Lucca: Italy’s Protestant Haven.

It’s not often realised that the supposedly historically clear-cut distinction between a Protestant northern Europe and a Roman Catholic southern Europe is not that clear-cut at all. For example, in Britain, Roman Catholic families, known as recusants, have never abjured their original faith since the great split the reformation created in the Christian faith.

Indeed, some of these families have retained high positions among the English nobility to this day; for example, the Duke of Norfolk, the first duke of the peerage, is the Queen’s (who is also head of the Church of England) second cousin. His main seat is at Arundel castle, Sussex.

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Arundel also possesses one of Europe’s finest Roman Catholic cathedrals.

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In Southern Europe many Roman Catholic communities renounced Papist doctrine to form their own protestant sects. Indeed, the first signs of Protestantism were felt as far back as the 12th century with the Waldensians.

The Waldensians take their name from a merchant from Lyons called Valdo, who around the year 1170 sold his assets and began to preach the Gospel to his fellow citizens with the idea of renewing the church. The Catholic hierarchy reacted by excommunicating him. (Later Saint Francis of Assisi decided to follow the same life of poverty, but the Roman Catholic Church acted rather differently and accepted his order of friars).

The followers of Valdo continued their preaching despite being excommunicated, forming small communities forced, because of constant repression, to lead a clandestine existence. Their faith was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and its fundamental tenets: the rejection of violence, the Roman Catholic oath of allegiance to the Pope, and the association of the church with political power.

Despite violent persecutions and the ruthless work of the Inquisition, the Waldensians kept their faith throughout the middle Ages. The areas where they largely settled were the Western Alps, Provence, Calabria and southern Germany.

Thus, both recusants in northern Europe and Protestants in southern Europe regrettably had their fair share of martyrs and for centuries had to practise their faith behind closed doors – hence the number of priests’ holes found in aristocratic English country homes and the secret locations of protestant sects in Italy.

Coughton Court, a National Trust property in England and home of the recusant family of the Throckmortons, has a whole secret section where Holy Mass could be celebrated:

Milton, during his visit to Italy in 1638, was fully aware of the situation and heard of the terrible massacre of the Valdensians by the troops of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy in Piedmont  in April 1655,

As a result Milton wrote one of his finest and, certainly, most angry sonnets: “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont”.

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Lucca played an important part in preserving emerging protestant and, especially, evangelical ideas. Indeed, it welcomed the Waldensians as it welcomed Protestantism.

Thanks to enlightened rulers and to the establishment of a press which printed one of the first bibles in the Italian language and thanks also to the mountainous area of the Garfagnana surrounding the city to the north, Lucca has historically been more generous to those of evangelical faith than most other areas of Italy. Even here, however, papist power used to make life for Protestants in Lucca almost impossible.

The Diodati were a noble family and had the Orsetti palace built for them by the great Luccan sculptor and architect Nicolao Civitali. However, despite the fact that, in the Republic of Lucca, the Protestant reform saw the adherence of a considerable number of citizens, including members of the aristocratic ruling class, the Diodati were forced to leave for Geneva because of their belief in the Protestant Reformation. (The palace is now seat of Lucca’s mayor, Alessandro Tambellini, who kindly showed us round this magnificent building – see my post about this at

The reason for the Diodati’s exile was that the Pope, suspecting what was happening in the Republic, began to exert diplomatic pressure on the government of Lucca. Lucca always rejected the Inquisition and the Jesuits, but fearing that the Pope and his army might invade Lucca, many distinguished Protestant Lucchese left the Republic. Fortunately none suffered physical violence but, rather, were helped by exiled Lucchesi.

Exiles included Michele Burlamacchi (1532-1590), Benedetto Calandrini, Pompeo Diodati, Michele Burlamacchi and his wife Chiara Calandrini, Teodoro Diodati (1573-1650) who studied medicine in Leiden, and moved to England, where he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1616. Among Teodoro’s patients was Prince Henry, the heir to the British throne and a brilliant young man.


Prince Henry lived at Charlton House in the borough of Greenwich, London with his tutor Adam Newton but sadly died of typhoid fever aged only 18, a real tragedy for the nation.


It’s thus that his younger, less intelligent brother Charles became heir to the throne (and I think we all know what happened to him….).

Another Lucchese, Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649), became a Protestant theologian, professor of linguistics, and the translator of the Bible in Italian and French. Giovanni’s translation of the Bible in Italian stands comparison with England’s own King James Version in the beauty of its language and that fact that it is still used in church services today. Indeed, only four years separate the Italian translation (1607) from the English one (1611).


We were privileged to meet a great evangelical leader and scholar, former pastor of the Waldensian church in Lucca, Domenico  Maselli , at a conference he participated in on that powerful mediaeval countess, Matilda, the lady who ordered the building of our famous devil’s bridge. (See for more on this and  Maselli who regretfully died the following year).

In Lucca’s via Galli-Tassi there’s an evangelical Valdensian church with a very active congregation. A friend, who also directs a choir I sing in, is organist at this church.

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There also used to be substantial numbers of Waldensians in the hills above Barga, especially at Piastroso and Renaio. They were protected by an old edict which stated that anyone living above 700 metres was free to practice whatever faith they wished.

Today, the mountain congregations have all but disappeared through emigration but every year, in July, the Waldensian evangelical community elsewhere meet up at the local inn in Renaio, called’ Il Mostrico’, for an ‘al fresco’ lunch, a prayer meeting and a talk about their community.


I turned up, by chance, towards the end of this year’s Renaio gathering and was impressed by the welcome I received and the beauty of the spot.

In the nearby school there was an exhibition of photographs depicting aspects of the group. How much history, how many ‘mute inglorious Miltons’ must there be in these evocative photographs!


The principal message of the Waldensian sectors is the oft stated but all too often disregarded one that ‘God is Love.’

It’s both an easy and a difficult message to follow. Words like ‘tolerance’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘apology’, all too often remain in one’s mind rather than in one’s actions.

I felt that both the Old Catholic recusants of England and Italy’s Waldensians must have survived to this day principally because they had the strength to forgive those who perpetrated the terrible persecutions they suffered in the past and because they were able to apologise for the persecutors before God himself.

I wish we all had the same power to forgive and forget. It would make the world such a better place!



Il Piu’ Amato Quadro Per Gli Inglesi

Questo è il quadro votato l’assoluto preferito degli inglesi in un recente voto.


Dipinto dal grande Joseph Turner, rappresenta la nave da guerra ‘Fighting Temeraire’ (la ‘combattente audace’), che fu presente alla battaglia di Trafalgar con Nelson nel 1805, portata alla sua rottamazione a Rotherhithe, sul Tamigi di Londra, nel 1838.

La bellezza spettrale e magnifica del grande veliero contrasta col brutto rimorchiatore nero a vapore che la trascina in un trascendente tramonto di sole piangente.

Il quadro per me è un requiem per un mondo scomparso e sono sicuro che per l’artista, che non volle mai essere separato dal suo ‘Temeraire’, sia stato un segno della propria mortalità.

Morì dieci anni dopo, e il quadro che vidi alla National Gallery ieri, rimane inciso nella memoria e nei suoi strabilianti colori mi ha commosso come poche altre opere d’arte possano fare.

Turner era molto sensibile alle nuove tecnologie che ha portato la rivoluzione industriale che ebbe nascita proprio nella sua patria. Un altro quadro che si può ammirare al National Gallery descrive questo cambiamento economico-sociale a perfezione.

S’intitola ‘rain, steam and speed’ (pioggia, vapore e velocità) e risale al 1844. Il dipinto descrive una locomotiva del Great Western Railway, costruita dal sommo  ingegnere, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, mentre attraversa il Tamigi sul ponte di Maidenhead.


Vicino alle rotaie in fondo a destra corre una lepre. Simboleggia la velocità oppure è il segno di un animale terrorizzato da un fenomeno che cambierà per sempre il bilancio delicato tra l’uomo e la natura?

In ogni caso, rimane questo un quadro ipnotizzante, con le sue pennellare, alquanto delicate e potenti, segnalando lo spartiacque tra due civiltà, tra due mondi, il secondo del quale stiamo ancora sempre di più soffrendo le conseguenze negative sul nostro amato pianeta blu.

Chissà se questo delicato bilancio si potrà ancora restaurare? Chissà cosa avrebbe detto (o, meglio, dipinto) Turner.


(Mie foto)

Acque di fiamma:

le lacrime del sole

spezzano cuori


Journeys Through Time and Space and Mind

The building itself is sculptural in quality with dove-coloured Buchan marbles from the state of Victoria, Caleula from New South Wales and Angaston marble from South Australia, all placed on a base of trachyte. Even the wood used comes from Australia including the black bean tree. Started in 1913, but not completed until 1918, the High Commission’s headquarters supplied these precious materials as ballast for ships returning to the imperial capital to collect bullets, as Michael Francis Cartwright pointed out to me when introducing the awesome exhibition entitled ‘journeys’ now on view within the monumental hall of London’s Australia house.



It’s rare that a whole family should be united for a sculpture exhibition in this way and the sensations the art works arouse are both intimate and extraordinary. ‘Journeys’ here not only signifies personal development towards a collective, but highly individual, expression of finding one’s centre of being; it not only means a spatial discovery into the heartbeat of three principal nuclei: the country of one’s birth and the discovery of the multiform cultures of Italy, Ireland and France. It also signifies a journey to reconnect with primal sources defining the concept of humanity itself.

Shona Nunan’s bronze ‘spirit guardian’ reminded me, in its almost Celtic wave-like curves, of the shield found in the Thames, not dropped by a defeated warrior but given to London’s river as a protective offering. There is a primal connection between the birth of art and creation itself. Art has a sacral function, indeed a need to express survival as the Lascaux cave paintings so vividly display. Simply put, without artistic creation, we become diminished into nothingness.



The same artist’s ‘earth guardian’ with its immaculately textured leaf-like shape could equally stand as a protean symbol and as a shape of exquisite beauty.

Shona’s ‘life’ clearly expands on her Irish experiences and such inter-stellar structures as prehistoric Newgrange.


Her ‘torso’, first viewed during those miraculous years 2013-15, when the Bagni di Lucca arts festival, largely envisaged by the same family, blossomed with an energy worthy of 1920’s Paris, combines intimation of the mother goddess with Christian symbolism – like our local church of San Cassiano, at the foot of the Prato fiorito Mountain, which is built on the foundations of a temple of Diana.


Here, too, there are connections with the steles discovered in Lunigiana, an area to the north of the artist’s location in the Lucchesia:



In this respect Michael has two pieces, one of which is directly inspired by the smooth green slopes of the treeless mountain dominating the family’s sojourn at Bagni di Lucca.


The cloud reminds me of Shelley’s fascination with its evanescence and the poet’s journey to those Elysian slopes.



The cloud appears as an exceptional sculptural tour de force in another of Michael’s pieces when it hovers billowing over the reddish rocks of another local village, Montefegatesi, whose name alludes to the liver-cerise of the surrounding ferrite stones.


Jacob, the family’s elder son, has undergone his own journey from sound to sculpture which, in so many respects, could be described as frozen music. He is particularly taken by the concept of the boat and his ‘boat over reeds’ stimulated a thousand thoughts in me. I was reminded of my journey down the Nile in a feluka, of my time with scouts canoeing down the river Arun, of my university days punting down the Cam…indeed, generally messing about in boats, not forgetting handling the ever-fickle English wind on a dinghy. Jacob’s boats took me into the mists of time with the Lady of Shalott and that journey of journeys, the wanderings of Odysseus across the Mediterranean sea to reach Ithaca and his faithful Penelope. The boat transforms, indeed, into a journey through life itself with the whirlpools and the rocks it meets being metaphors of life’s own obstacles and one’s faith that the goal of self-realization may be fulfilled before the vessel’s final course to the underworld.



Sollai’s sculptural works, for me, displayed perhaps the highest and purest form of self-expression. There can be few examples of such semi-abstract beauty than his ‘woman figure’.


How can something so geometrically pure be so flowing and so sensuous and yet bear within its womb the experience of cycladic art and those o-so enigmatic Pontremoli steles?

Although titled ‘abstract’ this one made me think feline but then I’m just crazy about cats.


This is an exhibition not to be missed, even in a city like London brimming with great sculpture from the Elgin marbles to Barbara Hepworth and beyond. Each of the four members of this prodigiously gifted family has achieved their own highly individual journey through time, space and inner-being and all four have come together in a sort of cosmic chat-room to give us the privilege of sharing their experiences in art’s most tangible form – a sculptural dialogue which resonates with memories of Australian primeval ritual sites, with Mycaenian Mediterranean waves, with Celtic convolutions of greenness and with mountains of marble formed by fiery subterranean forces, reinterpreted by a human imagination and recollected in breathtaking and transcendent forms.



The exhibition is officially open until 16th June although further viewings may be had upon request.

For more information do see


Ps All photographs are mine including those of Prato Fiorito and Pontremoli.

Stereo Tipi Choir Shine on Holy Grail Mountain

High up on the hills above Ponte a Moriano is a transcendentally white building presenting an almost a grail-like vision – indeed it is called the Academy of Montegral and was once the Convento dell’Angelo of the Passionist fathers –  the ones who attracted Lucca’s neglected Saint Gemma so much.

The convent, designed by Lorenzo Nottolini (he of the Ponte delle Catene at Bagni di Lucca and so many others of the finest buildings in the Lucca countryside), and built for the Passionist fathers, still remains their property although, due to falling vocational demand, it is now leased (for 999 years!) to the Academy of Montegral as a finishing school for musicians both vocal and instrumental.

The Academy of Montegral, the brainwave of Maestro Gustav Kuhn, (pupil of Karajan, and, among other prestigious posts, former musical director of Rome opera), was founded in 1992 with the aim of developing a holistic musicianship on a human scale. In 2000 it moved to the convent, reinforcing the idea of a spiritual and cultural musical community. The results show – I doubt if music making can really get much better than this in Lucca province.


It was, therefore, an awesome challenge for the Stereo-tipi choir to audition and then be invited by maestro Kuhn to master classes and, finally, to sing in the Mass for Ascension Day (and Mother’s day, too) on Sunday, 13th May. (PS A member of this choir, Andrea Salvoni, is our choirmaster at Ghivizzano and some choir members have leading parts in Borgo a Mozzano’s fine music school).

This was the programme of liturgical music:

The challenge was achieved to perfection and we were treated to a liturgical event heightened by great music sung by a choir who I can surely say is one of the very few in the region to reach anywhere near to the high standards of such English choirs as The Sixteen and The King’s singers.

The Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 –1611) stands in a holy trinity of renaissance polyphonic vocal music composers together with Palestrina and Lassus. Victoria’s ‘Missa Ascendens’ from his middle period is both concise and highly organised with a melodic theme taken from his motet of the same name.

The Stereo-tipi were organised in the choir stalls semi-circularly arranged behind the high altar and almost hidden by it. Yet the genius of architect Nottolini ensured that the acoustics here are quite perfect and the choir rose to spread its fine singing with near-perfect intonation and dynamic range throughout this neo-classical gem.

Each part of the Proper of the Mass gained in stature and the closing Agnus Dei was particularly touched with beauty.

Kuhn always likes to put this melting number at the end of the Mass.

As befits a singing academy the Mass, celebrated by Fr Ottaviano and Giovanni Battista of the Passionist order, had some fine solo performances by Maria Radoeva and Paola Leggeri.

I felt this was one of Kuhn’s most successful contributions to  music for liturgical celebrations in the convent of the Angel. First, the choir stalls were used to full effect. Second, the music to the Mass was all of one piece: a sublime masterpiece by a supreme polyphonic master. Third, the music fitted the day to a T: an Ascension Mass on the Ascension Day of Our Redeemer.

An added bonus was that my wife’s mother, just three years short of her centennial, was with us as befitted the occasion which was also Mother’s day, something celebrated in da Pinzo’s excellent trattoria in Ponte a Moriano where we enjoyed a truly tasty lunch after the Mass in one of Lucca provinces most heavenly churches. (I chose Da Pinzo’s own named pizza).





An Invitation from Franco Zeffirelli

Of all Florence’s contemporary sons Franco Zeffirelli is the one who approaches closest to the polymath artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. No surprise, since one of Franco’s ancestors was the painter of ‘La Gioconda’, better known outside Italy as ‘Mona Lisa’.


Where to start with Franco’s achievements? In operatic scenography (Callas in ‘Tosca’)? In theatrical productions (‘Taming of the Shrew’ with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)? In films (‘Tea with Mussolini’ with Judi Dench)?
I have my favourites (‘Jesus of Nazareth’, whose film sets we stumbled upon during our Tunisian honeymoon forty years ago), ‘Filumena Marturano’, a West End production with Joan Plowright, Larry Olivier’s widow, and the rehearsals of which we witnessed personally at the Italian Institute with the master himself, my father-in-law’s (the institute’s Secretary-general from its inception) good friend, and, particularly, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which had me transfixed as a teenager.

I admit Franco is a marmite genius: loved and loathed in equal measure. Certainly, I could not begin to unravel with him my disputes about his political affiliations. But one thing is certain and that is Franco’s great love for the city of his birth and his affection for the United Kingdom, a fact recognised by honours from both countries including a KBE from Her Maj.

Franco is, above all, a generous genius, with whom we have enjoyed personal memories, especially my wife, Alexandra, and someone who is one of the most refulgent artistic visionaries of our age.

This generosity and vision is set in stone in Franco’s foundation.

This opened last year in one of Florence’s rare baroque buildings, the San Firenze monastery. Started in the seventeenth century as an oratory for the order of Saint Philip Neri and completed by 1775 by, among others, Zanobi del Rosso, this elegantly symmetrical building was half church and half high court until 2012 when the ghastly new tribunals were built at Novoli, spoiling the view of Florence from San Miniato sul Monte.

The church is still used for its original religious purpose but the oratory has been turned from tribunal into a magnificently resonant concert and venue hall.


The convent itself is devoted to the Franco Zeffirelli foundation which contains the master’s archives, a lovely caffe, and presents exhibitions to engender creative productivity in the city of the Lily.

We were invited yesterday to attend a concert in the ex-oratory and tribunal of San Firenze to celebrate Franco’s contribution to that wonderful musical festival, il maggio fiorentino, which is entering its 81st year. I met Pippo, Franco’s adopted son, and, despite the large number flocking to this very special event, we were able to be accommodated together with the widow of Franco’s friend, my 96 year old mother-in-law….

This was the programme.

The ‘giardino della bizzarria’ was, as its title implied, a somewhat bizarre piece. Beginning with an often cacophonic polyphonic section the work resolved itself, after huge cluster piano chords, into a gloriously diatonic celebratory finale.

The Puccini excerpts, pointing to Franco’s intense relationship with opera, were arranged for and sung by a children’s choir with exquisite aplomb. The voices were beautifully trained and the pieces selected and arranged with absolute adroitness. The most successful items were ‘Butterfly’s’ humming chorus and that infectious Chinese song, ‘Moh li hua’, used in ‘Turandot’. We were then treated to the whole of the second act of ‘La Boheme’ where the singer (Maria Rita Combattelli) of Musetta’s waltz song was close to being sensational – a great taster for the maggio season.



It was a lovely gesture by Franco Zeffirelli, one of Italy’s undisputed living legends, to offer this delightful concert to his city and to donate his archive to the land which nurtured him. Grazie mille, caro Franco!


Chi Si Stanca di Londra Si Stanca della Vita

La bellezza di Londra non è una semplice bellezza estetica come, per esempio, si potrebbe trovare in città come Parigi o San Pietroburgo. E’ invece una bellezza di varietà, di una mescolanza di stili architettonici imposti uno sull’altro, un pasticcio di strade eleganti dove, girando l’angolo, ci si trova nelle viuzze più povere.

Gli inglesi sono noti come individui eccentrici e perfino il grande architetto Sir Christopher Wren, colui che edificò la cattedrale di Saint Paul, non poteva ricostruire Londra ‘alla neo-classica’ come desiderava dopo il grande incendio del 1666, ma doveva rispettare la planimetria delle vecchie vie tortuose. Un Haussmann parigino non avrebbe trovato lavoro in questa città!

Allo stesso tempo ci sono sviluppi dalla fine del seicento quando i lord, che possedevano grandi poderi attorno alla citta, vendettero i loro terreni per lucro e fecero nascere le favolose piazze come Berkeley square, Belgrave square, e Grosvenor square che sono così diverse dal concetto di piazza Italiana. In Italia ci s’incontra ‘in piazza’, in Inghilterra si trova, invece, pace e tranquillità nel verde: una volta piazze-giardini appartenenti solo alle case a schiera circostanti, e ora, per la più parte aperte al pubblico che trova squisite oasi nel subbuglio della città.

(Grosvenor Square)

Come scrisse il grande letterato Doctor Samuel Johnson, compilatore del primo dizionario della lingua inglese: “quando una persona è stanca di Londra, è stanca della vita; perché a Londra c’è tutto ciò che la vita può offrire. ”

Questo senso di varietà e sorpresa si trova in modo esemplare in due chiese situate nella zona di Mayfair che, sebbene, dia l’impressione di essere un quartiere molto elegante, ha anch’essa una varietà immensa di stili di vita e di architettura.

Le due chiese sono separate da un ameno giardinetto che, come tanti altri piccoli spazzi di verde nel centro di Londra era una volta un camposanto. Poi, a causa delle epidemie, ci fu la prescrizione della città di esumare i corpi dei defunti e seppellirli invece in nuovi cimiteri alla periferia. Di questi cimiteri, nominati ‘i magnifici sette’ e pieni di grande interesse per gli amanti di monumenti funebri (come lo Staglieno di Genova ed il monumentale di Milano), ho già scritto un post a

Da un lato del giardino chiamato Mount Street Garden, un giardino propriamente segreto perché pochi sanno della sua esistenza ma un luogo che tra i suoi platani – alberi tipicamente londinesi – serba le camelie, le giapponiche, un salice cinese e una palma di datteri delle isole canarie – si erge la chiesa dell’Immacolata Concezione, la prima chiesa Gesuita costruita dopo la riforma protestante. Mi sono trovato in questo tabernacolo di sontuosità l’altra domenica, dove ho assistito alla S Messa solenne celebrata in Latino con canti gregoriani e un coro che non può essere descritto che paradisiaco.

Ecco il foglio della Messa dato ai parrocchiani.

Non esito a dire che anche i parrocchiani erano di tutte le varietà dai lord a quelli che ahimè, sempre di più si trovano a dormire sui marciapiedi di Londra. Tutti erano accolti con grande fraternità. Infatti, il segno di amicizia dato alla Messa celebrata in Inghilterra è più un abbraccio che uno stringere di mani. Non potevo credere che questa fu la stessa chiesa che rifiutò l’accesso al grande scrittore Oscar Wilde quando voleva studiare gli esercizi spirituali di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, dopo avere servito due anni nella prigione di Reading (la sua cella ora diventata un luogo quasi di pellegrinaggio) per atti, a quei tempi verso fine dell’ottocento, considerati sodomitici.

L’architetto di questo tesoro di chiesa fu Joseph John Scoles ed è stata aperta al culto nel 1849. Scoles è un architetto particolarmente interessante perché, invece di limitarsi a studiare libri sull’architettura, fece lunghi viaggi, oltre il grand tour dell’Italia, alla Nubia, alla terra Santa, e nell’ora cosi triste terra della Siria.

La Chiesa dell’Immacolata Concezione s‘inspira al gotico detto ‘decorato’ e, in particolare, alla cattedrale francese di Beauvais. Non potrei nemmeno cominciare giustamente a descrivere gli splendori che si trovano nell’interno di questo edificio. Sembra che ogni parete sia piena di colore, ogni finestra splendente di sfumature. Anche le colonne sono eseguite in modo che si aprono in piccole cappelle e confessionali.

La gloria principale della chiesa, però, rimane l’altare maggiore, un capolavoro di Augustus Pugin che molti ricorderanno per il suo lavoro sulle iconiche Case del Parlamento Britannico.

Come apposito per tale chiesa, l’organo, con le canne multicolorate, è posto ai fianchi di un rosone di bellezza incandescente. Originariamente costruito da Henry Willis, l’organo fu ampliato e restaurato sotto la cura del grande organista e organaro Nicholas Danby che continuò fino alla sua morte nel 1997 la grande tradizione iniziata da Guy Weitz, allievo dei mitici Widor e Guilmant!

Eppure ci saranno tanti lettori che diranno ‘vanitas vanitatum’. OK, basta uscire da questa chiesa, fare una passeggiata di cinque minuti attraverso Mount Street garden e troverete un’altra chiesa di una differenza assoluta.

Qui regna la semplicità totale. Qui, infatti, ci si trova presso l’ispirazione originale di tutte quelle caratteristiche chiese americane del New England e del Deep South. Qui, nella Grosvenor Chapel si entra proprio nell’atmosfera del film ‘via col vento’.

Costruita nel 1731 (e anglo-cattolica) la chiesa ha vantato molti famosi parrocchiani come la fondatrice del sistema d’infermiera, Florence Nightingale, il poeta John Betjeman e la grande scrittrice del settecento che visse nell’impero ottomano, Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Durante l’ultima guerra fu anche luogo di raccoglimento per le donne e gli uomini americani coinvolti nelle forze armate e nell’invasione di D-day che liberò l’Europa dal flagello nazista.

A questo punto forse mi chiederete ‘ma che chiesa preferisci?’ Dirò solo questo: che la vita consiste di emozioni di estasi e di tranquillità. Le lacrime possono essere di gioia quanto di tristezza. La bellezza può consistere nell’osservare un merlo quanto un uccello del paradiso, una margherita quanto una strelitzia. Ci sono momenti dove uno ha bisogno di una purezza austera e semplice, e altri momenti dove uno vuol essere confortato da visioni di esaltazione.

Scegliete come e quanto vi pare. La varietà di Londra, ritornando alle parole del Doctor Johnson, non stanca mai…. se non a quelli stanchi della vita propria!




A Feline visit to Nap

Do animals have any consciousness of death? Examples of elephants caressing the bones of their dead ones in a sort of  funerary ceremony are well known. Other animals will stay with their dead for ages and cling to their lifeless bodies. Stories of dogs coming and staying at the grave of their dead master for years are legion. Greyfriars Bobby stayed beside his master’s tomb for fourteen years before his own death.

On December 17th last year our beloved cat Napoleon (‘Nap’ for short) went into the cat’s heaven. Only those who have suffered the loss of their four-footed friends can know that the grief of losing a pet is as great – often greater – than losing a friend of the bipedal species.

In case you ever met Nap here are some photos of him. Even if you didn’t know him you might like to see them, taken over his relatively short life, 2006-2017.

In 2012 Carlotta, the tortoiseshell (calico) with the white face, entered our lives and in 2015 Cheekie, another tortoiseshell with a black streak on her face, became part of our family. They got on swimmingly with Nap who patiently  intervened to stop their female feline quarrels.

My wife arranged for a burial place for Nap just above our upper terrace wall and decorated his tomb place with stones and a little cross.

It’s mainly an hour or two before sunset every day that Carlotta and Cheekie meet up with Nap’s spirit which hovers around his last place on this earth. They love to spread themselves near him and take in the day’s last rays. (These pictures were taken on April 17th,  four months after Nap left us for a better place).

You might think this is a lot of imaginative thinking on my part but I sincerely believe that both Carlotta and Cheekie feel their friend’s presence here, especially at the going down of the sun, and want to keep him a little company and let him know that one day they too will join him and again play and frolic together as they used to do.

We all have our happy places and the nearest image I can think of heaven is the happiest place which is beyond our wildest imaginations and which will be always be full of love and light…


(From left to right Carlotta, Cheekie and Nap(oleon) painted by Kety Bastiani in 2015)



Il Centro della City di Londra

Ci sono quattro ragioni principali per visitare la piazza del municipio della City of London.

La prima è di apprezzare il suo magnifico guildhall, il centro cerimoniale della City. La grande sala risale al quattrocento e possiede uno splendido soffitto ligneo. Attorno ci sono monumenti agli eroi inglesi. Di curiosità sono le statue dei giganti Gog e Magog che sono tradizionalmente stati fatti prigionieri da Bruto, il presunto fondatore di Londra. Ora, da prigionieri, sono diventati i portafortuna e guardiani di Londra. È in questo imponente salone che ricevetti la mia seconda laurea, dall’università della City di Londra.

Nella piazzetta è stato allestito un giardinetto in memoria dei caduti nella prima guerra. I fogli di carta sono copie di lettere scritte dal fronte.

Qui poi c’è una mappa che dimostra quanta di Londra fu distrutta dalla furia nazista, se non bastasse una guerra europea il secolo scorso……

La seconda ragione è quella di visitare la galleria d’arte. Contiene dipinti dal seicento all’età moderna. Per me i quadri più belli della collezione sono quelli dell’ ottocento, fortunatamente non più disprezzati come una volta. Amanti del pre-raffaellismo troveranno qui un capolavoro di Dante Rossetti.

La terza è di esplorare i rimasti dell’anfiteatro romano che risale al 70 DC. Riscoperto solo nel 1988 la sua presentazione è molto immaginativa anche se ora i giochi gladiatori sono proibiti e non ci sono più i leoni a mangiare i cristiani. Aveva una capacità di sei mila spettatori e riflette la grandezza della città di Londinium. Il suo sistema di drenaggio (necessario quando si considera la pioggia e la forma di ciotola dell’edificio) conserva perfino il legno usato per i suoi canali di scolo.

La quarta ragione per visitare la piazzetta è di entrare nella Chiesa del municipio, Saint Lawrence Jewry di Wren. Questa è la Chiesa patronale della gilda della City. Restaurata dopo i bombardamenti nazisti presenta l’interno elegantemente sobrio e splendido. Si chiama ‘jewry’ perché è vicina al vecchio ghetto ebreo.

Da non perdere poi è il Lord Mayor’s show quando, ogni Novembre 10, il nuovo eletto Mayor fa parte di una grande processione nella sua carrozza dipinta dall’antenato di mia moglie, Giovanni Battista Cipriani.


Città di Londra;

protetta da giganti



Il Museo del Ventaglio a Londra

Ventagli a Londra? In un paese noto per i suoi venti d’isola atlantica? Eppure a Greenwich, zona nota per le sue famose associazioni marittime: con il suo veliero ‘Cutty Sark’ e il suo museo navale, esiste anche un museo delizioso del ventaglio.

Fondato da una signora eccezionale, Helene Alexander, nata in una città un tempo cosmopolita, Alessandria d’Egitto, il museo è alloggiato in due eleganti case settecentesche con una limonaia affrescata e un bel giardino con parterre a forma di…ventaglio.


Sono a pochi passi dal luogo dove nacque la regina che portò la moda del ventaglio in Inghilterra dall’Italia, Elisabetta I, detta ‘Gloriana’, che qui nacque nel palazzo presso il Tamigi di Greenwich nel 1553.

Il museo inizia con una stanza che descrive i vari tipi e la tecnica del ventaglio. Ci sono ventagli rigidi e quelli piegabili che possono essere composti da un unico materiale plissettato con stecchini oppure montati con lamette filettate. Ci sono ventagli a mezza luna e quelli a coccarda. Insomma, ci sono ventagli di ogni tipo, di ogni epoca e da ogni paese, incluso quelli raffinati orientali.

La collezione dei migliaia di esempi della signora Alexander non può naturalmente essere esposta tutta d’un colpo e così, ogni due volte all’anno, gli esempi vengono cambiati per dimostrare temi diversi. Al tempo della mia recente visita il tema era il ventaglio ‘a stampa’ che uscì per la prima volta all’inizio dell’ottocento. Prima di questo tempo i ventagli erano tutti dipinti a mano.

Nel museo ci sono esemplari che risalgono all’era faraonica. Ci sono quelli che furono dipinti da grandi artisti (c’è perfino uno dell’artista Gauguin!)

Ci sono quelli di pubblicità delle grandi esposizioni e avvenimenti dell’ottocento e quelli della massima delicatezza fatti di pizzo nell’era rococò.

Quello che mi ha particolarmente interessato è la maniera nella quale il ventaglio, da un arnese per scacciare via le mosche noiose o per rinfrescare la pelle sudata in una giornata afosa, si sviluppò in un accessorio di moda essenziale quanto come il guanto, l’anello, il braccialetto o il cappello.

In più, il ventaglio creò il proprio linguaggio in un epoca dove i sentimenti erano controllati da una rigida etichetta sociale. Il ventaglio diventò, infatti, l’estensione della mano, un raffinato ‘body language’ con il quale le donne potevano esprimere sentimenti delicati senza pudore e senza svelare segreti intimi davanti ai loro galanti e mancante la consapevolezza del marito.

In questo riguardo è affascinante vedere il seguente filmetto.

La bellezza del ventaglio è che è ritornato di moda. I pop star, come Rihanna, si sono visti con questo delizioso accessorio e già, negli sovente grevi ambienti estivi di un Italia torrida, noto un maggior numero di signore eleganti col ventaglio a mano.

Via con l’aria condizionata, o quei orribili ventaglietti a pila, dico io! Meglio che ritorni il ventaglio nelle mani delle femmine che, con la sua espressività, può comunicare la passione della Carmencita, oppure la galanteria di una Pompadour, e dare una carnagione rosea a tutte.


Chissà le guancia

calmate dall’ardore,

con un ventaglio.



Make a Day of it to Pisa Airport

Early flights from Pisa to the UK are all very well if the airfare is truly cut-price, if you have a private means of getting to the aerodrome and, most important, if you can bear to shift yourself from the snug warmth of your bed at an unearthly early hour. Otherwise, why not take a train to Pisa the day before your journey, check into a place near the airport and enjoy more of the inexhaustible delights this lively city can offer?
My favourite check-in place is Pisa Hostel in Via Corridoni just 6 minutes from the railway station and a brisk 15 minutes walk to the Galileo ‘s departure lounge. If you are a couple (or two couples) you can have your own room; otherwise you can share a four-bunk-beds and en-suite bathroom with others.
The place is truly fun. You can have a great eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet for Euros 8, get the best scrambled eggs in Tuscany at 4am before walking across to your flight, have a jam session on the musical instruments provided for guests, laze in the garden, meet and exchange notes with other world travellers and, most important, have friendly and helpful staff who will bend backwards to make your shortest stay a pleasant one. And all this accommodation for euros 13 a night!

Of course, if you still crave for your boutique hotel….



My afternoon walk around Pisa took me to the new fortress whose otherwise delightful gardens were turned into a small lake thanks to the deluge of rain we’ve been having.

I crossed the Arno, on the way passing the bombed-out wreck of a palazzo where in 1821 Shelley wrote his elegy ‘Adonais’ on hearing of the death of his contemporary Keats; a situation which is the subject of a friend’s, David Reid, recent poem.



On the Arno’s northern bank I visited my private museum which includes a collection of some of the most superb Pisan paintings and statuary. Or so it seemed my own private museum to me. For three hours there were no hoards of tourists to obstruct my views, no peering guards, no interference to the meditative pleasure of gazing on some of the most exquisite women, the most animated scenes, the noblest religious representations by artists which included greats like the Pisano family and even a Masaccio, all beautifully presented in the old convent of San Matteo.



When I told the entrance staff how much I enjoyed my visit but was surprised that I was the only visitor he replied ‘that’s what they all say. But isn’t it better like this? You can truly enjoy the beauties around you without the distraction of all those tourists like you get in the Uffizi.’ I had to agree!
I walked along the Lungo Arno which I find quite as beautiful, if not more than Florence’s, especially when a transcendent sunset was colouring it.


I began to feel peckish and so headed for my favourite Chinese restaurant near the Palazzo Blu. The menu is well translated into Italian so that my favourite Xiaolonbao became ‘ravioli al vapore’. They were here just as good as the ones we had tasted at Shanghai’s Nanxiang Bun shop.
The spaghetti with Beijing sauce were scrumptious with their spring roll additions, and surprisingly al dente. Again, I knew it was a good place to come to eat by the preponderance of young Chinese customers and the very cordial service.



Then it was a walk back to the Pisa Hostel via the animated pedestrianised Corso Italia, to the dreaded 4 am wake-up alleviated by those charmingly served delicious scrambled eggs.

I returned to the Great Wen, however, in time for a delicious fish n chip lunch and surprisingly sunny, though windy, weather.