2014 in review

My blog continues at

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/

 

Thanks for following me!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Catwalk

NB This is the last post at https://longoio.wordpress.com – this blog now continues at http://longoio2.wordpress.com

It is common knowledge that cats can be trained to go for walks on a leash and harness and we have spotted several felines, especially in continental countries where more people live in flats, dragged around town at the end of a lead.

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We never attempted this training on any our poor cats in London and never here in Longoio.

However, two of our cats, big black and white Napoleone and little tortoiseshell Carlotta, both rescue cats, respond happily to us when we tell them “let’s go for walkies” – without a leash or harness of course!

Fortunately, the walks are on the footpaths which start just outside our front gate and are without any major road crossing and (hopefully) with no fierce dogs lurking around.

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Yesterday, between one storm and another, our adventurous felines followed us on quite a considerable tour, part of which we’d covered with a friend who’s done a recent post on her visit to Longoio and Mobbiano.

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Of course, there’s no way one can say “heel” or “sit down” to a cat but ours do keep up with us in a remarkable way and thoroughly enjoy sniffing their path through often unfamiliar territory. Those tall grasses and rocks must seem like giants to them!

Cat walks are also a great way to slim down fat cats (both our cats are neutered) apart from giving them special versions of cat nuts for such animals.

The best thing however is that cat walks fit very well into our sense of walking, with lots of stops to look at unusual plants and extensive views and which are gradually becoming shorter and slower. Who wants an over-energetic hound at our age when cats can sense our requirements so much better and decide for us when it  a good time to sit down and have a rest, especially when Longoio is finally returned to!

Our cat walks are so much better than Prada’s or even Balenciaga’s and our cats so much more beautiful and elegant than those things that walk on them in the fashion houses!

PS Blog now continues at http://longoio2.wordpress.com

 

A Ducal Palace Press Conference for Bagni di Lucca’s 2014 Arts Festival

“Conto alla rovescia” is an often-recurring Italian expression. It simply means “count-down” and it’s definitely count-down time for the Bagni di Lucca Arts Festival which officially opens on July 4th at 6.30 pm with a grand and entertaining evening of jugglers, circus and music for everyone.

Yesterday we were in Lucca’s sumptuous ducal palace in Piazza Napoleone to attend the Arts Festival press release conference. Introducing was the festival’s seminal figure, Jaqueline Varela, with her fluent and persuasive style, in the centre of the table was Mayor Massimo Betti of Bagni di Lucca and to his left was Jake, Jaqueline’s other half.

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The progress this Bagni-di-Lucca shaking event has made since its incredibly successful debut last year could be seen in the choice of location and the presence of our commune’s first citizen. Few places can match the opulence of the magnificent state rooms of Lucca’s biggest palace and it is significant that the festival now has strengthened the official imprimatur of the commune’s administration.

Incidentally, the superlative frescoes in the ducal palace are not there to glorify the reign of Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister, over Lucca. Quite the opposite: Luigi Ademollo painted them in 1820 by command of her successor, Maria Luisa di Borbona to affirm the virtues of the restoration and condemn the vices of the former empire. Such is the power of art!

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Among the audience were representatives of all the major Italian and English language newspapers and magazines of the province and region. Questions were asked and were all satisfactorily answered. Would there be any differences in year two of the Arts festival as distinct from year one? The winning formula would be pursued of course – a balance between formal and flexible organisation. There would, however, be an effort to involve Bagni di Lucca Villa more in the event. After all, Villa does have more than its share of empty shops – I am particularly thinking of that delightful venue which used to be at the Piazzetta and, of course, the precarious future of the circolo dei forestieri.

Further venues at Ponte would be opened, including the Casino, and greater emphasis would be paid to involving all sectors of the public at all degrees of artistic interest or involvement by introducing more art and sculpture courses.

We know now that after the “strepitoso” success” of last year’s “first edition”, the Bagni di Lucca Arts Festival can only grow from strength to strength. The energy is vibrant, the enthusiasm is strong and the creativity is flowering.

Concentrating on the primal instinct of artistry which lies in every sentient being we can now build the festival into something which will continue to form a major part of Bagni di Lucca’s identity and its already very attractive calendar of events.

For further information about the festival and its events do click on its web site at:

http://artfestivalbagnidilucca.org/?page_id=1781

 

From Tallis To Garibaldi

Most of my working life has been spent in Greenwich, now upgraded to “Royal” status because of the former presence of a monarch’s palace there.

In fact, Henry VIII was baptised in the local parish church of Saint Alphege where I attended a lunchtime piano recital given by students from the Trinity College of Music.

The royal palace was replaced by the seamen’s hospital which in turn was occupied by the royal naval college. This has now moved outside London and its premises, probably the finest renaissance buildings in the UK (and designed by Wren and Hawksmoor) are now the campus of the University of Greenwich.

The recital included works by De Falla played by Sofia Sarmento from Portugal and Schubert’s complete Moments Musicaux played by Italian Filippo Di Bari.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing both young performers and wish them well in their future careers. St Alphege, of course, has a long and noble musical history since the time when that “father of English church music” Thomas Tallis, was organist there. Part of that organ’s keyboard has survived to this day.

Greenwich, although so familiar and pleasurable to me only disappointed in one respect: the ghastly new display of the famous tea clipper the “Cutty Sark”. How anyone could submerge her fine hull in a glass and steel cocoon, completely destroying her fine line is anybody’s business.

From Greenwich we made our way to the Italian Institute in Belgrave square where an unusual musical recitation, “Garibaldi in London” was given composed by Marcello Panni who has worked extensively as composer and conductor and has written several operas staged at La Scala, Florence, Rome and Bonn.

Garibaldi was memorably quoted by Tennyson as “having the divine stupidity of a hero” and was both feted and feared by the British establishment: feted because of his romantic exploits in uniting cultivated Britons’ favourite country of exile, and feared because, as Queen Victoria correctly said, he was also a revolutionary.

The music was lively in a sort of post Weill-jazzy idiom and aptly described the ambiguity of Garibaldi’s one and only visit to the British Isles in 1864.

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The recitation did not include one incident which I recollect was depicted in the “Illustrated London news” of the time. On his way to the Crystal palace to address working men’s associations Garibaldi passed my old school, Dulwich College watched by hundreds of enthusiastic boys. Seeing the horses in some difficult when approaching the steep hill leading to the palace the Dulwich boys tied ropes onto the carriage and helped pull Garibaldi’s retinue along College road for quite some distance.

 

Pisa’s San Ranieri Regatta

If September is Lucca’s month, so full is it of processions, fairs and other events, June is definitely Pisa’s moment of glory and festivities. San Ranieri is the patron saint of Pisa and for three days this month he is celebrated in style by the inhabitants of one of Italy’s four ancient maritime republics (the other three, in case you didn’t know, are Amalfi, Venice and Genoa).

Ranieri Scàcceri was born in Pisa in 1118 and died there in 1161. He was a hermit who travelled to the Holy Land, became a miracle-worker, was adopted as Pisa’s patron saint and is buried under the high altar of its wonderful cathedral.

On the 16th the Luminara lights up the city with over 100,000 candle-lanterns. I’ve seen this magical evening on a previous occasion and it casts a delightfully archaic light over the city’s river front and the area round the leaning tower. The Luminara is something not to be missed and gives one the best impression of what a mediaeval city would have looked like before the invention of electricity.

Lucca’s own Luminara on the occasion of the celebration of the “Santo Volto” in September gives a similar impression but, of course, lacks the peculiarly beautiful effect of the lights reflected into the river Arno which describes a broad arch, rather like a long-bow, through Pisa.

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Moreover, Pisa’s version highlights the architectural features of its buildings in a stunning manner. The candles appear to be left around after the event and most passers-by help themselves to their remains.

The celebrations in honour of San Ranieri continue the next day in the Arno, where the “Regatta di San Ranieri.” is celebrated. Four boats, inspired by the Medici Order of the Knights of St. Stephen (Pope and martyr) founded in 1561 and who played such a leading part in defeating the Muslims at the battle of Lepanto in 1571 (remember Shakespeare’s “Othello”?) from the city’s historic districts (or quarters) of S. Maria, S. Francesco, S. Martino and S. Antonio, respectively decorated with blue, yellow, red and green lights, compete to win the Palio (or religious banner – as in the more famous Palio di Siena) di San Ranieri. Climbers, known as “montatori”, have to climb up a rope at the finish line to reach the prize at the top of a ten metre high flagpole mounted on a barge in the middle of the river. The last one to arrive gets as a prize a pair of ducks.

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Before the race proper there was a cortege with drummers. They start them young in this part of the world:

The race takes place over a distance of 1,500 metres along the Arno and against the river’s current. It is, therefore, a particularly tough exercise, considering also the heavy weight of the boats themselves. The competition begins near the railway bridge and ends in front of the Palazzo Medici Bridge near the city’s fortress. The boats have fixed seats and a crew of eight rowers, a helmsman and the “montatore”.

Victory actually does not depend on who wins but on the skill and agility of the first “montatore”, who manages to grab the flag.

This customs harkens back to the victorious Battle of Lepanto where the Order of Santo Stefano had to board the infidel ships and win the pennant that was on top of the enemy’s mast. The flags captured then are still preserved today in Pisa’s Chiesa dei Cavalieri.

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The event we witnessed last night was enhanced by spectacular lighting effects which truly added to the occasion.

If you’ve missed the Luminara and the regatta then you can still join in today for the big procession which will take San Ranieri’s remains around the city together with a costumed cortege.

For those interested in statistics this is the current score of victories of the various quarters in modern times:

  • Sant’Antonio 24
  • Santa Maria 23
  • San Martino 11
  • San Francesco 6

San Martino (the red boat) won this year’s regatta followed by the yellow, blue and green boats.

I don’t know if bets were taken…

 

July Music Events for Lucca Province

LORENZO MALFATTI VOICE ACADEMY VOICE IN CONCERT

This year, too, the “Lorenzo Malfatti” voice academy from Pittsburgh is returning. Fifteen students were selected earlier in the United States to perfect their talents with singing, recitation and drama lessons at the “Boccherini” Music Institute with teachers Sean Kelly, Reed Woodhouse, Franc D’Ambrosio and Barbara Paver, some of whom have already worked in previous years with the University of Cincinnati. The students of the “Malfatti” academy will perform on Wednesday 16th at 9 pm, in Piazza Cittadella 22nd and on Tuesday 22nd at the Praetorian Palace. The program includes music by Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Bellini and Tosti. Their final concert, “Celle under the Stars”, is on Friday 25th at Celle di Pescaglia. Free admission.

FRANCESCO CIPRIANO’S MUSIC FOR ELISA ZADI’S EXHIBITION

“Cluster”, the contemporary music association, continues its activities with the sound-track to Elisa Zadi’s exhibition, “Sacred Myths and Stories of the men and saints”, at the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca from July 5th to 27th. The exhibition will use the original soundtrack composed by Francesco Cipriano, titled “O crus ave”, for baritone, chorus and piano and recorded recently in Berlin.

FESTIVAL OF SACRED MUSIC IN SAN PAULINO

On Saturday 5th (9.15 pm, Church of San Paolino) the thirtieth Sacred Music Festival organized by Polifonica Lucchese and its conductor Egisto Matteucci will be held. The program, titled “Mater”, includes contemporary choral pieces written in honour of the Mother of Christ and will be performed by the Harmonia Women’s Choir (see photo) and the Piccola Harmonia choir from Venice, conducted by Nicola Ardolino. These two choirs have been awarded many prizes in competitions.

LISTEN TO THE PEACE ORGAN AT SANT’ANNA DI STAZZEMA

The eighth year of the “Peace Organ of Sant’Anna di Camaiore” festival is dedicated to the memory of the wartime massacre at St. Anna di Stazzema. On Sunday 5th, organ recital by Hansjörg Albrecht (see photo) who, on Monday 6th at 9.30 pm in Marina di Pietrasanta, near the Teatro la Versilia, directs the great “Remembrance Concert” with the Munich Bachchor and the Orchestra Regionale della Toscana. On July 13th, we return to Stazzema with the world premiere of “Music for a Church” for two trumpets and organ by Jan Müller-Wieland, with Hannes Läubin, Max Westermann and Luca Scandali. On the 20th there’s a recital by organist Gerhard Weinberger while on the 27th there’s a performance by Edoardo Bellotti. All concerts are free entry and start at 6 pm.

AMERICAN CHOIR AT SANTA MARIA NERA

Wednesday 2nd at 9 pm in the Church of S. Maria Corteorlandini there’s a choral concert with the American choir, California Central Coast Chorale, conducted by Sean Boulware. The program includes music by Mozart, Pitoni, Vecchi and Palestrina. The evening will be introduced by “Il Baluardo” choir, conducted by Elio Antichi.

IAM FESTIVAL WITH 14 CONCERTS AT CASTELNUOVO GARFAGNANA

On June 22nd, in Castelnuovo Garfagnana, the IAM festival starts with musicians from five continents. The program (see next page) includes, on Tuesday, July 1st (9.15 pm, Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo), an evening of performances by the teachers; Thursday 3rd (5.30 pm, Saletta Suffredini Castelnuovo) recital by student Alexander Bolotin. At 9.15 pm (Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo) an evening recital by the teachers. Friday 4th (5.30 pm), at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, a special “Students’ Gala” with free entry. Saturday, 5th, from 5.30 pm onwards, students’ outdoor concerts in the centre of Castelnuovo Garfagnana. Sunday 6th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri Castelnuovo) evening with the Orchestra of the “International Academy of Music”. Monday, 7th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri) final concert with the students.

PIEVE A ELICI CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL RETURNS

CONCERT FOR SONJA PAHOR

On Sunday 6th, in the church of Pieve a Elici, the Versilia chamber music festival returns with a performance by the La Scala Quartet of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Webern and Ravel. On Saturday, 12th, Francesca Dego (violin) and Francesca Leonardi (piano) play Beethoven.

On Sunday, 20th pianist Giuseppe Albanese returns to play music by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Liszt. The festival ends on Sunday 27th with a performance by a trio consisting of Elisa Eleonora Papandrea (violin), Monaldo Braconi (piano) and Alessandro Carbonare (clarinet) who play Stravinsky, Gershwin, Poulenc, Stefano Priolo and Kuttenberger. All concerts start at 9.15 pm. Please note that on Monday 7th (9 pm) AML is programming a concert at the Auditorium del Suffragio (Lucca) , with the “Boccherini” institute, to commemorate the pianist Sonja Pahor who died in July last year. Performing will be many artists and former colleagues of the Conservatory. Free admission. More information available on phone no:  0583 469960.

FRANCIGENA INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

In July, the fourth year of the Francigena International Arts Festival, with events scattered along stretches of the Via Francigena in the province of Lucca, returns. This is the programme: 8th (9.15 pm Auditorium “Da Massa Carrara” in Porcari) Atmos Quartet; 10th (9.15 pm Park Hotel “Villa Ariston”, Lido di Camaiore) Maurizio Mastrini at the piano; 18th (6 pm Porcari) Concert Orchestra Training Course for secondary schools; 18th (9.15 pm) Villa Bertelli of Forte dei Marmi) Orchestra della Toscana; 18th (9 pm Piazza Ricasoli in Altopascio) Fulbrook Jazz Concert, Orchestra and Dance Bands; 19th (9.15 pm Puccini Theatre of Altopascio), Orchestra della Toscana; 22nd (9.15 pm Piazza Ospitaleri of Altopascio) La Finta Semplice by Mozart with the orchestra and soloists of the “Mascagni” music institute; 23rd (9.15 pm Montecarlo) Parkstone Concert Band and Chamber Choir; 25th (9.15 pm Polo culturale “Artemisia” in Capannori) Eros Pagni and Gianni Quilici; 26th (9.15 pm Cloister of Palazzo Carmignani, Monte Carlo) St. Andrea Collegiate choir, Department of Ancient Music Ensemble FIAF, Fontegara consort. Finally, on 3rd, 11th, 19th, 26th and 30th (6.30 pm) at Altopascio’s Medici loggia there are performances by “I Giovani Talenti della Francigena”. Info: http://www.francigenafestival.it

DONIZETTI’S “L’ELISIR D’AMORE”

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LuccaOPERAfestival is staging Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Lucca in the Cloister of San Micheletto on 18th and 19th July at 9 pm. The cast is made up of young artists: Marco Ciaponi tenor, soprano Michelle Buscemi, and basses Mattia Campetti and Roberto Lorenzi. The Bruno Maderna orchestra will be conducted by Jonathan Brandani. Direction is by Stefania Panighini. The performances are made possible thanks to the contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca, UNESCO Club Vienna, Mc Donald scholarship trusts (Melbourne) and with the collaboration of the Municipality and the Province of Lucca. For reservations: luccaoperafestival@gmail.com

ORATORIO DEGLI ANGELI CUSTODI

In July concerts in the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi continue. The previously announced concert on Saturday 6th (From Argentine Tango to film music) has been postponed. Sunday 20th, young pianist Aldo Lucca Dotto will play music by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Saturday 26th will be devoted to contemporary music by young composers who are winners of the Counterpoint competition from America. On Sunday 27th there’s a recital by flautist Linda Di Martino Wetherill and guitarist Fernando Maglia. All concerts start at 9 pm; Tickets from € 5 to € 12: Info: http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com.

CORSANICO FESTIVAL 2014

On Monday 7th, at 9.15 pm, in the church of St. Michele Arcangelo, the thirty-third “Corsanico Festival”, an international classical music festival organized by the “Vincenzo Colonna” friends of organ music, starts. The festival opens with the “Cheltenham Choir” conducted by Gordon Busbridge, with organist Alexander Ffinch (free admission); Friday 11th, an evening dedicated to movie soundtracks with the “Nello Salza Ensemble” (admission € 10); Friday 18th, “Music Régia” with the King’s Peterborough Orchestra, conductor and organist Nicholas Kerrison (free admission); Tuesday 22nd, guitar duo Flavio Cucchi and Shinobu Sugawara will perform a repertoire ranging from contemporary music to Boccherini (admission € 10); Saturday 26th, “I Solisti dell ‘Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina” will play baroque music. Concerts continue through August.

NINETEENTH “CITTA’ DI CAMAIORE” ORGAN FESTIVAL

Starting the nineteenth “Città di Camaiore” organ festival on Wednesday 23rd in the Church of the Badia di Camaiore there’s an organ recital by Adriano Falcioni. Monday 28th, in the Collegiate Church of S. Maria Asssunta, an evening “In memory of Don Angelo Bevilacqua” with Angelo Spinelli’s Requiem Mass for male voices and organ, with the men from Lucca cathedral’s  “Santa Cecilia” choir conducted by Luca Bacci (organist Julia Biagetti). The concerts, which continue in August, are at 9.15 pm. Entrance fee: € 5. The event is promoted by the “Marco Santucci” association and the comune of Camaiore in collaboration with the Bank Foundations of Lucca.

“PUCCINI” FILHARMONICA FROM COLLE DI COMPITO

The “G. Puccini” Filarmonica from Colle di Compito performs a  “Concert under the Stars” on Thursday, 3rd in the Piazzetta del Santuario at Colle di Compito. The band will play light and modern pieces, many arranged by Carlo Pucci and will be accompanied by lively majorettes (see photo). The concert will be repeated on July 10th at the Centro Culturale Compitese (via Fonda 1). Free admission.

THIRTY-SIXTH CAMIGLIANO CHORAL FESTIVAL

Saturday 12th (9.30 pm Parish Church of Camigliano) will be the first evening of the 36th Camigliano Choral festival, sponsored by Camigliano’s “G. Puccini” choir with the patronage of Capannori. The “Puccini” Choir, conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora, will open the evening, followed by the “Voci del Serchio” choir conducted by Ugo Menconi (with a popular Italian and international repertoire) and the “Coro del Noce” from the Trentino conducted by John Cristoforetti (see photo), who will delight us with traditional folk songs of the mountains. Free admission.

IL CANTO DEGLI ALBERI (THE SONG OF THE TREES)

Throughout the summer, the Botanical Garden of Lucca will have weekly concerts and events sponsored by the City in collaboration with institutions and associations. Friday, July 4th, concert for the bicentenary of Adolphe Sax’s birth, with the Timeless Saxophone Quartet and Hector Bonafè. Friday 11th, evening “Arti sotto l’albero”, Italian and South American music by Alessandro Orsi; 18th, guitarist Edoardo Pieri and flautist Filippo Del Noce will perform (see picture) and on Sunday 20th there’s “Gioco di specchi” by Stefano Massini, a theatrical performance directed by Ciro Masella with Marco Brinzi and Ciro Masella. Friday, 25th, “Journey into film music” with pianist and arranger Luigi Nicolini.

MASSAROSA MUSIC FEST

This year will be the start of Massarosa Music Fest, an event organized by the “Republica di Lucca-Città stato” and dedicated to young students throughout Tuscany (artistic direction by Julia Matteucci). From July 22nd to 27th teachers of flute, clarinet, guitar, cello and double bass, will supervise participants in individual courses of study and practice of traditional chamber music at the Massarosa Comprehensive School in Via Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto. After the opening concert of the Massarosa Music Fest (22nd at 9 pm) where all the teachers perform, other concerts will follow where the students will participate as soloists or in chamber music groups. Info: http://www.larepubblicadilucca.wix.com / massarosamusicfestfest

INVITATION TO DINNER WITH PUCCINI

The “Catalani” Circle of Friends of Music is organizing for Saturday, 12th at 7 pm an evening entitled “Invitation to dinner with Puccini – Concert,” followed by a “Puccini” dinner, at the Puccini Restaurant Piazza Cittadella, based on Luccan dishes loved and appreciated by the Master. Soprano Valentina Piovano and tenor Alessandro Fantoni sing Puccini, Lehar, Rota, Catalani, Pietri, accompanied on the piano by Marco Ferruzzi. The “Catalani” Circle is organising on the 26th a trip to the Torre Del Lago theatre, to see Puccini’s La Bohème. Information on 347 9981851.

SUMMER CAMPUS FOR SYMPHONY SCHOOL (SCUOLA SINFONIA)

The activities of the symphony school summer campus continue with “Music Weeks in the company of …” from 8.30 am to 3 pm and aimed at children aged 5 to 12 years. The daily lessons provide preparatory courses, choir, theatre and music, individual instrument lessons, group music and English language learning. The summer camps in the month of July will be: “Catalani” week (June 30-July 4) “Boccherini” week (7-11 July), “Donizetti” week (14-18 July), and “Mozart” week (21 – July 25). Information: tel. 0583 312052 or: scuola.sinfonia @ tin.it

SACRED DIPTYCH FOR THE OPENING OF THE “SANTA CATERINA”

For the inauguration of the Church of Santa Caterina di Lucca, returned to the city after its restoration, on Wednesday 9th at 9 pm there’s a preview entitled “Dittico Sacro”: a theatrical video divided into two minimodrammi composed by Girolamo Deraco on libretti by Deborah Pioli: “Vidi Arcana Dei” for reciting soprano and bass drum, and “Stabat Mater” for soprano, narrator and video premiere. The show will make use of multimedia installations by director Nino Cannatà and will be performed by soprano Maria Elena Romanazzi and percussionist Matteo Cammisa.

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Her Majesty’s Goose at Kew

We decided to visit Kew palace. Whether one wants to visit the Royal botanical Gardens (world heritage site since 2003) or not, one has to enter it to arrive at Kew palace. But who wouldn’t want to see these fabulous gardens at any time?

A visit to the Royal Botanical gardens at Kew and its Palace is a delightful way to spend a sunny afternoon in London. (And London has been particularly sunny while I was there). As life members of the Arts fund we were able to enter them at half price (and Kew palace for free), which is a considerable saving since the standard admission charge is £15 – a far cry when to get past the turnstiles one placed just one penny in the slot – not centuries ago but as recently as 1971 (if I remember correctly). This means that the admission price has increased at least 30,000 times! Having said this, a visit to Kew was worth every penny, inflated, decimal or not!

Kew has not only the largest collection of plants in the world; it has the best example of Victorian iron and glass building in Decimus Burton’s  palm house, the best example of chinoiserie in Sir William Chambers’ (he of Somerset house) pagoda, indeed the best of so many things.

From the Victoria entrance we headed for the palace which was actually used not so much as a “palace” (it’s only the size of a large house) but as a nursery for King George III’s children (of which he had fifteen who survived sired off Queen Charlotte who died here in 1818).

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On our way we spotted a goose that had chosen a slightly exposed nesting place. Perhaps she enjoyed classical architecture!

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A detour to the water-lily house revealed the most delicate wonders:

Kew palace must be one of the smallest of royal palaces and was George III’s favorite residence. For me the highlight was its herb garden which was beautifully laid out and provided some of the remedies which the king’s physicians tried on his madness, (remember the film starring the incomparable Nigel Hawthorne?), which has now been diagnosed in retrospect as bi-polar syndrome.

Nearby were the kitchens with a delightful vegetable garden outside which also grew artichokes.

The King’s bathroom would definitely be in need of an upgrade should any royal visitors take up residence here again.

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All the palace rooms were delightfully presented and our visit was made much more alive by costumed attendants:

Kew palace was once also the scene of fetes champetres including this one which featured a giant swan..

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It was clearly the scene of much music making – some of which continues today:

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We found the palace very well-displayed but the only thing I wished for was that the brick work should have been stripped of its red paint to more clearly expose its unusual (for the UK) Flemish bond which has also given the building the alternative name of the Dutch house.

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Back in Kew Gardens we explored the tree walk which was only opened in 2010. It was definitely not for vertigo sufferers since there was also a slight sway on it but what a great way to climb trees without the effort or the possibility of breaking one’s neck!

My visits to Lucca’s botanical gardens, still continuing to be very delightful, will never be the quite the same again although, at least, I’ll be more able to afford its entrance fee of three euros!

In the evening at the Punch tavern in Fleet Street we enjoyed a Beckenham historical society supper together with the company of an old school mate. Let us say that the company was rather better than the food…although the beer made up for that.

 

From Longoio to London

 

When I packed my suitcase on the 10th of this month to attend a family event in London I was made to realize that I’d left out an important item but as he had no passport I had to leave Napoleone behind.

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Stansted airport’s architect must have been partly inspired by Liverpool street station’s architect as the roof supporting piers declare:

Anyway, both of these ports of entry into the UK are worthy of its great history of engineering skills in a way which Heathrow airport and Victoria station are not!

What is less worthy are the train fares in the UK. Either one spends six pounds on a terror Terravision bus or twenty-four pounds on a railway single ticket! When I gasped at the price for a thirty-six mile train journey the ticket issuer agreed with me saying it was disgustingly high and would only please the likes of share-holders. However, since there were major traffic hold-ups around London (I’d taken an early (6 am flight) from Pisa to save on fares and, of course, arrived just in time for the rush hour!) I took the train instead.

I was glad to see that there were still station platform whistle-blowers around.

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Not having visited the UK for three years, but having been born and having lived and worked in the great wen for most of my life, the culture shock was only slight. The countryside was beautifully green:

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Liverpool street travel centre was helpful and suggested that with my time in London I should get an oyster card, a sort of travel debit card. Indeed, as I write this now all money seems to have been banned from changing hands between passengers and conductors on London’s public transport system. No wonder they are closing down most ticket offices…

No, this is not a picture from Banaras but from a North London inner suburb I was travelling to, quite near Neasden town centre. How could “Private Eye” have belittled that place with its marvellously executed Hindu temple?

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If one has just five days to spend in London then one should clearly spend them wisely. On our first evening we attended a triple bill at the Royal Ballet (booked beforehand, of course).

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The evening was an absolute delight. First was Ashton’s “The Dream” based on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer night’s dream” with music by Mendelssohn and arranged by Lanchberry. A modern minimalist piece followed with transcendental music by Arvo Part. The final ballet was a hilarious take-off of a serious Chopin piano recital with the wandering thoughts of the audience, whether they be malevolent or romantic, actually personified in the ballet. I realised that, in Italy, not only was I missing live Wagner but also a great dance company.

Covent Garden’s foyer always has some interesting ballet costumes on display:

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 It’s amazing to think that this area was a working fruit and veg market until well into the nineteen-seventies (indeed, the opening scene of Shaw’s Pygmalion takes place there). I wonder what happened to that extraordinary venue called “Middle Earth” where I heard Captain Beefheart and the Pink Floyd perform. Here is a historic picture of the market’s last vendor:

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Covent Garden station still has lifts instead of escalators and two of these were being replaced. So to return home we decided to take the Piccadilly line from Green Park and hopped on a bus to get there. Armed with my oyster card public transport in London was no problem and on the front seat of the top deck of a new “Boris” bus I got nice views of London by night.

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The best thing about the Boris Bus is that you can board and alight without difficulty as the rear end of the bus is a hark-back to the old days of the Routemaster. Here are the two compared:

It seemed almost unbelievable that I had started the day so early in a remote Apennine valley, making sure the ducks and cats were adequately catered for with food and water and finished up in the upper stalls of the royal opera  house delighting in the performance of the best ballet company of the world.

Must do this more often. I thought.

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(Stephen McRae as Oberon in “The Dream”.)

 

Lucca’s Place of Judgement

 

In E.M. Foster’s novel, “A Room with a View”, much of which is based on the author’s own experiences in Italy,  the cockney landlady, Miss Bartlett makes this comment to her young guest, Lucy Honeychurch:

“Tut, tut! Miss Lucy! I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker. He does but touches the surface of things. As to the true Italy–he does not even dream of it. The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.”

I’m now entering into my tenth year of residence in Italy. During this time I have found something of the true Italy, if not always by very patient observation, then by immersing myself into the swimming pool of Italian life, both in leisure and in work.

In the field of education I have experienced teaching the third years of secondary education, just before they enter into the various Licei which divide up Italian youth, the boisterous energy of the technical colleges, the more relaxed pace of the adult evening classes, the intensive pace set by private profit-making institutions, private pupils in ones twos and threes, elegant and intelligent courses run in business environments… Indeed, in the field of education my experiences, though shorter, have been much more varied that in the UK where, for the most part, I taught in a community college.

Of hospital experiences, luckily, I have had few, apart from hungry hornets and surreptitious scorpions. Now, however, thanks to an individual I shall not name but merely describe as coming from Essex I shall be having a new experience, that of standing trial and taking part in the Italian legal system

On Monday I wanted to find out where I would have to defend myself and it was quite near to the palace where that extraordinary golden bedroom can be found and where Lucca’s main art gallery is situated – the palazzo Mansi in Via Galli-Tassi.

The tribunale di Lucca is a very pleasant building, originally designed by the great architect Giuseppe Pardini in the nineteenth century, and expanded in more modern times but still in Pardini’s neo-classical style.

The corridors are long and filled with interesting old filing cabinets.

The interior courtyard has beautiful views over the Pisan Mountain.

There is an old photograph showing building work in the last century:

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I asked for some information and was directed to a particular department. This department stated that it was not their responsibility and that I should go to another department on the second floor. This department re-directed me to a room further along. When I reached this room I was told to go to another section as a form was required for the information I required. When I reached that section it was… closed. In other words, an excellent simulation of the circumlocution office as described in the great Charles Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit” and also hinted at in the Jarndyce v Jarndyce case in “Bleak House”!.

When I returned home I realised that the tribunal also has a web site and information can be requested through an application form. Perhaps I’ll try that now.

In case you don’t know why on earth I should be present at the tribunal then it’s not necessary for you to know. If you do know then that’s OK. If I know that you know then that’s even better. If you know that I know that you know then that’s the best of all…