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.


San Cassiano Inaugurates its New Wonder Machine

Italian weather is rarely understated, unlike English weather, which is tempered by maritime conditions and the Gulf Stream.

Italian storms are of a Vivaldian intensity and stop as abruptly as they start, with virtuoso cascades, terrifying rumblings of thunder, landslides and dramatic lightning effects in between.

Here was the situation only a couple of days ago, best caught on these videos from our house in Longoio.

Today Sunday, however, we woke up to this,:

It was as if our whole Val di Lima had had a cardiac crisis with its meteorological conditions and that today everything has been beautifully cleansed, peaceful, blue and calm. Just the day to celebrate, thanks to the enthusiasm of the fund raisers, the inauguration of a machine which, especially because of our torturous mountain roads (never easy for ambulances to drive fast down), will most certainly save lives because it’s close by and acts quickly.

Today there’s going to be the inauguration (with blessing by the parish priest and the customary rinfresco afterwards) of the defibrillator at San Cassiano. (Defibrillation consists of delivering a therapeutic electric current – often called a counter shock – to the heart with a defibrillator in the case of life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmias and ventricular fibrillation which could so easily lead to cardiac arrest and certain death). Funds were raised locally largely due to the sterling fund-raising work of local citizens Paul Anthony Davies and his wife, Morena with the support of  the indefatigable Roberto (alias Coco).

There are already defibrillators at the villages of Montefegatesi and Tereglio so why not at San Cassiano? Well, there’s one there too from today!

The event starts at 3.30 pm at the square in front of beautiful San Cassiano church. You are cordially invited to be there if you are nearby.

Incidentally, you usually increase your appreciation of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ by living in Italy. Here’s the red priest’s take on our storm:


Of Angel Staircases and Angelic Seafood in Livorno

I recently discussed with a friend what we considered to be the most neglected towns and cities in Italy. Neglected, that is, from a point of visiting them rather than having them badly looked after.  I consider Livorno one of the most neglected cities in Italy, especially as it happens also to be Tuscany’s second largest urban centre and one of Italy’s major seafood centres. Until quite lately it was also neglected in terms of its appearance too. But things are changing.

I’ve written quite a bit about Livorno. I won’t repeat what I said here but would suggest you read my posts at:

and at:

Our day at Livorno had begun with the visit to the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ (do see my previous post). More was to follow. In particular, there was a trip to a sumptuous villa with fabulous paintings by that greatest of Italian impressionists, Giovanni Fattori. I’ve visited this extraordinary place twice already. Depending on your taste-buds you can either call villa Mimbelli an elegant example of La Belle Epoque, or a supreme case of O.T.T. vulgarity. The villa was built by Architect Vincenzo Micheli between 1865 and 1875 for Francesco Mimbelli, a rich merchant and his wife, Enrichetta Rodocanacchi. If nothing else, the villa just shows what wealth flowed into Livorno.

(PS The Mooreish (moresco) room above is the smoking chamber for men only. I originally thought it may have been a harem.)

The grand staircase is decorated with charming ceramic putti. There were very differing views in my party about if they would allow this sort of thing in their residence:

There are some interesting, somewhat eclectic paintings on the first two floors:

The finest paintings, however, are kept on the top floor whose modest decoration and lower ceiling height show that this must have been the servants’ quarters.

Livornese Giovanni Fattori’s paintings of military manoeuvres and battles during the Italian war of independence show his supreme skill in capturing horse anatomy and the dynamics of the drills themselves. He is, indeed, the painter that dragged Italy into the new world of impressionism and French trends. The term macchiaioli (macchia=stain) is used to describe this Italian version of ‘plein-air’ and light-infected painting. Other paintings on this top floor included examples of some of the Livornese painters who followed Fattori’s technique.

Here are some fine adornments for their lords and masters:

We didn’t have much enthisiasm to explore the exotic gardens surrounding the villa (which also have specimens of palms from the Canaries) because of the deluge that was raining ‘a catinelle’ (= cats and dogs) upon us. So the brave act of one of our group to fetch the car enabled us to drive to a very particular restaurant for lunch; but not before taking a walk on the spectacular Terrazza Mascagni and gazing on an even more spectacular seafront view. What a passionate backcloth for that couple having their wedding photographs taken!

Cacciucco is Livorno’s most famous dish. It’s a fish stew/soup like no other and has featured not only in many famous recipe books but, more recently, also on TV.  In London’s Seymour Street there’s the unmissable Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli for some of the best Italian food in town. (Giorgio Locatelli has won ‘best Italian restaurant’ award twice already too). Locatelli with art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon decided they’d track down the cacciucco in Livorno:

If you slide to 47 minutes. 46 seconds of this video of the BBC programme ‘Italy unpacked’:

you’ll find out more about where, what and how and how we ate!

After lunch the weather brightened up a little and we decided to explore a little of Livorno. Despite the almost blanket bombing of World War Two, we came across some delightful corners in this cosmopolitan city including the new fortress, ‘la nuova Venezia’, the aristocratic via Borra, the fabulous market building, the Inigo Jones-designed cathedral in the main square, the statue of the four moorish slaves, the sanctuary of Saint Caterina and much else including that inimitable Livornese drink, Ponce, (punch) a sort of caffé corretto with rum and cognac introduced by English sailors to the city they called ‘Leghorn’.

Just look at these pictures to entice you to Livorno:

I, at least, am sure that relegating Livorno to a city not worth a special journey is a big mistake!









Sea Fever

Ocean liners have right of way wherever they go except when they meet the most beautiful woman on the high seas. They then turn off their engines and as a sign of respect and adoration they give three blasts on their horn.

This stunning woman (for all ships are feminine ‘she’) has been a recurring theme in my life ever since I met her while still at infant school. It was a time when Italy was still considered by many ignorant brits a country of spaghetti eaters and mandolin players, a country accused of cowardice which reputedly built tanks with one forward and three reverse gears, a country of aye-ties and poor emigrants. When the gorgeous lines of Italy’s true flagship first entered the Thames estuary and sailed into London she was instrumental in changing rudely stereotyped perceptions of Italy. Italy could stand proud and erect with her ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ as ambassador to its ‘bel paese’ throughout the world.


(Regrettably a negative attitude between Italy and the UK still occasionally happens today. For example in yesterday’s news I heard that UK schools have been asked to distinguish between Neapolitan, other Italian and Sicilian-origin schoolchildren in their registers! The Italian ambassador in London, with true English sarcasm, reminded UK’s education secretary that Italy has been one country since 1861. See )

To get back on-board. The triple-mast ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ was built at Castellamare di Stabia and launched in 1931 as a twin Italian navy training ship to the ‘Cristoforo Colombo’. Her dimensions are as follows:  length‎ 331 ft. (including bowsprit) and height‎ 177.2 ft. Her top speed‎ with ‎sails is 10 knots and with engine, 12 knots. There are 26 sails and fully unfurled they cover an area of 30400 square feet. The total crew is 450 men (and now women too).

What happened to her sister ship? War reparations forced Italy to give the ‘Cristoforo Colombo’ to Russia who promptly demoted her to a tramp merchant vessel, painted her a dirty grey colour and finally (accidentally?) caused her demise in a fire on board which completely destroyed her.

Together with my wife the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ sailing ship remains one of the two most beautiful women I have ever met.

Here are some photographs taken of Sandra with an officer of the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ one year after our marriage.

And here is this wonderful ship in London again in 1985:

And in 1987.

Then I did not see her for a long time and was truly missing her. In 2014 I did manage to catch a sight of her in the Darsena of La Spezia during a special open day (see my post at She’d gone in there for a complete overhaul and looked vulnerable and a little sorry for herself stripped into her nakedness:


When I heard that ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ had been re-launched this year and would be moored for a few days at Livorno I truly had an attack of fever, sea fever. I had to see her and be with her again. Fortunately some friends were also interested and in uncertain weather we motored to Livorno.

There was already an umbrellaed queue waiting at the Medicean port gates in the driving rain. On board we were able to visit the main deck and the steering cabin where we met the commandant Curzio Pacifici (what an appropriate surname!).


Suddenly the rain accelerated into a storm precipitating with violence on the ship and on the horizon I could see a tornado brewing. What must it have been like to be on a ship like this rounding Cape Horn, I wondered. Truly, the wind, the rain and the louring clouds, ink-black, added to the dramatic effect. It was unforgettable. Imagine having to reef the sails climbing up the masts in this sort of weather in the high seas!

It was difficult to leave this gorgeous ship. I really must have got that sea fever badly. As John Masefield wrote:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.


I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.




PS If you read Italian there’s an interesting web page on the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ at