Over the Rainbow

Yesterday, another national day of mourning for Italy as twenty eight of the two hundred and thirty one killed by the earthquake in Amatrice received their last rites, as the local people had wanted, in their own town instead of the unwished-for arrangement at Rieti.

To-date there are two hundred and ninety two victims of the area’s earthquake and several people more remain still missing.

Of all the many moving images from yesterday there were two that stand out in my mind:

The cocker spaniel by the coffin of his master and friend, killed in the earthquake:


The letter written by the firefighter to the little girl he valiantly tried to save but arrived too late.


So many lives lost, so many young lives lost in the fullness of their awakening promises:

It finally rained yesterday after weeks of drought. The heavens were truly weeping and I was hoping a new sign might appear in the sky. I’m sure it will.


I could only think of one song yesterday and one singer whose life, too, was tragically cut short.




Spaghetti All’Amatriciana

When in Italy don’t ask for a plate of ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ (don’t even dare to say ‘spag bol’). The dish simply doesn’t exist in this country but is a concoction made abroad (and, I believe, actually sold in tins in the UK!). Ask instead for ‘tagliatelle al ragù’.  The ragù is a sauce generally made up of the following ingredients (quantities are given for serving four persons):

55 g (1 ¾ oz) butter
55 g (1 ¾ oz) minced prosciutto far or pancetta
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean veal or beef
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean pork
1 glass of dry red wine
A little beef or chicken stock
3 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper

A short while back at Bagni di Lucca’s super-excellent Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant I had a pasta plate which delights me more than any other. It’s called ‘bucatini all’Amatriciana’. Bucatini is that type of spaghetti which has a hollow centre and amatriciana is a delicious sauce made up of the following ingredients:

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale (cheek of pork) pancetta, or chopped unsmoked bacon

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz. can peeled tomatoes with juices


1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino (about 1 oz.)


Amatriciana sauce originates from Amatrice and I shall surely weep next time I order it for Amatrice is now half destroyed, so many of its inhabitants lie dead or just alive waiting to be rescued under rubble, its lovely buildings, which made the town part of Italy’s ‘più belli borghi’ (most beautiful towns), wrecked or destroyed by a devastating seismic shock which I even felt during the night where I live in a hill village near Bagni di Lucca.

Italy, we all know is earthquake country, but this is cruelty indeed! For an earthquake to happen with such a force just four kilometres below ground, at the height of the tourist season on which so many these central Italian towns survive, in the middle of the night, with ever more explosive aftershocks and so, so ironically, days before the town’s great sagra (feast) of ‘gli spaghetti all’amatriciana’ is just too horrible to even imagine.

Italy weeps and will continue to weep as more bodies of men, women and children are extracted from the perilous rubble. We know that Italy, so disorganised in some other ways, pulls itself together heroically in human tragedies such as this one. The army, volunteers, sniffer dogs, everyone is together in this great tragedy.

I’ve lived long enough in Italy to witness the horrors of the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 which killed over 300 people, to see the aftermath of the Emilia Romagna earthquake of 2012 and to feel our own ‘little’ earthquakes. (For just a few of the earthquakes we’ve had in our area alone (seismic zone level 2) since 2005 see my posts at









Why should the most beautiful country in the world have the worst record for earthquakes? Why should the most wonderful buildings and towns one could possibly visit on this planet be destroyed by nature’s grimacing forces? Why should some of the earth’s most creative and special people have to continually suffer from the unseen clash of seismic plates by night?

God only knows!

Eating spaghetti with Amatriciana sauce will for me from now on have a deeper and so much sadder significance that even its delicious taste can barely allay….


(Amatrice yesterday)


(Amatrice today)







Expo 2015’s Nepalese Temple

No, we are not in Nepal but at Expo 2015 in Milan.

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Near the west entrance of the fair is the Nepalese pavilion with, in its centre, a reconstruction of a characteristic temple much as one might see in Kathmandu or Bhaktapur.

The temple at Milan is particularly poignant since it was far from completion when the catastrophic earthquake shook that country and shattered so many lives and buildings. The temple took five years to sculpt and it arrived in Milan in hundreds of pieces in containers.

When the earthquake hit in April many Nepalese working on the temple had to return to their country to join distressed families and sadly, in too many cases, attend funerary rites. Through a display of solidarity with the Nepalese people, workmen from a firm in Brescia were called in to help complete the temple in time for expo’s opening, offering their labour completely freely. The temple’s Buddha statue was thus blessed in time for Expo’s inauguration.

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Visitors to the temple have already offered close to half a million euros towards Nepal’s reconstruction and when the expo closes the temple will be offered to the highest bidder. It would be nice to see it in some park in Milan rather like the peace pagoda in London’s Battersea Park.

The temple is a delight with its intricate wood carving depicting gods and goddess in the Nepalese pantheon. It certainly made me feel I was back in a country I’d visited quite a few years back.

(some photos from my teenage trek to Katmandu)

With fluttering prayer flags, Nepalese dishes and handicraft on offer in the precinct, the area provided us with a great start to our second day of sightseeing round Milan’s huge and rewarding expo 2015.

Life’s Horror Movies

Why go to see what in Italy are called ‘film orror’ when all you need to do is to watch the news? What’s even worse is when places you loved become associated with this ‘orror’.

Sousse in Tunisia, where we spent our honeymoon and from where we branched out to explore fantastic places like the gorge we travelled up on a narrow gauge railway when a young group of Tunisians started singing to the hypnotic beat of makeshift drums on the wooden seats, has now been subject to a terrorist attack with an unknown number of victims littering its beaches.

I read the next item and find that Air Products, the firm I gained my daily bread as a software developer has a decapitated body on its premises in France after yet another terrorist attack.

And it’s no better in the past. Our wedding anniversary, spent in Bali was followed by the nightclub where we went, being bombed. And as for our lovely trip to the Ukraine…well Chekov’s house doesn’t belong to it anymore. Nor do the lives of too many people….

Going back into the more distant and dim past, the hippy trail we took when we escaped from school is now littered with millions of either dead or refugees. OK fabulous Lebanon, where we worked in a bar, is making a comeback but, again, Kuwait, where we transfused pints of the red stuff to get some money to carry on our trip and even concocted a radio programme, has just had a mosque blown up by fanatics with many dead. And I haven’t even mentioned Syria and Iraq.

Our goal, Kathmandu, has recently had its worst earthquake in living memory. And as for our hitching across Afghanistan and its incredible abandoned Alexandrian cities and those Buddhas…anyone today would think we’d be stark raving bonkers to hitch a ride from Herat to Kandahar.

In the middle of this maelstrom of iniquities we managed a fabulous trip down the Nile in a felucca just a few years ago and our trip to Jordan, the middle east’s Switzerland (we live in hope),  was last year’s biggest dream journey experience for us.

Mongolia was transcendence on earth or was it a lunar seascape? I can still go back there, thank goodness!

My flight  to Vietnam last year was the best escape from Italy’s unpredictable winter weather I’ve ever had. . And a relative of ours waxed lyrical about her journey to Iran this year.

Our journey to south India was much more hassle-free than a typical journey on British rail:

and we are still raring to go to places our feet haven’t trod yet. Galapagos, Ecuador, Namibia, Trans-Siberian, Tahiti?

Sadly, too late for exploring Yemen, though. A big regret and even bigger regret for the suffering of indiscriminate bombing so bravely reported by Bowen.

As for dates. Why should our wedding anniversary, the seventh of the seventh, be now remembered for another ghastly atrocity in our home town ten years ago this year?

I sometimes think the more extreme religious sects are right in predicting the end of the world when they do. But aren’t they too helping along to further these predictions? The end of the world will come, as far as I’m concerned when I crash my scooter into a wall like that poor dad who died just a few days ago near Bagni di Lucca’s mayor Betti’s dream village at Pian di Fiume,  the victim’s feet sticking out at the end of a bloodied sheet too short for him.

Will our part of the world ever be affected by the ‘orror’? I don’t want to think about it although it’s given us its fair share of tongue-biting experiences in the form of regular earth tremors, the tornado earlier this year that ripped out so many roofs and trees and changed the landscape for a long time to come and the usual water bombs due to sudden precipitous rainfall.

Of course, as Sartre so poetically put it in his play Huis Clos, the biggest ‘orrori’ are some people one has occasionally have to encounter, even here…..

Enough of this. Let us enjoy the company of true friends, of harbingers of heaven, of things that make us forget life’s weariness its fever and its fret, nature herself whether it be in the flowers we surround our little homes with

or our animals:

or the wonderful countryside which surrounds them and us!

End of Shangri-La?

My own experiences with earthquakes, only realised since living here – see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/i-feel-the-earth-move-under-my-feet/ , increases my awareness of how much the people of Nepal must be suffering right now as a result of two devastating seismic shocks reaching almost point 8 on the Richter scale.

I once compared the Indian sub-continent to a geographically giant version of Italy (or was it the other way round, did I compare Italy to a miniature version of India?): the folded Triassic mountains of the Himalayas, taking the place of the Alps, the alluvial Ganges plain the Po valley and the Ghats the Apennines. What I should have realised is that both parts of the world are similarly subject to tectonic plate clashing within their boundaries. Italy’s nearest equivalent, both in scale and geographical location, of the horrors  Nepal is now experiencing would have been the catastrophic Friuli earthquake of 1976 (Richter scale 6.4) when almost a thousand people died.

Where would I find a miniature equivalent of Nepal in Italy? Livigno or the Valtellina are a poor choice, yet they do have several features in common. Surrounded by the highest mountains in each respective continent, they contain a broad central valley and very picturesque towns and villages.

I should know about this since in Sergeant Pepper year I’d hitch-hiked with a friend all the way from Catford, London to Kathmandu, Nepal. I stayed for around a month in the mountain kingdom’s capital and hired a push-bike to visit towns in the broad valley, including Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. I was surprised by the often close similarity of Nepalese temples with their ornate wood carvings to the rural baroque of alpine Italy and Austria.

What was fascinating about Nepal was its religious syncretism and variety. Local gods were fused with classical Hindu deities, refuges from Tibet had also added their own brand of Buddhism and, no doubt, American missionaries were at work too.

Staying in a hostel whose walls were papered with old newspapers I met up with other travellers including seven-finger Eddy, and two others who I was to meet later when I returned to the UK, somewhat changed in attitudes and ideas, to pursue my first uni year.

Strangely, I find I have been living in another mountain valley in India’s miniature version, Italy, for close on ten years now. Is it because I have been infected by Hiltonism? (James Hilton, the author of that classic book about the search for an inaccessible earthly paradise called Shangri-La – Tibetan for “mountain pass to the valley of Shang”).


Whatever this may be, as hippy dreams have faded away to be replaced by brutal realities, as the Nepalese are counting their dead and as Unesco is measuring the destruction of the country’s unique world heritage sites I have only some very faded photographs, all technically unwittingly underexposed, to describe one of the great experiences in my life.

Let us hope that the technique of anastylosis, whereby every fallen piece of a fallen historical palace or temple is collected, numbered and, like a jigsaw, returned to its original location in the building, is used in Nepal. Then Kathmandu might return to its original glory, like Gemona (which we passed on our way to Vienna with the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra last December) where tourists can enjoy the Friulian town’s historic centre with only the odd number on some of its stones to remind one that just over forty years they had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Sadly, however, no technique can bring back to life the thousands of earthquake victims, both from Nepal and from abroad, that lie scattered in that beautiful mountain state.