Travelling with One’s Mind

The greatest comics and games festival in Europe (in Lucca!) was blessed this year by wall-to-wall sunshine and the opening up of new spaces which gave this real-fun event a more spread-out and less crowded feeling.

I’ve already described how the festival started out from a negligible event in a sports hall back in 1966 to become the international fixture it’s now, in my post at

This year the theme of the festival was ‘sì, viaggiare’ – yes, travel – both with conventional transport and with one’s mind, I presume!


We arrived at just before midday to immerse ourselves in the contemporary make-believe of this mediaeval fantasy city.

Sandra came dressed as ‘Spider cat’. If you haven’t come across a spider cat don’t be surprised: it’s a new creation courtesy of Sandra’s fertile imagination. The idea came to her not only from Spiderman but also from Italian ‘Topo ragno’ which translates as ‘spider mouse’ but which in fact refers to the shrew, so belittled by Shakespeare et al. The main characteristics of a spider cat are its ability to combine the best features of cats – intelligence, ability to have more than one life, craftiness and an affectionate nature – and of spiders – ability to move quickly, fine craft in making webs, capacity to see many things at the same time and complete disregard of gravity.

Spinning silkiest webs,

enmeshed in enchanted strand

you leap into Space

I came dressed as a descendant of Genghis Khan, thanks to my trip to Outer Mongolia in 2008. Our outfits proved a not negligible draw and, if we’d asked for royalties for photographs that were taken of us we’ve be rather well-off by now!

Lucca comics and games is, of course, a brilliant people-watching event and costumes were very varied indeed ranging from children’s fables to science fiction characters and from Japanese manga to western classic tales.

The stalls selling everything from collectors’ item comics to the latest video-games were incredibly extensive and, also very well-attended!

What were our highlights? First, the weather, principally because last time we were at the festival in 2013 it was a miserably drizzling day. Second, the people and participants who were, as ever, courteous and bent on having good clean fun. Third, the special events. We selected a manga drawing class in the Japanese village in the new gardens opened behind the beautifully converted monastery of Saint Francis (see our post at when we were present at its inauguration). Our teacher, who runs courses in the Academy of Manga art, was excellent and even enabled me not only to reach the correct proportions in drawing humans but also introduced us to drawing characters in action.

There were lessons in Japanese, quiz shows and much else. I realise we’d barely scratched the surface of this event but better to select a few things well than many just superficially!

There were several exhibitions of Japanese photography and paintings.

I was particularly intreagued by the one on cafe maids:

Among other areas there was even an opportunity to enter the Tardis!

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I wouldn’t mind getting one of these for Christmas:

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The exhibition highlights, as usual, were in the imposing Palazzo Ducale facing Piazza Napoleone where three very interesting displays were on show.

The first presented the work of the French artist Bonvi and his comic strips based on a somewhat politically uncorrect Nazi soldier during the last conflict. It was a French slant on something that became the essence of that long-running British sitcom ‘Allo, ‘allo.

The second exhibition was more serious and displayed the work of Emmanuele Luzzati with the theme of Jewishness in faery tales. The depictions of Jewish festivals were particularly poignant and the 3-D cut-out drawings were most effective.

The third exhibiton concentrated on Napoleon and Waterloo:

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At this stage darkness had descended upon the fun and games at Lucca’s big annual event and, at the end of a long day, our legs were beginning to feel it. After a delicious cassata at that fabulous ice-cream shop in piazza Cittadella (the piazza in which the house where Puccini was born is situated) we wended our way to our car which, thanks to the clever intrigues of immigrant parking bay finders, we’d managed to park amazingly near one of the city gates. So ended yet another totally memorable Lucca Comics and Games for this year. See you there next year?

Back to Toyland

Yesterday at Bagni di Lucca Villa was a day when we all become children in ‘Il Paese dei Balocchi (Toyland)’ returning for the fourth time running.

I’ve already written about last year’s event at

So what was new this year? There was a nice demonstration of wool carding using traditional techniques:

Ballo liscio (ballroom dancing) displays:

Lots of stalls including one from my friend Annalisa who displayed her ingenious handicrafts:

Children practicing stilt-walking and playing with traditional wooden toys instead of being stuck behind a video game (thank goodness):

A new sculpture exhibition in the town hall:

A totally amazing street band which combined the traditional town band with majorette style –elements all headed by a belly dancer…

Imaginative shop window displays with suitably dressed asssistants:

Face painting:

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And a bright sunny day with a great atmosphere!

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If you’re around our area the festa will continue today so do join in the fun!

Florence’s Magical Toyland

Florence is, of course, known not only for its beautiful buildings, wondrous art collections and its historical importance as the birthplace of the renaissance but also for its wealth of interesting shops. One of my favourite shops, combining toys with model-making, is in Via Cavour. It’s called Dreoni and started out in 1923.

The shop is a veritable Aladdin’s cave and continues to open out into ever more unfolding chambers and unexpected galleries. It’s a great place to bring families of all ages together since there is bound to be something which will interest both the most anti-shopping hardened male and the most discriminating female shopper.

(Lego my hand you croc!)

I was particularly intrigued by the train sets which comprise those elite items: Rivarossi (now combined with Lima and Hornby) and Marklin.

Here is a 00 gauge Rivarossi version of the iconic “Settebello” train which used to run on Italian railways between 1952 and 1992.


No other country had, at that time, known such style and comfort in train travel. The greatest designers and architects were involved in Italian State Railways’ project, including Gio Ponti and Giulio Minoletti and, apart from the luxury, top speeds of 160 km were reached on the main run between Milan, Florence and Rome.  Particularly in the antiquated and under-invested British railways of the fifties and sixties it must have been a time-travel-experience for British passengers to journey in the panoramic lounge of the “Settebello” (the winning card, incidentally, in that popular Italian card game, scopa)!

At least we can now recapture that excitement in these finely wrought models. I feel like I really want to buy myself another train set after my mum ignominiously gave my own away when she considered I’d outgrown it!

There is something in Dreoni’s for everyone, from the smallest children to those who still conserve a child-like spirit within themselves. From Meccano to Lego, from Pinocchio to the latest fantasy characters it’s got it.

Indeed, while in the shop we almost forgot the serious business of why we came to the city of the lily yesterday – the visit to an important exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

Never make rigid plans when planning a trip to Florence (or, for that matter, any other city). You’re bound to miss out on perhaps even better pleasures if you do!

While some of you may be desperately waiting to enter Dreoni’s portals you can still, in the meanwhile, explore the shop’s web site at