2
022-23
The return to normal

Season's Greetings 2023

After several years plagued with jabs, tests, summer tooth extractions, pains in the leg, and Covid I am very, very happy to report that 2023 saw none of these signs of mortality. It was instead characterised by memorable trips and fascinating genealogical discoveries.

My traditional March first trip of the year was a guided tour of the big churches of Medieval Champagne based in Reims, including Laon, Troyes and Saint-Remi Ė all familiar from lecture slides, and even better in real life. The only downer was how cold it was, outside the churches in the wind, and inside them too. The unexpected pleasure, for me anyway, was the tour, tasting and lunch at the MoŽt et Chandon Champagne House in Epernay. They even went to town for the two veggies too: we got separate plush printed menus, and the five vintage champagnes that accompanied the courses were, I was assured, chosen to compliment the veggie options too.

In April I took a solo trip to Verona and Venice, for the freshening up of my churches page and the big Carpaccio exhibition respectively. May saw a guided tour of Umbrian towns, which got me (finally!) to Assisi, which was very much not a disappointment. The food was not a let down this trip either, culminating in the famous and photographable Isle of Asparagus. In our hotel in Perugia we were disturbed by Netflix film crew and a posse of Italian Jane Austen fans all dressed up for Charles's Coronation. In Perugia I also discovered Tuscan Mostarda, made with apple and cinnamon, one of the flavours of the year, and had my first Amarena gelato. Things got more Tuscan in June, with a trip to Lucca and Pisa Ė the former because Iíd had trips to Lucca so cancelled by Covid and the latter to finish off the Pisa page that Iíd begun pre-Covid. Lucca was also where I had the weirdest and most unpleasant experience of the year. July was a guided four days coaching it around 14 of the medieval Churches of Suffolk.

Then things went all 18th-century and Tiepolo, with a Courtauld Summer School week called
A Society of Spectacle: Seeing and Being Seen in 18th-century Venice in July, and in September a guided tour around the Venetian Terraferma. The trip was taken because I'd never been to Vicenza, Palladio would get investigated, and I fancied a revisit of the Scrovegni Chapel, especially after Assisi. Also included was a visit to Castelfranco to see Giorgione's altarpiece, which is one of the few of his works I've never seen, and the happy introduction, for me, to Asolo.

Genealogically the year was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, as detailed in entries below. From last year's Season's Greetings, through the 6th of February and the 26th of August to, most thrillingly, discovering in November that I had a genius forebear who has his own museum in London, with a cafe, and who was on the £20 note in the 1990s.

Not much can beat that, I hope youíll agree. Next yearís guided trips so far include Burgundy and Piero country, and Iím also looking to get a bit archaeological, with Roman Naples, or maybe even Egypt! I wish you similar trips and impressive relatives, or maybe just staying home in the warm, with cake and cats perhaps. Happiness anyway.


 



Best.Christmas.Card.Ever
If you're not a Brit of a certain age you might be
puzzled and need to click
HERE.

My Top 8 Books of 2023
Katy Hays
The Cloisters
Jonathan Carroll
Mr Breakfast
Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo
Nina Allan
The Dollmaker
Kiersten White Mister Magic
Nina Allan
Conquest
Jess Kidd
The Hoarder
Paul Murray The Bee Sting
Two top books by Nina Allan, but I didn't
realise until I was compiling this list.

My Top 10 CDs of 2023
Joe Henry All the Eye Can See
Philip Selway Strange Dance/Live at Evolution Studios
The National First Two Pages of Frankenstein/ Laugh Track
Lanterns on the Lake
Versions Of Us
Birdy
Portraits
The Gertrudes
Just to Please You
Judie Tzuke
Jude The Unsinkable
Beirut Hadsel

Reviews September - November 2023
A Haunting in Venice Venice films
Martin Gayford Venice: City of Pictures
Lee Jackson Dickensland
London
Donna Leon A Wandering Through Life Venice
The Venetian
Terraferma
Trips

3.11.2023
I cancelled the Cardiff trip mentioned below, as it was looking like being too wet and wintry a time, and as I type this at the end of the week I should have been away, it's been a week of constant rain, with Storm CiarŠn sweeping Europe.

In better news, having found a 5th great-grandfather who was a saddler in Smithfield, called Adam Greenlaw Gray, who lived near St Bartholomewís church (my new London fave Ė itís so Romanesque inside!) and who was married and had his children christened there, I discovered that his wife, Elizabeth Faraday, was the sister of Michael Faraday! So Michael Faraday's dad is my 6th great-grandfather.

3.10.2023
My assertion in my last post that I'd had my last trip of the year is looking premature. I recently found that an ancestor of my dad's mum, called Jabez Phillips, was born in Bassaleg, in Wales near Newport, and in 1779 got married in Michaelston-y-Fedw, also not far from Newport, and now basically a suburb of Cardiff. So I've booked a week in Cardiff later this month, with a cathedral I missed last time and a tempting cemetery adding to the appeal. And then there's the shops selling fresh-baked Welsh Cakes. Then I read about an rather large exhibition of 16th-century Venetian art in Munich over the winter so we've booked a week there in December. Christmas markets providing the extra appeal this time. I do realise how lucky I am BTW.

22.9.2023
The Venetian Terraferma trip was a very good one, but looks like being my last of the year. Patrizia, the tour manager on the trip, an old friend who is also the wife of a good friend of these pages, has set me to thinking by recommending a stay in Venice of a month to really get to know the place. This idea is now getting seriously pondered. In Italian this is known as 'putting a flea in my ear' it seems. Also there's a new, surprise, Donna Leon book of reminiscences, which consists of a sequence of short chapters, we're told, and so sounds like another of those large-font, wide-line-spacing , blank-page-infected jobbies, but I'll let you know. I had my Covid vaccine booster a couple of days ago too, and so far I'm not suffering the pains which began the day after my jab last year and invalided be off of a Lucca tour. It was the Pfizer vaccine this time, though, like the others I've had, and not the Moderna from a year ago. Who knows?

11.9.2023
August was a bit dingy and uninspiring but then came the hottest week in September ever, or something, which has now cooled down a bit, but tomorrow Iím off to the Venetian Terraferma for a few days, where itís going to be as hot as it was last week in Tooting. Cunning.

When I get back Iím booked for my Covid booster. I toyed with not getting it, after my suspicious immediate intense calf pain last year, which meant I had to cancel a trip to Lucca. But as it can be argued that a booster should be the right of everyone, and not just us oldies, it comes as a twofer with the flu jab, and that refusing it sides you with mad anti-vaxxers and varieties of anti-ULEZ loonies Iíve signed up.

26.8.2023
Having lost a boxer ancestor, as I may have mentioned, Iíve gained an artist. Tracing back my Haite forebears Iíve come to George Charles Haitť (Ancestry doesnít seem to do accents.) He created the iconic Strand magazine cover (see right) and knew everyone, including Oscar Wilde Jerome K. Jerome, Aubrey Beardsley, and John Tenniel. His grandfather is my 4x great grandfather, and he didnít have to punch anyone to get rich. He left £6751 to his wife and daughter, equivalent to £336,284 now. Pardon my mentioning it but it makes such a refreshing change from the dying in the workhouse much more common for my forebears.

12.8.2023
Being half way through the summer slump - no trips to Italy until the weather cools off, and nothing much getting published - the yen to book a trip or two is strong. I was prompted to book a week's guided tour of the Venetian Terraferma for a pretty prosaic reason, but also because I've never been to Vicenza, I fancy a revisit of the Scrovegni Chapel, and I've never even heard of the Prealps! The latter day includes a visit to Castelfranco to see Giorgione's altarpiece, which is one of the few of his works I've never seen.

Reviews April -
August 2023
David Hewsom The Borgia Portrait Venice
Philip Gwynne Jones The Venetian Candidate Venice
Churches of Suffolk
Trips
Lucca and Pisa
Trips
Umbria Trips
Verona & Venice
Trips

24.7.2023
And suddenly there's a new novel by David Hewson in prospect. It's out on the 1st of August and it's called The Borgia Portrait. It's the second in his period-spanning series featuring  reluctant detective and ex-archivist, Donald Clover. The first one The Medici Murders managed to squeeze into the plot, aside from many Medici, the Saint Ursula cycle, Veronica Franco, prostitution, the Ponte delle Tette, the run-down Lido, the Danieli, and Casanova.  The new one revolves around murdered toffs and an erotic portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, and again features Casanova, via a crucial document telling of one of his adventures.

9.7.2023
Just back from five days looking around medieval churches in Suffolk. There were 18 on the  itinerary, but I only managed 14 of them. It was the first of my two trips to East Anglia this summer. While I was away the new Philip Gwynne Jones novel dropped onto my doormat and on the trip I was recommended two authors new to me - thanks Julia! - both of whom have historical novel series with at least one of them set in Venice. So a certain Venetian flavour to my summer reading is predicted.

15.6.2023
So that's a trip abroad for me every month from March to June, only one of them not to Italy, two guided and two solo. My trip next month is five days being taken around Suffolk looking at churches, eighteen of them! My next planned trip to Italy is Florence in October, which sees Jane, my nearest and dearest, returning to travel abroad post-Covid. (It didn't happen!) The only Venice-set novel I've reviewed this year has been the new Donna Leon, but the new Philip Gwynne Jones is coming soon. And he's just announced that he's embarking on a new series set in Sicily, whilst continuing to write about Nathan and Venice.

26.4.2023
A trip that takes you from a country where it's so cold you still need three layers (11į) to one that's looking like providing t-shirt weather (26į) is always going to be an attractive prospect. (None of my last trip's too-cold-for-gelato nonsense). When the trip is to take in Assisi, which has so long been top of my list of fresco sites in Italy I've yet to visit, you can easily understand my excitement. It's a week away, it's a guided tour, and involves staying in Perugia, another city new to me.
And while I was typing the above Minnie the cat came and stomped on the keyboard and created the tasteful character combination below. I think I'll use it as a dinkus.
=-=
7.4.2023
I'm home for Easter from my Verona and Venice trip. The weather, especially in Venice, was not as gelato-friendly as I'd hoped, but a good time was had. The trip report is up and now I'll be getting down to working on those cities' pages on churchesofvenice.com - updating info, adding loads of new photos and mining the many new books and guides I bought..

Reviews February/March 2023
Medieval Champagne Trips
Donna Leon So Shall You Reap Venice
The Victorian London Grime Glut:
Philip Davies London: The Great Transformation 1860Ė1920
Cathy Ross Bollardology
Judith Flanders Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London
Lee Jackson Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth

Sarah Wise The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum


28.3.2023
I'm off for a week in Verona and Venice tomorrow. I've spent a few weeks on the relevant pages over on ChurchesofVenice, updating and planning, and my ticket for the Carpaccio exhibition in Venice has been bought. I'm also looking forward to temperatures around 20į, especially as today here in London it was dingy, rainy and barely got above 10į. Gelato weather beckons!

3.3.2023
March marks the official beginning of the Fictional Cities New Year, the first weeks usually bringing the new Donna Leon, my birthday, and my first trip of the year. Next Wednesday I'm off on a guided trip around Medieval Champagne, based in Reims.

6.2.2023

As trip season and the fertility of the spring publishing rush are weeks off still, I've let my current genealogical obsession take further hold, and gotten immersed in the grim realities of Victorian London, where lots of them lived, and so many of their children died. See above list for the fruits reviewed, and see right for a mugshot of my 3-times great grandfather Joseph Burks (aka Burke). He got five years 'Penal Servitude' in 1879 for nicking stuff, including some rolls of carpet and backgammon tables. Evidently they had to hold their hands like that in the photos to show any missing fingers or tattoos. The first bollards dated to this period too, by the way, and the changes in their use and number reflects a lot about recent London history.

23.1.2023
As we near the end of the first month of the new year the weather is still cold, with a tendency toward cloud and our government is still incompetent, with a tendency towards corruption. Oh well, it was two years ago that the socially-distancing chap from Cat's Protection left Lily and Minnie on our doorstep (see right). Also there's a new Donna Leon on the way, of course, in March and with a clichť title - So Shall You Reap. For the new Philip Gwynne Jones, The Venetian Candidate, we'll have to wait until July, but I'm sure it'll be worth it. And this year marks the 25th anniversary of this site's creation. Celebrate!
 



My 6th great-grandfather's son.



















Season's Greetings
Despite the declawing of Donald and Boris 2022 still saw wisdom, compassion and competence in woefully short supply in the public realm. Art, travel and genealogy remained essential sources of comfort and joy.

Iím happy to report that 2022 began well - full of travel, with reality returning at a heartening rate. On spring trips to Florence, Toulouse & Conques, and Venice & Ferrara I experienced the gradual reduction of testing, restrictions and mask-wearing. These trips were interspersed with visits to Broadstairs, Norwich and Hereford & Worcester in my own country. The summer saw something a falling off: no trips, but lots of medical testing. All of this probing and scanning turned up nothing but good news, but then I had to have a tooth out, and it took three hours. My mouth recovered, then after trips to Norwich and Palma & Modena I got debilitating leg muscle pain, suspiciously soon after my Covid booster jab. It meant that I had to cancel a guided trip to Lucca, a city that was also the destination of a thrice-cancelled trip during the lockdown years. Thereís something about being housebound with pain that puts one off of booking future trips. But then, after a month of painkillers and Neurofen ointment (wittily called Phorpain) the pain went away! So I booked four trips to look forward to in 2023 - Medieval Champagne in March, Umbria (including Assisi, at last) in May, South Tyrol in June and Suffolk Churches in July.

The spring 2022 trips got many photos taken to add to my churches sites, though, and the Ferrara pages Iíd begun during lockdown thereby got finished and presentable. Pages for Pisa are coming along, and Milan and Modena are being considered.

But Iím leaving the best until last. 2022 will now be going down in the annals as the year I discovered the joys of genealogy. Iíve yet to trace any Italian ancestors, but finding out that the Cottons came from Norwich in the 19th century, bringing their shoemaking skills with them, explains my affinity for that city. Trips around London checking out the places where my relations lived and were married and christened and buried have seen some pleasurable reconnections too. I also found two famous forebears.

Firstly Tom Cribb, aka The Black Diamond, who was a world champion bare-knuckle boxer in the 19th century. Much represented in contemporary prints, there is also a plaster model of him in the British Museum, and he features in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit and in Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer. There's even a pub, round the back of the National Gallery, of which he was landlord and which is now named after him. Heís my 4 times great grandfather.
Update July 2023 Except he isn't. Due to my trusting other peoples' trees early on I accepted a grandson of Tom Cribb as my ancestor, but he isn't, so neither is Tom.

The lyrics of the satirical song The Vicar of Bray tell of a vicar who changes his beliefs to please the ruling party, being concerned only with keeping his job. The song dates to the 17th century, the Restoration period, and Francis Carswell was The Vicar of Bray from 1665-1709. He is my 8 times great grandfather, and the most likely subject of the song.

To the right is a chunk of the marriage records for Ansford in Somerset showing the wedding of William Speed and Mary Palmer in 1616, they being my 10 times great-grandparents.

So there you have it. The world at large gets no better, but next year Iíve got much travel, my state pension, and my Freedom Pass to look forward to. The health horizon is looking cloud-free this year too, so letís have hope.




 

My Top 12 Books of 2022
Robyn Cadwallader
Book of Colours
Jo Browning Wroe A Terrible Kindness
Andrew Miller The Slowworm's Song
Rebecca Stott Dark Earth
Ned Beauman Venomous Lumpsucker
Gabrielle Zevin Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Jess Kidd The Night Ship
Maggie O'Farrell The Marriage Portrait
Ian McEwan Lessons
Laurie R. King Locked Rooms
This series of novels featuring Mary Russell and her much older sidekick
Sherlock Holmes have been my recent comfort-reads, and this one was even better.
 Christopher de Hamel The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club
Paul McAuley Beyond the Burn Line





My Top 10 CDs of 2022
Before Breakfast I Could Be Asleep If It Weren't For You
Daniel Rossen You Belong There
River Whyless Monoflora
Arcade Fire WE
Bear's Den Blue Hours
xPropaganda The Heart is Strange
Andrew Bird Inside Problems
Angel Olsen Big Time
Big Thief Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Esthesis Watching Worlds Collide


Reviews September & October 2022
Alana White The Hearts of All on Fire Florence
Damian Dibben The Colour Storm Venice
David Hewson The Medici Murders Venice

Parma and Modena Trips
Robert Harris Act of Oblivion London
Maggie O'Farrell The Marriage Portrait Florence
Norwich Trips

11.11.2022
My post-Covid-jab leg pain is over! Hallelujah! In a painkiller-free burst of clarity, optimism and the need for trips to look forward to I have booked four guided tours in 2023! Medieval Champagne in March, Umbria (including Assisi) in May, South Tyrol in June and Suffolk Churches in July. Which leaves a tempting gap in April for some solo church exploring, somewhere in Italy, and the Carpaccio exhibition in Venice. Onward!

17.10.2022
The leg pain mentioned below has got a bit better, but not enough for me not to have to cancel Lucca, where I should be as I type this. Damn you Moderna vaccine! But I've just finished The Colour Storm, a fine and spicy take on the life of Giorgione; and had an email to say that two new books are on the way, one on Siena and the other a biggie about Carpaccio, so all is not pain and disappointment.

06.10.2022
September took me to Norwich first, then to Parma and Modena later in the month, This last trip was swiftly followed last week by a visit to the health centre for my Covid vaccination booster, which was itself  followed by extreme muscle pain in my right calf, a  known side effect evidently. And then the parent company of Art Pursuits, the company I'm going to Lucca with on the 17th, went bust. The trip to Lucca is going ahead, we're told, so I'll just fret quietly about my pain waning by then.
Meantime I'm enjoying the rollicking new novel from David Hewson, The Medici Murders, which does the old echoes-across-history thing with the murder of British TV historian on the same bridge where Lorenzino de'Medici was murdered, he having fled Florence after killing his cousin, Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence, in 1537. It's the first in a series, we're told.


01.09.2022
Post-Covid, 2022 has been pretty much a-trip-a-month, making up for lost time. August was a month of medical stuff - tests and a tooth extraction - but all is now good and more trips loom - three booked and more planned. And that's without the tempting guided art tours I'm hearing about for 2023. I'm smiling!

Reviews April to July 2022
Rebecca Stott Dark Earth London
Philip Gwynne Jones The Angels of Venice
Hereford & Worcester Trips
Maria Luisa Minarelli Murder in Venice
Ferrara & Venice Trips
Tasha Alexander Death in the Floating City Venice
Norwich Trips


03.07.2022
June turned out a bit of a stop-at-home month, full of Ferrara-centric work on Churches of Venice, my new-found genealogy obsession, and medical appointments. But all is now clear, and my health is in the clear, for some English summer destinations, a Courtauld Summer School week, and two Italian trips in the Autumn. First up is Hereford and Worcester tomorrow, for some cathedral and cemetery action. Reading that Hereford Cathedral is having work done and is covered in scaffolding would've been dispiriting, had I not read it in a guidebook from 1858. Still, it's nice to know that one of the main banes of church-centric travel has not changed much in a hundred years. July also sees the publication of site-fave Philip Gwynne Jones's new novel The Angels of Venice. So, what with a clean bill of health, trips aplenty, and juicy reads, the future's looking bright.

21.05.2022
Back from my trip to Ferrara and Venice, and boy was it hot - the upper 20sįC. But lots of photos were taken, churches visited, and gelati and pastries scoffed in both cities.
Only really the mask-wearing remains of the Covid measures, on public transport and in some churches, although I was on one occasion blessed with hand wash from a nun. Having been on three trips abroad and two in the UK so far this year I plan to stay at home now for a bit, probably until September/October. I'm looking at plenty of work to get my Ferrara church page presentable and my Venice pages freshened up.

03.05.2022
This time next week I'll be packing for my trip to Ferrara and Venice, where I'll be selflessly devoting myself to photographing churches and eating gelato. It'll be my first trip to Venice, and first solo trip to Italy, since November 2019. In Venice I'll also be checking out the now-finished conversion of the ground-floor rooms at the Accademia to gallery space which, since August 2021, has included a new big room of church art of the 17th and 18th centuries. Not our favourite centuries, but still. The new display presents 63 works, many not previously on display for space reasons. There's a few rarely-open churches being used as Biennale satellite venues too, and temperatures are looking to reach around a comfortable 23į.

The need for the  personal locator form for entry into Italy ceased on the 1st of May and the NHS covid-jab proof is now only needed for entry into the country, not restaurants and galleries anymore. FFP2 masks are still compulsory on flights into Italy and on public transport there. A minor pain, and weird after the UK's relaxation of all rules, but not as bad as February.

05.04.2022

Just when you thought it was safe ... my
guided trip to South Tyrol in June has just been cancelled, due to too-low numbers. It seems that not everyone thinks it's safe yet. The silver lining is that I now have a swathe of free weeks in June giving scope to book my own destination(s) in Italy.

Reviews January to March 2022
Rob Samborn The Prisoner of Paradise Venice
Toulouse, Conques & Albi Trips
Florence Trips
Tasha Alexander The Dark Heart of Florence
Marco Vichi Ghosts of the Past
Florence
Donna Leon
Give Unto Others
Venice
D.V. Bishop City of Vengeance Florence
Robyn Cadwallader Book of Colours London


08.03.2022

Encouraged by the news that from the 1st of March entry to Italy no longer requires a pre-trip Covid test, just the proof of vaccination and the passenger locator form, I've booked a week in Ferrara and Venice in mid-May!

01.03.2022

I'm just back from Florence -
my first trip to Italy since Venice in November 2019 and my first trip abroad since my Covid-cursed trip to (not) see the Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent in March 2020. So thatís two years of lockdowns, staycations and online courses, but no getting out of my own country. Rules have been relaxing very fast in England of late but Italy was still not taking any chances. The planned papal visit didn't happen, but they sure had all the blue chairs ready.

7.2.2022
Wonders never cease! I've just had an email from Donna Leon's publisher asking if I'd like a review copy of her new one Give Unto Others, due early in March. After 24 years of having to ask nicely, and often getting no reply, this is heart-warming. Anyway, I said 'yes', so expect a review sooner than later. Also on the way is the new one from David Adams Cleveland, Gods of Deception, due towards the end of April. It is evidently not heavy on the Venice content this time, but he's earned his inclusion over the past three novels, and it's another long 'un - 928 pages.

24.1.2022

Things are moving, for good it seems, in the right direction in Britain, COVID-measures-wise. On Thursday 27th the recent harsher rules are being relaxed, and today an easing of the need for tests for travellers coming into the country has been announced, taking effect on the 11th of February. Iím feeling full of hope about my trips to Florence in February and Toulouse in March, but I've just had a tour to Lucca in late March cancelled. They said it was because the numbers were too low due to current trepidation, but rumour has it was also the fact that BA don't fly to Pisa on Thursdays at the moment. I've moved my money to a guided trip to South Tyrol in June. I know next to nothing about the region but it looks interesting, having been Germany until it was given to Italy after WW1.

So it looks like my foolish optimism might be well-founded this time.

1.1.2022
So that was 2021, but letís let it rest in peace and move on. Things are looking good for 2022.

Trepidation and playing it safe are all well and good, but sometimes a chap just has to take a chance, and book a week in Florence in February. It's a guided tour, which I don't really need, but it's a favourite art historian and a couple of old tour friends are on it. Added attractions are the Brancacci Chapel putting up scaffolding for restoration that the public is going to be allowed up on, the new Fra Angelico rooms in San Marco and Santa Croceís new entrance, open areas and circuit. Booking a guided trip also means someone else is taking care of the tests and forms. But I'll be crossing my own fingers. March is full of postponed tours and a homecoming niece, but April and May are pretty empty and crying out for returns to Venice, Ferrara, Verona... the list is long and the hopes high.

In other news, the cats presented us with their first dead mouse, left to be found when I came down in the morning on Thursday. Suspicion fell on Minnie, who likes to bring gifts and has a special meow to signal this. These gifts are mostly from the garden, usually bits of wood, leaves, or twigs. Then Friday I had to deal with five gifts of baby mice, all alive, and all taken back out into the garden, so it's possible that the five included repeat appearances.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
















 







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