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 .Even composers like Pergolesi did not disdain to accept opera libretti written in the Neapolitan language such as his ‘Lo frate ‘innamorato. (See 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

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:

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:

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


Peace Doves

Two important events are taking today Saturday 4th March, courtesy of Rebecca and Luca of Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley House. The first is the opening at 5 pm of an exhibition by Gabriele Piccinini a young and remarkably talented artist whose compositions reflect his often fantasiose and highly chromatic view of the world, quite in contrast with his own more reserved character. This exhibition will be open until 15th April during the standard opening times of Shelley house which are 10 am to 7 pm Thursday to Saturday.


(An ink drawing by Gabriele Piccinini)

The second is a particularly awaited event. It’s the presentation, in the Sala Rosa of the Circolo dei Forestieri, of a book called ‘Lettere a Francesca’ by Enzo Tortora. Tortora (tortora = dove) was an Italian television presenter (famous for his highly popular ‘Portobello’ programme – a sort of Italian TV version of the famous London street market), journalist and radical party politician unjustly accused of collaboration with the camorra and sentenced to ten years in jail as a result of false evidence by corrupt ‘pentiti’.


(Enzo Tortora)

From behind iron bars Tortora wrote touching, deeply felt letters to his partner Francesca Scopelliti. Luckily he was fully acquitted after almost a year of his sentence


The letters deal with the nature of justice and injustice and dramatically reveal how a gross miscarriage of justice can be accepted with closed eyes by journalists who did not hesitate to vilify him on national front pages. (In a minor way I too almost suffered this kind of outrage, thanks to a corrupt UK policeman from Essex before I was acquitted). As a result of his ordeal Tortora caught an illness, which led to his premature death aged sixty in 1988.

A very special meeting with Francesca Scopelliti, the companion who loved and supported Enzo Tortora in the most difficult years of his personal and professional life is guaranteed. The meeting is organised by Shelley House’s director and publisher Luca Guidi and the interview is conducted by Journalist Marco Innocenti of the ‘Tirreno’ newspaper.


(Francesca Scopelliti)

I should also remind you that tomorrow Sunday is not only the opening of the celebrations for International Women’s day at Ponte a Serraglio’s casino at 5 pm but also the last day you can view the exhibition in the Sala Rosa of the Circolo dei Forestieri entitled ‘nel Vento e nel ricordo’ (In the wind and in memory) and which deals with Jewish children caught up in the Shoah in Lucca province. I’ve dealt extensively with this terrible part of European history in previous posts most recently at

Never a dull moment in Bagni di Lucca it seems!









Assassins and Bandits are Lords where we Live

Ariosto is considered by many as second only to Dante in the hierarchy of great Italian poets. His epic poem ‘Orlando Furioso’ is one of the longest and most varied of any in western cultural history. Describing the great cycle of stories dating back to the battles between the Moorish invasion of Europe and the fight-back, by Charlemagne’s army, of chivalric paladins, ‘Orlando Furioso’ has been and continues to be one of the most influential of poems, inspiring writers like Cervantes (who somewhat parodied the genre in his fantastic‘Don Quixote’), composers like Vivaldi (who wrote two operatic versions based on the epic) and Handel (who introduced a most unusual quintuple time signature to depict Orlando’s madness – furioso means either furious or mad, madly in love that is)  to modern writers like Salman Rushdie who introduced elements of the story in his ‘The Enchantress of Florence’. Most recently, Ariosto has been the subject of an extraordinary exhibition by the artist Possenti at the Fortress of Mont’Alfonso.


(Prof Marcello Cherubini introducing Prof Pietro Paolo Angelini at yesterday’s conference at Bagni di Lucca’s Chiesa Inglese)

It was, therefore, quite wonderful to welcome back to Bagni di Lucca’s Chiesa Inglese Pietro Paolo Angelini, a teacher, scholar and educational director from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana to introduce the presentation of his new book ‘Ludovico Ariosto Commissario Generale Estense in Garfagnana’ with its subtitle ‘di tutte queste montagne li assassini et omini di mala condizioni sono signori’ (throughout these mountains assassins and low-life men are considered as lords’)


How did Italy’s second greatest poet finish up in a then Wild West area (some of whose traits certainly still exist today in remoter parts) to attempt to bring law and order in a bandit–infested territory? There are certain facts to be considered.


(Ariosto’s portrait by Titian in London’s National Gallery)

First is that the Val di Serchio was divided up into a patchwork of territories belonging either to the Luccan Republic (e.g. Bagni di Lucca) or the duchy of Florence (e.g. Barga) or the Estense family from Ferrara – later Modena – (e.g. Castelnuovo di Garfagnana). These partitions provided ample space for wars and feuds but, most of all for bandits who avoided customs dues between the various parts through contraband or smuggling.

Second is the fact that Ariosto worked for Ippolito d’Este who was a mean ruler and didn’t pay the poet’s wages. When the chance came for a salaried job in the Garfagnana Ariosto took it of necessity. The pay, in fact came from the bandits themselves! There was a ‘special understanding between Lodovico and the banditti whereby each tolerated, and sometimes protected, the other – an amnesty in fact. The real scoundrels, according to Ariosto, were the priests who received harsh words (and suggested punishments too cruel to mention here) from the poet.

Third, Ariosto, coming from a princely court with its polite manners and seductive comforts, finding himself in a wild and lonely place with few sophisticated activities and, most importantly, far away from the woman he loved (and whom he secretly married just a few years before his death) Alessandra, became prone to depression and despair. Indeed, Orlando’s love-sick madness, can easily find a parallel in Ariosto’s own state of mind. Moreover, the battles between knights and monsters find a mirror in the conflicts between Governor Ariosto and the almost savage populace he had to bring under some sort of control.

Fourth, Ariosto transferred his unrequited love to the beautiful natural landscape around him. In his fourth satire he mentions the magnificent Pania Della Croce in these words (my translation): ‘the naked Pania between dawn and sunset turns me through her glory into her devotee’. This whole satire should be read for it gives a deep insight into Ariosto’s attitude to the area.


(The Pania della Croce as seen from near Longoio)

The book is published by that most distinguished of publishers, Maria Pacini Fazzi of Lucca, and is available in Italian only (for the time being) at price twenty euros.

I consider Angelini to be a sort of modern Ariosto. I had my first job as teacher of English at Castelnuovo’s Ipsia (technical college) which was headed by Pietro Paolo. I took my first class under the illusion that country lads would have been tamer than inner London street-wise kids. I was quickly put right and realised that I would have to use all my enthusiasm and interest-keeping tactics to keep a somewhat undisciplined class in some order. These tactics were developed to the full by the great Angelini in his directorship of Garfagnana’s schools and colleges. In his gripping book, I was flattered that this whole-hearted man still remembered me after almost ten years. Pietro Paolo’s dedication to me and Alexandra  was, therefore, particularly touching.


I also realised that John Harington, an old boy from my university (King’s College, Cambridge), was, at the end of the sixteenth century, England’s first translator of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’; (John also invented the world’s first flush toilet, incidentally, and lived in a house in one of my first work places in London – the former Wages Inspectorate in Red Lion Square).


(First English Translator of ‘Orlando Furioso’, Sir John Harington, King’s Cambridge)

There is also a close connection between two of Bagni di Lucca’s most distinguished visiting poets, Shelley and Byron, and Ariosto. Shelley read Ariosto while he was here and Byron’s style was closely influenced by Ariosto, to say nothing of at least two plots (‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and The Taming of the Shrew’)


(The original for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’)

that Shakespeare swiped from Ludovico Ariosto in this, Shakespeare’s four hundredth death anniversary and Ariosto’s five hundredth anniversary of his ‘Orlando Furioso’.


(Pietro Paolo Angelini yesterday)

Angelini spoke yesterday with lively vigour and truly reawakened our interest in this poet who recently has been restored to his rightful place after some years of neglect.  I am, therefore, truly grateful to the Fondazione Montaigne for having invited him to talk so fervently and captivatingly about Ariosto. I’m off now to re-read the adventures of Orlando, Angelica, Bradamante and Ruggiero, Alcina and Ariodante (two further Handel operas, incidentally!)


(Ruggiero saving Angelica from the Monster by Paul-Joseph-Blanc)

Harmonious Sisters at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò

Today’s the last day of a three-day conference entitled ‘Sphere Born Harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse: the interconnections between music and the written word’.

Anyone living or staying in or around Bagni di Lucca will have missed a lot if they haven’t been to at least one session of this fascinating conference. On day one, for example, there were talks on the relationship between Giacomo Puccini’s choice of libretti and his music. I was immediately reminded of Richard’s Strauss’s ‘Capriccio’ where the question ‘what’s more important the words or the music?’ are profoundly debated in his late opera.

Bareham’s talk on the Vauxhall pleasure gardens was for me an excursion into nostalgia since Finchcocks, the country house, once housing the Burnett collection of old keyboard instruments and which had an excellent exhibition on the phenomena of London Pleasure gardens, was closed and sold at the end of last year.

Other themes included Oscar Wilde’s relationship with music and the woman singer in Victorian novels. Charles Lamb’s description of music in his ‘essays of Elia’, the relationship between romantic and contemporary rock music, the origins of Mick Jagger’s ‘sympathy for the devil in Milton’s London’, the myth of Orpheus, aspects of sound in the American novel and (my favourite one) the close encounters between James Joyce and Michael Balfe, the opera composer, whose texts and musical procedure underline so much of Joyce’s work (he composed too) right to the end of ‘Finnegan’s wake’.

The highlight of day two was a concert given by students of Lucca’s Boccherini conservatoire which reflected a recital given in the same magnificent casinò where the conference was held, of a concert given by Doehler in 1842. The inspiration of this concert came from the unexpected find by Bruno Micheletti of a concert programme of the original recital in Lucca.


(The programme yesterday)


(The programme in 1843)

The performers’ standard was incredibly high and both the piano playing and the singing were very enjoyable. In particular, Doehler’s fantasia on themes from ‘William Tell’ played by Federico Ciompi were almost Lisztian in virtuosity. That’s no coincidence since both composers knew each other and indeed, Liszt played in our casinò (in front of the prince of Lucca) just a couple of years later.

No doubt all these talks will be issued as a volume as part of the Michel de Montaigne foundation’s increasing library of conferences it has sponsored since 2008 so I’m not going to say anything more about the substance of what was delivered except to remark that the speakers had largely researched into some quite extraordinary connections, so many of which were quite new to me. The delivery was also of a good standard and the presentations were mostly very good.

There’s no need to go far to find excellences of the highest order in and around Bagni di Lucca. A considerable part of this contribution must be owed to the munificence of the Montaigne foundation under the indefatigable chair of Marcello Cherubini.

Today we are promised talks on folksong and one I’m particularly looking forwards to the talk on Janet Ross’s love of Italian peasant songs. (See my post at for more on this formidable woman). There’s also a talk on Harems and Mozart’s ‘abduction from the seraglio’ which should be fun.

Now I’m off to hear the last day of this, one of the most enjoyable events the foundation has laid on since its inception.



The Courage to Change

‘The courage to change’ was the theme of last night’s ‘Omaggio a Divizia’ conference held in the Sala Rosa on the first floor of BdL’s Circolo dei Forestieri


The speaker, Dr Salvo Noè from Acitrezza Sicily, life-coach, psychologist and psychotherapist was introduced by mayor Betti and the conference was chaired by deputy mayor, family doctor, theatrical entrepreneur and exponent of a holistic approach to life, Vito Valentino.


One had to be alert and well-versed in Italian to take in the exuberance of the messages Dr Noè imparted to us. The general thesis, however, was that if one complains ‘why do these things just happen to me?’ then one is not the victim of circumstances – rather one is the victim of one’s own doing because one hasn’t the courage to modify one’s perception of the world.

Like other animals, we are creatures of habit. In my life, for example, there is a built-in routine of waking up in the morning, feeling bad if I’m still in bed after a certain hour (my cats will soon tell me if I’m oversleeping by pouncing on me while still in bed), and then the usual daily ablutions, the feeding of my menagerie, the watering of plants, the writing of a post, the day’s organizational diary, the daily walk etc. etc.

There are habits which are good to nurture as they also form a protective cushion around one’s life but there are others which are definitely worth considering either discarding or changing radically. Dr Salvo Noè has worked on intra-personal relationships in many different areas. Most visibly, he’s worked with couples and families, with schools, with football teams, with carabinieri and other crime-busting squads in all parts of Italy and has published a number of books which encapsulate his approach.

Simply put, we must find the courage to overcome the fear of changing ourselves if things regularly don’t work out. If one can change an energy supplier or a telecommunications firm because one isn’t happy with it then why is one frightened of changing or re-moulding oneself? Women have the upper hand here because they can more clearly change their appearance through make-up or a beautician. But these are merely external changes. The general dynamic is ‘I think, I feel, I wish.’ E.g. I think things may not be quite right the way I am handling them (they keep on producing the same unwanted result), I feel bad (in a clinical not a criminal easy, I would add…), I wish for change, I will change.

I thought of the Descartian maxim ‘cogito ergo sum’ (I think therefore I am) and realised that it could be reversed into ‘Ego Sum ego cogito.’ (I am what I think).

I noted down a few of the phrases Dr Noè said.

“No-one can find the best way of doing something without starting with the wish of really wanting to do it in the best way”.

“Courage is not the absence of fear. On the contrary it is the capacity to act despite the fact one feels frightened.”

“Fear is not your enemy. It’s an indicator able to direct you to those areas you need to develop most.”

“Courageous people certainly feel fear but they will not allow that fear to immobilize them.” (At this stage I thought of extreme sports).

“Excessive fear is linked to the lack of competence. (Competence being the combination of knowledge, the capacity to import this knowledge and correct behaviour in carrying it out – I thought of my own experiences in teaching and realising at an early stage that knowing one’s subject wasn’t enough: one had to impart it with confidence and deliver it with enthusiasm.).

“Practise makes perfect” (as any sportsperson, artist or artisan knows as second nature.).

“Those who lack courage will find that negotiating fear will see a great weight lifted off their backs.”

“Fear becomes a habit.” (I thought of a habit becoming very close to being an obsession.)

“Without courage (literally and etymologically ‘without putting our heart into it’) we shall never achieve our potential.” (As the great Goethe said “one day fear knocked at the door. Courage came to open it but found no-one there.”)

At this stage Noè showed us a picture of a pair of scales where fear and courage were equally balanced.


The keywords to positive change are habits and mentality. Positive change is change that has been intelligently applied to one’s advantage to produce an improvement, rather than suffering under it, so that we are able to change it into real progress.

Dr Noè suggested that this notice should be placed in prominent positions in one’s work or home environment (‘It’s forbidden to moan’.):


A considerable discussion ensued after the talk. There were clearly dissenting voices. How could one talk about quality time with one’s family if one wasn’t married with children oneself? And why shouldn’t Italy’s increasing army of unemployed (especially young) people and the victims of the recent seismic disasters be forbidden to moan, or at the very least complain?

It was, however, a generally stimulating evening and I wholeheartedly agree that most negative things that happen to one are due in many instances to the way one copes with them, rather than being regarded as further examples of the bad luck one is supposedly singled out to be afflicted with.

PS In case you didn’t know who Divizia was, she was an unassuming, even ugly (with a goitre), peasant girl at Bagni who was noted by Montaigne, during his visit to the Bagni di Lucca in the sixteenth century as possessing amazing extempore poetical skills despite her illiteracy and who knew the chivalric epic of Ariosto by heart.




Avant-Garde Events at Lo Scompiglio, Verno, Lucca

La Tenuta dello Scompiglio, just south of Lucca off the road to Pisa, is the nearest equivalent in our part of the world of London’s I. C. A. If you are looking for  way-out happenings, amazing food, state-of-the art bio-technology, mind-expanding exhibitions,  then check out its programme, also at


A multidisciplinary season focusing on the relationship between individuality and conflict entitled “Assemblaggi provvisori” resumes at the Tenuta Del Scompiglio near Vorno, Lucca.  There will be performances, concerts, installations, exhibitions, meetings, workshops and youth theatre.
On Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September, from 11 am to 7 pm, at the SPE – Performing Space and Exhibition centre, there’s a laboratory called Laboratorio tra autodeterminazione e violenza (between self-determination and violence) directed by the A j R i o t – A l V m e n u s company with Nina Negri director, performer, choreographer, actor and Isadora Pei director, performer, visual artist, and actor.
The theatrical performance (a collective of performers, dancers, directors and artists from different parts of Europe) will meet the group at 11 am. The audience is invited to ask questions about the dynamics of self-determination and violence inherent in the processes of subjection, not only through the issue of sexuality and prostitution, but also through the participants’ daily experience.

The dimension of physicality through various disciplines of theatre and movement will be integrated – from Butoh training to various physical movements – by working on theatre improvisation, dance to choreography.

The workshop is open to anyone interested in the topic: professional or amateur.
(Nina Negri and Isadora Pei)

SPE Booking office – Performing Space and Exhibition
Thursday to Sunday from 3 pm to 7 pm | tel. +39 0583 971125

Dello Scompiglio Cultural Association
Via di Vorno, 67 – Vorno, Capannori (LU) | tel. +39 0583 971475



Saturday 10th at 5.30 pm and Sunday 11th
There’s La Fabrique SoMArT the edge of the road: a travelling workshop, the brainchild of Serge Cartellier.
Conception, dramaturgy, direction and scripts by Faria Sophie and Serge Cartellier.
Translations by Luca Greco, performers Julie Fonroget and Serge Cartellier, costumes and accessories Sylvie Blondeau Hollier, sound by Sébastien Rouiller, scenery by Paolo Morelli and Cipriano Menchini.


Saturday 10 and Sunday 11, at 9 pm, at the SPE – Performing Space and Exhibition centre, there’s a show called G i r l i s a n G u n with the Aja Riot-Alma Venus Company.
Direction, lights, music by Nina Negri and Isadora Pei, with Chiara Capitani, Susanna Dimitri, Andrea Lanciotti, Nina Negri, Isadora Pei and Loic Samar.
Recommended for adults only.
SPE Booking office – Performing Space and Exhibition centre
from Thursday to Sunday from 3 pm to 7 pm | tel. +39 0583 971125

Dello Scompiglio Cultural Association
Via di Vorno, 67 – Vorno, Capannori (LU) | tel. +39 0583 971475


Saturday 17th, 10 -12.30 am and 3 pm- 5 pm, at the SPE – Performing Space and Exhibition centre and on Sunday 18th, 10 -12.30 am there’s a series of meetings entitled “Gender in the arts: performance, theatre, cinema, music” with Luca Greco.
This series of lectures will focus on the relationship between feminism, gender and art (cinema, theatre, performance, music). How do gender and feminist studies help artistic media and create originality? How is creativity influenced by gender and how does it present new subjects and relationships?

The meetings will begin on Saturday at 10 am with the following schedule:
10.00-12.30 am

Luca Greco
Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris III
Presentation of the two days

Marco Pustianaz
University of Eastern Piedmont
Le sentinelle in piedi: una performance

Catherine Deutsch
Université Sorbonne Paris Cité
Oltre il linguaggio: fare e disfare il genere in musica

3 – 5 pm
Giovanna Zapperi
ENSAB – Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Art, Bourges
L’arte, il lavoro e la vita: una critica femminista

Manuel Billi
Independent researcher and filmmaker
Due o tre cose sul cinema post-identitario: performanza, poesia, frammento

Sunday 18th
10.00-12.30 Panel discussion
Moderator Daniele Del Pozzo, artistic director of the Gender Bender Festival, Bologna


A multidisciplinary season focusing on the relationship between individuality and conflict entitled “Assemblaggi provvisori” resumes at the Tenuta Del Scompiglio near Vorno, Lucca.  There will be performances, concerts, installations, exhibitions, meetings, workshops and youth theatre.
Saturday 17th, AT 7 pm at SPE – Performing Space and Exhibition centre, there’s an “Omaggio a Demetrio Stratos” with the following events:
7 pm, presentation of the book Stratos e Area by Lelli e Masotti, Arcana Editions, 2015

9 pm, concert
John Cage: Mesostico per Demetrio Stratos   (World Premier)
David Moss vocals
Patrizio Fariselli piano and keyboards
Luigi Ceccarelli electronics
Antonio Caggiano percussion



Sunday 18th at 4 and 6 pm performance called Ginkgo by Giulia Quadrelli.
Performers Lisa Borini, Giulia Quadrelli, Ulysses Romanò, Alice Roger, Mario Scandale, Luca Tanganelli and directed by Giulia Quadrelli and Mario Scandale
Theatrical collaborators Luisa Borini, Ulisse Romanò, Alice Ruggero, Mario Scandale.-
Illustrations by Giulia Quadrelli
Technical support by Paolo Morelli
Costumes by Francesca Marra

SPE Booking office – Performing Space and Exhibition
from Thursday to Sunday from 3 pm to 7 pm | tel. +39 0583 971125

Dello Scompiglio Cultural Association
Via di Vorno, 67 – Vorno, Capannori (LU) | tel. +39 0583 971475




Amazing Find in Greenlees Archive at Bagni di Lucca

Yesterday wasn’t just Saint Patrick’s Day. It was the day when the newly united kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861. It wasn’t until 2012 that this seminal day in the history of Italy was declared a national holiday – a day dedicated to the celebration of a country finally united after years of division under despots, foreign and otherwise.

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Italian history has certainly not been plain sailing since that auspicious proclamation of unity. In particular, the continuing divisions created by the mafia and associated quasi-political gangs, the long way still to go towards a truly stable and mature democracy (Italy has had sixty-four different governments since 1945 and only one of them has succeeded in surviving more than five years.) Corruption is endemic. On yesterday’s news, for example, yet another example of contracts obtained by bribery and the usual game of double and even triple time-card punching by governmental employees so that some of them might enjoy a day off boating or fishing or on the golf-course was again brought to our attention.

At least, however, there is the freedom to report these offensive situations without undue censorship. Italy under the fascist yoke between 1922 and 1945 was certainly starved of freedom. It took a bitter and bloody civil war between 1943 and 1945 to re-establish anything approaching the high ideals of liberty and equality so eloquently described by such visionaries as De Tocqueville and Mazzini. Women, for example, finally got the vote in 1945 and universal suffrage finally reached the country. (Switzerland had to wait until 1971!)

That’s why the extraordinary find of a ten-page sketch for a broadcast on Bari Radio by the great Italian philosopher, man of letters, political figure and poet, Benedetto Croce, among the papers left by a great figure of Bagni di Lucca’s recent past, Ian Greenlees, is so important and so fittingly presented on yesterday’s auspicious day for the Italian republic, thanks to the initiative of the comune’s cultural association, Fondazione Michel de Montaigne, under the presidency of Prof. Marcello Cherubini.

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To understand why what has been found in Bagni di Lucca’s Greenlees archives is so important it’s essential to say more about three subjects. Benedetto Croce himself, Ian Greenlees and Bari Radio, while at the same time understanding the historical context in which all three came together. It is, in my opinion, a key moment in appreciating why Italy’s ideals are what they are today.

First, Croce. Benedetto Croce, (1866-1952) wasn’t just an Italian philosopher, historian, and political leader. He was also an opponent of organised religion, indeed he was an atheist. He became a senator in the Italian government in 1910 and served as minister for education from1920 to 1921. When Mussolini came to power in 1922 Croce became a strong opponent of fascism.


This is not the place to expand on Croce’s philosophical ideas, which were based on Hegel, except to say that he had an infinite faith in man’s creative powers and the belief that art could make the world a better place. Croce believed that one should learn from history (unfortunately a lesson still barely learnt now) and was a defender of free will. I suppose the nearest equivalent of such a person in the UK in terms of the bravery of his convictions of liberty would have been Bertrand Russell.

Second Greenlees. Ian Greenlees has been amply described by me in my post at which should be referred to at this stage.

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(Copy of portrait of Ian supplied by grateful thanks to Laura Chanter)

The important point, however, about this multi-faceted, very-well-off, smoothly elegant, highly socially connected, renaissance-wise learned, rather eccentric, highly practical and eminently decent resident of Bagni di Lucca occurred when Ian was appointed Director of Rome’s British Institute in 1939 and evacuated his staff courageously across a Nazi-invaded France back to London in a style reminiscent of certain episodes in Olivia Manning’s “Fortunes of war”.


Greenlees was put in charge of Italian language broadcasts for the BBC precursor of the World Service and also took part in the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 which led to the armistice and the terrible two years of civil war which followed.

Undeterred, Ian ran a free Italian anti-fascist radio station from Bari (where the Italian Royal family had fled to) and was promoted to Major.

Deeply involved in intelligence operations and with establishing allied-partisan coordination, Greenlees played an important part at the end of WWII in setting up a new government free from Fascist influence.

Third, Radio Bari. The radio Bari broadcasting station was used during the fascist regime to diffuse propaganda to listeners in Arab-speaking countries which, in effect, meant the whole of the southern Mediterranean, at that time still largely under British and French mandates. When Word War II started a ‘radio war’ began too and axis and allied radio stations did their best to jam each other’s broadcasts.

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After the landing of the allied forces in Sicily under operation Husky in August 1943 and the gradual advance (Churchill’s ‘hot-red rake’) of the liberating forces up the Italian peninsula, the Bari radio station was liberated by local partisans in sympathy with Benedetto Croce. With the assistance of radio technicians and anti-fascist liberal sympathizers Radio Bari was set up and Ian Greenlees was appointed to administer and programme it. On the 11th September 1943 the first message of King Victor Emmanuel was broadcast from it – it was the first broadcast of Free Italy. (Naples was still too close to the German forces for it to be considered a safe haven, not just for the King but also for broadcasting from.

On 23rd September 1943 Bari radio station became the central Allied headquarters for broadcasting news about liberated Italy to all parts of the peninsula. The main programme was called Italia Combatte (Italy fights on) and special coded messages were sent to partisan groups and, of course, the allied forces stationed not just in Italy but on the North African coast.

Radio Bari wasn’t just propaganda but it was also entertainment. Thanks to the capture of a record store listeners were entertained to a variety of music ranging from Glen Miller to Mozart. Furthermore, the topical items and discussions were not in any way specifically politically slanted. This is where Benedetto Croce’s recently discovered notes on the first broadcast of Italia Combatte comes in. These notes which Croce donated to his friend Ian Greenlees, (who’d translated Croce’s poems), have the keynotes of Liberty and Freedom of speech interweaved. There would be no right or left or centre wing parties dominating the programing but all anti-fascist sides would be able to have a voice. The only rule was that all those speakers should have liberty inscribed in their hearts and that the news reported on the front should be accurate without (clearly!) giving too much away to the Axis powers.

A vision of a new Italy freed from fascist oppression and totalitarian dictatorship was thus presented. At one stage during this incredibly intense conference held at Bagni’s ex-Anglican church (normally Thursday afternoons are dedicated to the terz’età (university of the third age) ‘lezione’ in which I have contributed for over eight years but this was a special occasion for a special day in Italian history), it was suggested that Benedetto Croce night have been somewhat disappointed by several aspects in which post-war Italian liberty has been interpreted but this aside was fully understood by the very ample audience present.

Professor Marcello Cherubini, the president of the praiseworthy Fondazione Michel de Montaigne, gave a lecture which was both highly interesting and hugely informative. This was followed by a fascinating analysis of why the notes were definitely by Benedetto Croce on the basis on his annotations made on the typewritten ten pages by expert graphologist Doctor Maria Laura Ferrari, whose highly tuned skills are also used by the legal profession. I do not need to go into her detailed description of general and specific details of the analysis of Croce’s penmanship except to confirm her opinion that they are definitely by his hand and, moreover, reveal psychological insights into his dynamic and polymathic character.

The conference was not short but my ears were glued to every word I heard. I do not feel that a more apt celebration of Italy’s emergence as a nation one hundred and fifty five years ago could have been presented. The finds of a speech by one of Italy’s greatest philosophers, Benedetto Croce, broadcast on Italy’s first liberated radio stations, Radio Bari, under the directorship of one of the greatest promulgators of harmonious Italo-British relationships, Ian Greenlees, could not have been presented at a more opportune moment than now when such essential concepts to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being more and more dangerously questioned and, indeed, threatened by current world events.

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(The precious find placed on the Italian Tricolore flag yesterday at the conference)

Two Italian Connections in My Old SE London Work-place

The programme for the Bagni di Lucca branch of the University of the Third Age is out. This university, or Unitre as it is known here, is a Europe-wide movement in support of life-long learning.


Like a good brisk daily walk of not less than half-an-hour is essential  if one is to keep in good shape at all stages of life so reading and listening to interesting discussions is equally essential if one is to keep one’s brain receptive and active.  Recent research has shown that playing video games can help older people in avoiding cognitive problems but frankly, I’d far rather go to interesting talks, read good books and watch selected programmes on television.

Unitre has been around for some time in Bagni di Lucca. I’ve written several posts on its activities.

There’s one at:


and at

Unitre’s academic year for 2015-6 is full of interesting topics. The programme kicks off with a talk by the brilliant young archivist Tommaso Maria Rossi on the immensely rich diocesan archives of Lucca cathedral. Our librarian, Angela Amadei, presents a mysterious topic on the Cunninghame affair which I’m intrigued to find out about. Subjects from astronomy and ancient history to local mediaeval history, from Winston Churchill to Benedetto Croce and from commedia dell’arte to migration are all covered. Among these multifarious topics I’ve got one of my own on the 21st of January entitled ‘the English experiences of Italo Svevo’.

As some of you, who have read that amazingly seriously comic book, “The conscience of Zeno” may know, Italo Svevo, alias Ettore Schmitz, seemingly gave up his attempt to become a literary figure after writing two abortive novels and accepted his brother-in-law’s offer to set up a branch of the family marine paint factory in Charlton, South East London. I taught for many years at a college in Charlton which was only a few steps away from the Veneziani paint works and just up the hill in this barely distinguished area of London there’s the house, now adorned with the blue plaque customarily affixed to dwelling of famous people, where Svevo spent, on and off, over twenty years of his life directing the factory.

Svevo’s letters from London to his wife and relatives and his set of essays on what was then the world’s greatest imperial city make fascinating reading. A Triestine, Svevo had taken English lessons from his teacher in that cosmopolitan city, then under the Austro-Hungarian empire (see my post at for more on this fascinating city),  who was no less than James Joyce, but somehow found it very difficult at first to understand English as she is spoke in London. Perhaps a shade of Irish brogue didn’t prepare him too well for the sharp machine-gun-fast utterances of inner London cockney.

Anyway, Svevo eventually managed to come to grips with a country he found so “differente” and actually grew to love it very much. He especially appreciated the escape from Triestine snobbery into the matter-of-fact working class camaraderie of a Thameside factory. He enjoyed London’s parks and the great art collections and was able to comment very usefully on the structure of British society at the time. Being also an amateur musician Svevo set up a chamber music group which was especially appreciated in the days before hi-fi and cd. Last but not least, Svevo was a loyal supporter of that great football team, Charlton Athletic!

It’s incredible how the unexceptional area of London in which I spent most of my working life has at least two important Italian connections. Svevo’s is, of course one of them but the other is in the park opposite my college, Marion Park. When I first stepped into that park I had an uncanny feeling I’d been here before. Indeed, I had but not in real life. It is, in fact, the park scenario for the seminal film with Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings and directed by one Italy’s greatest film directors, Michelangelo Antonioni, ‘Blow up’! An old park-keeper there was even able to tell me the exact spot where the disappearing corpse shown in the film was laid!

Maybe you’ll be able to attend some of the unitre lectures?


200 Years after Waterloo, Napoleon Return

Professor Peter Hicks’s talk Who really lost at Waterloo? Great Britain between the bells of victory and the event of Peterloo, the second of three events commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of Waterloo, was delivered last month in virtually impeccable Italian, flavoured with wit and enthusiasm. Prof. Hicks captured his audience completely in the beautiful ex-Clarissan nuns’ cloister in San Micheletto convent, now a restored cultural centre near Lucca’s Porta Elisa.


We were invited to dynamic press agent Anna Benedetto’s office, for an interview with Prof. Hicks before his public presentation. The Bonesprit project has covered everything from the Emperor’s battle strategies, to his horses, to the period’s fashions, to sister Elisa’s time as Lucca’s princess, to his personal traits. It’s a wonderfully abundant project which next year celebrates its tenth anniversary. Roberta Martinelli must be wholeheartedly applauded for this venture, her brainchild.


Peter Hicks is a virtuoso polymath with interests going from music (he’s organist, choir master, conductor and musicologist, re-discovering scores from the Napoleonic era), to his classics education at University College London, to his St John’s Cambridge PhD on Renaissance Greek poems, to his translations of Serlio and Palladio’s architecture, to his fortuitous introduction to Napoleon’s fascinating world via the Fondation Napoléon in 1997 of which, since 2006, he is now an honorary fellow.

This is just touching the surface of Prof. Hicks’s immense energy. He has curated exhibitions, some in Lucca’s ducal palace, is advisor to the new Marengo museum at Alessandria, Italy, translated and edited Napoleon’s only novel, organised events involving virtual reality, in short, is truly what is termed a “renaissance man”, so rare in this age’s pigeon-holed world. Living in Paris, Hicks is also a family man with three talented offspring.  Indeed, my first question to him was how he managed to fit all these activities together. Professor Hicks’s reply was that careful organisation and separation of his different interests enabled him to do it.

I was particularly interested in three aspects regarding Napoleon. First, was that, like the Bourbons, Bonaparte was intent on establishing a dynasty and, in this respect, was very much a child of the eighteenth century. He was not a dictator in the modern sense of being supported by military force but was an absolutist reinforced by the charisma he emanated and the fraternal love from his nation. Indeed, Napoleon was a difficult person to work with: obsessive and a true workaholic with irregular hours. One of the things which wouldn’t have gone down well with many Italians was the shortness of his lunch hour: fifteen minutes to scoff down food which here would have taken a good hour and a half to fully savour!

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Second, although freemasonry was clearly a leading element in the French revolution and was upheld by many of his closest collaborators, Napoleon was never a freemason himself. Freemasonry has been best described as a society with secrets rather than a secret society. Its ideals of brotherhood and equality were essential elements in creating the revolution. Napoleon, however, inclined more towards Rousseau’s philosophy and, especially his 1762 “Social Contract”.

Third, Napoleon’s downfall was largely due to the removal of checks and balances which caused him to make disastrous decisions which marred the latter part of his political career. This, ironically, is not what the emperor wished. As an absolutist he coveted, like any other cultured eighteenth-century gentleman (indeed, like George Washington wanted for America) a stable, peace-abiding, fully employed Europe with firm promises, realisable ambitions and rational fidelity.

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That’s why for so many people, not just on the continent (and especially in Italy) but in the UK itself, the battle of Waterloo was a disastrous victory (if such an oxymoron may be used) for it created more instability and insecurity in the succeeding years than would ever have been imagined in 1815. In Great Britain’s liberal quarters there was a general feeling of dejection. Lord Grey feared ‘the utter extinction of liberty’ and Hazlitt fell into a deep depression.

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The end of years of warring with the French also meant a drastic decrease in production with unemployment often leading to famine.  There was also the feeling that those who fought had not been adequately rewarded. Indeed, to this day there is no official memorial to Waterloo, (although there remains an uncompleted folly in Edinburgh).

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Discontent from large sections of the British public with their living conditions and restrictions on basic rights of liberty eventually led to a second ‘loo’ – the Peterloo massacre of 1819 in Manchester where around fifteen protesters were killed. Ironically, there were Waterloo veterans among both the oppressed and the oppressors! Shelley replied from Italy with his powerful The Mask of Anarchy, a pre-Gandhian plea for non-violent resistance:  “Shake your chains to earth like dew.

Certainly, 1848, the ‘year of revolution’ may not have occurred. But then a ‘what-if’ history is bound to be an unserviceable hypothesis. We must in today’s Europe build upon positive aspects of our past, remember and analyse them. In this respect, Prof. Hicks is a shining light for all those interested in deepening their knowledge of L’empereur. His future projects include further research into those surrounding Napoleon in his last desolate years on Saint Helena, and thorough research into the “poisoned wallpaper theory”.  He is also involved in the restoration of Longwood house in that bleak place whose furniture is now being restored and will be exhibited at the Emperor’s mausoleum in Paris, Les Invalides. May La Gloire continue!

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Feisty Victorian Women at Bagni di Lucca’s Annual International Conference

‘Questions of gender: femininity and effeminacy in Victorian culture’ was the theme of the tenth international conference organised by the Fondazione Michel de Montaigne under the aegis of Marcello Cherubini last week-end at Bagni di Lucca’s library.

The conferences organised by the foundation always have interesting speakers in them and it is a great pity that they are not attended by more people. On the first day, for example, it seemed there were more lecturers and staff than audience. The second day was slightly better. It’s a pity, however, that more of the worthy inhabitants of Bagni di Lucca do not take the chance to avail themselves of these valuable resources.

Part of the problem may be that the lecture are given either in Italian or English so one has to be fully fluent in both languages to fully appreciate what’s on offer. The précis given in the booklet does help, however, as do the PowerPoint presentations.

What stood out in the two mornings of lectures?

Roberta Ferrari’s talk on lady Blessington (no doubt familiar to many through her ravishing portrait by Thomas Lawrence in the Wallace collection) prompted me to start reading her travel books especially ‘the Idler in Italy’. I realised how Lady Blessington hosted a large coterie of famous (and infamous) people like Byron, Landor and even Disraeli (who wrote his novel ‘Venetia’ at her house in London).


Gigliola Mariani’s talk on the women in ‘Daniel Deronda’ and Shirley Foster’s on the Brontes, in particular Emily, had their points of interest but I was missing any direct connection with Bagni di Lucca which should be a guiding thread to the talks.

I failed to attend the afternoon commemoration of Mario Curreli, the former very personable and efficient chair of the event, who sadly passed away last February. A tomb has been restored in his memory in the old protestant cemetery of Bagni di Lucca.


On the second day, Tony Bareham’s talk on women in BdL visitor Charles Lever’s novels prompted me to begin reading this quirky author. Laura Giovanelli’s presentation on Bosie and Wilde was delivered at break-neck speed in Italian and, frankly, could have been shorter.


Eta Madden’s talk introduced a Victorian American journalist as yet unknown to most of us: Anne Hampton Brewster. Beautifully presented, it directly linked to our area through Brewster’s visit to the Lucchesia and her knowledge of Carina’s book on the Valle di Lima and Bagni itself.


Tommaso Rossi concluded the lectures with his meticulous work on the archive of Ian Greenlees’ correspondence of almost 14,000 letters illustrating the vanished aesthete’s connections with so many literary and artistic figures of his age. It also connected up with the last series of lectures based on Greenlees himself (which I have written about at

At the end of the conference I was left with the impression that there were many more feisty women in the Victorian era than males would normally like to acknowledge: women who dared to contravene conventions, including marriage, religion and social etiquette, to assert themselves and their independence in an age where they were considered, even by evolutionists, to have less intelligence than men.

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Thanks to all those who helped organise and who contributed to the conference. We look forwards to the one for next year – suggestions, if preferred, may be garnered from the Greenlees archive volume, now published and available from the BdL Library.