Cor Cordium

As Luca and Rebecca of Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Shelley House’ bookshop have pointed out, there are, in fact, two Shelley festivals. The first is the one they themselves organize and which spreads itself out to Viareggio, off whose coastline the great romantic poet was drowned, to Bagni di Lucca where Mary received the first published copy of ‘Frankenstein’, to Milan, where Shelley wrote a vivid letter about the city’s cathedral, and to Rome, where the poet’s remains lie buried next to Keats in the protestant cemetery and where recently Rebecca was uniquely invited to recite her marvellous monologue on Shelley’s death. (For an introduction to it see https://www.facebook.com/luca.p.guidi/videos/10213584220545702/?pnref=story )

There is also a second Shelley festival. (I should, of course, say that wherever people meet to discuss and read Shelley’s poetry then surely that is a festival in itself. I’m reminded of Jeremy Corbyn’s quotes from ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in his much applauded appearance as Islington’s MP in the borough’s Union chapel.) The second festival takes place in Bournemouth and details about it can be found at https://shelleyfrankfest.org/ .

But why Bournemouth? When Percy Bysshe Shelley and his sister Elizabeth published (anonymously) ‘Original poetry by Victor and Cazire’ in 1810 Bournemouth had just begun to exist as a health-giving seaside spa inspired and planned by Lewis Dymoke Grosvenor Tregonwell, a captain in the Dorset Yeomanry. The arrival of the railways to Bournemouth greatly expanded the town and established it as one of England’s premier south coast resorts.

It was the health-giving sea air and the beautiful pine trees (somewhat reminiscent of a northern version of Viareggio I thought) that prompted Percy Bysshe Shelley’s last surviving son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, to buy Boscombe manor in 1849 with the intention of making it a retirement home for his ailing mother Mary Shelley, widow of the great poet and author of several novels and poems of which ‘Frankenstein’ is by far the best known today.

Sir Percy restructured the place and added a theatre in which he wrote and performed in his own, often farcical plays (e.g., ‘The comedy of Terrors’). Unfortunately, Mary Shelley never came to live at Boscombe and in 1851 died in her home at 24 Chester square, Belgravia (today, incidentally, quite near to the Italian Institute which represents the country which was so close to her heart).

Sir Percy, however, did manage to transport the mortal remains of his mother, together with those of his mother’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ who died shortly after she gave birth to Mary Shelley, and William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, to St Peter’s church yard in the centre of Bournemouth. Previously their remains had lain in old Saint Pancras churchyard which Sir Percy regarded as an unhygienic and undignified place.

Actually Saint Pancras churchyard remains for me one of London’s most romantic corners. It was the secret meeting place of young lovers Percy and Mary and where they decided to elope abroad, an elopement which eventually brought them to Bagni di Lucca and the Villa Chiappa. It remains the final resting place of such greats as J. C. Bach, son of his more famous father J. S, Bach and a fine composer in his own right. It is also where Sir John Soane rests in a tomb which was the inspiration for the characteristic London phone box. (To find out other famous burials in Saint Pancras old church yard see https://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=658411 )

(Sir John Soane’s Tomb in Saint Pancras Old Churchyard)

The Shelley’s family tomb at Saint Peter’s is a fairly sombre dark stone slab placed a little way up the church yard. To read its inscriptions with the names of the Shelleys buried within is, however, a truly amazing experience. It was difficult not to be moved by the place where Mary Shelley her mother, her father, her son and her beloved husband’s heart all found their final rest upon this planet. We were visibly moved and when we touched the grave we felt the pulse of a strangely warm energy vibrating in our bodies. It was a sort of cosmic communication. There was even a sky lark singing:

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest.

The scene surrounding the grave has, of course, changed over the years, sometimes for the better and too often for the worse,

St Peter is one of Britain’s most glorious neo-gothic churches designed by that master architect G. E. Street. It has a magnificent interior and is headed by a tower and steeple which is Bournemouth’s highlight.

Less admirable is the name given to the nearby pub entitled ‘The Mary Shelley’. I don’t think somehow that Mary would have liked to have a pub named after her – a library would surely have pleased her more, Furthermore, thanks to German intervention in the last war, the old houses surrounding the churchyard were bombed and the department store facing the churchyard is quite out of scale.

However, all this is forgotten in the tranquil peace of the churchyard where the members of one of Great Britain and Ireland’s most remarkable family have found their eternal rest.

Outside on the church yard wall is this blue plaque.

As guests of a charming and highly cultivated lady, whose bench and plaque in memory of two persons so dear to her (and us) lie just after the entrance to the road leading to her own Italian retreat between Gombereto and Longoio, we were privileged to dine in her Voysey-inspired house before being taken to another important Shelley memorial and one which is to be found in one of England’s most glorious parish churches – indeed one of the glories of English Romanesque and gothic architecture, Christchurch priory – said to be one of the most closely guarded secrets of great ecclesiastical architecture. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it!

Here are some pictures of the wonderful priory.

I realised how much I miss fan and lierne vaulting on such an immaculate scale in Italy, no matter how many beauties this country can offer….

Inside there is this moving neoclassical monument to Shelley and his wife, Mary:

Commissioned by the poet’s son and sculpted by Henry Weekes, the monument is almost like an Italian Pietà with the poet transformed into a Christ-like figure and his wife Mary into a grieving Madonna. It’s as if the sea was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s crucifixion with Mary anguished like the Saviour’s mother. Why is the monument here? It’s because the vicar of Saint Peter’s refused to have it in his church and so it was accepted instead by Christchurch priory. I think the reason for St Peter’s refusal may largely have been due to the quasi-religious allusions in the monument – an irony when one considers that Shelley was already an avowed atheist at Oxford where he was sent down for writing a pamphlet on ‘the necessity of Atheism.’

I do believe however that reading through the great poet’s work there shines a light of immense grandeur, a sense of something greater than anything the material world can offer. Shelley was principally against organised religion which he saw, like Marx, as the oppressive opium of the people (which it certainly must have been in those repressive times) but I am sure Shelley believed in a supreme deity or God, call him/her what you will. After all, in his ‘Essay on Christianity’ Shelley writes:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are those who have preserved internal sanctity of soul; who are conscious of no secret deceit; who are the same in act as they are in desire; who conceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their own conscience; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, before the tribunal of their own judgments, of all that passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God.

We thank our dear friend who bears the same name as Shelley’s wife and his wife’s mother, indeed the mother of God himself, who enabled us to enter yet another portal into the transcendent universe of one the world’s most creative love-partnerships.

 

 

 

 

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‘Capo in b tanta special’ in Trieste

As the tourist guide says: “Trieste is no longer a place to pass through to somewhere else. It’s its own destination.” How true!

The city is not all memories of a rich mercantile century with its extravagant fin-de-siècle architecture. If one goes to the old Roman theatre and takes the road above it one enters a most attractive area reminiscent of a typical Italian hill town. This is the Colle di San Giusto area and if you carry on walking up the steep slope you eventually reach San Giusto cathedral. But there’s lots to see on the way.

For example there’s the baroque church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

There’s the sweet little Romanesque church of San Silvestro alongside it which is now owned by the Valdensian religious community, one of the oldest protestant sects in existence. (There’s also a Valdensian church in Lucca in Galli-Tassi Street. Our choir-master is a member of that church.).

The San Giusto steep winding streets are a delight and so free of traffic.

Round a corner one comes across the Arco di Riccardo – a real ancient Roman arch. There are different theories why it is called’ Riccardo’. Perhaps because it’s a corruption of the Latin word ‘Cardo’ for main street.

It’s in this area that one comes across the fascinating James Joyce and Italo Svevo museum. It’s so sad that Svevo’s family house in Trieste was bombed in the last year of the war, There are, however, four personal items remaining including the bits of his library that remained:

And his violin.

Svevo’s friend Joyce, who encouraged him to continue writing again, had a good tenor voice and almost considered becoming a singer in Trieste. He accompanied himself on the guitar. I often wonder whether the two ever played together. Guitar and violin is a very good combination and both Svevo and Joyce loved going to the music theatre. Indeed, one of Joyce’s poetry collections is called ‘chamber music.’

The museum is well documented and the curator was very helpful. We shared some photographs of Charlton Church lane where Svevo (or Ettore Schmitz as he was really called) lived when managing his father-in-law’s marine paint factory specially set up in London to supply the British navy.

It’s odd how James Joyce came to Trieste to escape from the constricting family life of Dublin and how Italo Svevo was so happy to come to London and get away from his claustrophobic in-laws in Trieste. As they say the grass is always greener….

Which reminds me that Trieste is also Europe’s coffee capital and ‘La Stella Polare is one caffé where the great litterateurs would meet up and chat over their cups of ‘gocciato’ (Triestine for coffee with a drop of milk in the centre) or perhaps they drank a ‘capo in b’ (an espresso served in a very small glass – B = bicchierino). Remember too that one doesn’t ask for a ‘cappuccino’ in Trieste, it’s ‘caffelatte’ instead (certainly not that ghastly London concoction called ‘latte’ in the UK). I go for a ‘capo in b tanta special’ which is an espresso served in a glass with hot milk and lots of foam and topped with some cocoa powder. Who knows what way Svevo and Joyce enjoyed best their caffé to be served to them? Understandably the young waiter didn’t know!

(Alexandra having her ‘capo in b tanta special’ at Joyce and Svevo’s favourite caffè ‘Stella Polare’).

 

 

 

Italy’s Death Camp

Yet again, and just within the space of a couple of weeks, we wake up to the news of another terror attack in the UK. Six innocent people are dead, many are injured and three suspects are shot dead by the police. The area of London Bridge and Borough market is well known to both my wife and I. We’d both worked in the area in the past and enjoyed our leisure hours experiencing this lively and historic area of London, famous not only for the glorious gothic of Southwark cathedral but for being the capital’s original theatre land where Shakespeare ‘s ‘Hamlet’, for example, was first performed in 1609.

My thoughts clearly go out to the victims and their families in this utterly pointless act of horror. Italy has luckily been free of Islamist terrorism. But, as we all know it’s had dark periods in its history, largely involving extreme right and left wing fanatics. Only yesterday we hear on the news of seven assassinations in ten days of camorra-members, some killed in front of their own children.

The 1970s for this country was an especially violent era. Italians refer to that period as ‘gli anni di piombo’ (the lead – bullet – years).  ‘Strage’ is a common enough Italian word: it simply means massacre.  The Bologna station strage of 1980 killed 85. The strage of the 904 train in 1984 killed 16 including a 9 year old girl. I’ve mentioned this strage in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/about-guardian-angels/  . This is because we had to alight at the station at the entrance of the tunnel where the massacre occurred in order to attend to our wrecked car also done in within a tunnel last month – an incident which almost involved us in our own mini-strage. …

The list of stragi goes on and on. There’s a full list of the major post-war Italian ones at

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categoria:Stragi_commesse_in_Italia

Ironically, it seems that Italy is pretty good at massacring its own people without needing help from foreign sources.

When it comes to stragi committed during the Second World War the list is too horrific to contemplate. For Lucca Province and just for the years 1943-45 there’s the following list of ‘stragi’:

  1. Valpromaro, 30 giugno 1944, 12 victims
  2. Bagni di Lucca, 18 July 1944, 13 victims
  3. Monte S. Quirico (Lucca) – Montemagno, 27 July 1944, 6 victims;
  4. Nocchi di Camaiore, 27 July 1944, 3 victims;
  5. Mulina di Stazzema, 8 August 1944, 12 victims;
  6. Balbano, 11 August 1944, 13 victims
  7. Nozzano (loc. La Sassaia), 11 August 1944, 7
  8. S. Anna di Stazzema, 12 August, about 400 victims;
  9. Capezzano, 12 August 1944, 6 victims
  10. Seravezza, 16 August 1944, 7 victims;
  11. S. Maria a Colle, 23 August 1944, 6 victims;
  12. S. Lorenzo a Vaccoli, 24 August 1944, 5 victims;
  13. Camaiore (loc.- Matanna), 25 August 1944, 7 victims;
  14. Orto di Donna (Castelnuovo Garfagnana), 25 August 1944, 7 victims;
  15. Balbano-Compignano, 2 September 1944, 12 victims
  16. Massaciuccoli (Molinaccio), 11 victims;
  17. Certosa di Farneta, 2 -10 September 1944, 40 victims,
  18. Pieve di Camaiore, 4 September 1944, 10 victims
  19. Pioppeti (Camaiore) 35 victims
  20. Massarosa, 12 September 1944, 5 victims;
  21. Viareggio, 14-15 September, 6 victims;
  22. Pietrasanta, 15-16 September, 15 victims;
  23. Castelnuovo Garfagnana, 23 September 1944, 13 victims
  24. Seravezza, loc. Ranocchiaio, 27 September 1944, 5 victims;
  25. Seravezza, loc. La Cappella, 18 October 1944, 4 men 1 child
  26. Piazza al Serchio, 1 February 1945, 6 victims

Bagni di Lucca suffered thirteen executions during the guerrilla warfare between partisans and Nazi-fascist forces but this number pales before the horror of the four hundred victims of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, all women and children killed in cold blood by Nazi-fascists. (I’ve described this strage, one of the worst in the whole Italian civil war, in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/despair-and-hope/ )

My family also suffered a strage. My mother, of Italian origin, had her cousin and her newly-wed husband on her mother’s side slaughtered by Nazi-fascists in Piedmont in 1944.

I’d visited the Nazi concentration and death camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau and Dachau earlier this century and thought that they were all located in the territory controlled by the Third Reich. It came, therefore, as a hideous surprise that Italy too had its large-scale concentration camps. I was aware of collection centres for what in Nazi ideology were known as ‘untermenschen’ – sub-humans (i.e. Jews, gays, Jehovah’s witnesses, and LGBTs). There’s one centre commemorated by a memorial quite near Bagni di Lucca at Socciglia and one even nearer at Bagni’s terme. (See my post for those at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/ ).

Italy had eight concentration camps .These were at

With the exception of the last all the camps were centres of deportation to the Reich’s killing centres at such locations as Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka and Birkenau.

The Risiera di San Sabba, located in the industrial quarter of Trieste, was Italy’s only death camp where the detained were shot, hanged or gassed. After the 1943 Cassibile armistice, which theoretically ended the war between Italy and the allies, the country was divided into three parts.

The first, southern, part came increasingly under allied control as the Eighth army (in which my father was a tank driver) advanced like a red-hot rake up the Italian peninsula. The second part became the puppet republic of Salò under the restored dictatorship of Mussolini. The third part, which included the provinces of  Pordenone, Udine, Trieste, Gorizia, Pola, Fiume and Lubiana  (the last three now part of Slovenia and Croatia) became the  Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland, otherwise known as OZAK, under the direct control of the Führer himself.

‘Risiera’ means a rice husking mill and, like so many things associated with Italy, and particularly with Trieste, its transformation from a factory into a death camp remained unmentioned until the truth came out in the 1960’s when the Risiera was declared a national monument to the memory of those killed by extremist ideologies.

I took the no 10 bus from Trieste’s Piazza Goldoni, alighting at Lidl, and walked to this gloomy place as I too wanted to pay homage to the victims of this saddest part of Trieste’s history.

The entrance to the death camp was nightmarish. I’ve never had such a feeling of inevitability and imprisonment. Here was the entrance to the abandonment of all hope for Trieste’s Jewish population, its political opponents, its Romanies, in other words its ‘untermenschen’.

I entered the death cell.

I also saw these specially built cells where up to half a dozen prisoners were crammed in each one awaiting their fate which, although it could be forced labour, always ended up in assassination in the Risiera or transportation to a more efficiently provided extermination camp like Treblinka with its more advanced extermination technology.

Other prisoners were kept in the block called the house of the crosses. It originally had three floors but the planking dividing the floors has been removed creating a poignantly stunning effect.

In the centre of the Risiera is a large courtyard where the furnaces used to stand. The retreating Germans blew them up at the end of April 1945 in an attempt to leave no trace of their holocaustic activities (just like they attempted to do at Birkenau II where the crematoria I saw there had collapsed but still discernible in their concrete rubble.

Execution was by three main methods,

  1. Firing squad.
  2. A blow on the head with this mace (only rediscovered during excavations in 1975)

  1. Gassing, largely by placing the victims in a sealed hut which was then fed by a tube connected to a lorry’s exhaust. Zyklon-B may have also been used.

Not all detainees were killed here, however. Trains using the excellent Hapsburg railway system transported the prisoners, mainly to Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Chelmno.

In place of the blown-up crematoria there is a symbolic sculpture by Frattini.

In place of the gassing chamber there is a large metal-floored square with a memorial, always full of flowers.

In another detention building there’s a museum which has been very well re-presented recently and displays the history of one of Italy’s most horrific places together with relics and witness statements.

There’s also a film of Mussolini inaugurating the promulgation of his ‘leggi razziali’ (racial laws) to keep up with his mate Adolf. Unbelievably, Benito declared this edict of shame from the balcony of Trieste’s own town hall in 1938. Trieste of all places! Trieste, cosmopolitan, welcoming, with a place of worship for every community that had settled in it: Armenians, Russian Orthodox, Valdensian, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Anglicans, Catholics… Trieste where so many different communities lived in harmony.  And all this happened in the same year that the mayor of Trieste was Paolo Emilio Salem, a Jew!

The commander of the Risiera  was SS officer Odilo Globocnik, born in Trieste, who worked in close collaboration with chief co-ordinator Reinhardt Heydrich who formulated the ‘final solution’ at the infamous Wahnsee conference of 1942. (‘Operation Reinhardt’ exterminated around 1.2 million Jews).

(Globocnik)

Globocnik avoided capture and trial at the end of the war by swallowing a cyanide pill. Bastard!

I thought of the once-multicultural Syria, now a daily blood-bath, and my thought swam down into the maelstrom of the darkest dejection. And today I find that, yet again, another multicultural, multi-ethnic city – a city I was born and bred in, a city which gave me my education, helped me gain my daily bread, provided me with my beautiful wife, a city which still remains so essentially in my heart, is being newly threatened by tenebrous, evil forces.

Why? Why? Why?

Weltschmertz im Triest

Trieste had its hey-day from the second half of the nineteenth century to the 1914-18 war that changed Europe for ever. During this period it was a major port city with a bustling mercantile, financial and commercial activity hardly equalled by any other world city. It was, in many respects, the hub of Europe’s communication network. Travellers from Britain would travel by train to Trieste to board liners heading across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal (which the Triestine bankers and insurance companies largely financed – see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/luxury-living-in-trieste/) to parts of the empire on which the sun never set: India, Malaya, Australia, and the East and South African dominions. The city’s architecture reflects its essentially Mitteleuropean cosmopolitan nature:

Not only was Trieste the commercial centre of the European continent, it was also a major cultural heart. In those days it was possible to combine great wealth with great culture. As in the United Kingdom (e.g. the Tate Gallery) and the United States (Carnegie) the rich donated and endowed to the nation great institutions, galleries, museums and foundations. Being rich wasn’t enough to gain status – one had to display social ethics – a regard for the community in which one lived and made money from.

I’ve already described the mansions some of the ultra-rich of Trieste donated to their city – people like Revoltella and Sartorio (if you haven’t do read my posts on them at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/the-sartorios-aristocratic-triestine-villa/). This sense of generosity, of truly helping others I recollected anew as a special Triestine virtue when the allure of this undefinable city drew me back to it last week-end.  I just could not resist returning to lovely Trieste.

And yet what major monuments does Trieste have to attract people? No Rialto Bridge like Venice, no Colosseum like Rome or Brunelleschi dome like Florence. What is the archetypal Trieste monument? Is it the halberd which graces its arms? Is it its travailed history which must be sadder than most other Italian cities? Is it the fact that so many Italians don’t even realise it’s actually part of Italy? (Strange but true!) What feature represents Trieste?

There is such a similarity between the Italian word ‘Triste’ meaning ‘sad’ and ‘Trieste’ that for me it cannot be casual, at least in my mind. For Trieste imparts, so often, a melancholic feeling of loss, even of being out of place in today’s world. The city’s streets are redolent of memories of a once glorious period, of a time when the western world was full of assuredness and everyone knew their place and was satisfied with it.

I often have a despondent feeling of what in German is known as ‘Weltschmerz’, loosely translated as ‘World Weariness’, in a few other places: Shanghai’s bund for one, Willesden in London for another, Lyme Regis and Llandrindod Wells – which brings me to mention another spa town, the one I’ve lived near for the past twelve years: Bagni di Lucca. It is indeed a place of supreme ‘Weltschmerz’ – a place constantly trying to comfort itself with memories of a past when it was the favoured summer location of kings, princes, counts and barons, the centre for so many, as indeed Trieste was.

For Trieste represented a model, a precursor of, an ideal for what the European Union is attempting to stand for. Dirty politics played its game of course. Before 1914 Trieste was cosmopolitan, its beautiful bay open to the world. Robert Browning might have said ‘when I am dead, you’ll see Italy engraved in my heart’ and James Joyce, who lived there for over ten years, also said ‘Trieste is in my heart.’

I captured a deep angst from the Triestini and Triestine that I spoke to; they felt their city was inexorably declining further into a world they had little care for.  The glories, extravagance even, of past architecture was a constant almost unbearable reminder of what their city once was – now tacked on at the end of an Italy bereft of any of the higher values of civility and incorruptibility that the Hapsburg empire had shown them Italian Trieste, or Austrian Triest, or Slovene Trst, as the Mediterranean’s major port was the gateway to a truly multi-national, multi-ethnic, multicultural European empire.

Not too long ago the father of a dear Austrian friend of mine with whom I collaborated on a Comenius project (happy days when I still imagined Britain believed in Europe) passed away. He’d been born in 1913 and would tell me (in a manner of speaking, of course) that his nursemaid had been the Empress Maria Theresa and that his father had been the Emperor Franz Joseph I. That was his sentiment and  through history and through feeling, especially  when, in 2014, I visited the imperial capital, Vienna, with Colombini and his Lucca Philharmonic orchestra in the great golden concert hall that is the Musicverein, I sensed that the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the greatest tragedy that befell Europe’s previous century; a tragedy because that empire was a model for conviviality between different nations – an empire now divided up between the Czech republic, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro . It was indeed a blue print for a European union so barbarically shattered by the ambitions of a handlebar-waxed moustached Prussian and, if that wasn’t enough, by the chaplinesque moustached Austrian.

Trieste was cut off from its dominating position as the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s main port after the First World War when its hinterland was diminished to being just the province of Venezia Giulia. It was further cut off from being even part of Italy after the second world conflict when its environs were diminished even further to just five miles wide at its point of entry and when it almost became part of the other side of the iron curtain.

Trieste is reasserting itself today, Thanks to the entry of Slovenia into both the EU and the Schengen countries; the looming sense of an impenetrable border around this enclave has largely disappeared. Thanks to the rise of the fashion of marinas the port has found a new life as a centre for the rich and not-so-rich yacht class.

Trieste can never disappear. It remains not just as one of Europe’s most extraordinary cities. It remains as a place in one’s mind to which one can return to both in joy and, melancholy.

There is one building, an apartment, that for me encapsulates everything of the essence of Trieste: its sense of the ‘borghesia illuminata’ (enlightened middle-class), when to be bourgeois was not a term of disparagement but of good breeding of ‘comme-il-faut’ or as the Italians say of ‘per benismo’ (so badly translated into English as ‘good breeding’). This building is the town flat of the Morpurgo family.

If one wants to experience a total time-warp then this is the place to visit. The apartment’s furnishings, its ambience, its books, its diaries and curtains, its miniatures and paintings, its crockery and cutlery communicate a lost time to one that is quite unforgettably wonderful and so tragically sad too. For how many of us are really in tune with the times we live in? We’d love to escape to a fantasy world. As Wordsworth wrote regarding the decadent material cynicism of his time ‘the world is too much with us.’

This fantasy world can be found on the corner of Trieste’s Via Imbriani and Via Mazzini where the Palazzo Morpurgo is situated. The word ‘palazzo’ in Italian doesn’t just mean a palace: it can also mean a city apartment block, in this case one built for the Morpurgo family by architect Giovanni Berlam in 1875. Like all money-sensible people the Morpurgo let out two floors of the block of flats they had built for themselves and lived in the other two.

Again, evidencing the innate generosity of the Triestini, the heirless Mario Morpurgo de Nilma donated his apartment and its valuable collections to the comune of Trieste in 1943 – a fateful year for Italian history, and especially for Trieste as my next immensely tragic and horrific post will show.

The apartment, now the Museo Morpurgo, is only open on Tuesday mornings by appointment and I was lucky to find it open on my second visit in a month to a city which continues to attract me like a supremely beautiful woman. It is a superb example of a residence of the enlightened nineteenth century cosmopolitan Italian bourgeoisie furnished opulently in eclectic styles ranging from neoclassical to baroque to nineteen thirties

The Morpurgo name derives from Marburg the German city from which the family of Jewish origin originated and whose branches extend throughout Europe. (There’s even a well-known Morpurgo in the UK, Michael, writer of children’s books.)

The Triestine Morpurgo branch made their money through banking, even arranging loans to the titled houses of Prussia and the Hapsburg. They also proved to be excellent diplomats but, above all, their house became a meeting place for cultivated circles, artists, writers and musicians. Among their guests was Liszt, for example.

All in all the last of the Triestine Morpurgo Mario, born in that city in 1867 and who died in Pordenone in 1943 left the equivalent of 279 million euros to the City of Trieste for, in addition to his apartment and its valuable collections, he donated his agricultural company of Sant’Andrea di Parsiano and many bank titles, deeds and investments.

But let’s get to visit the flat where the Morpurgo lived their happiest times:

Let’s start with the staircase up to the second floor flat:

Let’s open the front door into the entrance hall:

We face a corridor with rooms to explore on either side:

The music room with its Bösendorfer grand and its busts of Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini and Bellini on its door portals:

The ladies’ room with a superb Murano chandelier:

The dining room:

One of two drawing rooms and the curtains are really Chantilly lace..

The red room, the study, the bedrooms, the men’s room. But it would be already too much to feast on!

What’s amazing is that the majority of this house and its possessions survived the most brutal years of the war for Italy. As my kind hostess remarked ‘the Germans were good at taking things away from Trieste, like the carpets, which ones adorned these floors, and most of the family silver. The English, on the other hand, were good at carpet- bombing Trieste.’ (In fact the brits flattened the whole of the dock and industrial area which unfortunately included some fine villas including the Veneziani house where Svevo lived  – but I anticipate.)

How many of the world’s rich and super rich today can boast that they are well-read, cultivated, connoisseurs in the arts, elegant in their tastes and generous to all? (I can think of a handful but it is indeed so regretful that the present presidential incumbent of one of the world’s great powers has none of these qualities as he has so amply demonstrated since taking office).

(Portrait of a Triestine Lady in the Morpurgo House)

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/

 

 

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.