War and Love

On the road from Florence to Pontassieve is what Rudyard Kipling described as a city of silence. It’s the Commonwealth cemetery for those who fell in the campaign to liberate the beautiful country of Italy from the scourge of Nazi-Fascism. I visited it last week during my visit to the city of the Lily. Among the English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish there were many from India and Nepal:

King George V said ‘One Could Truly Say that the whole world is surrounded by the tombs of those fallen in war. I’m convinced that even in the years to come there will be no stronger evidence of the need for peace than this multitude of silent witnesses of the desolation brought by war.’

These words never ring truer than today when over half the news we hear daily is about war. At this moment there are twenty conflicts happening the world which are defined as wars according the Uppsala definition (over one thousand deaths per year). Four of the them have caused over ten thousand deaths last year alone with cumulative fatalities of two million in Afghanistan, one million in Iraq and over half a million in Syria so far.

The cemetery near Florence has a particular resonance, not just because of its silent witnesses but because it collects together Commonwealth soldiers from the allied Fifth and the Eighth armies which worked their way up the Italian peninsula in often impossible situations of steep Apennines and bridge-destroyed rivers. My dad was a tank driver in the Eighth army and was lucky enough to survive although so many of his comrades didn’t make it.

Love and War is an oxymoron of strange power. Indeed, out of war for my father came love as he met and married an Italian Red Cross nurse. I would not be writing this otherwise…

Let us meditate in these difficult times on the names of those who died in these places so that we can today travel and enjoy the wondrous loveliness of Italy in tranquillity and happiness. As I spent my time walking by the lines of tombstones, simply but exquisitely carved out of Carrara marble with the names of those who died and their regiment and some whose name was known only unto God, all lined up in a beautiful greensward between the road and the banks of the Arno, I could only wonder at how the senseless and pitiful activity of war can still continue in so much of the world today.

 

Salt waves shall break but I won’t catch their sound:

the peace that comes to cease all war, all strife

will be a limpid lake in sacred ground

where flowers bud with sempiternal Life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mists of Time

Rain returned yesterday and for the next few days it’s going to be very damp and misty. It’s a good time, perhaps, to look back at photographs one’s taken ten years ago of this same part of the world.

Sometimes it’s easily recognizable where the photographs have been taken, sometimes it’s not. The village must be somewhere near Corfino by the views from it but is that stretch of water Lago Pontecosi?  And what about these amazing mill wheels?

Already mysterious mists of time are descending onto pictures I’ve taken here.

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From the snow’s embrace

a crocus thrusts forth its bud:

when will spring arrive?

A Perfect Day

What’s the definition of a perfect day?

First, perfect weather like we’ve rarely had it this so late in the year.

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Second, perfect company: people you really feel at your ease with.

Third, a perfect walk to appreciate the beauties our blue planet can offer to the entire cosmos of creation.

Aren’t the winter beeches and silver birches fabulous against that cerulean appenine December sky!

Fourth, perfect food. And, since it was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception, our host wittily quipped it’s also the feast of the immaculate confection.

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The bignole came from a patisserie I’d never suspected of producing such wonders. It’s called Da Pino and it’s located at Calavorno, a place one usually sweeps through in search of more romantic locations. I savoured their chocolate truffles and also their cherry liqueur bomba. Truly it’s a mouth-watering explosion of flavour. Be careful though: the cherry has its pip like all true cherries. So don’t get too stoned eating them…

Finally, a bustling Christmas mercantino di Natale at Fornoli where one meets half of one’s little world of friends.

That’s my definition of a perfect day:

 

 

Hills unfold blue waves:

The sun on my face breaths love:

Contentment of life.

Christmas Count-Down in Mediavalle

As another prime minister, this time leader of Europe’s third largest economy, has shot himself in the foot over yet another referendum I wonder whether the traditional method of Parliamentary voting through one’s representatives is going out of fashion if one wants to change the government…..

Something that is not going out of fashion or be decided by a referendum, however, is Christmas despite the past efforts of certain English councils, to appease practising atheists and those of other faiths, to have it renamed ‘winterval’. I remember the occasion  when my own former place of work decided not to have a Christmas tree in its foyer. The first person to complain about this new ‘regulation’ was our receptionist who came from India. She was quite livid about it and the Christmas tree was put back in its proper place.

Christmas is not just for Christians. It has become a world-wide celebration of hope in the coming year, a gathering together of families and communities, a celebration of faith in the Earth. The only humbug thing about Christmas are those nice zebra-striped boiled sweets.

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Christmas in Italy, especially in the mountain villages, is something not to be missed. The ‘presepe vivente’ or ‘living crib’, where the village streets provide a perfect scenario for presenting old traditions and crafts and the birth of the baby Jesus himself, is particularly special. We have been privileged to have been role-players in one particularly spectacular one at Equi Terme. There are many more, however, closer to home.

Every year in the comune of Bagni di Lucca there’s a circulating one which each year chooses a village out of Granaiola, Monti di Villa and Pieve di Monti di Villa. This year it was Pieve di Monti di Villa’s turn but on the same day I could have gone to at least five others within an hour’s drive from our house. Moreover, there was a great Christmas market at Borgo a Mozzano with a re-enactment of Saint Nicholas (the original Santa Claus) throwing the devil off the Ponte Della Maddalena. To top it all there was a magnificent guitar recital by a great virtuoso at the convent of Saint Francis. Doubtless there was more happening but how on earth could I fit it all these activities?

I started with the Christmas market at Borgo. This was the beginning of the afternoon so the crowds hadn’t arrived yet. There were stalls to please all tastes for Christmas gifts.

My next stop was the Presepe Vivente at Pieve di Monti di Villa. I found this beautifully organized and very well-attended. It was good to meet many friends too. I couldn’t stay on for the actual nativity scene for I’d promised to be at a concert.

See how many old village crafts you can count. Needless to say some of them are still being carried out to this very day. Have you prepared your garden for spring planting? How well stocked is the winter feed for your goat? And who hasn’t got a friend who can cheer you up with some folk music. (There were no less than four bands that afternoon). And as for the food on offer…..so tasty and home-grown, especially the cheese!

Our living crib villages have got it absolutely right. The crib should be just for one day and it should start from mid-day and finish in time for dinner before it gets too dark and cold. Full marks and more for the presepe vivente di Pieve di Monti di Villa. It was absolutely brilliant.

It was then back to Borgo a Mozzano for the market and the concert. The high street was now very well attended. I had to miss the Saint Nicholas procession, however. (He chases the devil and throws him from the stupendous mediaeval ponte Del diavolo). A concert of John Dowland and J S Bach played by Nuccio D’Angelo, one of the world’s great guitar virtuosi (he’s even played in Darwin Australia and all over the USA, of course) could not be overlooked!

This was the programme:

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Within the beautiful setting of the convent of San Francesco the church grew colder and colder but Nuccio’s expressive playing more than warmed up the capacity audience. I particularly enjoyed his use of baroque ornamentation.

His transcription of Bach’s Lute suites for guitar (which involved quite a bit of re-tuning) was close to miraculous.

An encore was requested but although Nuccio jokingly said ‘you’ll have to wait for it next June when it’s warmer in this church’ he provided us with another Bach meltingly beautiful sarabande.

There are still twenty days to Christmas. Will I have the energy to make it to that day when there is so much happening just in our little valley? And I haven’t even mentioned the light shows and street parties and the best fun and games to warm up a month which is getting even ccccccccolder!

The Hill is Alive with Music at Bargecchia

On Thursday, December 8th, at 9 pm, in the Parish Church of San Martino, Bargecchia there’s a concert entitled “Hill in Music” with soprano Claudia Belluomini and pianist Edoardo Barsotti. The concert, organized by Bargecchia local association , enhances the discovery of traditions and values of an ancient countryside.The program is as following:

 
Gounod: Ave Maria
J. R. Brown: Christmas Lullaby
A. L. Webber: Think of me as “Phantom of the Opera”
N. Giovani: Beautiful That Way
C. Franck: Panis Angelicus
P. I. Tchaikovsky: Fantasia on themes from “The Nutcracker”
A. Adam: Holy Night
L. Bernstein: I feel pretty from “West Side Story”
J. Styne: People from “Funny Girl”
S. Flaherty: Back to before by “Ragtime”
L.Anderson: Sleigh Ride
S. DeFord: When Mary sang her lullaby
F. Gruber: Silent Night
W. Afanasieff: All I want for Christmas is you
J. Pierpont: Jingle Bells jazzy arrangement
J. F. Coots: Santa Claus is coming to town
J. Styne: Do not rain on my parade from “Funny Girl”

 
CLAUDIA BELLUOMINI began singing at age six and immediately took part in
several singing competitions.  In 2001 she won the “Little stars of Europe” contest and in 2002 she participated in “Bravo Bravissimo”, the TV show hosted by Mike Bongiorno. At fifteen she sang in her first musical.  She graduated from Musical Multimedia Art School. In 2011 she obtained a Scholarship to the Bernstein School of Musical Theatre Academy directed by Shawna Farrell, where she graduated with honors.

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EDOARDO BARSOTTI began studying piano at age six with Giuseppe Bertolani. In 2011 he graduated in piano with honors under Prof. Nadia Puccinelli at Lucca, “L. Boccherini” Conservatoire. He perfected piano at Rome’s Santa Cecilia Academy under Benedetto Lupo. He has won numerous awards in national and international competitions and attended master classes with internationally renowned teachers.

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Harvest Festival Fornoli Style

Fornoli’s harvest festival with its impressive line of tractors goes back a very long way. It would have been nice to have seen the time when a row of white oxen filled the town’s high street. I wonder if there are any archival photographs of these gracious animals in Fornoli?

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Despite a somewhat greyish afternoon the event was well attended. There was a motley array of stalls selling harbingers of Christmas.

The Alpini group of chestnut roasters were busy at work with their inventive recycling of discarded washing machine drums. The results were delicious.

The highlight, however, was a folk singing and dancing group from Rivoreta which is a village between Cutigliano and Abetone. We’d visited this village some time ago and it’s well worth a detour for its fascinating folk museum.

The group performed a number of traditional folk songs and characteristic Tuscan ‘stornelli’ – improvised sung verses.

This stornello wishes that all the chestnuts would supply wine as well

More dancing followed:

Their dances infected some of the younger viewers

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so much so that in the end the bolder of us (myself included) joined in a vast country dance which included such patterns as circle and ‘chioccola’ (snail – that’s when the long line of dancers join up to form a coil which then uncoils itself through a human tunnel.

It was a great way to liven up an otherwise dull Sunday afternoon. I could, of course, have gone to the necci (chestnut pancake) and vin brulé festa at Benabbio or the castagnata (chestnut festival) at Lupinaia which we’ve attended on a number of occasions – see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/new-chestnuts/

but Fornoli was far enough for me….

Not surprisingly the long dresses of the ladies with their multi-stripped aprons reminded me of Tibetan costume. I promise I’ll get back to our eastern quest in my next post.

Home Sweet Home

I’ll take a break from our eastern exploits to describe a little of what I found when we got back to our little place at Longoio.

First we found snow on the Apennines.

So it was a journey from one range of snowy mountains to another. Of course, the Apennines are rather less than half the heights we reached during our adventures but they still make a joyous picture.

The absence of tree-lined slopes in much of the Tibetan plateau was more than made up for in our little part of the world. Strangely, the trees had hardly a tinge of autumn colour on them!

Our house was happy to welcome us home again. The begonias and Japanese maple were still putting on a good show.

And so was my neglected orto, still sprouting some salads

And with our olive trees ready to be picked of their succulent harvest:

Napoleon, Carlotta and Cheekie were very happy to follow me again on their woodlands walks.

I sometimes think the purpose of holidays is to make one appreciate one’s own home that little bit more. But my heart goes out to China, especially Yunnan, and our unique entry into Tibet. I promise my next post will return to those fabled lands.