Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Amy Winehouse - A Tribute From Lucca And The Summer Music Festival

I am a Camden girl and life’s rich journey and love has brought me from that urban hot pot of culture to Lucca, this refined and genteel Tuscan City.
My husband is from the maverick city of Naples and our daughter was born in Camden.
It is therefore not surprising that our daughter was attracted to the extraordinary voice of the young jazz singer from her home patch, which she heard over the sound system on shopping trip to our local supermarket. I am a classical musician but her interest made me listen and admire this exceptional talent, however the dark and sad lyrics hit my soul. Bella has grown into a teenager and has a wise head, telling me that Amy’s decline has been the most poignant lesson in how drugs and drink destroy a person and always saying we shouldn’t criticise anyone with such a genius while being disturbed and shocked by her strong lyrics.

This year Amy Winehouse was the entire buzz in Lucca expecting to be the biggest draw at the Lucca Summer Festival, but there was no great surprise when she withdrew and there was a lot of tut-tutting in the bars. This morning the stage for the summer festival was being dismantled and the billboards with Amy’s face could still be seen around the city. I felt a great sadness for a wasted genius that like so many was unable to create without self-destruction. I hope we will remember her for what she gave us as a remarkable and vulnerable artist and not as an addict. After all Mozart is venerated for his music and not his lifestyle and Lucca’s own son Puccini has long ago been forgiven for his womanising. However I want the younger generation to remember that drink and drugs are never cool but just destroy. I have never heard of a happy addict.
Amy, from a Camden in girl in Lucca, I say rest in peace and I will remember you for your phenomenal talent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Concerts in Lucca’s Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens are tucked into a corner of the city under the walls. It is not the first stop on the casual travellers agenda and indeed the gardens can be viewed clearly from the walls. The Lucchesi children will tell you that on a stormy night the face of Lucida Mansi, a 17th century noblewoman from the city, who made a pact with the devil to preserve her beauty, as Botox hadn’t been invented yet, can be seen in the pond.

Last Friday, however was a beautiful warm evening and the gardens opened their gates to host a concert together with an art show. These Friday evenings have become a regular summer feature in Lucca allowing this often neglected corner of the city to come to life with the sound of music amongst the trees.

We were treated to a recital of arias from Bizet to of course the cities most famous son Puccini. Alessandra Rossi Trusendi, Soprano, and Arianna Lorenzi, mezzo, accompanied on the piano by Angela Baroncelli, performed inside the large glass house with the huge sliding doors opening onto the balmy evening. The paths leading to the venue and connecting it to the grotto were the art show was held, were lit with candles and some of the trees floodlit creating a truly shamanic atmosphere.

Free Concerts held everyday Friday evening throughout July and August at 9.30pm in the Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eating Cheaply in Florence with a Difference

The other day the Italian husband who is not only a great cook but also a real foodie blurted out that Italians weren’t gourmets. I gasped in surprise, but before I could form a word, he had continued we are only passionate about own food and indeed this is true. Even regional restaurants in other cities are difficult to find. In Lucca the Comune has tried to ban non-Lucchese fare from the old city.
Ethnic restaurants tend to be outside the main tourist areas are frequented by few locals. Only the Neapolitan Pizza has become truly universal.
The culture is changing and Italians can’t always have their three hour lunch hour anymore, then there is a much more international population to cater for who need to eat on the hoof or outside normal hours, also for less.
It seems one company has solved this problem by selling ready to eat pasta meals from vending machines. 

I am no fast food addict but curiosity got the better of me so I persuaded my Neapolitan that we should try one in the name of cultural research. The machine clearly stated that the pasta was fresh and not frozen and ready for eating in 2 minutes. The machines had wonderful photos of mouth-watering dishes all over them. Terracotta bowls brimming with thick tomato sauce . A volcanic mound of flour filled with eggs and every possible shape of pasta. Well that is a bit of an exaggeration. However the whole scenario of the photos certainly tempted the senses.

We moved suspiciously towards the machines and read the small print. The ingredients as required by Italian law were stated for each dish and there were no horrible e numbers or preservatives listed. It was decision time. I am always fearful of cheap meat so we opted for ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach served with a walnut sauce. We posted our 3 Euros 60 into the slot and waited. Precisely two minutes later we heard a plop and Enzo bent down to recover our order. Which landed complete with a second package containing the cutlery and a napkin. I insisted that as the family foodie he should be the one to give the first verdict. He unwrapped the cutlery with a serious expression looking like one of the judges on an Italian TV cooking programme.

The verdict. The pasta wasn’t really hot enough and the sauce rather gummy but really it wasn’t bad. It was not unlike the sort of pre-prepared pasta served in many Italian bars and certainly a lot tastier than what your average vending machine offers.