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.

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:

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.

 

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.

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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.

Christmas Crib

We are now in Advent so I suppose it’s all right to talk about Christmas according to that primary school headmistress in Gravesend, England who forbade her pupils to talk about this winter festivity before December, threatening those children who defied her ban with cuts to their playtime privileges!

Fifty years ago a traditional English Christmas would generally have had no crib and a traditional Italian Christmas would have had no tree. Now it’s all rather different. The Celtic symbol of life through death, the evergreen, which becomes transmuted into the Cross (the Christmas holly wreath, with its red berries representing drops of Christ’s blood, is part of the same thing), is found everywhere in Italian homes celebrating Christmas. That very Catholic representation, the crib, has now certainly found its way in English churches, and, perhaps in many more homes too.

The custom of making a representation of the Nativity is mainly an Italian one and traditionally dates back to St. Francis of Assisi when in 1223, at Greccio (a little town near Rieti, Lazio) he created the first living depiction of the Nativity. Thomas of Celano, chronicler of St Francis’ life briefly describes the scene: “There’s the manger. Bring some hay, lead in the ox and the ass. We honour thereby simplicity: poverty is exalted, humility is praised and Greccio becomes almost a new Bethlehem”.

Of course, there are some significant differences between this description and that of the modern “presepe” (crib). The crib is living i.e. people represent the characters – not statues – and the main protagonists, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, are absent. There are also some differences with the Gospel accounts; as former Pope Ratzinger mentioned, no animals are actually mentioned there! Furthermore, the place of the Saviour’s birth is ambiguously set either in part of a building or a cave.

The animals, the humans, the divine, the cave, the house, are brought together with agricultural and urban occupations and architectural and pastoral scenarios to form the classic Italian presepe which has a million varieties and some very well-defined regional differences: a presepe in the Neapolitan tradition is rather different from one in the Bolognese one. Some are set in the Holy Land itself, some in an Abruzzi mountain community, some in a renaissance city, some in a Calabrian fishing village. For me the most poignant representation was set in Ground Zero when I visited Bagni di Lucca for the first time in December 2001.

This extraordinary crib was installed in what now the Banca di Roma building in the market square. It must be remembered that just over three months had passed since the greatest peacetime atrocity against civilians had been perpetrated by muslim extremists.

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Again, for Christmas 2011, that crib was recreated in the church of the Crucifix in Lucca – a very beautiful church once on the list of buildings at risk, but now thankfully being restored. It was called “Ground Zero ten years ago-ten years after” and was again created by the scene designer Alessandro Sesti who dedicated it to the tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York City, an event which truly changed the world.

Something has changed for us this year too. Since 2007 we have been participants in the living crib of Equi Terme where we have played the parts of wise man, Roman governor, Governor’s wife or Cialde (traditional wafer) makers. This year it will not happen since the June earthquake has made most of the little town still off limits and clearly dangerous to the public who flocked to it and gave the community a much-needed added source of funds. It is truly so sad and a tragedy to this benighted and largely forgotten earthquake-victim (see post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/midsummer-nights-nighmare/)  but we hope to take part in it again next year. These pictures were taken from the first time we enacted there in December 2007.

In the meantime keep your eyes peeled for local living cribs which will take place at such places as Barga and Monti di Villa. Among these are the following in our area:

Sunday 15th December at:

  • Anchiano (Borgo a Mozzano, Lu)
  • Monti di Villa (San Cassiano, Bagni di Lucca)
  • Treppignana – Fosciandora (Lucca)

Saturday 21 December, Ghivizzano (Coreglia Antelminelli)

Sunday 22 December, Gorfigliano (Minucciano)

Monday 23 December, Barga (Lucca)

And, of course, there are magnificent crib exhibitions in many Italian cities and churches. One of the best is that displayed inside Verona’s wondrous Arena. I visited this in December 2006 and these pictures are taken from then.

But one doesn’t have to go that far since on Saturday 7th December Bagni di Lucca’s own traditional crib exhibition will open outside and inside the Circolo dei Forestieri. Since Bagni di Lucca has been a traditional place of “figurinai” ( plaster-of-paris statue makers.) I’m glad that this year too an exhibition will take place here.

Add to these the street Christmas markets and Barga’s own chocolate festival! Who wants to say “humbug” now…

Pumpkins and Puppets

Week-ends here are so packed with events that one is truly spoilt for choice. Chestnut festivals are definitely October’s flavour of the month and abound all the way from Piazza al Serchio to Lucca (and beyond). Even Bagni di Lucca had its own Festa yesterday in the gardens of Villa Fiori, a grand mansion now the property of the comune and in sore need of generous hands to restore it to its former glory.

Despite the recurring drizzle the Festa, which is covered in more detail in Debra Kolkka’s blog at http://bellabagnidilucca.com/author/bagnidilucca/, was quite well-attended and there was a good spread of activities, stalls and traditional chestnut-based goodies to eat.

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I was particularly taken by a stall raising funds for a local child suffering from that terrible rare syndrome: Batten’s disease.

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The models of traditional houses were also brilliantly done.

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From the Villa Fiori we headed for the Pumpkin festival at Piegaio in the Valdottavo. We’d never been to this Festa before and found it extensive, well-organized and full of interesting things. For a start I’d never seen pumpkins grow into such weird shapes! Here are some pictures of the event which happily wasn’t rained off, although probably it would have got more visitors if the weather had been more clement.

Pumpkins have a long history of use in Italy and not just as an American import for Halloween. They make good soup and can be used for bread-making. Their skin will make containers of every shape and size and they form excellent sound-boards for musical instruments.

Children and artists also contributed to the delightful Piegaio Pumpkin festa.

We’d had an invitation to attend a puppet show in Pisa by Piero Nissim, the song-writer and performer who had contributed so well to our evening at Gombereto’s little church and described in my post at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/an-international-language/. So that was our next stop…

It was a little sad to see many of the beautiful plane and lime trees lining the avenue leading into Pisa from Lucca hacked down because of tree-disease. I do hope that a replanting programme will start soon.

Part of the evidence that one is a reasonably long-term resident in this part of the world is that we go to Pisa no longer to visit the leaning tower but to attend a local marionette show!

The performance took place in a children’s playground open space recently retrieved from an old factory. Nissim’s approach to puppeteering is original and he calls his concept “marsupial theatre”. It is truly a portable spectacle and Piero even carries the stage by wearing it on himself like an apron (or “marsupio” – meaning either the name for a bum-bag in Italian or a Kangaroo-type animal).

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The show itself was calculated to amuse the young audience (and us too) and included a variety of songs and fairy stories including a Red Riding Hood which had the children ear-splittingly screaming against the fearful wolf.

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Piero will also run a children’s workshop in puppeteering at the same park.

In Pisa it hadn’t rained at all but by the time we returned to Bagni di Lucca the roads had turned wet again although temperatures remain surprisingly mild for this time of the year, hovering around twenty degrees centigrade.

Another nice Sunday had passed and I hope that even when I fully retire I won’t forget the lovely feel of those week-ends coming along…

Oh Dear! Where’s my Garden Gone?

A notice appeared the other day on our village board asking local inhabitants, who had in some way suffered damage from last Sunday night’s “water bombs”, to fill in forms which might entitle them to financial help for the damage to their properties.

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Apart from a temporary river running on one side of our house we did not suffer substantial damage. However, it was a very different story with an acquaintance of ours who lives in an old mill in the nearby and very beautiful Val Fegana. That fateful night the river actually changed its course, decided to short-cut though a bend and ploughed straight through his lovely garden, which is now somewhere at the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea, leaving a devastation of erratic boulders instead.

Fortunately there was no loss of life although his poor donkey’s grazing area was reduced to a fraction

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The dogs lost their kennel and are now forced to live in a habitation fit only for humans. The cat, however, is unperturbed by the incident as only cats can be.

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Luckily too, the car was not parked in its usual spot, which was violently swept away: it had, by chance been placed further up the road.

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The new (this year’s) wooden bridge linking our acquaintance’s property to the outside world was largely preserved. It’s now the third bridge on the same spot since we first knew its unfortunate owner!

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The point is: is this disaster a recent phenomenon or has it always affected our acquaintance’s property? I did some research on this and found that major catastrophes happened around this stretch of the river in 1992, 2007, 2009 and 2011. So the frequency seems to be increasing worryingly.

Who is to blame for the calamity? The river (or rather torrent) Fegana demarcates the boundary between two comuni that of Bagni di Lucca and that of Coreglia Antelminelli and that, in itself does not bode well for any agreement about flood control.

The fact is that if thirty thousand euros had been spent by the authorities, as promised, in new embankments our acquaintance would not have had the misfortune of seeing years of garden toil (and pleasure) swept away and of now cussing the authorities for their ineptitude and utter disregard for someone who has given hospitality and pleasure to visitors to the area, contributing substantially to the provincial economy.

Fortunately, Mr H. has had widespread experience dealing with truculent business problems in his past work consultancy and is bearing up well to the calamity but we felt that on this occasion he was very near to the situation involving the proverbial last straw…or last log…..

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Heavy Metal Menagerie

I’ve used my local ironsmith to get some external metal stairs done and also an arch over my gate to support the wisteria. I don’t know whether I’d go as far as ordering some metal animals for our garden but they look cute enough outside the ironsmith’s works near Chifenti.

In the nineteenth century Borgo a Mozzano and Bagni di Lucca had a tussle over who should administer the two outlying areas of Fornoli and Chifenti. Eventually the whole matter was decided by a referendum nicely described in Natalia Sereni’s book “Con franchezza e lealtà… La storia del passaggio di alcune frazioni da Borgo a Mozzano a Bagni di Lucca” which is mentioned in my post at:https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/bewitching-flowering-meadow/

Fornoli became part of Bagni di Lucca comune and Chifenti remained resolutely under Borgo a Mozzano’s administration. Yet they are practically facing each other on opposite banks of the Lima River!

Another lovely church in Borgo a Mozzano, (just called “Borgo” by those living in this area) is San Rocco.

The church of San Rocco is located on the site of the oratory of San Sebastiano. In 1527 a chapel was dedicated to St. Rocco, the patron saint of plague victims and the sick in general.  Between 1606 and 1627 the chapel was extended and its choir enriched. In 1760 work on the present church was started and completed in 1791 in a sober and elegant classical style. Above the main entrance to the church, there is a circular marble bas-relief depicting St. Rocco. The square in front of the church has a lovely porticoed terrace to the right.

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The interior of San Rocco, shaped like a Latin cross, is in a joyful rococo style and contains six side altars of which the first four, before the crossing, are of stucco and were created by Giovanni Battista Lazzari, Sebastiano Lippi and Giovanni Michelucci Maria.

In this church there are also several works by Luigi Ademollo, an artist who worked extensively in Lucca during the first half of the nineteenth century. From this painter’s brush are three large murals on the sides of the main altar, the “Centurion “, “the Redeemer and the Baptist” and ” Distribution of Bread.” Recently, these works have been happily restored.

There are also some fine stained glass windows of more recent date:

and an Agati-Nicomede organ which dates back  to 1851 but whose keyboard I feel must be older.

San Rocco tends to be overlooked by San Jacopo but it is well worth a visit as, indeed, are most of the churches in this part of the world.