Tales from Lucca

Meetings with Divizia return at Bagni di Lucca

In case you didn’t know or have forgotten who Divizia was I referred to her in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/who-was-divizia/

Divizia was an unassuming, even ugly, peasant girl at Bagni di Lucca who was noted by Montaigne during his visit to the place, as possessing amazing extempore poetical skills despite her illiteracy and who knew the chivalric epic of Ariosto by heart (quite apart from Dante).

Dr Vito Valentino, the councillor in charge of events and manifestations in Bagni di Lucca’s comune introduced the evening at the Sala Rosa on the upper floor of the Circolo dei Forestieri with some interesting quotes from Montaigne’s “Journey to Italy” and, in particular, his stay at Bagni where he finally found a cure for his intestinal problems and not only praised the waters but also the now famous Divizia.

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Divizia, indeed, personifies something increasingly scarce today, but once widespread throughout our area – the idea of committing to memory large chunks of famous literature, in particular chivalric and heroic epics. After all, wasn’t this the way that some of the greatest masterpieces of western (and world) literature were formed?

Homer’s Iliad, La Chanson de Roland, Beowulf, the stories put together by writers like Chaucer and Boccaccio all had their origins in oral tradition, and the story-teller was a respected figure in local peasant culture as late as the early years of the twentieth century in many parts of Italy.  Indeed, the story-teller has been resurrected again and I am so glad that their audience (now mainly children) has not entirely departed to video-games and such-like. For story-telling is essentially a social activity encouraging questions, discussions and digressions too!

In Montefegatesi, for example, before the days of TV and radio people used to regale each other during the long winter evenings with stories taken from such texts as “The Divine Comedy” and “Gerusalemme Liberata”, and I was quite amazed at a uni-tre lunch I attended a couple of years ago to hear an old gentleman transfix us at the end of an excellent repast by reciting from memory the whole of Canto V from Dante’s immortal work, (the one containing the story of Paola and Francesco.) The actor, Benigni, of course, has done the same in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence with great success..

Learning poems by heart used to be a major feature in Italian schools and I was startled at the number of children who could recite long passages from their country’s literature masterpieces in the classes I taught at Lucca’s scuola medie. Regrettably, mainly due to “progressive” educational ideas, this practise is fast disappearing which I feel is terribly sad.  Quite apart from enriching one’s life and helping one’s writing, knowing poems off by heart can be a great way of surviving the wait for late buses, trains or even aeroplanes!

To return to the first of the new series of “Incontri con Divizia”, Dr Vito introduced Carla Sodini who has collected together around eighty shortish articles she wrote for the regional paper “Il Tirreno” between 2008 and 2010. Because of her great skill in uncovering unusual subjects and her training in digging out abstruse facts from archives as a historian, Carla’s book is by no means ephemeral and is fascinating reading for anyone with a reasonable knowledge of written Italian.

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Carla lives in Lucca and teaches military history. She has also contributed to studies on diplomatic history and the walls of Lucca

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The book is not organised in themes but one article follows the other in the order in which they were written. This makes it an excellent book to dip into since each article is around 500 to 800 words (the same length of most of my blog posts, I noted!).

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Just selecting some of the titles of the collection, called “Storie Lucchesi” and published by “History in the Making” (ISBN 9781493694808), will give you the flavour of the thing:


Ancient voices in Lucca’s tower of the hours

Two parks dating from the fascist era in Lucca

When the Bucellato was a love-token

The elephant which amazed Lucca in 1691

Puccini’s journey to Buenos Aires

The magnificent carnival of 1724

Brave Maria raped by her brother

Past perfumes

The failed enterprise for making sugar out of chestnuts

Lucca and its passion for betting

Revolution in Luccan cooking in the mid seventeen hundreds

Pulisena and Margaret burned as witches in 1571

Slaves in Lucca

Love rites in Lucchese tradition

Feminine fashion in Lucca at the start of the nineteenth century


And many more of course


Further “Incontri con Divizia” will be announced shortly. I, for one, look forwards to attending them.



One thought on “Tales from Lucca

  1. Alexandra writes: a most interesting event held at the Circolo dei Forestieri which is a very elegant venue for such events as these as well as exhibitions that I have often visited. It is with sad regret that I have been told though that the wonderful venue below the actual Circolo dei Forestieri the elegant Restaurant is now shut and will not open again but the space will become an archive store room area I do sincerely hope that for the sake of Bagni di Lucca and all who have enjoyed their stay at Bagni di Lucca with maybe a special date to celebrate with a scrumptious meal will help in starting up a campaign to save this venue as I believe it has been the focus of many a person’s visit to this area. So please please please someone out there or maybe start a cooperative somehow to reestablish and reopen this wonderful venue. The Borghese restaurant the more modest but equally excellent venue now shut it does largely depend on the cook I suppose to the ultimate success of the range of menus. Well with Milan Expo 2015 surely this would be a great opportunity to contribute and help celebrate to this event.

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