Archive | September 2012

Viva Italia – 2: Santuario dell’ Arcella – Illustrious and Sublime

The Chinese have a saying: “Twenty cups of green tea a day saves from a bad day”. When that thought crossed my mind, I was sitting at a Trattoria in Padova, Italy with a cup of steaming green tea raised to my lips. No, I don’t care a great deal for green tea, but that was what I was having on that April day. The girl behind the bar-counter, with disarming warmth and beautiful smile was eyeing our table, silently urging us to finish our drinks in time for the taxi she had graciously booked for us and is expected to arrive at any moment. Italian drivers can get a bit impatient, at times. Having settled the check and ready to leave, we kept a cool face – after all, it is standard operating procedure among human beings to act as if everything is all right – all of the time.

Minutes later, we were driving past Padova railway station north-east bound towards Arcella on the other side. Having got down before the flower shop in front of the Il Santuario Antoniano dell”Arcella, we picked up a bunch of cream-tulips for our visit to the Santuario where Sant’ Antonio of Padova had died. I have a particular fondness for cream-coloured tulips which our jolly good flower-mart at Kensington High Street in London supplied us every time we happen to be there.


Quite oddly, we would have to settle for deep yellow-tulips when we reached Firenze the following week since the cream-coloured tulips were just not available, perhaps due to the Easter season.

The sight of the Santuario built with exposed bricks and stone decorations in harmony with the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the Veneto region has always sent my heart sailing. It is one of the places I loved to visit in Padova – so quiet, so cool, so inviting…, a place built up with the deepest patronage of the people of Padova. Undeniably, it is the devotion of simple people and patronage of the wealthy that has built most of the distinguished Christian shrines.


The Santuario, with its dignified interior featuring restrained neo-gothic style that resonate Italian and Franciscan influence, is situated on the site which was originally a Franciscan Monastery for the Poor Clares (Poor Ladies) founded by San Francesco d’Assisi in 1220 when he landed at Venice by the Spring or Summer and took a brief break at Padova on his return from Acre and the Holy Land. Some Franciscan chronicles push the year of founding the Santuario further ahead between 1225/1226 and also claim that it was established by Agnes of Assisi, St. Clare’s blood sister. Originally called Santa Maria de Cella (or de Arcella) which consisted of two separate convents: the monastery of Poor Clares; and a small friary of the “Friars Minor”, it will become famous as a place of worship for having witnessed the death of two saints: Sant’ Antonio (June 13, 1231) and Blessed Elena Enselmini (November 4, 1231/1242).

The present church built by Eugenio Maestri in 1895 on the site of the previous structures and enlarged by Nino Gallimberti in 1930 is the final version that derived from various reconstruction, restoration and modification through the course of its history. A later addition, the tall bell tower designed by Agostino Miozzo and inaugurated in 1922, holds the 6m tall statue of Sant’ Antonio (by Veronese sculptor Silvio Righetti) on its apex.


The Santuario escaped from fire during the winter of 1442-43 when its archive was totally destroyed obliterating valuable records. It was converted to a hospital when the Plague (Black Death) hit Padova in the fourteenth century and during 1509, it housed the headquarters of Emperor Maximilian I of Hapsburg (1459 – 1519) when he besieged Padova. While 90 percent of the Arcella area was destroyed by bombs during World War II, the present church escaped from destruction, together with the original cell in which Antonio died. Like Portiuncula (Porziuncola) within the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, the cell, called La Cella del Transito(the Cell of Transition), was incorporated to the Santuario during 1670-75 and now forms part of the center altar. Over the centuries, its spiritual appeal has grown and numerous Paduan families choose the Santuario for their place of burial.

After the Lent of 1231, Antonio who was staying at Camposampiero fell grievously sick, afflicted with dropsy. He opted to return back to the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini and the convent founded by him in Padova in 1227 or 1229 since according to his will, he desired to be buried there. When the ox-cart carrying Antonio drew closer to Arcella on its way to Padova, his physical condition had worsened and the friars were constrained to take him to a small cell in the friary of the Franciscans attached to the convent of the Poor Clares just outside the city walls. It was in this cell that Antonio had his Sacrament of Reconciliation/Extreme Unctionand sang his favourite hymn glorifying the Virgin Mary (O Gloriosa Domina) which was followed by recital of the seven penitential Psalms before the holy man breathed his last at the sunset of June 13, 1231.


The life-size reclining statue inside la cappella del Transito nel santuario dell’Arcella depicts Sant’ Antonio at his death. This statue was sculptured in 1808 by Rinaldo de Rinaldi, one of A. Canova’s pupils and does not represent a truthful resemblance to the saint’s physical appearance sketched out from his skeleton in 1981 by the scientists from the fields of anthropology, anatomy, reconstruction of tissue and plastic moulding. As a reminder of the events of the life of Sant’ Antonio and of his final arrival from Camposanpiero, a historical reenactment of his death is held here in period costumes by the evening of June 12 every year.

Inside the Santuario to the left side lies the uncorrupted body of Blessed Elena (Helena) Enselmini (Elsimi), displayed in a glass and silver reliquary. Born in 1208 (1207?) to the noble family of Enselmini in Padova, she was brought up with the supreme religious principles and untainted ideals of virtue. Named after Flavia Julia Helena, the innkeeper’s daughter who became the mother of Emperor Constantine whom the Christians venerate as Empress St. Helen, at her very young age itself, touched by the examples of absolute poverty and zealous acts of charity of San Francesco, Elena, like St. Clare, wanted to follow the way San Francesco had chosen to imitate Jesus, his source of spiritual inspiration. Having opted to live in the harsh rules of Poor Clares which offered her a life of silence, prayer, fasting, extreme poverty and manual labour, she received the habit of a Poor Clare sister, according to a fresco, from San Francesco himself.

While living in holy obedience at the monastery dell’Arcella, then reputed to be the fourth foundation of the “Order of Poor Clares” in addition to Assisi, Firenze and Faenza, Elena was also fortunate to have met Sant’ Antonio with whom she developed a holy friendship.

Following the death of San Francesco on October 3, 1226, Antonio had returned to Italy in 1227 and was elected ministro provinciale of the Franciscan Order for the Province of Emilia-Romagna, a position he held from 1227 to 1230. Having taken up his last permanent residence at the convent of Santa Maria Mater Domini in Padova in 1228, his periodical visits to Santuario dell”Arcella, provided the great theologian with opportunities to pass on his fruits of experience to Elena, bestowing her with theological education and moral perfection. At the age of eighteen, Elena had turned lame, blind, dumb and later bedridden until her death on November 4, 1231.

The date of “November 4, 1231” provided by me here is based on a placard displayed in front of the chapel of the Blessed Elena inside the Santuario which is founded on a eulogy on parchment discovered in her coffin. Incidentally, there exists a mix-up in the date of expiry of Elena Enselmini of Arcella since some writings stipulate it as November 4, 1242. Whatever authentic documents that would have confirmed the actual date were amongst the records lost during the fire in the winter of 1442-43.

According to The Franciscan Book of Saints, by Marion Alphonse Habig (Publisher: Franciscan Herald Press (1959), Elena is remembered for her patience with the sick and the treatment of many ailments and credited with visions of purgatory. During her lifetime, the sisters had recorded many of her revelations, and after her death, numerous miracles began to occur on behalf of those who had sought her intercession. As per the initiative of San Gregorio Barbarigo, the then Bishop of Padova, she was beatified by Pope Innocent XII on October 29, 1695.

Reminiscent of her own earthly life which had been fraught with difficulties, the mortal remains of Blessed Elena went through many re-interments. During the siege of Padova in 1509 when the Poor Clares moved to Borgo Ognissanti in Firenze (painter Sandro Botticelli (aka. Alessandro Filipepi) would be buried there in 1510 near his beloved Simonetta Vespucci, popularly believed to be the model for the personification of sexual beauty in “The Birth of Venus”) they took the urn containing the sacred body of Elena with them and later to other sister-convents until in 1810, when the convent was closed due to Napoleonic suppressions, the relic was translated to the Basilica di Sant’ Antonio. She was finally interned in the Santuario dell”Arcella on May 5, 1957. In 2007, the clarissa Francescana’s 50th Anniversary of burial was commemorated. The Santuario once dedicated to Virign Mary, is finally re-dedicated to Beata Elena Enselmini and the road outside it is also named after her.

According to contemporary sources, Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714), the great physician from Carpi in the province of Modena in Italy (the founder of occupational medicine and the first professor of practical medicine of the University of Padova), is said to be buried there. Recognised as a doctor in attendance to the nuns of the Santuario, he is the author of “De Morbis Artificum Diatriba” (Diseases of Workers). Ramazzini’s burial in the Santuario is disputed from 1914 onwards since the skeleton believed to be of Ramazzini (81 at the time of his death) in the unmarked tomb was identified to be of a 60-year old abbot of the convent. It is presumed that the actual remains of Ramazzini were lost when the tomb was opened in 1852 and bones removed to facilitate reinforcement and restoration of the Santuario and the oratory. While it is claimed that the remains were returned to the tomb and was properly sealed before the Santuario was consecrated in 1852 and dedicated to San Francesco di Sales, a further study in 2002 revealed that one of the remains of the four individuals found in the tomb, according to carbon dating, is that of Ramazzini.


Basilica di Sant’ Antonio                    Basilica di Santa Giustina

Whereas Basilica di Sant’ Antonio is the primary pilgrimage destination in Padova, Basilica di Santa Giustina and Santuario dell”Arcella also form part of a trivium. Saints and mystics were not born saints. They have attained a life of perfection through prayer, meditation and benevolence.

Life improves if you look on the bright side. As you step into these sacred places with a calm self and clear conscience, chances are that your instincts could feel the saints take over the guidance, and if you care to listen closer, you could hear them whisper, imparting their thoughts and inspiration to you, to renew your spirit and uplift the general outlook – something your heart and soul will never regret.


Novitiate’s Cloister of the convent attached to Basilica di Sant’ Antonio

As the taxi took us back to Hotel Casa del Pellegrino near Basilica di Sant’ Antonio, the driver expressed his happiness to us for having visited the Santuario which he often frequented, definitely on his birthday, every year. Like his moving taxi, belief follows a path of least resistance! Ciao, Jo


(Photos: © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive.)

Viva Britannia – 3: Leicester Square, Londres

Happiness is where we find it. When you travel abroad to different cities, you look for attractions which are unique to that place, part of what provides character to it. During our days in London, life moves pretty quick. You would miss it if you don’t stop and look around once in a while. The way forward is to think things through, endeavour to search and seek – measure and weigh those missing links such as, a series of right things that was not yet done; the places that we have failed to visit ….. so many worlds and everything in between. Open Sesame! The most glorious fact in my experience is that the right links which belong in our cycle of life will eventually come to us and stay.


Of all the places of interest we have visited in London, the global city of finance, one Public Square had evaded our attention –a missing link. Then one day, after a late breakfast at The Old Swan Restaurant in Kensington Church Street, Notting Hill, it rolled out exactly as it needs to – we went to a cinema house in that picturesque and historic place – Leicester Square, our missing element.

Located in The West End within the City of Westminster, Leicester Square, part of which was once known as Leicester Field, is adorned with a small English garden, surrounded by Victorian-style black railings, and festooned with mature trees, plants and full length statues of William Shakespeare (situated in the central concourse) symbolizing the Square’s connection with the theatre, and of the comic actor Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin (1889-1977) with his trademark bowler hat and walking stick touching a rose pinned to the lapel of his coat.

The garden also hosts four marble busts on granite plinths of artist William Hogarth (1697-1764) by J. Denham; scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) by Calder Marshall; portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts) by H. Weekes and Scottish Scientist John Hunter (1728-1793the father of scientific surgery) by T. Woolner. The inscription on the white marble pedestal of the “Stratford” statue of the Bard and Fountain by G. Fontana rightly proclaims “This enclosure was purchased, laid out and decorated as a garden by Albert Grant Esq. M.P. and conveyed by him on the 2nd July 1874 to the Metropolitan Board of Works to be preserved for ever for the free use and enjoyment of the public.”

North from Trafalgar Square and east of Piccadilly Circus, the Square, which can be accessed on foot in less than five minutes from Leicester Square Tube Station, is named after English diplomat Robert Sidney (1595-1677), 2nd Earl of Leicester (Fourth Creation) who, in 1630 had the mental alacrity to acquire four acres of land in St. Martin’s Field and built Leicester House (demolished in c. 1791-2) on the site of the Swiss Centre. Though the Earl was busy serving as ambassador in Denmark and later in France from 1632 to 1641, he agreed with the Privy Council of King Charles I to provide St. Martin’s parishioners with a tree planted public area around which grand houses eventually sprouted up.

When this public garden, the launching point that set off the Square on its long path to popularity, fell into poor repair, it was purchased by Baron Albert Grant (born Abraham Gottheimer – 1831-1899) and the deeds were gifted to the Metropolitan Board of Works on July 2, 1874.

Grant commissioned architect James Knowles (who designed the Aldworth house of poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson) to lay out the garden and provision to position the statue of the Bard. The Square has had other plusses and minuses. During the Edwardian era when many areas in London became famous as places of public entertainment as theatre and musical hall culture blossomed, Leicester Square, which was long renowned as haunts of prostitutes and Turkish baths, also became prominent for its show-business institutions. The Alhambra was then the most popular music hall there, catering to the lower classes with acts ranging from singing to magic. The downfall of the already loss-making music halls came with the increasing popularity of radio and cinema.


Nick named Theatre Land, the Square’s movie houses Vue Cinema, Empire (also house “The Casino at the Empire”) and Odeon Leicester Square with its looming tower, regularly hosts red-carpet European premieres of movies (limited to the invitees or ticket winners of competitions). These cinema houses offer large variety of movie options including impressive facilities (fitted with Infra Red Hearing Systems compatible with most hearing aids) that reflects in the ticket prices, though there are half-price ticket booths, too. Here you may catch a glimpse of the famous and glamorous stars to the like of Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart, Leonardo diCaprio, Bérénice Marlohe, Katherine Heigl, Daniel Craig….. treading the red carpet as they promote their movies and often indulge in posing for photographs or sign autographs.



An added attraction is that the pavement around the Square is embedded with bronze hand-casts of prominent screen actors, studio emblems, etc made as part of the celebrations during British Film Year 1985, etc. Leicester Square has provided us with many wonderful opportunities to enjoy movies and also, owing to my wife’s fondness for steaks, we could drop in at the Angus Steak House in the Square, as well – “Ok, I will have what she has.”


The restaurants and pubs dotted around the Square offer many options to suit all tastes and budgets for “eating out”. There is Chiquito (Mexican) Restaurant, TGI Friday’s, “Bella Italia” serving Italian cuisine and fast-food joints like McDonalds and Burger King.

For enthusiasts of Gelato there is Häagen-Dazs, and also “Rendezvous”, a popular spot offering a super range of Gelato, Sorbets and Yogurt in exciting flavours inspired by Italy. Not far away is another landmark, The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel. Many souvenir shops thrive through sales around the vicinity and you can watch the world sail past or the street painters at their work earning the admiration and possible sale from a passerby. During the night, the Square becomes a hubble bubble of lights and activity.

London, whose histories focus on a legion of monuments, public centers, roads and squares, the essence of the city’s soul, has always been in a state of transformation, though there is a shortage of space. On the strength of the London 2012 Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – occasions for grand manifestation of patriotic fervor when throngs of extra tourists were expected to enjoy the dynamo of enthusiasm and energy of the West End, this green jewel in the center of London also underwent a massive 18-month renovation project initiated by the City of Westminster which commenced in December 2010 at a cost of £15.5 million.


Back in 2008, the Swiss Glockenspiel, (an astronomical clock and a procession of 23 farmers herding their cows to Alpine pasture, installed in the Square in 1985 as a gift to the City of Westminster on its 400th anniversary by Switzerland and Liechtenstein as a token of centuries of friendship), was demolished to redevelop the land where the Swiss centre was situated. Redesigned by Swiss artists and rebuilt by clockmaker Smith of Derby with the combination of traditional elements and new wireless technology, the musical clock with new music was reinstalled on November 28, 2011 on a 10m (32 ft) high free-standing steel structure sponsored by the Swiss Tourism Office featuring 11 moving wooden figures representing traditional farmers forming part of a rotating Swiss Alpine backdrop beneath 27 bells. (Read the book “’A Curios Colony’: Leicester Square and the Swiss” by Peter Barber which portrays the deep-rooted connections between the Swiss émigrés and the area around the Square.)


On May 23, 2012, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, his eyes probably set on No: 10, re-launched the Square/garden terming it “an urban oasis” in a lively ceremony inside a make-shift stage, just in time for the May 31st premiere of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” starring Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron.



As we look through the handprints of the actors on the pavement, a medium through which people could experience a bit of movie history, certainly we will find many missing names of stars including that of Daniel Craig. It occurred to me that, with the year 2012 commemorating the London Olympic Games, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Eon Productions’ 50 years of James Bond celebrations and release of the 23rd Bond series at cinemas in the Square, with the best will in the world, it would be a grand gesture to endorse the hand-prints of Daniel Craig to cut a dash with the other A-List celebrities on the pavement which would provide a new feature of fame to the intimacy of this beautiful Square. Perhaps some can live without Craig’s handprint, but there are also some who don’t want to…. Maybe the point is that it was always so.



The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses,” wrote Hanna Rion ver Beck (1875-1924). Promoted as “Your Square, Your Choice!” the revamped Square has a water feature that jets recycled water two meters high into the air. Perhaps influenced by minimalism, the aide-mémoire busts of Hogarth, Newton, Reynolds and Hunter that have stood at the four corners of the Square were removed during the renovation as they were “fairly weather-beaten and fragile” may be reinstated or housed in museums or libraries. Nothing is more real than nothing. However, it’s comforting to learn that the removed bronze statue of Chaplin which consecrates the Square to cinema and theatre will be returned, cleaned and repaired. As the Square entered its new phase, a friend is enthusiastic about the outcome of the renovation observes that the levels of popular fascination for the gated Square is in “good form”, both relatively and absolutely.


In the stylish and coherent new look designed by architects Burns & Nice, the Square is bordered by polished stainless steel railings and hedge plants (for colour and form all year round), and, the pathways to demarcate the spaces within the re-landscaped gardens, adorned with the natural flair of trees and ornamental plants, are ingeniously paved with granite blocks. It is also surrounded by a white (to reflects light and colour) granite ribbon seating arrangement (with special coating to deter chewing gum) which runs undulating around the Square where you can sit and get revitalized –think happy thoughts, cajole stressed spirits. This ribbon seating could be ideal for drunks to rest their feet and nurse their stupor (inexpensive and pragmatic) considering that, according to a book, the British allegedly drink more than any other people in the Western world unless they are Keralites who soak in it.


If you note your diary for a visit to Leicester Square for its restaurants or bars or casino or for diverse entertainments, be sure to mark the garden for relaxation or for a meander on the lawns. No, the Seed Fairy doesn’t live in it. It’s just a special English garden, simple but vibrant – that merits a visit. Ciao, Jo

(PS. Photos of Italian food/ice cream for representation purpose only)








(Photos: © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 11: The JOURNEY


(Aka: Le Voyage / Rojo Atardecer / Il Viaggio / Die Reise – Colour – 1959)

Lady Diana Ashmore is in a dilemma. It’s November 1956. She and Henry Flemyng, her wounded Hungarian companion, together with a group of 12 multinational passengers are stranded at the Budapest Ferihegy Repülőtér (Budapest Ferihegy Airport) southeast of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. So begins the movie “The Journey”, an Alby picture released through Metro Goldwyn Mayer and produced and directed by Anatole Litvak.

Based on a screenplay by Hungarian-born playwright George Tabori (Alfred Hitchcock’sI Confess”) the film is set during the tragic days of the Hungarian uprising which was sparked off from a student demonstration organized in Budapest on October 23, 1956 to protest against the then government and its dependence on Soviet tutelage. The march to the Parliament Square, joined by thousands, turned violent when a group of students entered the Radio Budapest building to broadcast their “points”. To contain the protest, they were subsequently fired upon by the State Security Police (AVH) – the starting point of the firing is disputed.


Everyone saw the uprising through their own circumstances. As the fury and flame of the revolt spread across Hungary, the government fell and subsequently the Soviet forces moved in on the pretext to protect the withdrawing Soviet troops but, in truth, were to quash the revolution which resulted in a great amount of bloodshed and flow of refugees fleeing the country. (Read “That Day in Budapest, October 23, 1956 by Tibor Meray (translated by Charles Lam Markmann) and “Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956” edited by Jenő Györkei, Miklós Horváth for a detailed account including the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising.)

As anarchy spread across the country and the civilian population felt menaced by the restrictions, all exit borders were closed by the government and Soviet military power. While the air force jets set vigil overhead, the civilian aircrafts are being cleared from the Ferihegy airfield.

The foreigners were waiting in the airport lounge for the last two days to catch the westbound NKM flight 306 which was deferred repeatedly. Since all civilian flights out of Budapest have been suspended, it was great relief for them when the NKM agreed to provide them safe conduct through bus to the western frontier to Vienna in Austria. It’s only a 250 km drive from Budapest.

Television Journalist Hugh Deverill who knew Lady Diana from his association with her husband Cecil was inquisitive of her presence in a country going through a rocky patch. She tried to satisfy his curiosity by explaining that she’s visiting some friends on vacation. Having worn the mantle of responsibility for the group, Deverill’s mind was a tad clouded at Diana’s superficial quibble that she had met Flemyng while sitting next to him in the bus. As the fourteen passengers were taken from the airport in a bus, Flemyng was very careful to distance Diana away from him and resorted to the back seat of the bus while Diana sat in the front with Deverill. Heading for the direction of Győr past the River Danube, they passed through snow-laden streets littered with rubble and remnants of bloodshed and destruction, of despair and violence – soldiers, tanks, armed cars, anguished men carrying heavy coffins ….

Given that Deverill was still persistent enough to find out the real reason for her presence in Budapest, Diana warily divulged to him that she and Cecil had separated and he is getting married the following month during Christmas. Having once been stopped by the Soviet soldiers to tally their head count with their permit papers with the bus driver, they were permitted to resume their journey but only to be stopped once again, some 3 km to Mosan, by armed freedom fighters in order to screen the travelers to locate their opponents. Before they were allowed to continue with their journey, Eva, a freedom fighter let it be known to them that they are determined to fight for the freedom of their country even if it has to be fought with stones.

Trouble awaited them at on arrival at Mosán (Moson), a hotbed of Soviet military presence, situated by the lake in Győr-Moson-Sopron County where they were diverted to the office of the Soviet Border Commandant in the center of the town. Here they get their first view of a batch of freedom fighters under arrest being loaded onto a military truck to be taken away for detention and possible execution while the townsfolk, saddened to find their men blooded or dead, broke into a poignant song accompanied by the toll of the church bell – an eerie scene similar to the execution scene in “The Five Man Army” (See my review of August 30: StarChoice 10).

The Resident Soviet Commandant, Major Surov, was a man of politeness but firm authority. The travel papers issued to them that morning are no longer valid and they must obtain a special exit permit from the Soviet Headquarters for which their passports are to be forwarded to the HQ in Győr. They can opt for accommodation in a hotel across the Square or can return to Budapest. Of course, they are not under arrest, but they are refrained from making civilian telephone calls, and any written complaints will be acceptable. As the passengers firmly, but politely, wheedled the Major for permission to resume their journey past the Austro-Hungarian border, the eyes of the Major couldn’t fail to notice the poise and class of Lady Diana Ashmore who would, from that moment onwards, start playing on his emotional heart strings. Once the group was led to the hotel, Major Surov would have a change of mind and would lock the entire passports inside the drawer of his desk for a reason strictly secret.

Rather proud of his place, the caretaker of Abbotta hotel, Mr. Csepege accommodates them as best as he could in his “very famous, very small” hotel. The hot dinner will be served at 8 pm and hot water will be available only on Sundays. No sooner the travelers had settled down, there was murmur among them about Flemyng. They have noticed something fishy about him. Later, while Diana was tending to his wound in the privacy of his room, their love for each other was mirrored in a kiss, letting out their anguish of not having seen each other for the past five years.

During dinner that night, the travelers shared the table with Major Surov and his two subservient officers while the orchestra played sweet gypsy music. Ahead of Surov’s arrival, they have heard Mr. Csepege tell Deverill that the Major is a “very good Russian. drinks like a fish, sing like devil, brains like a knife. Only trouble won’t take bribes. Stayed in this country two years….. Men like him so much, they give him horse. Women – they give him something else…

Having tucked Flemyng into bed, Diana joined the group at the table in time. Even though their conversation was occasionally disrupted by the distant sound of gunfire between the freedom fighters and soldiers, Surov was nonetheless very talkative. He had picked up his efficiency in English during the brief time he served with the Soviet Military Mission in Canada just after the war. He had come all the way from Stalingrad to Budapest to help free this people. Surov had felt happy to find the group well-informed, worldly people, unlike the people that surrounded him in this primitive town, unlike the fairy-tale charms of that Hungarian lass Borbala (Barbara von Nady) who lusted after him. As he kept on with his chatter, the travelers were beginning to figure him out. Having caught her instincts lingering around this exotic, authoritative Russian, Diana realized that, deep down, Major Surov was a sensitive, lonely man, highly charged with energy but trapped in the isolation of this border town, under constant threat from the militancy of the freedom fighters.

Curious of the absence of the mysterious Flemyng hibernating in his room, Surov had already started entertaining doubts about this naturalized British citizen, supposedly born in Vienna on May 24, 1914, who appeared to be very sick. Later on, confronted by Deverill in the solitude of the hotel’s kitchen, Diana cleared his doubt about her relationship with Flemyng. A problem shared will diminish the burden on her shoulder. Yes, it was more personal. Flemyng is not British, but Hungarian. He is Paul Kedes, a biologist who finished his education in America during the war. She had fallen in love with him in England but realizing the oddity of the situation, she had wanted to end their relationship. However while she was out at Nassau with Cecil, Paul had left England for Hungary where he did well for quite sometime until his arrest in December 1952 for some ridiculous spy charges. The evidence to support that allegation was a letter he wrote to a friend in England asking about Lady Ashmore. Having undergone tremendous torture in the prison, he was finally freed ten days ago by some of his old students. The wound sustained by him in a street battle would not be a hindrance to her determination to get him across the border and for that, if necessary, she would steal, lie and kill.

Though Deverill understood Diana’s correlation to her injured Hungarian paramour, the other travelers were alarmed by his presence and were divided in their opinion about disclosing his identity to the Major – yet they refrain from betraying him in spite that a new order had been issued that day against concealing weapons and suspicious persons. Even one of Flemyng’s roommates categorically refused to disclose his identity even though if Paul is discovered, everyone’s life would be in danger.

According to the formalities, forms have to be filled individually by each traveler to avail the exit permit. When Surov appeared skeptical about the absence of Flemyng, with civility and nervousness, Diana advocates filling in the form for Fleming even though it had to be personally filled in by him. When the Major reminded her that she would possibly run into trouble if she makes a mistake, Surov was amused to hear the English woman reply that if the Major would help her to fill out the form, she would feel safer. Having lived the last two years in this lackluster atmosphere, Diana was like a fresh breath of air to the Soviet Major.

While she filled in the form for Flemyng inside the Major’s office, Surov pointed out that Flemyng’s passport does not possess any entry or exit stamps as if he just appeared in Budapest one day out from nowhere. Diana counters with the riposte that Flemyng had lost his passport and had obtained a fresh one. Surely, new passports do not usually have old stamps on them, not in England, at least. At that point, having been distracted by the poignant song accompanying a funeral procession (of a freedom fighter killed last night) in the street below, the Major allows Diana to rejoin with her group. Unfortunately, Major Surov was not ready to allow Flemyng to rest. He decides to pay him a visit.

Diana and Flemyng were naturally taken aback with Surov’s visit to Fleming’s room. But before she opened the door to let Surov in, Flemyng had the presence of mind to swiftly conceal his pistol under his pillow. Diana was a bit troubled at being sent off downstairs to deliver the forms to the sergeant, but once she had gone, Surov got down to the task of questioning Flemyng. Unexpectedly, when Flemyng doubled over from the shooting pain from his wound, Major Surov was helpful in assisting him to get the glass of water. While positioning him against the pillow, Surov’s eyes caught sight of the Russian gun behind the pillow which he instantly slipped into his pocket and moved off as Diana returned to the room. Contented of having unmasked the truth, Surov cleared off from the room. It took only a moment for Diana and Flemyng to realize that their gun had gone missing……  Their fate almost sealed, they have to get out of there right now….

Being producer and director of this movie, Anatole (Tola) Litvak must have carried two heads on his neck when he decided to bring this romantic adventure to the screen, a kind of modernized “Casablanca”, the filming of which began just a year after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, on location at the Austro-Hungarian border thus ensuring an authentic feel of the locale, its people, and the atmosphere during that violent period. Litvak had earned his reputation by being dominant in films in Germany and France before coming over to Hollywood in 1937. A sweet man born in Russia, he had always preferred working in Europe, mainly movies set in Paris featuring popular stars. In truth, while filming author Alfred Hayes’ “The Girl on the Via Flaminia” originally set in Italy, he had changed the locale to Paris due to his preference for the French capital (and also changed the book’s title to “Act of Love” (Un acte d’amour) for the movie).

In the late 1950s, everything about Yul Brynner commanded attention. Not counting the various intriguing versions of Brynner’s mysterious background alleging his origins to Switzerland and Russia which he himself had campaigned for; Brynner’s physique, Eurasian facial features, his panther-like walk, even the number of packets of black Sobranie cigarettes he smoked a day, was reported. He projected an image that was larger than life.

Tola had worked with Yul Brynner in “Anastasia” (1956), a fictional story about a con artist who trains a woman (Ingrid Bergman) to impersonate the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna. The film had struck box-office gold. In 1958, Tola and Sophie, his young wife, were very close with Brynner and they more often discussed matters in Russian, French and English. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Tola and Brynner jointly formed Alby Productions (Anatole Litvak Brynner Yul) that would produce “The Journey” in which Brynner will be cast in a role which is a variation from the virile, masculine and often sinister characters he frequently portrayed. Furthermore, there is the interesting and exciting love angle between Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr that was not much improvised upon in their earlier hit together “The King and I” (1956). In this re-union (a big attraction for the audience) as star-crossed lover, Tola will include “the Kiss!” – so mystically perfect and denied in their earlier film. Indeed, the film is carried forward by the brilliant acting style of Kerr and Brynner who were at one stage, according to rumours, running an affair between them.

After completing “The Sound and the Fury” in autumn 1957, Brynner went to Vienna in early 1958 to perform in “The Journey”. Though he had worn a hairpiece for his part in “The Sound and the Fury”, he glorified baldness. While he was in Vienna, the Newsweek magazine brought out an article titled “Yul Brynner – Golden Egghead” focusing on his trademark baldness which he had sported to great sexual effect in movies such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The King and I” and “The Brother’s Karamazov”. He considered baldness his biggest asset that differentiated him from the other biggest actors of 1958: Jerry Lewis, Rock Hudson, James Stewart, Glenn Ford, William Holden, Marlon Brando and of course, Frank Sinatra. As envisaged by Tola, Brynner with his gallant and indomitable spirit played the role of Major Surov with such piercing honesty, displaying the essential authority and loveable charm of the Soviet Major who believed in the rationalization of the Soviet occupation and, in tandem, coming across so realistic in his portrayal of his sad and solitary existence with quite dignity. The film did not offer any opportunity for Brynner to appear masculine and erotic with his shirt off or to flex his muscles in scenes of combat; yet, he was hurt during the time of shooting for a reason altogether different. An entry in IMDB maintain that Brynner’s hand was cut by a former lover who tracked him to Vienna during filming and this wound was evidently not shown onscreen.

The filming of “The Journey” took place from March to May, though, according to a memoir of actor Eli Wallach, husband of Anne Jackson, Anne would be called back from the U.S.A to Europe by Tola to re-shoot some close-up shots a few months after she gave birth to a beautiful girl, Katherine Beatrice, in mid-July, 1958. Brynner would return to America by summer of 1958 to prepare to act in Anthony Quinn’s directorial debut “The Buccaneer” slated for shooting during the autumn of that year, a movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter, which was supposed to have been directed by Brynner as part of his intention to venture into movies as a director and investor.

The cool and serene natured Scottish-born actress Deborah Kerr (Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer) had been on a slow path to restore her prim image earned by acting in well-bred roles. Interestingly, to enjoy a sexier ingenuity, she had attempted to knock off her well-bred “English Virgin” typecast by agreeing for “the throes of passion on the beach” in director Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity” (1953) depicting Karen Holmes’ sexually ravenous affair with Sgt. Milton Warden, played by Burt Lancaster with whom Kerr was reportedly romantically involved at that time.

The previous year Kerr was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress for John Huston’s “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” in which she had worn a nun’s habit for the role of Sister Angela. For the part of the alert and intelligent Lady Diana Ashmore, the cinematic quintessence of the English Rose, Kerr who received credit above Brynner, was dressed up in winter clothes, woolen hat, coiffure hair, adorned with gold wristwatch, pearls around her neck unlike the champagne satin ball gown costumes she wore in “The King and I”.

Curiously, running parallel to the film’s story, she had drifted apart from her husband Anthony Charles Bartley, and was living in Klosters, Switzerland at that time with many illustrious neighbours from music, theatre, literature and films such as David Niven, James Mason, The Burtons, William Holden, Yul Brynner, etc enjoying “On the Rocks”s scenic beauty, climate and tax benefits. It was on the set of “The Journey” that Kerr fell in love with the German-born novelist/scriptwriter Peter Viertel, who did additional work on the script of this film.

The subtle and cagey performance of Kerr, especially during scenes when she fills in the form for Flemyng, the advancement to the final kiss, comes across charmingly well to match the cultivated and at times facetious acting style of Brynner. At the same time, Brynner’s effective portrayal of Surov’s despair at being hated by the Hungarians which will act as a catalyst in channeling his warmth towards the travelers and lead to a built up


of passion for Diana, whose conscience was concurrently lingering around the aura of excitement that exuded from him – his magnetism and piercing eyes, and culminate in the final release of their erotic charge with a kiss which was in some measure resultant of a casual encouragement to Diana by the American Margie Rhinelander gently nudging her to give Major Surov what he wants, are aspects efficiently characterized by Tola, beautifully photographed by British Cinematographer Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)) and edited by Dorothy Spencer.


Jason Robards. Jr’s debut in this movie in the role of Henry Flemyng/Paul Kedes established his onscreen presence though his scenes are at times a bit monotonous. Curiously, according to an autobiography of actress Lauren “Baby” Bacall, the widow of Humphrey Bogart, little did Bogart-look-alike Robards knew that within three years he will be back in Vienna to marry Bacall and would unfortunately meet up with rejection from the Austrian authorities due to short of proper documents to perform the marriage.

Portly British stage/film actor and playwright Robert Morley does justice to the role of Hugh Deverill, the group’s spokesman, prudently buoyant enough to stay out of arguments though, concurrently, he would stall the group’s worry for their safety due to the presence of Diana’s companion.

Theatre talent Anne Jackson’s Margie appeared wiser to the ways of men, and much more pragmatic than Diana Ashmore. But for Jackson, her stay in Vienna for the shooting was very eventful as she was pregnant (like her character) with her third child and had to wear an inflatable belt to hide her growing tummy which the technicians skillfully ensured to maintain the same size throughout the filming. At one stage, to offer her the much needed love and care, her husband Eli Wallach flew in from America with their two children and nanny. The svelte French actress Anouk Aimée (Françoise Sorya Dreyfus) in the role of Eva has less screen time though her photogenic qualities are rightly used in the few scenes she is in. Although Aimée will finally get her chance to present her acting talents in Fellini’s “La dolce vita” (1960), and in Jacques Demy’s “Lola” (Donna di vita – 1961), her greatest success will come with her role in Claude Lelouch’s “Un Homme et une femme” (1966).

Like “Where Eagles Dare” and most war films of the period, the title credits are shown in deep red letters. The art direction by Werner and Isabella Schlichting that convincingly depicted the period details, especially the town square, the interiors of the hotel, the East European market place, the Mátyás Pince tavern, some of which were authentically set up in Wien Film Studios in Vienna, heightened the mood of the film. The little wine-cellar tavern where Surov takes Diana from the market place carries the name of the real Mátyás Pince beer house in Budapest opened in 1904 by Mátyás Borostyánkői.


Notable French Composer Georges Auric (“Roman Holiday”, “Bonjour Tristesse”) who would become the general administrator of the Paris de Opéra and Opéra-Comique from 1962 onwards, has provided the delightful music score with components simple in melody, sometimes slightly archaic. Auric is famous for his compositions that ranged widely from full orchestral pieces to songs, always providing smart, exciting and colourful music with influences of Igor Stravinsky and Erik Satie.  Auric would work on the music score for Litvak’s “Goodbye Again” (1961) based on Françoise Sagan’s novel “Aimez-vous Brahms” set in Paris starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Perkins.

Even though it’s tad unmerited to moderate the role of a dutiful Soviet Major to go soft and romantic over a passing woman and also extend leniency towards the freedom fighters which will certainly invite the wrath of discipline on him, nevertheless, Litvak’s “The Journey” is well directed, structured and intelligent like most of his movies and with the performance of a sterling cast led by Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, nothing can be short of the film’s success which over the years has proven true.


(This review is dedicated to Barbara von Nady (pic above left) whose final appearance marked this movie and also to the memory of Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. JS)     **     (Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

Viva Britannia – 2: The Churchill Arms, Londres


Viva Britannia – 2:  The Churchill Arms, Londres

Notting Hill in London is a nicer place to live. Being a known place to us, that’s where we reside whenever we are in London. It is a fashionable neighbourhood with a bohemian past that still retains traces of the fifties, the vigor and love of the sixties and seventies, blended with the breadth and depth of quiet a mix of renowned musicians, artists, writers and actors who had lived there. The cinemas, the little shops selling merchandise ranging from retro-jewellery to out-of-print and second-hand books to music albums, posters, films, downright dreamy art…. and then there is the “Portobello Road” just around the corner.


They say the English seem rather uneasy of colour. But coming back to London after a year we found that Notting Hill still sports the glorious colours of the butterfly’s wing – façades of buildings and shops painted in pastel colours, some festooned with dazzling flowers. In here you see red, blue, green… brilliant colours everywhere, including during the annual Notting Hill Carnival  – especially the red: on the bus, the phone booth, the street signs, Vodafone, Virgin Airways, the British flag …. A flash of “English flare




We had been walking up the familiar Kensington Church Street, famous for its antique shops, and was nearing “The Churchill Arms”, the oldest and historic pub of London, when, good grief!, it rained. Five minutes earlier when we started from the vicinity of Notting Hill Gate Tube Station (Central Line), the sky didn’t betray of ensuing rain. Anyhow, this is England.


Sure enough, we went into “The Churchill Arms” for a drink – neither of us would have done it in any other way. I never carry an umbrella for I have a tendency to lose one more often.


We have not been to this bar earlier but a customer of our preferred fishmonger at The Fish Shop at Kensington Place had once divulged few good words about this pub. Many a times, we had walked past it while treading through Kensington Church Street which runs up to Kensington High Street past the Prince of Wales pub we used to frequent.

In the Notting Hill Gate area, one of our engrossing joy and fun for the evenings is the “All-Bar-One”, part of a gastro-pub chain where people mix outside their social class. The ambiance is fantastic and you will speak English better – if you can hear above the jive music and energized pub-talk. Evenings are more often crowded with post-work drinking culture and the pulse of the bar keeps beating away late into the night. The pubs are a central part of the English life and culture.


The rain was now hammering down outsideThe Churchill Arms. Built in 1750, it was once frequented by the grandparents of Sir Winston Churchill in whose honour it was renamed after the World War II.  The façade of the pub had a vast array of floral tribute – beautiful flowers spilled over from pots and hanging baskets. It is a treat to see all those plants grow together up above the street.


People in the hospitality industry say that nothing fails more often than restaurants. However, this watering hole with gorgeous antique interior and patterned carpeting that runs warmly throughout, had developed a character all of its own through the years and is good for lunch, dinner or just drinks. Literally, every part of the wood-paneled walls and ceiling is ornamented with a fantastic collection of Churchill memorabilia and also a good many assortments of utensils, jugs, figurines, photos, picture plates, musical instruments, etc – not surprisingly it provokes worthy-of-note conversation and good reviews. If the tables are all occupied, the full bar counter is available for drinks. Short and to the point, peak hours and Friday/Saturday nights maybe avoided.



The corner table we occupied, closer to the fireplace, smelled of rosemary… I like the beguiling attribute of that herb. We decided to have a couple of Fuller’s London Pride, a beer with a distinctive flavour (given the opportunity, my German-born wife often enjoys choosing the beer) even though the waitress also politely offered a vast choice of authentic delicacies inspired by Thailand (reasonably priced) served in the adjoining conservatory which we declined due to early hours of the evening. In any case, three weeks later, we had a wonderful meal there.


Some reminiscences are recalled with total clarity. Looking back, I could now picture the eyes of that Welsh Spaniel who sat on a chair at a nearby table. He appeared as harmless as a bowl of jelly beans. Spaniels are believed to be originated from Spain and the first reference of a spaniel appears in one of “The Canterbury Tales” of Geoffrey Chaucer.



His hazel eyes darted across the restaurant at the strange faces engrossed in chatter, his medium length muzzle with the flesh-coloured nose moving constantly, alerting the happy customers of his presence. The English are very careful to avoid sacrificing the privacy. Nobody paid attention to his piercing gaze. All the same, he looked happy and amiable there enjoying the cosy ambiance and warmth of the pub, as if nothing short of his master’s command would have made him leave that chair.


The rain has stopped. Once again the light is beautiful and the day has become magical. We left the drinks and prepared to leave the warmth of this pub that rightly preserved the traditionalism of true London. The name says it all … Ciao, Jo



(Photos © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive)


Brace yourself! The Hollywood propaganda machine is already spinning to rake in the harvest from the success of the upcoming 23rd James Bond vehicle “Skyfall” slated for release in UK on October 26 this year. With the first ever 007 fragrance already launched, the posters, trailers, advertisements, even star promotions are all going to emerge in full swing. Conversely, as in the previous years, countless Dick-Tom-&-Harry of the media are going to come up with their versions of promotions through reviews, magazines, interviews, music albums, as well as books like “James Bond, The Authorised Biography of 007” by John Pearson (author of “The Life of Ian Fleming” (1966)), a fictional biography constructed from bits and pieces of Bond’s personal history littered in Ian Fleming’s novels.

Not unlike Superman, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, etc, the merchandise, collectables and mementos related to Bond films had invaded the market early since the first Bond movie “Dr. No” (1962) produced under the banner of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli hit the screen. Commercial product placements, video games, jigsaw puzzles, toys, swimming fins, holiday tours worthy of James Bond, by-products licensed to thrill the iconic British spy such as Aftershave to underwear to drinks, skiing gadgets, spy-phone; limited collection of fashion trends from sunglasses to stilettos to fishnet tights; window displays – all of these have appeared through the course of the longest running Bond film series.

As Eon Productions celebrate 50 years of Bond this year and also with the impending excitement of Christmas and New Year, more novelties in this field bearing 007 trademark can be anticipated. At some stage in this phenomenon, certain careers will be made, some destroyed – all linked to one thing: financial success. Nobody does it better than James Bond.

In 2006, when “Casino Royale”, the debut film of Daniel Craig as James Bond came out, the upmarket London store Harrods (in Knightsbridge) put up a beautiful display in all their frontage windows featuring gadgets and styles from that movie. Some of those lovely scenes in London, photographed by me, are presented below for your enjoyment….












(Text and photos © JS/Manningtree Archive)

Viva Italia – 1: Padova – An Oasis of Calm

Padova – An Oasis of Calm

The last time we were in Paris was in March 2012. Our sojourn was the briefest of our stays there – but quite enjoyable at the Radisson Blu Hotel which is ideally positioned closer to Charles de Gaulle Airport (just seven minutes drive), from where we could conveniently catch the EasyJet flight to Venice. La Cockpit, the ground floor restaurant in Blu was the right venue for us to enjoy a delectable dinner laced with French Red in the cozy ambiance of vintage 1900 style décor. It felt good for us to get away from home for sometime as it is always good to get back home, as well.

View from Radisson Blu CDG airport Paris. The hotel offers free shuttles to the CDG airport terminals.

My devotion to Italy had not matured gradually nor as part of a general interest in Europe as a whole. Italy has always been special to me for many reasons. People from everywhere are drawn to its famous charms, the sense of space and air! Like Spain, it’s a country of long and splendid history. Both have excelled in the beautiful arts, in literature which lasts. Who couldn’t visualize the Piazza San Marco of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Collosseum, Tuscan wine….. or the famous people like San Francesco d’Assisi, San Antonio de Padua, Santa Caterina da Siena, the Borgias, the Medicis, Dante, Savonarola, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Gali..…… they are all special people like Velàzquez, El Greco, Goya, … and I could go on typing forever. It’s a haven for tourists – serious and the “just looking” ones – which brings to my mind a serious traveler who found joy in tallying columns of the Roman Forum with the number stated in a guide book.

From Venezia Aeroporto Marco Polo Tessera, the ideal way to go to our initial destination, Padova (maybe less romantic than relaxing in a taxi) is the SITA bus available right outside the main exit – between the third/fourth pillars to the right with a blue sign. Yes, you can bring your luggage cart up till the bus. The seats are comfortable and there is ample space in the lower locker-holds to tuck away a couple of bags per person. The tickets (Euro:16/- for two) are available in the airport arrivals lounge, less expensive than on board the bus.

On that spring day, it took us about an hour to reach Padova through the bright Veneto region, considering that this blue coloured diesel-powered bus made a brief stop at Piazzale Roma in Venice before it sped through the Causeway up the Route via Mestre to Padova.

Oh, to touch Venice – all those footpaths with no motor traffic, the Canale Grande, the gondolas, Cipriani’s Harry’s Bar…. – it saddens me to think that the place is sinking. Anyhow, more on Venice later….

The premises of the bus stand at Padova is devoid of taxi stand, but, simple enough, they are easily available 5 minutes ahead at the taxi rank at Piazzale della Stazione before the railway station. It felt good to be back in Padova. For us, the way into the heart of Italy is, preferably, more often than not through Padova.

Pic left: The watercourse near Via Beato Luca Belludi leading to Basilica San Antonio. This road is named after Blessed Luca Belludi who was the companion and successor of San Antonio; Pic right: Display of coloured powders in a shop at Via Beato Luca Belludi.

A great part to hold a traveller’s joy is the uniqueness and variety. What is this spell of Padova? Being one of the most important art cities in Italy with an artistic and cultural heritage, Padova has many charms for the visitors. Slide shots flipped over in my mind:

Interior of The Cappella degli Scrovegni all’Arena – Giotto’s canvas.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapal), is an annex of the Musei Civici Eremitani, and closer to the railway station. It is an ideal place to talk art and admire the famous figurative art featuring the life of Christ, the Last Judgment and the life of the Virgin Mary, by the Florentine painter, sculptor and architect Giotto di Bondone better known simply as Giotto (1266-1337).

Palazzo della Ragione

Besides the many attractions of the Palazzo della Ragione (the Seat of Justice), the “Railing Stone” and the “Wooden Horse” built as a replica of Gattamelata’s horse for a tournament that was held in Piazza dei Signori in 1466, are not to be missed. The bronze equestrian monument to the Commander of the Venetian Republic Gattamelata (known as Erasmo da Narni – died in Venice in 1443) by Donatello (1386-1466) is located in the courtyard of the Piazza del Santo. The tomb of Gattamelata is inside the Basilica de San Antonio which also house Donatello’s reliefs and statues for the high altar. I prefer to write more about the Basilica of the Saint,where my favourite saint is laid to rest, at a later date. A direct live view of the entrance to the Basilica can be seen from

Pic left: The Basilica di Santa Giustina (BSG); Pic right: BSG: The unfinished façade.

The imposing Basilica di Santa Giustina, the most ancient Christian place of worship in the city, built in honour of Giustina who was killed probably in 304 A.D, is situated facing the huge elliptical square Prato della Valle, (Prà) the customary site for entertainments and fairs. Constructed in the form of a Latin cross with Byzantine domes similar to the Basilica de San Antonio, it houses the tombs/relics of St. Urius, the Benedictine Abbess St. Felicity, St. Mathew the Apostle, part of the body of St. Luke the Evangelist, besides many frescoes and sculptors by Luca Giordano, G.B Maganza, Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi, Paolo Veronese (Martyrdom of Santa Giustina) and his brother Benedetto Caliari, etc.

Pic left: Interior of BSG: The central nave with the wooden Crucifix from the first half of the 15th century; Pic right: Interior of BSG: The sarcophagus containing the remains of St. Luke the Evangelist.

From the ancient University where Galileo Galilei taught, to the famous Café Pedrocchi, to Orto Botanico, to the colourful frescoes by Altichiero da Zevio in the Romanesque edifice, Oratorio di San Giorgio, to Palazzo del Capitano with its astronomical clock made in 1344, Padova is a treasure trove of attractions worth discovering.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 2: Interior of BSG: The Ark of St. Matthias in the right arm of the cross (by Giovanni Francesco de’ Sordi (1562)); Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: The main altar; Pic 4: Interior of BSG: The Corridor and Well of the Martyrs (1566). Statues of saints made of terracotta adorn the four surrounding pillars.

This time round we stayed at Hotel Casa del Pellegrino (at Via Melchiorre Cesarotti) which is a stone’s throw away from and facing the Basilica de San Antonio. Simple and comfortable, the rooms are spacious, fitted with necessary amenities and they have separate restaurants for breakfast and lunch/dinner. We have had many a happy moments in that room “with the view” and we would go to sleep very late at night, but being an early riser, I would get up in time for breakfast at the hotel’s separate wing, served by very friendly staff. It was nice to wake up to the chimes of the church bells. Reminded me of my young days in Ernakulam.

Top row Pic 1: Interior of BSG: The Well of the Martyrs; Pic 2:Interior of BSG: Some worshippers; Bottom row Pic 3: Interior of BSG: Some worshippers from Poland; Pic 4: Interior of BSG

We had always stuck to our golden rule to visit places strictly according to the freedom of our own itinerary and timing – and never opted for the discomforts of set timing, set food, set places, service (sometimes from indifferent employees) of some “follow-the-umbrella” tour packages – the “I would rather have spent half hour in Milan than never have been in Milan” kind of tour packages. It lifts our spirit in working our own hours, to go around at our own pace, have a good meal at our selection, choice of a comfortable room and bed, and enjoy service from people with friendly attitude – aspects which are all important to us. One example is Hotel Casa del Pellegrino where we can always look forward to that good, old, friendly hospitality.

Pic left: View of Basilica San Antonio from Hotel Casa del Pellegrino; Pic right: A holy procession during Easter 2012 at Prato della Valle.

Time does fly by, doesn’t it? The five days we were there to savour again the spirit and mood of Padova, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with our friends, including the dear Franciscan abbots of the Basilica de San Antonio and also to make more friends. Before we left India, I was talking to a friend in England whose passion is music. He knew the entire histories of many individual songs (psychedelic rock) – and many other details such as who wrote it, who and what influenced that song, the year it was recorded, etc. His knowledge in that was exemplary. But one suggestion from him turned out to set us scurrying around seeking food in Padova. No, my friend didn’t pull a fast one on me! He had honestly recommended that, to sweeten the day of arrival in Padova, we eat the initial night’s dinner at a restaurant closer to the Basilica which offered a true symphony of flavours and dishes. We dearly love the delightful cuisine and red wine of Italy. No day is so good that it can’t be made more good with a wonderful night out. But the shape of things to come seldom revealed its presence among us. True to my friend’s word, walking through the entrance a bit late into the night, we found the restaurant fairly full of happy customers around richly laden tables, but we hastily left after a couple of drinks when we knew of the day’s special, a Veneto specialty.  Asino! In Italian, I couldn’t swing it until a waiter named it in plain English “Donkey”. We have sampled Cavallo (horse) in Paris, but couldn’t be connoisseurs of asino on that day! Anyhow, the ass looked great on plate.

My memory wanders back to a night out at Trattoria da Renzo situated up the hills in Albignasego at the gates of Padova where our lovely friends Francesco and Marzia treated us with a delicious dinner. About one km from Prato della Valle it offers great food, best Italian wine amidst décor keyed to the region, fantastic ambience and hospitality (closed on Sundays). Rather a romantic place with a magnificent night-time view of Padova down in the valley below. And don’t forget to have the king of spring dishes, Padovan asparagus, if you are there during spring time.

Besides the opportunity to meet up with the wonderful array of friends in Padova, it also allows us at some point, a quick dash to Venice, for the umpteenth time. (One way fare from Padova to Venice Santa Lucia Railway Station by train is Euro:7/- per person). Likewise, many who stop over at Venice take a detour to cover Padova as well.

The Basilica de San Antonio.

Some places connect with you distinctly. It draws you there and holds you. Most importantly, a visit to Padova is a special occasion for us to visit the tomb of our beloved San Antonio. Every single grace comes to us there and we always leave little bits of us at his tomb – like rags and shreds of our life. The gift of faith.

Pic left: Interior of the Basilica de San Antonio: The tomb of the Saint; Pic right:Cloister of the Chapter (Magnolia) of the Monastery attached to the BSA.

It’s time to bid Arrivederci. Reluctantly, we tear ourselves from Padova to catch our train for the one-half-hour journey to the historical city of Firenze (Euro:74/- one way for two), beckoning us at the other end of the journey. Shortly on arrival at Firenze (Florence), we have got a lot to do before the day is over – especially, a tryst to keep –with none other than Cosimo …, Lorenzo de……. the Medicis! Now that’s another story, for another time. Ciao… Jo



Above Pics in order of appearance: Interior of the Basilica di Santa Giustina: One of the two aisles on both sides of the central nave;  Brass fresco/door-handle on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;  Brass fresco on the main door of the BSG;   Easter 2012

(Photos & Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive.)