Tiger-Hunting in Viareggio’s most Exquisite Art Nouveau Villa

Viareggio, that heartland of seaside art nouveau offered the jewel in its crown of ville and villette for public viewing yesterday as part of the FAI open weekend.

The villa Argentina is a masterpiece of architecture and decoration in which both the great Galileo Chini and Alfredo Belluomini collaborated. The original building dated from 1868 but was restructured by the two great exponents of ‘lo stile liberty’ in the 1920’s. Built at the corner of two streets its exterior is enhanced by an elegant L-shaped layout and its cupid depicting tiles. The villa was originally commissioned by Francesca Rocca Oytana, of Argentinian descent.

Villa Argentina  later became a hotel and was expanded. By the end of the last century, however, it had fallen into a sorry state of dilapidation.

It was then that Viareggio council with the help of government arts funds bought it and began its restoration which, with the typical on-off syndrome so prevalent in this country took longer than envisaged. Finally, in November 2014, the villa Argentina was re-opened and its garden re-laid according to its original plans which include a rare species of tree from Argentina itself


The interior is dominated by the spectacular ball-room decorated in Chini’s most delicate orientalising style, this time veering towards Persian influence. There is a lovely fresco depicting the preparation for a tiger-hunt by Giuseppe Biasi who spent much of his time living in exotic countries. I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen in my life. It is simply magic.

The other rooms are a little more sober, although their floors are marvellous:

The rooms formed ideal backgrounds to a remarkable exhibition of sculpture and water colours by Czech-born artist Ivan Theimer and his theme of ‘other worlds’. This exhibition should deservedly require a separate post. It was fascinating. Theimer seems to have reincarnated ancient Etruscan, Egyptian and Classical themes in a virtuoso and haunting manner.

I particularly enjoyed his statue of a boy with dolphin and the models of monuments which have been erected in some major European squares.

What I most enjoyed, however, were the artist’s delicately observed water colours from Uzbekistan to Vietnam to China and India which fitted in so well with the oriental feel of the villa. We recognized several places we’d visited including Petra, Ha Long bay and that amazing waterfall in Laos:


If anyone has a heart for art nouveau then this extraordinarily fine villa has to be on their must-see list. Built at the very end of that glorious period of art and architecture it is a superb summing up of everything that I most value of what the Italians call ‘lo stile liberty’. Indeed, Villa Argentina will becomes a centre for the study of art nouveau as it so spaciously flowered in Viareggio’s golden years.

Allegra con Spirito

Even near his last moment on this earth the little child haunted him. Before setting sail and meeting the storm that would swallow him up in the bay of La Spezia in July 1822 he saw an image of her rising naked from the waves, laughing at him, clapping her hands and beckoning him to follow her.


Last week I saw her too: a little girl playing in the churchyard of Harrow-on-the-Hill giving life among the tombs like the snowdrops and the daffodils rising early to beckon the spring all about me.

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And yet she was dead: at just five years old and, since she was the fruit of an unsanctified union, without even a memorial to her – until 1980 – one hundred and fifty eight years later, after she died of malarial fever without her mother or father or step-sister by her in a lonely convent at Bagnacavallo near the venetian marshlands and lagoons.


Remorse evermore overcame the father.


As he wrote to the Countess of Blessington,


(The beautiful Countess Blessington: a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence)

“While she lived, her existence never seemed necessary to my happiness; but no sooner did I lose her, than it appeared to me as if I could not live without her”

The mother of the little angel ever accused the father of having murdered her.

Happy was her name, ‘Allegra’, and I was near her final resting place by the porch of Harrow’s mediaeval parish church of Saint Mary.

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The sky was Italian blue, birds were singing and three crows hovered around the church steeple. I was quite alone with Allegra to reflect on her short, beleaguered life.

Conceived during a night of ecstatic love-making near Lake Geneva such as Claire Clairmont would ever afterwards remind Lord Byron afterwards in her letters, the mother decided to give guardianship of the child, originally named Alba (‘dawn’, also ‘Albé was Claire’s nickname for her famous lover) to Byron, hoping that his Lordship would give the child the means not only to be raised properly but also, in later life, to enter into aristocratic circles and make a fine marriage.


(Claire Clairmont)

By this time, however, Byron had taken a distaste to ever seeing the buxom, temperamental brunette Claire ever again and took Allegra with him to Venice where he joined his Mistress of mistresses the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli.


(Another beautiful Contessa: Teresa Guiccioli)

Allegra was at first a somewhat unruly child but with precocious gifts for mimicry and a singing voice. She could, indeed, have become an actress. She also forgot her English and her first language now became the Venetian dialect – another language really and used to perfection by such great writers as Carlo Goldoni.


For Allegra’s education the capuchin convent of Bagnacavallo was chosen. The nuns’ regime calmed her down a little although she was never seriously punished for breaking the convent rules.

Meanwhile Claire was furious that her daughter was being brought up in a convent. She was told that Allegra was now constantly invoking her saints and the Virgin Mary. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a practising atheist, was also slightly concerned about this religious fervour. He visited Allegra twice and found her health declining.


(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Allegra, or ‘Allegrina’ as she was called by the convent nuns who doted on her, only saw her father twice and fleetingly at that and her mother nevermore.

In his poem ‘Julian and Maddalo, a conversation’, partly written at Bagni di Lucca, Shelley described Allegra thus:

A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made;
A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being;
Graceful without design, and unforeseeing;
With eyes – O speak not of her eyes! which seem
Twin mirrors of Italian heaven, yet gleam
With such deep meaning as we never see
But in the human countenance.

Meanwhile, Claire was becoming ever more worried about her daughter (who would not have recognised or bonded with her anyway). She devised a plan with Shelley to take Allegra away from what she regarded as the unhealthy country round Bagnacavallo to the fresh air and verdant hills of Bagni di Lucca. A letter was forged in the name of Byron to authorise Allegra to be taken away to Bagni di Lucca but, at the last moment, Shelley dropped out of the plan, perhaps realising that his and Mary Shelley’s own experience with bringing up children had been disastrous, with only one surviving into manhood out of four offspring.

Poor Allegra remained at Bagnacavallo. She reminded Shelley to tell her mother she wanted a kiss and a gold dress and would he please beg her “Papa and Mammina to visit her”.

Allegra even wrote, with a little help from the nuns, a note to her dad, Lord Byron: “My dear Papa. It being fair-time, I should like so much a visit from my Papa as I have many wishes to satisfy. Won’t you come to please your Allegrina who loves you so”?


The note remained unanswered.

So many things remain unanswered in our lives as I pondered the mystery of existence and death in Harrow Church’s graveyard.

In it there is also another recollection of Byron: the Peachy tomb upon which the poet would muse when a boy at the school (which now celebrates four hundred years since its foundation) and by which he wrote these lines, half of which are now inscribed on a stone by the moss-covered sepulchre.


Lines Written Beneath An Elm In The Churchyard Of Harrow On The Hill, Sept. 2, 1807

Spot of my youth! whose hoary branches sigh,
Swept by the breeze that fans thy cloudless sky;
Where now alone I muse, who oft have trod,
With those I loved, thy soft and verdant sod;
With those who, scattered far, perchance deplore,
Like me, the happy scenes they knew before:
Oh! as I trace again thy winding hill,
Mine eyes admire, my heart adores thee still,
Thou drooping Elm! beneath whose boughs I lay,
And frequent mused the twilight hours away;
Where, as they once were wont, my limbs recline,
But ah! without the thoughts which then were mine.
How do thy branches, moaning to the blast,
Invite the bosom to recall the past,
And seem to whisper, as the gently swell,
“Take, while thou canst, a lingering, last farewell!”

When fate shall chill, at length, this fevered breast,
And calm its cares and passions into rest,
Oft have I thought, ‘twould soothe my dying hour,—
If aught may soothe when life resigns her power,—
To know some humbler grave, some narrow cell,
Would hide my bosom where it loved to dwell.
With this fond dream, methinks, ’twere sweet to die—
And here it lingered, here my heart might lie;
Here might I sleep, where all my hopes arose,
Scene of my youth, and couch of my repose;
For ever stretched beneath this mantling shade,
Pressed by the turf where once my childhood played;
Wrapped by the soil that veils the spot I loved,
Mixed with the earth o’er which my footsteps moved;
Blest by the tongues that charmed my youthful ear,
Mourned by the few my soul acknowledged here;
Deplored by those in early days allied,
And unremembered by the world beside.

Ironically, this was the same spot where George Gordon Lord Byron lover, warrior, and supreme romantic poet had wished to be buried. (As he wrote “where I once hoped to have laid my own.”)

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(The wonderful view looking towards Windsor Castle  from Peachy’s Tomb, Harrow-on-the-Hill)

His wish, however, was refused by the sanctimonious vicar of the time, shocked at the ‘scandalous’ life the poet had led.

Allegra was born in Bath (The English Bagni)

She was brought up at Bagnacavallo (literally horse-wash – perhaps it was a stopping post for coaches and diligences where horses were cooled down) and where she died as this plaque on the convent wall confirms:


Allegra was almost abducted to Bagni di Lucca where Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley and George Gordon Byron had all stayed. I wonder whether she would have fared better here. I think so.

Overlooking the superb views of London from Battels Café (where one can get an excellent capuccino)  and near Allegra’s final resting place, quite alone under an aquamarine Mediterranean-like sky I meditated upon the utter strangeness of life just as I had done a week previously by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s monument at Viareggio:

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Unbound, you look across the seaside square,
beyond cool lime trees by the promenade,
towards the sea which took your every care
and washed your corpse on shore like broken shard.

From books inside your coat they knew you were
a poet. After, like an Indian sage,
they burnt you on gold sands just to deter
infection: regulations of the age.

Proscribed by man, by sea cast out as well,
your works don’t live in blaze of glorious light;
they seem but little read nor do they sell:
perhaps mankind now lacks ethereal sight.

The highest poets live beyond their time,
their verses are addressed to unborn souls;
the hour’s not right: our thoughts are not sublime,
that’s why your poetry rarely consoles.

Yet moments ripen and your name’s still known
as long as you gaze out across the square
towards the sea and the supreme unknown,
as long as there is sun and moon and air.


PS For reference here’s a genealogical tree for Byron, Shelley and Claire to sort out any confusion:


And here’s a selection of reading about Allegra starting from Iris Origo’s pioneering book written in 1935 and first published by Leonard and Virginia Wolf.


You’ll find plenty of books (and not just on Shelley) at Bagni di Lucca’s own ‘Shelley House.’ For more information see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/bagni-di-luccas-casa-shelley/


Where Turandot Grew Up

Once, Viareggio’s seafront consisted entirely of wooden chalets. However, a fire in 1917 destroyed most of them. The only one to survive to this day is the Chalet Martini which dates from 1899 and was designed by Modesto Orzali who was also the architect of some of the most spectacular villas on Lucca’s boulevard encircling that city’s walls.


The chalet has a series of arches, now filled in, which give the construction a light and airy feel. The interior is pure Art Nouveau with a wonderful horoscope ceiling painted by Tito Chini, cousin of the great Galileo Chini and a member of that creative family which has done so much to make Viareggio Italy’s coastal capital of Art Nouveau.


Entering the chalet I looked up at the ceiling and was entranced by this circular horoscope.

Here’s is my sign


And here is Sandra’s:


I then realised that February 8th is also the start of the Chinese New Year, now the year of the Monkey whose general characteristics are that it’s smart, quick-witted, and confident, but also irritable and stubborn.


We were born in the year of the Rat. Now if that sounds inauspicious it isn’t. The rat is the first astrological sign in the Chinese New Year and has, in fact many endearing qualities. It has spirit, wit, alertness, delicacy, flexibility and vitality. So we won’t mind if you call us rat-faces!


I then thought what predictions would occur would happen if my western astrological month sign were combined with the Chinese year astrological sign. What would this year be like for a Lion born in the year of the Rat? According to what I learnt a Leo-Rat is an inquisitive, creative and quick witted creature. The Leo Rat is usually charming and sociable but on occasion they can also be aloof and impatient if things are not going all their own way. They have a determined and optimistic outlook and so are effective motivators. they are happiest when they are in charge. These people can be quite domineering if they feel like they are losing control of a situation or excluded in any way. The Leo Rat does not like to take a back seat and hates to be ignored or rejected.

I’m sure a lot of people who know me wouldn’t disagree with much of that….

I wandered around a somewhat deserted Viareggio to try to see anything reminding me of China. Of course, at this time Viareggio has its carnival extending every week-end throughout February but this was Monday and the town looked pretty deserted.

Could I find some connection with China here? Of course I could! Not by seeing a couple of attractive Chinese girls. Not by guessing at oriental influences in Viareggio’s fabulous art nouveau buildings. Not through the connection of South East Asia with Viareggio’s greatest designers, Galileo Chini, invited by the King of Siam, enraptured by the artist’s work during the monarch’s visit to the Venice Biennale in 1910, to decorate his throne room in Bangkok. (Other great art nouveau Italian architects Tamagno and Ricotti designed several buildings for Bangkok like its railway station and public administration offices).

No, the supreme Chinese connection was a building I have described before in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/from-the-villa-by-the-lake-to-the-bungalow-by-the-sea/ and which conveniently lies between Via Marco Polo, the first Italian traveller to China, and the Piazza Puccini. It was the house Puccini had built by his architect friend Pilotti (who’d also designed his villa at Torre Del Lago) with decorations by Galileo Chini. (Chini, incidentally designed the scenery for Puccini’s last opera). With an almost Indochinese, indeed Laotian feel to it, the building provided the immortal maestro with a much needed escape from the noise that the newly-founded peat extraction factory near his beloved Torre Del Lago villa was now grinding out. (How could even the famous Puccini not have stopped this factory from being set up? What regard did the Italian government have for their greatest composer’s peace and quiet?).

Chinese-looking, indeed Indo-Chinese looking, is this highly attractive bungalow now thankfully saved from the disastrously dilapidated condition I last saw it in a few years ago. A victim of a typically interminable Italian law-suit the villa finally became the property of the Puccini foundation in 2012. The garden had been cleared of its brambles and I was at last able to read the plaque placed on one of its walls.


La comunità di Viareggio promette di costudire consacrati a GIACOMO PUCCINI
e casa e bosco che furono reggia e giardino alla splendente regina Turandot.

(The community of Viareggio promises to look after the house and the woods,consecrated to GIACOMO PUCCINI, which were the palace and garden of the resplendent queen Turandot).

Let’s hope they really carry out that promise this time!

The portico is lovely and reminded me of a sweet country place we’d stayed at Luang Prabang, Laos last December.

But the cherry on the icing was that it was in this very house that Puccini composed his masterpiece, Turandot, all about the tortured love of Calaf for the ice-cold Chinese princess, Turandot, who eventually melts into his arms when she discovers the secret word ‘Love’:

La casa e bosco che furono reggia e giardino alla splendente regina Turandot

If love makes the world truly go round then I was surely moved. Like his neighbours during the time Giacomo Puccini was composing his last opera, I imagined I could catch the music from this transcendently ecstatic work on his piano (now at the Villa Torre del Lago).


In my mind’s ear I heard the opera and those final words Turandot sings which I will not translate because only in Italian do they fully convey the emotional impact which always reduces me to pulp when I hear them:

Conosco il nome dello straniero!
Il suo nome è… Amor!

Amor! O sole! Vita! Eternità!
Luce del mondo e amore!
Ride e canta nel sole l’infinità nostra felicità!
Gloria a te! Gloria a te! Gloria!

Below is a video of my preferred ending of the opera. Let me explain. It’s possible that Puccini could not proceed further than the death of Liù and this was where the opera concluded when Toscanini conducted its first performance after the composer prematurely died in 1924 after an operation on his throat cancer,.

But the composer did sketch a happy ending where Turandot suddenly realises what she’s been missing by not falling into the arms of Prince Calaf. Puccini entrusted the conclusion and orchestration to his best pupil Alfano who worked wonders and produced a worthily spectacular finale. Unfortunately, this was rejected by Toscanini in favour of an abbreviated version which, in my opinion, is far inferior but which is the one we all seem to hear now.

This is how Turandot should really end with the the love-melted princess’s voice soaring high above that melody now so well-known but still overwhelming in its effect. I defy anyone to remain unmoved when they hear this!

So I did reach my Chinese New Year – or new life if you like, courtesy of Viareggio and Puccini…

PS If you want to read (and hear) more about how Turandot was created (and it was in our own Bagni di Lucca) do check out my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/turandots-carillon/

Meanwhile, Happy Year of the Monkey to you but don’t get up to any monkey business!

Love’s Philosophy

He left them in good spirits. When he’d first met them at Livorno they were at loggerheads with each other. The atmosphere was certainly not conducive to getting the new independent newspaper produced. But his solar self overcame all obstacles and they were truly sad to see him go. Sad too were some of the sailors who muttered as he boarded his specially-built sailing boat: ‘the weather’s too good, the sea’s too calm. This presages a storm. And he wants to get all the way to Lerici?’

Decked in in his sailor outfit he scoffed at the advice given. ‘Leave it for another day, believe us’, the sailors insisted. Enraptured with his new toy, a boat specially built in Genoa with an extra topgallant sail added to make the vessel skim even faster across the Spezia bay, he could not be prevented. Some old sea-dogs thought the boat too top-heavy. Surely it stood more of a chance of keeling over in a heavy breeze.


From his cottage the coastguard kept his eye-glass ready. The sun had suddenly been banished and dark louring clouds were quickly covering the sky. Now the wind stepped up and became forceful. The coastguard took up the eye-glass and spotted the ‘mad’ Englishman’s boat – it had been baptised ‘Don Juan’ after a friend he much admired and who had bade him farewell at Livorno.

The local fishermen and sailors knew their bay and its unpredictable weather. They began to turn back. One of them surprised at seeing the Englishman’s boat still sailing with full sheets northwards, approached him. ‘Please come with us, return to the shore.’ ‘No we won’t,’ was the imperious reply. ‘At least reef your sails,’ implored the sailor before heading back to the shore.

The mad Englishman was keen not only to test the speed of his yacht but was eager to return into the arms of his beloved wife who was in poor health after having suffered another miscarriage. He remembered saving her life with blocks of ice to stem the effusive bleeding. Surely he too would be preserved.

The coastguard saw a black cloud covering the lone boat on a sea boiling with high breakers. The cloud lifted and the boat was gone.


Ten days later some local boys discovered his body. The face was eaten by sea creatures but a volume of poems by another of his friends who had just died in Rome marked him out as a fellow poet. (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/writ-in-water/ to find out who this other poet was).

The authorities were notified. Following regulations that any body cast on shore could be infected with the plague they had a pit dug, cast the body in it and covered it with quicklime for forty days. That was quarantine (‘quaranta’ means forty in Italian, like ‘quaresima’ meaning the forty days of Lent – Italian is such a logical language).

His feverish wife knew now that her beloved husband would never return to embrace her on this earth.


After forty days the almost entirely consumed body was dug up and a fellow friend and traveller arranged to have an iron bier built in which the body was to be burnt. This was acceptable after the quarantine, although according to Roman Catholic religion at the time (and until quite recently) cremation was not permitted. The locals would, thereafter, describe that form of body disposal as ‘morte all’inglese’, ‘death English style.’

The almost classical style of the funeral pyre was immortalised by a highly evocative but highly inaccurate painting by Louis Édouard Fournier.


Inaccurate because Leigh Hunt couldn’t bear to see the cremation and stayed selfishly shut in his stage coach. Inaccurate because Byron couldn’t wait until the final consummation of what was left of the corpse. For him it was too much to bear. Inaccurate because Mary, as was the custom for women, was not present at the event. She would have been too emotionally distraught anyway. Inaccurate because Trelawney who did manage to stay until the end burnt his hand by taking the corpse’s liver and not his heart which had vanished for ever into the imagination. (Mary Shelley kept what was handed to her of her husband including some locks of hair. They are buried with her in the family tomb of Saint Peter’s church Bournemouth, England.)

Yesterday we met acolytes of a poet whose fame, too much darkened by over-effusive romanticism à la Maurois and misunderstanding criticism by Leavisites is now risen to its true greatness among those who appreciate the finer sensibilities of life in its material and spiritual fusion.

We met by the bust of one of the world’s greatest lyric and epic poets. My friend, who I’d first met in the Middle East when that country knew happier days I’d joined at Viareggio station. At Piazza Shelley we rendezvoused with that magical couple, Guido and Rebecca, who have opened Shelley House in Bagni di di Lucca, the fine bookshop and cultural meeting place I’ve described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/bagni-di-luccas-casa-shelley/


Shelley, was intoxicated by the beauties of Bagni di Lucca and the Prato Fiorito. Read my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/the-elysian-fields-of-prato-fiorito/ to see the flowers that particularly intoxicated him on that paradisiacal mountain.

It is thanks to Rebecca and Luca that Piazza Shelley has been rescued from absolute degradation. It’s no longer a place where winos would meet to seek solace from the bottle. Now if these sad people come may they seek greater solace from the verses of the poet himself. And they don’t need far to go. The piazza has been beautiful laid out with irregular patches of lawn and gravel paths and at each corner stands a litter bin. Not any usual litter bin just for the likes of beer bottles, crisp packets and fag ends, for each bin carries an inscription from one of Shelley’s poems describing one of our seasons.


The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats though unseen among us; visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes


Meanwhile the sun paused ere it should alight,
Over the horizon of the mountains. Oh,
How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
Of Heaven descends upon a land like thee,
Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!


Grief made the young Spring wild, and she threw down
Her kindling buds, as if she Autumn were,

This was another brilliant idea by Rebecca and Luca. A further excellent idea was to commemorate the man who saved the bust of Shelley from being melted down like so many railings (the present railings for example, are new) to aid Mussolini’s war effort. Paolini hid the bust in a cellar in his house for the duration.


Shelley’s monument is indeed only the second one to have been erected. Designed by Urbano Lucchesi it dates from 1894. The first one is ironically at University College Oxford (where Shelley was sent down as a student for having written a pamphlet advocating Atheism).


We were both interested in finding the exact spot where Shelley’s remains were purported to have been cremated in oriental style. Luca had worked out the exact spot by consulting old maps and accounts and working out by elaborate trigonometric calculations where Shelley finally turned to dust and ashes. Luca had to explain to us that it was not on the beach where we had had that supernal vision of louring skies and white horses of waves so reminiscent of the poet’s last minutes.

No, the sea had receded a lot since 1822 and the beach had been built up through currents bringing down eroded rocks from north of the bay.

No lonely beach awaited us. No secluded cove. No isolated dune. Instead, a parking bay in front of a clothes shop marked the spot.


Were we disappointed? Yes and No. A little dog came along and stopped at the very spot, which reminded David of an experience he’d had at an ancient amphitheatre where Alexander the Great had been assasinated just as he was exiting. They were trying to find out the exact spot where he’d died when a dog appeared from nowhere, trotted to a certain part of the amphitheatre and began to circle frenetically round and round for some time. Another story she told us was that if we would ever go to Rome and visit the English cemetery where Shelley and Keats are both buried there’s a cat who at the cemetery’s entrance, if you but follow it, will lead you to their tombs.

I feel ever more convinced, ever since I first heard the story of Greyfriars Bobby that animals retain a primordial residual memory of the past which we have lost forever, like Wordsworth’s own initiations of immortality.

LOVE’S PHILOSOPHY (after Shelley)

The fountains mingle with the river
and the rivers with the Ocean.
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
with a sweet emotion.

This picture shows a paradise world
inviting us to enter in
and revel in pleasures still unfurled,
wed gazers to their twin.

A consort of soft recorders sound
one chord of gentle harmony,
echoing joyfully round and round
like nature’s symphony.

My words to you join lines to life
and kiss ripe cherry lips;
soft caressing ends all fruitless strife
and hastens doubt’s eclipse.

Your skin touches mine and sets alight
my passion for your loveliness;
joined together in mutual delight
hearts and minds coalesce.


It was that little dog that turned something so near to an anti-climax into something magical and thoughtful.


Thanks Luca and Rebecca for being with us that morning in Viareggio!

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange…..

(From Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’)

Two Carnivals at Bagni di Lucca and More

It’s Carnival time again in Italy!

It’s the time to have a last fling of fun and games before traditionally plunging oneself into Lenten fasts, sack-cloth and penitence.

Bagni di Lucca this year has two carnivals.

There’s a first for the Bagni di Lucca Villa Carnival. It’s called Carnevalvilla. Together with the parish of San Pietro in Corsena, the Red Cross and the local tourist association all streets will be pedestrianised on Saturday, February 6th, and a fantasy world created to appeal to children of all ages. We are promised Umpa Lumpa with sweet distribution, Mago (Wizard) Cilindro, face painting with Sissi, and Masha and her bear plus, of course, the usual stalls selling handicrafts, fripperies, toys etc.
02022016 021Then there’s the very successful carnival at Fornoli on 14th February which has now run for some years:


Of course, if you’re more ambitious there’s the fabulous Viareggio carnival which runs every week-end with its imaginative floats poking sophisticated fun at Italian politics and everything else in Italy which doesn’t exactly work to plan.


The Venice carnival, which began at the end of last month, is yet another incredible option but be warned: it can get very overcrowded and booking is essential. What is also essential there this year is the inspection of what’s under the mask you’re wearing. Security is tight in the light of recent tragic events in France and elsewhere.


There will be carnivals throughout Italy. Depending where you are check out the list at:


Carnivals from time immemorial have served a double purpose:

First: that of having a good time before the Lent (quaresima) season of atonement where one is supposed to give up something. Two years ago I gave up smoking (it was only a few roll-ups anyway) and now actually try avoiding the fumes of that weed wherever its noxious vapours hit my nose. (Incidentally, new anti-smoking draconian measures have been instituted in Italy today. Just chucking a dog-end in the street could land one with a serious fine or even in the dog-house). Last year I also started my wine-free days in the week (but have forgotten which days they are now). This year I will be giving up bottled water in restaurants since it clearly adds to food-mileage and plastic pollution. (Anyway, there’s no need for bottled water in my part of the world where the local stream can supply the best drinking water possible. It’s the restaurants which are the real culprits and now they are realising that more and more customers are quite happy with tap water).

The second purpose of carnival is flirting at masked balls. Images of Casanova and Don Giovanni creep into one’s consciousness. Anyway, Carnevale comes suitably close to the traditional Easter wedding season so I’m sure that there will be plenty of romance flying in the air especially as February 14 is happening right in the middle of the festivities!


PS To order your own personal carnevale costume there’s this shop in Fornoli you might like to try. It’s next to the vet there:

A Sea Change

An evening of considerable emotional impact with the wonderful Viareggina actress and writer Rebecca Palagi and presenter Luca Guidi was held yesterday in Bagni Di Lucca’s Sala Rosa in the Circolo dei Forestieri

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It was part of the “Viareggio, città del cuore di Shelley” festival, which has been running since 2010.


Shelley drowned in a storm off the Viareggio coast on his way back home at Villa Magni, San Terenzo, from Livorno in 1822. Due to sanitary regulations for cadavers washed from the sea his body had to be cremated, a process then regarded as virtually diabolical in Catholic Italy, and Trelawney, present at the event, famously ripped out the poet’s heart still intact in the flames, placed it in a casket and gave it to the widowed Mary.

Indeed, until quite recently Viareggians would refer to cremation as “morire come quell’inglese”.

After an introduction by Guidi, Palagi read La Tempesta è Oltre, (alluding, of course, to those lines in Shakespeare’s TempestNothing of him that doth fade / but doth suffer a sea change / into something rich and strange”, and much else besides especially the hymn to Intellectual Beauty) her poetic monologue inspired by Shelley’s own Adonais written as an elegy on hearing the death of his admired John Keats who he first met in 1816 and who had just died in Rome after a failed attempt to cure his TB in a warmer climes.

In Palagi’s recreation Adonais became Shelley himself mourned by Mary. The mourning becomes an apotheosis in which Shelley is reborn into eternal life. Indeed, his spirit is all about us whether we walk up to the summit of the Prato Fiorito, which inspired several lines in the poet’s Epipsychidion, to San Pellegrino where Shelley conceived The Witch of Atlas. The two presenters paid tribute to Bagni di Lucca as a place where not only did they feel at home but also where Shelley recharged his batteries in a rare moment of peace before embarking on the great poems of his last period.

The Italian programme on this great poet in some respects reflects Italians’ attitude on Byron who, too, seem to obtain a greater resonance on the continent than in his country of birth. The Shelley celebration programme is consultable at http://www.cuoredishelley.altervista.org/joomla/ and has many interesting events including art exhibitions, conferences and readings. There’s also a poetry competition which one can enter.

Shelley continues to be too often sadly misunderstood by his own countrymen despite the mythical book by Holmes. Leavis and his acolytes certainly did him a disservice whose unwarranted stain still persists.

I’m so glad the Shelley festival has happily extended to Bagni Di Lucca for it was in the villa Chiappa where the young couple first stayed in Italy and found the strength to move on creatively after so much sadness that had befallen them.

Anyone missing the evening yesterday and Rebecca Palagi’s recitation missed, in my opinion a great deal.


I have written many posts on Shelley, some of which are at:
























Runaway Beach – Italian Style

I always find the drive back from Marina di Vecchiano (in the San Rossore natural park and a few hundred yards from the mouth of the Serchio) after a nice dip in what has to be the most “natural” beach for miles around quite delightful. The road stretches across pastures and fields of sunflowers towards the Apuan Mountains. (Actually, of course, it was Sandra who had the dip as my arm is still plastered….).

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Sometimes one comes across a shepherd and his flock.

Slightly unusually on this occasion we did not encounter another variety of life – the “extracommunitaria” sex-workers on the road-side on the look-out for prospective clients who appear among the sunflowers like an exotic species.

The climb up to the Roman town of Massaciuccoli with its terme and its mosaics and the descend into Balbano is spectacular and then there is Nozzano Castello to follow where the best mediaeval festa in the area takes place around September..

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Of course, this route could be shortened by taking the Pisa autostrada but who really wants to do this when the local roads are so delightful.

We missed our German bier garden at Vecchiano – so many good places have come and gone in the past years for it’s difficult to keep an eatery going when the season here lasts only a few months. However, before we came here we visited the port area of Viareggio where we had a great fish dinner at a restaurant evidently inhabited by sea dogs – so heavily tattooed they seemed to be – and visited a shop catering for mermaids.

The Migliarino beach was filled with driftwood which formed strange abstract and not so abstract sculptures. I think I must have seen at least one “crocodile” among them.

Avoid the seaside week-end like the plague, go later on in the afternoon, and enjoy the sunset, and that proposed flight to the Maldives seems almost unnecessary.

The Ultimate Garden Centre?

The word “gardening centre” arouses mixed emotions among some people, especially men. Thoughts turn from wallets to spadework, measurements and suitability. In our part of the world most gardening centres are on quite a small scale so when we were heading to Viareggio and the seaside the other day and had just passed Massarosa we felt we were truly seeing things on our left.

What first grabbed our attention were the fiberglass moulded tanks suitable for garden ponds which we’d had incredible difficulty in finding in this area. In our case we thought of our mute ducks and their boring plastic bath tub. We met the owner’s son, negotiated a deal and tomorrow we shall have the ground ready for the receipt of this fixture which should not only make the ducks happier but also enhance our garden when it’s properly planted around with duck-resistant plants.

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We’d actually come across the name “Ivano–gardening” before and realised it was them who arranged exhibits for the province of Lucca’s major gardening events such as Borgo a Mozzano’s Azalea festival and Murabilia. We’d now come across Ivano’s one and only superstore in Tuscany for the first time.

Although we didn’t buy anything else from Ivano on that day there was plenty to see and excite us on show, especially in terms of garden furniture, gazebos, sheds and miscellaneous fittings. The selection was really on a vast scale.

Ivano gardening has been in operation for twenty years, and has many foreign customers who not only fall for the “made in Italy” items but also for plenty of novel designs from south-east Asia and even the USA.

The exhibits we saw evidently only represented a small part of the company’s warehouse which apparently covers an area of ​​over 30,000 square meters. There is seemingly everything one could wish for to make one’s garden an even more beautiful and comfortable place from the latest barbeque designs to the best in garden gnomes:

Fortunately, too, there are many catalogues one can look at apart from consulting the company’s web site, in both Italian and English, at


I will say the staff was very friendly and helpful. Realising that we could not transport our new duck pond in our tiny old fiat 500 they liaised with another delivery in our area and are forwarding the item to us without any additional transport cost.

Undoubtedly we will return to Ivano as it is conveniently near our route to our favourite seaside locations. What will it be the next time that we shall buy, I wonder. Probably not a garden gnome….

Details of location etc are:

Ivano Gardening Massarosa

Via Sarzanese 12
Piano del Quercione 55054 Massarosa – Lucca
Telefono: +39 0584 93029