I recently visited the Marc Chagall’s Spiritual Journey exhibition in Lucca – truly beautiful and inspiring. It was yet another reminder of how lucky I am living here surrounded by so much art, beautiful architecture, great food and so on. There seems to be an endless stream of wonderful events that fit right into the actual context of this part of Italy. Well OK so Chagall was French with some Russian thrown in, but the point is that you can walk out of such an exhibition and still feel cocooned in beauty!
In contrast to Marc Chagall, yet very powerful in its own right was the ‘Omens’ exhibition by Bruno Pedrosa still in Lucca.
For more light hearted notes you can venture to Bagni di Lucca once again where they have had a Winter of laughs – quite literally – with the Film Festival ‘The Giants of Italian Comedy’.
There really is no reason not to feel inspired, uplifted and amused around here – only confusing thing is the amount of choice!
One minute we are shivering away in Siberian-like temperatures, watching as the penguins waddle across the icy river and the next we have thrown our many layers off and everyone is perched outside their house, faces tilted up to the sun like human sunflowers – even the dogs are sunbathing. Bring it on!! I don’t care if this heralds my hay fever, I am bone weary of that cold!
I have to say though, it seems to have been a short – if violent – Winter – if this truly is the end of it of course! I registered 26 degrees in the sun today – last week I was skiing, this week I am sunbathing!!
The menu at the Corona has swiftly shifted from warming hotpots, to more lightweight offerings and those guests who had booked and then cancelled due to Rome being covered in snow, have now decided to venture out – so all is well – we survived the ice age – phew!!
And we have had a rash of booking for wedding parties this coming Summer – so 2012 is shaping up to be a very good year indeed – early Spring tints things in pinky hues that makes the world seem particularly good – that’s how it feels right now!!
There is nothing quite like taking a plunge in hot thermal water to de-frost your inner-core! I trudged up to the Bagni Bernabo and stood looking out over snow covered Bagni di Lucca musing over the fact that for this time of the year there is barely any water in the river Lima. At the risk of sounding like a ‘meteo’ bird, the weather is rather unusual these days. Freezing but as dry as a biscuit with high winds that cut right through you. So it was wonderful to step into the neo-classical atmosphere of the recently renewed baths and be greeted by Valentina. She speaks impeccable English and gave me a tour of the beautifully appointed treatment rooms, each with its own original marble bath and then on to the huge marble sunken pool with its gush of steaming thermal water.
I loved the ‘cave’ wall which in a couple of weeks time will be turned into a contemporary glass steam room with sky lights letting in natural light.
The whole place is tranquil and whilst I expected to be hit by some sort of thermal smell (for those of you who have been to Rotorua you will know what I mean!) the baths are filled with crystal clear thermal waters instead of murky brown. The mineral content of these baths claim to improve all sorts of skin conditions and have been lauded since the time of the Romans. As far as I was concerned just sinking into that hot water was therapy enough, but I did come away feeling incredibly relaxed and cleansed.
It is everywhere! We went from having to make our own snow up at the ski resort of Abetone, to shoveling it furiously off our roads and paths – all in sub-zero temperatures!
Whilst stonkingly cold it is gloriously sunny today and the wind is wiping the snow off the mountain peaks and twirling it around – it is truly beautiful!
The Bagni Bernabo have opened and I am planning to go and have a wonderful soak this weekend – nothing like it to release all those knots caused by freezing over!
Meanwhile the cold does not seemed to have dampened the Italians’ joy San Valentino – one way of warming up at any rate!
As I read it, I could just imagine it – in fact I could practically feel it!! This was in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph in which Boris Johnson, Mayor of London talks about his abrupt ski encounter with a small eight year old on the Italian ski slopes of Aosta.
As it turns out, the little boy’s father was so taken by the way Boris kept apologising to his son, he actually wrote an article in the Corriere della Sera praising the British politicians who don’t take their status too seriously.
It is an interesting fact really when you start comparing the British politicians and their Italian counterparts, the Brits are without doubt very keen on remaining as close to the public as they can, the Italians on the other hand take their role as one that elevates them beyond mere mortals. What with David Cameron refusing to take offence when the Italian waitress suggested he get his own coffee to Berlusconi who used to refuse to step foot outside without an entire entourage, it boils down to those who don’t mind laughing at themselves and have a real sense of their humanity and those who are all about ensuring they look good no matter what, regardless of how the people who depend on them to sort out a mess are getting along.
I must say, the catapulting Brits get my vote!
It might be a tad chilly right now for ice cream but that has not stopped our friend Paolo from opening his second gelateria. As a matter of duty and in a quest to report back honestly, I had to go to Fornaci di Barga and try out his claims for most delicious gelato – truly scrummy indeed.
The Italians, quite rightly, are very proud of their ice cream production and in order to really get what they are on about you need to steer clear of mass-produced brands and seek out ‘artigianale – produzione propria’ which means home made and totally addictive. Interesting too to see that Paolo is making a yoghurt based range – great, healthy ice cream!
So now that Paolo has two gelaterias under his belt he is going to focus first and foremost on building his different flavours. I love that too of Italian ice creams – they actually have seasonal themes such as chestnut in late Autumn through to zesty grapefruit in the Summer. And the combinations…. creamy vanilla with silky dark streaks of chocolate and fresh ruby red raspberry coulis…. hmmmmmm.
OK so we look forward to seeing where he will crop up next, ice cream cone in hand and that big cheery smile. Good luck Paolo!
The Christmas lights and baubles have been packed away and so now we cast our thoughts towards love – after all we are in one of the world’s most romantic countries – love is never very far from our thoughts. San Valentino in fact started in the time of the Roman Empire.
In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses as well as Goddess of women and marriage.
Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in many unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel, who was having a hard time getting soldiers to join his military leagues, believed that the reason was that Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. His tender-hearted solution was to cancel all marriages and engagements in Rome.
During this time however Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome. He and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Saint Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February.
So a day worth remembering then. We were thinking of celebrating love in a quiet, cultural way ourselves, with plenty of beautiful food and delicious wine and a quick tour of some lesser known local bits of culture.
More on that in the next blog. Meanwhile we are pulling together your suggestions for most romantic Italian spots – we need a photo to back your suggestion – the winner gets a romantic candlelight dinner for two on 14 February – give it a go!!