The Renaissance Unchained

Before Bologna we spent a couple of nights in York.  Anyone who has read this blog over the last few years will understand one of my inevitable destinations – the York Railway Museum. The timing was coincidental but the Flying Scotsman was making a brief indoors appearance, mounted on the museum’s turntable.  I would have much preferred to see her outdoors in steam and Evening Star left on display rather than shunted out of sight in a siding.  As a boy I thought the latter the best named and best-looking engine on the system; when I last visited the museum in the very early sixties she was still in operation.

The odd thing is that entry to this thoroughly modern and much enhanced museum is free whereas, entry to York Minster costs £10 – somehow, priorities have become inverted. The Minster is a glorious space with grand histories and grand designs but I was attracted to a series of memorials at the East End.  The brightly coloured sculptures (slightly enhanced here to emphasise the effect) reminded me of something Waldemar Januszczak revealed about ancient Greek and Roman statuary in his recent BBC4 series, The Renaissance Unchained:

“When they came out of the ground they were pure and white but that’s not how they went in.  The sculptures of the ancients were never white. they were always highly coloured and gaudy – but paint doesn’t last as long as stone … So when the ancient sculptures were dug up again, they misled an entire civilisation.”  Not least the Renaissance and Michelangelo.

York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ... York Minster ...

And this brings me back to Bologna.  In the same episode of The Renaissance Unchained, Januszczak visits the church of Santa Maria della Vita, home “to one of the most dynamic and exciting masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture”, Niccolò dell’Arca’s terracotta Compianto sul Cristo morto (Lament Over the Dead Christ), a 15th-century version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

This is not the best composed image but it was taken quickly and on the sly – the face of the figure in the foreground should be against a clear background. Just like York Minster, Santa Maria della Vita charges for entry but with No Photographs!  Bearing in mind I had been denied use of the camera at the Ducati Factory on the same day, this was the final straw – so here it is, my small act of rebellion 😛

Compianto sul Cristo morto ...

Waldemar Januszczak’s delivery is inspiring, mildly anarchic and wildly enthusiastic. He is the perfect example of a good tutor, capable of generating an infectious interest in his chosen subject. The teachers from my youth pale by comparison – Boggy Marsh, Stuffy Millard, Nobby Clarke et al – what a sad under-achieving bunch you were.

Borgo Panigale

The last time we were in Bologna we took the train to Modena, the home of Ferrari.  This time passions have realigned and we took the number 13 bus from Via Delle Lame to Borgo Panigale to worship at the shrine of Ducati.  The trip to Modena was about unreachable dreams – a museum, the distant view of a test track and too many souvenir shops.  There was no chance of passing beyond the heavenly portals – the factory gates.

Ducati is about reality and the attainable.  If I didn’t have a strong sense of self-preservation I could probably acquire their top of the range machine which would be more than capable of blowing away the road-going hardware emerging from Modena.  Even my modest 696 will out-gun most ‘performance’ cars.  Pete Lyons, a journalistic hero from my teens, explains it all very succinctly – “certainly there is risk, and that’s part of why riding a bike on the road gives me a sense of adventure that it takes a race track to make me feel in cars … Feel smug about your really fast street car?  If you haven’t clamped your knees around a hyperbike and yanked it open, you have NO IDEA what real acceleration is.” However, the real art of riding is not in a straight line but the ability to corner at speed – when it comes to bends, cars have the advantage if not the balletic style; in this respect at least, four legs good, two legs bad.

The factory tour was the highlight of our trip – nothing staged, this was the real McCoy. Mechanical works of art slowly take glorious shape on production lines where the emphasis of the creation process is the human rather than the robotic.  The finished product surpasses anything we saw the next day in MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna. Umberto Eco may have thought Giorgio Morandi’s art made the dust sing but Ducati’s art makes the heart soar. “Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.”

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I had only two complaints about the factory tour – a) no photographs allowed and b) no free samples 😉  Consequently, all the images are from the museum:

Mike's Bike ... Mike's Bike ... The GP bikes ... The Superbikes ... Ducati Museo ...Mike's Bike ...

Finally, there is a stylistic connection between this bike, the Ducati 750 Imola Desmo, and my 696 Monster:

Ducati 750 Imola Desmo ...Not best suited ...


A few nights in York has been swiftly followed by four nights in Bologna; we are back after an absence of thirteen years.  I feel a great affinity with this working university city of the Italian north and last night I worked out why.

It has been raining for much of the last two days, the roads and piazzas shine.There is constant movement, a chaotic rush towards the future.  The dimly lit streets bustle, umbrellas in the dark queue in long lines for over-full buses or wander across empty squares overlooked by architectural monsters – Basilica di San Petronio’s façade  is deliberately unfinished. The buildings wear the dust of age, they are purposeful, lived-in and not prettified, The view upwards towards the twin peaks of Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda is obscured by trolley-bus wires.

Rain, the dirt of ages, dimly lit streets, continuous movement, this is Manchester in the 1950s – rough around the edges but safe, solid, secure.

Piazza Nettuno ... A rainy night ... The Towers ...

Today we did the Ducati Factory tour at Borgo Panigale – you can guess what is coming next 🙂

Monster Mash

I have a soft spot for Bologna, probably my favourite Italian city.  It is compact, stylish and there is plenty for the non-Italian speaking visitor to appreciate, not least the 3.5 km walk from the centre to Santuario di Madonna di San Luca.  This porticoed walkway comprises 666 arches and can be seen stretching to the hill top in this first image – an ideal outing come rain or shine.  According to Wiki – ‘built in 1674-1793, it was meant to protect the icon as it was paraded up the hill. A yearly procession from the Cathedral of San Pietro in the centre of Bologna to the Sanctuary goes along this path. Originally the arches held icons or chapels erected by the patron family’.

A view from the tower

Looking down from the towerThe University

A previous visit coincided with the arrival of the Mille Miglia (the much sanitised road rally event, not the real thing) and the following day we made a pilgrimage to Modena, home of Ferrari.  Our next trip will include a much more convenient outing – to Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, birthplace of my Monster, the 696, which makes a brief appearance in this Monster 821 promotional video shot in and around the city.  The arched door in the image above can be seen with the 821 at the end of the ‘history lesson’. Divine synchronicity – one day I must be destined to have one 😉

Will you ever grow up Robin? – Hopefully not 🙂


Last of the Summer Wine

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relics – this happy bunch puts me in mind of Compo, Clegg, Foggy and Truly except this is Arzechena in Sardinia, not Holmfirth.  From their mischievous expressions you can believe there is a devious plot in the making.

Last of the summer wine

If truth be told, I never found Last of the Summer Wine particularly funny, I much preferred Dad’s Army. But, neither came close to Open All Hours or anything starring the late, great, Ronnie Barker; they are all, however, relics from a gentler time. (click on the image to enlarge)

The Dark and the Light

Weekly Photo Challenge – Contrasts: I wasn’t looking for the sign of the cross but as I have explained in an earlier post, foreign churches provide respite and salvation from the beloved’s own religion – shopping.  This one was especially cool and dark, in stark contrast to the heat rising from the narrow streets of Lucca – ‘hotter than a match head’:


Outside in the bright light, even the locals seemed to be struggling with the heat:

Outside in the bright light


Weekly Photo Challenge – Extra, Extra:  This mysterious lady appears as though an extra in her own movie.  It was taken near the railway station at Riomaggiore, one of the villages of the Cinque Terre in northern Tuscany.  Photography can be intrusive, particularly when the subject realises what you are doing.  As she turned towards me I was expecting a scowl but instead received a perfectly glorious smile – unforgettable.

The lady withe the glorious smile

Quelle surprise!

Travel theme: Unexpected – We first visited Mochignano Chiesa in 2007 when the sun shone in a clear blue sky for the entire two weeks. When we returned in 2009 we knew about the cowbells and the cows that fidgeted all night, the farmer’s dogs that barked at the sound of a moth and the bells in the adjacent bell tower that could wake the dead. What we were not expecting was sweltering heat followed by torrential downpours and thunderstorms, a weather sequence that lasted the entire fortnight.

Mochignano Chiesa, BagnoneMochignano Chiesa, BagnoneMochignano Chiesa, BagnoneMochignano Chiesa, Bagnone

Mochignano Chiesa is a small hamlet in the Tuscan hills above the sleepy town of Bagnone where nothing, but nothing ever happens. Imagine our surprise, when, on our return home, Bagnone was suddenly in all the news – now that was unexpected!

I recognise Antonio Razzoli, the owner of the newspaper shop – I promise you Antonio, it was not us 🙂


Travel theme: Statues. They are meant to look like a couple of glass plates from the Grand Tour.  Look closely though and the graffiti is distinctly un-nineteenth century.  This statue sits next to Lucca’s Renaissance-era city wall which provides tourists with the perfect circular walk – something I liked to do as kid at Chester and later at Berwick, York and elsewhere. It is difficult to get lost. In terms of scale there is no comparison between Lucca and the English equivalents. Lucca’s walls are on the grand scale – think New York’s High Line, only bigger.

Graffiti gets everywhere but this statue and this area of Lucca seem a holy place for alfresco scribes.  Many appear to be declarations of love and some are not – my Italian is not up to playing the censor but some of the more obvious ‘symbols’ have been erased :/

Statues Graffiti

(click on the images to enlarge)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasure

My wife is a Geordie. Pam speaks a language that, even after these many years, I sometimes struggle to interpret.  She is a constant source of amusement and surprise. She does a fine impression of Kate Bush which, at its best, might shatter glass. She is a rare treasure:

Pam - Todi Cathedral

The photograph was taken in Todi Cathedral. We had driven there from Perugia in a searing July heat so the cool shadows of the Duomo provided welcome relief. The bright summer sun pierced the dark interior as shafts of dusty light from high windows. You could choose your moment and step into the limelight – anyone could do it – the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the loveliest and the best.