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…

O for a beaker full of the warm South

Birdsong, literally the most heavenly music there is, has divided even composers. Mahler, for example, was obsessive about not having any extraneous sound disturb him while composing his symphonies during his summer break in the Austrian Alps and ordered his domestic servants to shoo away birds from the log cabin he used to write in. (He had a softer spot for cows and their bells, so magically transported into his sixth and seventh symphonies, however).

Messiaen, on the other hand, was enraptured by birdsong, famously writing his Catalogue d’Oiseaux, a set of seven books of piano pieces based on intensive hearing and transcriptions of birdsongs which also enter into several of his other works, most notably in his Quartet for the End of Time.

Respighi went one better, actually introducing a recording of a nightingale in the score in his “Pines of Rome”. Since he wrote the piece when only 78rpm shellac records were available, it must have been quite a scratchy song at its first performance.

For me the most haunting piece of music ever written is Cantus Arcticus by the Finn Rautavaara who uses pre-recorded birdsongs as an integral part of the score. The strange, ethereal whining song of arctic swans migrating is quite unforgettable and conjures up the desolation, freedom and strange beauty of the polar regions.

Instrumental music imitative of birdsong enters into all periods. Baroque-wise, one just has to think of Daquin’s Cuckoo; romantic-wise it’s the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony and that piece which used to wake up Radio Three listeners in the seventies Vaughan-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.”

Last night I too was woken up around 2 am by bird song. It sounded so exquisite that I opened all my windows to hear it. The bird, of course, was the nightingale, as outstanding as a singer as it is dull to look at.

Darkling I listened and heard a precise chaconne-type pattern based on two notes. The chaconne’s variations were astounding! The bird sang for much longer, of course, than my little excerpt. Each variation was decorated with acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas, slides, trills, portamenti, staccati and everything that enters the realm and vocabulary of musical ornamentation.

It was like some goddess was speaking through this bird. Indeed, in the Greek myth of Philomela, the raped girl is turned into a nightingale and sings her lament. (Actually it’s only the male that sings). Shakespeare refers to this myth in several of his writings. For example, in Titus Andronicus, when Lavinia is raped and has her tongue and hands cut off so that she cannot speak or write her rapist’s name:

Ravish’d and wrong’d, as Philomela was

More pleasantly, Shakespeare compares his poetry celebrating love to the nightingale’s song (Philomel) in sonnet 102:

Our love was new, and then but in the spring,

When I was wont to greet it with my lays;

As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,

And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:


Of course, the greatest and best known of poems to this blissful bird is Keats’ Ode – one of the few poems I still remember by heart. (I am so glad I am today living in the “warm south”!)

If you can’t remember it then here is the complete text:



My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

         But being too happy in thine happiness,—

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

                        In some melodious plot

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

                        And purple-stained mouth;

         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

         What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

                        And leaden-eyed despairs,

         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;

                        But here there is no light,

         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

         Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

                        And mid-May’s eldest child,

         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

         I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

         To take into the air my quiet breath;

                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

                        In such an ecstasy!

         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—

                   To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

         No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

         In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

                        The same that oft-times hath

         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

                        In the next valley-glades:

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?






A Peasant’s Life?

I need that Irish monk’s help (see my previous post) in my campo (allotment). Everything is growing so fast, particularly the weeds and grass!

The other problem is water. I’m hoping, indeed praying, for rain. One must water everything twice daily: early in the morning and just before supper. It’s pointless to water things during the day. And the higher summer temperatures haven’t even hit us yet!

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Tomatoes of five different varieties, courgettes, cucumbers, melons and various types of salad are now settled down after their birth-pangs. Fruit trees are showing good signs of flourishing too.

Anyway, there could be no more beautiful place to do one’s gardening than here.

There is sufficient tree cover to cool off in the hotter parts of the day. The occasional wild animal pays a visit (mainly deer – hopefully not wolves which are becoming more frequent in these parts as local shepherds inform us) and there’s lots of peace and quiet. I might even pitch my tent here and enjoy a bit of very local camping.

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I’m off again this early  morning for more de-weeding, grass-cutting and watering. I’m feeling more of a peasant (in the positive sense of the word) every day and have little impetus to be away for more than a day or two from my field.

The soil really ties one down. We are made from its products (home-grown taste so much better than anything a supermarket could provide) and one day will return to it too….

It’s truly the good life at the moment!





May’s Marian Garden

The original dedication of the month of May to the Virgin Mary in Italy can only be dated back to the mid-eighteenth century when it was first celebrated at Grezzano near Verona.

Certain it is, however, that by the nineteenth century May had become Mary’s special month throughout Italy and beyond, becoming officially dedicated to Jesus’ mother by Pope Paul VI in his 1965 encyclical, Mense Maio.

With its time-worn custom of syncretising pre-Christian rituals with ecclesiastical ones, Mary’s month clearly relates back to ancient Celtic customs such as the May Queen who rides in front of a May Day procession wearing a white gown, tiara and covered with flowers and who then initiates dancing around the Maypole – a custom that can even be found in parts of Italy such as Friuli and Marche (though not in Lucca province – perhaps someone should introduce it?)


Variants of this fertility-based, summer-welcoming custom were somewhat cruel. For example, in Christopher Lee’s cult movie “The Wicker Man”, recalling the May ritual, human sacrifice is involved.

At the chiesina of Longoio’s Mass in praise of the Virgin Mary last Saturday, and celebrated by Don Franco, the only sacrifice remembered was Christ’s during the Eucharist and it was just the altar which was covered with flowers, especially the white pure lily signifying the Angel’s annunciation to Mary that she would bear a son who would save the world.

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Indeed, honouring Mary with flowers is first mentioned in the life of Saint Fiacre, the Irish patron saint of gardening.The saintly monk made a garden around a little church dedicated to Our Lady in the seventh century!


The chiesina has two beautiful picture of the Virgin. This year, apart from the seventeenth century masterpiece crowning the altar, the indefatigable Claudio found and cleaned up another,possibly early nineteenth century, painting lying forgotten in the back of the church and hung it most effectively so that everyone present could now  see and admire it.

What better place, then, to celebrate the Marian month of May than in Longoio’s chiesina almost completely hidden in the forest and surrounded by wild flowers and the chirruping of birds?


Marian May at Longoio’s la Margine little Church

May is also Marian May – a month dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church calendar. Many small and forgotten chapels in our area will have their doors opened, their floors swept and the altars adorned with flowers for perhaps the only time during the year, and the local priest will come and celebrate Mass

We passed two local parishioners yesterday busy at working getting our chapel at Longoio ready for the celebration which will take place this Saturday afternoon. This morning the strimmers were hard at work cutting down the ever-so-fast growing grass on the path leading to our little church which is called “La Chiesina della Margine”.


It’s important to look after a place even if the comune doesn’t – long may these celebrations continue if they help keep the grass cut and the area around looking a little more presentable


Yesterday we had some guests very dear to us for lunch. So we too had to think about making our house presentable.

Guests, whether they come from heaven or from this planet, are wonderful reasons for making sure that everything is spic-and-span around you.

The following photographs come from the Marian May celebration at our little church in 2006. It is sad to think that some of the people shown here have indeed gone away from this planet…

Wisteria (or Glicine) Part two:

I got such a lot of questions about “how about your wisteria – you haven’t sent us any pictures of it ” after I published this morning’s post  on “Wistful Wisteria” that I braved the almost gale-like exterior of our little garden just now and managed to take these shots in the rain. Hope they won’t disappoint too much – certainly not Bardini-spectacular but we love our wisteria and it brightens up this gloomy day no end!