Full Jazz Immersion – Com’In Festival


comin jazz logoAs from Friday 9th March, ‘Greater’ Como embarks on over a week of full jazz immersion with the launch of the so-called ‘Com’In Jazz’ Festival. This aims no less than to revive Como’s reputation for jazz and musical innovation that apparently thrived in the 80s and 90s. It runs until Wednesday 15th March, but is then immediately followed by its partner festival in Chiasso that runs from Thursday 16th March until Sunday morning.

chiasso JazzBut that is not the only reason why this festival involves ‘greater’ Como since many of the fringe events take place in bars both within the old centre, immediately surrounding it or even out as far as Breccia. Other aspects to this festival that mark it out as imaginative and deserving of every success are the inclusion of marching bands bringing the music out into the streets as in old New Orleans and the workshops for school pupils and other educative sessions intended to spread understanding and appreciation of this vibrant form of music.

Awaiting summer visitors

Como awaits visitors on Viale Geno

So what a great way to welcome in the Spring on this weekend by taking in some live music as many of the local hotels and places of interest  reopen their doors again for the start of the 2107 tourist season. But, as mentioned before, this festival really does intend to involve as many different people as possible ranging from the concerts ‘a pagamento’ at the Teatro Sociale’ with tickets costing about €15 to those concerts with free admission at the Chiostrino di Sant’Eufemia or the Nerolidio Music Factory in Via Sant’Abbondio. Full details of the programme are available at Visit Como.


But please note a particularly imaginative idea for extending exposure to jazz beyond the normal scope of concert goers, namely the so-called ‘Aperitivi in Jazz’. This initiative offers more informal jazz sessions in smaller venues located in a variety of city and suburban locations. Check out the map and the listings on Visit Como. What about using this as a way of exploring parts of the city you may never have had a reason to visit before? These sessions run from 19.00 in the evening but a more likely start time is after 21.00.


  1. Nota su Nota, Via Giulini 13 (Sessions for schools)
  2. Be-Bop Cafe, Via Pasquale Paoli 51
  3. Fresco, Viale Lecco 23



  4. Il Gap, Via Sirtori, 12

    Il Gap

     Il Gap

  5. I Giardini di Tava, Via Dottesio 1
  6. Caffe Mazzini, Piazza Mazzini


    Caffe Mazzini

  7. Ox, Piazza de Gasperi 6



  8. Cava dei Sapori, Via Guido da Como 2
  9. Bistrot, Villa Geno


    Il Bistrot

  10. Vintage Jazz, Via Olginate 44

    Vintage Jazz

    Vintage Jazz

  11. Al Quaranta 4, Via D’Annunzio 44
  12. Arte Dolce Lyceum, Via Cesare Cantu 36


    Arte Dolce Lyceum


It’s great to see this festival being revived and support for another musical genre being added to Como’s already rich musical calendar.

music festival logosCheck out this range of musical festivals in and around Como on our events page and also get information either from Visit Como or from our own calendar on exact dates, times and locations. Finally, jazz lovers should not overlook the Chiasso Festival that offers three different gigs a night in the Chiasso Cinema Theatre from 16th March Thursday night through to the early hours of Sunday.


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From Out of the Swamp, Novum Comum – Roman Como


Statue in the gardens of Villa Olmo

Como is in origin a Roman city named Novum Comum and founded in 59 BCE by none other than Julius Caesar, the father of the Roman Empire.

The Roman presence persisted from then on until the collapse of the western empire approximately 600 years later with the city boasting a population of up to 40,000 in its heyday in the 3rd century AD.

So how can we best get to understand and appreciate this heritage given how the face of the city has since been overlaid with centuries of subsequent developments? Firstly, we can appreciate the broad outline of Novum Comum simply by tracing the line of the defensive walls that broadly follow and in fact incorporate in parts some of the walls originally constructed by Caesar.


The red rectangle depicts the line of the city walls marking the city limits of Roman Como however many (particularly recreational) buildings were placed outside the walls.

Those original walls were 2 metres thick and up to 7 to 8 metres tall and had, as their main point of entry on the southern walls close to the current Porta Torre, a double-arched gateway known as the Porta Pretoria. The remains of this gateway form part of Roman Como still accessible to visitors courtesy of the Museo Archeologico.


Artist’s impression of Como’s Porta Pretoria

Given that many buildings existed outside the city walls (e.g. the Roman Baths, the cemeteries on Viale Varese and the luxury villa on Via Zezio) we also know that, within the rectangular walls and the typically Roman grid street pattern, there would have been temples to the main gods, a forum, theatre, private dwellings and artisan workshops – but no-one knows precisely quite where many of these were placed. And even where there are still remains, they reveal little more than the building outline, bereft as they are of all ornament and decoration. So, whilst it is well worth visiting these remains, may I suggest you first get to appreciate the richness of Roman ornament by visiting the museum. This way the visitor can more easily engage the imagination to overlay fresco, carving and mosaic  to the dry stone foundations on view.


Bird fresco, Museo Archeologico, Como


Pliny the Younger, Duomo, Como

The Roman section of the Museo Archeologico is well laid out and well-labelled albeit only in Italian. But most importantly it gives the visitor scope to imagine what the quality of everyday life was like back in Novum Comum – or at least the life of the wealthy.  Excerpts from the letters of Como’s famous son, Pliny the Younger, testify to the sybaritic splendour of Como’s lakeside location (and to the capacity of the Roman citizens to enjoy it!):


‘Caius Plinius salutes Caninio Rufo. What is the news from Como, mine and your delight? And of your truly pleasant suburban villa? And from the eternal springtime of your porch? And from the rich shade of your plane tree copse..? ‘ Pliny the Younger, Epistles 1.3.1.

The museum contains some marvellous examples of local artisan work including the marble relief  in two parts uncovered in the Piazza San Fedele which is one of the primary candidates for the original site of the forum.

The top part shows a formal procession by members of the equestrian order, i.e. knights.  Both they and their horses are finely dressed for the formal parade. The lower scene instead is a more informal depiction of hunting, showing one of the pastimes for young Roman citizens of Como. The detail shows a hunter confronting a lion whilst other parts of the carving show more realistic prey such as deer.

Excavations in 1815 also in Piazza San Fedele uncovered the eight massive columns in Greek marble that the Romans transposed to Novum Comum and which have now again been reused to support the portico in front of the Liceo Volta.


Greek columns reused by the Romans in Piazza San Fedele and since transposed to the Liceo Volta.

Before leaving the museum, do ensure you ask to see the room with the mosaics. It is a separate room on the ground floor housing a mosaic pavement in two parts, the first of which is made up of geometric patterns.

The second and larger part depicts a portico with three arches, the central one showing two deer either side of a vase.  This mosaic pavement originates from a villa just within the city walls in the present-day grounds of the school alongside Palazzo Cernezzi, Como’s town hall.

Now, with the imagination suitably charged with evidence of the Roman decorative arts, let’s take in the dry stone remains demarcating in a different way the everyday life in Como two thousand years ago. And the most extensive remains are the Roman baths below the Valduce car park between the banks of the River Valduce, now canalised and covered by Via Dante, and Viale Lecco. The actual bath complex extends twice as far as current excavations have revealed. This makes Como’s bath complex one of the largest uncovered in Italy – another indication of the importance of Novum Comum as a trading gateway across the Alps for the Roman Empire.  The image below shows the service corridor (running parallel to modern-day Viale Lecco) that links via the arched doorway into the thermal baths.

The excavations allow visitors to imagine the layout of contrasting cold rooms (frigidari) and hot rooms (calidari). The complex was first developed in the first century AD and extended one century later – possibly when Roman Como was at its zenith with an estimated population of up to 40,000 people. The complex declined towards the end of the 3rd century with some destruction due to both earthquake and flood. It then lay abandoned on the edges of the Valduce river to later become used as a burial ground. But back in the days of Novum Comum, these baths would have formed a crucial hub for citizens to visit on a regular basis not just to wash or bathe but also to visit the barbers, eat, drink and socialise sat out in its two courtyards – or simply to chill in an environment richly decorated with frescoes, mosaics and statuary.


Bust of Emperor Augustus, Museo Archeologico Como.

And as for all those stones used to construct the Roman baths beyond the level of the foundations now visible? They were undoubtedly re-used for future building throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance such that Como’s Roman ancestry is part of the genetic structure of the modern city.

For those who wish to recreate a sense of Novum Comum for themselves, here are the key references:

  1. Museo Archeologico ‘Paolo Giovio’, Piazza Medaglie d’Oro, 1. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 – 18.00 with €4 entrance fee. Ask here also for access to the Porta Pretoria which is open by appointment only.
  2. Roman Baths, Viale Lecco 9, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10.00 – 14.00 and on Saturdays from 10.00 to 18.00. Entrance is free. More info is available on http://www.facebook.com/termedicomoomana/

For background and access to the Roman Baths, thanks are due to Giovanni Menna, Tour Manager of Como Lake Holiday and local organiser of ‘Aperti per Voi’ , the voluntary organisation that provides free access to the public to historical sites such as Como’s Roman Baths. Giovanni can be contacted on +39 338.200.46.70.


Piazza San Fedele, Como – one of the likeliest locations for the forum in Novum Comum.

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Como’s ‘Viaggi della Salvezza’ – In Memory of the Holocaust

Last 27th January was Holocaust Memorial Day in both UK and Italy – and even though Como Companion is behind schedule on this, I would like to mark the event by looking at the heroic activities of one particular group who saved the lives of both Italian and foreign Jews by assisting their escape into neutral Switzerland – guiding them on the so-called ‘viaggi della salvezza’.


Palazzo Terragni, ex Casa del Fascio & current day Guardia di Finanza HQ 

The group was the Guardia di Finanza – the customs officers whose job was to patrol the borders to prevent smuggling.  The Guardia di Finanza had long-established barracks along the peaks of the mountains where guards recruited from all over Italy were billeted to patrol the border.  They thus had a permanent presence along the mountain borders and a detailed knowledge of the different paths and passes.  Research has now revealed how many of these barracks actively assisted Jewish refugees escape into Switzerland from the moment their lives came under threat following the Italian Armistice in September 1943. One outcome of instituting  Holocaust Memorial Day in Italy  in the year 2000 has been the  increased research into the role taken by various Italian organisations and individuals in helping Jews  to safety. The branch of the Guardia di Finanza managed out of Milan under the leadership of Colonel Alfredo Malgeri, which  included all of the barracks along the Como border, stands out for particular heroism, and some of the individual guards have now been posthumously honoured both in Italy and in Israel for their altruism.


The Italian-Swiss border between the barracks of Bugone and Murelli. Now demarcated by a single strand of wire rather than the netting during the war.


The main national organisation for assisting Jews was known as DELASEM (Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants). It operated in Italy from 1939 until 1947 and is credited with assisting around 9,000 escapees but unfortunately could not prevent the ultimate death of up to 7,680 Italian Jews during the Nazi-fascist occupation from 1943. my-italian-secretMany Northern European Jews who had sought refuge in Italy prior to 1943 were interned in the southern part of the country and thus survived when the allies liberated them in 1942. Those in the north had to turn to DELASEM and to the bravery of individuals, as for example Tour de France Champion Gino Bartali,  to assist them in gaining safety. Bartali is credited with saving up to 800 lives and his story along with that of the families of some of the survivors from central Italy is recounted in a lovely documentary entitled ‘My Italian Secret’.

So what was life like for Italian Jews during the fascist regime?  Until Mussolini decided to ally himself with Hitler, he had shown no interest in developing racism as a populist strategy maybe partly  because Hitler’s Arianism excluded the Mediterranean people in its pseudo-scientific theory of racial superiority.  The fascist axis alliance brought a change of attitude and with that the introduction in 1938 of the Italian anti-Semitic Racial Laws. These laws did not at first threaten the lives of Jews directly but they were insulting, demeaning and led to economic and social hardship.  They were not applied consistently and the state’s attitude seemed full of contradictions as with the apparent financial support given to DELASEM in certain regions.  But it all formed part of the stifling arrogance that personified the fascist authorities and their regime with its regular recourse to bullying.  But this already nasty environment turned deadly the moment the Italian state, under a royal decree, dismissed Mussolini and soon after on September 8th 1943 sought an armistice with the allies who had just launched their initially successful landings in the south. The Nazi response was to occupy north and central Italy, rescue Mussolini from imprisonment on Gran Sasso and set him up as head of the puppet fascist RSI (Socialist Republic of Italy).  This caused a mass clandestine exodus from occupied Italy across the borders in Lombardy from Varese, Como and the Valtellina into Switzerland, as well as elsewhere.  These refugees included allied prisoners, antifascists, ex-members of the Italian army , young men seeking to avoid conscription, and, most importantly Jews who now for the first time faced deportation to the concentration camps in Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe to face forced labour and death.


Salvatore Corrias

A  35 year old Sardinian customs  officer  called Salvatore Corrias, having survived  a dangerous retreat from Yugoslavia following the September 8th armistice, reported for duty at the Cernobbio headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza on 1st January 1944. Marshall Rossi, already an active  partisan, briefed all newcoming officers  on the role of the Cernobbio Guardia di Finanza in assisting refugees to cross the border on Mount Bisbino into Switzerland. He asked all  to consider their conscience and decide if they too would assist the refugees. Salvatore and many of his colleagues agreed to help. He then left to join the patrol in Bugone, just along the mountain crest from Bisbino, where he was delighted to meet up with Francesco Pisano, a Calabrian who had served with Salvatore in the Balkans. Francesco commanded the small Bugone contingent. These two with other comrades set out to provide the last link in the refugees’ ‘viaggi della Salvezza’ by guiding them to safety over the border.


Rifugio Bugone – the ex-barracks of the Guardia di Finanza where Pisano and Corrias were stationed.

The active role played by the Guardia di Finanza in assisting Jews, ex-POWs and antifascists  across the border has been researched and testified to by a number of witnesses including some famous names such as Carlo De Benedetti, the wealthy industrialist and one-time chairman of the Olivetti company.  Carlo De Benedetti’s family, being Jewish, first escaped into Switzerland in October 1943 via Moltrasio but Carlo, who was only 13 years old at the time, remained hidden by a relative in Brianza. However, when things got too dangerous, he was entrusted to the Guardia di Finanza who smuggled him across the border at Chiasso so he could rejoin his family.


Marshall Paolo Boetti

Like Pisano, Corrias and Marshall Rossi , many customs officials also became full-time members of the resistance such as Marshall Paolo Boetti who commanded the Chiasso and the Murelli barracks, at Torriggia just past Laglio. He was a member of  the ‘Fiamme Verdi’ Voluntary Brigade of Alta Brianza commanded by Luigi Sartirana who provided the following citation in September 1945: ‘…that he [Paolo] collaborated up until his arrest in May 1944 in the clandestine smuggling of allied prisoners of war and Jewish refugees in the border zone between Moltrasio and Carate Urio , and to be more precise, in the area under the control of the Murelli barracks under his command.’ His eventual arrest occurred on 10th May 1944 when he was caught carrying 325,000 lire across the border at Chiasso for a Jewish refugee, Vittorio Levi  who had previously made the crossing to safety in Switzerland. He was transported to the Mauthausen-Gusen  concentration camp in Austria to undertake forced labour. He finally made it home following the camp’s liberation on the 4th May 1945. On 15th June of last year he was posthumously awarded the ‘Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile’ for his humanitarian role.


Rifugio Murelli – ex barracks of the Guardia di Finanza. Both Murelli and Bugone are now open as ‘rifugi’ offering mountain food for trekkers.

The barracks of the Guardia di Finanza, whilst being singularly inhospitable and lonely locations for most of the year, were perfectly placed to assist refugees. The individual customs men also had detailed knowledge of the different paths and hiding places thus enabling them to avoid the attention of the German army or Blackshirt (brigade nere) patrols.


View from Mount Bisbino

Bisbino and Bugone were particularly suited to the customs men’s humanitarian work due to its isolation and the network of old first world war defences for which only the guards had detailed maps. But these barracks were just the last link in a network of assistance such as that set up by DELASEM.  In particular the local priest in Cernobbio, the much respected Don Umberto Marmori, played a crucial part in this network. He was imprisoned for his activities and tortured causing his health to fail and precipitating an early death. His replacement, Don Abramo Levi, maintained Don Umberto’s tradition of assisting refugees. He in turn was later arrested by the fascist regime.  The one thing that helped so many strangers to circulate relatively safely in the small towns along the Como lakefront was the fact that they were full of Milanese escaping the heavy and relentless aerial bombardment over their city by the allied forces.


Don Umberto’s Church SS. Redentore of Cernobbio in the piazza named after him.

The Nazi authorities finally lost patience with the scale of the clandestine activities of the Guardia di Finanza and on 28th August 1944 set up an exclusion zone banning them from the border area and compelling them to abandon barracks such as those at Murelli and Bugone. Francesco Pisano and Salvatore Corrias now became full-time members of the ‘Artom’ Partisan Brigade. Salvatore did however ensure that he kept the keys to the Bugone barracks and the building continued to be used to house refugees awaiting the best moment to cross the border.



Salvatore had in the meantime met a girl from Moltrasio called Margherita and they formed a close bond together. Margherita and her brother were also active in the resistance. Salvatore continued to assist refugees and ex-POWs as well as acting as a messenger for the partisans maintaining communications with, for example, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) located in Lugano and run by Allan Dulles who would later become head of the CIA. The OSS played a crucial role in financing the partisans based on Bisbino and those under the command of Captain Ricci in the Val d’Intelvi.

It was on the return from a mission to escort an allied prisoner of war across the border that Salvatore, on a sunny Sunday morning on the 28th January 1945, was finally taken prisoner  by the vicious ‘Banda Tucci’ blackshirts. Having resisted offers of leniency in exchange for information on his companions of the ‘Artom’ brigade, he was shot stood against the large beech tree outside the Bugone barracks. His companions were unable to retrieve his body until the following May by which time the war was then over. His body is buried in Moltrasio’s municipal cemetery alongside other colleagues and a plaque on the chapel down on the lakeside states how Salvatore was ‘shot by enemies of the country because they desired a free Italy in a just world.’ It was left to Margherita to write back to Salvatore’s mother in Sardinia to inform her of her son’s death at 36 years old and one year on from his arrival at Lake Como.


Salvatore’s grave in Moltrasio Cemetery and the plaque in his honour. 


Francesco Pisano, nom de guerre ‘Franz’

Francesco Pisano maintained armed resistance to the fascist regime as commander of a group of up to 50 partisans who undertook a series of heroic actions along the western shores of Lake Como including an attack on a blackshirt barracks in Argegno and on a weapons store belonging to the Province of Como in Laglio. He laid down arms in June 1945 and then died young, but of natural causes, at Moltrasio in 1953 at the age of 40. Margherita herself died a few years back but she and Salvatore did have a daughter who, I was informed locally, used to come back in the summer months until recently to stay in her mother’s mountain house above Moltrasio.

The humanitarian role undertaken by officers of the Guardia di Finanza has been honoured publicly as research continues to reveal the extent of their contribution to the ‘humanitarian corridor’ set up by organisations like DELASEM and priests like Don Umberto.


The Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile

The individual sacrifice of Salvatore Corrias was recognised in 1952 and 1956 with two ‘Croci al Merito di Guerra’  and in 2006 by the Italian State’s award of the ‘Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile’  and  by Israel with the award  given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust  – the ‘Righteous Among Nations’. Throughout the occupation of Italy 5192 customs officers of the Guardia di Finanza were captured and imprisoned by the fascist state and 236 died in concentration camps.

Thanks are due to Captain Gerardo Severino, Director of the ‘Museo Storico della Guardia di Finanza’, for the valuable research he has done on the role of the Guardia di Finanza and the effort taken by him to research citations testifying to the acts of bravery and altruism performed by agents such as Salvatore Corrias.  Let’s hope that none of us are ever called upon to resist such inhumane barbarity as was the Holocaust but if so, let’s hope we can find the same courage and instinctive humanity as demonstrated by Salvatore and so many others at that time.  However let’s also try to avoid complicity in any future form of ethnic cleansing through the sort of apathy and compliance that initially tolerated the imposition of the Racial Laws.

Postscript: Rifugio Bugone is now managed by a delightful young couple with a new baby  and they would be delighted to welcome anyone looking for good mountain food at the end of a brisk walk in the mountains (or by  a 4×4). Call 031 0350027 or email for booking to roberto.rifugiobugone@gmail.com. Murelli is also open to the public.  Call mobile 335 8434493 or email  gogga95@hotmail.it

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Ice Cream and Vespas: Irma Kennaway’s Artistic Odyssey

23 years ago Irma, originally from England but freshly arrived in Florence from Paris to continue her fine arts studies, imprinted an image in her mind of the city’s stylish young women astride their Vespas nonchalantly licking ice cream. That image proved the inspiration for a recent set of commissions arising from her exhibit at Milan’s EXPO in 2015.


Irma Kennaway with ‘Ice Cream Wheel’ mixed media 2015

This vibrant exaltation of iconic sensory pleasure is however just a foretaste of Irma’s work on show to all who visit her Brunate home; for her home, in addition to being her studio as well as the location for her workshops and residential courses, is also a gallery displaying the wide range of her artistic interests.  And the two aspects that unite both her work and the Brunate setting are light and colour –  light streaming in from the broad expanse of sky and the colours of nature from garden to lake to distant Monte Rosa.


Irma’s studio in Brunate

Irma relates how her artistic talent was evident from as early as two years old and how it was encouraged and developed by both of her grandmothers.  She went on to study textiles at London’s Central St. Martin’s School of Art followed by living and working in Paris for three years.  She was then lured to Italy to study fine arts in Florence at the San Lorenzo di Medici Institute of Art. It was the chance of a job designing silk scarves at the Mantero SpA silk factory that first brought her to Como and Brunate.

As you take in the rich range of work at her home, it soon becomes clear that Irma has traveled extensively and that these journeys have had a significant impact on her work, particularly on her use of colour.


Indian Market Scene – Irma Kennaway, Oil on canvas 2008


Studies of a Roadsweeper in India – Irma Kennaway, watercolour 2006

Her favourite repeat destinations are India and Morocco. She has particular family links with India since her ancestor John Kennaway made his fortune there and set up the Kennaway home in Devon on his return to England at the turn of the nineteenth century. She has published  a marvellous account of the trip she made to India in 2005 on the trail of her illustrious great-great-great grandfather and his contacts with the local rulers at the time. This is entitled ‘My Indian Adventure Sketchbook On The Kennaway Trail.’ The sketches and illustrations show how shape and movement can be depicted with the most economical of pen or brush stroke allowing the palette to take visual precedence.

For someone so widely travelled I wanted to know what it was that attracted her to Como bearing in mind that Irma was resident here well before Como reached its current levels of popularity as a holiday or expat location. She listed her favourite locations – starting with the stunning view of Monte Rosa directly visible from her studio window. The other locations that stood out for me, apart from the more obvious highlights such as the lake and the Duomo, were the places that involve people and movement. These include the Teatro Sociale, the swimming club on Viale Geno and the covered market on Via Mentana.


Como Nuoto Viale Geno – Irma Kennaway, oil pastels on paper 2016

Her mention of the covered market led us on to discuss her discovery and use of Apple’s iPad as a medium for artistic design, display and reproduction. She was inspired by an exhibition of fellow  English emigré, David Hockney, held in Paris in 2010.  Here is one art critic’s comment on that exhibition:

“The British artist [Hockney] achieves stunning effects of texture and light on the iPad…..The iPhone images, while less detailed and more stylized, also present intriguing explorations of color and line.” Grégory Picard


Duomo – Irma Kennaway, iPad 2016

The same interest in line, light and colour are also evident in Irma’s work and maybe they share a similar motive for moving away from the muted shades of the English homeland to find enhanced luminosity in Como or California. Irma has exploited the versatility of the iPad to allow her to work outdoors from life in those preferred locations without the need for bags of equipment and materials. In this case the technology has definitely encouraged immediacy and boldness but also provides the range of tone and effect to suit the mood of a broad variety of subjects.

A visit to Irma’s website will reveal the extent of her artistic output and her familiarity with pen and ink, acrylic, oil and water colours in addition to her recent adoption of the iPad. She is therefore well qualified to lead the classes and workshops she holds on request at her Brunate home. Embracing the digital revolution has also broadened her capacity to customise and reproduce her work to meet customer needs. Some of her smaller pieces do make excellent mementos of Como as for example, the series of her local watercolours reproduced on packs of post cards.


Variety of settings in and around Como – Irma Kennaway, watercolours

We already noted at the start of this article how a parallel interest in food and cooking coincided with the Milan Expo remit leading to the ice cream studies. Additionally there was a recent exhibition and iPad workshop at Villa Carlotta entitled ’Plates Please’ which again took the food theme in a functional direction. However, Irma also seems to subvert the symbolic comfort and domesticity of the plate simply by breaking  and shattering the images on them.


Broken Lives – Irma Kennaway, acrylic on bone china 2015

With the migration crisis from Syria and the Horn of Africa impacting Europe and cities like ours, what could be a more dramatic symbol of the impact of exile on the lives of those forced to flee their homes.  And what could be more humane than for us, who have mostly selected a voluntary form of exile in this our adopted land, to consider the plight of those for whom exile is the price of survival.

I have attempted to convey the range and qualities of Irma’s work but nothing beats seeing them for yourselves.  If you cannot get up to Brunate, her website is a good alternative. Click here (irmakennaway.com) to get an idea of the scope of her work. Better still, why not contact Irma on irmakennaway@yahoo.it  or by phone on +39 338 1907860 and arrange to visit her. As mentioned before, her home is a also her gallery and all visitors are welcome via prior arrangement, with no obligation to purchase unless desired.

Como Companion readers will not have heard the last of Irma – we will be featuring articles on Como’s silk industry towards late Spring and I have already committed Irma to sharing some of her personal experiences when working for Mantero SpA.


Tahiti – Irma Kennaway, oil on canvas 2016

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A Walk in the Cosia Valley and Camnago Volta


This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, A Walk in the Cosia Valley and Camnago Volta

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Como’s Magic Light Festival – Citta dei Balocchi 2016/17

This entry has now been moved to Photos. Click here to view.

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Como’s Cultural Highlight of the Year – ‘Noir in Festival’

This time the hyperbole is all mine – the annual celebration of crime and mystery film and literature known as ‘Noir in Festival’ has moved from Courmayeur to Como and Milan. Courmayeur’s loss is definitely our gain since over the next four days we will be treated to a series of free film screenings and 8 different interviews with ‘noir’ authors – all taking place in either the main auditorium or the Sala Bianca of the Teatro Sociale. The Festival then continues for a further four days in Milan.


Sala Bianca, Teatro Sociale Como

So firstly, what is ‘noir’. You may already be familiar with the term ‘film noir’ given to that particular genre of predominantly crime films from the 1940s and 50s. Think of Humphrey Bogart and his roles in films scripted by Raymond Chandler, or the novels of Dashiell Hammett.  What made these films ‘noir’ or ‘dark’ was the moral ambivalence of their protagonists, their predominantly psychological focus and the author/director’s manipulation of audience viewpoint.  The title given to a biography of Alfred Hitchcock, the master of noir, as ‘the Architect of Anxiety’ summarises for me its primary impact.

logoSo it may not be a big surprise to discover that the genre is undergoing a renaissance with particularly important contributions from the so-called ‘Mediterranean’ noir  from France, Spain and above all else of course, Italy. The publisher Sandro Ferri identifies the core contradiction in contemporary Italian society that feeds the need for literary expression through the noir genre:

‘The prevailing vision in the novels belonging to the genre known as Mediterranean noir is a pessimistic one. Authors and their literary inventions look upon the cities of the Mediterranean and see places that have been broken, battered, and distorted by crime. There is always a kind of dualism that pervades these works. On one hand, there is the Mediterranean lifestyle– fine wine and fine food, friendship, conviviality, solidarity, blue skies and limpid seas– an art of living brought almost to perfection. On the other hand, violence, corruption, greed, and abuses of power.’


Andrea Camilleri

Isn’t that duality reflected to a lesser extent in how the ongoing tangle of residents with bureaucracy and sclerotic administration, with its resulting increase in background anxiety, gets redeemed or rendered bearable by the capacity from time to time to relax totally with family or friends where the company, the food and drink and the atmosphere and setting harmonise in a way rarely achievable elsewhere.

Hence the success of Andrea Camilleri in both book and film with Commissario Montalbano, or the intense darkness of Massimo Carlotto (‘The Goodbye Kiss’) whose plots match the bleakness of his own autobiography as a means of metaphorically presenting the moral bankruptcy of the Berlusconi years.


So Noir in Festival brings fiction, film, graphic novels and TV series together in a series of conversations with the authors and film screenings in the company of their directors. The festival  includes two prize givings with Roberto Saviano already presented yesterday evening at the Teatro Sociale with the Raymond Chandler Award for 2016.


Roberto Saviano – Winner of the 2016 Raymond Chandler Prize

Saviano is the author of the international best seller ‘Gomorrah’ which has sold over 10 million copies in fifty languages worldwide and now is into its second series on Sky as a crime serial based on the original novel and subtitled even in Italian to translate the Napolitan dialect. Saviano himself has been living under police protection since 2006 following threats from the Camorra.



Naples-based series based on Roberto Saviano’s novel ‘Gomorrah’

Here follows a list of the authors in conversation at the festival in Como  with an indication if their books are available in English.

Thursday 8th December

18.00 in the auditorium of the Teatro Sociale, Gianrico Carofiglio. His detective Guido Guerrieri novels  are available in English.

Friday 9th December

11.00 in the Sala Bianca of the Teatro Sociale, Matteo Strukul discusses his trilogy of the Medici. The trilogy will be published in both English and German from March of next year.

17.00 in the Sala Bianca of the Teatro Sociale, Marcello Simoni whose books are available in Italian, French and German.

18.00 in the Sala Bianca of the Teatro Sociale, Mai Jia – Chinese crime writer whose books are readily available in English.



Saturday 10th December

11.00 in the Sala Bianca, Erica Arosio and Giorgio Maimone whose books are not yet available in English.

17.00 in the Sala Bianca, Andrea Vitali whose books are not yet available in English.

18.00 in the Sala Bianca, Donato Carrisi whose books are available in English.

Other than being a glorious location for hosting a festival, Como can also claim a couple of important links to the world of noir. Firstly it was a favourite destination for the cinematic master of ‘noir’, Alfred Hitchcock. He honeymooned with his wife Alma on the lake in December 1926 staying at the Villa D’Este having used Isola Comacina the previous year as one of the settings for his first silent film ‘The Pleasure Garden’ shot in 1925 and starring American actors Virginia Valli and Miles Mander.

He then made regular almost annual visits to Lake Como with his wife.  And more recently, the graphic designer Claudio Villa,  the designer of the first 40 covers of Dylan Dog and ongoing artist for Tex, was born in Lomazzo and now lives in nearby Albavilla. ‘Dylan Dog’s noir credentials are impeccable as he ups the anxiety stakes as an ‘Investigator of Nightmares’. The series is immensely popular in both Italy and abroad and was apparently the favourite recreational reading of Umberto Eco!

The festival moves location from Como to Milan from this Sunday. All details, the full programme and information on all participants are available from the NoirFest bilingual website. Please support this marvellous-sounding literary festival in the hope that it becomes a permanent repeat appointment on the Como calendar.

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Christmas @Como

The Christmas lights are on, the Christmas market is open, shoppers are out in force and from this  Thursday –  the day of the Immaculate Conception – the holiday season starts in earnest. Read on for a panoramic view of how Como plans on celebrating over the holiday period.


Piazza Mazzini

‘Toytown’ Como – the Citta dei Balocchi

For some years now the main Christmas events have been organised under the banner of Como as the ‘Citta dei Balocchi’ or city of toys with its obvious appeal to families and children. Their website (follow link) lists the full variety of events. However the most visible and trans-formative initiative is the series of illuminations in Piazza Duomo, Piazza Grimaldi and Porta Torre. They are undoubtedly a great attraction and, no matter how well they may be photographed, nothing beats the experience of seeing them at first hand.

The Christmas market certainly adds further sensory stimulation with the many culinary products on offer alongside ideas for last minute presents and stocking fillers. And at the heart of Piazza Cavour there is the ice skating rink open from 14.30 to 23.00 from Monday to Friday and from 10.00 to 23.00 at weekends and public holidays apart from Christmas Day itself when it is closed.

For children in particular, Father Christmas will be visiting Piazza Duomo at 16.00 on Christmas Eve and his place will be taken by the Befana on Epiphany (6th January) who will descend into the Piazza  (also at 16.00) on her broomstick to distribute sweets or coal to the good or the naughty.

Palazzo Broletto hosts an exhibition that runs from 8th to 30th December of model horses, dolls and toys through the ages. The steamboat Patria will be moored off Piazza De Gasperi (by the Funicular) and open to the public for a collection of model boats and trains from 10th to 18th December. The star of the lake’s steamboats – the Concordia – will also be open to the public from 6th to 9th December hosting a display of local lacemaking.

The Church of San Giacomo in Piazza Grimaldi hosts an exhibition of cribs (presepi) that opens on 8th December until 8th January with the church open from 10.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 18.00. This also offers a rare opportunity to see inside San Giacomo!

Other seasonal standards include the antique carousel in Piazza Volta and the Ferris wheel  along the lake front near to the Volta Temple. There are other events too numerous to mention but all listed in either the official Como online guide or the previously mentioned site for Citta dei Balocchi.

New Years Eve

Como celebrates New Years Eve in style with a firework display that attracts many visitors into town and to the Lake Gardens in particular. Live music starts at 22.00,  a 20 minute firework and music display  bring in the new year and the music and dancing continue on afterwards until about 03.00.

duomoThere are numerous other musical events, Christmas concerts and recitals organised over the holiday period. Details of these can be found in our calendar although special mention goes to the Christmas Concert in the Duomo on Friday 16th December at 21.00.

And, in addition to all this, but offering a particular treat to lovers of detective fiction or ‘cronoca nera’ , is the ‘Noir in Festival’ which kicks off on December 8th. This annual celebration of the detective thriller in print or film is a first for Como and an article dedicated to it will soon be posted here.


Villa Olmo




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Ester Maria Negretti – Como’s’Traditional’ Contemporary Artist

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Ester Negretti, one of Como’s foremost artists, in her new studio and exhibition space at Via Borgo Vico 82.


Studio Ester Maria Negretti, Via Borgovico 82

Having established that Ester was born, brought up, educated and studied in Como, it was a surprise to discover that she was somewhat ambivalent about her roots.

EN: In spite of being born here, I don’t really feel ‘Comasca’. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the idea of boundaries and borders – nor am I convinced by the influences of a particular place. However I do love Como, its lake and everything.



Landscape ‘Fragilita’ 2012

Ester has over the years developed a very distinctive style which she applies across a range of genres from landscape and figurative painting to abstract and 3D. I was keen to learn more about how this style developed and what debt it owes to Como as a possible source of inspiration or influence.

As the interview progressed I begun to understand her desire to express universality through her art and to avoid being ‘localised’ by scenic lakeside or accurate figurative images.  However I did ask her whether she felt she had roots in the area.

EN: Yes – in that my landscapes are for the major part of this area. I have a strong sense of  ‘Como abstractionism’ which sees these geological formations developing from landscape into abstract geometrical designs.


Mixed media abstract entitled ‘ Per andare a fondo’ 2009.

CC: Could you explain a bit more as to what you mean by ‘abstractionism’?

EN: When learning to paint I initially tended to focus on the surface features of my subjects. So to overcome this I realised that I preferred to paint landscapes out in the open as artists used to do in the past. One day, when ‘on location’ I started to collect some of the materials and objects around me. These seemed to tell the story and reveal the ‘fabric’ of the region – not just reflecting the surface of a landscape but somehow allowing me the artist to enter into a relationship with it. With these materials incorporated into my art, I noted they remain very evident and in the foreground when viewed close up. Yet they become lighter and less distinct as we step back. They seem to invite the viewer to approach closer to them thus creating a viewer reaction that goes beyond actuality, beyond the image, beyond the look or the surface appearance.

She then admitted that on her last trip to Paris she realised that she would undoubtedly have ended up developing a very different style of painting if she had spent time there rather in Como given the fresh quality of the Parisian light, the large scale of urban construction, and interestingly, the predominantly vertical lines of the buildings in the urban landscape in contrast to the predominantly horizontal ‘strata’ of our lakeside landscape.

EN: This is not to say that I am particularly attached to Como. In fact I have done work on the concept of boundaries and on going beyond borders. I belong to a cross-border association of Ticinese artists whose members come from within the ancient area of Insubria. We are not limited by current political boundaries as represented by border crossings.

I agreed that nothing beats living in a border town like Como to convince you of the ultimate artificiality of political borders.

Ester indicated another painting on display.


View of Tavernola entitled ‘Un momento felice’ 2010-2016.

EN: This idea of going beyond borders can be seen in this picture, for example where the black horizontal line breaks and opens up into a series of rectangles offering horizons beyond horizons.

The same concept of defying borders also has an equivalent in my style of figure painting where you will notice that facial details are rarely made distinct.


‘Prigioniero in liberta’ 2014.

EN: When I first started painting figures, I would reproduce realistic faces and receive compliments on how life-like they were. I felt bad that viewers’ reactions were being so clearly influenced by the appearances, the surface accuracy of the facial depiction and nothing more. So gradually I made the features on the faces disappear to be replaced instead by signs or impressions. I want to reveal the underlying spirit of a person rather than focus attention on external appearance.

Ester explained how she had chosen to learn her art in the way of the Renaissance masters by being apprenticed to local artists and designers. She in turn now teaches at the Associazione Libico Maraja in Albate (www.libicomaraja.it), an institute set up by the descendants of Libico Maraja whose children’s illustrations are etched in the memories of those growing up in Italy since the last war.


‘Desideri sospesi’ 2012

So having noted Ester’s ambivalence towards place and location, as well as her commitment to breaching boundaries, I did however ask if it would be fair to say that her art was taking a part of Como to the rest of the world?

EN: I like that idea – and yes in a way, it’s true. I have sold paintings in a few numbers around the world, – Japan, Australia, New York, Boston, Russia. I have exhibited also in Paris, Frankfurt and Zurich. Success is always welcome but you must always paint for yourself and then the approval of others allows you to keep on going from both an emotional and an economic point of view. It would however be impossible to paint if you focused on a ‘public’ since you must paint to express something that is internal to yourself.


‘Michelangelo – liberazioni’ 2015.

On Ester’s web site (www.esternegretti.com) she has classified part of her output with the theme of Sacred Art. She explained that many of these works were associated with her visit to Burkina Faso in 2014 and the subject of upcoming exhibitions. I had additionally noted an aspect of the romantic spirit of the sublime in her landscapes. Ester confirmed this spiritual element:

EN: One of my main historical influences has been J.M.W. Turner along with Leonardo in the way he uses light and how the change in light during the day changes the aspect of his paintings and gives them movement.

We had previously looked at a technique adopted from Michelangelo  for giving movement to figures. What with these and other references to the Old Masters and her Renaissance-style apprenticeship, this all this led me to ask Ester if she considers herself a ‘traditional’ contemporary artist.

EN: Traditional? Yes – in that our cultural roots are important. Having said that, we must carry on from where our predecessors left off otherwise there is no progress. Contemporary? Also yes, although many artists now consider contemporary art as conceptual. In other words an art that is rational and academic rather than mine which is spiritual and social. For me, above all else, art is a method of communication and a pretext for confronting life.


Ester and myself in her atelier in Via Borgo Vico

Ester has only been in her new studio since August. But she has great plans for her exhibition space hoping to include other forms of art and works by other artists. She is very welcoming and was certainly generous to me in both time and patience. She is also playing her part into turning Via Borgovico into a fascinating, almost bohemian quarter on the edge of the old town. Thank you, Ester.


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Como – The City of Light and the 8208 Lighting Design Festival.


As days shorten, Como’s fascination with urban art installations focuses on the use of new lighting technologies – as evidenced from now until November 27th in the 8208 Lighting Design Festival. The festival takes the 8208 of its title from the name of an asteroid dedicated to Alessandro Volta – and thus onto the idea that Volta’s birthplace is a fitting location for a festival celebrating the artistic possibilities of electrical modern lighting technology. So, as with Streetscape (see recent article), Como’s centre is now populated by a series of art installations by both national and international artists that aim to redefine their urban settings.


There are in fact five of these installations as indicated on the plan illustrated here. The festival also encompasses five separate events, three exhibitions and two workshops. Details of the exhibitions are available from the Visit Como site whilst more details of the entire festival can be found on its own Internet site which is only available in Italian. However each installation is accompanied by a description of the artist and of its conceptual basis .

Palazzo Broletto

Orbital Trajectory’ consists of some thin lines of light under the Broletto’s portico which are subtle in their impact with their spider-web delicacy contrasting with the solidity of the Broletto’s pillars and the physicality of the building itself. It is designed by Carlo Bernardini. Unfortunately it proved difficult for me to capture a good image of the installation so this is definitely one to view for yourselves.


Palazzo Broletto

Teatro Sociale

Human?’ by artist Sophie Guyot comes together as a legible image as you walk past the front of the theatre and view the portico head on. At this point all the separate elements of light align together to pose the question as to whether our communal and individual behaviour can be considered human given both recent historical and current events.

Piazza San Fedele


Piazza San Fedele

This installation entitled ‘Fragments of Reality’ is the only one that works with both natural and artificial light so not dependent on Alessandro Volta’s legacy. It consist of a series of small disks suspended across the entrance way to Via Odescalchi on the southern end of the Piazza. These disks simply reflect light from existing sources. As with the Broletto installation, this is subtle in effect. It is well placed within this medieval corner of the old town and best viewed as you enter the piazza from the north end. The artist is Alessandro Lupi.

Porta Torre

‘Limen’ by Olo Creative Farm is the most interactive of the installations. With powerful beams that swing dramatically up and down to accompanying sound effects, it attracts a lot of attention from passers-by. The range of six or so light beams shine down by default but swivel up and out through the tower whenever anyone stands on their static position.

Molo di Viale Geno

This is called ‘Rhizome’ by the artist Tom Dekyvere and it is accompanied by one of the more surrealistic descriptions of its conceptual basis. I have no idea what is meant by ‘a rare eruption of beauty in the nostalgic mirror of our future’ but I salute the fantasy of whoever composed the phrase. The installation itself is best experienced by walking along the mole and thus within the web of light strands that build towards a chaotic crescendo. But take care, the water is close by and cold and the strong lights intensify the shadows. For me this was the most impactful of the installations.

So to conclude, these five installations all vary in intent and possibly also in their degree of success (from my personal perspective of course). As with Streetscape the hyperbole that this will ‘change the urban context of Como’ must be treated as artistic licence however the installations do sit interestingly within their individual architectural settings. And, as also with Streetscape, there are plenty of residents and visitors out there tracking them down.

By the time these installations are dismantled after November 27th, Como will be differently illuminated by the usually spectacular light shows on its principal buildings and landmarks – a now regular part of a Como Christmas!

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