Crucifixion in Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano last night was the scenario for the enactment of Jesus Christ’s last human moments on Earth. Through the narrow alleys of this atmospheric town the various biblical episodes were played out in what was termed  ‘Sequela di Pasqua’.

First there was the Messiah’s joyful entry in Jerusalem and the meeting with his disciples in Borgo’s main square:

There was the last Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine and said to his disciples ‘do this in memory of me’. He also warned that one of them would betray him:

The harrowing scene in the garden of Gethsemane followed where Jesus pleads to God that his bitter cup may be taken away from him. If not, however, ‘let your will be done’.

Judas points out the Roman soldiers who they must capture by kissing Jesus who is then captured and led away.

The trial follows and Caiaphas and his Pharisees demand Christ’s crucifixion.

But Pontius Pilate can’t find anything wrong with Jesus. He washes his hands of the whole matter.

There is then Christ’s carrying of the cross with all the stations enacted. See if you can recognize some of them in the following photos. They are:

  1. Pilate condemns Jesus to die
  2. Jesus accepts his cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother, Mary
  5. Simon helps carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the three women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is placed in the tomb

Finally, there is the crucifixion behind the apse of Borgo’s main church of San Jacopo.

This vivid enactment didn’t finish here for we were invited into the church of San Rocco magnificently decorated with an amplified altar and where there was a fine choral concert which also included Mozart’s ave verum. As traditional, the proceedings were wound out with a rinfresco in the parish hall.

It’s been some time since the Sequela has been carried out in Borgo a Mozzano but thanks to the spirited collaboration of its citizens and associations this year a convincingly moving enactment was performed. It was even more poignant due to the fact that on the same day there had been massacres of Christians in two Coptic churches in Egypt. Plus ca change…

How We Spent Our Easter 2016

For us there’s no better way to celebrate the start of Easter day than to attend morning Mass at the Convento dell’Angelo just above Ponte a Moriano. This year it was a bit more difficult than usual to get up in time since the clocks were put forwards to what the brits call ‘summer time’ but the Italians call ‘l’ora legale’.

Reaching this beautiful building is like reaching nirvana. The great neo-classical Luccan architect Nottolini’s masterpiece, the ex-convent’s whiteness beckons to paradisiacal heights and the music we hear in it is equally heavenly – ranging from Bach to Mozart to Rossini and Puccini.

For the convent now houses the Academy of Montegral, the brainwave of Maestro Gustav Kuhn, born in Styria but brought up in Salzburg, former musical director of Rome opera, who founded it in 1992 with the aim of developing a holistic musicianship on a human scale. In 2000 it moved to the convent, reinforcing the idea of a spiritual and cultural musical community. The results show – I doubt if music making can really get much better than this in Lucca province.

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(Maestro Gustav Kuhn)

Kuhn’s finishing academy for young singers always brings a surcharged start to our Easter festivities and we were so glad to be there again yesterday morning to celebrate and rejoice. The Mass was celebrated by a Passionist father who formerly lived in the monastery (it’s the order which attracted Lucca’s own Saint Gemma so much.)

The extraordinarily beautiful chapel was packed as usual and the Easter eggs on the comunion balustrade received their traditional blessing:

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This was the programme exquisitely combining Easter liturgy and great music. After all,  Saint Augustine is reputed to have said that to sing (in tune, I hope!)  is to pray twice over.

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The celebrations started with a lively organ piece:

Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle (jokingly so-called, because it is conversely rather expansive) formed part of the sung liturgy but there were ample contributions from Puccini in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei and Franck in the ubiquitous Panis Angelicus.  A rather severe but effective setting of the Credo, by “an angel of Montegral” (must be Kuhn himself!) also impressed me. For me, however, the instantly touching pieces were the Alleluia from Mozart’s “Exultate Jubilate” just before the reading from the Gospel.

All the other singers of the Academy were equally brilliant and were excellent when together as a choir:

The one item which should have melted me in sentimentalism but instead always has a great effect on me is that song ‘The Holy City’ by S. Adams sung by the big voiced (and equally big) George Humphrey. May he continue to appear at the Angelo!

Incidentally, ‘The Holy City’ is a religious ballad dating from, with music by Michael Maybrick writing under the alias Stephen Adams, and with lyrics by Frederic Weatherly (1841-1913). It’s mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses and was also used by Duke Ellington. Jeanette MacDonald the great thirties actress also sang it in her 1936 film ‘San Francisco.

The lyrics are so beautiful that I have to quote them here:

The Holy City

Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang,
Methought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And then methought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang.
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o’er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna forevermore!

Here’s an excerpt from the ballad:

 

What a wonderful moment it was to exit from the packed church into the sunny, fresh and breezy exterior and from its scenic platform almost touch the wonderful Luccan plain spread around us like a giant backcloth and the truly celestial city of Lucca and its walls in the centre!

How do you get to the mountain of the Holy Grail? Just park your vehicle in the car park behind the theatre at Ponte a Moriano and wait for the shuttle bus, It’s the only practical way of reaching Kuhn’s Academy of Montegral since it’s accessed by tortuous narrow lanes which, turning ever higher, wend their way above the Luccan plain.

We were so lucky to be here at this time and at this place! It’s Easter-time with the most celestial music and heaven itself all wrapped into one gorgeously sweet bouquet!

How does one spend Easter in Italy anyway?

An old saying goes like this:

“Natale con I tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi” which means “Spend Christmas with the family and Easter with whom you like.”

In our case I decided on our own saying “Pasqua come vuoi” – “Easter as you like it”

There were three main parts to our Easter day.

Part one. Morning Mass at the Convento dell’Angelo

Part two. Our lunch, excellently prepared by my wife, consisted of antipasto followed by the best lasagne al forno Sandra has ever prepared for us:

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A main course included lamb chops which Sandra had brought from Tesco’s in the UK.

Lamb is otherwise difficult to find in Italy at any other time since there is a very strong seasonal element to what Italians eat at any particular time and lamb is clearly associated with Easter-time. There is also, for many of us,  a considerable ethical question about eating lamb. It’s because we’ve literally heard that sad phrase ’lambs to the slaughter’. Trucks loaded with little baby lambs bleating from their stark separation from their mums head across to the local abattoirs at this season. It’s heart-breaking.

Relating to what John the Baptist says in St John’s Gospel when he sees Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”. it could be could say that, as Jesus sacrificed himself for the redemption of mankind, so every little lamb that we eat is a little Jesus sacrificed for the sake of our selfish gluttony.

Our Easter lunch ended with desert which came in two  forms. First, tiramisu (literally pick-me-up). No marks for guessing how delicious our one was.

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There wasn’t enough room for the traditional Colombina – a dove-shaped cake decorated with nuts and candied fruit so we had it later for supper after a constitutional walk,.

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We should also mention Lucca’s very own Eastertide cake, pasimata which we ate last year:.

(A good recipe for it is at

.http://germoplasma.arsia.toscana.it/pn_prodtrad/modules/MESI_Menu/Articolo.php?ID=138)

Of course there were also the ubiquitous chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies which, in Italy, are wrapped to make them twice as high and which inside always contain a “sorpresa”. In our case it was a paintbrush bag!

The third part of our Easter concluded with a walk up the mysterious Scesta valley which continues right up to the Apennine slopes. There are many mysteries attached to this beautiful but eerie valley. But that would require a post to itself!

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PS For students of architecture and history here’s something nmoe about the Convento dell’Angelo.

The church and the convent, were the gift of the Duke Charles of Bourbon to the Passionist Fathers, and were built by Lorenzo Nottolini between 1827 and 1830. The architect here produced what I believe to be his greatest example of a fusion of ancient classical architecture with later renaissance models together with a complete understanding of the location where his masterpiece would be sited.

The convent’s location, with its pure white classical forms and bas reliefs exalting neo-classicism and rising from the forest slopes of the Brancoleria, is a foretaste of a romanticist sensibility and points forwards to that same kind of pictorial fusion one gets in the paintings of Turner and other great mid-nineteenth century painters.

Il convento dell’Angelo is indeed a blending of the purest neo-classicism forms with the most ardent romantic setting and is one of the finest examples of architecture experienced as “frozen” music one can possibly find in the Lucchesia, (or anywhere else in the world…)

We were, thus, truly privileged to have this music unfrozen for us in the wonderful setting, and with the highly talented singers, of the Holy Grail.

***

I’m writing this on Easter Monday which is is commonly known as ”Pasquetta” (“Little Easter”) in Italy. In the church calendar it is “il Lunedì dell’Angelo” and commemorates the visit of Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Salome to the sepulchre where Christ has been buried and which they found now empty. An angel then appeared to them saying “Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here.”

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(Peter Von Cornelius: the three Marys at the empty tomb)

It’s no longer sunny as it was yesterday. A thick mist covers our village emphasising the mystery of Christ’s resurrection itself.

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Easter / Pasqua 2016

A VERY HAPPY EASTER 2016 TO ALL OUR TRUE FRIENDS AND FAMILY FROM FRANCIS AND SANDRA WISHING THEM A DAY FILLED WITH PEACE, HARMONY AND JOY

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(Piero Della Francesca : Resurrezione /Resurrection : Museo di Sansepolcro)

 

“This is the greatest picture in the world. Great it is, absolutely great, because the man who painted it was genuinely noble as well as talented. And to me personally the most moving of pictures, because its author possessed almost more than any other painter those qualities of character which I most admire…. A natural, spontaneous and unpretentious grandeur – this is the leading quality of all Piero’s work. He is majestic without being at all strained, theatrical or hysterical. He achieves grandeur naturally with every gesture he makes, never consciously strains after it.

Aldous Huxley, “The Best Picture” an essay originally published in 1925 in “Along the Road”

Travel writer H. V. Morton disclosed in ‘A Traveller in Italy’ published in 1964, that during World War II the town of Sansepolcro was saved from destruction by the efforts of Tony Clarke, a British Royal Horse Artillery officer (a division until recently stationed at the Royal Artillery barracks, Woolwich in the borough where I lived in London) when the allies were advancing up the Italian peninsula. Clarke had orders to shell Sansepolcro, where a German battalion was stationed but remembered the essay by Aldous Huxley describing the painting as “the greatest picture in the world”. Officer Clarke refused to give orders to bomb the town, disobeying instructions from his commanding officer and, thus, risking court-marshal.  Sansepolcro has a street named after Clarke and his brave action.  He was truly a ‘monument man’. For me Clarke displayed all those qualities of character which only great artists and lovers of great art possess.

If war has to continue to be a genetic malformation of the human psyche then may there be many more men like Clarke to save the world’s heritage from fanatic destruction!

I thank with all my heart my English literature Master Brian Worthington (who is happily still with us and who I hope to meet again this May) for reminding me of Huxley’s essay

***

UNA FELICE PASQUA 2016 A TUTTI I NOSTRI AMICI DI CUORE DA FRANCESCO E SANDRA AUGURANDOLI UNA GIORNATA PIENA DI PACE, ARMONIA E GIOIA

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(Piero Della Francesca Resurrezzione – Sansepolchro)

“Questo è la più grande immagine nel mondo. Grande è, assolutamente grande, perché l’uomo che l’ha dipinta era veramente nobile e di talento immenso. Per me personalmente è la più commovente di tutte le immagini, perché il suo autore possedeva, quasi più di ogni altro pittore, quelle qualità di carattere che ammiro di più. Possedeva una grandezza naturale, spontanea e senza pretese – questa è la qualità principale di tutta l’opera di Piero della Francesca. Egli è maestoso senza essere affatto teso, teatrale o isterico. Raggiunge la grandezza naturalmente con ogni gesto che fa, senza alcuno sforzo artificioso.”
Aldous Huxley, “The Best Picture” è un saggio pubblicato originariamente nel 1925 in “Lungo la Strada”.
Lo scrittore di viaggi, Morton, divulgò in “Un viaggiatore in Italia”, pubblicato nel 1964, che l’ufficiale Tony Clarke durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, salvò l’affresco di Piero della Francesca e la città di Sansepolcro dalla distruzione. Ufficiale della Reale Artiglieria a cavallo (fino a poco tempo fa stanziata presso la caserma dell’Artiglieria Reale, Woolwich vicino il quartiere dove abitavo a Londra) Clarke aveva salvato il dipinto durante i combattimenti, quando gli alleati avanzavano per la penisola italiana. Clarke aveva l’ordine di bombardare Sansepolcro, dov’era presente un battaglione tedesco.  Però si ricordò di quel saggio di Aldous Huxley che descrive il dipinto come “la più grande immagine nel mondo”.

Clarke rifiutò l’ordine di bombardare la città, disobbedendo gli ordini del suo comandante e rischiando così la disciplina del tribunale militare alleato. Sansepolcro ha ora una strada intitolata Clarke ricordando la sua azione coraggiosa. E’ stato veramente un ‘monument man’. Per me Clarke possiede quelle qualità di carattere che solo i grandi artisti e gli amanti dell’arte SUPREMA godono.

Se deve continuare a esserci questa insidiosa malformazione genetica della psiche umana che si chiama, “facciamo la guerra”, prego che ci siano più uomini come Clarke per salvare il patrimonio del mondo dalla distruzione dei fanatici e dei barbari.

Ringrazio con tutto il cuore, il mio professore di letteratura inglese, Brian Worthington (che è fortunatamente ancora con noi e che incontrerò in Italia questo maggio) per farmi ricordare del saggio di Huxley.

 

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A Passion Evening in Castiglione della Garfagnana

Yesterday evening we were witnesses to our Saviour’s Last Supper.

We saw Christ wash the feet of his disciples: We saw Judas Iscariot betray him and then, too late, repent.

04182014 041We saw the crowd choose Jesus instead of Barabbas for the one to be crucified. We saw Our Lord scourged and flayed.

We saw him carry the Cross through the steep cobbled streets of the Via Dolorosa.

We saw Simon of Cyrene help Jesus carry the cross when he couldn’t convey it any more.

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We saw Christ enter the Mount of the skull called Golgotha. We heard the relentless beat of the drums of the Roman centurions pressed into a service they knew nothing about nor cared for.

We saw the narrow alleys lighted with torches to show Jesus the way to the end of his earthly life. We saw all this with our own eyes, we felt every blow with our body, we sensed the tears on our cheeks as indeed on the cheeks of all those present and helpless to do anything about the inexorable words of the Scriptures to be fulfilled.

Throughout Italy, indeed throughout the world, the Passion of Christ is re-enacted in so many different variants. In certain parts of Latin America nails transfix the hands and ankles of those who enact our Saviour’s last earthly moments. In more “sober” parts of the world that greatest of greatest pieces of music ever written – the music which will be certainly heard at the last trumpet,  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passion according to Saint Matthew – is listened to in deep meditation without applause and with an inner stillness – as we used regularly to hear at Saint George’s Hanover Square London before moving to Italy.

Different countries, different cultures but the same God. And so, at the incredibly beautiful walled and fortified town of Castiglione di Garfagnana, a veritable likeness of an ancient Jerusalem if there ever was one, every year on Holy Thursday the procession of the Crocioni takes place. We first witnessed this overpowering ceremony over ten years ago when we were in the area for the first time and were very moved by what we experienced. In 2014, after a long absence, we returned to witness this poignant Passion. Again, last night we returned and were equally stirred.

Castiglione’s church is, from the exterior, a wonderful example of an ancient Luccan Romanesque style –

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but its interior reveals a joyous baroque glory, rather like the bright filling of a dark chocolate cake.

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To one side of the church square is the chapel of the confraternity of the Holy Sacrament,  rich with the most wonderful examples of church furnishings and paraphernalia used for centuries upon centuries – truly the faith of Castiglione’s forefathers who, while often so poor themselves, spared nothing to create a little heaven of their own for the Creator to accept.

Inside the church was packed. The priest celebrated Mass and by his sides were the twelve apostles seated at tables with wine tumblers, plates and unleavened bread. The parish priest had now assumed the role of Christ himself – the liturgical responses of the Mass “Take and eat – this is my body….  Drink, this cup is the new covenant established by my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” A reawakened realism had assumed a fresh life distinct from the repetition which sometimes dulls these immortal words of the Eucharist.

The parish priest then enacted the part narrated in the Bible when Christ washes the feet of his disciples as described thus in St John’s Gospel:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him,and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Then from an ancient mediaeval cupboard in the sacristy in which he had been hidden and bound, stepped forth the one who would represent the Christ on his last journey in Jerusalem. Covered with a hood so as not to be recognised by anyone, and so as not to take any pride and glory to himself for enacting, this terrible part, Castiglione’s cross-bearer, chained, with a crown of thorns on his head knelt before the high priest – the parish priest had now become Caiaphas – and then the mob, the relentless mob and the Roman army thrust the cross (weighing 100 kilos I am informed) onto the man – “Ecce Homo” – kissed by Judas.

And so the procession weaved its away out of the church and up and down the often incredibly steep streets of this fabled town transformed into that Jerusalem of two thousand plus years ago and lit only by torchlight and the myriad stars which came out in a night sky that seemed absolutely cosmic. A chorus of girls and women intoned Passionist hymns, the Roman centurions drummed their obsessive loud funereal beats, and the sound, the awful sound of the chains of Christ dragging on the stones, and all this witnessed by the population which was largely local – no coachloads of tourists for this event which is an intense act of Christian devotion peculiar to this part of Garfagnana and which dates back centuries.

And so equally the centuries were wiped away and, more than any Mel Gibson or Zeffirelli film we were transported there, to the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that no other means could have ever taken us.

And as I write this on Good Friday, listening to Bach’s own Passion, so many more things mean so much more to me that no more words can possibly come out to describe what I feel.

And, again, we shall never know who enacted the part of Christ that evening at Castiglione di Garfagnana. Like Saint Peter who felt he was not worthy enough to be crucified the same way as Jesus but decided to be nailed upside down to the Cross, so that local inhabitant of Castiglione, like all those who preceeded him in this timeless ceremony through the ages, would remain anonimous lest pride should exalt his humiliation of acting the part of Jesus.

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(Several Photographs by Courtesy of Alexandra Pettitt)

And we could not tear away the thought that at that moment there were hundreds of innocent victims in Belgium who were suffering the pains of their own crucifixion at the hands of mindless, indifferent humans (if such they could be termed) just as it happened over two thousand years ago and just as it was enacted before our very eyes in a remote fortified town in the heartland of the mountains of the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany.

 

 

 

Four wheels Bad, Two Wheels Good?

Reading the interesting article by musicologist and insurance agent Michele Bianchi on Giacomo Puccini’s experience with bikes in this month’s LuccaMusica, a free magazine which gives as complete as possible listings of musical events in Lucca province and beyond (I’m the English collaborator for this rag) , I reflected on my own biking experiences. I was given my first push bike at age 7 for Christmas and would regularly ride, not just to school, but to explore most parts of London after my first major expedition from Forest Hill to Richmond Park on a Raleigh Space Rider when ten. London was a little different then.

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When sixteen I moved over to motorized bikes and bought a second-hand Honda 50 – a model which apparently is still going strong.

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In my twenties I graduated to motorbikes. The first was a somewhat unreliable Villiers Ambassador.

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The bug was caught and I subsequently moved across to Hondas. The CBs 250s and 360s served me fine, especially in getting to parts of Wales other vehicles can’t reach.

(CB360ing from London to Mid-Wales – Bwlch-y-Groes and Lake Bala)

The real breakthrough was when I bought a Honda Transalp in 1997.

With this bike I managed my first trip to Italy across the most beautiful reaches of France and climbing over the highest of alpine passes, the col de l’Iseran at height 9088 feet. I eventually descended via the Mont Cenis pass into the piedmontese plain. Based in Tuscany I visited the most wonderful places including Urbino, Montalcino and San Galgano.

I also visited the comune of Bagni di Lucca (though not the actual town itself which had to wait until 2001) for the first time, entering the Val di Lima via the passo Della Croce Arcana which is above Cutigliano. Little did I know that in 2015 I would celebrate ten years of permanent residence in this valley.

According to my video entry this is what I did between 7 and 15 August 1997 on that bike:

C136      07/08  –  15/08/97            Italy – Sant’Antimo – exterior – painter of Badia – Montalcino – town hall – old streets – funeral – town wall views – Certosa di Galluzzo – Abbey church – choir stalls – cloisters – monk’s cell – Monterchi – Madonna del Parto – Parto film – Gubbio – town hall – paintings – pottery – Etruscan tablets – old streets – cathedral – Sant ‘Ubaldo – views – Prato – Pracchia – Bardalone – Piastre – Prunetta – San Marcello – Cutigliano – Melo – Passo della Croce Arcana – Fanano – Pian del Falco – Rifugio Ninfa – Sestola – Pievepelago – Abetone – Cutigliano – San Marcello – Passo d’Oppio – Bardalone – Piastre – Pistoia – Pontassieve – Stia – Passo la Calla – Monte Falco – Monte Falterona – Castagno d’Andrea – departure for Home – German war cemetery at Passo della Futa – Bologna – torri degli Asinelli – San Petronio – Sabbioneta – Palazzo Giardino – arms gallery – Teatro Olimpico – streets – Mausoleum – Town Hall with old equestrian statues – camping at Lago d’Iseo – grebes – eroded pyramids – lake views – Passo del Gavia – Bormio – old streets – Stelvio pass – eagle – Alto Adige – Austria – Voralberg campsite – Germany – Meerburg – Boden See – Strasburg – Cathedral – Peruvian & cimbalom music – stained glass – astronomical clock

On that memorable 1997 trip I began my return home by doing  two of the most glorious alpine passes ever: the unmetalled Gavia pass (height 8599 feet) and the mythical Stelvio pass (height 9045 feet) before entering Austria and traversing the incredibly long and claustrophobic Voralberg tunnel.

Have bike, have tent, have trangia will travel and sleep and eat…… Glorious times which will always live in the memory.

As I trudged to work, fighting my way through London’s south circular road on that same Transalp I thought of those happy holiday times and wrote this poem:

THE BIKER

Red and white flame of power: you unbar

my prison and deliver me into

freedom’s arms. The wind of the plains sings through

me as fleet wheels spin and carry me afar.  

The whole earth unfolds around: vineyards yield

their ripened clusters in smiling valleys,

silver castles pass while the sun dallies

with my face and heaven’s grace is revealed.  

There is ecstasy in the engine’s pulse,

a leap of joy in the throttle’s release:

swiftness and light, sky and motion’s increase

transfigured into a boundless impulse.  

And when, through traffic and concrete, I ride

to work I don’t care: these wheels have had sight

of alpine glaciers and the eagle’s flight

and blue waters by the sea’s golden side.

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In 2001 on another Transalp (a green one this time with disc brakes on both front and rear wheels –  a bastard had stolen my original red and white one from just outside my house) I explored ex-Eastern Germany, Poland (reaching two places so diametrically opposed to each other in atmosphere: Cracow and Auschwitz) and Silesia.

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(My second Transalp in front of Charlton House London)

 In Italy I‘ve now stuck to scooters. I feel my biker days are over, although not two-wheel ones are not. I do feel lucky (cross fingers) not to have had major spills on any of my two-wheeled vehicle – just a broken wrist when the Transalp slipped across some oil near the millennium dome then being built in Greenwich (now called the O2).

In Italy I’ve slipped a couple of times, again due to “sostanze oleose”, but nothing serious – just some rather heavy bruising. I was, therefore, saddened to hear about the motorbike accident an acquaintance from Bagni di Lucca Ponte suffered at the start of this month on his Harley Davidson by the new Rivangaio  bridge crossing the Serchio near Piaggione. Colliding with a van the centauro’s (bikers are called centauri – “centaurs” – half-man half-bike in Italy) condition was so serious that a helicopter lift to hospital at Cisanello Pisa was necessary.His pillion partner was, fortunately, rather less seriously hurt.

I wish D. G. a complete and successful recovery and I am sure he will have the guts to go back to his beloved Harley-Davidson as soon as he is well again.

The problem with driving bikes (and cars) is, of course, not so much one’s own skills and reactions, which have to be top-class, but the bloody fools which surround one (and think they can drive just as well as you).

I do hope that my mates who are taking to the road on two wheels, whether it be on a Harley, a Ducati or even a Honda, will realise that superhuman care is needed here on those mountain roads with so many blind curves, so much unreliable road surface, so many distractions (especially the stunning scenery) and above so many idiots that abound on Italy’s (and clearly in other countries’ too) roads. Always easy riding but often difficult driving……

PS. Interestingly, we again visited Cutigliano yesterday when we saw the end of its primavera (spring) festival.

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Now we know how all those flamboyant Easter egg wrappings can be transformed to create new effects including iridescent butterflies!

Truly cute (twee?) Cutigliano!

(Cutigliano is a sort of mini Florence in the mountains complete with the old palace for the capitano della montagna and the loggia opposite it housing the Marzocco)

On our way back we took a quick look at the village of Lizzano, which lies just before the Abetone junction at La Lima, with its unusual mural paintings.

For more on Lizzano and the murals see my post at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/extra-mural-studies/

Our Way to Spend Easter

How does one spend Easter in Italy?

An old saying goes like this:

“Natale con I tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi”

Which means “Spend Christmas with the family and Easter with whom you like.”

In our case I decided on our own saying “Pasqua come vuoi” – “Easter as you like it”

There were three main parts to our Easter day.

Part one. Because we were suffering from the after-effects of a protracted cold we thought our contribution to the local choir would be less than effective so we decided to go to the Mount of the Holy Grail where there is a lovely Passionist monastery now occupied by a singing “finishing school” called the Academy of Montegral and presided over by Maestro Kuhn.

I’ve mentioned this transcendental place both in its location, its pure neo-classical architecture and the quality of its music making before in a post at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-morning-on-the-mountain-of-the-holy-grail/

and at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/an-angels-monday/

All I need to say here is that the stratospheric magic of this place never wears off.

The music and musicians were top-drawer and very inspirational. This was the programme:

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 Although it was a somewhat miserably cold start to Easter Day, by the time we’d come to the end of the immaculately performed concert/Mass the doors of the church opened out onto a beautifully sunny day.

Part two. Our lunch, excellently prepared by my wife,  consisted of antipasto:

Lasagne al forno:

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A main course included lamb (shoulder). Lamb is otherwise difficult to find at any other time since there is a very strong seasonal element to what Italians eat at any particular time. and lamb is clearly associated with Easter-time.

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Then came the turn of the desert which was in three forms. Not only did we have the traditional Colombina – a dove-shaped cake decorated with nuts and candied fruit:

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but also Lucca’s very own Eastertide cake, pasimata.

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(A good recipe for it is at

.http://germoplasma.arsia.toscana.it/pn_prodtrad/modules/MESI_Menu/Articolo.php?ID=138)

The ubiquitous chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies which, in Italy, are wrapped to make them twice as high and which inside always contain a “sorpresa” (ours was a spinning top) followed:

Part three. To aid our digestion and to fully exploit the lovely afternoon we decided to go for an extended walk around the village hinterland accompanied by our three cats, Napoleone, Carlotta and Cheekie and also by Sandra’s youthful 93 year-old mum.

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We all had great fun; the cats climbing trees and exploring surrounding tracks and us looking at the wild flowers and collecting kindling for our fire, for the evening come upon us still rather cold.

This sign says “Longoio’s fountain – self-service refreshment stall”. It’s ready for Pasquetta’s (Easter Monday’s) marathon along the thermal hills which will pass right past our house.

And this sign says “please keep your dog on a lead – sheep at pasture”. Perhaps I’ll supply Erica, the shepherdess, with an English translation?

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How did you spend your Easter day? I hope you managed a walk too, with or without cats. Perhaps with a dog?

Happy Pasquetta!