Lascivious Luxury at Viareggio

Viareggio isn’t just sea, sun, sand and ice-cream. It’s also history with beautiful mansions ranging from classical to art nouveau. It’s a major luxury yacht building and service area. It’s a great fishing and sea food centre and it has a considerable artists’ colony. Together with its nearest English equivalent, Brighton, Viareggio has been the holiday haunt of the rich, the famous and the princely. Within its boundaries there are no less than two regal residences: the Villa Borbona on the Viale dei Tigli (‘Lime Tree Avenue’) and the Villa Paolina by the square which has a monument to Shelley, who unfortunately met his briny death in 1822, aged 29, off the Viareggio coast in a violent storm.


For last week’s fish Friday, I couldn’t miss my cod and chips. What better place to have it fresh from the sea of Viareggio with crispest batter but no soggy chips, and mayonnaise instead of vinegar…. mind you, I did miss my mushy peas… but not the rain!

P.S. The cat below is Ettore – a favourite of fishermen – sadly no longer with us on this planet since 2016 but in spirit with his statue. (Still miss my beloved cat Napoleone badly…..)


Other must-see places in Viareggio are the stunning art nouveau Villa Argentina (see my post on that at

and Puccini’s residences. (For more on them see my posts at


Recently, as part of international women’s week, at Bagni di Lucca’s casinò, Renata Frediani gave a fascinating talk on Paolina Bonaparte Borghese and her times. (See my post on this at

Renata mentioned that she had helped to refurbish the princess’s rooms in the Villa Paolina. Last Friday I  visited the villa and was certainly not disappointed!

The exhibition is set up in the stately rooms of the ‘piano nobile’ of the emperor Napoleon’s sister, Paolina Borghese. It has been refurbished with furniture and artistic items of the Napoleonic age, all curated by Renata Frediani who is an antiques collector from Lucca and an expert on ‘style empire’. Most of the precious furnishings, including the entire collection of exquisite dresses on display, were supplied from Renata’s own collection.


The exhibition is further enriched with evening dresses, also from Renata’s collection. They are of special interest as they are by the famous fashion stylist from Lucca, Dina Bigongiari Santini who died in 2004 aged 89. If you’ve never heard of Bigongiari, you should know she was Giorgio Armani’s favourite designer as well as of the Royal House of Montecarlo. Dina was much appreciated for her novel dress designs which have a truly refined, aristocratic quality. She opened her atelier during the post-war period in the historic centre of Lucca and also created the silk museum, (upon which textile Lucca founded its fame and fortune).

Dina Bigongiari ’s styling was innovative and of the highest quality. For me a definition of beauty would be to meet a lady wearing one of her dresses…


Set in the exquisite ambience of Princess Borghese’s pleasure palace with its delightful frescoed rooms, the Villa Paolina’s collection is certainly something to seduce one away from the esplanade and the ozone-laden air of Viareggio’s seafront.

These are the villa’s current opening times.

1 September to 14 June: Wednesday to Saturday 3.30 PM to 7.30 PM, Sunday 9.30 to 1.30 PM, 3.30 PM to 7.30 PM.


There’s more information on the villa at

If your thing isn’t fashion then the villa Paolina houses no less than three other museums:

Museo Archeologico e dell’Uomo A.C. Blanc (local prehistoric and Etruscan finds.)


Museo degli Strumenti Musicali C. Ciuffreda (Musical instruments collection, including items from Tibet).


Atelier A. Catarsini: an artist’s studio and contemporary art exhibitions including paintings by one of my favourite local artists, the brilliant Fornaciari who lives round the corner from the villa.


To sum up do look at this leaflet about Viareggio’s civic museums:

















Terminal Infection for the Greatest City in the World

Exiting from Rome’s Stazione Termini – itself one of Rome’s iconic buildings and the mis-en-scene of Vittorio de Sica’s heartrending 1953 film ‘Stazione Termini’, AKA in a bad US cut version as ‘Indiscretions of an American wife’, starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift –


one enters the city’s largest square the Piazza dei Cinquecento (incidentally, named cinquecento, ‘500’, in memory of the Italian soldiers who died in the 1887 battle of Dogali against the Ethiopian empire. I would have preferred Piazza Termini or even Terme….imperialism is somewhat out of fashion now!)

(Battle of Dogali – Italy’s late bid for an Empire…)

The square has, beyond the seemingly interminable bus stands, the ruins of the greatest Roman baths of the city, Diocletian’s, which date back to 300 AD.


(From Bannister Fletcher’s plan of the baths)

These baths, besides comprising the Michelangelo-designed Santa Maria degli Angeli, contain the main part of Rome’s (and perhaps the world’s) finest museum of classical antiquities.

The National Roman Museum was founded in 1889 with the intention of being one of the main “Centres of historical and artistic culture of re-united Italy”.

The museum has been reorganized into four separate divisions, each in a different location:

These are:

  • The National Museum of Rome in Diocletian’s baths (visited in 2011).
  • The Palazzo Altemps (which I visited in 2017)
  • The Palazzo Massimo (visited in 2011 and again this year)
  • The Crypta Balbi (not yet visited).

The palazzo Massimo is conveniently placed near the Stazione Termini and on the morning of my departure from Rome I was able to visit it in the company of my two friends, John and Carol.

The palazzo itself is a massive nineteenth-century neo-Renaissance style building with great views over the ‘cinquecento’ square,



It is most suitable for housing one of the most important ancient art collections in the world: sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, coins and goldsmiths’ works document the evolution of Roman artistic culture.

Here is the plan of the Museo di Palazzo Massimo:




We wisely started on the second floor where frescoes, stuccoes and mosaics document the decoration of prestigious Roman residences. Here I was particularly struck by the evocative frescoes of the pomegranate gardens of the Emperor Augustus’s wife, Livia Drusilla’s villa, here recomposed from its original location at Prima Porta, and the Farnesina villa.



Isn’t it easy for any ornithologist or botanist to recognize the life in these pictures, even after two thousand years? Spot the hoopoe (Upupa in Italian).



The mosaics and intarsia are equally astounding.



Suddenly I felt a déjà vue. Of course, I have been here before! It was in 2011, with my wife Sandra on a visit to meet school friends John Wagstaff and Martin Cardwell at Piazza dell’Esedra.. Such is the richness of the Imperial city however, that I saw these wonders with new eyes.


(Me and old school-mates with consorts at fountain in piazza dell’Esedra, 2011)

The first floor is dedicated to the development of sculpture and portraiture. Here is the girl from Anzio and Roman copies of celebrated Greek statues: the discus thrower, the crouching Aphrodite:


Surely Bagni di Lucca’s own bather is inspired by her.


(Statue in foyer of Bagni di Lucca’s town hall)

Then there’s the discus thrower, and the gender-bending sleeping hermaphrodite.



I was particularly taken by the bronze sculptures which are all that remain of Caligula’s ceremonial ships dredged from the lake of Nemi in 1930’s after centuries of futile effort in recovering them.



Sadly, the hulks were the victims of the last war. The description in the museum states they were destroyed by arson in 1944. My HM government pamphlet on destruction of monuments in Italy in WW2 issued in 1945 states that they were set alight in a revenge attack by retreating German troops. A more recent report describes the situation thus:

At that time, Allied forces were pursuing the retreating German army northward through the Alban Hills toward Rome. On May 28, a German artillery post was established within 400 feet (120 m) of the museum … An official report filed in Rome later that year described the tragedy as a wilful act on the part of the German soldiers. A German editorial blamed the destruction on American artillery fire. The true story of what happened that night will probably never be known

What will also never be known is what happened to ‘Project Diana’ of 2004 to rebuild these ships in their original size (sufficient drawings exist for this to be achievable – the Nemi museum now only houses copies built to one fifth the original size). Anyway, let us be grateful that at least these impressive bronze pieces have survived from what must have been hugely impressive galleys. But if only they’d waited to dredge them after that war!

Also to wonder at on this floor is the Portonaccio sarcophagus: a virtuoso piece of sculpture describing battles fought by one of Marcus Aurelius’ generals.



Isn’t the lighting in this museum superb!

The ground floor houses stunning original Greek sculpture found in Rome: the Boxer, the Hellenistic Prince and the Niobe from the Sallustian gardens, and culminating in the statue of the emperor Augustus, Pontiff Maximum.



Time was now no longer on my side and, besides, there is only so much one can take in, even if it is the finest Roman collection of Roman antiquities in the world.

A surprisingly good lunch was followed by a heart-felt goodbye to my dear friends


and a hasty departure to catch my train to Pisa and thence to Bagni di Lucca, homeward bound to Longoio.



It was a journey of a little over six hours on the coast railway which always gives splendid views and is somewhat cheaper than going on the TAV to Florence (which actually doesn’t cut the journey time very much especially when one considers it takes longer to get from Bagni di Lucca to Florence than from Florence to Rome!)

Goodbye beautiful Eternal City. See you soon again!


PS As I approached Lucca I thought of the words of the magnificent ‘Inno a Roma’ composed by that city’s most famous son, Giacomo Puccini. Here it is conducted by my friend Andrea Colombini in Vienna’s Musikverein. (yes we were there!!!!!). See words below with my translation,

PPS Here are my return train tickets:


In case you didn’t work it out, it cost me £22.59 to travel 237 miles without any rubbish pre-booking – just on the spot.  Check that out with a typical UK train fare….



Inno a Roma

Roma divina, a te sul Campidoglio
dove eterno verdeggia il sacro alloro,
a te, nostra fortezza e nostro orgoglio,
ascende il coro.

 Salve, Dea Roma! Ti sfavilla in fronte
il sol che nasce sulla nuova Storia.
Fulgida in arme, all’ultimo orizzonte,
sta la Vittoria.

 Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo,
sul Colle nostro i tuoi cavalli doma:
tu non vedrai nessuna cosa al mondo
maggior di Roma.

 Per tutto il cielo è un volo di bandiere
e la pace del mondo oggi è latina.
Il tricolore canta sul cantiere,
su l’officina.

 Madre di messi e di lanosi armenti;
d’opere schiette e di pensose scuole,
tornano alle tue case i reggimenti
e sorge il sole.

 Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo…


(My translation:

Hymn to Rome

Divine Rome, our choir’s voices soar towards you

on the Capitoline hill

where the sacred laurel is eternally green;

our choir rises to you, our fortress and our pride,


Hail, Goddess Rome! the sun, born in a new chapter of history,

shines before you.

Victory strides

resplendent in arms, upon the new horizon,


The sun, rising free and jubilantly,

tames the horses on our hill:

you will not see anything in the world

greater than Rome.


Throughout the sky flags are flying

and today the world’s peace is Latinate.

The tricolour flag sings on the construction site

and on the factory.


Mother of harvests and woolly flocks,

of honest work and diligent schools,

our regiments return to your homes

and the sun rises.


A sun that rises free and joyous …)


PS The basement of Palazzo Massimo displays a large numismatic collection and the sceptres of the Imperial Insignia, in addition to the jewels coming from sumptuous funerary furnishings such as that of the girl from Grottarossa. Another reason to return and see what jewels the girl was wearing when she died so young…





John Wesley a Londra

John Wesley (1703-1791) è stato un chierico e teologo inglese che, assieme al fratello Charles e il compagno chierico George Whitefield, fondò il Metodismo.


Se uno pensa ai santi detti ‘sociali’ di Torino, come Don Bosco e Cottolengo, e alle missioni dei passionisti in Italia si può avere una buona idea dell’impatto speciale sulla chiesa anglicana del settecento che ebbe il metodismo.

Dopo essersi laureato a Oxford Wesley fu ordinato prete anglicano. Formò un ‘club della santità’ il quale scopo era di studiare la Bibbia a fondo e di riscoprire le radici di una vita cristiana devota.

Si deve capire che la chiesa anglicana in quell’epoca non aveva grandi aspirazioni ad una vita di profonda ispirazione religiosa. Era, in fondo, niente altro che un riflesso della società inglese con il suo sistema di classi stratificati di nobili, mercanti e manovali.

Wesley cambiò tutta questa struttura ortodossa dettata dai politici in potere. Nel 1738 si sentì nel cuore uno ‘strano calore’ che gli segnò una seconda conversione ad un cristianesimo più vicino al popolo e più corrispondente alle esigenze sociali.

Per quasi tutto il resto della sua lunga vita John Wesley fece più di trecento mila (!) kilometri di viaggi a cavallo predicando all’aperto, in qualunque luogo si trovava, ad una folla senza distinzione di classe o di cultura o di colore, portando il messaggio che tutti potevano essere salvati se aprivano il cuore alla grazia di Dio.


In questo senso Wesley abbracciava la dottrina Arminia di redenzione a dispetto del compagno Whitefield che rimaneva calvinista e credeva nella predestinazione.

Quando fu chiesto qual’era la sua parrocchia Wesley rispose ‘tutto il mondo è la mia parrocchia.’

La Chiesa anglicana diventò disturbata da questo predicatore, che molti pensavano fanatico, e lo proibì di predicare nelle sue chiese. Wesley, però, rimase sempre un prete anglicano e solo dopo la sua morte si fondò una congregazione separata, chiamata metodista, dopo la maniera meticolosa nella quale si studia le sacre scritture.

Questa congregazione ora conta più di ottanta milioni di devoti nel mondo.

Oltre a essere un grande predicatore Wesley fu anche un notevole benefattore dei poveri. Nelle sue missioni c’era sempre la mensa per gli affamati, la scuola per i bambini (molto prima che le scuole diventassero obbligatorie), e un centro sociale dove il popolo poteva riunirsi per discutere questioni religiose e laiche.

Le prime cappelle metodiste furono costruite su pianta ottagonale per avere un’acustica migliore per sentire le prediche e cantare gli inni. Il metodismo è famoso per la sua grande tradizione musicale. Il fratello di John, Charles, scrisse 6,500 inni tra i più belli mai composti e certi dei quali, in traduzione, hanno trovato posto anche nella Chiesa cattolica d’Italia.
Questa grande tradizione musicale fu continuata con i figli di Charles: Samuel, detto ‘il Mozart Inglese’ e Charles Junior, anch’esso compositore di bellissime sinfonie. Il figlio di Samuel, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-76) fu un grande riformatore della musica liturgica anglicana.

Ora, però, le chiese metodiste sono generalmente costruite più a forma di grandi capanne.

Pochi passi a nord della City si trova la cappella madre del metodismo. Costruita nel 1778 da George Dance the younger è un sobrio e elegante edificio molto adatto alle prediche e con delle bellissime vetrate.

Al retro della Chiesa c’è un piccolo camposanto dov’è sepolto Wesley:


Nella cripta c’è un interessantissimo museo che illustra la storia del metodismo.

Per me, però, la parte più suggestiva è l’attigua casa di Wesley che, tra altri cimeli, contiene un suo apparecchio che generava elettricità usato per trattare certi malanni. Il giardino cresce semplici che usava Wesley come descritti da lui in uno dei suoi tanti scritti sulla salute e il benessere.

L’energia inesauribile di Wesley poteva stancare molta gente, in particolare l’amico Doctor Johnson, menzionato in un mio recente post. Fino all’età di 87 anni, però, John Wesley fu sempre in forma, un fatto alquanto raro quando si parla del secolo diciottesimo!

Potrei definire Wesley un religioso pressoché socialista. Le sue preoccupazioni verso le ineguaglianze sociali dell’epoca furono fonte delle grandi opere che fece nell’aprire le mense, le scuole, gli ospedali e nel diffondere, non solo un più aperto approccio alla spiritualità, ma un rinnovato senso di responsabilità e di amore verso l’umanità.

Le sue ultime parole furono ‘la migliore cosa di tutto è che Dio è con noi’ .

Non è per caso che John Wesley sia stato elencato cinquantesimo fra i cento inglesi più amati ed importanti di tutti i tempi.

Cor riscaldato

nelle fiamme divine:

l’amor di Dio. 


Vicenza’s Palladian Splendour

Such iconic London buildings as Greenwich’s Queen’s House or Whitehall’s Banqueting Hall (in front of which King Charles I was beheaded) and Saint Paul’s church at Covent Garden – London’s first true ‘piazza’ – could never have been built had it not been for Inigo Jones’ (1573 – 1652) visit to Italy and, in particular, to Vicenza where he studied the buildings of Andrea Palladio (1508 –1580). Jones truly initiated the architectural style revolution marking the vast difference between such buildings as Hatfield House and Chiswick House.


(From top left clockwise, some buildings by Inigo Jones, Banqueting house, detail of same, Queen’s House, Saint Paul’s)

Palladio exemplified the English eighteenth century architects’ ideal and his ‘Four books on Architecture’ (1570) (of which Inigo Jones annotated a copy, now at Worcester College Oxford) were incredibly influential for the Augustan movement and the development of neo-Palladianism in Britain. Palladio’s villas, especially, became models for the distinctive English country house. In short, without Palladio there would have been no Wren, Campbell, Chambers, Hawksmoor, Adam or even Soane. As Goethe stated when he saw Palladio’s works for the first time on his famous first journey to Italy ‘n 1786

There’s something divine in his designs, nothing less than the strength of a great poet, who from truth and fiction derives a third utterly fascinating reality.

I have always wanted to visit Vicenza The serendipitous invitation of a visit to this city by a friend I had not seen since university days, and who has since become a distinguished restoration architect, got me jumping on a train for a town which is a UNESCO world heritage site. I had to delay my visit by one day because of the atrocious meteorological conditions Italy has been massacred by, with landslides, floods, inundations and several dead. However, despite this, I did manage to reach Vicenza and the sun was shining there!


(Friends re-united in Vicenza)

Because of the fine weather we decided on a walking trip to see the city’s exquisite palazzi. One of the first we came across was the palazzo Porto in piazza Castello, clearly unfinished but no less gorgeous because of that. Note the wonderful entasis of the columns, tapering in slightly thinner upper form to give sheer elegance to the mansion’s appearance.


There are also many buildings dating earlier, to the Venetian gothic style, including the fabulous Ca d’Oro (golden house).


My architect friend pointed out that Palladio was as much a low-cost (in materials used) architect as he was a high-class one. Columns which seem of marble are, in fact, brick covered with stucco. Even rusticated blocks are jagged bricks spread over with rendering!

Image00153 - Copia

Palladio has been criticised for this but, after all, he saved his clients a lot of money by not having to transport expensive blocks of marble large distances from mountain quarries, (Vicenza is built on an alluvial plain).


Palladio has also raised problems for restorers of his creations. How much should be restored before the thing becomes overdone? Another problem is that so many of Palladio’s buildings were left unfinished at the time of his death and only completed, largely by his pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616), who may have altered his master’s plans to some degree and who has been saddled with  a sort of Mozart-Salieri type syndrome which fortunately has now been largely discredited.

It was a wonderful time visiting this noble city which has the great advantage of being free of the tiresome cruise-ship rabble which now sadly infests nearby Venice and has even caused one-way pedestrian circuits to be installed there.

Here are some of the Vicentine buildings and streetscapes we saw.


(PS Do note the original Juliet balcony for it was in this very house that Luigi Da Porto wrote the novella which Shakespeare turned in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’)

For lunch we stopped to eat in the city’s Piazza dei Signori where I feasted on Vicenza’s dish par excellence ‘Bacalà alla Vigentina con Polenta.’ (Stockfish vicentine-style with polenta). Delicious!



My favourite building was this one: the palazzo Chiericati (1550) which houses a marvellous art collection.

I love the loggias at each end which clearly must have inspired Inigo Jones’ Queen’s house at Greenwich.

I stayed at my friend’s apartment at  . To be  highly reccommended!


The following day was dull and showery so we spent the morning in the very cleverly (perhaps too cleverly) arranged Palladio museum housed in a wonderful palace he designed.

The models of the architect’s principal buildings were brilliantly done and the explanation of Palladio’s theory of proportions (which he derived from studying ancient Roman buildings and, especially, from the treatises of Vitruvius) was clear.

I gasped at the perfection of Palladio’s ‘Teatro Olimpico’, the world’s first purpose-built theatre, with its fantastic stage perspective.

I can now say that I’ve seen the three great renaissance theatres of Italy: the other two are at Sabbioneta (which we visited in 2007)

and at Parma ,(Teatro Farnese) which we saw in 2015.

In the afternoon we climbed the Monte Berico via ‘Le scalette’.

There’s also a three-kilometre gallery by Francesco Muttoni (1780) which will get one there.

At the top is the sanctuary of the Madonna of Monte Berico, originally built to commemorate an apparition of the Virgin who also saved the city from the plague. The sanctuary’s mediaeval nucleus was expanded by Carlo Borella with a Palladio- based centralised classical church built at the end of the seventeenth century.

The best thing about this site, however, are the wonderful views one gets of the city of Vicenza and beyond to the Alps, which already have their peaks covered with snow. It’s a pity the day could not be clearer – a good reason, however, to return.

In the evening we went to the Piazza dei Signori where the city’s symbol the ‘Basilica Palladiana’ is situated. Palladio surrounded the mediaeval hall with a beautiful arcade which he had to fit around the often irregular ancient vaults. Indeed, if one looks closely one can see that the end arches are not quite the same as the rest of the porticoes.

Here we were treated to an imaginative son et lumière which also recounted the disastrous event of 1945 when allied bombing set fire to this wondrous building and almost destroyed it. We also took in some halloween celebrations – Vicenza style.

The very high and very slim bell-tower next to the basilica was fortunately unharmed and somehow adds a slightly oriental touch to the complex of buildings – a classical minaret perhaps.

We had to depart on our separate ways the following morning: I for Longoio and my friends for Bologna and Ravenna.

I cannot wait to return to Vicenza in brighter weather for there are all those beautiful Palladian country villas still to visit. At least I have already seen one of them, the Villa Emo, on a visit to the Treviso Region!


Le Ostriche di Whitstable

Situata sulla costiera nord della contea di Kent, Whitstable è un ridente centro le cui fondazioni risalgono all’era romana. Cresciuto da un villaggio di pescatori è poi diventato una meta per le scampagnate dei Londinesi che la raggiungevano per vaporetto lungo l’estuario del Tamigi.

Ci siamo stati per la prima volta nel 1983 e poi nel 1985.

new folder002698135668..jpeg

Ultimamente eravamo li nel 1998.


Ora, dopo un periodo di decadenza nelle sorti della cittadina, quando gli inglesi l’abbandonarono per le vacanze attorno il Mediterraneo, Whitstable è ritornata di moda ed è frequentatissima – affatto com’era quando siamo prima stati lì molti anni fa’. Questo cambiamento si riflette nel prezzo delle case e nell’offerta più vasta dei negozi. (Speranza per Bagni di Lucca?)

Il mare di Whitstable non è per niente profondo ed è idoneo per la raccolta di crostacei, ostriche e vongole. Il porto fu ideato da Thomas Telford, il grande ingeniere del secolo diciannovesimo che ispirò Nottolini, l’architetto del ponte delle catene a Fornoli. Attorno il porto ci sono le caratteristiche capanne dei pescatori, un mercato del pesce e dei gustosi ristoranti ittici.

Sebbene non abbia edifici di altissimo interesse storico, Whitstable contiene un suggestivo insieme di caratteristiche case ‘clapperboard’, cioè rivestite di assicelle di legno e degli edifici dell’era Giorgiana che ne fanno della sua high Street un attraente insieme pieno di varietà.

La spiaggia non è un gran che, composta dalla più parte di ciottoli. Ha, però, la sua atmosfera nordica con il miagolare dei gabbiani e le famiglie che vanno in cerca di granchi. Ho notato pochi nuotatori….

La galleria d’arte merita una visita.

Come lo merita anche il museo, che contiene un’antica locomotiva a vapore del 1830, Invicta, costruita da Stephenson figlio, e che operò nel primo servizio regolare di treni per passeggeri sulla linea conducente a Canterbury.

Come consueto, abbiamo concluso la nostra giornata a Whitstable in un pub. Ci è particolarmente piaciuto questo di epoca vittoriana. Evidentemente il landlord era appassionato di vecchie radio….

Ciao Whitstable e….alla prossima!

Anni passati,

il volo dei gabbiani:

maree nel tempo.


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.

Un Viaggio Attraverso il Tempo a Londra

Saranno poche le città che sono esenti dai grandi problemi che creano i trasporti urbani. Certo, la rete di Londra ha le sue noie di cancellazioni, sovraccarici, e lavori di manutenzione. Però, viaggiare sul piano superiore di un bus double- decker, prendere la prima metropolitana costruita nel mondo, usare il grande sistema di overland – la rete di treni interurbani, e, per me il modo più piacevole, mettersi a bordo sui riverbus che, con velocità sorprendente, ti trasportano lungo un fiume così pieno di storia che è il Tamigi, è un vanto in una delle più straordinarie metropoli del mondo.