Local Healing Waters

I can only think of one other European country where baths play such an important part in the lives of its citizens – Hungary. Those who have not been to the Gellert baths in Budapest (or any of the smaller ones throughout that country) are surely missing one of the great world experiences!

The two major baths (or terme) in ancient Rome were the baths of Diocletian (now transformed into a national museum and a church) and the baths of Caracalla (now an open-air theatre). The Romans loved baths and were ecstatic when thermal, healing waters were discovered in their new conquest across the channel and founded Aquae Sulis (today’s city of Bath).

The love of natural thermal baths continues in Italy to this day: within a morning’s drive from our house we can reach Montecatini terme, Monsummano terme, Terme di San Giuliano and, of course, our own Terme di Bagni di Lucca.

A recent “impegnativa” (prescription) from our doctor gave us twelve sessions at the terme di Bagni di Lucca to help alleviate certain personal ailments, courtesy of the Italian National Health system.

The Terme di Bagni di Lucca is only a quarter hour’s drive from our house and is situated near the top of a volcanic hill which dominates the town. Within the bowels of this hill are hot thermal waters with special medicinal properties which, since mediaeval (or even Roman?) times have encouraged all those in search of panaceas for their ills to visit the spa.

Perhaps the most famous of cure-seekers is the great sixteenth century French essayist Montaigne who wrote extensively about his experiences here, greatly praised the waters and finally found solace in them from his pains.

The Bagni di Lucca thermal waters complex is made up of the “Jean Varraud” baths (named after the Frenchman who re-developed them at the start of the last century) and the “Ouida” well-being centre (named after the formerly best-selling author who stayed here in the nineteenth century and who is buried in the protestant cemetery) which offers beauty treatments and health programmes. Of these programmes I have only tried the amazing mud baths.

The thermal spa is characterized by two natural steam caves: the Great grotto and the Paolina grotto (named after Napoleon’s sister who regularly visited it). Their temperatures range between 40 ° and 50 ° C, and are ideal for skin care, arthropathy, relaxation and body purification.

The healing waters of Bagni di Lucca, which flows out at a temperature of 54 degrees from their main source deep within the bowels of the volcanic hill continue to have a major world reputation for their extraordinary regenerative and healing powers. The water’s main ingredients are bicarbonate and calcium sulphate.

This morning we will again visit one of the two grottoes. Entering into their natural sauna atmosphere the body begins to sweat profusely. After twenty minutes one is called out (if they have not forgotten you!) to go and relax on a camp-bed in a separate room where helpers tuck one in a blanket. This is a most important part of the treatment: a “reazione” or reaction sets in after a few minutes where one’s body seems to enter into total oblivion.  A tisane is served and then, again after around twenty minutes, one gets up and returns to the changing rooms to dress  and, hopefully, face another day with greater confidence, at least in one’s bodily purity….

The baths of Lucca may not have the fin-de-siècle opulence of Montecatini terme and some of the décor and apparatus may be criticized as needing modernization or restoration but it has its own peculiar charm and when it comes to the nitty-gritty itself, the waters, then there is nothing to beat it!

Here is something a (very) local poet wrote about them:

BAGNI DI CORSENA (LUCCA)

 

Virgin spring so chaste and pure

heal my ills in this sad world,

deliver me from obscure

thoughts as yet unfound, unfurled.

 

You rise from bowels of earth,

seeking daylight on this hill,

climbing from volcano’s girth:

let me drink and have my fill.

 

Long I’ve sought far and wide

the remedy that will cure

body and soul, the inside

and outside, ever impure.

 

I’ve come here to slake my thirst,

my desire to reach wholeness,

my wish to know what comes first

in my life’s implicitness.

 

The forest trees know my thought,

the roebuck and badger feel

my steps and the snares I’ve caught:

they do not betray or steal.

 

Skylarks ethereally sing

in the cloudless skies of May

and the ecstasy they bring

melt this clumsy, mortal clay.

 

Within the small, marbled cave

I breathe embalming vapour

which can touch and kiss and save

like the word of my Saviour.

 

I sit upon the same slab

the Emperor’s sister sat.

Perhaps he who wrote Queen Mab

came here for platonic chat.

 

His head crowned with daffodils,

his arms about his beloved,

his walks across streams and rills,

his pen on lines yet unsaid.

 

The flowers in blossomed fields

open petals to my heart;

their scent of paradise yields

only Him who can impart

 

the redemptive touch that knows,

that removes life’s bitter sting

for now earth’s blood once more flows

and makes my soul newly sing.

 

Heal me then you youthful springs:

drown me in your warm embrace,

take away all evil things

and restore my heart, my place.

Another New Year’s Eve…

How that first year in Longoio seemed so much longer when compared to this 2013 which has flown so quickly before us. And, no doubt, 2014 will speed by even faster? Time seems to fly at an almost exponential rate the older we get. Why? Is it because new experiences become matter-of-.fact, jaded? Is it because we gradually do fewer things with our lives? Is it perhaps some perceptive function in the ageing brain? Who knows? I’d like to know!

Many things have changed this year. Even more things have changed since I first settled here in 2005. Some of them have altered for the better: communications by road to Lucca are much improved with the new “variante” and, further up the Serchio valley, three new bridges have made connections between the east and west parts of the valley easier. Train communication, however, has become worse with the same weary rolling stock that I first encountered eight years ago.

Other things, too, have clearly not changed for the better: the halcyon days before “la crisis” hit in autumn 2008 seem vague dreams now when once fewer people had problems about “making it to the end of the month”. One did not have to count one’s centesimi so assiduously then. In the Bagni di Lucca area many hopes have been dashed and, already, several “newcomers” have packed up their bags and returned to their countries of origin. Others are waiting to get a decent selling price for their houses – something which, in my opinion may not happen for a very long time!  In my own experience I have lost ten friends to this trend.

In addition to the continuing economic difficulties the area is now hit by ecological ones: 2013 been a year of increased seismic activity, with a particularly scary earthquake tremor in January, and the abnormally heavy rainfall has created landslides and flooding throughout the region. Forecasts for 2014 (at least as far as the weather is concerned – they can’t predict earthquakes, not even in Japan…) are not very hopeful and are exacerbated by the increasing rate of global warming with concomitant climate change…

It’s important, however, not to let these considerable snags get to one. I’ve noticed an increased withdrawal by many inhabitants, more bickering, less patience. It’s not a good sign.

A great man from South Africa has gone from us this year but another great man from South America is now with us. In his words: “these are times of light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience and rebellion, times of being a pilgrim people, and times of being a people adrift… In our personal history, too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows…If our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us, and around us.”

Let us hope that the never-ending worries the Italian people are having to bear will not turn them from their naturally solar and friendly character to that darkness which finds no exit to light and love.

Meanwhile further photographs from that bright, hopeful first year here at Bagni di Lucca reveal how we welcomed in the new year 2006 in its gorgeous casinò…

May 2014 be full of light for you too!

A New Hub?

Yesterday morning I was invited to the Terme di Bagni di Lucca by “Grapevine” editor Norma Jean Bishop to view and participate in an exhibition which could promise a bright new regenerative future for the whole of the comune of Bagni di Lucca. The project called “The Hub”, and created by Carla Romani, concentrates on the development of certain environmental and cultural features of the area administered by the comune with a view to revaluing them and making them more accessible to all those living in or visiting the area. The end result would be a continuously renewing process applied to Bagni di Lucca and its hinterland which (like so many other parts of crisis-stricken Italy) sorely needs a way forwards which does not present impossible targets but which relies instead on existing time-tested resources.

The beauty of the project is that the means to carry it forwards is all there – there is no need to build new structures or find new metaphorical oil-fields: just the will to fully realise what is there today and what is truly possible in the foreseeable future.

Here is a summary of the key points of the project:

BAGNI DI LUCCA HUB

Mission: economic development using local environmental and cultural heritages

  1. Finding new paper products and restoring old techniques
  2. Animal husbandry (such as cashmere goats which also clear the underbrush), environmentally-compatible techniques
  3. Promoting growth and sales of local agricultural products (along with an International marketplace)
  4. Vico Pancellorum and other villages, preservers of ancient Latin dialects: a cultural centre for linguistics studies
  5. Restoring spa offerings and health and well-being programs
  6. Better programming of theatrical offerings, along with possibilities for musical studies
  7. Pellet production and forest husbandry
  8. Attention to historic gardens and areas of special scientific interest such as the Prato Fiorito, coordinated with Pescia and perhaps the UK
  9. Centralizing children’s programs, perhaps through Collodi’s Pinocchio associations.
  10. Bringing together various groups involved in church and art restoration
  11. Twinning with cities and international relations
  12. Improving traffic flow and creating more pedestrian areas
  13. Recuperating and restoring old buildings for public use
  14. Tourist information centres operating on a year-round, full-day schedule

It was good to meet up with Carla and with other persons interested in the project, and several points above were discussed. For example, with regard to no. 11 Norma Jean proposed Fontaines de Vaucluse, because of its artistic restoration of the paper factory along the river and because Petrarch lived there. She declared it “a lovely little model for Bagni di Lucca’s recovery.” I have already suggested a further twinning with a noted Welsh spa resort in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/well-well-well/

Of course, this project (like all projects!) needs three things in this order:

  1. Enthusiastic and committed involvement by dedicated and well-informed people.
  2. A guaranteed source of funds.
  3. A positive feed-back from local populations at the results obtained, resulting in increased participation.

Money is forthcoming but only if the will to use it appropriately and efficiently is forthcoming too. Bagni di Lucca is a complicated area in terms of its population. Permanent residents present only a fraction of the total population one sees in summer due to its largely holidaying flavour. Yet there are many permanent local occupations which could either be re-instituted or developed. The above list points the way forwards especially with regard to cashmere goats and pellet manufacture.

Other parts of Europe have successfully pulled their socks up on these matters so why shouldn’t Bagni di Lucca do the same?

You are cordially invited to the exhibition which will remain open until January 6th when the whole spa closes down for the winter period. As far as we are concerned we’ll be there every day until then – not just for the exhibition but also because we’ve booked ourselves in for sessions at the Grottina where the volcanically heated waters, producing a natural sauna atmosphere, will help us to remove some of those culinary impurities gathered during the Christmas binge and make us forget that outside another meteorological perturbation is pouring even more rain on (sunny…?) Italy.

The Shortest Day

TIS the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;

 Thus begins the great metaphysical poet John Donne’s “A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day“, which relates the poet’s despair at the death of loved ones. It was probably written in 1627 when both his friend Lucy, Countess of Bedford, and his own daughter Lucy Donne died.

If someone remarks that the shortest day of the year is, in fact, the winter solstice which falls on December 21st (or 2nd depending on your position on the globe) then it’s because the choice of the 13th of December, Saint Lucy’s day, is due to the changes wrought by the Gregorian calendar which later succeeded the Julian calendar with the “loss” of ten days. But surely Saint Lucy, the Saint of light, is the most appropriate figure to commemorate on this saddest day of the year when the sun seems almost to be eaten up by the winter night and where we hope, like our prehistoric ancestors, to live to see again a new spring “since this both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.”

Donne’s remarkably beautiful poem reminds one that winter remains very much a time of death in nature, of resigned reflections on life, of hope of new light coming into the world. Certainly, in my experience, more people, especially the older ones that I know, seem to shed off their mortal coil at this time of year at an alarming rate. And when one is living in a small mountain community those harbingers of one’s own inevitable meeting with the grim reaper, the death announcements pasted by the local undertaker, seem ever present.

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Such is the example of Rita Pazzaglia, sister-in-law of Georgia who used to run our local shop and make delicious bread in the wood-oven at Longoio (a tradition since continued by a bright new pair of ladies, one of whom is now engaged to the wood-cutter’s son).

Rita’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at San Gemignano’s parish church and the funeral cortège then wended its way to the cemetery at Mobbiano where there is the family’s mausoleum. After the entombment our parish priest cut this lonely figure as he walked home.

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Rita was a lady I knew quite well since not only had she been a primary school teacher at the old school at San Gemignano (now privately owned by a returnee emigrant to Australia), and not only had she been on the committee of the Bagni di Lucca branch of the Università della terz’età (University of the Third age where I have given lectures for the past six years) but she was also a poet who was very well considered by Bagni di Lucca’s greatest living poet (and former Mayor) Mario Lena..

I have beside me a copy of her collection “Emozioni” (Emotions) published in 2002 with Mario’s introduction. In it he praises Rita’s almost proustian recollections of memories, her evocative descriptions of nature and her quite original musicality. Re-reading the book I find it a touchingly melancholic testimony of past times by a lady who had seen nine decades. Now that she is gone I have only this book to remind me of the life of a local person whose horizons and sensitivities extended well beyond the common spheres. Here is one poem picked at random from the slim volume:

 

GIRL AT THE PIANO

The girl is charmingly

bowed over the piano,

with her fingers open,

just resting

on its keys as

if to caress them.

Then the musical conversation

bursts out, unrolls

expands:

compact notes, short and leaping

chase each other

to return again

a little ‘more gently and persuasively

almost as if to better tie itself

to that final melody,

so slow and enveloping

that it seems to linger

in every corner of the room

remaining there

even when the girl,

before moving on to something else,

absorbed, rests herself.

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Returning home, that late afternoon and evening were marked by the most beautiful colours I have seen this month of December. Gazing in this timeless landscape I, too, felt transported by unfathomable emotions.

Of Long Noses and Necks

Children’s books are meant to be universal. Or are they? It is sometimes said that Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” doesn’t travel well in Italy and that Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” similarly doesn’t do too well in the UK.

Certainly, the Walt Disney versions of the two immortal stories display greater divergences for Pinocchio than for Alice, making him a less objectionable character than the original, perhaps to satisfy an Anglo-Saxon market. It must also be remembered that in the original Pinocchio version the puppet came to a sticky end by being executed. No blue-haired fairy had entered the story then!

I suspect that the different ways these books are supposedly received in the two countries has more to do with adult attitudes than with the children readers.

Of the two books the moral dimension is rather more emphasised in “Pinocchio”. Three dictums above all, resound: “Children, obey your parents!” “Children – school is good for you!” “Children always tell the truth!” In fact, most of Pinocchio’s misadventures arise from his neglecting these precepts. Alice, on the other hand, can’t stand reading books without conversations or illustrations and most of the characters she meets in Wonderland seem to turn moral judgements on their heads. Alice is forever questioning their principles and actions: why should she have her head chopped off? Why do Tweedledum and Tweedledee have to fight? …and so on?

In short, Alice’s two adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass are a self-realisation, through (very logical – the author was primarily a mathematician) nonsense while Pinocchio’s adventures are a self-realisation through common-sense by an author who was very sensitive to the role young Italians would have to play in the new nation. Thus, Alice is a real-life girl who successfully vanquishes attempts to turn her into a “puppet” at others’ mercy while Pinocchio starts off as being a  marionette (puppet with strings on) at the pull-and-push of one and all but who (happily in the final book version) embraces his true identity as a real boy.

Pinocchio has become irremediably embedded in Italian converse. “Don’t be a puppet!” “Your nose has grown!” are two expressions derived from the book which one often meets in everyday conversation. The fact is that Italy had been a nation for less than twenty years when Collodi’s tale was published in 1881 as a serial in Il Giornale per i Bambini, the country’s first children’s newspaper. Emphasis on education was essential for a young Italy to mould itself into a modern state –to create Italians literally speaking the same language (and not their local dialect) for the first time. De Amici’s’ Cuore, published not long after Le Avventure di Pinocchio in 1886, is another classic example of this moralistic-adventurous-nationalist trend in children’s literature in that age.

If the Lake District is marketed as “Wordsworth” country then surely the area around Bagni di Lucca should be “Pinocchio” country. Carlo Collodi’s mother worked as a housekeeper at the palace of Collodi over the Trebbio pass from Bagni, and from which place the author took his pen name (his actual surname was Lorenzini).

The Pinocchio Park in Collodi, often slated for not being an up-to-date theme park, should rather be regarded as a memorial to the author and his most famous character. Bagni di Lucca features in a roundabout way in the book as “il paese dei balocchi” (Toyland or the garden of pleasures) since in Collodi’s time it was the demi-mondaine centre of fun and games, particularly gambling. This allusion was acknowledged in its festival with the same name, earlier this year at Bagni di Lucca and organized by its indefatigable resident journalist, Marco Nicoli .

If Alice and Pinocchio are supposedly to be distinguished by children’s different cultural emphases the real test would be to get children from Italy and the UK to read (or re-read!) these books and then have them discuss them. It would be a most interesting debate!

Incidentally, it was during our first Christmas season here in 2005 our local Teatro Accademico put on a lively Pinocchio musical from which I took these photographs:

Carolling in Bagni di Lucca

The Christmas carols known to most Italians do not make for a large list. Apart from the ubiquitous “Tu scendi dalle stelle” – words and music written in 1732 at Deliceto in Foggia province by Neapolitan priest Don Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, (now canonized and a “Beato”), founder of  the Redemptorist missionary order – there is not much that follows apart from “You’d better watch out” and other modern American imports. A place is, of course, found for “Silent Night”, known here as “Astro del Cielo”, but I have yet to come across an Italian equivalent of “100 best carols “(Rutter and Willcocks) or “the Oxford Book of carols” (Dearmer, Vaughan-Williams and Shaw) in Lucca’s music shops and there is not a tradition of Carol concerts or services as in the UK.

This is a pity as I am quite sure there are some very attractive carols to be found in all regions of Italy. In particular, I am attracted to the zampognari tradition when shepherd came down from their pastures to praise the baby Jesus with their bagpipe tunes. I have found no local shepherds practicing their bagpipes while watching over their flocks today although I have come across a local duo who will play upon request and special events.

The drone accompaniment of the carol, “Tu scendi” is characteristic of bagpipes and it would be great to hear it with this accompaniment. “Zampogna” is the bagpipe and “Zampognaro” is the bagpipe player. It is the arm rather than the mouth that is used to pump air into the wind-sack. The Italian equivalent of the Scottish variety where one’s lungs supply the air is, in fact, called the “cornamusa” and is equivalent to the French “musette” which Bach imitates in that delightful piece of the same title in his notebook for second wife Anna Magdalena:

There are several other pieces from those two sublime pinnacles of western music, Bach and Handel, imitating the Zampogna tradition: the pastoral symphonies from the” Christmas Oratorio” and “Messiah” are the best-known. But the imitation of the Zampogna occurs throughout western music (even Beethoven’s Symphony no 6’s scherzo has one, for example).

Here are pictures of both types of Italian bagpipes:

Although there were no bagpipes in Circolo square, Bagni di Lucca yesterday there was an enthusiastic local choir from Corsena church performing under the baton of Ennio, the ex-trout man, (see Anna Blundy on him at http://journalisted.com/article/7ily – I once gave Ennio a CD of that Schubert quintet…) and the well-mittened hand of the choir’s Hastings-hailing accompanist.

Here are some snippets from what they sang:

The singing was welcomed in the scenario of Christmas stalls including that of magical local artist Kety Bastiani and, of course, the Alpini with their feathers which, incidentally, are not always black but which are coloured according to rank: crow black for privates, brown eagle for NCO’s and white duck for higher ranks.

PS The sunset yesterday was particularly poignant for me, especially as I came home to the entrails of Bianchina, my free-range rabbit doe, eaten by a hungry fox while I was away and leaving three just-born mewling kits (name for baby rabbits) which our local friend from Mobbiano has taken away to see if they will feed from his doe who also has given birth.

End of free-ranging rabbits then?

Christmas Window-Shopping

I realised yesterday why so many Italian villages are hill villages – it’s warmer up here because the sunbeams last longer. Temperatures at Longoio, which is 1878 feet above sea level, rose above twenty degrees and I was actually sunbathing!

A sharp shock awaited me when I descended into Bagni (at a height of 492 feet above sea level) at 3 PM to see something of the Christmas festivities. It was rather cold since the sun had already set behind the hills. Despite this, there were still quite a few people around although the pro-loco chairperson complained of a “lack of movement”. The Alpini (see also Debra Kolkka’s post at http://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/amazing-alpini/) had their refreshment stall with focaccie, necci and vin brulé and so did the Red Cross.

On the Circolo dei Forestieri staircase was a photographic exhibition on the famous local industry, now a shadow of what it once was, the figurinai or plaster-of-Paris statuette makers. Puccini, basking in the glory of the triumph of his La Boheme in Paris was visibly moved when he met a boy figurinaio outside Notre-Dame.

Inside the circolo the crib exhibition was rather more limited than those in previous years (which had included examples from as far afield as Caltagirone in Sicily). There was an interesting use by a local restorer of discarded furniture which had been repaired and “framed” to reflect its stylistic period.

This imposing piece of furniture was once used to store  Bagni di Lucca’s demographic data.

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The town’s high street shops are making an effort to attract people to at least look at their windows. As a shop keeper once remarked to me “we are the unsung heroes of Bagni di Lucca”.

Yesterday, however, I got the feeling that Christmas is becoming an increasingly hard time for families to enjoy. The economic crisis has now lasted over five years and shows few signs of ending.

Although a recent article in a British newspaper states that Italy has four advantages to its acclaim when dealing with the crisis – one, the lowest credit card debt in Europe; two, a surprising family wealth of property; three, a traditional saver culture; four, a strong feeling for the family which acts as a restaurant, hotel and interest-free loan issuer for its members – all these are being gradually eroded as savings are being eaten into, as family property is being increasingly taxed and increasingly difficult to sell, as credit cards are being used more and more to reach “the end of the month”, and as the greater mobility required to find jobs, especially abroad, is weakening traditional family ties.

Anyway I’ll be down to Bagni di Lucca, for today it is yet another religious Festa – that of the Immacolata when the nearest thing to UK carol-singing takes place in its streets.

 

It’s that Time of Year again

Christmas festivities have definitely arrived at Bagni di Lucca. In front of the Circolo dei Forestieri the traditional “crib-in-the-fountain” is being set up.

Quite apart from the cheerful street lights and the shop-window dressings, there are also a variety of events planned, especially for the week-ends. Here is the commune’s programme.

Today, Saturday, the Christmas markets will start up and the first of the living cribs will be presented in the square in front of the circolo dei forestieri restaurant.

Tomorrow is nearby Fornoli’s “Festa dell’Immaculata” (“Feast of the Immaculate Conception”. This is the doctrine promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin – not that Christ was born immaculately from her as some people mistakenly think.)

The theatre season also begins at the Teatro Accademico with “Il Bel Antonio”. Like several Italian plays this derives from a film Il bell ‘Antonio directed by Bolognini which in its turn was based on a novel by Brancati and adapted for the screen by Pasolini. The original film starred Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale and Tomas Milian and won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival. The plot revolves around handsome Antonio (played by Mastroianni) who is considered the perfect lover. But all is not what it seems…

The Bagni di Lucca theatre season has always been present from winter to around spring since I first came to live here and I am glad that, even in these difficult times, it continues to be so…

Incidentally, the weather remains fine as these photos from a walk the other day confirm:

Boccaccio’s Man

An area of Bagni di Lucca which is all too often missed by the sightseer is Bagni alla Villa, just above the comune’s  swimming pool. Yet Bagni alla Villa is the comune’s original nucleus and here are the gracious villas in which illustrious visitors stayed: Montaigne, Shelley and Byron among them. Today, another illustrious person still lives in one of these villas together with his beloved cat Alessio. I try to visit Dr Franklin Samuel Stych on a regular basis. Sam, as he likes to be called by his friends, is now clearly not as active as he once was but his mind remains amazingly alert and he is one of the best people I know to have a really good conversation with.

On the 15th July, 2010, on the occasion of his ninety-fourth birthday, we celebrated Sam at a lunch at Bagni di Lucca’s Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant.

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Dr Franklin Samuel Stych was born in a part of Birmingham (then in Worcestershire, now East Midlands) in 1916 when the First World War was raging. Sadly, he never knew his father who was killed in action in the bloodbath of the battle of the Somme when 60,000 soldiers died on the first day. Sam’s mother never remarried. His first job was keeping accounts for a shopkeeper. News of Sam’s meticulous approach soon spread, holding him in good stead when he started working for the local Birmingham library service.

Sam saw service in the Second World War in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (responsible for both supply and repair of weapons, armoured vehicles and other military equipment, ammunition and army clothing) and was stationed in North Africa and Italy (Naples) where his love for this country grew immensely. Indeed, he almost married a seventeen-year-old Neapolitan girl with, strangely for those parts, blonde hair. (Could she have dyed it? Sam quizzes.)

When Sam returned to the UK in 1946 he also returned to his great interest in libraries and bibliography, becoming a senior staff member in the municipal libraries. In 1951 he obtained his MA and moved to the Sheffield library services. One of his mentors was the great Italian scholar Professor Whitfield of Birmingham University. Sam retired forty-two years ago and, when given the chance to acquire a residence in Italy through his connection with Ian Greenlees, the director of the British institute in Florence, made the move to Bagni di Lucca in 1977 with gladness. Sam often remarks to me that had he known he would have lived to be the age he is now he would not have retired so early!

There are several significant works by Sam, which have greatly contributed to a deeper understanding between Britain and Italy. Some of these books are:

  1. How to Find Out About Italy. This is an excellent introduction to the bibliography relating to this country and, although published almost forty years ago, is in the opinion of many still highly relevant and useful
  2. Boccaccio in English: a bibliography of editions, adaptations, and criticism. Sam devoted twenty years of his retirement here in Bagni di Lucca to the creation of a comprehensive annotated bibliography of 2,242 items by Boccaccio, adapted from Boccaccio, or about Boccaccio. His material was edited and prepared for publication by his former student, Michael Buckland, at the School of Information Management and Systems. This seminal work remains the most formidable tool for any research on Boccaccio. It has also inspired another of Sam’s friends, the Scottish artist and resident of Bagni di Lucca Jenny McIntosh, to present one of her most memorable exhibitions, “Boccaccio’s Women”, in Lucca in November 2011. (See http://www.planningatour.com/2011/11/boccaccio%E2%80%99s-women/)
  3. A Study of the Works of Nicolao Granucci (1521-1603), with Particular Reference to the Sources and Analogues of His Novelle, to His Language and Style, and to His Life and Circumstances. Nicolao Granucci is an immensely intriguing figure in sixteenth century Lucca. Soldier of fortune, prisoner, cobbler and novella writer he was also a visitor to Bagni di Lucca. At the moment there is a renewed interest in Sam’s work in him and even a project to make it known to a wider public.
  4. Pinocchio in Gran Bretagna e Irlanda. Sam has also written an interesting study of the world’s favourite puppet. Collodi, of course, is not far from Bagni di Lucca

A fuller list of Sam’s works can be found at https://www.google.it/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Franklin+Samuel+Stych%22

Sam has received several honours in recognition of his work. Among these he is commendatore of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Through his time here Sam has become the last remaining Englishman to link the present generation of residents and newcomers in the area with the classic coterie of cultivated English gentlemen who included such names as Ian Greenlees, Robin Chanter and, last but not least, Harold Acton. He is important not just for his great bibliographic works, not just for Bagni di Lucca, not just for Italo-English relationships but also for his quality of character.

Completely self-sufficient and independent until a couple of years ago Sam still liked to visit the country where he was born and, indeed, only completed a successful journey there just a month before his celebration dinner.

Sam is an example to us all of kindness, scholarliness, decency, hospitality, courtesy and warmth, qualities which are enduring and which, all too often, are unfortunately lacking in the age we live now. Here is Sam and Alessio the other day:

I love visiting people who have known other times and other ages – they have so much to teach us!

PS. Regarding Sam’s surname, Stych: this rare and interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a surname for a man who owned or cultivated a “stitch” of land. The name derives from the Old English pre 7th Century term “stycce”, meaning “a piece” of land, still found in Cambridgeshire and Essex field-names, and meaning “a ploughing land”.

Well, well, well!

Fifty years ago, on October 9 1963, Longarone, a town and comune on the banks of the Piave in the province of Belluno, in North-East Italy, was completely destroyed in a terrible event known as the Vajont dam disaster A colossal landslide plunged into the lake, formed by the dam situated above Longarone, and forced fifty million cubic metres of water over its top. Living in the path of mud and water sweeping into the valley virtually all of Longarone’s two thousand inhabitants were drowned. (Incidentally, the owner of the dam’s construction company had been Mussolini’s finance minister – another example of how ties with fascism were never really broken in Italy’s post –war republic.)

I mention Longarone, not only because of the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy, but because it is twinned with our comune of Bagni di Lucca and has been ever since the then mayor of Bagni di Lucca (and now its poet laureate) Mario Lena, offered help and accommodation to victims of the disaster. Friendship ties increased and, within a few months, the two communities were officially twinned. Over the years this twinning has grown from strength to strength.

50esimo_vajont

Indeed, as one enters Bagni di Lucca the twinning connection can clearly be read on the road signs.

Bagn di Lucca

Although the twinning was started up as a result of a very generous contribution by Bagni di Lucca in helping out a greatly-stricken community there is not really very much similarity between the two towns. Longarone is not a spa town while Bagni di Lucca is. Longarone is an agricultural community while Bagni di Lucca largely depends on its summer visitors. Longarone does not have an entertainments and gameing past like Bagni di Lucca. Today the difference is even more marked with the completely rebuilt town of Longarone and its Michelucci church contrasted with Bagni di Lucca’s bygone architecture.

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Of course, twinning need not only be with one town and certainly not with a town with similarities. Barga has four twinnings: Glasgow, East Lothian, Hayange and Gällivare (Sweden). There may not much resemblance between Glasgow and Barga but the twinning was inspired by the number of Barga emigrants to the Scottish city during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I would suggest that Bagni di Lucca could expand its twinning to include another town more comparable to it in development and atmosphere. My choice goes to Llandrindod Wells in the Welsh county of Powys which we know rather well having partly lived in Wales for a time. The administrative centre of Powys, Llandrindod Wells was developed as a spa town in the nineteenth century, when the healing qualities of the local spring waters attracted many famous visitors (Elgar – c.f. Puccini in Bagni di Lucca – Tennyson c.f. Pascoli)  to the area resulting in an economic affluence with the building of many hotels and guest houses – rather like Bagni di Lucca in fact.

Again, like Bagni di Lucca, Llandrindod Wells suffered a decline in the twentieth century, only to be revalued in the twenty-first.

Llandrindod Wells’ “season” was between May and mid-September when visitors would take the waters at the pump rooms at the Rock Park and Pump House Hotel and be entertained by an orchestra. Again, rather like Bagni di Lucca’s historical season at its terme and, especially, its casinò.

Llandrindod Wells has an amateur dramatics festival in May at its theatre, the Albert Hall, which attracts groups from all over the British Isles and achieves high performance standards. Again, compare with Bagni di Lucca’s school groups drama festival at around the same time in the Teatro Accademico.

Llandrindod Wells hosts annual scrambler bike trials in June and a walking festival. Bagni di Lucca has its car rallies and Giri Del Prato Fiorito e delle Terme!

One event which Bagni di Lucca could emulate is Llandrindod Wells’ Victorian Festival, known locally as “Victorian Week”, at the end of August which brings many visitors to the town.Locals and visitors wear Victorian and Edwardian dress and many of the town’s shops window-dress in the spirit of the event. The festival also offers street theatre and music, a fairground, a craft fair, an historical re-enactment, entertainments and exhibitions of “things old-time”. Some of these kinds of events are, of course, well-known here and Bagni di Lucca certainly does have its festivals but why not foster one which pays homage to its hey-day as the resort for the crowned heads of Europe and where people wear nineteenth –century dress?

Last but not least, both Bagni di Lucca and Llandrindod Wells are surrounded by the most gorgeous hill and mountain country with gushing streams, thick woods, rocks, great path itineraries and plenty of wild flora and fauna. That certainly must attract both communities to each other.

Anyway, this is just a suggestion. I feel that, with the resurgence of spa towns throughout Europe after a period of decline and lethargy, Bagni di Lucca could twin itself with at least one other of the same ilk (e.g Llandrindod Wells) to its very own benefit.