives.

Like this shepherd and his flock passing up a gorge I saw on my way home to Longoio the other day:

What greater influence upon keeping calm can the scene of this person, alone but not lonely, with his dogs and his sheep, have?

What greater delights can our ripening cherries have on the palate of our thoughts?

And even in the worst of the ‘acquazzoni’ (‘showers’ in Italian but they are more like mini-tempests in this country) what happiness can Flip (one of my ducks) impart when she enjoys feeling the rain drops on her candid plumage?

Let us enjoy even the smallest everyday things of life. Let us always be one with nature. Let us savour each minute of our lives with the enjoyment given to our first glance of anything beautiful and with the custody given to the thought that it could well be our last on this planet.

 

They Shall NEVER Succeed!!!

I would have posted something happy about our second day in Trieste but today is truly a tragic, and horrific day for both Italy and the United Kingdom.

One of the first sights we met when driving out of Palermo airport during our visit to Sicily in 2011 was the monument to Falcone and Borsellino. Indeed, the airport is named after these two heroes who had the bravery to stand up against the mafia. Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Falcone’s death when his car was blown up by a gang of Mafiosi unhappy that Falcone had been so successful in bringing to justice their particularly disgusting form of organised crime.  What remains of the wreck of the car in which Falcone and his wife were blown up in has been travelling round Italy as a memorial to what happened and as a warning of what unopposed terrorism can do:

At the same time today we hear of something so unimaginably horrendous that the United Kingdom is, too, plunged into a day which will always be remembered.  Ariana Grande is a young singer born in the USA but, like so many other famous female singers there, of Italian descent, (like Madonna, Laura Nyro, Lady Gaga, Melanie, Shakira, Alicia Keys to name just a few.) As a teenage actor with her role of ‘Cat Valentine’ Ariana attracted a great following, largely of young people, and her transformation with her incredible voice quality and span into a fine singers has given so many children and young adults a wonderful role model to follow.

It was this future generation, many accompanied by their parents, who attended the start of Ariana’s tour in the UK. That’s what is so particularly tragic and so difficult to get one’s head round in what happened last night in Manchester and what will mark this day, 23rd May, for ever.

These bastard terrorists want to strike fear not only towards our governments’ security, but equally to our life styles. They want to prevent young people from growing up feeling secure with their friends, with their music, with all the activities and things they like.

This those murderers will never achieve. The heart-ache, the almost unsustainable pain, the inconceivable shock and, above all the blood of young innocent victims, will strengthen the resolve of all who believe in a tolerant, positive, cosmopolitan world to stand up for, nurture and never give up hope in those ideals which genuine humanity stands for.

Terrorism has no nationality or religion – it has no place on our planet! We may be affected by what terrorists do but we shall never be changed in our highest core values by them. ALL TERRORISM IS A PATHETIC ADMISSION OF FAILURE.

NON PASSERANNO MAI!!

“Uccisi perché? Per il sogno di un gruppo di esaltati che giocavano a fare la rivoluzione, si illudevano di essere spiriti elettianime belle votate a una nobile utopia senza rendersi conto che i veri “figli del popolo”, come li chiamava Pasolini, stavano dall’altra parte, erano i bersagli della loro stupida follia. “

(Trans: Why were the victims killed? To fulfil the dream of a group of self-exalters who played at being the revolution, deluding themselves in thinking they were the chosen spirits, souls elected to enter a utopia without realizing that the real “children of the people”, as Pasolini called them, were on the opposite side. These terrorists are truly the targets of their own stupid madness. ”

Mario Calabresi

All our hearts go out to the families and victims of this latest atrocity to hit our planet. Let’s, however, be positive and finish this sad post with one of Ariana’s best songs:

 

Return to Trieste

Ten year have passed since I last visited wonderful Trieste and Sandra had never been there at all! It was time to return and show her a city which, above all other European towns, showed the way to a cosmopolitan European continent where different nationalities could meet in harmony and where progressive ideas could be formulated.

Described by “Lonely Planet” guide as “the most underestimated of Italian tourist destinations”, Trieste is a truly fascinating place to discover, not least because of its location at the crossroads of three worlds, the Italian Mediterranean, the Mittel-European Austrian and the Slavonic Balkans.

Trieste was also James Joyce’s favourite place and Italo Svevo’s birthplace too (who was taught English by Joyce before setting out to our London borough of Greenwich to run a paint factory – the subject of my talk which you can read about at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/two-italian-connections-in-my-old-se-london-work-place/)

We approached Trieste via the old coast route which passes by such mythical places as the palazzo Miramar and Duino castle, where, as guest of the Princess Marie Von Thurn und Taxis, the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his transcendental Duino elegies. Here is a favourite extract from these great reflections on life and death:

Once for each thing. Just once; no more.  And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing. 

The entry into Trieste and its bay was truly spectacular as we drove along the corniche.

Our hotel was right in the centre of Trieste and, as it was the week-end, not only did we find a parking-place in front of it but also paid nothing for it. Here is our dear little car with its even dearer driver before where we stayed.

In the late afternoon and evening we walked around lovely Trieste and met old book-friends like James Joyce and Italo Svevo.


Trieste could be described as Vienna-by-the-sea. Its impressive buildings do have a strong taste of classic Ringstrasse architecture.

But Trieste is also typically Italian with its narrow streets in the old town and its beautiful cathedral dedicated to San Giusto which we would visit the following day.

The evening sunset over the great Piazza Unità d’Italia was spectacular. We voted this among the very best Piazze of Italy ranking with Saint Marks, Palmanova and il Campo di Siena.

Our evening ended with a great impromptu rock concert outside a bar in the old quarter which included Joyce’s favourite red light district. Who needs to pine for Stones tickets when such exciting free events happen in Italy?

‘My heart is in Trieste’ said Joyce and it remained with him until the end as it still does with us!