Ciao, it’s me, Carlotta.

It’s been so hot recently that I’ve taken to sleeping outside on the terrazza where the tiles are nice and cool by night. It’s funny that not so long ago I’d sleep on the tiles during the day in the colder weather because they kept the heat of the sun.

I’m getting really high on this jasmine that surrounds me – it’s so intoxicating! Hiding in the jasmine is Corneglia. She’s a pretty wild cat and was already here for some time even before Napoleon. She hovers around us and likes to hide, as you can see.

Anyway, it might rain today so perhaps I might even decide to sleep on Francis’ bed again tonight.

Francis would like to know what those orange flowers are called. They always come out at this time of year.

Have a nice day from a very busy cat. Or I should be if I wasn’t such a great procatstinator!

PS One thing my butler has done is to continue his blog at


Do remember that you want to carry on following me and my friends!

Corsanico Festival


The curtain rises on the “Corsanico Festival 2017”, the 36th International Classical Music Festival organized by “The Friends of the Vincenzo Colonna Organ”, Corsanico’s Cultural Association under Graziano Barsotti’s artistic direction. The concert series has the prestigious patronage of the Senate, the Tuscany Region and Lucca Province and is held in the charming artistic setting of Corsanico’s Pieve di S. Michele Arcangelo of.

Ten concerts, five in July and five in August, all themed, but which will have as the centrepiece the great historical organ now known throughout the world: an instrument which is a masterpiece of Venetian organ building, built in 1602 by Vincenzo Colonna.

The thirty six seasons of the organ festival have brought, the world’s greatest organists, orchestras, ensembles and world-famous soloists to Corsanico. This year’s festival is as varied as ever, with music ranging from the middle ages to the present age, touching nineteenth-century opera up to film music, underlining the international importance and excellence of this festival.

Its importance is such that the Senate of the Italian Republic has sent the festival’s director Graziano Barsotti an honorary representative medal for the 2016 Corsanico Festival.

The inaugural evening will be held on Saturday July 8th and is titled “Two centuries of sacred arias”. The performers, organist Gabriele Giacomelli and soprano Maria Gaia Pellegrini will include music by Vivaldi, Handel, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Bellini, Saint-Saens, Verdi and Tosti.

Tickets €. 10

Concerts start at 9.15 pm

Info: tel. 0584 954016 cell phone. 328 5391833


On Saturday, July 15, an evening of ancient music, dedicated to the famous medieval composition “Carmina Burana” (XII century).

An interpretation on a vertical axis, performed by the EsaEnsemble vocal sextet.

The vocal and instrumental ensemble is conducted by Sergio Chierici.

Tickets €. 10


On Tuesday, July 18, the London Bromley Youth Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Joseph, will perform music by J. S. Bach, Tchaikovsky, Peter Warlock and F. J. Haydn.

Free admission


Friday, July 21, “Oscar Music” performers, Fabrizio Datteri-piano; Paolo Carlini-bassoon.

Music by Rossini, Gaslini, Pieranuzzi, Morricone, Bacalov, Rota, Boccadoro and Saint-Saens.

Tickets €. 10


Saturday, July 29, “Acclamationi divote” beautiful and touching renaissance and baroque compositions, performed by Olimpio Medori organ and Paolo Fanciullacci tenor. Music by Frescobaldi, Monteverdi, Viadana, Pasquini, Grandi, Rossi, Sanchez, Storace and Legrenzi.

Tickets €. 10.


Saturday, August 5, “All Bach” evening dedicated to the great composer Johan Sebastian Bach, played on the organ by Daniele Boccaccio.

Tickets €. 10


On Sunday, August 13, “Listening to the cinema” with the Tuscan Chamber Orchestra, which has repeatedly participated in the Corsanico Festival, always obtaining critical praise with its first violin Antonio Aiello, concertmaster and Matteo Venturini organist. Music by Morricone, Bacalov, Zimmer, Norman, Williams, Morris, Piovani.

Tickets €. 10


Saturday, August 19, “Many Ways” – musical journey between ethnic, classical and jazz; “Oracle Trio” Carlo Palagi-guitars (see photo); Giuliano Passaglia- soprano and tenor saxophone; double bass; Riccardo Puccetti-percussion, marimba, and drums. Music by Palagi, Garbarek, Puccetti and Towner.

Tickets €. 10


Friday, August 25, “Trascrizioni d’opera”, a fascinating program where the organ, together with trumpet, performs opera aria transcriptions. Performers are Marco Arlotti-organ; Michele Santi – period trumpets (see photo); Music by Zanichelli, Cacciamani, Forestier, Verdi, Arban, Morandi and  F. J. Haydn.

Tickets €. 10


On Sunday, September 3rd, the 36th Corsanico Music Festival concludes with Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ performed by the winners of the 3rd International “Voci nel Canto” Competition. ‘Musica Omnia’ orchestra conducted by Antonio Bellandi; Directed by Patrizia Morandini; Set designer: Alessio Menicocci.

Tickets €. 15,00



Little Churches with Great Interiors

Italy not only possesses some of the world’s most resplendent ecclesiastical buildings (like the cathedrals of Pisa, Florence, Milan and – my favourite – Siena. Italy also has hundreds of little churches (chiesine or chiesette – as they are called). These little churches may date back to Romanesque times and, therefore, could be at least a thousand years old. Most are built on a very simple plan: rectangular with usually a semi-circular apse. Here are just three examples near us in the Serchio valley.

San Martino a Greppo near Valdottavo

Santa Lucia near Gallicano

San Romano near Poggio

If you want to explore further there’s a fine facebook page on Romanesque churches in Tuscany and beyond at

This facebook page doesn’t just concentrate in the little chiesine, which were either built for parishioners to avoid longer journeys to the main parish church (pieve) or which were, in many cases, superseded by larger churches. The page also includes the more imposing examples from this wonderful architectural era, including monastic buildings.

The interiors of the ‘chiesine’ are usually very simple and bare. Our own little chiesina at Longoio had its once-a-year great day when Mass was celebrated there last Saturday. This is a tradition which always takes place in May, the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Roman Catholic Church. Other little chiesine in our area will also have their annual Mass celebrated during this month. It’s a great occasion to be actually able to enter and visit the interior of these otherwise sadly locked-up churches.

Here is our chiesina of la Vergine dei Dolori, which I have often described in other posts, decorated with flowers last Saturday.

In another area of Italy (the north-east to be more precise, which we recently visited) there’s another very unassuming church which we thought would be locked as usual.

Imagine our surprise when we found it specially opened for the afternoon.

We decided to stop and take a peep.

What we saw in the interior took our breath away!

These most wonderful frescoes were only recently rediscovered as a result of an earthquake which shook off the eighteenth-century plaster covering them. It’s proof that even the destructive powers of earthquakes can reveal unexpected blessings.

The frescoes date all the way from Longobard times to early renaissance. I shall not attempt to say anything about them but just illustrate their beauty starting with the thousand-year-old depiction of the Last Supper.

These other frescoes clearly date from a later time (fifteenth century).

As the proof of the pudding is in its eating so the proof of so many unassuming chiesine is in their interior. The only sadness is that so many of them are usually locked up for, clearly security reasons.

We just happened to be lucky as we were at the right place and at the right time.

Our dear little Cinquina was there to wait for us and hopefully carry us all the way back home. Sadly, she didn’t make it (For the reason why see ). Fortunately, we did, and that’s the important thing.

PS Why didn’t we tell you exactly where you could find the wonderful chiesina we were privileged to visit? It’s because we want you to discover your own chiesina when you’re in Italy and make it your own special space …. just like we did with our splendid example.

Spring Beans

Photographing oneself by the road-sign of this French town has become a truly old-hat activity.

In Italy the equivalent word for this interfering sexual accessory is ‘preservativo’. So if, for example, you are an avid jam maker in Italy don’t go into a shop and ask for a ‘preservativo’. You might just get a funny look. The correct word to use in this case is ‘conservante’.

Talking of humorous town names we came across a real ‘Faggiolo’ last month while doing our peripatetic tour in a remote corner of Friuli- Venezia-Giulia.

The ‘Faggiolo’ town and its environs should appeal to any fans of this idiosyncratic fellow:

Or, indeed, anyone who managed to escape as a kid from the good manner of ‘The Eagle’ comic and became a fan of the ‘Bash Street kids’ instead.

This one of course!

I’m not telling you precisely where it is (as I don’t want to cause a traffic jam) but the place and its environs are highly tempting parts of an equally tempting part of Italy which has its own language, as these bike signs in Italian and the local lingo confirm. (Italian comes first and Friulian comes next. If you speak Italian see how many words you can translate).

This reminds me that I once met a Japanese student who learnt Friulian as he was enamoured of endangered languages (Perhaps I should soon include English ‘as she is now spoke’ among these…) He loved Italy, except, that he had to travel with his charming Friulian girlfriend who translated for him when outside her native region into Italian. (I’m now researching on what ‘preservativo’ is in Friulian.)

PS Did you know that Italian is only one of twenty-six officially recognized national languages in the country – to say nothing of the languages brought in by the the recent high tide of immigration into the country?). If you are in Tuscany then you’re truly lucky – the local language is as close to Italian as you’ll get in Italy. Thank poet Dante for that.

Here are Italy’s official languages:

Anyway, I will postpone meandering further on this subject except to feast your eyes on Beano/Bean, a delectable and slightly neglected part of Italy which (fortunately, perhaps) has no ‘Mr Beans’ – signori faggioli – or ‘Desperate Dans’ in it. In compensation, it has some of the most appetising and attractive corners to be found anywhere in ‘il bel Paese’, including, not too far away,  the winner of the most beautiful borgo (town) for 2017

Incidentally, ‘preservativo’, if you were desperate for one in Friuli, is known as “budiel di Flandre”. Wonderful how we transpose our ‘French letters’ with reference to one of our other beloved European regions and countries……

PS Why is it both ‘Beano’ and ‘Bean’ on the town road  sign? ‘Beano’ is the Italian name for the town and ‘Bean’ is the Friulian name. (Compare Cardiff – English –  and Caerdydd – Welsh).

Peace Doves

Two important events are taking today Saturday 4th March, courtesy of Rebecca and Luca of Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley House. The first is the opening at 5 pm of an exhibition by Gabriele Piccinini a young and remarkably talented artist whose compositions reflect his often fantasiose and highly chromatic view of the world, quite in contrast with his own more reserved character. This exhibition will be open until 15th April during the standard opening times of Shelley house which are 10 am to 7 pm Thursday to Saturday.


(An ink drawing by Gabriele Piccinini)

The second is a particularly awaited event. It’s the presentation, in the Sala Rosa of the Circolo dei Forestieri, of a book called ‘Lettere a Francesca’ by Enzo Tortora. Tortora (tortora = dove) was an Italian television presenter (famous for his highly popular ‘Portobello’ programme – a sort of Italian TV version of the famous London street market), journalist and radical party politician unjustly accused of collaboration with the camorra and sentenced to ten years in jail as a result of false evidence by corrupt ‘pentiti’.


(Enzo Tortora)

From behind iron bars Tortora wrote touching, deeply felt letters to his partner Francesca Scopelliti. Luckily he was fully acquitted after almost a year of his sentence


The letters deal with the nature of justice and injustice and dramatically reveal how a gross miscarriage of justice can be accepted with closed eyes by journalists who did not hesitate to vilify him on national front pages. (In a minor way I too almost suffered this kind of outrage, thanks to a corrupt UK policeman from Essex before I was acquitted). As a result of his ordeal Tortora caught an illness, which led to his premature death aged sixty in 1988.

A very special meeting with Francesca Scopelliti, the companion who loved and supported Enzo Tortora in the most difficult years of his personal and professional life is guaranteed. The meeting is organised by Shelley House’s director and publisher Luca Guidi and the interview is conducted by Journalist Marco Innocenti of the ‘Tirreno’ newspaper.


(Francesca Scopelliti)

I should also remind you that tomorrow Sunday is not only the opening of the celebrations for International Women’s day at Ponte a Serraglio’s casino at 5 pm but also the last day you can view the exhibition in the Sala Rosa of the Circolo dei Forestieri entitled ‘nel Vento e nel ricordo’ (In the wind and in memory) and which deals with Jewish children caught up in the Shoah in Lucca province. I’ve dealt extensively with this terrible part of European history in previous posts most recently at

Never a dull moment in Bagni di Lucca it seems!









Flaming June

She lies there curled up asleep like a comfortable feline, radiant in the golden light of a late summer afternoon. Luscious drapery enfolds her perfect body, so delicate that the sinews of her curves can almost be touched. Behind her an incandescent Mediterranean Sea glistens under the torrid sun’s rays. To the right an oleander flower teases with both beauty and death for in its blossom is a deadly poison.


A strange immortality indeed. But where are we? Not in a forgotten Hesperidean garden or by a secret cove on a distant Hellenic coast. Instead, we are at 12 Holland Park Road in Frederick, Lord Leighton’s house and studio and where ‘Flaming June’ was created.


(The artist’s studio with ‘Flaming June’ on the right, as displayed during Princess Alexandra’s visit in 1895. All except one of the paintings have been collected together for the present exhibition)

As artists such as Van Gogh were ignored during their lifetime so for so long after his death in 1895 one of the Victorian era’s most notable painters was neglected – such is the price of fame during one’s lifetime.


(Frederick, Lord Leighton)

Indeed, ‘Flaming June’ – for such is the title of this ravishing picture – was forgotten, even lost, for much of the last century. It was found by accident, boxed up in a fireplace, by some workmen renovating a house in 1962. Placed into auction it failed to achieve the reserve price of £100. A young Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the first to realise the immense charm and importance of Victorian painting after its disregard, spotted June but could not persuade his granma to lend him fifty quid to buy her. ‘I don’t want any Victorian junk in my house’, she retorted. Finally, someone from a poor Caribbean island bought it for the newly-founded national gallery. It was Louis Ferre who was enraptured by the picture and bought it for £2,000. It now rests as pride of place in Puerto Rico’s gallery at Ponce.

We were stop-over passengers in Puerto Rico in 2004 on our way to Antigua but unfortunately did not have time to go and see the picture. It was, therefore, a fantastic opportunity to pay our first-time respects to June at Leighton House where she will reside until April 2nd 2017.

‘Flaming June’, for which one of the most beautiful girl in Britain, Dorothy Dene, served as model, Leighton’s favourite (perhaps there was more to this professional relationship but, alas we’ll never know since the artist was quite reticent about his life and never kept a diary) is probably the artist’s masterpiece and was his last completed painting. Indeed, when the funeral procession of the only painter ever elected to the peerage  (ironically just one day before he died) passed in front of the Graphic’s office there, in its front window, was flaming June, her immortal image shining on the painter who had given her artistic breath.

Many years previously we had actually seen Flaming June in the flesh. In a highly memorable scenic re-evocation of social life in this gorgeous mansion and focussing particularly on the relationship between Frederick Leighton and Richard Burton the explorer, (played by my friend David Reid) a latter-day Dorothy Ede posed in precisely the same way with similar aureate drapery, auburn hair and semi-sleeping eyes. (To this day, David regards this as perhaps his most enjoyable acting experience).

As we stepped outside into the overcast Kensington streetscape I wondered how someone who had studied at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti (founded by Cosimo I de Medici in 1563 and frequented by such greats as Michelangelo and Bronzino) could have been so passed over just fifty years ago…

Anyone who cares about Victorian, indeed, great art, and finds themselves in London must make a beeline to Leighton House for, in addition to the artist’s wonderful apotheosis of Dorothy Dene, it has one of the most extraordinary rooms anywhere: the Arab Hall with its dazzling tiles. So, two journeys can be saved by going to 12 Holland Park Road now – one to Puerto Rico and the other to a palace in the Arabian Peninsula!


(The Arab Hall at Leighton House)

Finally, there is an important connection between Frederick, Lord Leighton and Bagni di Lucca. Elisabeth Barrett Browning, whose holiday residence has been so meticulously restored in Bagni by Laura Poggi and her husband, had her tomb in Florence’s English cemetery designed by Leighton.


(Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s tomb, designed by Lord Leighton, in Florence’s English cemetery)


Journey to the East

Several decades ago, in this month, two young men, who’d escaped from school and had started to enjoy their gap year, decided to go east.

One of them had managed through his mother’s work to obtain a free airline ticket. He was to act as accompanist to a mentally-ill Sicilian person who was to be repatriated to his family in Catania.

His friend joined him a little later and, after a train journey to Messina, they crossed the straits and started to hitch across the heel of Italy. In some respects this was the most dangerous part of their journey since they were warned of a confrontation with a mafia gang at the booth of a service station where they had been invited to spend the night. Reaching Brindisi safely the two took the ferry to Patras and touched Athens where they stayed in the city’s youth hostel,

The next part of the journey took them through Northern Greece to the border with Turkey. The weather at this stage was getting colder and colder and by the time Istanbul was reached it was positively freezing.

Istanbul was the first taste the two had had of the mysterious east and they enjoyed visiting the City’s old quarters, Hagia Sophia and the Blue mosque.

The longest, and perhaps most uncomfortable, train journey either had taken took them across the Anatolian plateau through Syria, where they visited the great mosque of Damascus,

and finished up in Beirut.

At this point money problems stared to afflict them and one of them took a job as a barman at a ski resort in the Lebanese mountains. Baalbek was visited:

A meeting with a Swedish guy who drove a Volkswagen van enabled the two to reach a still-divided Jerusalem.

A dip in (or rather a float on) the Dead Sea was a must:

Amman’s Roman theatre was also explored:

Then it was a journey through Jordan past the H4 border post and into Iraq where they arrived in Bagdad. After a few days in the thousand and one nights city the next stage took the two to Basra where they were hosted by the British consul there.

A journey to Kuwait was rewarded by a chance to gain some extra money, both through giving blood and also by writing up travels so far and broadcasting the script on the English-speaking section of Kuwait radio.

Another van, this time driven by an English person, took them through the unstable Iraq-Iran border past the amazing ruins of Persepolis

and the graceful architecture of Isfahan and Shiraz

to a Teheran still ruled over by a Shah.

Thence it was towards Afghanistan via Meshed and past Herat and Kandahar to land up in Kabul.

The descent down the Khyber Pass to Pakistan was accompanied by ever warmer weather. It was now March and the torrid heat of the Indian subcontinent plains was building up. A stay at the hill station of Murree was welcomed.

From Lahore a train was taken towards New Delhi with, of course, the obligatory border transport hiatus where one had to walk a mile across no-man’s land to India.

A stay in Varanasi (Benares)

was followed by a crossing into Nepal and Kathmandu where a full month was spent at the mythical blue Tibetan guest-house and restaurant. Cycling and walking around the Kathmandu valley recharged one’s batteries before starting the return leg.

More of Northern India was visited, including Jaipur and Agra.

Then it was a return crossing into Pakistan and back to Kabul. Here a truck with a home-ward bound expedition in the Hindu Kush Mountains took one directly back through Iran and Turkey to Istanbul. Thence it was through Greece and Italy to come home to the UK from Catania airport.

This was a journey of a lifetime and one which changed the outlook of both protagonists for ever. The world’s diversity was opened out for them, the exposure to different cultures was seminal and the encounter with some of the world’s most amazing and often strangest sights was stunning.

It was also the journey of a lifetime because it would be difficult to repeat such a hitch-hiking trip today. Parents would have been dissatisfied with just an occasional post-card and no cell-phone calls. Certainly, the UK’s foreign office would have strongly discouraged such a voyage, especially by two teenagers.

Yet such an expedition was all the rage in Sergeant Pepper year. The hippy trail was a central experience for the youth of that distant decade and one which laid the foundation of social changes which radically transformed attitudes and views.

It’s so sad that practically every country journeyed across then has since been torn apart by inner conflict and exterior meddling. Some of these have been worse than others. Will one ever gaze peacefully on the ruins of Palmyra for example? And as for the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan…

There are no prizes for guessing who one of the two who came back, changed and chastened by their oriental voyage, was….




Other Ways of Learning Italian and some of my Favourite Italian Words

The new term of the University of the Third Age has started at Bagni di Lucca.


Here is the commitee:


This is the programme.:

Note the Christmas lunch and end of year lunch.. Always a treat!img969You may complain, if you are an x-pat resident of Bagni that your Italian language knowledge is not up to attending lectures delivered in Italian, especially when dealing with abstract subjects, without slides or any other visual aids.

Do remember that language is a method of communication which, if used properly, can connect you to a much wider world than you ever imagined. If you don’t develop your new language in your new environment then regretfully you will soon be lost and locked into an English-speaking clique. You might as well have stayed at home…

Learning a language isn’t just mastering the rules of grammar from some textbook. It’s grabbing every opportunity to hear the language as it is spoken on TV, on radio, in the shops, in restaurants, at meetings, indeed everywhere.

You are missing so much if you don’t make an effort to learn Italian even in its most basic tenets. There are language courses held at Bagni di Lucca library and other centres too and most of them are free!!

I remember teaching English to immigrants in the UK and thinking that one person from the Indian subcontinent had just arrived from India to my class. I was wrong. He’d been in the UK for five years but with a job working for his cousin’s family business, his living in an Indian family, watching Hindi film DVDs, going out with his Indian friends, made him suddenly realise he hadn’t integrated in any way into the wider community because he hadn’t learn any English! I’m glad to say that at the end of one year in my class he had already passed an intermediate level English exam not just because he did his homework but also because he began listening to English radio, meeting English speakers and viewing UK TV programmes.

If you want to integrate learn the language. Otherwise, stick to your local English-speaking group where you might as well be in Basildon if it wasn’t for the extra sunshine and vino to accompany you.

I speak as someone with experience of living in other parts of the world. In less than one year I was fluent in Hindi (that incredible amalgam of Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian) and could read its different alphabet symbols too. It made such a big difference to my life that’s it’s impossible to describe. When we lived part-time in Wales we attended and passed exams in that equally difficult language ‘iaith paradwys’ (the language of heaven). How did we do it? Practise and speaking to local language speakers. Basically avoiding Brits like hell!

My knowledge of languages is nothing, however, compared to my wife’s, a long-serving member of the Institute of linguists, who can speak not just English but fluent Italian, French, Spanish, and German to perfection not to mention Welsh and certain Italian dialects which are a language unto themselves……

There’s no excuse for not learning a new language (or not so new if you’ve lived around Bagni for over five years). You’ve either got a very restricted English environment you operate in or you’re just plain lazy. Some people, like a certain unpleasant Englishman who lives in the forest (luckily) some distance away from me actually said to me once ‘ I don’t need to learn Italian.’ What an absolute idiot!

Unless you learn Italian here in BDL (or wherever you find yourself in Italy) you’ve got no reason to complain if you can’t hear a word of English spoken on a bus in Ipswich (for example). Learn Italian and the Italians (unlike the French) will compliment you so much on it you’ll be encouraged to carry on learning.

End of rant. Return to main subject.


(From left to right Fabio Lucchesi, President of Unitre, Valeria Catelli course director and Riccardo Mauri, lesson deliverer)

The third Unitre lecture was given by Riccardo Mauri, a highly gifted young philosophy teacher (regrettably ‘temporary staff member’ as so many teachers are in Italy = ‘precario’ is the word to use) on Leopardi, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I was so glad to attend. To summarize Riccardo’s points:

  • Leopardi (in his ‘operette morali’), Nietzsche and Schopenhauer were uniquely united in their antagonism to the idealist philosophy of Hegel and his acolytes in the first half of the nineteenth century and the positivist (progress and everything is going for the best in the best of all possible worlds) philosophy of the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • The trilogy of Leopardi, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, while declaring the essential tragedy and suffering of life, were against suicide as an answer. One might say in English ‘grin and bear it’. All, three, however, did have a life-enhancement policy: life is given to you – try to live it to the full then, however much suffering it gives you, for without experiencing suffering you will not know the ecstasy of deep joy.
  • Nietzsche’s philosophy was deformed after his death by his evil sister who collated certain of his unedited writings to form a blueprint for anti-Semitism and Nazism. What Nietzsche couldn’t really stand were the Germans themselves!

Any talk depends on its delivery and Riccardo’s was faultless. A lesson in spoken Italian could be had from it. His voice was clear, the words he used were easily understood and there were no hesitations. He was truly prepared with his text but spoke ‘a braccio’ (freely speaking without prompts). His thesis was logically exposed and his arguments backed up by firm evidence. Most of all, Riccardo’s approach and linking together of three of the most under-rated poet-philosophers of the 19th century was exemplary.

One important point I raised with Riccardo was how similar Schopehauer’s theses were to three of the Buddha’s four noble truths (ie, life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, the escape from desire leads to liberation) as I had discovered them during our recent journey to Tibet. In fact Mauri confirmed that Schopenhauer was probably the first western philospher to pay serious attention to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and, together with Plato’s works, he always kept the Upanishads open on his desk.

I utterly enjoyed Mauri’s fabulous talk and am still awake now thinking about the points he raised. I just pity those people who have lived for so long a time in BDL and are unable not only to understand how important philosophy in the Italian educational system is but also how even more important it is to spend every spare hour you have to learning what, not just in my opinion, is the world’s most beautiful, mellifluous, sexy and musical language. There’s no other language to beat it and you will be seduced by every single new word you use.

Here are eight must-use words in Italian.  For homework work out what they mean and when to say them. Italian is such an alliterative language you could almost guess their meaning before opening a dictionary

  • Allora
  • Rocambolesco
  • Chiacchierone
  • Sfizio
  • Struggimento
  • Dondolare
  • Mozzafiato
  • Dietrologia

I think the whole world should learn Italian – there’s no more wonderfully harmonious  language to learn, to speak, to think in or to make love with.

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)







The Real Winners at Villa Fiori’s Extempore Painting Competition

At the end of a sizzling day the judges convened to deliver their verdicts on the best paintings in Bagni di Lucca’s 9th extempore painting competition last Sunday.

Here are the names and qualifications of the judges:

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It’s not an easy task and, frankly, if the judges agreed among themselves, the spectators often had differing views. But this is the nature of art. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life and who remembers much of the once popular Millais today?

Artistic Creation is certainly not an exact science and for us the real winners were those who organised the competition, the goodly affluence of people present, the lovely weather and the sheer energy of those artists who’d take the trouble to come along to Bagni di Lucca, some of them for the very first time, and so spread news to the rest of the world of our lovely part of the world.

Without comments I’ll present all those paintings submitted. If you want to know the prize winners you’ll have to consult Debra Kolkka’s post at

There was real disagreement among us as to the winners, although each painting was seriously considered with an account of why it was chosen by the jury to receive a prize.

As usual the top five winners were announced in reversed order. Moreover, eight further paintings were chosen for an exhibition at Barga’s Comune Art Gallery. Mayor Betti and other noteworthies gave short speeches emphasising the fact that the competition was a true festival for all the lucky citizens of lovely Bagni di Lucca:

The children competing all won first prize just for entering. I think, anyway, that a prize should be offered to everyone who had the boldness to enter – although, of course, the prize winners did get a cash prize amounting up to four hundred euros.

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Next year it’s going to be a very special year for the Extempore Art Competition. It’s its tenth anniversary. So all you budding Turners and Canalettos don’t forget to enrol!