Olive oil, Persian cats and the Gothic line

It’s never a good idea to organize one’s day too thoroughly. A routine trip to the discount store turned into quite something else thanks to browsing through a local rag while sipping a Campari soda at the bar of the filling station. Today was the festa dell ‘olio at Valdottavo. So thence we went instead.

Valdottavo (so-called because it  was eighth roman milestone from Lucca, just like Diecimo is the tenth – many towns in Italy are so-named – one thinks of Quinto and Sesto, for example) is an attractive little borgo with not only picturesque old stone houses but also some elegant liberty-style villas built by returning emigrants who struck it lucky in the new continent.  Although set in a mountainous district, the olive oil here is just as good as that on the more famous colline Lucchesi.

In the main square to the side of the restored Cristoforo Colombo theatre (another beautiful art-nouveau building with a great programme of music and theatre events some of which we have attended) we also made purchases of a deliciously produced local crema di Limoncino and some really tasty olives. Lots of other things were there to look at or buy. I particularly enjoyed the display of bikes both vintage and modern.

In the teatro Colombo an unexpectedly fascinating exhibition awaited us consisting of paintings by the Iranian-born painter Dariush. His themes are maidens in various states of dis-attire (mainly around the navel and posterior region) being ravished by horsemen or being surrounded by cats. Talking to Dariush I realized the sensitive line which turns pornography into sensuality and beauty. Dariush elegantly succeeds where many other don’t. The painter admits to being influenced by Klimmt and Modigliani but also by an Iranian painter called Nasser. Dariush has lived in Italy since 1972 but his paintings remain unmistakably Iranian in style and sentiment.  See for yourselves in the photos below.

An announcement that there was to be a tour of the gothic line by local second-world war aficionados above Domazzano excited me but depressed my wife who has little interest in such items. The gothic line was built, after the abortive armistice of 1943, by the Todt organization to provide a new southern Europe defense and stem the tide of the advancing allied armies. It held them back for some months before they broke through early in 1945 and brought the war rapidly to a close. However, Kesselring’s Gothic line was not seriously challenged here as the allies went round it! Hence it is the best preserved part of the whole fortification.

The walk up to the line (which “Gerry” called the “green line”, mindful of the disasters wrought by the Goths) was quite enchanting, passing through olive groves among a scattering of lovely purple daisies and yellow ranunculi. It was truly difficult to believe that we were entering what was once the war’s front line. Reaching the top, our little group (which consisted also of two English families complete with young children) examined the trenches, still in remarkably good condition, before walking to the summit of Monte Elto to see a casemate cast in expertly-made concrete. The view from the casemate’s window was superb and looked out, not only onto the Castellaccio (the only serious battle of this part of the Gothic line, which originally stretched about 300 miles on the appenine crinale  from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic), but north and south of the Serchio valley towards the Luccan plain which we could admire in all its expansiveness. No wonder the Wehrmacht chose this spot! Near the casemate was a further line of trenches with a circular emplacement for an anti-aircraft gun.

We returned to our cars by a different route through a wood ready to blossom. The children were excited about looking for wild asparagus which, even raw, are delicious to eat. I listened, fascinated, to the aficionados, one of whom was a ten-year old boy during the period of hostilities, talking about the line.

Eventually, we did do that routine shop at the local discount and returned home (after our first ice-cream of the season) somewhat tired after our first longish (3 hours) walk this year but very happy that we’d achieved it on this quite glorious day of sunshine.

Here’s something of what we saw:


7 thoughts on “Olive oil, Persian cats and the Gothic line

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