Archives for January 2016

Throw yourself like a fish into our Italian language course!

Lx321 Chinook salmon or King salmon leaping falls on spawning migration.One of the mysteries of the Italian language is how they keep talking about fish even when there are none about.

For example: buttarsi come un pesce’, to throw yourself like a fish, means to throw yourself enthusiastically into an activity. And that’s just what you’ll be doing on our inspiring Italian Language course at The Watermill this May.

Not only will you improve your Italian on our unique, interactive language course, but you’ll also enjoy la bella vita Italiana in the heart of rural Tuscany and savour The Watermill’s warm hospitality. In fact we’ll treat you like un pesce grosso, a big fish, or big shot, to us English and Americans. And we promise never to trattare a pesci in faccia, literally to treat with fishes in your face, to show you disrespect.

We’re grateful to The Local, an Italian news paper in English, for illuminating these fishy allusions. It tells us: “As you might expect in a country surrounded by water, fish regularly crop up in Italian conversation.”

For our week-long course, from Saturday May 7 to Saturday May 14 we’ve teamed up again with the Florence language school, Langues Services, to design a week in which people can learn Italian in the most natural and enjoyable way ever. With our wonderful tutor Francesca La Sala, you’ll meet Italian people and interact with their daily lives. There will not only be formal lessons under the vine verandah (some 20 hours in the week), but we’ll also be making trips and excursions to enjoy the natural beauty of Lunigiana, the area surrounding the mill, to explore its history and culture, to sample its traditional foods – and above all, to meet the people, speaking Italian, practising what we’ve learned.italian market panorameYour immersion into the language and culture of real Italians will be customised for you, to suit your curiosity and your interests, helping you to treasure everything you learn and make it a seamless part of who you are. You will have the perfect opportunity to make new friends in the company of like-minded people learning and improving their Italian language skills… and enjoying unspoilt Italy and, of course, fantastic food and wine.

Putting theory into practice: I wonder what fish we should have! Last year’s language group enjoy an Italian lunch

Putting theory into practice: I wonder what fish we should have! Last year’s language group enjoy an Italian lunch.

Last year’s Italian language course at The Watermill was a great success. Some comments from our guests: “A super language week. Well organised giving us a taste of ‘real Italy’. Francesca [our tutor] was amazing. Despite the disparity in ability she managed to help all of us towards a better understanding and production of the Italian language. The lessons were fun, interactive and helped me enormously. “The accommodation was great and the camaraderie which evolved was, I’m sure, due to your relaxed and welcoming approach to your guests.”

“We all had such Fun!  I had a wonderful time on the language course and laughed so much!  My confidence and knowledge has improved immensely over the week and Francesca has even sent us exercises to do at home to keep our learning going.  She was tireless and gave us so much. The standard of accommodation, food, drink and your hospitality was, as ever, excellent.”

Language FrancescaSaturday 7 May to Saturday 14 May 2016

Francesca La Sala Italian Language course

Please click here to learn more about out Italian Language course at the mill, including the itinerary for the week.

And continuing the animal allusions, don’t forget we all know our chickens!Blog italan words CONOSCO-I-MIEI-POLLI

The Holy Face passed through Posara

volto santo statueWhen you come into Posara you’ll see a sign, white lettering on a brown background, saying Via di Volto Santo, the Way of the Holy Face, and our guests often ask us what it is all about.

Blog vlto santo Michelangelo_Pieta_FirenzeWell, it’s a fascinating story. The Holy Face is actually a life-size wooden statue of the crucified Christ (above), which is now displayed in the cathedral at Lucca. (You can see it if you choose to go to Lucca on the Wednesday excursion during our creative courses.) Medieval legends said that it was sculpted by Nicodemus, who helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus down from the cross and place the body in the tomb. (He can be seen in a famous Michelangelo pieta in Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo in Florence.)

Nicodemus, so the story goes, sculpted his statue from Cedar of Lebanon, but slept before completing the face. When he awoke the face had miraculously been completed by an angel.

But how did it get to Italy? Well, Medieval legend has it that a bishop in the Holy Land, guided by a dream, found it in a cave there and that somehow it was sent by boat, without sails or sailors, to the Tuscan port of Luni, from which our area Lunigiana takes its name. Its date of arrival is given as 742 AD.

When the men of Luni tried to secure the boat, however, it kept retreating from them in the sea. Meanwhile Johannes, the Bishop of Lucca, also had a revelatory dream about the arrival of the Volto Santo and set off for Luni with a mass of Lucchese. Arriving at Luni, Johannes called on God’s aid and the boat miraculously came to the shore (even dropping a handy gangplank) and the statue was revealed. Blog Volto santo FrescoeThe Lucchese still had to prove their right to house the Holy Face in their city, so it was placed in a cart pulled by oxen, but with no driver, who took the statue by a tortuous route through Lunigiana (including Posara) and neighbouring Garfagnana to Lucca, where it was deposited in the church of San Frediano. But even here was not to be its final resting place: it was miraculously ‘translated’ to the church of San Martino which, because of this, was chosen at the cathedral of Lucca. The Volto Santo di Lucca quickly became an object of pilgimage and many copies were also made for use in churches throuhout Europe, notably in Bury St Edmunds in England.

There is some doubt about the true age of the original sculpture, some suggesing that it only dates from the 11th Century. What is true is that the orginal was chipped away by relic-hunting pilgrims and what we see today is an early 13th Century copy. It now stands in the nave of the cathedral of San Martino in a late 15th Century marble tempietto, a little temple.

As well as an object of veneration, it was also the subject of an expletive. The ‘customary oath’ of William Rufus, William II of England, was apparently By the face of Lucca.’

So now you know! A lot to muse on when you pass that simple brown sign as you enter Posara. Can you see that driverless oxcart creaking through the village, with the enigmatic, inscrutable Holy Face gazing down?

BenQ Digital Camera

BenQ Digital Camera



How Lunigiana came by its name

A view of part of our inspiring landscape by Ciao Lunigiana

A view of part of our inspiring landscape by Ciao Lunigiana

The Watermill lies in the unspoilt Tuscan area of Lunigiana, which is just as far as you can go in Northern Tuscany and still be in Tuscany. In fact, this is border country, with the regions of Liguria and Emilia-Romagna on our doorstep. The scenery is magnificent, because Lunigiana is bounded by two great mountain chains: The Appennines, the backbone of Italy, and the Apuan Alps, which include the marble mountains of Carrara.

Snow on the Apuan Alps. Photo by Andrea Pellini

Snow on the Apuan Alps. Photo by Andrea Pellini

But why is it called Lunigiana? The answer lies in Luni. No, not that we are all loony, although there is an etymological link with lunatics and the moon, but because of the ancient town of Luni, founded by the Romans in 177 BC at the mouth of the river Magra, linked to Rome by the famous Aurelian Way.

Artist's impression of roman Luni

Artist’s impression of Roman Luni

Originally a military outpost to keep the rebellious Liguri tribes under control, it soon flourished as the export harbour for the white marble from the Imperial quarries in Carrara. As the Emperor Augustus said of his Rome: “Urbem latericium invenit, marmorae reliquit.” He found a city of brick and left a city of marble.

Greek Selene became roman Luna

Greek Selene became Roman Luna

Why was the town called Luni? Well, long before the Romans, the ancient Greeks frequented the port and it was dedicated to Selene, goddess of the moon, known to the Romans as Luna, who kept her as protector of the city and gave it her name. Only later did it change to Luni. It was a thriving colonia, with a busy harbour, well-planned streets and an imposing elliptical amphitheatre.

The town was still important in the 5th Century AD, when it became the episcopal see of the Bishop of Luni, but began to decline from then on. Captured successively by the Goths, the Byzantines and the Lombards, its importance declined, hastened by the silting up of the harbour. (Today its remains are some distance from the sea across the alluvial plain.) These disasters were compounded by the surrounding malarial marshes and a wholesale sacking by the Moors from Andalusia in 1015. So, in 1058 most of the population moved to nearby Sarzana, while others formed new settlements in Ortonovo and Nicola.

As Petrarch said in the 14th Century, Luni was “once famous and powerful and now only a naked and useless name.” In fact it was only in 1442 that the visible remains were again identified with Luni and the local Cardinal and the Pope sought to protect it from the depredations of local builders, with only limited success: , a considerable amount of the stone in the Palazzo del Commune in Sarzana, built in 1471, came from Luni.

blog luni anfiteatroLuni’s remains were excavated in the 1970s and while you can visit the site and the museum, it is a little disappointing, although the amphitheatre (when it is open) remains impressive. We, however, remember the days in the 1990s before the latter was fenced off and you could scramble freely over the ruins and hear in your imagination echoes of the Roman crowds roaring as they enjoyed the spectacle. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Nonetheless Luni’s ‘naked and useless’ name lives on in glorious Lunigiana, a wonderful, unspoilt area of Tuscany, a gem for you to enjoy on your painting, knitting, language holidays and yoga retreats.

lunigiana sunset