Easter Lunch

Italian Easter eggs are a world away from the usual seasonal confectionery on sale in the UK. Here there are no crème eggs or those fabulous Cadbury’s mini ones:

(grateful donation from neighbours from the UK)

Italy, however, more than makes up for it in the sheer size of some chocolate eggs.

UOVO-ENORME

Unlike UK Easter eggs, Italian ones have their halves melded together so one must break them apart, not only to appreciate the fine chocolate (normally fondant) they are made of but also to get at the ‘sorpresa’ or surprize contained within. Usually, this prize is a simple enough thing like a piece of tinsel jewellery or a fluffy chick but sometimes (and of course one has to pay the price) it can turn out to be an expensive ring or silver statuette.

Here is one of our Easter eggs:

And here is the ‘sorpresa’ contained within. It’s an inflatable bunny at which you can throw inflatable rings. What fun!

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Our Easter lunch was a happy mixture of UK and Italy. This is what we ate:

Antipasto (or appetizer openers):

Lasagne (not your frozen rubbish but meticulously handmade with béchamel sauce by Sandra)

Involtini (lamb parcels with Easter surprise filling: sage, walnut, thyme, rosemary and bread):

Home –made Tiramisu ringed with Savoyard biscuits.

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In case you want to make your own Tiramisu (the word literally means ‘pick me up’ and it sure does!) here’s our recipe

INGREDIENTS:

  1. 2-4 eggs
  2. mascarpone
  3. espresso
  4. ladyfingers (Savoyards or Pavesini biscuits)
  5. A small spoonful of sugar
  6. A drop of alcohol e.g. amaretto or rum)
  7. A sprinkle of cocoa powder on top

METHOD

Separate 2-4 eggs, and place the egg whites in one bowl, and egg yolks in another.

Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the egg white bowl:

Use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Put the stiff egg whites aside, and switch over to the egg yolk bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the egg yolks:

Whip this mixture for a couple of minutes, until the mixture goes from bright yellow to a pale yellow colour.

Add the mascarpone cheese (nothing else will do, not even cottage cheese…It’s a mild and creamy Italian cheese that typically comes in small tubs).

Mix in the mascarpone with the hand mixer until incorporated, and then gently fold in the stiff egg whites, 1/3 at a time:

Now build the tiramisu!

Make some proper espresso coffee. When the espresso has cooled to room temperature, combine it with a drop of amaretto or rum or suitable alcoholic drink.

Dip the ladyfingers into the espresso and alcohol mixture,

Place them in a square or circular bowl

Ring the bowl with further ladyfingers

Then pour over a layer of the mascarpone cream to cover, and repeat.

Put the tiramisu in the fridge for around five hours minimum so as to let the layers soak into each other and combine the flavours.

Serve the tiramisu cold, with a dusting of cocoa powder on top.

***

The other essential ingredient of the Italian Easter is the cake. Nationally it’s ‘La Colombina’, or little dove, a delicious cake with candied fruit and almond nuts. Here is the one we bought:

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Locally, there will be regional variants. In Lucca, for example, the classic Easter cake is the ‘pasimata’. I’ve only bought this from good bakeries within the town walls and have never made it myself. La Pasimata is leavened bread, flavoured with anise seeds and orange peel. It is traditionally consumed during Lent and, blessed in the church, on Easter day.

Formerly, pasimata was prepared with the addition of saffron and fennel and was called pangiallo (yellow bread). There are actually two distinct types of pasimata: the Lucca version and the Garfagnana version.

  • Lucca’s version is kneaded like bread and divided into rectangular loaves mixed with aniseed seeds.
  • The Garfagnana version includes raisins and resembles a panettone (typical Milanese fruit cake, now gone nation-wide).

It would be nice to find a recipe for our area and make our own next year.

How was your Easter lunch. Any local touches we don’t have over here? Do let us know…

(Our Easter recital with audience)

Meanwhile, outside…

 

Easter / Pasqua 2019

EASTER HYMN

 

Easter bells are ringing,

joyousness is spread,

and earth’s choirs are singing

our Lord is not dead.

 

Risen from the stone grave

we have seen him now,

returning Christ, to save

us with one great vow:

 

to destroy death and sin,

restore God’s image,

reveal the love within,

live from age to age.

***

INNO DI PASQUA

Le campane di Pasqua stanno suonando,
la gioia è diffusa,
e i cori della terra stanno cantando
‘il nostro Signore non è morto’.

Risorto dalla tomba di pietra
lo abbiamo visto ora,
ritorno di Cristo, per salvare
noi con un grande voto:

per distruggere la morte e il peccato,
ripristinare l’immagine di Dio,
rivelare l’amore dentro,
vivere da età a età.

FLP

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Civil Union at Vicopisano

Cast your eyes back to an Italy of the nineteen sixties, the swinging age and the time of sexual liberation in so many countries especially in the UK and the US of A, and you’ll find a nation still entrenched in religious dogma and old-fashioned prejudice. At that time there was no Italian State law to allow divorce; abortion was a crime and same sex relationships were, if not quite anti-Wildean in their anathematic intolerance, pretty close to it…

Yet one must not consider Italy in the last century as an intolerant society. While (often innocent) victims were being regularly hanged in the UK, Tuscany had long since abolished the death penalty. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, on November 30th 1786, under the reign of Peter Leopold Habsburg Lorraine, for the first time in the world, stopped torture and capital punishment with a formal act.

Under a united Italy the death penalty was abolished in 1889. That is, indeed, some aspect of civilization and freedom: just compare the UK where the last woman hanged was Ruth Ellis in 1955 and the last man, Peter Anthony Allen, in 1964.

However, Italy lagged behind in laws regulating sexual  matters and equality of women. The ‘crime of honour’ (if murdering a female partner could ever be described as an honourable thing…) was only eradicated from the statue book in 1981. Since that year there has been no leniency shown for murdering a female partner. Yet the law cannot automatically change men’s attitudes. In 2018, for example no less than 94 women were bludgeoned to death by their jealous male partners who felt that that their own ‘honour’ in society and that of their family would have gone for ever. (One recent and particularly horrific case involved setting alight to the car where ‘his’ woman and her two children were confined.)

On 1 December 1970, divorce was introduced into the Italian legal system. Before that time annulment of marriage was a lengthy and costly procedure involving the tribunal of the Vatican City in the ‘sacra rota’.

In 1978 law no, 194 established rules for the social protection of maternity and the “voluntary interruption of pregnancy”, and, for the first time, decriminalized and regulated the modalities of access to the abortion.

Just over two years ago, in 2016, a new law called ‘legge Cirinnà’ after the female politician who encouraged its establishment, came into effect.  The law regulates the civil union between persons of the same sex: gay couples, qualified as “specific social formations”, were able for the first time in Italian history to take advantage of a new legal institution of public law called civil union. In this regard, reference is made to article two of the constitution which deals with the equality of citizens without distinction of sex, and article three, on equal social dignity of citizens without distinction of sex.

It was with great happiness, therefore, that we attended the civil union of two of our oldest friends in Italy, Giovanni and Andrea. The ceremony took place in the Pretorian palace of Vicopisano, part of the magnificent fortress designed by Brunelleschi – he of the dome of Florence cathedral – and was presided over by the mayor of the district.

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(For more on the fortress see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/vicopisano-and-brunelleschis-military-architect).

The ceremony was very well attended. As a professor, local historian and guardian of the fortress and of the temple of Minerva (for this arcane temple see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/a-mysterious-temple/), Giovanni is loved and respected by a wide section of Pisan society. What was also wonderful was the fact that everyone who attended accepted the new law as if it had always been in place. There was real jubilation that the love (‘that once dared not speak its name’) between them (they’d known each for over 25 years) had finally been legally recognised by the Italian state.

After the ceremony there was a reception in the palace which houses an interesting museum.

From thence we went to a fine local restaurant (Chez Mes Amis at San Giovanni della Vena) for a truly gargantuan spread….

(PS. It’s good to know that Italy is moving forwards fast. Meanwhile in those islands north of Calais a nation is turning its back on the future in search of a long lost dream of ‘taking back’ its sovereignty. I do not doubt for a minute that if another lie-ridden referendum were held in that part of the world on capital punishment the results would be to bring back hanging. )

Ponte a Moriano Welcomes the Bard’s Scottish Play

When teaching English at the Da Vinci secondary school in the San Concordio area of Lucca I collaborated with a colleague in the writing and production of a play with the theme of English history from the Romans to the Beatles. We felt that this would be a great way for our pupils to really speak the language and express themselves through theatre. We obtained the help of a choreographer who taught our classes dances appropriate to various period of England’s history: pavanes for Shakespeare’s time to twist and jive in the 1960’s.

The play was a great success, both with the pupils and with the audience, and it had to be repeated outside the school hall at Lucca’s San Girolamo theatre.

The medium of the theatre is, indeed, a great way to improve language skills both in speaking and in comprehension. It was, therefore, no surprise that the majority of the audience were school children at the English Theatre group‘s production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play in Ponte a Moriano’s Nieri theatre last week.

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Five actors played all the parts in this, the bard’s most concise and fast-moving play.

The performance was generally convincing and certainly the attention of the young audience was fully engaged.

But who are the English theatre company? They are a touring group of actors based in Pisa. Some are native English speakers others are speakers of English as a second language. The company’s main aim is to present both classic and original plays in English (with subtitles) so that the audience can get something of the cadences of the language and see it truly work in dramatic situations. In one word …communication. That’s why I feel that English first language speakers in the Bagni di Lucca area who lack confidence in speaking Italian would do well to attend plays in Italian. We have completed a successful and very varied season at Bagni di Lucca’s own theatre. I wonder how many residents from English speaking areas attended any of the plays.

Our Lady

 

My heart is burning,
melting snows of winters past:
tears of Our Lady.

***

Brucia il cuor mio,
scioglie la neve d’inverni passati:
lacrime della Nostra Signora.

 

paris01

(1986)

Borgo is ‘My Flower’

Every April Borgo a Mozzano hosts a lovely flower festival.  On even numbered years it’s the azalea festival and on odd numbered years it’s the ‘my flower festival.’ Although the latter is on a smaller scale than the azalea festival it’s still a very lively and enjoyable event.

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The flower show is also a way of publicising the various towns and villages which make up the comune of Borgo a Mozzano. Here are some of the displays which I liked most, especially those with models of the villages they represented:

Here is Bagni di Lucca’s contribution:

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The forestry department had a poignant display, complete with model water bomber, reminding us of the terrible fire which raged for several days on our hills last month (see https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/our-forests-on-fire/):

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Local schools had displays illustrating games from by-gone times:

Borgo’s symbol is, of course, the magnificent bridge spanning the Serchio river and built by order of the countess Matilda in the eleventh century.  Here it is represented with flowers:

Here is a selection of further displays. Note the Japanese cherry blossom garden, the real cat among the bunnies, the old agricultural items, the modern technology used in making necci (chestnut pancakes) and much else.

In addition to the street displays there were also art and photographic exhibitions.

The phenomenon of David Bonaventuri and his brilliant photography is on display in its all-defying virtuosity at Borgo a Mozzano’s Library until the 28th of April. The show is titled ‘Beyond Pain’, a reference to the fact that David had to have his left leg amputated in 2012 as a result of a work accident – absolutely not his fault – when a tree  fell on it. This has in no way limited David’s activities as a photographer and explorer of our area. In fact, at 5 pm on April 27th, at the Circolo dei Forestieri, a book on ancient rock engravings in our mountains in which he participated is being presented at the Sala Rosa of Bagni di Lucca’s circolo dei forestieri.

Meanwhile, here is a taster of the photography exhibition and its opening  ceremony (forgive the inevitable glass reflections).

It’s a real pity that the weather on Saturday wasn’t of the best. Sunday was much worst, however, with dismal downpours most of the day. I was, therefore, glad to visit when I did.

If you want to compare this year’s festival with that of the ones we have visited in previous years you can click on any of my previous posts regarding the event:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/legging-it-in-leghorn/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/blooming-azaleas/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/astounding-azaleas-are-arriving/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/05/21/my-flower-is-at-borgo-a-mozzano/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/another-fabulous-borgo-azalea-festival/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/borgo-blooms-again-for-its-azalea-festival/

 

 

An Evening of Joy and Beauty in Lucca Cathedral

Take one of the finest youth choirs in the UK, place them in one of Tuscany’s most glorious cathedrals, Lucca’s San Martino, and hear them singing a wide repertoire ranging from renaissance through baroque to Britten and one has all the ingredients for a lovely evening of music, full of joy and beauty.

 

Taplow Choirs was founded in 2004 by Gillian Dibden and Philip Viveash as a centre for local singers and to bring together children and adults wishing to build their singing skills. They have become a centre of singing excellence in the area.

There are four Taplow choirs: children’s choir, boys’ choir, girls’ choir and the youth choir.

The Taplow youth choir, formed in 2006, currently has seventy five members, aged between 15 and 18. It was awarded BBC Radio 3’s “Youth Choir of the Year” in 2008 and won the prestigious ‘Music for Youth’ award in the same year. The choir participated in the International Choral Competition in Tallinn, Estonia, in April 2009, and won 2nd prize in the Youth category. Regular visitors to the Windsor Festival, the choir also sings Evensong in St. George’s chapel, Windsor castle every year. It participates in the young singers program with the Gabrieli Consort, and has performed Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ with the Consort at the Royal Albert Hall.

The choir’s Music Director, Gillian Dibden, has a long career in music, especially working with young people. In 2009 she received the MBE for her work with young people and children’s choirs. We were able to meet Gillian after the concert and she felt that this year’s choir intake was one of the best she’d had. We fully concurred.

Every other year the Taplow youth choir goes on a European tour and this year it was Italy’s turn to be feasted by their singing. Florence and Siena  follow on from Lucca where the concert in the Cathedral formed part of the “Music in the Cathedral” series of events.

Here, in Lucca cathedral, is a snippet of the choir singing that sweet Henry Purcell anthem ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’. The cathedral’s accoustics lent themselves particularly well to this anthem.

And this piece, ‘Ave Virgo Sanctissima’ by the Spanish Guerrrero, shows how well the choir  performs renaissance polyphony:

This section from Faure’s consoling requiem was most affectingly sung:

It’s rare enough to hear one of my favourite composers, Gerald Finzi, in the UK; to hear him in Italy is really special. “Come Away, Come Away, Death” (the words are from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) is the first item in Finzi’s song cycle ‘Let Us Garlands Bring’ composed in 1942 for Vaughan-Williams’ 70th birthday. The highly bizarre note intervals are a real challenge to any singer but the soloist did pretty well, I feel.

The Allegri ‘Miserere’  is the piece that fourteen year old Mozart heard during Holy Week and wrote down entirely from memory. It was beautifully performed with the famous stratospheric sections sung from the cathedral pulpit by a select group from the choir.

Here are the concluding items in the wide-ranging repertoire the Taplow Youth Choir sings

It’s somewhat unfortunate that the audience was rather less than the forty members of the choir, despite very widespread publicity. There were clearly more British in the audience than Italians, although Elio Antichi, director of one of Lucca’s most notable choirs ‘il baluardo’, was present and was astounded by the quality of sound from such young singers. Perhaps Monday night is not a very good weekday for a concert in Italy.

However, I am quite sure that Florence has received this lovely choir with much greater presence. Youth choirs from the UK have truly much to teach their Italian youth counterparts.

(For other concerts in the “Music in the Cathedral” series of events see http://www.musicaincattedralelucca.com/).

PS In the UK I studied the Javanese court gamelan orchestra with distinguished teacher Nikhil Dally. I learnt about the concert through him; his daughter is an alto in the Taplow choir on its Italian tour.

 

Ways to spend Easter-Time in the Lucchesia

Question: What to do over Easter if you’re around Bagni di Lucca? Answer: plenty!

My own selection (at present!) would be as follows:

April

17th

At Bagni di Lucca. Via Crucis. Traditional Good Friday procession

18h

At 21.00 ‘Processione dei crocioni’ at Castiglione della Garfagnana. Re-enactment of Christ’s Via Dolorosa procession with Last Supper, Kiss of Judas, flagellation and Cross-bearing chained and barefoot white-hooded local as Christ. For more about this incredibly evocative manifestation see my posts at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/feet-washing-and-cross-carrying/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/the-passion-according-to-castiglione-di-garfagnana/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/passionate-events-in-tuscany/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/a-passion-evening-in-castiglione-della-garfagnana/

21st

Pasqua (Easter Day)

As the Italian saying goes: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi’ (Spend Christmas with your family and Easter with who you like).

22nd

Pasquetta (Easter Monday).

A traditional time in Italy for excursions, walks, cycling, perhaps even seaside Easter is so late this year.

How about this event?

Marlia, Villa Reale. All day. Botanical treasure hunt. (Specially for children but adults will find it amusing too). Discover new plants and flowers and enjoy the royal villa’s gardens.

25th

Giorno della liberazione. Italian liberation day. National holiday. It’s liberation day in Italy from the axis powers. Perhaps there might soon be a liberation day in the UK from brexitism?

27th

Lucca piazza dell’anfiteatro. Festa di Santa Zita. Flower market in celebration of Lucca’s patron Saint, Santa Zita. For more about this delightful festival and the sweet story of Saint Zita see my posts at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/from-flour-to-flowers-festa-di-santa-zita/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/four-great-luccan-spiritual-women/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/iced-up-in-lucca/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/luccas-saint-zita-converts-flour-to-flowers/

28th

At 15.00 Fornoli parish hall. Tombola (otherwise known as Bingo).

May

12th Messa di Maggio (May Mass) at 11.00 at the Convento dell’Angelo, Ponte a Moriano. Singers from Accademia di Montegral directed by Gustav Kuhn. Shuttle service from Ponte a Moriano car park (behind theatre) at 9.30 returning at 12.00

For more on Easter time at Montegral see my posts at:

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/an-angels-monday/

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-morning-on-the-mountain-of-the-holy-grail/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/our-way-to-spend-easter/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/how-we-spent-our-easter-2016/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/mshiha-qam/

https://longoio3.wordpress.com/2018/05/16/stereo-tipi-choir-shine-on-holy-grail-mountain/

***

PS

For those of you unable to attend Bagni di Lucca’s Spring Jazz concert packed Chiesa Anglicana here are some photos of the event plus some video bits:

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https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=KqmWJpAUNWI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lovely Visit to Lucca’s Green Walls Garden Festival

Last Saturday was a perfect day to enjoy Lucca’s Verdemura garden festival. It’s now in its twelfth year and is bigger and better than ever before. I was glad I went on that day as Sunday had rather somewhat dull and drizzly weather.

The hippie axiom ‘make love not war’ is singularly appropriate when dealing with Verdemura as the show is laid on the top of Lucca’s classic defensive walls, now over five hundred years old. Where there were cannons there is, instead, an encampment full of flowers and colour.

Lucca’s walls are the second major example in Europe of walls built according to the principles of modern fortification, taking firepower into consideration,  that have been preserved completely intact in a city. They are two and a half miles long and took from 1504  to  1648 to build. There are eleven bastions or bulwarks. (The walls of Nicosia, Cyprus, hold the record with a length of  three miles, also with eleven bulwarks).

 

The walls were designed as a deterrent and were never taken in anger. They did prove useful, however, when the Serchio flooded and their new ruler, Elisa Bonaparte had to be hoisted over them from a boat. Even today, after heavy rainfall the area encircling the walls tends to be flooded and a temporary moat is created.

The garden festival is centered around the Porta Santa Maria and extends to two bulwarks, Santa Croce and San Donato.

Here is a selection of photos I took of this year’s brilliant show. Were you there?

 

 

It’s Green Walls Time for Lucca Again!

Lucca’s walls are special because they provide a beautiful tree-lined walk on their wide expanses. As poet D’Annunzio wrote Lucca is:

‘La città dall’arborato cerchio’, (‘the city of the tree-lined circle’.)

Twice a year the walls become even greener because of the garden festivals they host. In Spring the festival is held on the northern part of the walls and is called ‘Verdemura’.

 

The festival started yesterday, Friday, and will continue until this Sunday, 7th April. I visiting it today and I’ve been told it’s bigger and better than ever before.

There are more than 200 Italian and foreign exhibitors: from garden centres thousands of different  horticultural species, shrubs, bulbs, tools and garden furniture for both flower and vegetable gardens, handicraft products and excellent food, all in the wonderful setting of the Walls of Lucca.

In addition, there are talks and demonstration on all aspects of gardening.

Opening time is 9.30am  to 7 pm.

Weather-wise it should keep fine. After two days of storms bringing much-needed rain to a parched earth things should be really sprouting out bow.

I’ve written several posts on Lucca’s garden festivals. Here are some of them if you want to read more and see more photographs.

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/luccas-green-walls/

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/green-fingers-on-green-walls/

Incidentally, I don’t have to go to Lucca to see staggeringly lovely flowers. At a friend’s house in Lucca I came across these green-fingered specimens:

 

PS Lucca’s walls are the ones to go for….not the Mexican variety!!!