Tag Archives: Italy

Oh, Vicenza (pt. 1)

We spent last (extended) weekend in and around Vicenza in Northern Italy. Although I don’t live far away from that particular provincial town, it’s one I’ve never visited or had the opportunity to explore. It lies just west Venice and many will travel through or past it when travelling from the Lagoon City to visit the more famous ‘sister’ town Verona. But like many small Italian towns it’s well worth the visit, not just because it lies off the beaten tourist track but because it’s full of hidden treasures which otherwise you may not get to see and savour. Vicenza is the city of Andrea Palladio, the Renaissance architect who basically brought classical architecture into the present, re.inventing its symmetrical lines, sense of perspective and harmony for what we now know as the Renaissance. he Quattro Libri dell’architettura are the fundamental writings for all of modern architecture.

Just outside the town is one of his most famous buildings, the Villa La Rotonda, built on a hilltop overlooking the town on one side and the rolling hills on the other.


Nearby is the Villa Valmarana ai Nani, another fine country ‘palace’ with a nice tidy garden and foresteria or ‘guest house’ to one side.


Back in town there’s plenty to see of course (you may need two or even three days if you like your sightseeing to be leisurely), first and formost the Teatro Olimpico, again a Palladio design, although like most of his more magnificent work it was never completed in his own lifetime and it was up to others to work out what he had intented. The theatre itself is relatively small but inside it contains a real stone facade as a “backdrop” which must be the most incredible thing that’s ever been built inside any theatre in the world.


Breathtaking hardly describes it well enough.




The Beatles’ Secretary

La segretaria dei Beatles

..well, that was the Italian title of the “Good Ol’ Freda” docu-film about Freda Kelly we went to see last night.

I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment but let’s just say a kind of ‘missed opportunity’ in many ways. Let’s face it, Freda could have been a wealth of information: only she knows how much she saw / knew about The Beatles after 10 years as the “secretary” (she was actually secretary to Brian Epstein and sort of running the Fan Club at the same time).

But unfortunately not a lot came out of her…mostly because she is in fact a very reserved person (she says she had never talked about it until now, not even to her late son, which she regrets), but also becuase the film perhaps didn’t quite know how to “exploit” her fully.

It was kind of ‘low budget’, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was low budget trying to look like high-budget which can be a bad thing. Apparently they even had to struggle to get just four Beatles songs included (hello, Yoko Ono) although admittedly there were quite a few earlier photos of the Beatles band I’d never seen before, in my Beatles/JL research, including a lot of her photographed with them.

Interviews other than with Frida (and her daughter, Christmas coffee mug in hand – natch) were with the usual suspects  (the ageing press agent and a couple of other Merseybeat musicians) and aside from a 30 second contrubution from Ringo Starr (whom she affectionately kept referring to as ‘Ritchie’) just before the closing titles there was nothing from Paul McCartney or any other really prominent Beatley people (although admittedly perhaps there aren’t many around any more).

All in all, a pleasant enough hour or so, preceded by a live interview with Frida in Milan (it was all shown simultaneeously in about 30 cinemas around the country) but I don’t think it’ll be considered as one of the best Beatles documentaries ever. A bit of a wasted opportunity. Shame, but thanks anyway Frida.


Addio Abbado

It was with some sadness that I read yesterday the news that Italian orchestra conductor Cluadio Abbado had dies in Bologna at the age of 80. Ironically i was also preparing a blogpost about classical music, my appreciation of which was also thansk to seeing Abbado both in performance and in TV interviews , where he always came across as a very modest and friendly person, not at all the musical ‘snob’ one may associate with a person of such importance and standing.

abbado shirt

I remember one story in particular where he told of his s batons, specially handcrafted in Vienna, being stolen prior to a performance in New York sometime in the 1960s. Abbado promptly went out to a music store where all he could find as replacement was a baton made of plexiglass. That baton has stayed with him ever since.

His work with younger players and youth orchestras is also reknowned, always encouraging youngsters even with little experience to play in groups .  He also spoke often of his hate of limits and boundaries especially between countries. A truly international figure who I am sure will be greatly missed.

Well done to Classic FM for getting a special tribute programme together last night, whereas Radio3 failed to defer from the usual Monday night opera spot.


This was a map

Very nice post on medieval maps over on medievalists.net this week, featuring among others the Mappa Mundi placed on show in the cathedral of my home county town of Hereford.

Mappa Mundi, Hereford Cathedral (pic: wikipedia)

I’ve seen it quite a few times and proudly show it to friends when visiting the area although perhaps never really had a proper look at it, probably because you’d need a lot of time to do so. To quote  Simon Garfield (via medievalists.net) “There are approximately eleven hundred place-names, figurative drawings and inscriptions, sourced from biblical, classical and Christian texts…In its distillation of geographical, historical and religious knowledge the mappa serves as an itinerary, a gazetteer, a parable, a bestiary and an educational aid.On The Map, S. Garfield, 2012.

Glad to see that the Vatican Museums’ Gallery of Maps is also featured in the post, even though these are more Renaissance than medieval, dating back to 1580-1585 . I visited said museums and indeed the gallery during a 24 hour trip to Rome at the beginning of this month. The forty maps are an astounding cartographical collection which possibly holds no parallels in the known universe. Maps covering most of Italy are featured in the lavish gallery, depicting its regions from Lombardy and the Piedmont in the North, right down to Sicily in the south, which is curiously depicted ‘upside down’, which if you think about is how it would have been “seen” from the Holy See.

map of Sicily in the Gallery of Maps, Vatican Museums (from medievalists.net)

Coffee café

When I’m in the UK I prefer going to a Caffé Nero for a coffee, rather those other ones, so I was pleased to read this in’t Guardian.

Caffe Nero hits the spot in Which? taste test


These “Italian” coffee shops are nothing like real Italian coffee bars or whatever. I know. I’ve lived in Italy for over 25 years and I’ve seen a few in my time. Oddly though what’s happening now is that Italians are copying the faux-Italian coffee shops and a few of them are springing up in the major cities. But sitting and sipping on your espresso or cappuccino or whatever while reading a book/paper/laptop is just not done in Italy.

Which is perhaps why i love Caffè Nero!