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 https://www.facebook.com/luca.p.guidi/videos/10213584220545702/?pnref=story )

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 https://shelleyfrankfest.org/ .

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 https://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=658411 )

(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 https://books.google.it/books/about/Septet.html?id=4vHRjwEACAAJ&redir_esc=y )

 

 

 

 

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.

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(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’)

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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.

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(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.

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(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.

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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).

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(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’)

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(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’.

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(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!)

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(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.

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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:

https://www.facebook.com/ViareggioLaCittaDelCuoreDiShelley/posts/1094439680591296?comment_id=1094795373889060&notif_t=feed_comment_reply&notif_id=1467012008478130

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!

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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”.

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(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).

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(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’).

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(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.’

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

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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.

Linchetto.

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(Courtesy of http://www.ailinchi.it/en/the-linchetto.html )

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)

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(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’.

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

Folletto

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.

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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)