The Englishwoman experiences “Il sabato del villaggio”

I have chosen to use the title of a poem by Giacomo Leopardi, “Saturday in the Village” (Canto XXV) as a title for this post.

The poet Giacomo Leopardi was born in Recanati  in 1798; here he spent his childhood and youth reading in the library, collected by Monaldo,  his father. It is open to the public; you don’t need to make a special request. Thanks to Alex of Send In the Librarians (a great joint blog, by Alex and Victoria, for lovers of books and libraries – and cats) for telling me this. Without you, Alex, I might never have got round to visiting the Biblioteca of Casa Leopardi.

Saturday was fairly cool and damp, a good day for urban sightseeing, so we decided to drive down to Casa Leopardi. The library overlooks a little piazza, the piazza of the poem, and when you read Canto XXV you can imagine the young Leopardi gazing down at the bustling piazza – a bustle from which he was for ever excluded by his station in life.

In the piazza

In the piazza

A few lines from the Canto are carved on the building, which was the servants’ quarters, opposite the Casa Leopardi.

I fanciulli gridando carved lines from Il sabato del villaggio

“The crowd of children shouting in the little square, and leaping here and there, make a happy noise.”

Saturday is in some ways a good day for sightseeing, because you often get a bonus in the form of a wedding. This particular Saturday a wedding was taking place in the church adjacent to the Leopardi house.

I know the captions below, from “Il sabato del villaggio”, are quoted out of context, but I couldn’t resist them. Although Leopardi wasn’t describing a wedding at all, his words seem to fit.

"Questo di sette e' il più gradito giorno, Pieno di speme e di gioa"

“Questo di sette e’ il più gradito giorno, Pieno di speme e di gioa”

“This day is the most welcome of the seven, full of hope and joy.”

And here is the bride.

"...e reca in mano Un mazzolin di rose e di viole

“…e reca in mano Un mazzolin di rose e di viole”

“… and she holds in her hand A bunch of roses and violets” (No violets, actually).

There was a modest bar in the square  where the Chelsea Fan had an excellent cappuccino, in the late morning – shock horror.  I think if you want a cappuccino you should ask for it; never mind about  the done thing.  Do they want your money or don’t they? The Englishwoman is obviously a foreigner whatever she does, anyway .

In the bar we fell into conversation with a wedding guest  (no, he wasn’t a bit like the Ancient Mariner). He pushed in front of me in the queue and I glared at him in my best Paddington Bear fashion. The Chelsea Fan could feel the heat from the other side of the room.  He, the wedding guest, instantly apologised and made way for me.  We take queuing seriously in Le Marche.

Following this encounter I heard him talking about “la Brexit” with his friend and raised my eyebrows.  Oh scusi,  was he in the way of the Signora’s cappuccino? I said no, we were English and had heard them talking about Brexit. He made a remark which I didn’t catch but later we were standing near each other and he observed to his friend “Questi signori sono inglesi”. I took this as an invitation to chat, and it was interesting to hear how fed up they were with the EU. They didn’t seem to resent the vote to Leave at all.

The bride and groom eventually  appeared at the top of the steps, having burst their way through the screen of pink and white balloons.

"...Cotesta eta' fiorita E' come un giorno di allegrezza pieno, Giorno chiaro, sereno, Che precorre alla festa di tua vita."

“…Cotesta eta’ fiorita E’ come un giorno di allegrezza pieno, Giorno chiaro, sereno, Che precorre alla festa di tua vita.”

“This blooming age Is like a day full of happiness, A clear, sunny day, Precursor to the festa of your life.”

The kiss was the signal for us to join the queue for entry tickets to the library and the exhibition. After about half an hour we arrived at the desk and received the same painstaking and polite explanation as everyone ahead of us in the queue.  The upshot of it all was that we had to be back at 2 for the library tour. After a hurried lunch in the first restaurant we found, served by harassed and unsmiling staff ( they weren’t hurrying ), we made it just in time.  I told you the Chelsea Fan hates looking for restaurants at lunchtime!

I’ll post something about the collection in my other blog.

The guided tour was of course aimed at Leopardi fans, not librarians, so I’ll pass on to you some of what I gleaned about his life. The poet spent most of his youth in the library,  where, among many other studies he taught himself Greek and Hebrew from the rare polyglot Bible. A touching sight was the window

Giacomo's window

whence he used to look across to the servants’ quarters where Teresa, whom he called Silvia, sat singing over her weaving. She became the subject of Canto XXI, “A Silvia”, in which he rages against Nature for causing her early death and destroying her youthful hopes.

"From the balcony of my father's house I used to listen for the sound of your voice And of your swift-moving hand Running across the wearisome loom. I used to look at the cloudless sky..."

“From the balcony of my father’s house I used to listen for the sound of your voice And of your swift-moving hand Running across the wearisome loom. I used to look at the cloudless sky…”

Roll on the holiday! as Leopardi nearly said. What he actually wrote was “… ma la tua festa Ch’ancor tardi a venir non ti sia grave.” And I wish the same to all of you.



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Spaghetti All’Amatriciana

Francis puts into words what I found it difficult to express. Thank you Francis!

From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

When in Italy don’t ask for a plate of ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ (don’t even dare to say ‘spag bol’). The dish simply doesn’t exist in this country but is a concoction made abroad (and, I believe, actually sold in tins in the UK!). Ask instead for ‘tagliatelle al ragù’.  The ragù is a sauce generally made up of the following ingredients (quantities are given for serving four persons):

55 g (1 ¾ oz) butter
55 g (1 ¾ oz) minced prosciutto far or pancetta
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean veal or beef
100 g (3 ½ oz) minced lean pork
1 glass of dry red wine
A little beef or chicken stock
3 tbsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper

A short while back at Bagni di Lucca’s super-excellent Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant I had a…

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The Englishwoman dines and listens to old favourites in Corinaldo at I Tigli


I have never eaten in a more beautiful place than this. Sitting on this open-air terrace built into the city walls, I feel as if it’s the most beautiful place to eat in the world.

Terrace of I Tigli restaurant

The evening sky, harmonious architecture and mellow bricks combine to create a unique setting for an evening out.

Tigli terrace and evening sky

The Tigli has had its ups and downs, since the new management took over about three years ago , so much so that I haven’t wanted to write about it, but it seems to be sorting itself out. There is a new kitchen brigade in place now. We had a pleasant straightforward meal here, nothing fancy but well up to the usual Italian standard .To my surprise there was no fish menu or vegetarian option, (quite unusual in Le Marche nowadays).
I had prosciutto con melone and nodino di vitello, (veal T-bone steak).In England I never bother with imported melon but in Italy in season it’s delicious with prosciutto. I have also in the past eaten some strange blackened lumps at the Tigli, which were listed as meat on the menu, but this was fine. The meat cookery has improved literally beyond recognition.

Nodino di vitello at the Tigli 27.07.16
However, what I particularly enjoyed about the meal that evening was the live music. This is a recent innovation. The singer , Lucio, obligingly played and sang my requests for lovely cheesy old Italian favourites.

Music on I Tigli terrace


You could tell he was enjoying them, because he gave them lots of welly. I asked for “Arrivederci Roma”, which was in the air in Rome in the fifties, when I was a little girl, and “Sapore di Mare”, which for me sums up the Italian beach experience. I first heard it in Porto Potenza Piceno, when we were dancing under the stars (ballavamo sotto le stelle) over 20 years ago. Everything romantic happens under the stars in the summer heat of the Italian seaside.

There was no dancing at I Tigli that night, but it was a dreamlike evening. Lucio also played “O Sole Mio ” and a Gianni Morandi number. Heaven! (Just a note: In Bologna I saw the street name “G Morandi”. “Oh look”, said I to the Chelsea Fan, “they’ve named a street after Gianni Morandi.” He kindly pointed out that it was far more likely to be Giorgio Morandi, the Bolognese artist. Hmm … so much for posing as an art-lover. Maybe I should stick to Great Hits of the ’60s.)

You will have guessed that I like San Remo type hits. They are so much more authentically Italian than the Latin-American music which is popular over there now. I like to drift out into the sunset on a wave of sentiment.

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Raphael and Giovanni Santi in England

No, I’m not suggesting that Raphael and his babbo ever visited my country. But their paintings and drawings have taken up permanent residence here.

Recently and coincidentally I saw  a drawing by Santi and a small painting by Raphael in unusual contexts. I was fortunate enough to see the drawing in Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s residences. I never hoped to see it, because the Queen has a vast collection of Old Master drawings. Little did I think  that this relatively insignificant (though not to me) artist would ever be on show. But there his drawing was.

The Muse Clio or Woman Standing before Rocks. Thanks to the Royal Collection.

The Muse Clio or Woman Standing before Rocks. Thanks to the Royal Collection.


It is deeply moving to see these drawings and feel so close to the artist; this work was by his hand and no other. If you believe the creative process to be divinely inspired, it is like seeing the hand of God at work. And very often artists who produce rather bland all-purpose paintings (my good fellow-Corinaldese, Claudio Ridolfi, for example) create lively and sophisticated drawings.

I’ve also been to the exhibition “Painters’ Paintings” at the National Gallery. It was quite a revelation to me. The National Gallery often bought up paintings at auctions of famous painters’ collections; hence many of their pictures are actually from such collections.

Raphael, 1483 - 1520 An Allegory ('Vision of a Knight') about 1504 Bought, 1847 NG213

Raphael, 1483 – 1520 An Allegory (‘Vision of a Knight’) about 1504 Bought, 1847 NG213

You can see his father’s influence in this early Raphael. I first saw it the NG’s excellent exhibition “Raphael from Urbino to Rome” in 2004, which was seminal for me and, together with a similar exhibition “Raphael and Urbino”in Urbino in 2009, first got me on to “dear old Mr Santi”, as Kenneth Clark called him in his (KC’s) book, Civilisation. (BTW, some friends told us that the National Gallery used to say that Raphael was born in Umbria, until they got an official complaint from the president of the Marche region.)

The painting belonged to Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), who mainly collected Old Master drawings rather than paintings, partly because they were cheaper. However, Raphael was an exception. The exhibition catalogue quotes a letter to his art agent: “In drawings I still ask for the preference – in pictures I do not expect it, nor can I afford to buy them, unless you meet with another Raphael, a case which would justify exertion.” (Anne Robbins et al: Painters’ Paintings.London, National Gallery Company, 2016.)

The exhibition is on till 4 September 2016.  It includes paintings from the collections of artists from Lucian Freud to van Dyck, and wasn’t very crowded. Do go if you can.

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The Englishwoman discovers Fiorenzuola di Focara

We were inspired to visit this area by an article in the Daily Torygraph (alias Telegraph), which I saw on Facebook,  extolling the delights of Gabicce Mare and  the San Bartolo nature reserve (parco naturale). About time too! Le Marche doesn’t get nearly enough coverage in the English press. San Bartolo is one of our few rugged coastlines. Mostly the land shelves down to the sea, which means good beaches, but rows of concrete box hotels lining the road, and access to the beach via a dank tunnel under the railway.   But San Bartolo and the Conero, both nature reserves, are characterised by lush woodland, steep cliffs and panoramic sea views complete with rocks and headlands.

Wooded cliff and sea view

Fiorenzuola offers sun,  food, woodland walks and sea … very different from our trip to Macerata, which was distinguished by rain, culture, food and urban architecture. As soon as you arrive in front of this delightful little resort’s gateway, you know what its chief claim to fame is.

Fiorenzuola town gateway

Dante referred to Focara in the Inferno, the first part of his epic poem, the Commedia Divina.

Inscription with Dante quote above gateway to Fiorenzuola di Focara

Here is a basic translation of Dante’s words, courtesy of Longfellow.

“And make it known to the best two of Fano, to Messer Guido and Angiolello likewise,that if foreseeing here be not in vain, cast over from their vessel shall they be, and drowned near the Cattolica, … That traitor who sees only with one eye … will make them come to a parley with him,  then will bring it about that to Focara’s wind they will not stand in need of vow nor prayer.” That is, they will be drowned before they reach Focara.

Dante seems to have thought of Le Marche (not that it existed as a demarcated region then) as a place of wind and thunder. This is what he says about Fonte Avellana:

Fonte Avellana

“Tra’ due liti d’Italia surgon sassi/ e non molto distanti a la tua patria,/ tanto che’ troni assai suonan più bassi/e fanno un gibbo che si chiama Catria,/di sotto al quale e’ consecrato un ermo [Fonte Avellana], …” (Paradiso Canto XX, 106-110. The speaker is St Peter Damian.) “Between two shores of Italy rise cliffs, and not far distant from your native place, so high, the thunders far below them sound, and form a ridge that is called Catria, beneath which is consecrated a hermitage …”. (Longfellow again.)

Also just outside the walls is the war memorialFiorenzuola di Focara war memorial

Who are the Missing (Dispersi)? Are their bones lying somewhere in Russia? And what is the story of the Caduti Civili? Surely not victims of Allied bombing in this quiet little borgo of apparently no strategic value. Were they hostages or members of the Resistance? Or were they working in Germany? And these numbers must have been a great loss to a small place.

Consequently I wasn’t sure how appropriate the sculpture below was.

Fiorenzuola di Focara sculpture above war memorial

This soldier seemed to emanate the very hatred and pride which the blood of the fallen was to cry out against, according to the inscription.

Within the gateway was this gentle wall-painting.

Madonna della Grazia in the gateway of Fiorenzuola di Focara

presumably a thank-offering.

Just outside the walls we had also noticed this well-placed restaurant. I bet it is impossible to find a table there in the summer season.

"La Rupe" restaurant, Fiorenzuola di Focara

“La Rupe” restaurant

I said it didn’t look very exciting, but the England Fan (not a very happy bunny at the moment) said he had had a quick look inside and it stretched a long way back with a sea view. So we decided to come back there later.

We also noticed this bar, which is a popular rendez-vous for bikers, many of whom roared through the town while we were there.

Bikers' bar in Fiorenzuola di Focara

On the other side of the gateway we spotted a sweet little museum. Somewhat to our surprise it was open, as the time was after 12.30. I thought the authorities deserved a reward for keeping it open , so in we went. There were no other visitors nor staff, and I couldn’t see a CCTV anywhere.

Fiorenzuola obviously prides itself on its presepi, or crib scenes, as you can tell from this somewhat battered photocopy in the museum’s vestibule.

"Fiorenzuola becomes "Crib Town"; the magic of the Nativity in 50 forms."

“Fiorenzuola becomes “Crib Town”; the magic of the Nativity in 50 forms.”

The photocopy was next to this presepio, with the Holy Family, the shepherds and the three wise men to the left of the gateway. A pleasant reminder of the presepi of my childhood in Rome.

Fiorenzuola di Focara presepio

This is my favourite exhibit.

Teapots in Fiorenzuola di Focara museum

The Englishwoman is always hungry after visiting museums, and the restaurant turned out to be everyone’s idea of an Italian restaurant with a sea view.La Rupe balcony with sea view

The locals make a feature of their interesting plant-pots. This boat-shaped one was very appropriate to its surroundings.

Boat shaped plant pot on La Rupe restaurant balcony

The food was standard seaside restaurant fare- nothing wrong with it, and the waitress warmed up from professionally polite to quite friendly, once she realised I spoke Italian. Definitely worth a try, but probably not at the weekend in the summer season.

After lunch we went for a stroll. We didn’t go all the way down to the beach, because it would have taken all afternoon to come back up. There was a shuttle bus in August 2015, so maybe there’ll be another one this year.

Sea view from beach path in Fiorenzuola di Focara

You can see how far down the beach was. I love la ginestra (gorse); it reminds me of my Gap Year (well, three months) in Perugia. “Kissing’s out of season when gorse is out of bloom”, as the old saying, which I learned from my mother, has it.

Pinecones stuck in the grating on the beach path Fiorenzuola di Focara

These pine cones stuck in the grating amused me.

We went back uphill to have a look round town. On the way up we enjoyed the scallop patterns on the cobblestones and the magnificent flowers.

Patterned cobbles and magnificent flower pots in Fiorenzuola di @Focara

We also saw a few more interesting plant pots.

Flower pot behind grating in Fiorenzuola

The grating is attractive too.

Two attractive flower troughs in Fiorenzuola

Love the abundant effect of the terracotta leaves and fruit.

At the top of town there is a pleasant little garden below a tower. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the tower – it was too tall, but the England Fan took a few of the garden.

Bench with sea view in garden at top of town

No bicycles

No bicycles

I liked this driftwood sculpture at the side of the tower, arranged deliberately I’m sure.

Driftwood sculpture at base of tower

On the other side of the tower there was a little path which looked fit for an adventure in a children’s storybook.

Have smugglers hidden their treasure in a secret entrance to the tower?

Have smugglers hidden their treasure in a secret entrance to the tower?

And finally …

Several bloggers whom I admire have written about Italian loos, so I’ll take a leaf out of their book, or a page out of their site.

Public lavatory at Fiorenzuola di Focara

Please do not “steal” the lavatory paper.

Public loos in Le Marche have improved a lot since 1993. This one was scrupulously clean and actually had a seat and loo roll, though no soap – thus going two better than the one under the Comune in Corinaldo.

You reach it by going through a gate and down a steep slope – a bit difficult for the elderly or those “su di giri” (a bit tight/drunk).

Fiorenzuola di Focara WC notice

Note the opening hours.

This loo is just outside the gate, so very convenient (to coin a phrase) to use just before you go home.


Posted in Food and drink, Hill towns, Museums, Nature reserve, Vacation, Where to eat | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Englishwoman sees the sights in Macerata

I usually like to sight-see conscientiously, guide-book in hand, but this time we just wandered round as our fancy took us.

As you would expect from the former seat of papal government, Macerata has a number of fine monumental buildings and, as with all Italian borghi, some delightful byways and corners.

Loggia dei Mercanti c1503-1504

Loggia dei Mercanti c1503-1504

We saw this fine C17 church of San Giovanni Battista

C17 Church of St John the Baptist

and the C16 Palazzo dei Diamanti, so called after the diamond-pointed rustication. It is now the property of the Banca d’Italia.

Palazzo dei Diamanti


But there were lots of charming glimpses and little quirks as well.

Ancient alleyway with modern chairs

Ancient alleyway with modern chairs


Macerata street scene

In contrast, here is a busy street scene. You can tell that Macerata is a university city. Note the fine doorway with the broken pediment on the left.

Hmm, wonder if you can buy a deep-fried Mars bar in this wee caffè?

As some of my cari lettori already know, I’m fascinated by, and have posted about, the tensions in Italian history between diversity and unity, Catholicism and the secular state, and in addition the desire to play a leading role on the world stage and the desire for a quiet life. The two inscriptions below reflect these tensions.

Inscription in memory of the battle of Castelfidardo

Inscription in memory of the battle of Castelfidardo


Here is a basic translation: “Dante’s thought, having become across the centuries Renaissance, Reform, Science, Revolution, patriotic feeling, having become through persecution Italic Law, had in Le Marche fulfilment and triumph on 18th September 1860 [the battle of Castelfidardo] with the victory of Italian arms over the ruins of theocratic despotism, The provincial council of Macerata on the fiftieth anniversary of the memorable date, reaffirms the votes [vows] of a people who wished to replace double tyranny, spiritual and political, with the rule of reason and civilisation [civiltà could =civic spirit]. 18th September 1910.”

Not too sure what Dante would have thought of that. He may have criticised individual popes, but as a deeply religious man, steeped in mediaeval thought,he would have welcomed a Pope who could be Italy’s leader and saviour.

And below is an inscription in memory of Macerata’s contadini who died in the First World War. It wasn’t put up by the civil authorities, but by a mutual insurance society.

Sad to think that so many died to satisfy the lust for blood and glory of Gabriele d’Annunzio and his like.

On a more cheerful note, this caffè was in an elegant arcade. We spotted it at 3 pm and came back later for a drink (the Englishwoman only drinks between certain times, and looks at her watch before accepting, when she’s offered a drink), when it was much busier.

Here are some details:

Macerata province's coat-of-arms

Macerata province’s coat-of-arms

You can see this upside-down in the photo above this one. It is set into the floor of the arcade.

Art Nouveau (Stile Liberty) caffe' doorway

Art Nouveau style caffe’ doorway


Since I wrote this the caffè has been reborn as a sushi bar, but the decor does not seem to have been drastically altered. Its new owner, meanwhile, appears to be under investigation.

Smart shop with inlaid floor outside in Macerata

It’s the inlaid floor outside which makes this shop so special.

We also had a look at the gallery of 20th century art in the Palazzo Buonaccorsi. I’ve selected a couple of pictures which capture, or attempt to capture, something of the character of Le Marche. Actually you find the tiled roofscapes all over Italy. I first really noticed them in Perugia when I was about 18 or 19.

Painting of Tiled roofscape in Macerata modern art gallery

And what roof would be complete without a cat?

Landscape in Macerata gallery of modern art

Corrado Pellini: Marchigiano Landscape near Montelupo.


And finally …

Arrow or headless man?

Arrow or headless man?


I leave you to ponder.

Posted in 20th century art, Architecture, Borghi dell'entroterra, Churches, Hill towns, Papacy, Unification of Italy | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Macerata’s historic Mozzi-Borgetti library

This post comes from my other blog, “Libraries and rare books in Le Marche.” The region’s public libraries are astonishingly rich in rare and valuable early printed books. Macerata’s library is housed in a beautiful setting and boasts over 300 incunabula, (books printed before 1500). So as a librarian I occasionally blog about them and I thought I’d share this post with you.

Libraries and rare books in Le Marche

We were strolling round Macerata with no intention of visiting its library. I assumed it would be chiuso per restauro (closed for restoration), the three most important words for any bibliophile in Italy. However, we spotted it and I said to the Chelsea Fan, “Let’s go in!”.

Entrance to the Mozzi-Borgetti Library, Macerata Entrance to the Mozzi-Borgetti Library, Macerata. Thanks to Cronache Maceratesi.

Doorway to the library Doorway to the library. Thanks to Uma Boa Porta.

Although he doesn’t speak Italian and is only generally interested in libraries and early printed books, he was up for it. We asked the staff at Reception if we could see round, they found another member of staff who was delighted that anyone was interested in his beloved library, and off we went.

As we had given no warning, he didn’t get out any books for us, but he showed us the fine rooms in which the historic collections are housed, and indeed the rooms…

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