NB This is the last post at – this blog now continues at

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.


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



I Smell a Mouse

The ancient Egyptians worshipped them because they kept down the mice attacking their granaries. When they died they were mummified and given as offerings to the cat goddess Bastet.


Both Bastet and Sekhmet (the lion god) originated from the lion-like god Bast, Lower Egypt adopting the cat and Upper Egypt the lion. Both gods were also gods of warfare – perhaps Lower Egypt had smaller occurrences of warfare?

I was going to worship Napoleon our head cat (in Italian “gatto mammone”) for the same reason of destroying vermin. There was some growling going on behind the wine rack yesterday afternoon and this was why:

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What to do? Let nature take its course or intervene? Cat or mouse situation? Living in the country does mean mice come in the house from time to time, especially for warmth during the winter months. I am reliably informed that even in urban settings like London there will be considerable mouse (and rat) problems.

I saw Napoleon have fun with the poor rodent and then sentimentality finally got the upper hand:

Not being able to witness the mouse’s eventual disembowelment, I managed to scoop the frightened little thing into a sweeper and was able to deposit it in a quiet part of the garden where, no doubt, it will be chased by another feline.

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I would, anyway, prefer if my cats played with these mice – at least in the house – which they do, interrupting my TV viewing since the toys are lined up in front of the set.

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Reflection on human nature: if aggressive behaviour occurs between people do we just watch it or rush off, or do we intervene? It’s a pity some humans aren’t the size of a cat or even a mouse…


If your are not a cat-lover then don’t bother to read any further.

In recent days my facebook pages have been filled with friends mourning the death of their favourite felines. We are not talking about maiden aunts or reclusive authors. We are talking about tough men who are on projects in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border retraining ex-Taliban chiefs in correct mineral extraction. We are talking about young revolutionary Marxists who have visions of more equable societies. We are also talking about people, rather older, but still young in spirit who having braved the rigours of WWII and quite unsentimental about their academic work have suddenly found themselves without their cat.

We all have to die – to go we know not where, to lie in cold obstruction and to rot  – as our greatest playwright and poet once put it, and somehow the death of a favourite animal brings this all the closer to us.

What is extraordinary about all this is that animals know, far better than we can ever know when their allotted span on this earth is over. In the case of the older person the cat paid one last midnight call to him – the changed hue of his fur and the strange look of his eyes – was a wordless message to say that this would be the last time the two would meet, at least upon this planet.

I don’t quite know what I would do if my favourite Napoleone disappeared. It’s another big bridge I’ll have to cross some time, I suppose.

All those friends whose experiences have been recorded in letters or in facebook just this one year have thoughts linger on those places favourite to their felines where they would have a cat-nap, on the way they would perform  individual welcoming “ballets” when their “owner” returned home, on their particular expression, on everything else a cat does so much better than a human – indeed on that supernatural bond of affection and empathy which humans have for too long forgotten between themselves.

Even the dead mouse presented to me by Napoleone this morning was a special token of this love. OK, the mouse was gone but it had gone in a dignified way, knowing my cat – been given at least a little chance to recover its life which now had joined those of all the other mice and those of all the other cats who have treasured our company in the same way that we have treasured theirs. May they have God’s light shine upon them and may their love influence our love towards all animals and sentient beings!


A Castle and a Pieve

The high pressure area lingering over Italy (and much of Western Europe) invites one to be out and about. Yesterday I decided I’d give a few well-known places another look.

I know the large villages of Casabasciana and Crasciana rather well. Casabasciana is launching a photographic exhibition the details of which can be found at

It shouldn’t be too difficult to find photogenic sites in this part of the world!

As I was on the road that leads to both villages I looked up through the leafless forest and saw this:

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I stopped in wonder and explored the place. A beautifully built round turret lay just to the north of a ruined keep which had this coat of arms on it.

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An evocative roofless and empty church with a wonderful rounded apse completed the scene. I thought of “bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang”  except that the birds on this delightful harbinger of spring day were in full throat all about me.

I was particularty excited by the stone with a labyrinth sculpted on it. There are several of these in our province – the most famous of which is in the portico of Lucca cathedral. The significance of these labyrinths is, in my opinion, as a kind of metaphor for the search of an elusive spiritual enlightenment.

The keep had been badly restructured to contain some farm implements but the remainder showed little sign of recent occupation except for the lovely primroses which were sprouting out everywhere.

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I tried hard to find out about this defensive stronghold. The Val di Lima by its very nature, indeed its etymology (Lima derives from the root for borders or confines – the same root gives us the word “limit”), stands on the edge of one world (Lucca) and the start of another (Pistoia) and in past times was typical border country subject to invasions and menaces. However, I still can’t find out much about this ruin at all.

There are well-publicised castle ruins at Lucchio and Benabbio, and several others less well-known and even more ruined, in such places as the hill above san Gemignano, Casoli and Limano. I feel there should be a proper castle itinerary planned for the area to make these suggestive sites better known and loved.

Still continuing up towards Casabasciana I side-stepped into the little hamlet of Sala, a delightful collection of rustic houses populated mainly by cats and surrounded by some fine vineyards.

Further up from Sala is a magnificent Pieve now only open on its feast day which is Saint Johns (the 24th of June). This Pieve together with that of the Pieve di Controni, which is right on the other side of the Lima valley, used to be one of the two most important ecclesiastical buildings in the valley since only they were allowed to receive baptisms.

While the Pieve di Controni still serves regularly as a parish church the Pieve of Sala, which dates back to at least the thirteenth century, is sadly closed up. Looking at the façade I see that at some stage the aisle must have been extended upwards to produce its present shape. It’s sad that the campanile is so ruined and its staircase has collapsed.

Casabasciana, with its characteristic fan-like street plan and innumerable picturesque corners is too well-known, for me to describe it here. Crasciana too, called “La Pomposa”, because of its dominating position, is another enchanting village which compensates for its colder winter climate with longer hours of summer daylight.

From Crasciana it’s possible to get to Brandeglio via a mulattiera (Mule track). I started on this track on my scooter but after only a couple of miles came face-to-face with this.

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Too many landslides have been caused by the excessive rainfall this winter. I wonder when this one will be cleared. Next time I’ll treat this part of the itinerary as a walk rather than as a scoot!

Wall-to-wall sunshine and similarly wall-to-wall views of the most superlative quality – what else can one wish for on an excursion in the Lima valley?

PS I have since found that the ruined church is called the oratory of San Michele in Matriceto – thanks to a book which Debra Kolkka lent me – and dates back to the thirteenth century.

Cat Baskets

Every year at this time we take our two “official” cats, Napoleone and Carlotta to get their annual vaccine jabs at the vet in Fornoli. I say “official” because there are three other cats that we accept as being around. Two of  these  remain from the original five wild kittens we found in a nearby woodpile back in 2005 and a third took us  over when the neighbouring owner unexpectedly died in September 2012.

To return to the “official” cats: we found Napoleone after completing a somewhat hair-raising horse-ride from Pian di Ruscello near Ponte a Diana, Bagni di Lucca.  It was hair-raising because any fall from the horse didn’t just mean a fall to the ground; it meant a descent into some bottomless gorge below us. Such are the perils of mountain pony-trekking. Anyway, thanks to our leader, we came out unscathed and, recovering at base camp, I noticed a tiny paw coming out through the centre of a large mill-stone. I looked behind it and found this:


We returned home and realised we’d fallen in love with the little thing. Next morning I returned to the stables and asked if the kitten “belonged” to anyone. “No” was the reply, “you can take it with you if you like. We get mother cats depositing their kittens with us all the time.” So Napoleone was put into a cat box, strapped securely onto my scooter to become an essential part of our household. That was in August 2006. He’s got a bit bigger now!

Carlotta joined us in August 2012. We’d gone to the beer festival at Borgo a Mozzano. Just inside the entrance we noticed a cat in a cage being offered for adoption by the “piccole cuccie” (little pet baskets) association, whose objective is to rehouse abandoned and unwanted animals. We promised to be responsible pet-owners and signed a form which, among other clauses, stated that the kitten would be given to us on condition that it would be neutered – a most sensible point.

Happily, Napoleon and Carlotta took to each other almost immediately and there’s never been a paw lifted in anger against each other. They continue to eat, play and sleep together most amicably.

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Our Fornoli vet, Claudio Stefanini, must be well-known to several English pet owners in the area. Quite recently, he carried out an operation on a cat that had been run over and was rescued by a couple who live in nearby Guzzano. Claudio told me that he was particularly happy with the result of the operation, which had been a touch-and-go task since the poor animal was not really expected to pull through. Seeing the little beast the other week I was amazed at its quick recovery. Would humans were the same!

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Claudio’s practise  is opposite the Post Office at Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, 21, 55026 Fornoli, Bagni di Lucca Tel 0583 87476

His weekday opening hours are 10:00 – 12:00, 4:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Claudio also writes a very interesting blog (in Italian) at

I think his partner must have fallen in love with Carlotta too!

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As usual, our cats went to the vet for their injection inside a cat-box securely strapped to my scooter’s back seat and remained completely at ease . Start them riding young, I say.