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.

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!

 

Vico Pancellorum’s Secret Language

Once you’re reasonably fluent in Italian it’s just the start of your learning process! I’ve already mentioned in a recent post that there are at least twenty-six regional languages which could be said to be rather more than dialects because they have their own literature and literary societies. Most obviously, the great eighteenth Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni wrote both in Venetian and Italian. (There’s a good Venetian on-line machine translator at https://glosbe.com/it/vec/) .Even composers like Pergolesi did not disdain to accept opera libretti written in the Neapolitan language such as his ‘Lo frate ‘innamorato. (See https://glosbe.com/nap/it for Neapolitan if you need it, especially when listening to ‘Lo frate ‘nnamorato’).

We are lucky in Tuscany because the region’s language is the basis of current Italian. Dante saw to that when he wrote his ‘Divine Comedy’ in the ‘vulgar tongue’ (i.e. not in Latin). Having said that, there are many local variants in Tuscan Italian, not least phonetically, as anyone who’s lived in Florence knows where any ‘k’ sound is turned into ‘h’ aspirate (I.e., instead of ‘casa’ Florentines say ‘hasa’).

Lucchese is meant to be a very polished form of Tuscan Italian (indeed families of the Italian nobility used to send their daughters to schools in Lucca to pick up a ‘refined speech’.)  Yet even in the walled city it’s worth investing in a dictionary of Lucchese, such as Ippolito Nieri’s (Ponte a Moriano’s great philologist) work which can be found at https://books.google.it/books/about/Il_vocabolario_lucchese.html?id=z4w0AQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y

Luckily, Tuscan variants are largely lexical rather than syntactical. I.e., the deep grammatical structure usually remains the same with subject-verb-object being the basic pattern with only the vocabulary changing.

Just to give you some very simple examples of Lucchese as it spoken around Lucca:

ENGLISH ITALIAN LUCCHESE
We/us Noi Noialtri (cf. Spanish ‘Nosotros’)
You come too Vieni anche tu Vieni anco te
Show him/her who you are Fargli vedere chi sei Fanni vedé chi sei

 

‘Ni’ is used in the Lucchese even more frequently than the ‘ne’ in standard Italian, replacing many different forms of ‘gli’, ‘lo’ etc.

I could go on for miles but if, as a forestiere living in this part of the world, you start to cut off the last syllable ‘re’ from infinitives and indulge in other elisions then it’s clear proof that you are turning into a Lucchese. (E.g. ‘me va fà na bella cena’ = ’I’m going to have a nice supper’.)

Going up into the mountains of the Lucchesia, especially if you’re venturing into the remoter reaches of the Garfagnana and even if you are Italian-perfect, more problems are likely to be encountered. For example, people from Bagni di Lucca have to have things said to them at least twice over in the bars of Vagli di Sotto and di Sopra at the upper end of the Serchio valley before they get the gist of what is being uttered. (And that’s before they start on the drink…).

Which reminds me, I have now come to the stage, living here for over twelve years, where, especially in the summer tourist season starting now in Bagni di Lucca, I hear people talking what seems to be an unknown foreign language, only to realise that it is English that is spoken, but in a weird part of the Islands!

Happily, Italians everywhere are glad to know you are making efforts to learn and speak their beautiful language so they will (unlike the French) slow down and try to speak a more standard Italian.

However, there are still certain areas of the world where people don’t really encourage you to speak their language (I’m thinking of the more inaccessible valleys of Wales where many people don’t like you to understand everything they are talking about). This is especially the case with particular specialist trades. Language for them is indeed like a closed shop. You’ve got to understand the language before you can practise the craft. Nowhere is this more apparent in those communities of the lucchese Mediavalle and Garfagnana where there are (or have been) metallurgical workers. In Fornovolasco, for example, the Lucchese lexical structure is mixed up with words coming from the Brescian dialect since in mediaeval times families of iron-founders from that part of Italy settled in these parts to mine and exploit the excellent ores they discovered lay in the Apuan alps.

This is also the case with ‘l’arivaro’, the ‘secret’ language of metal workers in Vico Pancellorum of which, unfortunately, there is only one fluent speaker left.

(A View of Vico Pancellorum)

On Saturday evening at Luca and Rebecca’s bookshop there was a fascinating conference given by three inhabitants from this beautiful and sequestered borgo of our comune. The speakers were Claudio Stefanini, president of ‘Il Risveglio’ local association which does a lot to give life to the village, especially with its summer exhibition, Manuel the grandson of the last speaker of the language and Lisa, a linguistics student, who is writing a thesis on the language.

(From left to right: Lisa, Manuel and Claudio.)

The main points I gathered were as follows:

  1. The language is strictly tied to the trade of tin-lining the interior of copper pots which would otherwise be poisonous to cook in.
  2. The language is syntactically the same but lexically is quite different from standard Italian.
  3. The full language is reduced to two speakers since everyone else speaking it has either died or emigrated or forgotten it.
  4. The language takes its vocabulary from an area of Calabria which, in turn took words from Albanian and Spanish. (e.g. ‘window’ is Italian ‘finestra’ but in vicoan ‘arivaro’ it is ‘ventana’.)
  5. Basic parts of the language are still in use today in Vico Pancellorum For example, a common greeting up there is ‘ere’ (pronounced as it is written). This is a variant of ‘muori’, ‘die’. If that greeting sounds morbid then there are so many Italian phrases which are used to mean the opposite. I.e. ‘ere’ actually means ‘top of the morning to you!’ Another more widespread Italian expression is ‘in Bocca al Lupo’ which means ‘may you land up in the wolf’s mouth’ which actually means ‘good luck.’ The point here is that if you wished good luck to an Italian they wouldn’t believe you! (Never, ever say ‘buona fortuna’ to anyone in this country!!!). It’s a bit like the English ‘break a leg’!
  6. The language is used by speakers for confidential matters which they want to keep secret and not let out to ‘forestieri’. i.e. anyone who wasn’t born in Vico Pancellorum.

The talk in ‘Shelley House’ was immensely well-attended with standing room only for many people, including the mayor. The best part was hearing Claudio and Manuel having an amusing conversation in ‘arivaro’.  We are promised a dictionary of the language and it will surely be fascinating to read Lisa’s completed thesis.

My own theory about forms of languages is as follows:

ENGLISH TERM ITALIAN TERM MEANING
Standard world language Lingua Nazionale The language as it is presented in standard grammars and spoken by the educated class
Allowed regional  languages Lingue regionali Often quite different and with opposed roots from the standard world language e.g. Welsh in the UK and Friulian in Italy. These languages will be distinguished easily by having locations with two separate names and separate road signs.
Dialect Dialetto Lexical and often syntactical variants of the standard language
Slang Gergo Typical ‘street’ or ‘country’ language. Examples includes cockney rhyming slang and rap.
Metalanguage Metalinguaggio Without getting into deep water because there are so many issues in discussing this term, this means any specialised language used in particular defined areas. These could go from scientific experiments to linguistic analysis to tin-lining copper pots in Vico Pancellorum. This type of language is essentially linked to a particular physical or mental activity.

 

It’s my theory that ‘l’arivaro’ is, in fact, a meta-language of a very particular kind with input from local ‘gergo’ (which it is usually referred to by the inhabitants)  and dialectical forms connected with other areas of Italy or even Europe. It’s just so sad that so many languages of whatever category are in danger of disappearing for ever in the world. For example, in Tierra del Fuego there’s only one native speaker of Yaghan the local language left. So if you meet up with Abuela on Navarrino Island in Chile and hear her talking to herself don’t imagine she’s going nutty; it’s just that she has no-one else to talk to in her language.

Now let me tell my cat Napoleon to get off my keyboard. How does one say that in Felinian?

PS Do check on the very interesting future events at ‘Shelley House’ on their facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/events/1725797921046868/

 

My Flower is at Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano is well-known for its azalea festival which I have described in various posts:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/another-fabulous-borgo-azalea-festival/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/astounding-azaleas-are-arriving/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/blooming-azaleas/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/legging-it-in-leghorn/

It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when no azalea festival was announced for this April. I needn’t have worried for this May week-end Borgo has put on a truly dazzling day of flowers which in some respects is even better than the azalea displays.

There are contributions from every borgo or village in the comune of Borgo, streets events and art displays. Car-parking is, as usual easy in the Penny Market supermarket park and the catering includes everything from lampredotto to zucchero filato.

With these climatically somewhat unpredictable days there was a sharp tempestuous shower in the afternoon but, at least the flowers on show appreciated it! Judge for yourselves.

The old town turned itself into a flower garden, thanks to arrangements arranged by local florists, associations and schools. I especially liked the Vespa display with 1969 original trappings including flower-title 45 rpm records and a dansette gramophone.

Even door handles were decorated.

There were many handicraft stalls.

Even restaurants offered flower-themed menus. I think anyone who has stayed in Italy will have tasted how delicious courgette flowers and even dandelions are when fried in batter.

Simonetta Cassai hosted an exhibition of paintings which highlighted what progress her students had made in the art course held there.

I loved these boxed 3-D pictures which a local teacher also uses for elementary school activities.

The Municipal Library held a photographic exhibition.

Activities starting from Borgo included a trek up to Monte Bargiglio which I have described at

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/the-eye-of-lucca/

The Monte Agliale Astronomical Observatory will also be open during the evenings of the festival, welcoming visitors to discover the wonders of the sky if the clouds we’ve been recently having permit,

There are also treks along the Gothic Line which I have described at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/catching-the-train-at-borgo-a-mozzano/

For more information on the festival look at the web site at

http://www.giardinoazalea.it

It’s an event that you cannot afford to miss if you are in the Lucchesia and entry is free too!

Lucca Summer Festival Dates

THE ONLY ITALIAN ROLLING STONES DATE AT LUCCA’S SUMMER FESTIVAL

The Summer Festival celebrates twenty years of uninterrupted activity thanks to the foresight of its patron Mimmo D’Alessandro, who this year is presenting in Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone some of the greatest names in pop music.

The Rolling Stones, who in September and October will be on the “STONES – NO FILTER” tour in Europe, will perform at the Lucca Summer Festival on their only Italian date on September 23rd at 9.30 pm.

The concert will take place in a location never used before. It will have as its backdrop the wonderful Medieval Walls, a famous symbol of the city, which have just celebrated their five hundred years. The evening will also celebrate the Lucca Summer Festival twentieth birthday.

Tickets for sale at http://www.ticketone.it

Advanced bookings TicketOne – Infoline 0584.46477

BOOK AT OUR SITE AND AVOID TICKET TOUTS

TRIBUTE TO THE THREE TENORS WITH “VOLO”

The three tenors’ IL VOLO ‘Notte Magica’ Tour, which premiered on March 4 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, arrives at the Lucca Summer Festival on July 21st at 9.30 pm. After dates already announced in the main Italian and European cities, Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble will continue to enchant their audience with further concerts in the most picturesque Italian locations in July.

Tickets for sale at http://www.ticketone.it

Advanced bookings TicketOne – Infoline 0584.46477

PET SHOP BOYS

After the huge success of the first part of their ‘Super’ World Tour held last autumn, the Pet Shop Boys return to perform at major European Festivals, including the Lucca Summer Festival on July 31st at 9.30 pm. For over twenty-five years Pet Shop Boys have been regarded as innovators of modern live music shows incorporating multimedia and theatrical elements into their productions. In this tour they will perform an incredible show full of movies, costumes, light games, lasers, choreographies, songs from the latest ‘Super’ album and, of course, many hits. Live arrangements were created along with Stuart Price who produced the Super album. The show is designed and directed by Es Devlin with choreographies by Lynne Page.

Tickets for sale at http://www.ticketone.it

Advanced bookings TicketOne – Infoline 0584.

 

 

How to Receive a Postcard from Puccini

CARTOLINE PUCCINIANE (‘PUCCINI POSTCARDS’) SELECTION FROM LA BOHÈME

On 1st June, the Cartoline Pucciniane (‘Puccini Postcards’) summer events of Puccini arias, duets, and ensembles, with piano accompaniment, begin. These are promoted and produced by the Teatro del Giglio and the Giacomo Puccini Foundation. The concerts are enjoyed so much by both tourists and those living in Lucca that in recent years the audience number has increased from 440 in 2015 to 780 in 2016. There’s an average of five shows per year. The Puccini recitals take place in Piazza Cittadella, right in front of the house where Puccini was born in 1858 and which now houses the Puccini Museum.

The planned concerts for 2017 all begin at 6 pm and will start on Thursday June 1st with La Bohème.

Tickets for the Cartoline Pucciniane cost 10 euros.

For bookings and sales please contact the Giglio Theatre’s Box Office (tel 0583.465320 – email biglietteria@teatrodelgiglio.it).

CARTOLINE PUCCINIANE (‘PUCCINI POSTCARDS’) SELECTION FROM MADAMA BUTTERFLY

Second ‘cartolina’ on 6th July with a selection from Madama Butterfly.

CARTOLINE PUCCINIANE (‘PUCCINI POSTCARDS’) SELECTION FROM LA RONDINE

Third ‘cartolina’ on 3rd August with a selection from La Rondine.

CARTOLINE PUCCINIANE (‘PUCCINI POSTCARDS’) SELECTION FROM TOSCA

Fourth ‘cartolina’ on 24th August with a selection from Tosca.

CARTOLINE PUCCINIANE (‘PUCCINI POSTCARDS’) SELECTION FROM LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST

Fifth and final ‘cartolina’ on 7th September with a selection from La Fanciulla Del West. This is a novelty which will introduce audiences to the American characters of Minnie, Jack Rance e Dick Johnson  as a taster for the opera’s performance at Lucca’s Giglio Theatre – a co-production with Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Opera Carolina di Charlotte and New York City Opera which will open the 2017-18 opera season and ‘Puccini Days’.

 

 

 

 

Elysium on Earth

In these lovely spring-time, true-blue, wall-to-wall sunshine days there’s no better place to go than to visit the stupendous display of ‘giunchiglie’ or wild daffodils that grace some of our appenines.

There are two mountains which at this time are filled with vast spreads of these delightful, heavily scented flowers which are also interspersed with several other wild floras. One is Monte Croce which I have described in my post at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/if-there-is-a-heaven-it-is-here/

The other is the Prato Fiorito (literally the flowering meadow) which is the whale-backed mountain overlooking Bagni di Lucca.

Yesterday I could not resist immersing myself in wild daffodils. Taking the road from Bagni di Lucca to Montefegatesi I branched off at the sign to Albereta and reached, via a somewhat bumpy road with hidden culverts, the starting point of my walk to the flowering meadows of Prato Fiorito, which is marked by a crucifix.

I following a fine little footpath.

Soon I reached the intoxicating expanses of the jonquils which, more correctly, should be called by their Latin name ‘Narcissus Poeticus’.  It was a joy to be there and the air was so sweet and the views so clear.

Wordsworth’s famous lines were quite apt  for the flowers were

Continuous as the stars that shine

and twinkle on the Milky Way,

******

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

Again, since these flowers are correctly called in English, ‘poet’s narcissus’, (or sometimes ‘pheasant’s-eye daffodil’) I could take these lines from Keats’ last sonnet which came to mind as my brain and all my feelings became ever more inebriated by the powerful scent of the narcissi spread around me, and embracing my whole being in a variation of the Elysian fields for I seemed, indeed

awake for ever in a sweet unrest, 

and felt, too, that I wanted to

live ever—or else swoon to death.

 

 

 

 

 

Little Churches with Great Interiors

Italy not only possesses some of the world’s most resplendent ecclesiastical buildings (like the cathedrals of Pisa, Florence, Milan and – my favourite – Siena. Italy also has hundreds of little churches (chiesine or chiesette – as they are called). These little churches may date back to Romanesque times and, therefore, could be at least a thousand years old. Most are built on a very simple plan: rectangular with usually a semi-circular apse. Here are just three examples near us in the Serchio valley.

San Martino a Greppo near Valdottavo

Santa Lucia near Gallicano

San Romano near Poggio

If you want to explore further there’s a fine facebook page on Romanesque churches in Tuscany and beyond at

https://www.facebook.com/PieviRomanicheDellaToscanaEOltre/

This facebook page doesn’t just concentrate in the little chiesine, which were either built for parishioners to avoid longer journeys to the main parish church (pieve) or which were, in many cases, superseded by larger churches. The page also includes the more imposing examples from this wonderful architectural era, including monastic buildings.

The interiors of the ‘chiesine’ are usually very simple and bare. Our own little chiesina at Longoio had its once-a-year great day when Mass was celebrated there last Saturday. This is a tradition which always takes place in May, the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Roman Catholic Church. Other little chiesine in our area will also have their annual Mass celebrated during this month. It’s a great occasion to be actually able to enter and visit the interior of these otherwise sadly locked-up churches.

Here is our chiesina of la Vergine dei Dolori, which I have often described in other posts, decorated with flowers last Saturday.

In another area of Italy (the north-east to be more precise, which we recently visited) there’s another very unassuming church which we thought would be locked as usual.

Imagine our surprise when we found it specially opened for the afternoon.

We decided to stop and take a peep.

What we saw in the interior took our breath away!

These most wonderful frescoes were only recently rediscovered as a result of an earthquake which shook off the eighteenth-century plaster covering them. It’s proof that even the destructive powers of earthquakes can reveal unexpected blessings.

The frescoes date all the way from Longobard times to early renaissance. I shall not attempt to say anything about them but just illustrate their beauty starting with the thousand-year-old depiction of the Last Supper.

These other frescoes clearly date from a later time (fifteenth century).

As the proof of the pudding is in its eating so the proof of so many unassuming chiesine is in their interior. The only sadness is that so many of them are usually locked up for, clearly security reasons.

We just happened to be lucky as we were at the right place and at the right time.

Our dear little Cinquina was there to wait for us and hopefully carry us all the way back home. Sadly, she didn’t make it (For the reason why see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/about-guardian-angels/ ). Fortunately, we did, and that’s the important thing.

PS Why didn’t we tell you exactly where you could find the wonderful chiesina we were privileged to visit? It’s because we want you to discover your own chiesina when you’re in Italy and make it your own special space …. just like we did with our splendid example.