Pink Psychedelia

There was exciting talk in 2013 of celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the building of Lucca’s famous walls with a concert by the Pink Floyd featuring their perennial album ‘The Wall’. The project came to nothing and the nearest Lucca has got to a band performing with the background of its walls is this year’s Stones’ concert due on 23rd September.

To celebrate the conclusion of exams and the university’s end of academic year most Cambridge University colleges put on lively and often lavish entertainments during ‘May week’ which begins on the second Thursday of June. (They were originally held in May)

These ‘May Balls’ have a history dating back to the 1830s. By the nineteen sixties the occasion had become very formal and stuffy.  In the flower power year of 1967, however, something changed. The former BBC light -programme-type dance bands were being replaced by some colleges by something more reflective of the considerable social change that was influencing Britain’s youth. Selwyn College, at that time generally regarded as conservative and imbued with Anglicanism, even invited ‘The Who’ to play.

The following year my college, King’s, had an awesome line-up including Roy Harper, the Soft Machine and the Pink Floyd. This array, which few Colleges would now be able to afford, was largely due to the efforts of a music student and friend Andy Powell. Fresh from Stockhausen’s Darmstadt summer school and impatient with the traditionalist music teaching then prevailing at Cambridge, Andy, through his contacts, invited two of the country’s most avant-garde groups: South London’s Soft Machine and Cambridge’s Pink Floyd. (Incidentally, Andy went on to a brilliant career as music producer – Kate Bush etc., composer, soloist, conductor and festival organiser).

King’s college staff was rather taken aback by the fact that Pink Floyd consumed most of the food and drink supposedly laid out for all performers. A strange herbal smoke permeated the Old Master’s Lodge and psychedelic shirts, and kaftans made a striking contrast with conventional penguin suits. Similarly, long flowing hair and skirts contrasted with the more formal evening dresses.  There was a highly visible contrast between the student ‘greys’ in their tweeds and short hair, and the long-haired student ‘hippies’, in the city’s streets. Times were changing fast – too fast for some, to slow for others and the length of one’s hair and one’s clothes really counted for something.

(Guess who?)

They say that if one remembers the nineteen-sixties then one wasn’t there. Memory takes many forms. It can be almost sequentially film-like or it can resemble a collage of images. That amazing night and dawn at King’s I still remember vividly, however. Who could forget the setting, the pastoral backs (the green lawns behind the colleges bounded by the punt-populated river) and the perpendicular pageant of the chapel?

Could I unthink the girl I was madly infatuated with? Could I forget how friend John Forrester (subsequently a supreme authority on Freud and now over the rainbow) managed to get a very drunken Roy Harper on stage to perform? Above all could I forget the Pink Floyd just in front of me in a marquee pitched before Gibb’s building, as the dawn rose over a youthful paradise, playing what must have been one of the first performances of ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’. Secrets the band was certainly unleashing upon an audience who were enjoying music from a pop group that was relishing the concept album and the use of new electronic techniques

The final section of the four-part composition, ‘celestial voices’, an extended chorale of almost Bachian grandeur, permeated through the aureate sunrise with wondrous sensation. The voices were truly celestial and we felt transported onto a different planet.

I never heard the Pink Floyd live again but in 2005, during my first year with my new life in Italy, I attended the opening of the refurbished main square at Crasciana where I heard a highly convincing Pink Floyd cover band.

You can also read more about that occasion at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/walls-but-no-wall/

It was, therefore, a real nostalgia trip when on a recent trip to London I visited the lugubriously named ‘Their mortal remains’ Pink Floyd exhibition which opened last month at the V and A.

People joke that after the age 45 every new person one meets reminds you of someone you know. More tragic is when a piece of vinyl one remembers buying and listening to for the first time so recently is now safely locked in a museum display case!

The V and A is making a speciality of retrospective pop music exhibitions. Examples include the one dedicated to David Bowie and the one titled ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ which we visited earlier this year.

The exhibitions appear to have a three-fold purpose:

  1. To support the otherwise free museum by charging for special exhibitions, For the Pink Floyd we purchase a timed ticket on-line.
  2. To introduce a retrospective introduction to the history of pop music to new generations.
  3. To induce a sense of sweet melancholy in those of us who have lived through an age of wondrous development of pop, an epoch which truly defined our generation, our aspirations our loves and our hopes.

Here are some photos from that Pink Floyd exhibition which will run until the end of September this year.  How it made me feel young and old at the same time!

 

(PS Recognize Lucca’s piazza dell’anfiteatro? It wasn’t even labelled at the exhibition.)

 

PPS Those fanous lyrics from ‘The Wall’ seem still so apt today when radicalisation is causing such dangerous consequences to our society:

We don’t need no ‘education’ 
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

 

That part of the album as sung by pupils of Islington Green comprehensive school (Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency) in 1979:

 

 

 

 

Of Summer Love and Death

Our area’s summer season is warming up both in terms of activities and temperature. It’s difficult to enjoy late nights and manage to get up and take advantage of the morning freshness at 5 am. So forget ‘mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the noonday sun’ and enjoy your siesta or, as more correctly said in Italian, ‘schiacciate un pisolino’.

Today, for example, there are five events listed in my diary.

First, there’s the presentation of a book on the notes the great critic and champion of democracy, Benedetto Croce, made when opening the first post-fascist government in Bari in 1944 – notes, incidentally, recently rediscovered in Bagni di Lucca’s library. It’s at 10.30 in Bagni’s library.

Second, there’s an equally interesting book presentation at Gallicano’s Istituto Comprensivo (where I taught for some years.) The subject is the area’s resistance during WW II.

Third, at Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca the Shelley festival continues with a seminar at 5 pm on romanticism with Luca P. B. Guidi and Bartolomeo Puccetti

Fourth, there’s going to be a Midsummer Night’s Dream at Lucca’s Teatro San Girolamo with the English theatre company at 7 pm.

Fifth, at 9 pm there’s a choir festival at Gallicano’s beautiful church of San Iacopo.

Undoubtedly there will be many more things happening today in our area. What to do? Everywhere to go and everything to do! Walking for a start in this wonderful weather, like I did with friends around Vico Pancellorum yesterday.

I’m aware that life is not only short but also can be brutish. The high hopes, in all senses of the word, of an Italian couple escaping from this country’s work shortage  to a promising future in London only to die in what will turn out to be  the United Kingdom’s worst peacetime accident with (I so sadly regret to say) a number exceeding the up-to-now worst peacetime accident in the UK when, in 1952 at Harrow and Wealdstone station, an express train crashed into the back of a stationary passenger train only for the two to be struck by a third train causing a death toll of 112 people.

I can do nothing more than to quote an email sent to me last night by my wife, Alexandra who is still in London:

This evening on late news it was announced that two Italian were amongst that horror: Gloria Trevisan and Mario Gotardi. I heard the other day that there was an Italian couple with children. I wonder about them. The whole situation seems most suspicious. Do we still want Mrs May at the helm?

I feel quite ill over all this and our near fatal accident too (see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/about-guardian-angels/). You seem to be coping a lot better than me in amongst all this. (p.s. I’m not…)

There is a reason for everything that happens in life; we are all part of a bigger plan – just pawns in a bigger game of fleeting life. All these horrors on UK shores have put compassion, love, faith, friendship in the forefront. I feel that we are all affected and changed by these horrors. Life is and will not be the same amongst all this. It’s an indescribable sadness and heartache – I cannot eradicate the suffering that must have been inflicted on these innocent people. It is really all too unbearable.

Coraggio Sandra!

Gloria’s facebook page now bears the added poignant phrase ‘in memoria di’. They were such a beautiful couple: the best of Italy whose people are now blaming the Italian government for not providing the opportunities for its young people who have to flee to other countries to find work.

If you are of strong heart do remember the life of Gloria (and so many others who travelled over the rainbow bridge of life in that terrible night) by visiting her facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/trevisan.gloria

 

‘Dear mamma thank you for helping me so much

Dear papa I wish I could hug you now for the last time

I had my whole life ahead of me. It’s not fair. I don’t want to die. I wanted to help you, to thank you for all you did for me.

I am about to go to heaven, I will help you from there.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Wife’s Illustrious Ancestor

As part of the continuing series of’ lezioni’ or lectures given by the Bagni di Lucca branch of Unitre, the University of the Third Age, I’m giving a talk at 4 pm today at the library of ex-Anglican church. The subject is ‘Giovanni Battista Cipriani – un pittore Toscano in Inghilterra’. The lecture will be delivered in Italian so you are warned. However, even if your knowledge of the world’s most beautiful language is limited you can still enjoy the afternoon as there will be plenty of pictures to illustrate the artist’s work.

(Giovanni Battista Cipriani 1727 – 85)

Giovanni Battista Cipriani was one of a distinguished group of Italians who made the United Kingdom their home, particularly in the eighteenth century, that age of enlightenment. They included such notable persons as Francesco Xaverio Geminiani, the Luccan composer (see my talk on him at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/lets-celebrate-francis-xaverio-geminiani/) and Giacomo Leoni, the Venetian architect who introduced Palladianism to England and whose masterpiece, Clandon House, owned by the National Trust, was so tragically gutted by a fire in 2015.

Among his considerable achievements Cipriani is especially noted for the following:

  • He raised the art of interior decoration and architectural embellishments to new heights
  • He improved graphic arts immensely especially with regard to posters, invitations and certificates
  • He was a co-founder, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, of Britain’s premier artistic institution, the Royal Academy
  • He collaborated with Robert Adam in producing some of the most exquisite furniture ever seen
  • He was a superb painter in his own right and contributed to the beautification of several English country houses

(Cipriani’s Decorations for Trafalgar House’s Music Room)

  • He painted the Gold state Coronation and the Lord Mayor’s coach

(H.M. The Queen’s Golden State Coach)

Last but not least Giovanni Battista Cipriani was an ancestor of my wife, Alexandra Antonia Cipriani, no mean artist herself and whose presence will grace my talk.

(Alexandra Antonia Cipriani – descendant of Giovanni Battista Cipriani)

So if you are in the area do drop in to Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican Church, now library, at 4.00 pm and soak in the talent of an Italian – and a Florentine to boot – who did so much to raise standards of design and cultured living in eighteenth century England.

Of course, Italy today continues that great tradition of inspiring the improvement of so many cultural facets in the United Kingdom, whether it be in fashion, food, film or music. It is, therefore, a real tragedy that a group of mal-informed, and largely philistine, members of the British populace, through their apparently freely cast votes, have initiated a path that can only lead to greater isolation and ultimate perdition of all that the United kingdom was once famous for – the unconditional welcome of talented people from the continent – and other parts of the world – who have done so much through their effort and genius to contribute to the enhancement of the proudly eclectic nature of artistic and social life in those island.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – (or is it?)

Robert Opie’s decision not to throw away a Munchie’s chocolate sweet wrapper in 1963 was the start of a collection which has now evolved into the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. Containing over 12,000 exhibits, the collection offers a heart-warming nostalgic trip through everything from household products, games, toys, biscuits, soft and hard drinks – indeed, the consumer background which has surrounded most of us growing up in the British Isles.

The museum moved last year to new and larger premises in Lancaster Road in London’s Notting Hill area.  I was very keen to visit it during my stay in London at the end of last month on my return from India. Like faded photographs and Proustian madeleine tastes of bygone days, old package wrappings and advertisements have a magic power to evoke seemingly lost memories. Wandering through the museum’s cleverly designed ‘time tunnel’, jam-packed full of items dating back to the beginnings of product advertising in the nineteenth century, stimulated us to reminisce about many things we’d grown up with: game boxes, such as’ Take-your-pick’ based on an old TV quiz show (remember Michael Miles?), to those fabulous Huntley and Palmer breakfast biscuits to Jubbly fruit drinks to LP covers and so much more.

 

The tunnel is cleverly designed to cover various eras from early Victorian through wars up to the last decades of the previous century with panels describing the main events of each period. Packages and advertising are, indeed, a direct reflection of social changes such as increased spending power, women’s emancipation, wartime austerity and package holidays.

Some products have disappeared for ever (although there may be a return of those HP biscuits!) Others have continued through the decades and even retain something of their original ‘look’. There’s a fascinating part of the collection which shows how particular products have evolved their presentation through the ages: items such as Marmite, Bird’s custard or Kit-Kat, for example.

A  great point about the museum is that it’s possible to meet its brain-child Robert Opie who, through his fifty year old collecting passion, has become the world’s leading consumer historian with twenty books on the subject to his credit and so much valuable material to contribute to social historians in general. Robert is always willing to answer questions and talk to those visiting his fascinating museum.

There’s also a café and shop where one can buy reproductions of items on display.

There’s no need to have loads of money to start one’s own museum: old masters aren’t necessary for constituting a fascinating gallery.  Rather, think twice about throwing away that washing powder carton…Not only will you stop littering this precious planet but you may even start your own collection!

More information including opening times is available at the museum’s official web site at http://www.museumofbrands.com/visitus/

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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(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.

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(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!

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(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.

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