About Guardian Angels

In case some of my blog readers were still unaware, our pretty little Fiat 500 ‘Cinquina’ – Sergeant pepper vintage i.e., fifty years old – is, alas, no more.

Hit by a T. I. R. on the night of May the first on the rear left mudguard, it was pushed over on the right and skidded to one side of a stretch of autostrada that was in a tunnel in the Apennines. The T. I. R. did stop some distance down the tunnel. The driver had no option: there are video cameras throughout this stretch of road – but didn’t even step outside his vehicle to see how we were.

Thanks to Sandra’s foresight (she was driving and holds an advanced driving license together with years of driving experience, especially with our Cinquina) she realised that it was possible to extricate ourselves from the car through the roll-back soft roof. Goodness knows what would have happened to us if the car had actually rolled onto the roof or not been catapulted into the emergency lane…

We phoned emergency services and stood trembling by the side of the autostrada for what seemed a long time (although it wasn’t more than around ten minutes). The police arrived and halted the traffic while they took photographs and measurements of the accident scene. The ambulance came and strapped me onto a bed. Sandra was content just to take a seat in the vehicle which travelled alarmingly fast.

The venue for us was at the Ospedale Maggiore, Bologna. Tests, including x-rays and blood samples, were taken from us and fortunately, apart from concussion, a cut lip in Sandra and scratches and bruises for both of us we were declared out of immediate danger and fit to leave the hospital by morning.

The following day we had to get to San Benedetto Val di Sambro, the scene of the awful terrorist attack on a train at the start of the tunnel there in 1974 which left twelve dead including the courageous railway man, Silver Sirotti, who helped in saving many people before he too succumbed to the flames. Indeed, in San Benedetto station there is a plaque to his memory and his award of a Gold medal for civilian valour (equivalent of the UK’s George Cross) with the wording:

Controllore in servizio, in occasione del criminale attentato al treno Italicus non esitava a lanciarsi, munito di estintore, nel vagone ov’era avvenuta l’esplosione per soccorrere i passeggeri della vettura in fiamme. Nel nobile tentativo, immolava la giovane vita ai più alti ideali di umana solidarietà. Esempio fulgido di eccezionale sprezzo del pericolo e incondizionato attaccamento al dovere, spinti fino all’estremo sacrificio. Alla memoria.
— 14 maggio 1975

Sirotti was just 24 years old when he died.

At San Benedetto we made our dichiarazione or witness statement to the police who’d come to our rescue.

The following day we managed it to Sasso Marconi to see our poor car which had been transported there by a branch of ACI (the Italian car rescue association) of which we are members.

It was a very sad moment for us to say goodbye to a car, my christmas present to Sandra in 2008, which had taken us to so many beautiful places in Italy and beyond. In particular, we remember Sardinia in 2009, Corsica in 2012, La Maremma and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. We bid the wreck of the car adieu, at the same time remembering that a guardian angel had prevented the same act from being administered over us by those who care for us. That Cinquina was such a good friend to us and we had such happy memories travelling in it. I believe that in some mysterious way our Cinquina had sacrificed itself to help save us just like that guardian angel.

(La nostra bella Cinquina in tempi più felici)

It was an immense relief when we finally got home to Longoio and found our cats, fish and ducks ready to greet us and, of course, waiting to be fed!

Grateful thanks are due to the Italian emergency services, the police and, especially, to the country’s great public transport system.


PS As the Roman poet says: ““Pulvis et umbra sumus.”


Where Venus Rose from the Waves

The name itself evokes beauty – Portovenere, the port of Venus – and indeed it is a goddess-like place. Embracing an arm of the immense golf dei Poeti, the gulf of poets with views on one side towards the fantasiose rocky coastline of the Cinque Terre and on the other looking across to the highest of the Apuan Alps, Porto Venere is a place to return to again and again and never be disappointed.

Porto Venere takes its name from an ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Venus This temple has since been built over by the little church of Saint Peter which stands at the end of the promontory leading to the harbour as if to wish every departing sailor a safe journey and to welcome home all those who have risked the often perilous Tyrhennian sea.

There is yet another connection with Venus in Botticelli’s exquisite picture of the goddess’s birth, now in Florence’s Uffizi gallery. At the right side of the painting you can see part of Porto Venere bay with the islands of Palmaria, Tina and Tinetta which form a little archipelago facing it.  The lovely Venus is none other than Simonetta Vespucci, the girl who lived next door to Botticelli when he stayed there and with whom he fell inexorably in love. Considered the loveliest woman of the time, Simonetta tragically died of typhus in 1476 aged just 23. Botticelli immortalised Simonetta in one of the world’s most iconic and gorgeous paintings.

Here is that painting and my thoughts on it:



The zephyrs blow: she rises from her shell

while flowered maidens wait with cloaks unfurled.

Within her eyes a thousand heavens dwell,

between her thighs the heart of all the world.


It is a gentle sea and winds drop sprays

of leaves on little lapping wavelet crests

and buds and reeds bend to love-circling days

as slender fingers cover perfect breasts.


Her gold-spun locks enfold like breeze-tinged foam

until long hair entwines her pubic mount;

those lovely arms entice lost lovers home

to arcane planet’s mantle-hidden fount.


Meanwhile, the bay and olive grove awaits

to squeeze sweet juice that always satiates.


On this visit to Portovenere we climbed to the top of the Doria castle, surely one of the most formidable defences built by the Venetians. We had the place practically to ourselves, far from the increasing crowds of tourists visiting this heavenly part of the Italian coastline. The views were magnificent and the sea so blue!

We visited the church of San Lorenzo, the patron saint of Portovenere and saw the miraculous log which was cast on the shore filled with sacred treasures and reliquaries.

Byron was just one of the poets who fell in love with this area. One could add Shelley, Montale, D. H. Lawrence, George Sand, the painters J. M. W. Turner and Arnold Boklin, Baroness Orczy, she of the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, and Dante himself who describes the coastline in his Divine Comedy (Purgatorio Canto V)..

Our hungry stomachs beckoned us to a charming little osteria on one of the caruggi or narrow streets which characterise Porto Venere where we enjoyed an appropriately fish-based meal. It was, indeed fish Friday, my wife is born in the sign of Pisces and the waters around us are fishermen’s paradise.

Another type of beauty beckoned us as we returned to our starting point – a rally of vintage cars ranging from Bugatti to Bentley to Bristol. Their sinuous curves showed me the entrance towards yet another beautiful chamber in the paradise that is Portovenere.


You can see more of Portovenere in my post at






One Car’s Christmas Present

Our little Fiat 500, (‘Sergeant Pepper Year’ vintage) also gets a Christmas present this year: a paint face-lift thanks to our friend Gabriele at Casauto.

I’ve already posted something about Casauto at


and the history of the Fiat 500 (Cinquina) at


and loads of posts of where we’ve been with it. (Just use the search button at the top of this post entering the word ‘Cinquina’.)

Let me assure you that this time the touching-up job was just to avoid getting rust spots on the carrozzeria (bodywork) of our little car in the often very damp climate of Val di Lima.

I wish we could also have the same effective ‘As Good As New Bodywork’ on ourselves’ too. How can we get that ’67 look again I wonder? For some people, like Scrooge, another Christmas is just another year older and barely an hour richer!

Anyway I suppose we could gaze at photos on how we looked in that fabulous year:

Which reminds me: have you visited the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 exhibition at the V and A if you are in London? It ends on 26 February 2017 and I’ve still got to write about this marvellous show which made us feel both young and old at the same time. How many prejudices did we have to fight against in those days! And yet, though so much has now been accepted and written into our daily lives, that horrible word bigotry has still a habit of sprouting new heads like a hydra….as witness a certain event in the UK this year – to say nothing of the worst carnage this new millenium is seeing near the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

How difficult it is to believe in the smallest fragment of positive philosophy today!


Does your Body Need Repair?

‘Il Ritocco’ (‘touch-up’), a new ‘carrozzeria’ (car body-works) opened up in Via Letizia no. 83 (the road that runs on the opposite side of the Torrente Lima) at Ponte a Serraglio last Saturday.


The two works-partners have taken over from another firm and spruced up the establishment, refitting the paint-shop and the mechanics section.

This should be good news for anyone who has suffered damage to their vehicle through the too-often erratic indicator-free, stop-in the-middle-of the road-to chat-to-an-oncoming-vehicle, tail-gating driving which is often the case on Italian roads.

The body-works were officially opened by BDL’s deputy mayor, Vito Valentino.

A sumptuous buffet was laid on – one of the best I have attended this year

And I met up with old friends.

The fact that Bagni di Lucca has another car body-works repair shop is both good and bad: good because it will give some new jobs to an area which desperately needs them, bad because car-prangs don’t at all appear to be diminishing!

Another good point, however, is that vintage cars can be restored and newer cars resprayed.

07282016 018

So do have a look-in if your car is not quite in perfect working order or if you are not content with its colour…

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Classic Women

The classic car rally last Sunday at Bagni di Lucca was a delight. The cars collected themselves in the main square before heading off to the hills.

I thought of the great Rupert Davies (remember Maigret?) and La Place Pigalle – that place of seductive corruption – when I saw this Citroën Traction Avant:

Mr Bean would have loved this one:

07042016 033There’s nothing so beautiful as a truly classic car. Perhaps some women perhaps…  They do both have several things in common, however: lovely curves, flashy looks, elegant acceleration, a love of visiting exciting places, a desire for a little money to be spent on them, absolutely no need to be traded in for a new model because they’ll always be number one! They can also be your best friend or your worst nightmare, depending on how you treat them. They both look fabulous when clad in leather, and, most of all, they have a warm and throbbing heart when they are ignited by true love.

Enough of this – just to mention that the Citroen DS gets pronounced ‘Déese’ in French which means ‘goddess’ in that language. So I can’t be that far off…


Auto d’Epoca at Bagni di Lucca

For owners (and lovers) of older cars Bagni di Lucca is organising a new event this Sunday, 3rd July.


The meeting starts from 9 am. At 11 the cars will go on a panoramic tour with lunch on their return, (bookable on 338 581 6608 or 349 225 3769 – price euros 20).

As a matter of terminology it’s important to distinguish between veteran, vintage and classic cars.

Simply put, a veteran car is a vehicle manufactured before 1919. Incidentally, only veteran cars made before 1905 can take part in the famous annual London to Brighton run

A car is vintage if it has been made between 1919 and 1925 for the US, or between 1919 and 1930 in the UK.

Cars made between 1930 and 1945 are classed as post-vintage

Classic cars, instead, are all those cars that have been manufactured since 1945 are no longer being produced. Furthermore, they should have ‘class’. That’s a difficult term to define and different people have differing views on what constitutes a classic car.

Perhaps the Italians have come up with the best solution to the terminology for older cars. They call them ‘auto d’epoca’, which means ‘period cars.’ It’s the automotive equivalent of orchestras playing with catgut strings and no vibrato. These bands used to be called orchestras playing on ‘authentic’ instruments (conjuring images of plastic fiddles and cardboard clarinets in my mind). Now they are better described as orchestras playing on ‘period’ instruments

My English favourite classic cars are such items as the Standard Vanguard, once owned by Sandra’s dad:


The Austin Metropolitan

index3The Morris Minor Traveller. (We’ve had three of these. The latest just bought this year.)

Esterhazy 79

(Our second Moggy at the Gates of the Esterhazy Family Summer palace at Fertod, Hungary)

The E-type Jag. (My late brother’s funeral hearse consisted of this car which he loved so much).


The Jaguar MK2 (Sandra’s first car which she bought for her dad but which, regrettably was involved in a crash). Truly beautiful (both the car and Sandra)

Copy of new folder030

The Ford Cortina (my first car)


The Mini (our first car in married life)

1004However, I wouldn’t be seen dead in other classic cars. These include the Ford Anglia with the raked back roof


The baby Austin,


The Austin Allegro (uggh),

index8Any Ladas (except those models which have rear-heated windows so you can keep your hands warm while pushing them)

12265402614_6395caf0f7_band both the old and new Fiat Multipla (so disgustingly ugly in both versions).

Incidentally, and on the practical side, another definition of a classic car is one you don’t have to pay any road tax on in the UK. That means any car built before 1973. In Italy it’s any car over thirty years old.

Anyway, we have another classic car to use nel bel paese. What else could it be but that wonderful Cinquina which has travelled with us to Sardinia and Corsica and definitely reaches those places other cars can’t get to (or into).

I’ve left our own truly vintage car until last. Here’s Sandra with her Austin 7 at a rally at Beaulieu organized by Lord Montagu:

austin 7 78

See you this Sunday at Bagni di Lucca?

A Squalid Square in Florence?

The city of Florence suffered two ‘sventramenti’ (disembowelments) in the last 150 years of its life.  The first was when Florence became temporary capital of Italy in 1865 prior to the capture of Rome in 1870. The mediaeval and renaissance centre of the city was considered too undignified for the temporary capital of a newly united kingdom and much of the mediaeval centre including the old market and ghetto areas were deemed unsanitary and demolished. (Those who thought it was a good idea to destroy a good third of the city’s ancient palaces and churches used the word risanamento – ‘restoration to a healthy condition’). In the place of a beautifully mediaeval medley of alleys (now only to be viewed as drawings in the ‘Firenze Com’era’ museum) rose a square which one superior person I’ve met stated must be avoided at all costs. It certainly should be if one considers town-planners as arch-enemies of civilized social living and in this respect I would condemn so many of those misdirected civic architects who have torn the heart out of too many British cities to glorify their social engineering aims. (Look no further than Birmingham or Nottingham).

At one end of this Piazza della Repubblica is a sort of pompous triumphal arch with the following self-important inscription on it:


L’antico centro della città da secolare squallore a vita nuova restituito
(the ancient centre of the city restored to new life after centuries of  squalor

The second sventramento took place in the last year of the Second World war when the Germans in a mistaken attempt to save the Ponte Vecchio from being blown up (they’d blown up all the other bridges in the meanwhile to stop the allied advance) decided to destroy the adjoining mediaeval quarters both to the south and the north of the bridge to create a mountain of unpassable rubble. This was actually a lot worse than blowing up the bridge which was, anyway, too narrow to admit the larger military hardware. So, again, Florence lost another good fraction of its mediaeval heritage including some irreplaceable towers.

Anyway, the square the snooty person wished to avoid at all costs turned out to be, surprisingly, one of the highlights during our recent trip to Florence at Epiphany-time since several vintage cars were on show in its centre.

There was a classic Fiat Balilla, first produced in 1932 and incorporating luxury-car features at a more modest price. Giacosa, the designer of our own Fiat Cinquina, took part in the development of this classic car:

There was what I like to call Maigret’s car: the Citroen Traction Avant (front wheel drive) produced from 1934 to 1957 and one of the first cars to have a monocoque (i.e. combined body and chassis) construction.

There was a brilliant Ferrari sports dating from 1951.

This Cadillac surely was constructed before any oil crisis or ecological issues. A truly back-to-the-future car!

There were several other delectable cars including a Ghia-designed Fiat 600.

The presence of these magnificent and magnificently kept machines certainly did a lot to raise the appeal of Florence’s most unappealing square in our eyes! See how many others you can recognize. (No prizes offered).