TUTTI I BRITANNICI HANNO PERSO IL REFERENDUM

Bagni di Lucca si è divisa. Non tra Villa e Ponte. Nemmeno fra italiani e inglesi. Neppure fra gli italiani con le loro varie posizioni politiche ma, invece fra gli inglesi stessi. Un popolo che si vanta di avere formato la madre dei parlamenti, d’aver inventato la tradizione democratica si è diviso a causa di un referendum che doveva essere un trucco meschino dal Cameron per farsi rivotare Primo Ministro ma che è finito come una pallottola nel proprio piede con sangue dappertutto. Per esempio, una parlamentare, la laborista Jo Cox, età quarantuno anni e devota al rimanere nell’unione europea è stata uccisa grazie direttamente all’infame referendum.

In più, il Brexit ha rivelato una profonda divisione tra i giovani e i vecchi, tra quelli che abitano in città e quelli in borghi provinciali e principalmente quelli che hanno avuto un’istruzione di un certo livello. Il Brexit ha svelato divisioni psicologiche che hanno profondamente disgiunto intere famiglie, amicizie e associazioni. Insomma, ha creato quello che si dice in inglese ‘a big mess’, un gran casino.

Come Voltaire, direi ‘Non credo un fico secco a quello che pensi tu, ma sacrificherei la mia vita per difendere il tuo diritto di dirlo.’ In questo caso, però, se il parere è supportato dall’ignoranza, infuso dalla propaganda di ricchi estremisti, basato sulla credulità del popolo che leggono i giornali come il ’Daily Mail’ e sui dinosaurici tradizionali, ma mai ancora estinti, valori xenofobi della ‘Great’ Britain, dalle bugie davvero insopportabili create da buffoni come ministro degli esteri Johnson, che ora si sono somministrati alla medicina di sbronzarsi in maniera nordica con pinte di birra tiepida inglese per dimenticare la loro ‘maxima culpa’, mi opporrei fortemente a quel pensiero illuministico.

Il Brexit ha sprofondato la Gran Bretagna in un caos che anche quelli che hanno votato per ’lasciare’ cominciano ora finalmente (ma troppo tardi?) a rendersi conto. Per esempio, tutto l‘apparato legislativo dovrà essere duplicato in Gran Bretagna con regole riscritte dagli standard di medicinali, alle norme di sicurezza, perfino sulle regole dei voli aerei e certamente sui moduli d’entrata al paese. Già è proposta una tassa per i britannici che vorrebbero accedere nell’unione europea, forse per pagare l’immenso costo amministrativo di questo disastro.

Già c’è lavoro per chi vuol diventare un burocratico o un civile servante’ (cioè impiegato dello stato). Ci saranno più di quindici mila posti per creare un nuovo ministro del Brexit. Ora, cari inglesi di Bagni d Lucca che vi lamentate per la mancanza di turisti quest’anno, che fingete l’ignoranza alle regole d’entrate, e che avete anche votato per lasciare l’Europa, partite dall’Italia sul serio: forse troverete un bel lavorino nel ministro del Brexit per almeno i prossimi dieci anni.

Trovo inconcepibile come un inglese che è residente del comune di Bagni di Lucca (oppure qualsiasi altro comune d’Italia) abbia potuto votare di lasciare una comunità che nel 1975 il proprio paese votò per entrare (dopo così tanti ‘non’ da quel De Gaulle). Ricordiamo poi che quel referendum del ’75 non era un imprimatur legislativo – era solo un’indagine nel parere degli inglesi. Perché sono cambiate le regole per un referendum ora? Infatti, nella corte suprema (cassazione si direbbe in Italia) c’è in corso un processo proprio per questo fatto: come non si potrebbe votare in parlamento per tale terremoto politico?

Ricordiamo quell’epoca grigia degli anni 1970 (se uno ha l’età). La Gran Bretagna moriva nella ruggine di vecchie industrie sorpassate, mancava contatti europei, gli spaghetti crescevano sugli alberi, il paese era privo di energia, si vestivano peggio degli stalinisti. Un tipico titolo nei giornali di quei tempi era ‘Nebbia sulla manica – il continente (d’Europa) separato dalla Gran Bretagna. Poi I britannici hanno scoperto le vacanze in Spagna…….e tutto è cambiato.

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Ricordiamo che la Gran Bretagna si chiama anche ‘Regno Unito’. Ci sono quattro paesi: l’Inghilterra, la Scozia, Il Galles e l’Irlanda del Nord che formano l’unione. Rammentiamo anche che in epoche più antiche l’Inghilterra era più disunita dell’Italia nei primi dell’ottocento. Esistevano regni diversi, di Mercia, di Wessex, di Anglia, per esempio.

Il referendum Brexit non ha solo diviso gli inglesi di Bagni di Lucca ma ha anche diviso il Regno Unito, metà delle nazioni della quale isola ha votato per rimanere in Europa.

Che casino!

E se un Italiano mi dice ‘Ma la Gran Bretagna ha fatto bene a dare un calcio all’unione Europea’ direi ‘allora fate lo stesso e vedrete cosa succederà ai vostri sussidi, al vostro già tenue mercato di lavoro, alla vostra lotta contro la corruzione, alle vostre regole, ai vostri scambi professionali, alle vostre ditte, ai vostri accordi d’istruzione, ai vostri fondi di ricerca europea.

Finiamo con una nota positiva. I direttori delle più stimate istituzioni inglesi, il Royal Opera House al National Gallery sono Italiani. Il direttore d’orchestra della grande City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (il vecchio direttore del quale è ora direttore della Berlin Philharmonie) è una Lituania di anni venti nove. Non si potevano trovare inglesi di sufficiente merito per queste posizioni e tutti sanno, specialmente i tanti Italiani che lavorano in Gran Bretagna che in quel paese la lettera di raccomandazione o la bustarella va ficcata nel cestino delle immondizie. Italia impara…….

Ah già. Mi sono quasi dimenticato. Anche l’Italia avrà un referendum tra poco.

Qui parla ‘Radio Londra’ o, almeno un inglese, residente di Bagni di Lucca da oltre undici anni.

Infine dico TUTTI I BRITANNICI HANNO PERSO IL REFERENDUM……

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200 Years after Waterloo, Napoleon Return

Professor Peter Hicks’s talk Who really lost at Waterloo? Great Britain between the bells of victory and the event of Peterloo, the second of three events commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of Waterloo, was delivered last month in virtually impeccable Italian, flavoured with wit and enthusiasm. Prof. Hicks captured his audience completely in the beautiful ex-Clarissan nuns’ cloister in San Micheletto convent, now a restored cultural centre near Lucca’s Porta Elisa.

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We were invited to dynamic press agent Anna Benedetto’s office, for an interview with Prof. Hicks before his public presentation. The Bonesprit project has covered everything from the Emperor’s battle strategies, to his horses, to the period’s fashions, to sister Elisa’s time as Lucca’s princess, to his personal traits. It’s a wonderfully abundant project which next year celebrates its tenth anniversary. Roberta Martinelli must be wholeheartedly applauded for this venture, her brainchild.

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Peter Hicks is a virtuoso polymath with interests going from music (he’s organist, choir master, conductor and musicologist, re-discovering scores from the Napoleonic era), to his classics education at University College London, to his St John’s Cambridge PhD on Renaissance Greek poems, to his translations of Serlio and Palladio’s architecture, to his fortuitous introduction to Napoleon’s fascinating world via the Fondation Napoléon in 1997 of which, since 2006, he is now an honorary fellow.

This is just touching the surface of Prof. Hicks’s immense energy. He has curated exhibitions, some in Lucca’s ducal palace, is advisor to the new Marengo museum at Alessandria, Italy, translated and edited Napoleon’s only novel, organised events involving virtual reality, in short, is truly what is termed a “renaissance man”, so rare in this age’s pigeon-holed world. Living in Paris, Hicks is also a family man with three talented offspring.  Indeed, my first question to him was how he managed to fit all these activities together. Professor Hicks’s reply was that careful organisation and separation of his different interests enabled him to do it.

I was particularly interested in three aspects regarding Napoleon. First, was that, like the Bourbons, Bonaparte was intent on establishing a dynasty and, in this respect, was very much a child of the eighteenth century. He was not a dictator in the modern sense of being supported by military force but was an absolutist reinforced by the charisma he emanated and the fraternal love from his nation. Indeed, Napoleon was a difficult person to work with: obsessive and a true workaholic with irregular hours. One of the things which wouldn’t have gone down well with many Italians was the shortness of his lunch hour: fifteen minutes to scoff down food which here would have taken a good hour and a half to fully savour!

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Second, although freemasonry was clearly a leading element in the French revolution and was upheld by many of his closest collaborators, Napoleon was never a freemason himself. Freemasonry has been best described as a society with secrets rather than a secret society. Its ideals of brotherhood and equality were essential elements in creating the revolution. Napoleon, however, inclined more towards Rousseau’s philosophy and, especially his 1762 “Social Contract”.

Third, Napoleon’s downfall was largely due to the removal of checks and balances which caused him to make disastrous decisions which marred the latter part of his political career. This, ironically, is not what the emperor wished. As an absolutist he coveted, like any other cultured eighteenth-century gentleman (indeed, like George Washington wanted for America) a stable, peace-abiding, fully employed Europe with firm promises, realisable ambitions and rational fidelity.

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That’s why for so many people, not just on the continent (and especially in Italy) but in the UK itself, the battle of Waterloo was a disastrous victory (if such an oxymoron may be used) for it created more instability and insecurity in the succeeding years than would ever have been imagined in 1815. In Great Britain’s liberal quarters there was a general feeling of dejection. Lord Grey feared ‘the utter extinction of liberty’ and Hazlitt fell into a deep depression.

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The end of years of warring with the French also meant a drastic decrease in production with unemployment often leading to famine.  There was also the feeling that those who fought had not been adequately rewarded. Indeed, to this day there is no official memorial to Waterloo, (although there remains an uncompleted folly in Edinburgh).

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Discontent from large sections of the British public with their living conditions and restrictions on basic rights of liberty eventually led to a second ‘loo’ – the Peterloo massacre of 1819 in Manchester where around fifteen protesters were killed. Ironically, there were Waterloo veterans among both the oppressed and the oppressors! Shelley replied from Italy with his powerful The Mask of Anarchy, a pre-Gandhian plea for non-violent resistance:  “Shake your chains to earth like dew.

Certainly, 1848, the ‘year of revolution’ may not have occurred. But then a ‘what-if’ history is bound to be an unserviceable hypothesis. We must in today’s Europe build upon positive aspects of our past, remember and analyse them. In this respect, Prof. Hicks is a shining light for all those interested in deepening their knowledge of L’empereur. His future projects include further research into those surrounding Napoleon in his last desolate years on Saint Helena, and thorough research into the “poisoned wallpaper theory”.  He is also involved in the restoration of Longwood house in that bleak place whose furniture is now being restored and will be exhibited at the Emperor’s mausoleum in Paris, Les Invalides. May La Gloire continue!

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War and Peace?

So yesterday, two hundred years ago, the battle was lost and won. I’ve only known one person who’s visited Saint Helena and described to me the remoteness and bleakness of the place. Better, however, than the end prescribed by Prussian Blucher: put him against the wall and shoot him without trial…..

There’s a poignant portrait of the dejected emperor getting ready to leave for the island and thinking about a continent he kept in suspense, war, anticipation and, ultimately, in relief, in, of all places, Welshpool town hall, which we know well, having been residents of the area for many years.

(c) Welshpool Town Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

What a terrible difference from that heroic stance just a few years previously as he crossed the Alps to create a new Italy?

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Still remaining in Wales there’s a room above the chemists at Llanfyllin with thirteen picturesque landscapes frescoes painted by Napoleonic POWs billeted in the town from 1812 to 1814.

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One of these officers, Lt Pierre Augeraud, fell in love with Mary Williams, the rector’s daughter. Her father disapproved of the engagement and had him sent back to France. In 1813 the rector died and, after Waterloo, Augeraud returned to Llanfyllin to marry his Welsh love. Love and war, war and peace!

Which reminds me of the opening passage of the great Tolstoy novel on the subject of Russia’s relationship with “Boney” and a lot more:

“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes”.

What would have been the effect on Lucca of what Wellington termed a “”close run thing”, if the iron duke had lost the battle of Waterloo?

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First of all, there would have been the completion of the porticoed via Elisa, whose gate has been so beautifully restored recently, straight into Lucca’ largest piazza still known as piazza Napoleonic or also piazza Grande.

Second, there would have been further processional avenues “regularizing”” Lucca’s old town and turning it into a more easily accessible place with a distinct neo-classical feel about it.

Already two churches and several houses had been demolished by order of Elisa, Napoleon’s sister, to create the piazza Napoleone, where pop icons will again perform this year during Lucca’s summer festival. Have you booked your ticket for Elton John, Bob Dylan or even Robbie Williams yet?

Certainly we wouldn’t see the face of bourbon family successor to Elisa, Marialuisa on the statue in Lucca’s biggest square which was originally destined for Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi!

For Lucca was the jewel in the crown of Napoleon’s gifts of princedoms and grand-duchies to the members of his extended family and he wanted to give his favourite sister the best of them all, Lucca.

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What did Wellington’ victory on the field of Waterloo mean anyway? The end of twenty years warring in Europe? The final defeat of France as the supreme European power? A future of forty years relative peace to Europe?

Maybe.

But it also means the restoration of repressive regimes, Castlereagh’s blindness to much needed electoral reform, Shelley’s flight to escape impossible political conditions in his home country to Italy and, first of all, to our Bagni Di Lucca, the delay of emergent nationalistic tendencies in countries like Italy and the collapse of a coordinated Europe. Indeed, just one year less than a century later the German forces, essential for Wellington’s victory, Blucher’s, were fighting against Britain, now allied with the same French nation they had defeated in 1815! (Although Wellington did say “my fight’s not with the French but with Napoleon”.)

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Constitution, or Wellington arch, near the duke’ residence, Apsley House, in London had an intriguing exhibition on the battle which changed the face of Europe for the next hundred years when we visited it last week. It’s well worth seeing.

Climbing to the top of the arch balconies give magnificent views over London’s parkland and beyond. Crowning the arch is the world’s greatest bronze sculpture by Adrian Jones, Nike the winged goddess of victory descending upon the chariot of war. It’s a truly wondrous piece of casting, pure and in itself is a victory over France whose own Arc de Triomph has nothing to crown its empty top.

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Ironically, however, Jones’ statue was only placed at the top of the arch in 1912, just two years before the start of a mass slaughter which made Waterloo seem just a trickle of blood.

For us Constitution arch is also our most romantic spot in London. After our registrar wedding in Caxton hall my newly appointed father-in-law took our first wedding photos against the backcloth of London’s most wondrous triumphal arch.

Will the French ever let us forget Waterloo? Happily, daguerreotypes from the later part of the nineteenth century show old soldiers from opposing sides fraternizing with each other. There is hope.

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And we too have continued to join our love together like that arch. And our cat Napoleone surely agrees with us purrfectly!

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Places of Memory

In London there are many “houses of memory”, as the Italians like to call them. It’s possible to visit buildings where such shining constellations of humankind as Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud, John Keats, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, Handel and many others lived, loved and created.

Some of these houses belong to that great conservation society, the National Trust. Others are private trusts and some are in the care of the local councils. They are all worth visiting, whether one agrees with the ideas of the person who lived there or not, since they give an excellent idea of London life at particular moments of history.

On my last visit to London I visited several of these places.

The address “No.1 London” was all that was required for posts to be directed to the Duke of Wellington’s residence at Apsley house. As an acolyte of Napoleon I was not too keen in admitting myself to the “Iron Duke’s” house, especially as he took a very reactionary line against liberal movements.

The subway approaches to No.1 gave us the flavour of what was coming.

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Happily, the house contains wonders independent of the Duke’s ideas. Its collection of paintings is simply superb and displayed in magnificently decorated rooms.

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Furthermore, on that occasion, there was an interesting demonstration of Regency army fire power and battle tactics together with tales from the front by a re-enacting detachment of the British army of the time and “camp-women”.

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Considering that such re-enactment societies flourish in France and most countries affected by “Boney’s” empire aims, (including the province of Lucca), it will be an amazing concentration of latter-day soldiers who will congregate on the field of Waterloo next year to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of a battle which, in Arthur Wellesley’s own words, was  “a damn close-run thing.”

I’ve mentioned another place, Lord Leighton’s, (the distinguished Victorian society painter), house near Holland Park in my post at http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/pearl-of-the-east/. This purpose-built residence-cum-studio has been recently restored and opened to the public. I remember it fondly as the venue for several concerts I attended before my exile, including those given by the now sadly-defunct Società Dante Alighieri, (especially Gilbert Rowland’s dextrous Scarlatti recital and, most memorably, the evocation of life at the house in the company of such eccentric luminaries as Sir Richard Burton – played by friend and actor David Reid)

What a re-evocation of the social life and times of fin-de-siècle Leighton House – that occult corner of oriental domesticity at Holland Park London – in a never-to.be forgotten tableau vivant where whole canvases were evoked by half-naked houries and narghiles breathing opium in mosaicked and fountain-trickled halls!

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I evoked that evening at Leighton House in Burton’s company with the following words:

 

A sultan’s couch in Kensington

awakens cold desire

and tiles around the marble pool

reflect deep blue-eyed fire.

 

Above lace balconies withdraw

behind dusk’s harem veil

while dreams float on an unknown sea

as argosies set sail.

 

The evening party now retires

and ancient tales are told

of dusky djinns and desert towns

and she who’ll not grow old

 

Dim stairs escape to music’s room

where arcane songs are heard

from her whose melting voice is like

a paradise-born bird.

 

The night perfumes a garden’s hair

and soaks fruit lips with wine;

beyond cooled earth new worlds release

galactic starlights’ shine.

 

Her body, like a gold sheet’s draped

upon a coralled bed;

her skin with sunset marble’s tinged

and whispers the unsaid.

 

Then past the leaves high casements seek

an argent summer moon

as paintbrush strokes upon the cloth

a soft and flaming June

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 What a pity that this tenderly passionate canvas was sold for a plate of potage when such artists were considered out-of-fashion. What would it cost to buy it back from the Puerto-Rican government today!

The third place of memory was probably the most poignant one I have ever visited. In the company of my wife, we explored the hidden hilltop alleys of Hampstead to reach the church of Saint St Mary’s, the first Roman Catholic church to be built there after the English Reformation . Founded by the Abbé Jean-Jacques Morel, a refugee from the French Revolution, the church was completed in 1816.

The appearance of this building in the centre of a characteristic Georgian terrace is delightfully surprising, crowned with its bell-cote built in 1852 when an act of parliament first allowed Catholic churches to ring their bells. The church was closed, but fortunately a lad we met outside turned out to be the verger and kindly opened the door for us which led into a simple but noble interior decorated in the apse by fin-de-siècle mosaics and a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin.

But what was the memory evoked by this place? Why would we have wanted to visit this church? The clue is given in the following photograph.

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It is the place where my wife was baptised in that coldest of winters in the year which would later bring the Olympic games for a second time to the UK. It was the first time she’d been there since that auspicious day.

Near Saint Mary’s we encountered another place of memory which we’d never suspected existed: the old Hampstead cemetery, one of the very few in London to remain in its original state of delicious decay. Among the notables who have found their last resting place here are the great labour politician, Hugh Gaitskell, the brilliant artist and writer, Gerald du Maurier, (whose grand-daughter was “Rebecca” author Daphne) and, best of all, John Constable, whose paintings are the quintessence of the English landscape.

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What better way to say goodbye to London than visiting this place?