Summer Madness?

The beginning of the brexit talks farce is now in full swing. If it wasn’t so real and hurtful I’d class it as an amusing sequel to the television ‘Yes Minister’ series.

Thank you so much Mrs Theresa Mary May for allowing my 96-year old mother-in-law to remain in the UK. Thank you so much for allowing me to enjoy a decent pizza ‘al forno’ and a proper cup of cappuccino in London. A thousand thanks for allowing us to enjoy strawberries and cream at an English summer fete (appreciations to my ex-students from Eastern Europe working in the Fenland fruit farms). Thank you again Mrs May for allowing us to enjoy’ stupendi’ Italian singers at the ROH,

(La Cecilia)

and for still being allowed to have our medical mishaps attended to in what you’ve been unable to get rid of in the NHS. Thanks awfully for allowing me to go mad without being taxed upon this calamity (some people might say I’ve gone that way already – no thanks to you, however.).

(Straight-jacket from ex-mental asylum of Maggiano near Lucca. PS not available on Amazon)

And yet? Sorry is not enough Mrs May. And it’s not me that’s saying it. It’s the union which saved your country and the country I was born in from plunging into the utter miseries of unproductivity and depression it was faced in the 1970’s before hero Heath saved us and signed the marriage vows.

One positive point – I’m only receiving sympathy from my Italian friends around here and not any dreaded anti-brit backlash. ‘You’ve now got a government ‘all’Italiana’ worse than ours!’ one local said to me this morning. What next? Reduced museum prices for children, pensioners, members of the coop and those brits who voted to remain?

Let those who voted to leave the EU leave Italy and return to support their ever-inflating, price-hiking, increasingly tragi-comic-opera country….and leave la bell ‘Italia to those who love Italy and Europe and speak enough of the local lingo to be able to say more than just how to order un caffé’ ‘Americano’.

O dear! Is it the heat, which now, in Florence, is three degrees higher than in Madras (sorry, Chennai!), getting to me? Let those poor English boys wear their sister’s skirts in the torrid English weather. I’m sure their Scottish counterparts may all be in kilts by now…

(Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave – Courtesy ‘Grauniad’.)

I think I need to take a cooling walk in the nearby woods with the few living beings that have any sense left in this totally mixed-up continent.



Four Blogging Years Later

Four years ago on this day I began blogging. I had previously contributed some photographs to my Facebook page but had not started serious blogging.  Thanks to Debra Kolkka (see her blogs at  and I started this harmless hobby. Now 1502 posts later am I still enamoured of the activity?

Blogging may not only be of interest to others for it holds a fascination to oneself when reading accounts of what one was up to in the past. Even four years begins to feel like quite a long time. This is what I wrote in on March 7th 2013, interspersed with my comments today in italics

A morning’s work in Lucca

Posted on March 7, 2013

Today, 6th March, I went to Lucca where I read Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” to my second media class at the scuola Da Vinci (where I have been a “lettore di madrelingua inglese” for several years). I had simplified the text to suit the class’s level of English. An enjoyable morning was spent and I could see the children thoroughly interested in this timeless story.

The contract for the school has now finished. It was an enjoyable and enlightening experience and a fitting conclusion to my school teaching in Italy. Coincidentally, yesterday a friend, whose excellent guidebook to Barga I’d added some suggestions to, stated that one of the guests at the property she lets to visitors turned out to be Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland!

Not so enjoyable was getting to Lucca: first a scooter ride to Fornoli station (30 minutes) in icy rain and then a train journey down the Serchio valley to Lucca. Still rain, rain, rain. Fortunately the school is nearby (San Concordio).

I would add that the weather hasn’t changed. A dramatic thunderstorm with hail assailed us last night and caused an electricity outage.  I’m glad I’m not going anywhere fast this morning although the weather has quietened down somewhat.

After the lessons I met Maestro Francesco Cipriano, the editor of Lucca Musica, the free monthly magazine which gives all the news about what’s happening in the music scene around Lucca, who presented me with his delightful “Le Novelle di Tommaso” – a musical based on stories he told to his grandson. The first one is titled “La volpe e il pulcino” (the fox and the chick) and the last one is about dinosaurs. The beautifully produced book comes complete with music score and CD of a recording of his work.

I still keep up my relationship with Francesco since I do the English versions of the programme of music events in Lucca for his LuccaMusica. Unfortunately, however, the magazine is now only available on line at since funds were not forthcoming to keep the paper versions going. I do hope, however, that the paper version will return as it is a lot more accessible than just reading about events on a computer or smartphone screen.

This is going to be a big week for Lucca (and Francesco) – lots of events and concerts (including Bocelli and a performance of Beethoven’s 9th) are part of a bid for Lucca to become Italy’s second UNESCO city of music. It certainly deserves to become one.

Unfortunately Lucca has not yet become Italy’s second UNESCO city of music although it continues to deserve to be. I doubt few cities the size of Lucca have such a cornucopia of music events which range from every genre from world-music through jazz and rock to classical.

So there we have it. Will I still be blogging in a year’s time? I’ll find out when March 7th 2018 arrives!

Today I’ll go down to my orto again to see about preparing it for spring planting. Here are some views of my last visit before several dismal days of rain descended upon it.


View from a Watch-Tower

Amazingly warm and clear days are still with us in the heart of winter. I checked the long-range weather forecast and it seems that the rough weather will finally reach us in February.

It’s an ideal time for walking as the air is crisp and I took advantage of it to reach the top of Monte Bargiglio where there is an old watch-tower erected by the Republic of Lucca. I’ve described this structure at and it’s worth looking at that post as it shows the tower before recent work on it was completed. The views from the tower remain as spectacular as ever but the entry to it has changed considerably and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s for the better.

I appreciate the replacement of the old wooden rails which prevent one from descending into the depth of the steep ravine on one side.

I do miss, however,  the raw reality of the entrance to the old watch-tower where one could take pictures of the surrounding views through the little windows.

Instead, there are now well-graded steps leading up to a purpose-built metal structure which incorporates a staircase and a viewing platform. It’s quite impossible to go down to the interior although certainly the panorama from the platform is splendid.

This wasn’t just my view (sorry!). Shortly after I had arrived a party of three came and pronounced the same judgment. On the other hand, new signage and conservation of this primeval internet communication hub has eased the access to it.

Restoration of any monument involves often highly debatable decisions. How far should one go? The Arthur Evans reconstruction of parts of the palace of Knossos in Crete using inappropriate material such as concrete is definitely passé but will future generations regard the viewing ‘platform at the Bargiglio tower a little over the top?


Winter State of Emergency in Italy

We are here waiting. The winds from Russia have hit the eastern and southern parts of Italy with a vengeance. The news tells us of villages cut off by the snow, of farmers in the earthquakes areas having to bring their cattle into barns, officially out-of-bounds, because weakened by the quakes, just to save them, of hoboes dead of hyperthermia in cities like Florence and Naples, of snows in areas which haven’t seen the white stuff for almost fifty years. In short, for the next few days Italy, supposed land of sunshine and vino, for ALL of us living here has been turned into a facsimile of a Siberian province  .

(The situation around Naples!)

Strangely we, in Tuscany, haven’t seen much snow except on the mountain tops. Our valley is still bathed in blue skies and golden sun. But it’s deceptive: the temperature is just above freezing at noon and our ducks are wondering why they can’t swim in their pond even at lunchtime.

Our thoughts go with those persons who are now living in tents because their homes have been destroyed by the quakes and those farmers whose animals may soon die because of the abnormally low temperatures (descending up to twenty degrees below zero in some areas of the Abruzzi).

It’s odd to think that many visitors to Italy have only seen this beautiful land in the summer. For them the trees are always green and the sea is always swimmable in. Do remember, however, that Italy has the widest range of temperatures of any European country and that in winter anything can happen. Indeed, we are now paying the full price for those balmy spring-like days over Christmas. Time to stock up with essential items (e.g. pasta, cat food and wine) before the snows reach us here in Val di Lima?

It’s also a good time to view feature films in the evening. Last night we saw a film (available on youtube)  directed by Dino Risi and starring Lino Capolicchio who has since gone on to become a director himself. It also starred a girl who would become my wife. Here is a photo I took of the dance sequence. Sandra is the girl looking at us and wearing a white dress (which she still has somewhere in her wardrobe I’m told). Just by the way she moved in the film I knew it was her…and that’s just one film Sandra has starred in!


Ah well….. I suppose winter evenings in sub-zero temperatures have their compensation too!

Autumn Gold

The skies may be dull but the autumn colours are ever more resplendent in our valley and do help to brighten up the day. Here are just a few of the hues we can see this afternoon (and don’t you think I’m an excellent circus cat? My next bid is to try some tight-rope walking).

How are the colours in your part of the world’?


Overcast valley:

the leaves fire little sunrays

green changes to gold.


The Sounding Cataract Haunts Me Like a Passion

What do you do when diluvian quantities of rain fall on our valley of Lima overnight?

When the stream at Refubbri would have almost burst its banks if it wasn’t for the good re-channelling work done by the comune last year?

When the Ponte Della Maddalena just shows how its eight-hundred-year old construction can still withstand everything nature throws at it

One can always seek refuge in one’s amateur dramatic group of course down at Bagni di Lucca’s parish hall. With like-minded people and amenable company one always feels better.

We rehearsed our Christmas play and also indulged in something I hadn’t done since I was a kid at the Horniman museum – doing papier maché masks and props for our play.

There was a fab cake to eat too…


Afterwards there was shopping to do and then a return to Bagni Di Lucca to see Luca and Rebecca’s latest exhibition.

It’s a selection of Luca’s poems, beautifully written and nobly framed.

Here’s one of them entitled ‘Tosca’.


(My Translation follows)


From a small side of the world

I observe you, enchanted and devoted, dreaming and alive.

For the delight of my eyes for the fire of my senses

For the rust of the world placed on my heart.

I would like to break every limit, pass through every gate

and find you charmed and fascinating, making your entrance,

my queen, within this violent and rebellious blood.

Breathe your breath, sweet thoughts

your perfumed flesh,

and tell the world that I was waiting for you like a sublime music

never before written.


Prose is linear to be read from the beginning to the end, to eke out the plot, to see how things finally finish up.

Poems, on the other hand are a sort of secular prayer, they are there to mediate upon: to read and re-read.

It’s the difference between reading a comic and gazing at a picture. If a painting is mute words, then surely a poem is a word painting?

Luca of Shelley House has an incredibly wide range of experience in his poems. But what enhances them is his superb lyricism and his deep emotion recollected in tranquillity.

A good poem should be like a Tibetan mantra: learnt by heart and repeated in a spiritual sort of inward digest.

Even a day, in which heavenly deluges make the earth tremble, make us wish we had the skill to build an ark, where the skies frighten with their louring, almost pitch-black clouds, there are so many things that can bring joy and strength to one’s life and give hope in tomorrow’s sunshine.