About Francis

I have lived in a village in the Bagni di Lucca area since 2005. In these posts I describe some of my experiences and activities in this lovely part of the world and my trips beyond. I am a free-lance English language teacher and writer, and enjoy walking, vegetable gardening, raising ducks and rabbits, choir-singing and having a generally good time.

Happy Sixtieth Birthday European Community!

Today Europe will be celebrating sixty years of peace. The last time this happened was around two thousand years ago during an age described by the historian Gibbon in these glowing terms:

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

As clocks adjust in Italy to ‘ora legale’ by putting the clocks forward one hour the UK will be starting to put its clocks back over seventy years, returning to the dark ages of a country shaking the dust and destruction off a six year long war.

Just the achievement of sixty years peace for the members of the European community – for which that same community obtained the Nobel peace prize in 2012 – should make one hang on to something that is imperfect though precious, riddled with mistakes yet right-minded. The European community has not only preserved us from the utter waste of war but has also safeguarded our right to work, study, live and love within its area. It was thanks to the EU that I went on a teacher exchange to Genoa in 1995. It was again thanks to the EU and the Comenius project that I was able to have a  collaboration with Austrian schools in 1999. Again, thanks to these valuable and enriching experiences, I subsequently obtained jobs with Italian schools and colleges ever since I became a resident in Italy over ten years ago.

So many other areas, like human rights, employment protection, and climate change, are directly touched by the EU. Furthermore, this community is the largest and most powerful free trade area in the world and the only one to be able to fully compete with the rising economies of the Far East. Quitting it will just leave a post-colonial stump of a country begging for bread-crumb trading deals with some of the most questionable nations of the world who share few of the ideas of democracy and freedom which the UK is proud of.

Yet this week-end, thanks to an ill-informed slight referendum majority fed by false and bigoted information, all these hard-won benefits will be placed in jeopardy for the population of the United Kingdom: that is, unless Northern Ireland uses its majority opinion to join with Irish republic and make a unified state or if Scotland manages to obtain and win a second independence referendum. In that case we shall clearly see the break-up of a nation.

The issue which swayed the otherwise negligible majority to vote to quit wasn’t anything to do with the uneatable British sausage having to be renamed the emulsified high-fat offal tube, or the equally unpleasant British imitation of real chocolate being called chocoveg, or something equally unpalatable, and looking remarkably like dishwater, being passed off as real coffee.

(Yes Minister, of course)

No, it wasn’t even the European economy which has dragged up the UK from the dismal abyss into which it had landed before joining the common market 1973 with worn-out industries, tired-looking cars and demoralised work-forces. It was, in fact, the subject of immigration. Not immigration from Commonwealth countries, however, which, starting with the arrival of Jamaican on board the MV Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury in 1948, provided a much needed workforce to help rebuild the UK after WWII (in which so many servicemen from Commonwealth countries too, gave their lives). No, it couldn’t be that sort of Powell-discredited immigration which I vaguely remember as a child was characterised by notices like ‘no blacks’ on properties to rent.  Immigration against people of a different colours skin would now immediately be classed as racist and the perpetrators be accused of race hate.

No. It wasn’t that immigration which had to be controlled. Yet take a white person who doesn’t speak English, or speaks it with a ‘foreign’ accent, then it’s different. Sadly, this is the type of immigration the bigoted Daily Muck readers want to control – in short, the free movement of labour within the European community. It doesn’t matter if there will be skills shortages, especially in hospitals and service industries, as already is happening now from an uneasy European work-force in the UK. It doesn’t matter if members of the European Youth Orchestra, at present based in the UK, will have to move abroad in order to preserve this freedom of movement. It doesn’t matter if City banks are relocating or have plans to move to mainland European financial capitals such as Frankfurt. It doesn’t matter if so much of the field of education and the arts will suffer and be depleted as a result. It doesn’t matter if research and science opportunities for UK youth to work in the European community will be slashed.  At least these specimens of UK Daily Muck readers will say they will be spared the offence of people speaking Italian, French, Rumanian, or any other of the twenty-three officially recognised EU languages, as they catch the 176 bus driven by a Pole or do their shopping at the local convenience store served by a Lithuanian.

‘Ah yes’, they will say. ‘At least we’ll be able to control our country, free from all those EC laws.’ What laws in particular? I’ve asked some of these people. None could give me any specific example…

For me the ultimate insult to anything that is of value in an organisation which has saved us from so much evil that previous European generations had to endure is that dismal crowd of so-called expats – immigrants in fact  – that propagate their ridiculous views in such places as the otherwise acceptable bar at Ponte a Serraglio, Bagni di Lucca. To use anagrams in order to avoid libel and name in this way just two: the soft roes and retoolings of this world.

How can immigrants from the UK, resident in an Italian comune for over ten years and getting their income from this country, ever have had the idiocy of voting to quit a union that has achieved so much for a great continent that last century all but destroyed itself twice over? I suggest that these ‘Cretini’ could leave and spare the likes of me the ‘Daily Merde’ back-chat that soils the atmosphere of an otherwise pleasant ambience in Bagni di Lucca.

Happy Sixtieth Birthday European Community! Long may you live and may your children have the chance to continue to build upon the great foundations laid by Italy’s De Gasperi, Germany’s Adenauer, France’s Monnet and, last but not least, Britain’s Churchill who said at the congress of Europe in 1948:  ‘I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible….Britain must play her full part as a member of the European family’

Viva L’Europa!

PS I cannot leave this rant without a sad thought, but a defiance one, for those victims of the recent terrorist attack in London. Of the killed and injured victims three were French children, two were Romanians, one was German, one was Polish, one was Irish, two were Italian, and two were Greeks – all countries of the European Union – and all of which countries pasted ‘I am a Londoner’ on my facebook page too.

Tales of the Night

What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than attend a talk as part of the Unitre (university of the third age) programme. Natalia Sereni, our local historian is well-known for her books on, among other subjects, the Prato Fiorito, Bagni di Lucca’s part in World War One and the entry of Fornoli in the comune.

Sereni’s subject yesterday was ‘Racconti Notturni’ (Tales of the Night). To this day stories are told locally of witches, demons, sorcerers, elves, sibyls and soothsayers. Indeed, Italy today is even fuller of what are generally called superstitions. Horoscopes are eagerly read and broadcast and posters advertising fortune tellers and card-readers drape our town walls. Why should beliefs in magic and witchcraft still be flourishing and expanding in what is supposed to be a rational and scientific age?

The fact is that these beliefs go back an incredibly long way and are rooted in ancient pagan beliefs. Indeed, the word ‘pagan’ comes from the root for ‘village’ and that’s where these beliefs survive to this day. Religion (derived from the Latin ‘religio’ – tying together) systematised and created a hierarchy of these credences with God placed firmly on top of the pyramid.

In post-reformation northern Europe there was no place for magic and witchcraft. Indeed, such practices were actively discouraged by burning perpetrators of anti-religious heresy at the stake. A manual, ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, (the hammer of witches) written by clergyman Heinrich Kramer and published in 1487 and apparently still in use by the church is an excellent guidebook to the discovery of witches and the ways of interrogating them with appropriate punishments and the correct instruments of torture to use.

So it was the Protestants who led the league in the burning of witches, especially during the start of the seventeenth century. Indeed, King James I was a specialist in the subject – no wonder that Shakespeare dedicated ‘Macbeth’ to him. In catholic Italy there was less burning and persecution going on – the last witch was killed off in 1828.

The reason for this is that the Catholic Church used a process of syncretism in which previous pagan beliefs were incorporated into a new scheme approved by the ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, the Earth goddess Diana was incorporated into the Virgin; the attributes of wizards were made part of the characteristics of St John the Baptist and at least one divinity who protected shepherds’ herds and farm animals became St Anthony Abbot (whose ancient statue incidentally graces our local church at San Cassiano).

No wonder so many churches here are built on the foundations of pre-Christian temples and shrines. Recently we visited Tamilnadu in India and were amazed by the fact that the rites carried out in the magnificent temples of that part of the world have remained the same for thousands of years. Even the appearance of an Asian messiah in the form of Gautama did not interrupt rituals of worship but became incorporated within the multiplicity of idols which adorn these religious centres through the process of syncretism.

The multiplicity of saints in the Roman Catholic faith may be regarded as replacements for the many gods, sprites, fauns and deities of ‘pagan’ times. Catholics are in reality, worshipping in a structure which systematises and orders primeval beliefs whose main object was to help people understand the weird world they lived in. Myths and legends are, in fact, narratives which explain why things come to be and are what they are. If one complains saying that science has done away with this sort of ‘magic’ interpretation then think again: there as so many things which happen in one’s life, so many strange coincidences, phenomena, intuitions, singularities, miracles even, which cannot simply be explained by the laws of quantum mechanics or physics or, indeed, any other form of scientific or rational theory.

An aside by Bagni di Lucca’s own Vito, who combines modern medical science with holistic practices and psychoanalysis, was most perceptive, especially when regarding dreams. Vito sees dreams as the only state where mankind experiences complete freedom: in daily life we are obliged to place the chains of social restrain on us. Dreams, therefore, can provide an indication of who we really are and where we are likely to go. The problem, however, is the way we interpret them.

Natalia Sereni finished her perceptive and provoking talk with a quote from Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. After all even I have difficulty in explaining that our planet is a globe to a determined believer in flat earth theory. That’s why I’m off to the local wise woman to get some advice on what is the best washing powder I should buy.

 

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   https://www.thelocal.it/20160624/how-to-get-italian-citizenship-or-at-least-stay-forever 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’.

And

‘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.

 

 

https://www.ibs.it/mavi-libro-luca-sereni/e/9788869700811

 

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: