2014 in review

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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.


Changed Plans for Midnight Mass

We were all ready to go and sing at Ghivizzano’s midnight Mass with our choir. We had our music and our voices but we didn’t have our car on our side. It just wouldn’t start! How could the battery have gone so flat in such a short time? Mild temperatures (it’s fourteen degrees this morning!) and a strong Libeccio wind blowing – never had these meteorological conditions on Christmas day before.

Our disappointment at not being able to get to the church on time (we’re quite a few hundred feet up a mountain, it was pouring icy rain and there was no-one else around going to the church, which is about ten miles away) was tempered by watching on TV Pope Francis celebrating his first Christmas mass.

I wonder what the brass ensemble was in the basilica. They were brilliant, playing the whole of the first chorus in Bach’s Christmas oratorio in an interesting arrangement. A lovely evening then was still had and today we look forwards to opening our presents and our Christmas lunch!

May your Christmas too be peaceful, pleasant and perfect! images (1)

Brutal or Beautiful?

It is either the most adventurous example of ecclesiastical architecture in the Serchio valley or, conversely, one of its ugliest. Built in that brutalist beton bruit Corbusier-inspired style familiar to many of us in the South Bank centre of London (In particular the Hayward gallery) Fornaci di Barga’s parish church can arouse the most opposed views. One thing is certain, however, one cannot remain indifferent to it.

All those conventions of church architecture which have held fast for centuries are here utterly overturned or rather transmogrified: the nave, the aisles, and the steeple are all there but one has often to look rather hard to recognize them!

Sometimes the transformed features have a certain creativeness. At other times they produce utter bathos. The font, for example, looks like some mini-Jacuzzi-style bath in a luxury pent-house suite and I almost mistook the entrance water stoup for a large ashtray. And as for the confessionals..do they really have to look like super-loos?

The cupola over the high altar has been cubistized to an absurd degree and, frankly, must be a tremendous heat-loser. No amount of proposed fresco painting could ever hope to alleviate its oppressive prison-like gloom.

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The fact is that although “Corbu” is generally still assumed to be a major figure in architectural history he is very easy to imitate in a less-than-brilliant way and his pronouncements (e.g. “a house is a machine for living”) have spawned a scandalous number of third rate mock-ups. Compare, for example, the pioneering unité d’habitation at Marseilles with the Roehampton estate in London! Certainly Fornaci’s church is nowhere near the primitive beauty of that master’s pilgrimage church at Ronchamp. Is this church then just a “machine for believing”? (As if there could be any juxtaposition of Faith with psycho-mechanistic processes…)

We generally know where to look for steps, or even entrances and exits, in a church but here they crop up in the most unsuspected places: round a corner, behind a pillar. One could easily trip up (like I did…) or fail to trace the entrance. (Yesterday was the first time I found it after several years…)

I felt the slight sloping of the church floor towards the high altar was rather disconcerting. I’d never come across this feature in any other modern church and couldn’t quite see the point of it – it certainly didn’t improve the sight-lines towards the centre of attraction and gave me a feel rather of walking around a gigantic barge placed in a marginally turbulent lagoon – an impression emphasized by the port-holes which act as windows on the entrance wall.

It was the christmas crib that got me to connect again with this church – tradition in the face of modernity. Surely no place for constructivist statues here.

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The church’s exterior has a copper roof donated by the local Metal works (seehttps://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/shuftying-about/ ) that would do credit to any late sixties English university campus and the campanile would not look out of place as a flue chimney to a modern chemical processing plant.

The church, however, does score over individual works of art. The stained glass is quite spectacular and there are some worthy paintings and sculpture.

The entrance doors, too, are quite impressive.

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I would be very interested in knowing what the original reaction to Fornaci di Barga’s church was when it was inaugurated back in last century’s seventies. Did the edifice promise a brave new world of faith? Did it present a “with-it” world to younger people? What did the older folk think about it?

One thing is certain, however: there would be no funds to build such a construction in these financially- restricted times and of insufficient faith too. The new church, which was built to accommodate Fornaci’s increasing population, has now a congregation which would easily fit again into the old and smaller church built in the nineteenth century and which is so much more familiar and user-friendly. Many of us might agree that this is a good thing…

Italian Anglicanism

John Betjeman, the English poet, architectural historian, eccentric and nostalgiarian stated that some of the best Victorian architecture he’d come across was in Australia. “Betjeman in Australia”, a co-production between the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, made in 1971 is a result of the great man’s love affair with things Victorian.

I only wish Betjeman had been able to make a film about Victorian Anglican churches in Italy, for there are some wonderful examples here.

I have made this “database” of Anglican (or ex-Anglican) churches in Italy below which might be of interest to those who are nostalgic about Evensong, carol concerts, oak panelling, lancet windows, pre-Raphaelite decorations or Willis organs:








All Saints 1839 Via Whipple, Bagni di Lucca Pardini Gothic Public library Oldest Anglican church in Italy
Anglican church 1863 Bordighera ? Romanesque Arts centre
Christchurch 1865 Via San Pasquale, Naples Thomas Smith & son Gothic Anglican worship
Church of the Holy Cross 1875 Via Roma, Palermo Henry Christian Gothic Anglican worship
Saint Mark 1880 Via Maggio, Florence Tooth Gothic and Arts & Crafts Anglican worship Concerts and exhibitions
Saint Paul within the Walls 1880 Via Nazionale Rome G. E.  Street Romanesque Gothic Anglican worship Burne-Jones mosaics
All Saints 1882 Via del Babuino, Rome G.E. Street Gothic Anglican worship
Saint George 1892 Dorsoduro, Venice Restructured from existing palace Renaissance Anglican worship T. H. Walker organ (1903) restored in 2003
Saint George 1902 Via Costaguta Rapallo ? Romanesque Completely restored For sale at 3 million euros Max Beerbohm’s funeral here  in 1956
Saint James 1911 Orti Oricellari Mazzanti Gothic Anglican (episcopal) worship New Willis organ installed 2009    David Bowie married here

There’s also another anglican church at Viareggio dating from 1909 but which is now a (not very recommendable) pizzeria.

What’s interesting about this is that, out of the eleven churches, seven are still used for Anglican worship (under the diocese of Gibraltar (!)). A 66% figure for continued Anglican worship abroad is remarkable when it is considered that in London alone less than half of Victorian churches built are still in use or even standing!

All the ten Anglican churches in Italy are sited in locations of diplomatic (Rome), commercial (Palermo), or holidaying (Bagni di Lucca, Bordighera etc.) importance.

By the early nineteenth century Bagni di Lucca had become a resort, and even permanent residence, for many British people, rather like Spain’s Costa Brava or France’s Dordogne are today. Colonel Stisted, a distinguished resident, decided, therefore, to initiate a project to build an Anglican church accommodating requests for a permanent place for Sunday worship. In 1839, Charles of Bourbon, Duke of Lucca, gave Stisted permission to build the “Palace of the English Nation,” the name by which he preferred to call the building to avoid offending the Catholic clergy.

The work was entrusted to Luccan architect Giuseppe Pardini (who also built the triangular ex-hotel de Russie in Ponte a Serraglio where once best-selling author Ouida used to stay, the Casinò Reale and the bridge at the Ospedale Demidoff where the global village is now). Pardini designed a building hearkening back to the “gothick” style of the eighteenth century where (as at Walpole’s “Strawberry Hill” in Twickenham, London) gothicky motifs and decorations are applied to a classically proportioned building.

Bagni di Lucca’s Anglican Church is, therefore, exceptional for three reasons:

  1. It is the first purpose-built building for Anglican worship in Italy (and another first for Tuscany which also was the first region in Europe to abolish the death penalty on 30th November 1786 – a fact celebrated in the region’s celebration day yesterday).
  2. Because protestant worship places could not look too obviously like churches, the gothic style favoured by most protestant churches is applied onto a renaissance-style palazzo!
  3. The church was officially named the “Palace of the English nation”; again to make it less obvious that it was a place of (to Roman Catholics then) heretically considered worship.

After 1861, when Italy became one country, secular government policies allowed Anglican churches to be fully visible and, therefore, built in entirely neo-gothic style with spires and towers. This means that many of the Anglican churches in other areas will actually be recognizable as such! For example, Palermo’s Anglican Church (the city where we stayed at the end of 2011) looks definitely like one and would not be at all out of place in some English rural village, although in Palermo it looks a bit odd!


Debra Kolkka has an informative and extensively illustrated post on Bagni di Lucca’s church, now the local library, at http://bellabagnidilucca.com/2012/02/18/the-english-church-in-bagni-di-lucca/ .

The following photographs will therefore supplement hers. Again, it is fortunate that the church is still standing, although now dedicated to a secular purpose. The last Anglican Church service was held there in 1951 and then the building was allowed to decay. I do feel that the stained glass windows and some of the wall decorations should have a minimum of restoration applied to them.

If one wants to do some research or just plain reading on a wet and miserable winter’s afternoon there is nothing to beat a place like Bagni’s Bibliotheca Comunale which is managed under the highly capable hands of Ms Angela Amadei.

Sometimes, when browsing tomes among the unremembered commemoration plaques adorning the library’s walls I seem to hear ghostly chants of psalms and hymns of bygone congregations and even feel the swish of chasubles and surplices sweeping the floor…

Pieces of Squares

We wandered through the dense conifer forest to emerge into a grassy plateau reminiscent of our own Prato Fiorito but on a much larger scale. The cool temperature of these heights was a welcome contrast to the still oppressive heat of the plain we had started out from.


 The area, with its marram grasses and scatterings of rocks reminded us a little of Wales and we realised that, perhaps, two thousand metres height over here is roughly equivalent to two hundred metres over there in terms of ecological area.

 The views from the plateau were stunning and reached as far as the Adriatic Sea. It was a truly quiet and peaceful place.


Yet it had not always been so. This same place had been out of bound to the public until quite recently as it was the site of a US radar relay station connected with a nearby missile bunker during the cold war era. From here news of a nuclear attack would be transmitted to fighting forces and orders might have been broadcast that sent weapons on the way to blast half, if not all, the world to smithereens.

The site had been returned by the USA to Italy in the 1990’s and the local authorities had transformed it into a “peace piazza”. In the centre, at the mountain’s summit, was a cross and an altar and the whole had been blessed by the bishop. This is just one such square throughout the world and links up with an international network of them.

 I have a vision of so many sites associated with war today returned to the people and dedicated to peace instead.

Thinking of the UK I would like to see places like Greenham common and other ex-US air and missile bases transformed into peace piazzas with a memorial and some explanation of what they were used for together with a promise of better times for the future.

Let’s hope that many more peace piazzas may be established throughout the world. For the time being, I feel that the following animals, which we found grazing near the peace square, were making so many of the world leaders seriously intellectually challenged….



Delicious Dulcinea

 Before starting work yesterday, I met up with, Tania, a former colleague I’d collaborated with in language teaching. Her husband, Mirco, is a brilliant pastry cook and a socio (partner) of the Pasticceria Caffetteria Dulcinea 2/A, Via Pesciatina at Lunata near Lucca. As you can see from the photos Dulcinea (clearly a play of words on Don Quixote’s sweetheart and the Italian “dolce”) has a truly excellent range of delicious pastries, drinks, great location on the main road from Pescia to Lucca, good parking facilities and a nice exterior seating area as well (good when it’s finally sunny!) It’s also pretty hot on ice-cream.

My friend, originally from Canada, runs a very successful summer camp at her nearby home in Tassignano. Activities provided at the camp are varied and exciting – both educational and recreational and artistic. Already several of my students with younger children are considering joining the first of their colleagues who has enrolled her twins there: mums and dads wondering what to do with their young offspring are very welcome to contact Tania – details here: img325 The heroes of our time are owners of, or partners in, small businesses, whether they be shopkeepers, service providers, bar-tenders, restaurateurs or hoteliers. They have to be in order to survive in a Europe besieged by spiralling costs, continuing economic crisis, recession, increasing inflation and reduction of the person-in-the-street’s spending capacity.

In Bagni di Lucca I have seen too many small businesses fold up – places that I thought had been solidly assured to last: the Borghesi bar and restaurant, Tuija’s Silver shop, garden shops and so on. Clearly there may have been other factors apart from the financial ones playing their part in their closure – small businesses are notoriously dependent on family dynamics! But, at the same time gross shopping centres (centri commerciali) have been given permits to go ahead where they are not required and where they suck away many potential local shop clients.

OK, one might say it’s the dynamics of the market but the fact remains that many of these centri commerciali have been discovered to have less than healthy financial backgrounds (phrases like money laundering etc. are not inappropriate here). Around the Rome environs, for example, thirty-four totally superfluous new centri commerciali have been approved for this year alone!

Here is a picture of yet another centro commerciale sprouting up on the Viale Europa on a formerly delightful green-field site near Lunata – quite unnecessary since there is a big one less than a mile away.

I am reminded of all this because the recent and continuing Turkish protests around Istanbul’s Tacsim square and beyond originally stem from a proposal to redevelop the historic square as a shopping centre! People today are returning to a day-by-day shopping experience. They are increasingly buying what serves them for the next day or two and not stuffing their deep-freezers with rations more suitable for a regiment. Mass buying (and probably, eventual throwing away of surplus requirements) is not as big as it used to be – partly, of course, because there just isn’t the money there once was in people’s pockets.

People might say that you save money in mammoth stores – but not if you find you have to throw half the stuff away later on and that you have to spend more than you thought on fuel, time and parking fees to get there in the first place. Do you really want the desertification of your local town centre with boarded up shops and hoards of bored semi-drunks roaming along the featureless ex-shopping streets?

(Pic below – a great place to shop? Tricorn shopping centre in Portsmouth, UK)


Why do I love Italian towns? It’s not just because of their historic centres, lively street life, nice weather (usually)  and often amazing locations but because the individual character of each one is ensured by their own particularly unique mix of shops – the triumph of the small business, in fact. Italy is the EU country with the greatest number of “piccole aziende”, well over half the economy. (In the UK it is well under half.Someone told me once that the difference between Altrincham and Stoke (UK cities) is that in Altrincham the Boots is to the left of Marks and Spencer while in Stoke the Boots is to the right of Marks and Spencer).

I try, as far as possible, to shop locally, not just for food but for household items. I can think of many smaller shops in my area where the prices are truly competitive, the service is brilliant and if anything goes wrong you don’t have to travel to a warehouse miles away and be met by unhelpful faces.

I hope this goes for most of you reading this post and – if you do find yourself near Via Pesciatina 2a do drop on for a cappuccino at Dulcinea and a pastry as well – you won’t be disappointed!