Friday, March 13, 2015

A Special Corner of San Michele in Lucca


Sometimes as I am walking through Lucca I have to remind myself that I am not on a film set. Here the streets are all well kept, the inhabitant elegant and everything looks too perfect to be true but even here, where there is so much general beauty that one can become blasĂ©,  there are corners that give me extra delight.

One angle that never fails to lift my spirits and make me forget about my tax bill is when you emerge from Via di Poggio into  Piazza San Michele. All the tourist look up at the magnificent imposing Archangel who is protecting us all. My eye at dusk isn't drawn upwards but through the side door,  left open for the citizens and visitors, past the candles lit by the faithful during their prayers to the rich colours of the robes of the Filippino Lippi's Pala Magrini (tempera on wood) hanging at the end of the south isle. The masterpiece depicts the Saints Roch, Sebastian, Jerome and Helena but it isn't the subject that attracts my attention but the luxuriant coloured cloth of the saints' robes that catch the light.
 

The contrast  between the austere grey stone and the rushes of the canvas is just so theatrical that it never fails to lift me out of my everyday existence.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Carthusian Monastery in Calci near Pisa


In an unassuming little town called Calci just outside Pisa is one of the most important Carthusian monasteries in Italy. The monastery or Charterhouse was originally built in 1366 but was transformed into what is more of a Baroque palace from the 17th Century then the home of an austere closed order of hermit monks.



The monastery was abandoned in 1972 and is now a National museum giving us a unique insight into the monastic life of a Carthusian. The monks have been replaced by a colony of Cats not Chartreux cats but nevertheless I am certain the order would approve. 



Visits are guided around this incredible edifice and we were at first disappointed because despite ringing up we were not told until the tour started that part of the monastery had suffered storm damage and therefore was closed for a few weeks. However our initials disappointment was dismissed due to our lovely guide



The tour started in the pharmacy that despite being a closed order was also able to serve the local community though only men could enter an anti chamber and talk to the monks through grills. The wonderful apothecary jars are still on the shelves and some tomes are also on display including one on homeopathy from early 1800 .  

  



We then progressed in to the main part of the Charterhouse and were able to see the refectory, only used on special occasions with a fresco of the last supper by Bernardino Poccetti(1597). All the frescoes in the room are in perfect condition despite never having been restored. 





In one of the brother’s chapels there were a row of rather nifty little drawers below the pews it seems these where spitting drawers perhaps giving us a hint of the damp in the cold winters. 



The monastery despite its physical magnificence adhered to the strict rules of the order including no heating in any form. Unfortunately the famous cloister and gardens where the priests and monks cell where closed due to the storm damage. However our lovely guide told us there where luxury cells for the well off monks each with their own bathroom whereas 60 ordinary friars had to share one bathroom. 



Sadly for me the library was also closed but we could look out into the grounds, where there were olive trees and even a fish farm. This order was self-sufficient even growing wheat.
















The wonderful marble pavements and also the visitors suite really gave us a tantalising look not only into this beautiful building but also the a way of life.






We shall certainly be returning many times not only to complete our visit after the repairs have been done but with friends.



The Monastery also houses the National History museum of Pisa, which has life size models of dinosaurs making Calci a perfect day out for all the family even on a rainy day.

Opening times :
Tuesday to Saturday :
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 12.30 13.30 14.30 15.30 16.30 17.30 18.30 
Sunday and Bank holidays
8.30 9.30 10.30 11.30 and 12.30

closed on Mondays 1st January 1st May and 25th December
website: http://www.sbappsae-pi.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/148/calci-pi-museo-nazionale-della-certosa-monumentale-di-pisa





Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Winter Sunday in Piazza Napoleone (Piazza Grande) Lucca


After a good Sunday lunch either at home or in a trattoria (family restaurant) a passeggiata or stroll is mandatory. The perfect translation for passeggiata is that wonderful little used word perambulation. A passeggiata means more than just a walk but a moment for the whole family to go out together, to meet people and to be seen. In Lucca many dress up and it is an important social event. There are several locations for the Sunday passeggiata in our bijoux city but a favourite for a cold February Sunday is Piazza Napoleone or Piazza Grande as it know by the locals. There is something and a corner for everyone in this large elegant French style piazza modelled by Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi (sister of Napoleon and ruler or Lucca).


The skating ring is still up from Christmas and the sporty can speed or totter around the ice. For the mini people or the romantic oldies there is the carousel styled on a traditional fairground model but in some ways even more appealing because of its way too shiny exterior and horses with feather duster plumes. The carousel also has little panels depicting Lucca’s landmarks, which add a certain cachet. I love the way it is controlled by what looks to me like the TV remote control. I remember on one  occasion one of the owners desperately shaking the control in the direction of the carousel trying to get it to move. The demented look at her face reminded me of my frustration when I can't get the CD player to work!


In the centre of the Piazza is a rather unremarkable statue of Maria Luisa di Borbone of Spain, who replaced Elisa both as the ruler of Lucca and the subject of the statue. The iron railing surrounding the monument not only serves to make this unmemorable centre piece more grand but as a perch where the middle school kids sit and eye up the opposite sex and make their first moves at flirting. It seems this spot has been used for this purpose by generations of fledging lovers! Unperturbed toddlers in carnival customs throw paper confetti and streamers about and run in circles. I love looking at their laughing faces and simple joy! The young adults and couples might stop in a cafĂ© or bar and observe or chat and only move on when the sun disappears and it becomes just too cold. This Sunday afternoon ritual is a perfect way to bump into friends and acquaintances without having to arrange anything. This casual sociability is one of the great satisfactions of small town Italian life and how reassuring it is that this gentile Sunday pursuit still continues. 










Friday, January 23, 2015

Lucca Summer Festival 2015



Lucca is now having its seasonal downtime when there are practically no tourists and the city returns to being a quiet backwater. The locals wander looking for bargains in the winter sales and meet for a coffee on a rainy day. I too have had a break from blogging but am now back full of enthusiasm to write about life in our little gem of a city and the surrounding hills.
On the corner of Piazza San Michele, formally the forum in Roman times, there may be no market or political banter on these cold winter days but there are large posters telling the citizens of the delights in stall for the Lucca 2015 Summer festival.


Italians are famous for living life in the piazzas of their cities and in the summer cities put on concerts to bring the crowds into the city in the evening. I love Lucca when there is electricity in the air and the expectation of the tickets holders and also those non-ticket holders who stand around the streets in huddles to listen to the music. This year Lucca is certainly pulling out the stops with famous names the likes of Robbie Williams, Mark Knopfler, Billy Idol, Lenny Kravitz and one of the grand old men of music Elton John himself. This will be I think the third time Elton has been to Lucca since I have lived here. Perhaps this year he will rent Le Mura villa and bring the family! Do you think I should suggest it? Seriously though many of our guests have enjoyed coming down from the hills for an evening of fun in Lucca during the summer festival. The city is buzzing and the locals who are not attending the concert stand around in the narrow streets and piazzas chatting and enjoying a free concert. Some enthusiasts balance on pillars and statues to try and get a glimpse of the performance. I always like to have a nose around the posh tour buses that await these stars, though I was less enthusiastic when I found a bouncer parked in a residents’ parking space!! However live and let live and how wonderful it is to see a happy peaceful crowd just out for a good time on a beautiful summer evening.


 For information and tickets for The Lucca  Summer Festival look at their web site on

http://www.summer-festival.com/home?&lang=en

And for more information on Le Mura Villa Rental our website is
http://lemuravillatuscany.jimdo.com

Hope to meet you dancing and singing this summer in Lucca.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lucca Halloween Half Term Break ( Lucca comics 2014)




Tuscany is a popular destination for half term particularly for those from the UK hoping to hang on to a bit of warmth and extra evening light for another week before snuggling into big jerseys for winter. However those who choose Lucca for a destination might find an unexpected type of tourism as on the first weekend of November strange galactic creatures, comic strip and video game characters prowl the ancient streets and piazzas and strut their stuff on the walls.