East Meets West at Ponte’s Milòn Mela

Milon Mela means ‘a coming together’ from the Hindu word to meet, ‘milna,’ and ‘mela’, fair or feast. It’s also the name of a remarkable group of dancers, singers and acrobats who together represent the finest aspects of Indian traditional culture.

We were meant to have Milon Mela’s show at Baba’s ashram near Guzzano but unfortunately uncertainty about the weather mean that the Baba was left alone and that I had to make a quick dash to Villa Demidoff where the performance would take place under cover.

In fact the God Indra did not bless our parched earth with his life-giving rain until this morning so I’m truly sorry that not only Baba but four friends of mine were unable to make it to the amazing spectacle witnessed at the Demidoff Global Village, a centre for holistic and alternative therapy.

Milon Mela had the backing of Baul musicians from Bengal. Bauls do not recognize caste divisions and originate from wandering mystical singers who embody the oneness of all faiths and believe that (quite rightly) God is within one’s heart.

The musicians accompanied a group of Gotipua dancers from Orissa who are linked to the great temples of Bhubaneshwar and the Devadasi, or female temple dancing, tradition.

This was a type of dancing style I had not been used to mainly, accustomed as I am to Bharatanatyam, and was amazed at the astonishing acrobat quality of this type of Orissan offshoot. Every hand movement or mudra, indeed the whole movement of body arms and legs, were a language which could well express the most transcendental ideas.

I’m sure that the tripartite plasticity of some of the tableaux vivants was fully expressive of the Shaivite origins of this dance which was accompanied by a lot of rhythmical foot stamping and reminded me not a little of kathakali dances from Kerala which we’d witnessed in 2000.

The tantric Sadhu Visajit Giri from north-east India gave an awesome display of asana or postures based on Hatha Yoga and climaxed with that most difficult of exercises: a horizontal belly-down asana on a bed of knives. We may sometimes think our life is like a bed of nails but this metaphor was literally realised before our eyes!

The arrival of two Chhau dancers from Bihar, clearly representing manifestations of Ganesh, brought some relief to the contortioned asana of the fakir. With magnificent headdresses and costumes Chhau dancers are used to invoke the divinity of Shiva to grant them rain and a plentiful harvest. They also relate tales from the two great Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Chhau dancing was punctuated by astonishing twirling where the performers almost took to the air like birds. Certainly, the dance has its effect for this morning it’s raining cats and dogs, or rather मूसलाधार बारिश , (torrential rains), as they say in Hindi, for the first time since June .

It was a magical show which transported me back to a sub-continent I have a great affection for.

As I once wrote when at Shivraatri at Mount Girnar in Gujarat when the sadhus come out of their caves in the middle of the night:


In darkness the holy mountain unfolds

its viscera: from hidden caves naked

saints stream into a flame-lit cortège that holds

Shiva’s night devotees in pious dread.


In the day’s heat I’d climbed to the summit

and slept alone at a pilgrim’s rest house,

withdrawing from press of crowds to submit

to music I recognised as my nous.


Intangible contact with the beyond

and communal meals under the large tents:

faces of joy sing bright chants that respond

to Lord Shiva and the time’s great events.


The mountain transmits like the internet;

god-like contact I can never forget.



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 https://www.google.it/search?q=lo+scompiglio&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab&gfe_rd=cr&ei=ZXDFV4y1C8HD8gelw6-YAw


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




Sanremo, Bosso and London

The post mortem discussions on Italian tv of that quintessence of Italian glitz, kitch and sometimes real genius, the Sanremo song contest, are still dragging on a week after the last limelight has cooled down. Begun in 1951 by the ligurian seaside resort as a publicity venture and a way to drag the town out of the postwar depression the festival started out with just three singers including the great Nilla Pizza whose song ‘grazie dei fiori’ won and remains still etched in the heart of many Italians. (My own favourite Pizzi favourite is ‘vola colomba bianca vola ‘ which won the 1952 competition.)

The biggest hit of the seventy year old festival and its one truly international success was Domenico Modugno’s ‘nel blu dipinto di blu’ aka ‘volare’ of 1958.

Originally, the competition winner was the song writer and each song was sung by two separate singers. Now, however, it’s firmly based on the singer or group. This year I Stadio won with ‘un giorno mi dirai’, a song which is an indirect homage to the great song writer Lucio Dalla who died in 2012, and for whom I Stadio were the backing group.

Italians either love or loath Sanremo and foreign viewers will hold the same polarised views. Divided into separate categories for established and for new artists Sanremo also has a celebrity spot, this year crowned by Elton John and Laura Pausini. The real coup d’eclat this year, however, was the appearance of the highly listenable and acclaimed classical musician, Ezio Bosso. Regrettably suffering from SLA, an extreme form of multiple sclerosis, since 2011, Bosso is making a presence in London this week since his music forms part of a triple ballet bill with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden which we’ll be attending this evening. The ballet is called The golden hour’, originally written for the San Francisco ballet, with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.

Ezio Bosso made a heart-melting impression both at Sanremo’s Ariston theatre where the contest has been held since 1977 and in the homes of the eleven million guests glued to their sets during the five days of the festival.

Unfortunately, the emphasis was on Bosso’s semi-physical-incoherence as a speaker because of SLA contrasted with his dexterity on the keyboard when playing his enchanted piece ‘following a bird’. What wasn’t mentioned because of the festival’s characteristic dumbing down to the audience is that Bosso is also a classical composer of four operas, four symphonies and is a conductor with such soloists as Brunello and Krylov and orchestras like the London symphony. Indeed, Bosso’s mentor was none other than the great Abbado himself.

‘The greatest thing about music is that it brings us all together.’

Ezio Bosso certainly did that at Sanremo, bringing as one the festival’s lovers and loathers as never before – we will be truly privileged to hear him tonight at one of the world’s greatest theatres, London’s Royal Opera House.



A Load of Cobblers?

I feel a friend of ours was slightly unfair when he described Ferragamo as “just another shoe-maker.” That Ferragamo certainly was but he was also rather more than that.

Ferragamo got involved in shoemaking at a very early age when he designed and made some shoes for his sisters. He learnt his trade from a cobbler in Torre del Greco and subsequently opened up a small shop. In 1914 he left for the USA reaching one of his brothers in Boston who was working in a shoe factory. Ferragamo then moved to California where he obtained contracts from the American Film Company to design and make shoes for their studios. Ferragamo also studied anatomy, particularly that of the foot, at the university of southern California.

In 1923, Ferragamo moved to Hollywood, where he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop and soon earned the name of “Shoemaker to the stars.” It is said that the ruby slippers worn by Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz” were designed by him. He indeed made them but the original design was by Gilbert Adrian, a Hollywood costume couturier.


Ferragamo returned to Italy in 1927, settling Florence, and opened his first shop in Via Manelli. In 1928 he formed his first company “Salvatore Ferragamo”. After some hard times, exacerbated by WWII, Ferragamo returned to increasing fame in the 1950’s. His new home was now the lovely mediaeval palace of Spini Ferroni which dates back to the 13th century. This became a destination of film stars, royalty, aristocracy, the rich and the demi-monde. His designs now showed even more originality and style.

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But what makes Ferragamo an artist rather than just another shoemaker? It was his visionary approach which combined his intimate knowledge of foot anatomy with the finest materials and the most desirable designs. If it’s possible for a piece of jewellery to be a work of art then it’s certainly possible for a pair of shoes to be one as well.


(The evolution of a Ferragamo shoe design)

Ferragamo died in 1960 but the business has flourished and grown into mythical fame as a result of the efforts of his wife Wanda and their six children: Fiamma, Giovanna, Ferruccio, Fulvia, Leonardo and Massimo, who continue the creativeness of Ferragamo original concept.

If all this sounds a little beyond those who just seek to buy a pair of comfortable sneakers then, like so many other Italian (and international) firms, Ferragamo has given a lot back to the society which has enabled it to flourish. There is a foundation which has set up a museum, holding fascinating exhibitions, in the palazzo Spini Ferroni in piazza Santa Trinita, Florence.

The most recent exhibition we visited (lasting until 23rd April) was, not inappropriately, on bipedalism and titled “Equilibrium”. Together with ducks and other avians, we humans indulge, uniquely among mamals, in bipedal locomotion or in, more common terms, we walk on two feet, creating a uniquely studied balance (quite apart from suffering from back-ache more than other animals). The theme of walking was exemplified through the exhibition in various ways – from philosopher-walkers to those who walk from one end of the Great Wall of China to the other.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes have served as a stimulus for this topic. Features from mountaineer Reinhold Messner, tightrope walker Philippe Petit, Will Self, architect, engineer and artist, Cecil Balmond, dancer Eleonora Duncan, developed this focus on equilibrium.

There are also art works by Canova, Degas, Rodin, Bourdelle, Matisse, Picasso, Lipchitz, Severini, Klee and Calder.   Viola and Marina Abramović, Kandinsky, Melotti, Albrecht Dürer, Giulio Paolini, Nijinsky, sketches of Isadora Duncan dancing, Martha Graham and Trisha Brown are also represented.

It’s remarkable how so many of Italy’s great manufacturing names, especially those in the engineering; fashion and culinary fields, have contributed so significantly, both economically and inspirationally, to Italy’s cultural funding and its artistic milieu. I’m thinking just of the Piaggio museum at Pontedera, the Monte dei Paschi di Lucca and the Ferrari and Ducati museums as starters.

England did kick off the trend with the Courtauld Institute and the Tate Gallery but Italy seems to have taken it to admirable heights. It’s largely because Italy is that country in the world which most successfully combines superb design with superb craftsmanship and engineering – so immaculately seen in its cars, motorcycles and, of course, its fashion.


(Ferragamo’s shop in the palazzo Spini Ferroni)

Sorry if you’ve missed the Ferragamo exhibition. There will be a new fascinating exhibition to follow, no doubt. Just keep your eyes peeled on the Ferragamo web site at http://www.ferragamo.com/shop/it/ita?gclid=CjwKEAjwjd2pBRDB4o_ymcieoAQSJABm4egojVFo5QZMHGk9esWtRygza4XloWbvYnNZr22WXjd8bxoCQWnw_wcB


A Swing(ing) Evening at Bagni di Lucca

So it’s all over for another year. Bagni di Lucca’s Arts Festival for 2014 concluded in great style with the Hollywood Hotel swing night and cabaret. The whole of Ponte a Serraglio was transformed into an inter-war Chicago with molls of all sorts and we were encouraged to dress in thirties style:

Pill-box hatted usherettes were selling their wares

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 and security was tight when those violin cases were opened.

There were plenty of facilities including the welcome reappearance of my recently retired barber, Walter, back on the job:

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 Shoe shine was also available and it was free for the night (for those who didn’t wear sneakers..).

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Well-known personalities graced downtown Bagni di Lucca including famous singers, stylists and cabaret dancers:

Star of the evening’s demi-monde was, of course, our great host and guiding light of the festival, Jacqueline who looked very pleased with this year’s edition, as, indeed, she should do.

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The Aperol band played hot numbers from the swing era with a particularly fine Grapelly-style violinist and a superbly idiomatic singer. It was such fun to hear.

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The cabaret was superb and there was great tap-dancing too! Eventually the whole Ponte a Seraglio piazza was turned into a big dance floor – the rhythms were irresistible.

It was truly splendid to see a very mixed public of Bagni di Lucca locals, summer visitors, permanent foreign residents and, of course, the artists themselves who have done so much to bring new life to this once run-down area of Bagni di Lucca.

It was this marvellous collaboration, this infectious fun atmosphere, this conviviality which made the evening so memorable.

2014’s arts festival will be a hard act to follow but, with all the creative energy that has been revealed, I am completely confident that next year it will continue and build upon its successes in the first two years and be even more exhilarating.

If you wished upon a falling star on “La Notte di San Lorenzo”, which it also was, it will certainly be so…



Bamboo and Blues

An unusual collaboration: that between a dancer and a didgeridoo player again vindicated my thesis that in art it is often unlikely combinations that can result in new and exciting creations which truly expand one’s awareness.

Yesterday evening, as part of Bagni di Lucca’s continuingly successful Arts Festival, music with ballet came together in a beautifully performed piece appropriately called “Bamboo” for, in one of the spaces produced by recycling empty shops, a complex bamboo structure had been furtively fashioned. I didn’t know where the bamboos came from – probably very locally as our whole area has some thick jungles of the plant. (No pandas unfortunately, except of the four-wheel variety). I thought the construction to be another installation until I realised that this was the scenario for a superb combination of music and choreography.

The didgeridoo was played by virtuoso Sollai Cartwright.


Of course, the word “didgeridoo” is a western concoction, for the instrument, dating back well over a thousand years, goes under dissimilar names among different aboriginal clans. For example the Pintupi of Central Australia call it paampu and the Kunwinjku of Kakadu, mako. The instrument requires a circular breathing technique, a highly flexible mouthing procedure and a thorough understanding of ,harmonics. It was incredible that throughout the performance, which lasted almost an hour, Sollai played the instrument in one continuous breath.

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I’m a person who doesn’t really like titles or explanations. It’s rather like describing a landscape before one’s seen it or being told that a piece of music is by so-and-so and is meant to depict such-and-such. I do go for the innocent ear or eye and for me the ballet, performed exquisitely by Danica Hilton (who’d I’d seen dancing to the unaccompanied voice of Claudio Sassetti in Villa’s park), depicted a chrysalis birth from a pupa, to the awakening in an outer world’s life, to exploring and making sense of one’s environment, to finding fulfilment at last.

Only at this stage did both music and movement stop in a final transcendence which left the audience unanimously and loudly applauding.

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After this profound and beautiful enactment it was an agreeable shock to attend another show, this time with singer Emma Morton (already known to me through her concert on women’s day earlier this year at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò)  performing jazz, blues and swing classics in a truly idiomatic and entrancing way with an excellent group of backing musicians.

Be sure you know what you might miss today if you don’t go downtown to Ponte a Serraglio, Bagni di Lucca at http://artfestivalbagnidilucca.org/





The Show Goes On…and How!

The Bagni di Lucca arts festival continues apace until August 10th (and probably a little beyond) and new exhibitions are opening all the time. I was at the second phase of this now internationally known and respected event last Friday.

Already the second year of the festival is proving even more engaging and varied than the first, especially with regard to courses, performances and the always debated continuum between art and artisanship.

With regard to workshops it’s startling to realise that the following items were all sculpted by students who’d never lifted a stone carving chisel before but who’d attended a week’s sculpture course run by Petra Boshart (returning to Bagni di Lucca from last year).

Other courses include life drawing, theatre & clowning and ceramics. Full details are at


It’s a great chance to do something one may have never thought of doing before (or just dreamt about) with a convivial group tutored by masters of their arts.

Performance-wise, there was a magical union of two art forms, music and acrobatic ballet, in Bagni di Lucca Villa’s central park last Friday evening. Qualche volta sogno, (sometimes I dream) combined local (and international) tenor Claudio Sassetti singing, unaccompanied, arias from Tosca, Traviata and Neapolitan songs with Danica Hilton from the Cirque du Soleil executing virtuoso dancing using a rope suspended from the trees. There was true interaction between Claudio’s operatic movements and Danica’s expressive choreography. A story of love unfolded, uniting unlikely combinations with a stroke of genius and working brilliantly among the twilit trees and lawns of the park.

It’s so often the yoking together of two seemingly dissimilar worlds that produces new and stimulating creations. One just has to develop a mind freed from the usual boxed-in experiences one so often gets imprisoned in with life and art.

I was also pleased that finally Villa is beginning to interact more fully with Ponte through this show. After all, it forms part of Bagni di Lucca too!

Of new exhibitions opened since last Friday at Ponte a Serraglio the following are to be particularly noted:

Giorgio Brogi’s installation which plays with colour and water, Alyssia Lazin’s superb photographs, Glauco Di Sacco who, too,  explores new expressive means, photographer Simone Franchi from Lucca who experiments with digital effects, Pavel Kapic’s abstract art, ceramicist Carol Newmarch and eco artist Wren Miller who derives her palette literally from mother earth.

With the added focus on artisans one cannot forget the incredible quality of made-in-Italy crafts brought together (and all for sale) by Belinda Hall and which range from the most delicate (and warm) shawls made from Kashmiri goats bred in Chianti to traditionally-weaved textiles from Lucca. (See http://homeofartisans.com/ for more details.

With another wet day forecast today why take the risk of getting even wetter by the swimming pool when you can have a true rive gauche quarter created at Ponte di Serraglio all to yourself and, at the same time, keeping dry with great things to look at, feel, hear and maybe even buy…


We are such Stuff as Dreams are Made of

The Italian word “Palio” can be applied to many different events. The most common use of the word is in the “Palio of Siena”, the famous horse race which takes place in the central fantailed and sloping square of this city between the various contrade or districts (all seventeen of them) at different times.

The element of competition between a town’s districts enters into the majority of palii, of which there are at least fifty-four listed in Italy (seventeen in Tuscany alone!)

It’s the form the competition takes which is the distinguishing factor between the various palii. They can be cross-bow competitions, as at Gubbio, or lance tilting as at Arezzo, or boat racing as at Pisa’s Palio (which I describe at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/pisas-san-ranieri-regatta/.)

Gallicano’s Palio, which is of more recent origin, dating from the early 1980’s, is essentially a competition of costumes, choreography and floats between the three rioni, Monticello, Bufali e Borgo storico, of this central Garfagnana town.

The aim of the different rioni is to win the cencio or “rag”.

The “rag” is a not very large piece of cloth designed with the colours belonging to all the “rioni” or districts. It’s a symbol of the town and embodies its creativity, enthusiasm and passion.

It is also a symbol of a community who share a magic stage in which the creativity of this town (population less than four thousand!)  produces a fantastic show that in my opinion has few equals anywhere in the world.

All this is the result of hard work from each rione which starts almost as soon as the last Palio has ended. It involves every one of all ages and skills, from the design of the amazing costumes to the electronic wizardry of the floats to the planning of the themes. The Gallicano Palio, in short, involves everyone and everyone is involved in the Palio.

I have been a couple of times before to this Palio and have always admired it. This year, however, the Gallicano Palio seemed to have taken a considerable step forwards, almost as if to affirm that those two recent years it didn’t take place because of economic difficulties were over and that the future now looked bright again.

Any couturier or fashion-designer would be stunned by the inventiveness of the local people to make up expensive-looking costumes with the cheapest of materials and make them up in a highly imaginative and inspired manner.

Each year a theme is assigned to the Palio. This year it was “The Zoo is here”. Each rione developed its own interpretation of the word “Zoo”.

For Borgo Antico it was the zoo of our lives, imprisoned in our own little worlds, unable to even look up at the sky anymore and subjecting ourselves to stereotyped and obsessive behaviour

Gallicano’s symbol – its cockerel.

For Monticello it was the story of the evolution of animals on this planet and the huge force of the earth, as sadly demonstrated last year when this area was devastated by an earthquake in mid-June and flooded out in mid-October

(The Serchio flood as represented last night)

(and last June’s earthquake)

For Bufali it was the way that the internet has somehow created a human zoo, a parallel world in which we meet in a virtual reality but must be able to use it in a positive way, not denying what is true reality.

A lot more could be read into the ways the different rioni interpreted the zoo theme set to them. Clearly, there was a philosophical interpretation on the vast warm, open-air stage floor but for me that interpretation was transformed into a glory of colour, movement, joy and sheer ecstasy.

I could not believe that such artistic force could come from what is essentially a mountain people living in a harsh environment on the fringes of the main centres of Tuscan culture.

The Notting hill carnival was nothing compared to it in terms of grace, beauty, and imagination. It was also happily nothing compared to Gallicano’s Palio in terms of the presence of forces of order. I only spotted one policewoman at Gallicano in an event attracting thousands.

At the end of this absolutely superb spectacle I could not help being reminded of the following words from Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. They did sound so apt for this occasion.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Incidentally, the true meaning of the word Palio derives from Latin pallium which means a cloak and points back to the woollen cloak a competition winner would be awarded. In Siena this cloak becomes transmuted into a standard painted by a famous artist and celebrating the Virgin.

For, of course, behind all these competitions there is a celebration of a saint. In the case of Gallicano, it’s Saint Iacopo (Jacob) the town’s patron saint who, from somewhere on high, must be admiring the complex working relationship between faith, community, culture and art which make such events still possible in a country like Italy.

PS Gallicano’s symbol is the Gallo (Cockerel):

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A few more snippets follow: