Summer Madness?

The beginning of the brexit talks farce is now in full swing. If it wasn’t so real and hurtful I’d class it as an amusing sequel to the television ‘Yes Minister’ series.

Thank you so much Mrs Theresa Mary May for allowing my 96-year old mother-in-law to remain in the UK. Thank you so much for allowing me to enjoy a decent pizza ‘al forno’ and a proper cup of cappuccino in London. A thousand thanks for allowing us to enjoy strawberries and cream at an English summer fete (appreciations to my ex-students from Eastern Europe working in the Fenland fruit farms). Thank you again Mrs May for allowing us to enjoy’ stupendi’ Italian singers at the ROH,

(La Cecilia)

and for still being allowed to have our medical mishaps attended to in what you’ve been unable to get rid of in the NHS. Thanks awfully for allowing me to go mad without being taxed upon this calamity (some people might say I’ve gone that way already – no thanks to you, however.).

(Straight-jacket from ex-mental asylum of Maggiano near Lucca. PS not available on Amazon)

And yet? Sorry is not enough Mrs May. And it’s not me that’s saying it. It’s the union which saved your country and the country I was born in from plunging into the utter miseries of unproductivity and depression it was faced in the 1970’s before hero Heath saved us and signed the marriage vows.

One positive point – I’m only receiving sympathy from my Italian friends around here and not any dreaded anti-brit backlash. ‘You’ve now got a government ‘all’Italiana’ worse than ours!’ one local said to me this morning. What next? Reduced museum prices for children, pensioners, members of the coop and those brits who voted to remain?

Let those who voted to leave the EU leave Italy and return to support their ever-inflating, price-hiking, increasingly tragi-comic-opera country….and leave la bell ‘Italia to those who love Italy and Europe and speak enough of the local lingo to be able to say more than just how to order un caffé’ ‘Americano’.

O dear! Is it the heat, which now, in Florence, is three degrees higher than in Madras (sorry, Chennai!), getting to me? Let those poor English boys wear their sister’s skirts in the torrid English weather. I’m sure their Scottish counterparts may all be in kilts by now…

(Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave – Courtesy ‘Grauniad’.)

I think I need to take a cooling walk in the nearby woods with the few living beings that have any sense left in this totally mixed-up continent.



Cor Cordium

As Luca and Rebecca of Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Shelley House’ bookshop have pointed out, there are, in fact, two Shelley festivals. The first is the one they themselves organize and which spreads itself out to Viareggio, off whose coastline the great romantic poet was drowned, to Bagni di Lucca where Mary received the first published copy of ‘Frankenstein’, to Milan, where Shelley wrote a vivid letter about the city’s cathedral, and to Rome, where the poet’s remains lie buried next to Keats in the protestant cemetery and where recently Rebecca was uniquely invited to recite her marvellous monologue on Shelley’s death. (For an introduction to it see )

There is also a second Shelley festival. (I should, of course, say that wherever people meet to discuss and read Shelley’s poetry then surely that is a festival in itself. I’m reminded of Jeremy Corbyn’s quotes from ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in his much applauded appearance as Islington’s MP in the borough’s Union chapel.) The second festival takes place in Bournemouth and details about it can be found at .

But why Bournemouth? When Percy Bysshe Shelley and his sister Elizabeth published (anonymously) ‘Original poetry by Victor and Cazire’ in 1810 Bournemouth had just begun to exist as a health-giving seaside spa inspired and planned by Lewis Dymoke Grosvenor Tregonwell, a captain in the Dorset Yeomanry. The arrival of the railways to Bournemouth greatly expanded the town and established it as one of England’s premier south coast resorts.

It was the health-giving sea air and the beautiful pine trees (somewhat reminiscent of a northern version of Viareggio I thought) that prompted Percy Bysshe Shelley’s last surviving son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, to buy Boscombe manor in 1849 with the intention of making it a retirement home for his ailing mother Mary Shelley, widow of the great poet and author of several novels and poems of which ‘Frankenstein’ is by far the best known today.

Sir Percy restructured the place and added a theatre in which he wrote and performed in his own, often farcical plays (e.g., ‘The comedy of Terrors’). Unfortunately, Mary Shelley never came to live at Boscombe and in 1851 died in her home at 24 Chester square, Belgravia (today, incidentally, quite near to the Italian Institute which represents the country which was so close to her heart).

Sir Percy, however, did manage to transport the mortal remains of his mother, together with those of his mother’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ who died shortly after she gave birth to Mary Shelley, and William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, to St Peter’s church yard in the centre of Bournemouth. Previously their remains had lain in old Saint Pancras churchyard which Sir Percy regarded as an unhygienic and undignified place.

Actually Saint Pancras churchyard remains for me one of London’s most romantic corners. It was the secret meeting place of young lovers Percy and Mary and where they decided to elope abroad, an elopement which eventually brought them to Bagni di Lucca and the Villa Chiappa. It remains the final resting place of such greats as J. C. Bach, son of his more famous father J. S, Bach and a fine composer in his own right. It is also where Sir John Soane rests in a tomb which was the inspiration for the characteristic London phone box. (To find out other famous burials in Saint Pancras old church yard see )

(Sir John Soane’s Tomb in Saint Pancras Old Churchyard)

The Shelley’s family tomb at Saint Peter’s is a fairly sombre dark stone slab placed a little way up the church yard. To read its inscriptions with the names of the Shelleys buried within is, however, a truly amazing experience. It was difficult not to be moved by the place where Mary Shelley her mother, her father, her son and her beloved husband’s heart all found their final rest upon this planet. We were visibly moved and when we touched the grave we felt the pulse of a strangely warm energy vibrating in our bodies. It was a sort of cosmic communication. There was even a sky lark singing:

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest.

The scene surrounding the grave has, of course, changed over the years, sometimes for the better and too often for the worse,

St Peter is one of Britain’s most glorious neo-gothic churches designed by that master architect G. E. Street. It has a magnificent interior and is headed by a tower and steeple which is Bournemouth’s highlight.

Less admirable is the name given to the nearby pub entitled ‘The Mary Shelley’. I don’t think somehow that Mary would have liked to have a pub named after her – a library would surely have pleased her more, Furthermore, thanks to German intervention in the last war, the old houses surrounding the churchyard were bombed and the department store facing the churchyard is quite out of scale.

However, all this is forgotten in the tranquil peace of the churchyard where the members of one of Great Britain and Ireland’s most remarkable family have found their eternal rest.

Outside on the church yard wall is this blue plaque.

As guests of a charming and highly cultivated lady, whose bench and plaque in memory of two persons so dear to her (and us) lie just after the entrance to the road leading to her own Italian retreat between Gombereto and Longoio, we were privileged to dine in her Voysey-inspired house before being taken to another important Shelley memorial and one which is to be found in one of England’s most glorious parish churches – indeed one of the glories of English Romanesque and gothic architecture, Christchurch priory – said to be one of the most closely guarded secrets of great ecclesiastical architecture. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it!

Here are some pictures of the wonderful priory.

I realised how much I miss fan and lierne vaulting on such an immaculate scale in Italy, no matter how many beauties this country can offer….

Inside there is this moving neoclassical monument to Shelley and his wife, Mary:

Commissioned by the poet’s son and sculpted by Henry Weekes, the monument is almost like an Italian Pietà with the poet transformed into a Christ-like figure and his wife Mary into a grieving Madonna. It’s as if the sea was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s crucifixion with Mary anguished like the Saviour’s mother. Why is the monument here? It’s because the vicar of Saint Peter’s refused to have it in his church and so it was accepted instead by Christchurch priory. I think the reason for St Peter’s refusal may largely have been due to the quasi-religious allusions in the monument – an irony when one considers that Shelley was already an avowed atheist at Oxford where he was sent down for writing a pamphlet on ‘the necessity of Atheism.’

I do believe however that reading through the great poet’s work there shines a light of immense grandeur, a sense of something greater than anything the material world can offer. Shelley was principally against organised religion which he saw, like Marx, as the oppressive opium of the people (which it certainly must have been in those repressive times) but I am sure Shelley believed in a supreme deity or God, call him/her what you will. After all, in his ‘Essay on Christianity’ Shelley writes:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Blessed are those who have preserved internal sanctity of soul; who are conscious of no secret deceit; who are the same in act as they are in desire; who conceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their own conscience; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, before the tribunal of their own judgments, of all that passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God.

We thank our dear friend who bears the same name as Shelley’s wife and his wife’s mother, indeed the mother of God himself, who enabled us to enter yet another portal into the transcendent universe of one the world’s most creative love-partnerships.





Are we missing British food in Italy?

A recent article from an unmentionable UK paper gave a list of desperately craved food items by what the paper calls ‘ex-pats’, but who are best described as ‘immigrants from the United Kingdom’ and, probably, in around two years’ time, to be called as the Italians say ‘extra-comunitari’, i.e. those who still possess a passport showing that they are not members of the European Union, like Pakistanis, Nigerians, Bolivians, Russians etc.

This is the list the paper gave in descending order of yearning:


Crumpets Yes Wait for some kind soul from the UK to bring me a pack. I could, of course, learn to make them when I get a crumpet griddle.
Baked Beans



Not really Get a tin of Fagioli cannellini and make Tuscan Fagioli all’uccelleto. Much more delicious. (recipe at )
Organic First Infant Milk Too old for this Nothing
Gravy Granules


Not really Look for a small cardboard tin of ‘brodo granulare’ (both ‘classico’ and veg)
Tomato Soup


Not really Make your own tomato soup. Recipe at If lazy pick up a packet of powdered tomato soup at any large supermarket.
Crème Egg Absolutely not. Horrible sickly things. More vegolate than chocolate. Go for real quality Italian Easter eggs which come in all sizes and all qualities of chocolate. They’ve even got a nice ‘sorpresa’ when you crack them open.
Sage and Onion Stuffing


No Nothing
Branston Pickle



Sometimes A friend makes some home-made pickle for me. There’s also a recipe at


Ginger Nuts


Definitely. Put ginger powder into your cuppa and then dunk a frollino biscuit in it. (Or wait until some kind soul brings you a packet across from the UK)
Earl Grey and Vanilla teabags


Not really There’s some decent Earl Grey tea in Italy. What I do miss is PG tips, however.
Unsmoked Back Bacon:


Not really There’s some decent Danish bacon one can pick up at Tuodi’, Pian di Coreglia.
Blackcurrant Fruit Pastilles


Not really Nothing
Richmond Thick Irish Sausages


Not really There are some great Italian sausages, some quite spicy too. However, they do tend to be a bit too salty for my taste.
Steak and Kidney Pie


Definitely missed Make your own.  Recipe at

You can use ready-make pasta brisè (short-crust pastry) from any supermarket if you want to cheat.

Cream Crackers


Not really ‘Fette biscottate and crispy focaccie do the trick excellently
Jaffa Cakes Not really Eat half a digestive biscuit easily available here (thanks McVities!) with a slice of orange.
Salt & Vinegar Crisps


Not at all. Ghastly chemical concoction. Nothing
Mushy Peas


I miss these if I’m having ‘Pesce e patate’ (fish ‘n chips at the Barga sagra). It’s on from the end of July to the middle of August. Barga should include not just mushy peas but fried onion rings too. Make and bring your own. Recipe at


Cheese & Onion Crisps Not really. If you are desperate for chemically-flavoured crisps they are now appearing at Lidl in Lucca.


What I most miss, however, is not on the above list: strong farmhouse cheddar cheese. Ok, you might say what with all the amazing varieties of cheese in Italy: asiago, mozzarella, pecorino, gorgonzola (a great substitute for blue stilton), provolone, taleggio, ricotta, mascarpone, scamorza etc. why should I still have a craving for cheddar? Moreover, why can one obtain in Italy cheeses from France, Switzerland, Holland and Germany and not a single variety from the UK?

Has the anti-brexit revenge already started on both sides of the Channel? Will the benighted inhabitants of the British Isles be deprived of camembert while we’ extra-comunitari’ (as several Italians are already mockingly calling us) will still be dreaming of a cheddar cheese toast with a lump of butter on top, especially welcome in the often dark days of a Tuscan winter.

Actually, I’ve long since come to the stage where I’m missing decent (and decently priced) Italian food and eateries much more in the UK than I’m missing UK food in Italy. It’s hardly surprising when the UK has just 65 products with EU protected status and Italy has 267. I wonder how all this will be affected in the promised forthcoming Brexit negotiations after June 8th.

I really do wonder?  To end on a smiley note would you say ‘formaggio’ or ‘cheese’?


Your New Year’s Resolution?

The following comment (not mine) published recently in Facebook just sums up the feeling most of us of UK birth have in Bagni di Lucca about an issue which could easily create more Christmas mayhem among family and friends than drinking too much punch.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, I’ve realised recently that I’ll never get over Brexit. Ever. I’ve tried hard to switch off to it, ignore it, accept it, embrace it. I can’t. I hate it. I hate everything it says about the country I love. I hate what it means for EU citizens here and Brits abroad. I hate it because it’s made me aware of just how racist and unpleasant many people actually are. I hate it because it will smash away so many opportunities for me, my children, my parents, future generations. I absolutely hate it. And worst of all, I have no idea how to actually effectively fight it.

Looking at the news of the gradual diminution of Great Britain into a little Britannia swimming around like a gold-fish in an ever smaller fishpond I am heartened that that wonderful exponent of British journalism at its most sensationalist and bigoted – I am, of course, referring to the ‘Daily Male Mail’, has now published headlines which sum up the present situation in the island said to be so often separated from the continent by a literal sea of fog:

Concern grows over higher food prices and less choices at the supermarket as half of UK households say they’re now worried about Brexit

  • Rising food costs is a concern for 58 per cent of people after the EU referendum
  • Food and drink firms warned this week that Britons will have less food choices
  • Growing fear that consumers’ interests will not be represented in negotiations

It’s now beginning to hit harder and harder. One may well be reduced in the UK to Woolton pie and spam. Even fish and chips won’t be the same now that the cod is emigrating more and more north, thanks to global warming, and may soon be replaced by squid (and chips).

index10Don’t be surprised to be eventually asked to join separate queues at Pisa airport – here ‘EU passport’ holders and there ‘non-EU passport holders’. And then back in the USSK processed cheese and plonk wino may be served on your diminished dinner table. Don’t think that the EU won’t retaliate….

What’s worse (or better in my opinion) is that you won’t be classed by that ghastly euphemism ‘ex-pat’ anymore. In Italy you will be ‘extra-communitario’ (non EU members or more starkly put ‘immigrant’). Isn’t immigration why you fought against staying in the EU? Wasn’t that the main reason for leaving? You didn’t come to Italy to seek a better job when there’s over 40% unemployment in so many areas, especially among young people. No. Wasn’t it to do with a better quality of life? And some of you repaid the EU by voting for Brexit? Hmmmm……..

I learnt at school that to win a rugby match you have to fight inside as part of a team. It’s no good just shouting from the side-stalls. You have to be part of the game to have a chance of achieving a victory and improving your side. What changes will the UK be able to implement in the EU once it’s outside it?

You stupid ‘Fryers tools’ and ‘Ringlet Noon’s’, (just to name anagrammatically two of those who voted to leave)…. You are part of those immigrants you condemned in your Brexit votes.

Instead, for those who have better vision and for those who can actually foresee a now much less significant island detaching itself from the continent and eventually sinking into the economic sea, here are some hints on how to get a foreign passport and give two fingers to those pea-size brain provincials living in Shiterton or Bedlam Bottom (yes these are true English place names – google them if you don’t believe me).

For Italy there are two permissible procedures to obtain Italian citizenship and an Italian passport and remain part of the EU:

  1. If you are married to an Italian citizen:
  • Get a marca da Bollo for sedici euros.
  • Obtain a copy of your birth certificate showing origin of parents (doesn’t matter where) together with an Italian translation of the same.
  • Get a copy of your police record (easily obtainable on-line) from your country of origin.
  • Get a copy of your residence certificate
  • A copy of your marriage certificate. If in Italy just that. If in the UK to a dual nationality Anglo-Italian citizen then a copy of the spouse’s passport too.
  • Fill in the appropriate form with attached documentation and pay two hundred euros to the questura in Lucca for the passport

PS You don’t have to give up your UK passport. The UK is one country where dual nationality is allowed and the UK passport comes in useful especially if you plan to visit those countries which formed part of the old colonial Empire.

  1. If you do not satisfy the conditions above and have not married a citizen of the beautiful country you have emigrated to, to apply for Italian citizenship and an Italian passport you must be in one of the following situations:
  • Ten years continuous residency if you don’t live in the EC
  • Three years residency if you are descended from Italian grandparents.
  • Five year residency if you are a political refugee (you could, perhaps, claim that you are living in a majority Brexit-voting area and find life there impossible) or if your offspring are already Italian citizens.
  • Five years employment in Italy as an official of the Italian state.

So there you are. It’s not that difficult and you can do the process either with INAC on GCIL in Bagni di Lucca. Start now before it’s too late. You won’t lose your UK passport. There are so many people around in Europe with dual nationality, especially in Italy.

If you are a resident here and are not interested in becoming an Italian citizen then, to re-write Tom Lehrer’s ‘Vatican rag’ with the same tune, you could sing:

Get inside that airport queue

And moan ‘o dear, boo hoo hoo’.

There the guy that’ll see your visa

Will say you’re just an out-of-date geezer

Follow me to this side line

And maybe we’ll just give you a little fine



Am I Really Going Quackers?

Coincidences are always startling to some degree. But the one that happened to me yesterday was a real quacker!

I came back home to find that my camera, which had a shutter problem, had been returned from the repair factory to my very own front door by the courier instead of the often usual situation where one has to go down to the local bar in Bagni di Lucca because couriers often pretend not to know where I live. Since the camera was under guarantee there was even nothing to pay for it!

Later in the afternoon I received a call from the courier stating that he’d managed to put the parcel next to my door because he found the garden gate open. He also found my two Muscovy ducks, Flip and Flop, playing outside my house. He said he’d lifted them up and deposited them in the front garden before leaving and closing the door. I thanked him profusely.

Mystery. Have I really gone so far as to forget to close and lock the front gate?

Anyway, full marks for the kindness of a really helpful courier.

In the evening I received an email from a friend who lives in the wilds of middle England describing his bike-ride. ‘I am back in the land of notices’ he wrote and sent me these stating ‘Ducks at Play: please be sensitive – don’t mention plum sauce or l’orange’ placed near the waterway he’d cycled to.

Just before I travelled into dreamland I received a post from someone I’m very keen to follow. It’s from the excellent blogger, Mukul Chand from India, and is at The photo’s entitled ‘Enchanting Group of Ducks at the Harishchandra Ghat in Kashi’


Kashi= Varanasi (Benares) and the river is the  Holy Ganges

So on the same day three lots of ducks decided to have a game with me in three different countries. Or am I really going quackers?

Britain’s P.M. Continues in Office

Contrary to what has been read in the papers (never believe what they tell you anyway – except, of course, our own Tuscan ‘Il Tirreno’ and ‘La Nazione’ dailys) Britain’s P.M. has retained his job at 10 Downing Street, London. As you’ll know the P.M.’s main job is to reflect and execute the will of the British people and to combat a never-ending battle against fraudsters, corruptors and rat-faces.

This, despite press commentaries to the contrary, our British P.M. has done excellently and I am glad to state that reports of an expulsion from the hallowed terraced house in Westminster have been greatly exaggerated.

He may be no lamb and sometimes he’s been accused of laziness and failure to execute his duties but his foreign policy, especially towards US presidents, has been both positive and effective.


(Courtesy Daily Telegraph)

P.M. Larry (P.M. in case you were ignorant enough not to know, stands for ‘Prime Mouser’) will effect continuity in British politics while all the rest of those boring (and sometimes catatonic) bipeds he has to put up with petting him with are playing meowsical chairs and being generally cattish with each other.

(Courtesy Daily Telegraph)

Thank the Lord (and the Battersea Dogs and Cats home) that there are still some sensible felines around who keep their four paws firmly on the ground and maintain the cattery country they have been bold enough for so many centuries free from vermin.

Incidentally, our own P.M. (yes Longoio and our house in Italy have a similar office) is carrying out his duties with exemplary care as witness this proof of his latest brave deed.

In both cases possible cat-astrophic results have surely been avoided. Meow! (or Mayiou?)

07102016 027

(Carlotta, our first female P.M., on guard beside that dreaded drain!)



Will Finches Sing Again?

As much as concert halls may be appropriate places for hearing so many of the world’s greatest pieces of music there’s nothing to beat a concert in the intimacy of a country house or Italianate villa.

In the Lucchesia we have enjoyed concerts, even operas, in such places as the villa Oliva and at the palazzo Bove in San Gennaro. Being in Italy we are not necessary confined to the grand salon or the drawing room but instead can enjoy the balmy evening summer air in the gardens, porticos and terraces of these graceful mansions.

Italy also has some notable collections of musical instruments as befits a nation who invented the fortepiano and who had such craftsmen as Stradivarius and Clementi.

Just in Tuscany we have the Museo dei strumenti musicali in Florence (see ) quite apart from the Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori (see at )

The organ museum in Massa Carrara is also a must. We visited this in 2011. See

Further afield the musical instruments museum in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco ( is second to none and Rome’s Academia Santa Cecilia’s collection is housed in a building designed by no less than Renzo Piano. Rome also has the national collection of musical instruments accommodated by the basilica of Santa Croce.

Of course, composers’ houses, of which Tuscany has several: not just Puccini’s three (!) houses at Torre del Lago, Lucca and Celle di Pescaglia, but also Caruso’s villa, Busoni’s house in Empoli and the Titta Ruffo collection in Pisa’s Teatro Verdi, provide further evidence of historic musical instruments including those on which such masterpieces as “Turandot” were composed.

For percussion instruments Pistoia’s Museo Tronci is unmissable (see

There are several other museums in Italy associated with musical instruments and with composers but I have yet to visit them. Perhaps next year?

It was, therefore, with particular sadness that I realised yesterday, via a snippet on BBC’s Radio 3 that there is yet another reason for not visiting the UK in a hurry and that is because the glorious Thomas Archer mansion set in the most idyllic part of the Kentish weald will no longer house the extraordinary collection of one hundred keyboard instruments built up and restored by that indomitable pair who we have known for such a long time, Richard and Katrina Burnett.

Gone will be our evening motorbike jaunt down the A21 and thence across country lanes to the beautiful setting of Finchcocks. Gone will be our truly and deliciously English fayre served before the concerts in the mansion’s cellars. Gone will be the delightful exhibition illustrating London’s vanished pleasure gardens, Gone will be the beautifully arranged keyboard instruments ranging from the Portuguese Antubes harpsichord of 1785 to the 1835 Collard (played by Chopin?) to the evocative collection of musical boxes. Gone will be even the more recent jazz festival there.

Gone, above all, will be the inimitable atmosphere of an evening spent there in the great hall, perhaps sitting on cushions in the grand staircase, listening to wonderful and largely unknown repertoire truly played on historically authentic instruments.

Why could not a trust have been founded to bring Finchcocks securely into a new century? It’s been done in often organizationally criticised and cash-strapped Italy so why not in the UK?

We can at least look forwards to a small part of this priceless collection being preserved in a more modest milieu – the rest will be munificently placed on auction for charitable purposes. But overall, our experience in the UK will be once more a little further diminished for us for whom Finchcocks was truly a sylvan heaven miles away from the frenetic pace of the city we used to live in and a true joy to look forwards to… (Well I suppose there’s still Fenton House and Hatchlands…)

(Finchcocks in 1995)

We thank Katrina and Richard for the taste of heaven they have given to us over the years and wish them well in their future new years.