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.





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.

Love of Literature in Mediaevalle

UFor lovers of literature and poetry there are two unmissable events today in our part of the world. The first is at 5 pm at Shelley House, Bagni di Lucca. It’s the presentation of Enrico Botta’s book, Mal-aria D’Africa, which has been produced by Luca and Rebecca’s publishing house Cinque Marzo.

(Enrico Botta)

Who is Enrico Botta? He’s a Viareggio director and known to the public for his musical ‘Snow White’ and ‘Aenigma’ with Antonio Casanova. Mal-aria D’Africa is Enrico’s first novel and the title clearly alludes to the disease, literally meaning ‘bad air’, a contagion which once proliferated over marshland areas like the Italian Maremma. The novel is about a young entertainer who travels to Africa and, in particular to the beautiful lands of Kenya. Here he becomes seriously ill. Meanwhile an actor thousands of miles away in Milan puts on a replica of the entertainer’s last show. The two events are thus bound together in a strange parallel universe: Italy and Africa.

Regrettably I won’t be able to attend this presentation since a friend and member of that heavenly vocal group Stereotipi who have done so much, through their school and performances, to raise musical standards in our part of the world, Lia Salotti, is, at the same time, arranging a presentation of a book of poems written by her mother Ivana Domenici.

The appointment with poetry is also this Saturday at 5.00 pm in the hall of the former Convent of the Oblate in Borgo a Mozzano. Present will be the poet Ivana Domenici who teaches history at Borgo a Mozzano’s school Borgo a Mozzano.

The book is published by Ama Ducci and enriched with illustrations by Mirco Martinelli. It brings together some forty poems that retrace the author’s life: feelings and emotions and moments. The event will be presented by Gabriele Matraia and Maria Teresa Malerbi, while actors Valentina Gianni and Federico Barsanti will read selections from the book. There’s also going to be a musical accompaniment with Martino Biondi, guitar, Lia Salotti, violin, and Serena Salotti, voice.

I’m so glad that literature, especially, is alive and kicking in the Lucchesia – which reminds me that my  own humble effort will soon see the light of the world after the success of my volume ‘Septet’, publshed last year (See )





Assassins and Bandits are Lords where we Live

Ariosto is considered by many as second only to Dante in the hierarchy of great Italian poets. His epic poem ‘Orlando Furioso’ is one of the longest and most varied of any in western cultural history. Describing the great cycle of stories dating back to the battles between the Moorish invasion of Europe and the fight-back, by Charlemagne’s army, of chivalric paladins, ‘Orlando Furioso’ has been and continues to be one of the most influential of poems, inspiring writers like Cervantes (who somewhat parodied the genre in his fantastic‘Don Quixote’), composers like Vivaldi (who wrote two operatic versions based on the epic) and Handel (who introduced a most unusual quintuple time signature to depict Orlando’s madness – furioso means either furious or mad, madly in love that is)  to modern writers like Salman Rushdie who introduced elements of the story in his ‘The Enchantress of Florence’. Most recently, Ariosto has been the subject of an extraordinary exhibition by the artist Possenti at the Fortress of Mont’Alfonso.


(Prof Marcello Cherubini introducing Prof Pietro Paolo Angelini at yesterday’s conference at Bagni di Lucca’s Chiesa Inglese)

It was, therefore, quite wonderful to welcome back to Bagni di Lucca’s Chiesa Inglese Pietro Paolo Angelini, a teacher, scholar and educational director from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana to introduce the presentation of his new book ‘Ludovico Ariosto Commissario Generale Estense in Garfagnana’ with its subtitle ‘di tutte queste montagne li assassini et omini di mala condizioni sono signori’ (throughout these mountains assassins and low-life men are considered as lords’)


How did Italy’s second greatest poet finish up in a then Wild West area (some of whose traits certainly still exist today in remoter parts) to attempt to bring law and order in a bandit–infested territory? There are certain facts to be considered.


(Ariosto’s portrait by Titian in London’s National Gallery)

First is that the Val di Serchio was divided up into a patchwork of territories belonging either to the Luccan Republic (e.g. Bagni di Lucca) or the duchy of Florence (e.g. Barga) or the Estense family from Ferrara – later Modena – (e.g. Castelnuovo di Garfagnana). These partitions provided ample space for wars and feuds but, most of all for bandits who avoided customs dues between the various parts through contraband or smuggling.

Second is the fact that Ariosto worked for Ippolito d’Este who was a mean ruler and didn’t pay the poet’s wages. When the chance came for a salaried job in the Garfagnana Ariosto took it of necessity. The pay, in fact came from the bandits themselves! There was a ‘special understanding between Lodovico and the banditti whereby each tolerated, and sometimes protected, the other – an amnesty in fact. The real scoundrels, according to Ariosto, were the priests who received harsh words (and suggested punishments too cruel to mention here) from the poet.

Third, Ariosto, coming from a princely court with its polite manners and seductive comforts, finding himself in a wild and lonely place with few sophisticated activities and, most importantly, far away from the woman he loved (and whom he secretly married just a few years before his death) Alessandra, became prone to depression and despair. Indeed, Orlando’s love-sick madness, can easily find a parallel in Ariosto’s own state of mind. Moreover, the battles between knights and monsters find a mirror in the conflicts between Governor Ariosto and the almost savage populace he had to bring under some sort of control.

Fourth, Ariosto transferred his unrequited love to the beautiful natural landscape around him. In his fourth satire he mentions the magnificent Pania Della Croce in these words (my translation): ‘the naked Pania between dawn and sunset turns me through her glory into her devotee’. This whole satire should be read for it gives a deep insight into Ariosto’s attitude to the area.


(The Pania della Croce as seen from near Longoio)

The book is published by that most distinguished of publishers, Maria Pacini Fazzi of Lucca, and is available in Italian only (for the time being) at price twenty euros.

I consider Angelini to be a sort of modern Ariosto. I had my first job as teacher of English at Castelnuovo’s Ipsia (technical college) which was headed by Pietro Paolo. I took my first class under the illusion that country lads would have been tamer than inner London street-wise kids. I was quickly put right and realised that I would have to use all my enthusiasm and interest-keeping tactics to keep a somewhat undisciplined class in some order. These tactics were developed to the full by the great Angelini in his directorship of Garfagnana’s schools and colleges. In his gripping book, I was flattered that this whole-hearted man still remembered me after almost ten years. Pietro Paolo’s dedication to me and Alexandra  was, therefore, particularly touching.


I also realised that John Harington, an old boy from my university (King’s College, Cambridge), was, at the end of the sixteenth century, England’s first translator of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’; (John also invented the world’s first flush toilet, incidentally, and lived in a house in one of my first work places in London – the former Wages Inspectorate in Red Lion Square).


(First English Translator of ‘Orlando Furioso’, Sir John Harington, King’s Cambridge)

There is also a close connection between two of Bagni di Lucca’s most distinguished visiting poets, Shelley and Byron, and Ariosto. Shelley read Ariosto while he was here and Byron’s style was closely influenced by Ariosto, to say nothing of at least two plots (‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and The Taming of the Shrew’)


(The original for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’)

that Shakespeare swiped from Ludovico Ariosto in this, Shakespeare’s four hundredth death anniversary and Ariosto’s five hundredth anniversary of his ‘Orlando Furioso’.


(Pietro Paolo Angelini yesterday)

Angelini spoke yesterday with lively vigour and truly reawakened our interest in this poet who recently has been restored to his rightful place after some years of neglect.  I am, therefore, truly grateful to the Fondazione Montaigne for having invited him to talk so fervently and captivatingly about Ariosto. I’m off now to re-read the adventures of Orlando, Angelica, Bradamante and Ruggiero, Alcina and Ariodante (two further Handel operas, incidentally!)


(Ruggiero saving Angelica from the Monster by Paul-Joseph-Blanc)

Festival Shelley Comes to Town

A literary salon may evoke scenes of powdered ladies and gentlemen in a rococo chandeliered room with flunkeys at the door in the minds of some. Happily, of course, this is a hopelessly hollywoodian scenario.


The Festival Shelley, run by that indomitable couple Luca PB Guidi and Rebecca Palagi, has a much more informal and relaxed attitude to literary salons. Proof of this was last Saturday when the mini car-park outside that precious addition to Bagni di Lucca’s scene, the Shelley House Bookshop and Gallery, was cleared of cars and turned over to chairs with Shelley house becoming a stage to an open-air auditorium in a newly acquired piazzetta.

Rebecca talked eloquently about her great love for Keats and in particular concentrated on his letters which are truly the lake out of which the precious gems of his poems are discovered. It’s clear that Rebecca is deeply versed in her subject and, thanks to her enthusiasm, the English romantic poets will, no doubt, become rather more than just names associated with Bagni di Lucca. Rebecca did remark, however, that Byron was somewhat dismissive about Keats. But then he wasn’t exactly a very agreeable person except when he was planning his next amorous conquest.

There was also the chance by Joseph Bottone, an American with roots at nearby San Cassiano to read a poem from his collection ‘Wild Honey’. We look forwards to more poets participating in the ‘salotto’, both Italian, English and, perhaps, other languages as well.

Meanwhile, the Festival Shelley, which is now in its seventh year, has a full and fascinating series of events in several locations from Viareggio, to Bagni di Lucca to Milan to Rome

Here is its programme:

You can also consult the Festival Shelley facebook page at:

Last but not least the good news about the Festival Shelley is that it has now received official patronage – a true honour. Well done Luca and Rebecca!




Sunset with Shelley and Respighi

This Saturday at 5 pm there’s a lyrical moment at Bagni di Lucca Villa’s new bookshop and gallery, Shelley House.

Painting, poetry and music will mingle together in an evocative way. Michelangelo Cupisti’s art works return to Bagni di Lucca, and the English poet Francis Pettitt and actress Rebecca Palagi will read a little-known poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called “The Sunset”.


(PB Shelley 1792-1822)

‘The Sunset’ is a gothicky love story dating exactly two hundred years ago. Francis will read it in the original language and Rebecca will recite it in Italian (a translation from the beginning of the last century).


(Luca PB Guidi and Rebecca Palagi who run the Shelley House bookshop)

After the reading we will listen to “The Sunset ” very beautifully set to music by Respighi for mezzo-soprano and string quartet (although other arrangements also exist) and first performed in 1918. Incidentally, it is not generally known that Respighi, famous for his ‘musical postcards’ of Rome’s fountains, pines and festivals also set three Shelley poems. (The other two are ‘The sensitive plant’ and ‘Arethusa’).


(Ottorino Respighi 1879-1936)

It’s also interesting to note that Shelley wrote some of his poems to have them specifically set to music e.g. ‘With a guitar to Jane.’


Do drop in if you’re around. It’s going to be a short but very attractive event.





The Beechwood of the Black Fate

Have you ever felt mysterious presences when walking through a wood or experienced unexplained occurrences in your home? Have you actually sighted strange beings? If so, you’re definitely not the only one. Here in the Mediavalle and Garfagnana areas there are many arcane powers and none so able to describe them as forest ranger and keeper of the regional park of the Apuane Mountains, Bartolomeo Puccetti, and archaeologist and explorer, Simone Deri.

Together they have produced a book, published by Edizioni Cinquemarzo, Luca and Rebecca’s publishing firm at Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca Villa, called ‘I Misteri del Fato Nero’. (The mysteries of the black destiny).

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The great thing about this book is that it is not simply an academic collection of legends and stories about supernatural beings. It’s a truly readable book to be enjoyed by both children and adults and written in quite easy Italian.

The cover impresses with its illustrations by ‘I Forestelli’ animation studio who have created Italian-style Manga-type characters and several of their illustrations punctuate the book. The exciting thing about the black fate is that it actually exists. The wood of the black fate is a beech wood above Arni and situated at a height of 4,600 feet. It’s unusual that woods in this area get a specific name but surely this one merits it because of the strange happenings that go on within its bounds.

Another great feature about the book is that each section is devoted to a historical or even prehistorical era. The first section is devoted to prehistory as far back as the Neanderthaloids. The second deals with myths and the third with history dealing from the Etruscans to the Romans.

It’s indeed volume one since further books are promised leading one into the mediaeval and post mediaeval worlds. I’m not going to give away the contents of the sections except that Hannibal and his elephants make an appearance (yes, they really crossed the mountains a little above us, traces have been found both in archaeology and folklore) and rich treasure troves of gold lie hidden in unexplored caves.

To improve your Italian here are a few of the terms used to describe these semi-invisible presences.



(Courtesy of )

The linchetto is a type of elf inhabiting the areas of Lucca, Versilia and Garfagnana. The elf is not a bad spirit but he likes creating mischief. He gets into your house makes you lose objects and sometimes changes them, takes your bedclothes off at night (has special fun with newly-weds), and delights in driving you a little mad. He also enjoys giving you nightmares and weird visions. He is kind to children but can’t stand geriatrics. According to some historians the linchetto is a descendant of a faun, friend of the woodland god Pan.  If your home is being haunted by a linchetto then the remedy to get rid of the pest is to hold a candle that has been blessed before him, or to hang a juniper twig on your front door. Also, efficacious is keeping a cupful of rice in your house. The linchetto can’t resist counting things and will spend all his time counting the rice grains until he gets fed up and goes away. There’s also a secret phrase which I won’t give away at this stage unless your house is desperately haunted by linchetti.

Buffardello (or Baffardello)


(Courtesy of Comune di San Romano)

The buffardello also inhabits the same places as the linchetto but is especially common in Garfagnana. Sometimes he is known by different names. At Gorfigliano he’s called ‘pappardello’ and at Sillano he’s ‘piffardello’. The buffardello is a sub-species of elf but is rather less devilish and more boorish than the Linchetto. He does, however, have an unfortunate habit of stealing wine-bottles from your cellar. The remedy for getting rid of a buffardello is to close all windows, and take in all the washing in case he puts a spell on them. Juniper hung on the front door is also useful as is the usual blessed candle. If the situation is truly desperate then (I’m not having you on!) take a cheese sandwich to the loo and eat it while you’re doing your business and say ‘I’m eating a cheese sandwich and shitting on you’.


This is a straightforward elf (if ever elves were straightforward.)


Another word for elf.

Fata = fairy, fatina = small fairy.

If you are one of those unfortunate people who don’t believe that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden then think again. The perception of these supernatural beings has been thrown out of you by unimaginative people like disciplinarian parents and strict teachers. Wordsworth knew all about this and in his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood he writes

But there’s a tree, one of many, a single field which I have look’d upon …. Both of them speak of something that is gone: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

The foresters keep a book where sightings of linchetti and buffardelli and elfi can be recorded by visitors. Don’t be embarrassed to do so if you see one of these elfin creatures. It won’t mean that you’ll be taken to see a psychiatrist, another of that dreaded horde of people who try to take your dreams away from you. Be grateful, instead that no sightings of bigfoots have been recorded in our Garfagnana forests as they have in other parts of the world (like North America) for bigfoots too exist and even the famous chimpanzee ethologist, Jane Goodall, firmly believes in them.


I look forwards to receiving pictures from anyone who has photographed a linchetto or buffardello. To-date I tried to take a photo of one but the spiteful creature made sure my camera battery went flat!

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(Photo taken just before a linchetto appeared and my camera battery went flat)


A Plea for Justice and Civility in Italy

Piero Nissim would not object to being called a modern-day troubadour. Musician, poet and puppeteer, besides being a great advocate for the use of Esperanto, his creations embrace both children and adult worlds.

I’ve already mentioned some of Piero’s major achievements: his ‘apron theatre’ in my post at , his ‘Stabat Mater’  at and his guitar-accompanied songs at

Piero comes from a Jewish Livornese family with a rich cultural past. Piero’s father was cousin to Elio Nissim who was a great friend of my wife Sandra’s parents. Living in the UK, Elio did much to help the plight of Italian POW’s during WWII and led a distinguished career as a lawyer.

It was, therefore, with much pleasure that I attended the launch of Piero’s new book of poems, ‘Poesie legali’ at the elegant Sala Tobino in Lucca’s Palazzo Ducale yesterday evening.


Present were also Lucca’s deputy mayor, the publishers, and the president of the Italian resistance association who all spoke incisively about Piero’s creative energy.

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Piero’s poems have also formed part of a show he’s performed in Italy and his recitations of them are an integral part of their very strong effect on the public. If anyone thinks poems are all about birds and bees and beautiful things then they should read Piero’s latest collection for these poems are steely, political, angry and compassionate at the same time.

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After a preface, each of the twenty eight poems describes a tragic situation in Italy which involves suffering, corruption, and, miraculously, hopes too. There are poems on the Viareggio railway accident in 2009 when a train carrying liquid gas cylinders derailed and cause a massive explosion killing 33 people and demolishing a considerable residential area near the station. There’s a poem on the L’Aquila earthquake, also from 2009 (what a terrible year that was for Italy) to say nothing of the Mafia and the assassination of the great Falcone and Borsellino in Sicily. For most poems there’s a second section which explains the events the poems refer to. This is to help not only those children not old enough to remember the events but also those non-Italians who may not have much idea of recent Italian history. If the poems are expressions of Piero’s feelings then the prose explains the facts which inspired those feelings.

Here are Nissim’s  two poems on Viareggio and L’Aquila with my translations of the poems and their commentary.


Viareggio non piange


Dopo la strage del 29 giugno

Viareggio non piange,

ha il volto asciutto dal salmastro,

come in tempo di guerra

resiste, è solidale,

è terra di coraggio.

Viareggio, gente antica

scolpita nel dolore

come la cartapesta

dei carri a Carnevale,

come la vita dura nel Cantiere

o la pesca di notte in mezzo al mare.


gente fiera nel dolore,


quanto dovrà aspettare?



Viareggio doesn’t cry
After the 29th June carnage
Viareggio isn’t crying,
its face is dried by the sea’s salt water,
as in wartime
it resists, it stands together,
it’s a courageous land.
Viareggio, an ancient people
carved in pain
like the papier-mâché
of Carnival floats,
like the shipyards’ tough life
or the night-fishing in the middle of the sea.
a proud people in its agony,
how long will they have to wait for it?


Notes on ‘Viareggio doesn’t cry’

On the evening of May 29, 2009 during its transit through Viareggio station a freight train, consisting of a convoy of 14 tank wagons containing LPG liquid gas, derailed because of the fracture of an axle in its first wagon. The tank wagon’s  derailment and its subsequent damage caused its cargo of gases to escape spreading about in a liquid state alongside the rail track before igniting and exploding. The fire created an apocalyptic scenario with thirty-three persons dead and many properties destroyed. A comprehensive engineering survey established beyond doubt that the weakness in the axle was present for many years and that a more careful examination could have discovered this and the axle could have been replaced by a new one. Thirty three human lives were sacrificed for not replacing a piece costing a couple of thousand euros. The railways were accused of negligence and the trial is still carrying on with continual postponements and railway defense lawyers attempting to reclassify, or even deny, any negligence in the tragedy.



Quando la terra trema


Quando la terra trema

e arriva sordo proprio quel rumore,

ecco, squarcia la notte

e la ferita,

ti coglie di sorpresa

nel terrore

e spezza i fili

che tengono sospesa

la tua vita.

Un tonfo, un baratro

e l’Aquila reale

gente ch’è forte e fiera

cade ferita a morte,

di notte il 6 di aprile.

L’albero ha perso rami

e foglie e frutti

ma ha solide radici

per ricominciare.

E vuole ricordare

i figli persi ad uno ad uno,

parole e versi

per tutti e per ciascuno.

Per non dimenticare!



When the earth trembles
When the earth trembles
and that dull noise arrives,
it suddenly pierces the night
and the wound,
takes you by surprise
in fear
breaking the strings
holding your life
A thud, a chasm
and the strong and proud peopleof the Golden Eagle
fall mortally wounded,
on the night of April 6th.
The tree has lost branches
leaves and fruits
but it has roots solid enough
to start again.
It wants to remember
those children, lost one by one,
words and verses
for each and for all.
Never to forget!

Notes on ‘When the earth trembles.’

On the 6th April 2009, a 6.23 magnitude earthquake on the Mercalli scale devastated the city of Aquila, causing 309 deaths and extensive damage to the city and surrounding area. This event is especially remembered for its particularly painful dynamics. The earthquake occurred at the height of an intense seismic activity that had begun as early as December 2008 and had already caused psychological distress among the population well before the actual earthquake. One wondered what to expect next. In an odd mixture of scientific data and political and media communication, the city’s civil protection tried to calm its citizens on March 31st by stating the absence of  danger from earthquakes (which anyway are notoriously unpredictable events). Later, regarding a report on survey public contracts corruption relating to reconstruction, a telephone conversation recording was made public in which two well-connected contractors in the public sector stated they were glad for the extra reconstruction business they would obtain if an earthquake did occur.



The collection also include a moving letter to Piero from the recently deceased Father Paoli, the priest who is elected among the ‘Just of the world’ for his saving over eight hundred Italian Jewish people during the darkest days of WWII. (See my reference to Don Arturo Paoli in my post at )

Then occasion was dignified and moving at the same time. Piero manages to inject humour in the most appalling human conditions and his work combines two great virtues: religious charity and socialist solidarity. If anyone wants to understand the real Italy and the angst it has gone through and still experiences, together with the esprit de corps that it faces disasters and sadness then Piero Nissim’s book is essential reading even for those who do not normally rush to buy a poetry book.

We are arranging now for Piero Nissim to attend Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley festival to be organised this summer by Luca and Rebecca the couple who direct that great new addition to Bagni di Lucca, the Shelley House bookshop and gallery.For Piero Nissim’s new collection of poems are essentially a plea for much needed justice and civility in Italy

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Florence’s Magic Railway: Part One

There’s a delightful railway route from Florence over the Apennnines which takes in some very sweet small towns and also some major cities. We discovered this route some years ago when the first part, which goes from Florence to Borgo San Lorenzo, had still not been reconstructed after being damaged by the Germans in World War Two. It had to take over fifty years to get the trains running on the rails again (in 1999). It was well worth the wait for not only does the route pass through some spectacular scenery but has also become a well-used commuter route to and from the Mugello region of Tuscany.

The full route takes one to Ravenna with its awesome Byzantine basilicas, mosaics and, of course, Dante’s tomb. One can, however, stop at some beautiful places en route. Faenza, we visited some years ago when we had to go by train round Pontassieve. If you’re into pottery and renaissance crockery (Faenza is where we get the word Faience from) go there for the museum is fabulous, the eateries are great (especially the flat unleavened bread called Piadina) and the town is absolutely charming.

We only had an afternoon to travel from Florence yesterday but visited two places which we found very rewarding.

Florence Railway station is one of Italy’s seminal modern buildings. Desiged by a team headed by the great Michelucci to replace the old station (designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel of Clifton Bridge fame) and completed in 1934 its amazing glass roof is an evocation of the city’s Arno river.

The station also conserves a sad memory (like so many other Italian Railway station – remember my post on Milan’s railway station at )

This time it’s platform 16 where a poignant memorial has recently been erected to remember the thousands of victims of man’s intolerance to man who were deported to the Nazi death camps between 1943 and 1945. It’s only respectful to give a minute’s silence to this exterminating railtrack.

To return to our journey: first, for old time’s sake, after a plesant journey through the appennines

we alighted at Marradi, famous for the biggest and best chestnut festival in the whole of Tuscany. The town is homeland of the great Italian poet Dino Campana (who was born there in 1885 but who sadly ended his days in a lunatic asylum and is buried in the Badia of Scandicci near Florence in 1932).

Marradi looked a bit empty without the October chestnut pageants but its was still very pleasant to walk around its old streets

We also visit the chestnut museum. I was amazed to find also a section on the chestnut industry in Australia. I’d never thought there was one.

Our second stop, was a wonderful surprise…but you must read tomorrow’s instalment to find out what surprise!




PS Warning. The magic railway line starts at platform 17 at Florence’s main-line SantaMaria Novella station. What the authorities don’t tell you is that it’s a long way down from the starting platfrom of all the other railway lines and requires a ten minute’s walk to get there!


‘Parole’ from Poet Mara Mucini at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò

During last year’s Bagni Di Lucca arts festival I was asked to manage a new section dedicated to the written word. Called ‘Camera oscura’ in recognition of the fact that the area we used had once been a photographer’s shop and dark room, I was given the chance of meeting and introducing several poets from Bagni di Lucca and beyond.

Among those who made the most impression on me was Mara Mucini (see my post at ) . I loved her expressive and direct way of putting across emotions and thoughts in a poetic frame, both unpretentious and expressing deep life concepts, in a language which was easily understood (that is, of course, if you know Italian. However, Norma Jean Bishop has translated several of Mara’s poems in our Tuscan Magazine ‘Grapevine’ of which she is editor).

Mara’s poems discuss what the Italians so appropriately phrase as ‘la quotidianeità della vita’, i.e. daily life. Those panoramas, clearly, seen from a woman who has had a life-time’s experience working in a largely male environment, can deal with the most hum-drum to the most dramatic events, from ecstatic joy to the profoundest sorrow, from dreams to practicalities, from small local things to large world events.


There is a lack of oratory, a use of simple (but not simplistic) language to express Mara’s thoughts and I warmly congratulate her on her new collection called ‘Parole’ (‘Words’) published by that great Luccan publishing House, Maria Pacini Fazzi, and introduced last night as part of the ‘Omaggio all Donna’ celebrations for International Woman’s day at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò by another vital writer of our area, the historian and essayist, Natalia Sereni.

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(Natalia Sereni on right. Mara Mucini on left)

Natalia introduced Mara’s poems with a paper which was a marvel of sensitivity and literary criticism. Natalia described those important concepts of Mara’s substantial new collection which included the theme of memory in all its multifarious moods, and the Mandala (artfully illustrated by Morena Guarnaschelli) which protects through its circular form, invites one to discover one’s essence through its central point and generates growth and creativity.

Mara then gave a short description of her poetic life starting from her youthful days when she would write poems only to destroy them, because she felt embarrassed at disclosing her intimate thoughts, through to the evening’s triumphal conclusion when she realised pride in her special poetic gift and her wish to share it with her audience.

I would invite anyone who can speak Italian to buy a copy of Mara’s ‘Parole’. It’s a book which gives a valuable insight into feminine intuition and the problems and joys which circumscribe the lives of contemporary Italian women. Mara seeks sentiment but never sentimentality. She touches truths but never platitudes and her poems are suffused with a metric music which displays an all-embracing poetical sensitivity.

It was, therefore most, apt that the virtuoso hands of Anna Livia Walker both accompanied and concluded the readings of some poems from Mara’s new collection with her transcendent touch on the harp. Among the items played were Debussy and Handel which helped to combine words and music in an absolutely immaculate way.

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I have no doubt that, in terms of artistic integrity, impact and presentation Mara can now only be described as a very significant Italian lyricist. The presentation of her poems was, in my opinion, the highlight of the marvellous week dedicated to Italy’s (and the world’s) women. And it was the best attended too!

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Here is a selection of Mara’s poems from her collection ’Stelle’ (stars) which I presented and mostly translated with Mara at last year’s Bagni di Lucca Art’s Festival


Warm summer night, serene night,
in a sea of stars you lose yourself
even under the light of the full moon.

In the immensity that envelops you
you look for answers that cannot be found,
answers you have always sought, and always will.

You turn to that dark light,
asking, praying, inveighing with silent words,
again and again losing yourself in the mystery.

You perceive the meaning of the word “Divine”
and in that quiet grandiosity of stars
hope to see your destiny laid before you.

And so, enchanted, you name them one by one:
the names of those who have left you,
those you love, those you have not forgotten.

At your call they appear more luminous.
Then, ignoring the deceit,
they fade like precious objects,
and in the pure air rests the scent of roses.

Mara Mucini (translation by Grapevine)


Era bello l’amore sognato,
il desiderio di un bacio
non ancora arrivato,
l’ aspettavi,
tra innocenti pensieri
e fantasie
lo cercavi.

Leggevi gli amori
di Paolo e Francesca,
di Lancillotto e Ginevra,
di Dante e Beatrice
eri felice.

Nell’attesa la vita
era grazia, armonia,
un fiorire di cose da fare,
da dire,

Ma l’amore
fu un giorno rubato,
in una strada isolata
dal sole bruciata.

Nella luce
svanirono i sogni,
i colori,
il profumo dei fiori,
mute lacrime di sale,
lavando la ferita,
cancellarono il desiderio,
appassirono la vita.


Love in a dream was wonderful,
the wish to be kissed
had not yet come,
you waited for it,
between innocent thoughts
and fantasies
you searched for it

You were reading about the loves
of Paolo and Francesca,
Lancelot and Guinevere,
Dante and Beatrice.
You smiled,
you were happy.

Waiting, life
was grace, harmony,
a flowering of things to do,
to say,
to discover

But one day
love was stolen,
in a secluded
sun-burnt street.

In the light
the scent of flowers vanished,
silent salt tears,
washing the wound,
erased desire,
withered life).


Ho visto una nuvola bianca
fluttuare nel cielo sereno
piccola, bella, armoniosa
come un velo da sposa.

Incantata son rimasta a guardare
i disegni che riusciva a tracciare:
un aquilone, un gabbiano poi un angelo…
forse custode e, d’istinto come fosse normale,
ho chiuso gli occhi per potergli parlare.

Ho sentito il suo sguardo sereno
come quello di madre che allatta al suo seno
così, come fossi davvero in custodia,
senza timore gli ho chiesto una cosa.

Sai dirmi chi sono? Perché sono qui
dove nulla è per sempre ed in sorte
la sola certezza è la morte?
Il senso della vita cos’è?
Se puoi dillo anche a me.

Ho atteso con il cuore sospeso,
speravo di avere risposta
poi ho aperto gli occhi:
la nuvola bianca si era nascosta.


I saw a white cloud
floating in the clear sky
small, beautiful, harmonious
like a bridal veil.

I remained enchanted watching
the pictures it traced:
a kite, a seagull and then an angel …
perhaps guardian, and, instinctively as if it were normal,
I closed my eyes to speak to him.

I felt his peaceful look
like that of a breast-feeding nursing mother
so, as if I were really protected,
fearlessly, I asked him something.

Can you tell me who I am? Why I’m here
where nothing is forever and fatefully
the only certainty is death?
What’s life’s meaning?
Can you can tell that to me too?

I waited with my heart full of suspense,
I was hoping to be answered.
Then I opened my eyes:
the white cloud had hidden itself).


Mi piacerebbe dar sfogo ai sentimenti
con il pennello di un bravo pittore
lo immergerei in colori trasparenti
al ritmo accelerato del mio cuore.

Dipingerei la rosa che a novembre
resiste nell’angolo più bello del giardino
ma, consapevole, che non vedrà dicembre,
profumata e triste tiene il capo chino.

Poi quel fiocco di neve solitario, bianco,
che il vento di tramontana fa danzare
tra i raggi di un sole freddo e stanco
ma che lo illumina e lo fa brillare.

E ancora, quando si posa come una carezza
su quella rosa rossa, ormai sfiorita,
facendola tremare come una giovinetta
che muove i primi passi nella vita.

Di quell’incontro, nato e già finito,
colorerei quel silenzioso abbraccio all’infinito
mentre in una gelida lacrima si scioglie
e, come linfa, l’infreddolita terra accoglie.


I’d like to give vent to my feelings
with a good painter’s brush
I’d immerse it in transparent colours
To my heart’s hastened pace.

I’d paint the rose in November
still resisting in the garden’s most beautiful corner
yet, knowing that it won’t see December,
fragrant and sad, drooping its head.

Then that lonely white snowflake,
dancing in the north wind
between the rays of a cold and tired sun
illuminating it and making it shine.

And still, lying down like a caress
on that now withered red rose
making her tremble like a girl
who took her first steps in life.

Of that meeting born and already ended,
I would colour that silent embrace to infinity
while it melts in an icy tear
and, like sap, is received by the cold earth).