My Flower is at Borgo a Mozzano

Borgo a Mozzano is well-known for its azalea festival which I have described in various posts:

It was, therefore, a bit of a surprise when no azalea festival was announced for this April. I needn’t have worried for this May week-end Borgo has put on a truly dazzling day of flowers which in some respects is even better than the azalea displays.

There are contributions from every borgo or village in the comune of Borgo, streets events and art displays. Car-parking is, as usual easy in the Penny Market supermarket park and the catering includes everything from lampredotto to zucchero filato.

With these climatically somewhat unpredictable days there was a sharp tempestuous shower in the afternoon but, at least the flowers on show appreciated it! Judge for yourselves.

The old town turned itself into a flower garden, thanks to arrangements arranged by local florists, associations and schools. I especially liked the Vespa display with 1969 original trappings including flower-title 45 rpm records and a dansette gramophone.

Even door handles were decorated.

There were many handicraft stalls.

Even restaurants offered flower-themed menus. I think anyone who has stayed in Italy will have tasted how delicious courgette flowers and even dandelions are when fried in batter.

Simonetta Cassai hosted an exhibition of paintings which highlighted what progress her students had made in the art course held there.

I loved these boxed 3-D pictures which a local teacher also uses for elementary school activities.

The Municipal Library held a photographic exhibition.

Activities starting from Borgo included a trek up to Monte Bargiglio which I have described at

The Monte Agliale Astronomical Observatory will also be open during the evenings of the festival, welcoming visitors to discover the wonders of the sky if the clouds we’ve been recently having permit,

There are also treks along the Gothic Line which I have described at:

For more information on the festival look at the web site at

It’s an event that you cannot afford to miss if you are in the Lucchesia and entry is free too!

Cherry Ripe (Soon)

It’s that time of year when the hills are alive with the sound of strimmers and lawnmowers. Yesterday taking advantage of the fine weather we’ve been having, with fresh mornings building up to a not over-hot mid-day, I tackled my own grass-growing problem.

I found that the problem lay not in cutting the grass but rather in not cutting it for my ‘orto’ was so full of beautiful wild flowers that it was truly transformed into an earthly rainbow.

I solved the problem by leaving patches of wild meadow about the place which will also please the butterflies.

My various trees are all beginning to flourish.  The olives promise a good harvest this year:

It’ll also soon be cherry-time,

Which reminds me of that gorgeous song with words by Robert Herrick and music by Charles Edward Horn. Horn was also a singer and performed in Stephen Storace’s ‘The siege of Belgrade.’ Storace’s sister Nancy, incidentally, was the singer specially chosen by Mozart for the part of Susanna in his ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’. But I digress…

(Cherry seller from ‘cries of London)

Here are the words of the song followed by my favourite recording of it:

Cherry ripe, cherry ripe
Ripe I cry
Full and fair ones
Come and buy
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe
Ripe I cry
Full and fair ones
Come and buy

If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer there
Where my love whose lips do smile
There’s the land, or Cherry Isle
There’s the land or Cherry Isle.

Palm-Spring Sunday

Spring gets more suddenly with us every year we’re here. It’s now truly sprung. as the hackneyed phrase goes. In our garden the commonly called gaggiolo or Florentine lily or English iris is putting on quite a show and all the other flowers are now in competition with each. Even the vegetables are beginning to start a sweet show. Our Japanese maple is finally putting out its leaves. The muscari are thriving and the wysteria  will now start putting on its fireworks display. Even the pomegranate is showing signs of life. The azalea is continuing to thrive.

Spring is in the air

germinating in our hearts:

happiness blossoms


Which reminds me that today is also Palm Sunday marking Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a Donkey.




I was standing by the east gate

when I first saw him pass.

Could this man create so much hate

and yet unite all class?


Through the thick crowds I caught his face

and for one fleet instance

it seemed as if he could replace

death itself with his glance.


People had cut down palm boughs,

waving them before him

with hosannas and solemn vows

in one rapt festive whim.


Sat astride the colt of an ass,


he rode through the acclaiming mass

like a king returning.


How would this local triumph end?

No blood had yet been spilled.

Would it forevermore transcend

the man, the god they killed?


All we knew was that we seemed free –

our happy feast had come.

Yet wine and bread would never be

the same again for some.


And as the palm leaves’ cross-shaped folds

are given in this nave

will he say that our future holds

no terror in the grave?









Camellias, Kumihimo and a Concert

Camellias originate in eastern and southern Asia and were introduced into Europe during the eighteenth century. The tea plant is a member of the camellia family and, indeed, the expansion of the tea trade enabled many new varieties to be brought into Europe. Hybridization did the rest.

Every March at Sant’Andrea di Compito, by the slopes of the Monte Pisano, south of Lucca there is a camellia festival where one can fully appreciate the variety of flower forms and colours of this perfume-less plant. A shuttle bus takes you to the camellias – the only way to get there as the narrow roads would soon be clogged up with cars. The camellarium is spectacular at this time, the mill-stream walk is delightful.

The exhibitions are most informative, there are many stalls selling local products and there are also musical events.

The camellia festival of Sant’Andrea is something we always try to attend. You can read my account of our visit there in 2013 at

and in 2015 at when Sandra’s mum, then 93 years old, accompanied us.

And in 2016 at

Why choose this area for camellias? The fact is that the climate is ideal for them. It was the English ex-pats of the nineteenth century, escaping from the torrid summer of the Tuscan plains, who discovered this and introduced the camellia to these hills. Indeed, dotted around the Compitese are many aristocratic villas complete with their luscious camellias

and there is even a society dedicated to old varieties of camellias in Lucca province.

Could I add anything new about the visit to the camellias this year? Not much except that as things of beauty these flowering shrubs remain a joy for ever.

The day started off very sunny but storm cloud started to gather in the late afternoon. However, the rain held off until the last stretch of my homeward journey.

The setting of the camellia festa is so very beautiful. Sant’Andrea is nestled in a valley of the Pisan hills and the town is quiet charming. Near the entrance is an exhibition centre with some prize camellias.

There was a section on the Japanese art of braiding known as Kumihimo and using a special loom. These braids are used to fasten the button-less Kimono.

An open-air exhibition brought photographs, whimsical sculptures  and sly cartoons together.

There was also a tea ceremony in which we were allowed to participate.

At the top of the Sant’Andrea is the magnificent parish church.

I arrived in time for a concert given by an unusual ensemble consisting of two double bases, accordion and flute. The fine performance included pieces by Piazzolla, Bartok, Domenico Scarlatti and Bottesini, who was the Paganini of the double bass.

Today is the final day of the Camellia show in the Compitese. So if you are in the area and haven’t been there do so now! It would be truly sad to miss one of Lucchesia’s most colourful and evocative events.



PS If you fancy your cup of tea not only can you buy delicious camellia tea but you can have the ultimate Italian invention: camellia-tea flavoured ice-cream!












La Primavera

The earth is ready to burst with multicoloured energy. The soil below my feet is vibrating with the force of a new spring season and it’s just two days before spring (la primavera) officially begins. Here is the scene in my main field:

The daffodils and crocuses are showing off their last displays before they go to sleep again and primroses are exploding everywhere on our slopes. Our little house at Longoio is also displaying its own modest contribution to the advent of the season of rebirth and love:

Olives Galore

Olives this year, in our little part of the world, are giving a prodigious yield. Neighbours from Mobbiano have been to the frantoio (olive press) at Valdottavo twice already with 250 kilos of olives every time. They can’t believe it for a harvest like this has never happened to them before.

It needs ten kilos of olives to produce one litre of oil. I thought I’d done my olives two weeks ago but when I returned today the branches I’d picked barely two weeks ago were again sprouting more olives. It was astounding…..

What more could one wish to have: a deep  blue sky and  truly warm sun around mid-day and one’s own little supply of olive trees while all around the warmth of late autumn colours embrace and the lenticular clouds above fascinate with their patterns.

It takes very little to make one happy in this world. Truly the best things in life are free – or rather they are impregnated with freedom, far away from those horrible restraints that the world (and oneself) is constantly trying to impose upon life’s essential being. Liberty is there, truly, for the gathering, for the choosing….

Above silver leaves

a sky of late autumn blue:

hands filled with olives.

Towards Shangri-La

It’s only last year that the number of Chinese (total population 1.357 billion) living in urban areas has overtaken those living in the country. This is an extraordinary development achieved in record time and a far cry from the old Maoist philosophy of banishing intellectuals, capitalists and professionals to live and work in the paddy fields.

If you want to see rural China visit it now before the country changes beyond recognition. I have a friend who was utterly shocked at the difference of ten years that separated his first and second visits to the world’s third largest country (after Russia and Canada). He admitted that he’d preferred his first vision of China but that clearly depends on one’s world view.

We did manage to visit various villages and houses in rural areas. As I live in a village myself I was particularly interested in the kinds of activities non-urban Chinese people carried out after the economic reforms initiated in 1979 by Den Xiaoping (which, most significantly, involved the de-collectivization of farms).

Here are a few views outside a village near Lijiang in Yunnan Province. The contrast between city and country could not be starker:

There were also some ancient crafts, particularly an exquisite embroidery school, taking place in another village.

This house has several features which those living in our part of the world may recognise. First is the wood stack (especially since temperatures can go down to minus 15 in the winter nights!)

Sweet corn is grown, some of it for making into maize flour but much of it used to feed the pigs.

Pine cones are collected to gather together their precious nuts which can command high prices in the local markets:

There was a goodly selection of salads and cabbages in the inner courtyard:


Instead of the Briscola card game favoured by Italians there was mah-jong instead – naturally!


We were now ready to leave the lovely Lijiang area and head north by bus and reach a province which has been renamed Shangri-La, although locals still refer to its main town as Zhongdian. It’s the headquarters of the Deqen Tibetann Autonomous Prefecture. Our journey would take us through some spectacular country inhabited largely by Tibetans, although we were still outside the T. A. R. (Tibetan autonomous region). The scenery grew hillier and hillier and the road more and more twisty. What sights would we meet?

Picking One’s Olives

It’s that time again in our part of the world: olive-picking time. In Longoio we are near the top height for growing olives (and vines) – 1750 feet. This year for the very first time we’ve got something worth picking in our miniscule grove of twenty-odd trees. The afternoon was gorgeously autumnal and two of my cats, Cheekie and grand master Napoleon came down with me.


There was a surprising lot of berries to pick.


As my cats love climbing up trees I had a wild idea of training them to ascent up the olive trees and help the precious fruits drop. After all, more technically advanced people have a machine which, with a rubber band attached, shakes the tree so that the olives drop down into a net.

But my cats seemed uninterested in learning this skill and just lay in the dazzling sun and watched or played in chasing phantom fiends across the lush grass.

My system was a little more primitive I have to say, Most  of the olives aren’t very tall so I just picked them by hand or used a rake to reach the top-most branches.

Then it was back home for the three of us. I’ll be back tomorrow to my orto to see if I can glean more olives from my maturing trees.

If those of you living in northern climes think all this is irrelevant think again. There are now olive groves in southern England (see ) and, indeed, some London streets are lined with them (ever been down Islington’s Fife terrace?). Whether the fruit will be as succulent as that coming from the deep south of Europe is another matter of course…

Plant you own little olive tree and wait and see. The olive is a sacred tree redolent of peace and harmony and everything that can be said to be positive in our disquieting human nature.

Yufeng and its Five-Hundred Year Old Camellia

Insectarians would find Lijiang a treat. How about some fried cockroaches and maggots for a snack?


Unfortunately we never acquired a taste for these members of the animal kingdom and stuck to a mixture of European and Chinese breakfast which includes delicious dumplings and a lot of soup. One thing is certain we were never spoilt for choice in our cuisine and discovered how truly limited many so-called Chinese restaurants in the west are.


Here were our first views on stepping outside our hotel in Lijiang. First, however, we joined a trip to explore the surrounding country around a town first made famous last century by those mythical travellers, British Bruce Chatwin. Russian Peter Goullart and American Joseph Rock.

Some roadside sights were very familiar to anyone who has lived in our part of the Lucchesia for some time.

We headed for a remote temple which has the oldest Camelia tree in the world.

As you’ll know tea is a species of camellia. We love the camellia festival in the Compitese area of the Pisan hills and regularly attend it. (For more on that see my posts at and  and and .

We’ve even inherited our own camellia tree when we bought our little house in 2005. We were thus very keen to visit the ancient lamasery of Yufeng. We were now in a border country where Confucianism, animism, and both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism coexist. Indeed, the ethnic minorities of this area count well over twenty different groups. The Yufeng lamasery belongs to the Scarlet sect (as distinct from the yellow hat – more of that when we enter Tibet) and dates back to 1756 (the year of Mozart’s birth…) during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (Qing dynasty).

We were welcomed by a chorus of Nakhi grandmothers:

It’s a miracle that this temple, like so many others we visited in the orient, has survived one of the three great misdirected vicissitudes (yes, today the Chinese government recognizes the fact that they were indeed misdirected…) namely the great famine, the great leap forwards and the Cultural Revolution.

It was thanks to a wonderful Nakhi man, Nadu Lama that the ancient camellia tree was saved from the destructive forces of the country’s equivalent of what’s still happening to the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq. Sadly, we were too late to meet Nadu as he died last year but we regard him as one of the great unsung heroes of modern-day China.


My knowledge of architectural styles in this part of the world is sorely lacking but I gather Yufeng temple is an amalgam of Han (majority Chinese), Tibetan, Taoist and the local Nakhi (or Naxi) Dingba animist religion.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the wrong time of year to enjoy the wonderful blossoms of the camellia which are best appreciated in the spring and early summer.

The intimate atmosphere, the incredible convolutions of the camellia and the wonderful views, however, more than compensated for that and we did see a photograph of a blossoming shrub which has changed not only Chinese drinking habits but that of so many other countries including, of course, our own UK and has extended well into politics as well.


The camellia itself was planted by Emperor Chenghua of the Ming dynasty over five hundred years ago. It’s thus rather older than the temple itself. The flowers bloom for around a hundred days and the tree has over twenty thousand (!) blossoms). Incredibly, it’s two camellias in one: the pink camellia and the white. They seem to have bonded together like passionate lovers.

No wonder Nadu Lama devoted his entire life to protecting this one plant. Would you risk your life to protect one of earth’s natural glories in such a devoted fashion?

The whole area is indescribably beautiful but be warned, after recent rains, the temple steps (each temple must have its, usually steep, steps as it’s built on a hill, and you have to pay a little penance to get to its holy of holies) can get a little slippery!

PS In case your knowledge of Chinese dynasties is slim (as is mine) here is a chart to help you along when I describe later episodes in our eastern odyssey:

Dynasty Rulers Ruling house or clan of houses From To Length
Name Chinese Meaning
Confederacy dynasties
Xia dynasty Xià Tribe name (list) Sì (姒) 2070 BC 1600 BC 470 years
Shang dynasty Shāng Toponym (list) Zǐ (子) 1600 BC 1046 BC 554 years
Western Zhou dynasty 西周 Xī Zhōu Toponym (list) (姬) 1046 BC 771 BC 275 years
Eastern Zhou dynasty 東周 / 东周 Dōng Zhōu Toponym (list) (姬) 770 BC 256 BC 515 years
Spring and Autumn period 春秋 Chūn Qiū As English 770 BC 476 BC 295 years
Warring States period 戰國 / 战国 Zhàn Guó As English 476 BC 221 BC 255 years
Imperial dynasties
Qin dynasty Qín Toponym (list) Yíng (嬴) 221 BC 206 BC 15 years
Western Han dynasty 西漢 / 西汉 Xī Hàn Toponym (list) Liú (劉) 206 BC or 202 BC 9 AD 215 years
Xin dynasty Xīn “New” (list) Wáng (王) 9 AD 23 AD 14 years
Eastern Han dynasty 東漢 / 东汉 Dōng Hàn Toponym (list) Liú (劉) 25 AD 220 AD 195 years
Three Kingdoms 三國 / 三国 Sān Guó As English (list) Cáo (曹)
Liú (劉 / 刘)
Sūn (孫 / 孙)
220 AD 280 AD 60 years
Western Jin dynasty 西晉 / 西晋 Xī Jìn Toponym (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) 265 AD 317 AD 52 years
Eastern Jin dynasty 東晉 / 东晋 Dōng Jìn Toponym (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) 317 AD 420 AD 103 years
Southern and Northern dynasties 南北朝 Nán Běi Cháo As English (list) various 420 AD 589 AD 169 years
Sui dynasty Suí Ducal title
(随 homophone)
(list) Yáng (楊) 581 AD 618 AD 37 years
Tang dynasty Táng Ducal title (list) (李) 618 AD 907 AD 289 years
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms 五代十國

/ 五代十国

Wǔ Dài Shí Guó As English (list) various 907 AD 960 AD 53 years
Kingdom of Dali 大理國

/ 大理国

Dà Lǐ Guó Toponym (list) Duan (段) 937 AD 1253 AD 316 years
Northern Song dynasty 北宋 Běi Sòng Toponym (list) Zhào (趙) 960 AD 1127 AD 167 years
Southern Song dynasty 南宋 Nán Sòng Toponym (list) Zhào (趙) 1127 AD 1279 AD 152 years
Liao dynasty 遼 / 辽 Liáo “Vast” or “Iron”
(Khitan homophone)
(list) Yelü (; 耶律) 907 AD or 916 AD 1125 AD 209 years
Jin dynasty Jīn “Gold” (list) Wanggiya
(; 完顏)
1115 AD 1234 AD 119 years
Western Xia 西夏 Xī Xià Toponym (list) Li (𘝾; 李) 1038 AD 1227 AD 189 years
Western Liao 西遼 Xī Liáo “Vast” or “Iron”
(Khitan homophone)
(list) Yelü (; 耶律) 1124 AD 1218 AD 94 years
Yuan dynasty Yuán “Great” or “Primacy” (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
1271 AD 1368 AD 97 years
Ming dynasty Míng “Bright” (list) Zhū (朱) 1368 AD 1644 AD or 1662 AD 276 years
Qing dynasty Qīng “Pure” (list) Aisin Gioro
( ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
1636 AD or 1644 AD 1912 AD 268 years

PPS Don’t worry if you can’t place them as easily as such terms as ‘mediaeval,’, ‘renaissance’, ‘rococo, or even ‘baroque’. The most important dynasties to remember are clearly the last two: the Ming and Qing.


Virgins in my Field

Our orto (allotment) may not have flourished too well this year because of the very wet start to June and then the weeks without any significant rain that followed (and are still with us…).

The cabbages seem a slightly sorry lot and the tomatoes would barely satisfy a handful of salads.


However, the up-side is that our olive trees which range from three years to ten years of age are producing more fruit this year than ever before. The start of the olive harvest could be any time between the middle of October to November before the frosts start. It’s a sort of intuitive thing. What I like to do is to see when the other local olive growers pick theirs. After all they’ve had generations of experience.

Here are some of ours:

It’s not just the height of the olive grove – we’re at an altitude of 1745 feet which is exactly the height of Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire that tells one when to pick the fruit.

Normally, the olive fruit starts to accumulate virgin oil once its seed has reached the highest grade of hardness which normally happens here around mid-October. The olive skin colour turns from green to a red-violet colour and even goes to brown. The fruit can also be tested by seeing how hard it is. As it matures the olive softens to the touch. But beware of not letting it get too soft otherwise oxidisation can take place diminishing the quality of the olive. If the fruit is left too long on the tree then negative effects can occur – after all the olive is the flower of the tree and it can burst into bloom if left too late.

As with wine there are good years and not so good years for the olive. 2014 was a particularly bad year for this wonderful plant with 40% lost due to a parasite otherwise known as the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae). In 2012 I remember a terrible frost which had disastrous effects on olive groves in our area. The worst, however, which I can still recollect was that of 1985 which killed off nine out of every ten Tuscan olive trees.

I love my olive plants more than I can think of many humans. They are faithful; they are lovely with their silvery sheen now with their fruit ripening in the autumnal sunshine. They are as ravishing as the most beautiful women, and time spent in their company can never be wasted.

I am reminded of that wonderful poem on the olive tree by Federico Garcia Lorca:

Tree, tree
dry and green.

The girl with the pretty face
is out picking olives.
The wind, playboy of towers,
grabs her around the waist.


The girl with the pretty face
keeps on picking olives
with the grey arm of the wind
wrapped around her waist.
Tree, tree
dry and green.


I wonder when the day will come to pick them?

To say nothing yet of the other wonderful corners of our orto: