Food for Thought

Every year there’s a special day (this year it was November 29th) which takes place throughout Italy called “Giornata Nazionale Della Colletta Alimentare”. (National Food Collection Day). This is the eighteenth year it’s running. The object of the exercise is to help needy families by contributions of food.  On this day members of the local voluntary “Misericordia” associations (helping the sick, giving first aid and running the ambulance service) stand outside supermarkets manning cardboard boxes with names such as pasta, riso, piselli, etc. written above them. The public using the supermarket are invited to contribute something which is not perishable (and not alcoholic it seems either!)

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I asked one of the volunteers which items would go best. He replied pasta, rice, sugar and tins.

It’s unfortunate that perishable fresh fruit and veg cannot be included as this would have made for a healthier diet but at least there are many people in Italy who will not go so hungry this year.

The collection is done on a very efficient system. There was a retired Alpino soldier at the entrance to Penny Market with helpers for the food collection just outside the supermarket.

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Outside there was a weighing machine to weigh the filled-up boxes:

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And there was the usual paperwork to be filled in:

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I thought it was a splendid effort. Perhaps these schemes exist in other countries.

If figures are required as to how many people are poor in Italy, (the usual expression is “quelli che non arrivano alla fine del mese” – those not able to get by to the end of the month) then the estimate is just over eight million, 13.6% of the total population. In terms of family units that’s almost three million families, which is over eleven per cent of Italian households. That more than one family in ten in Italy is below the poverty line is both scandalous and tragic – and the situation is getting worse daily.

If you are not sure of what the definition of poverty is in Italy then, simply put, it’s when a family unit of two people has a total income inferior to 999 euros per annum. That’s 795 pounds sterling. When it’s added that Italy is unsophisticated, when compared to the UK, in social welfare benefits (there’s very little…), that its economy is now the most stagnant in the EU, when the unemployment figures declared yesterday were the highest in recorded history (at 13.2%!), that things aren’t getting any cheaper, that the monthly second-hand stalls market in Bagni di Lucca, after a shy start is now crowded (see my post at ….. I could add even more figures but they are too disheartening.

I hope that if you were in Italy yesterday and shopped in one of the over ten thousand supermarkets under this scheme you were able to contribute and help someone with their next meal. The National Food Collection Day’s web site is at


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A Dollop of Chestnuts outside Dolif

I don’t know if roast chestnut sellers are still commonly seen in London’s streets as winter deepens. Here chestnut feasts, or castagnate, are a communal event from October to December and truly add a seasonal touch. They may involve a whole village, as at one of the best ones at Lupinaia, or just be a stall set up by a local voluntary association, like the Red Cross or Animal rescue.

During a recent visit to that neo-Woolworth’s store at Gallicano, now called “Dolif” but once known as “Stefan” and described in my post at, I noted a merry gathering seated on benches by the store’s car park.

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Necci or castanaccio (chestnut flour pancakes):

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frittelle – served either with ricotta cheese or nutella – (chestnut flour pancake fritters):

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and mondine (roasted chestnuts), were all available, washed down with vin brulé if one wanted. Money went to the local sports association.

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 I like these seemingly spontaneous events in Italy. They all make hum-drum activities like buying a light-bulb or a pair of socks less boring. What spontaneous event will I come across today I wonder? At least it’s not spontaneously raining as I step outside my autumnally-coloured dwelling!



Let Us Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Day was celebrated with a gorgeous lunch at the spectacularly good Cantina di Carignano which I have already described in a previous post at

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I was invited by the editor of that quintessentially good magazine for our Lucca area “Grapevine”. I doubt that few other “ex-pat” mags could ever match, let alone surpass, the high quality of this publication. Indeed, all back numbers should be treasured as they form the closest we’re ever likely to get to a compendium or encyclopaedia of life, credences, places, traditions events, trends, indeed of everything useful we’re ever likely to find in our promised land of Lucca province.

I realised that Thanksgiving Day is the one day in the American calendar that unites everyone regardless of creed or country of origin. It is also, thankfully, just one day’s celebration of joy and hope (unlike Christmas, which now apparently starts shortly after August Bank Holiday!). We can’t wish happy Christmas to everyone we meet these days when different belief systems run riot. Birthdays are spectacularly easy to forget. We could transform Easter into a pagan feast of spring’s reawakening as we could with Christmas’s rebirth of the sun but, again, there are still many people about who would object to being called pagans.

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Thanksgiving should be an important feast anywhere in the world (and is), at least where English is spoken. OK the UK has imported Halloween and now black Friday makes a mark but it’s Thanksgiving which should really be given importance anywhere where English speakers meet.

True, Churchill once described the English and Americans as two nations divided by the same language (he was half-American himself, however, don’t forget) but I would qualify this oft –quoted statement by adding that the British and the Americans are two nations united by a common crusade for freedom and democracy – two nations which if they had not joined up in two world wars during the last century would have left a very different world today.

I have only been in the States once in my lifetime and that as a near-teenager but have been ever affected by my experience. The magnitude and the frequent majesty of the country, the hospitality I found there, the confidence and the faith in the future: the American dream that I know the world will increasingly espouse, even in the desperation which afflicts so many areas of our planet at this moment.

Here are a few snaps from my one and only visit to the States. I will not give the date away!

America is truly the world and Italy is part of that world, as one of the speakers so eloquently put it. I wish I could have talked to more people from the States on this occasion which was so convivial, so easeful, so moving.

It was lovely to meet so many Americans and so many Americans of Italian descent.

Here are some snippets from our menu:

And here are some snapshots from the great company I was part of:

For the first time in my life I think I have truly understood why Thanksgiving Day – that day which celebrates the Mayflower pilgrims from Plymouth survival through their first harsh winter in a completely unknown land – a planet even – means so much to Americans. It began to mean a lot to me too and I regretted that in the UK we no longer have a day which brings people together in one faith; in one God (whichever name may be given to the Deity).

For we, too have do much to be thankful for – the international touch the Romans gave us during their three hundred year stay here, the great Northumberland monasteries for preserving learning and knowledge while the rest of the world was crumbling into barbarian ignorance, and, dare I mention it, the continuity which our constitutional monarchy has given us and the mother of all parliaments which still manages to protect us from the horrific excesses which so many parts of the world are today subject to.

Thanksgiving Day is about survival and the hope for a brighter future. Let us believe in it for to do otherwise would be to give way to dark forces. At the very least let us honour our harvest festivals.

We must believe and be true to each other as human for, as Mathew Arnold so eloquently and persuasively put it:


Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


If we are not true to our own humanity then those ignorant armies will always clash whether they be in the plains of Iraq, the mountains of Syria or even in our own cities….

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Education, Education, Location?

Four things are necessary for the survival of any village as a living entity and not as a collection of part-time holiday cottages. These are (in no particular order)

  • A school
  • A bar
  • A shop
  • A church

Taking “Dad’s Army” as a model (how awful they should even think about having a remake of this immortal series), Private Frazer would put the bar at the top of his list, lance corporal Jones would have the shop as number one, Captain Mainwaring surely the school so he could display his skills on the blackboard, and the reverent Farthing obviously the church.


When I first arrived in Longoio in June 2005 all four features were within walking (or staggering distance). True, the Longoio Bar in Piazza dell’Amicizia had closed down around 2002 but there was still Metella’s bar in nearby San Gemignano. Georgia’s shop closed down in 2007 but Giovanna’s shop at the entrance of San Gemignano still flourishes.

Regrettably, Metella’s bar closed a couple of years ago. It’s absurd to think that a small village bar has to pay the same license fee that a city bar pays. Metella served a good array of drinks and, when requested, could provide a hearty country meal in the upstairs room with some of the best tordelli in the Controneria. Now the nearest bar is at San Cassiano, where there is also Santina’s excellent restaurant. (Although I am informed that the best Tordelli – or Tortelli if you prefer the non-local spelling – are to be found in Corsagna at Branduzzi’s. In the view of one colleague “sono da urlo”, which roughly translates as “they’re to die for.)

San Gemignano’s beautiful church (its own priest left in 2006 but the church was still serviced, largely by a deacon – see my post at has had its bells silent since last summer. This, no doubt, will please several of its neighbours who found the before and after Mass pealing a bit much. It is, however, sad that this church is now “redundant to pastoral” needs. Local church services take place in the magnificent Pieve di Controni (see my post at and also at other local churches such s San Cassiano and Palleggio in a rota system.

It’s a pity, too, since San Gemignano has one of the few decent organs in the area: an Agati-Tronci restored in 2005 and a lovely pulpit, again only quite recently restored. It also has four wonderful baroque side-altars now sorely in need of restoration. There is rumour of a political or personal (both terms appear interchangeable in many Italian situations) disagreement in the decision to keep San Gemignano closed.

Now we come to the school which, in my opinion, today sustains the life of a village, indeed a rural area most importantly. The local (elementary) school at San Cassiano has been continuing its valuable task with around twenty pupils. The school at Montefegatesi keeps alive with just three. There are a few more children attending the school at Scesta. Limano and Cocciglia also have their little schools.

The “Master-plan” has been in the air for some time to close all the local schools outside the town of Bagni di Lucca and bus the children into a new “Istituto Comprensivo” to be built at Bagni di Lucca behind the Post Office.

This issue has now drawn very close to firing lines between the mayoral and the opposition camps. I realise that my dad used to say “if you want to keep your nose clean in public don’t talk about religion, politics or sex.” But, this time, it is a situation which will affect anyone who lives in the comune and pays taxes to it. This is because the present Bagni di Lucca School is not seismic-proof and may have to be demolished according to safety regulations because it cannot sustain the extra influx of pupils in a safe environment.

Indeed, the present staff and students are living in a precarious situation with several cracks appearing in this typically nineteen-sixties Italian boom-year concrete educational establishment (where I have had the pleasure of teaching various adult evening classes – with switched-off heating in winter!).

Let me remind you, most of Italy (with the notable exception of Sardinia) is a seismic area and its different parts are divided into four classifications as follows:

Zone 1 area with high seismic hazard. Indicates the most dangerous area, where strong earthquakes occur

Zone 2 with average seismic hazard, where quite strong earthquakes occur. Z

Zone 3 with low seismic hazard, which are subject to moderate quakes.

Zone 4 with very low seismic hazard. Low probability of quakes.

We used to live in a zone 3 graded area until a few years ago but since the spate of earthquakes we’ve had in the past four years, we’ve been promoted (if that is the word to use…) to zone 2.

This is how the various classifications look on a map of Italy. Red, of course, means the highest danger.(We’re in the pink).


Many people in the Comune of Bagni di Lucca are against the school plan for three reasons:

  1. Bussing children into a central site would mean some of them would have to catch the bus at 6 in the morning since the bus would then have to pick up children from many other locations which, as anyone who has been in this area knows, are in remote villages with torturous mountain roads to reach them
  2. The removal of a local school would signify another stab in the back of the local communities which also use these schools as social centres.
  3. The new school to be built at Bagni di Lucca would not only be in an inappropriate, site with impossible traffic access, but would also cost a bomb since it is on a hilly location requiring much more engineering works to make it anti-seismic. The cost per pupil here, for example, would be almost three times the cost per pupil when the new anti-seismic Istituto Comprensivo at Gallicano (where I too have had the privilege to teach) was inaugurated in 2009. (See pic below)


If the new anti-seismic school in Bagni di Lucca ever has its go-ahead every resident/non-resident would feel the pinch on their pockets with added taxes (although some money is said to be coming from the EU – of course.  At the very most surely that EU money could be spent on implementing anti-seismic strengthening in Bagni di Lucca’s school?)

For me the loss of the local schools would be the greatest tragedy as it would intensify the depopulation, neglect and eventual dying-off of our beloved mountain villages in this most beautiful part of Italy.



Boaring Fish

The revamped Pescatore restaurant on the roundabout near Penny Market has had differing reviews. I am glad, however, for the way it saved me from freezing to death when our choir was waiting for the coach to take us to sing in some remote place in the Maremma last month. The time was five o’clock (in the morning) and the restaurant’s bar was ready with excellent cappuccino and fresh pastries to help recirculate our blood.


My later, lunchtime “worker’s lunch” experience there was adequate. I did find the way one served oneself with contorno (vegetables) from a central location slightly unusual but there was plenty to choose from that way, and second helpings were certainly not frowned upon. At that time the clientele was mainly road works repairers and sales reps and the atmosphere was very quiet.


After last Sunday’s Saint Cecilia concert I was invited by friends to dine at the “Pescatore” again and this time entered into a packed dining hall brimming with life, including children and little dogs.

We wondered what the menu would be like and also how long it would take to serve us. We need not have worried.

The à la carte menu was first-rate and included some excellent trout and also wild boar with polenta. My friends both chose the latter and found it scrumptious – the meat really cooked to perfection.


I’d already gorged myself on chestnut frittelle earlier in the afternoon but settled for a pizza quattro stagioni which was truly well filled with ham, artichokes, mushrooms, olives, capers and mozarella cheese.


Under the circumstances the service was quite adequate and always with a smile. The house wine was not only cheap but rather palatable too.

I think we’ll definitely consider the “Pescatore” for both a worker’s lunch and, especially, an evening meal should we ever feel hunger pangs in its vicinity.

Incidentally the bill, including wine and beer, came to 34 euros for the three of us:

Il Pescatore’s Christmas and New Year’s eve menus are also promised at highly affordable prices if one doesn’t want to cook for one’s guests on those occassions.

On my recent trip to the UK I was astonished at the high restaurant prices charged for what the Italians would consider very much run-of.the-mill food. Prices above £50 per person were not uncommon. At the same time I could see no sign of gold-leaf on the cabbages served there and the dishes were not Meissen.

“Il Pescatore” is also one of two hotels near Borgo a Mozzano. I have absolutely nothing to say about either although, presumably, they could be useful dressing-up points for those participating in Borgo’s international Halloween festival which we sacrificed going to this year (Readers of my previous posts will realise where we were at the start of November this year.)

Incidentally, a couple of mornings ago, on Antonella Clerici’s very popular cookery program “La prova del Cuoco” on RAI channel, a whole hour was devoted on preparing what was described as Britain’s national dish “Pesce e Patate”, (No marks for translating that), the pastella (batter) being given particular attention. Perhaps, with a name like “Il Pescatore”, (The Fisherman – it’s just next to trout-filled Serchio river) the staff might try out a fish and chips evening rather than the rest of us having to wait a few extra months for Barga’s summer sagra on the same food delicacy?

A Guitar Feast for Saint Cecilia

There has been an ongoing programme of music under the title “Incontri Musicali a Teatro I luoghi Del Bello e Della cultura” (see centrered at Borgo a Mozzano, with some exceptional programmes and some brilliant artistes. I have already publicised this series in my monthly post updates on music in Lucca at this blog site.


Unfortunately, I have been largely unable to attend most of the events but there had to be an exception. A concert on Saint Cecilia’s day, which was last Sunday, has to be attended by any music lover worth their salt.

The recital consisted of classic and contemporary guitar music. This was the programme.

The evening opened with a delicate rendering of Granados’s evocative Spanish dance no 2, “The Oriental” in an arrangement for guitar duo.  How sad that Granados lost his life aged 49 when his liner (he was returning from New York where he’d attended the première of his opera based on Goya’s paintings) was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in WWI.


We then plunged into full contemporaneity with Bombardelli’s exciting guitar duet clash entitled “danze interrotte” (interrupted dances). There were lyrical moments too in this almost surrealistic dialogue between the two instruments. One of the performers introduced the piece with a note from the composer. Indeed, several of the authors of the contemporary pieces were present that evening and this added a certain frisson to what we were hearing.

It also gave the audience an idea, not only of what the composer was aiming at in the music but also whether the author was pleased with its execution. (As the old Punch cartoon put it: Q. “What do you think of the pianist’s execution?” A. “I’m in favour of it.”) Fortunately, the composers present were jubilant with the way their pieces were played by the brilliant performers.

Girolamo Deraco is the best known of the contemporary composers represented. Perhaps, you may not have heard/heard of him? Born in Cittanova, Calabria, in 1976 he graduated in 2008 with the highest grade, with honours, special mention, and scholarship at Lucca’s Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali Boccherini, the only composer since 1848, when the Instituto Boccherini was founded, to have achieved this accolade. Deraco has since attended courses and seminars with international masters including: Andriessen, Corghi, Bonifacio, Solbiati, De Pablo, Bacalov, Fedele, Liberto, Scannavini, and Gooch

A strong sense of theatre has induced Deraco to compose operas including one called “Il Linchetto” (the name for a local wood elf who loves to play practical jokes on the inhabitants in our part of the world – e.g. making them loose things like keys or not getting the car to start or burning the Sunday roast etc. etc. There are antidotes to him which I’ll describe in a later post, if ever you’ve become one of his victims). Other operas include Checkinaggio, Lacrime di Coccodrillo, (crocodile tears), and children’s operas (Little Puppets’ Symphony, Peppe Pezzi, La Fattoria degli Animali Cantanti (singing animals’ farm – not McDonald’s I trust).

Since October 2009 Deraco has been the composer in residence of Kuhn’s Accademia of Montegral, Lucca – a place we love to attend for its special Easter and Christmas concerts. (See my post at  Deraco is also the Artistic Director of the Orchestra Giovanile di fiati. (National Youth Wind Orchestra).

I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from and about Deraco in the years to come, even in the UK! Certainly I found his piece “Nell’ombra del ritardo”. (In the shadow of lateness) the most convincing of the contemporary pieces with its superb knowledge of guitar harmonics and sonorities.

The Leo Brouwer arrangement of two Beatles songs was mesmerising and perhaps the most challenging piece of the first half of the concert. It’s so weird to think that it was once considered sacrilegious to mention Beatles’ songs in the same breath as those of Schubert!

The two guitarists were joined by a third in the second part of the concert which included a delightful piece by Gragnani. Again, if you don’t know who Gragnani was don’t worry. I didn’t either but managed to find out these facts about him. Filippo Gragnani (1768 –1820), composer and guitarist, was born in Livorno, in a family of notable luthiers and musicians. He first studied the violin and then the guitar becoming a true virtuoso on both instruments (like Paganini, in fact. Could they have met?).

Gragnani eventually settled in Paris and became a friend and pupil of another great guitar virtuoso who surely you must have heard of, Ferdinando Carulli…

Gragnani died in Livorno in 1820 and is buried in the church of St Martino di Salviano.

My favourite item of part two was a sensuous account of Debussy’s prelude “Des pas sur la neige.” I could almost imagine stepping outside the lovely arcaded conservatory of the seventeenth century Palazzo Santini, in which the concert took place, into thick snow. Indeed, it was getting colder all the time, although the Brazilian dance encore warmed us up considerably.

The Lydian guitar trio, consisting of Giacomo Brunini, Dario Atzori and Nicola Fenzi, with the superb cooperation of Maestro Antonio Rondina are to be congratulated in giving us a truly memorable Saint Cecilia’s day concert in which both the classical and contemporary repertoire of the guitar was fully displayed. It was, indeed, a concert more worthy of the setting of London’s I.C.A (and certainly of a BBC lunchtime concert from the Wigmore hall- if they had the boldness to put on such an exploratory concert) than that of a remote corner of a Tuscan province. Such, however, is the innate musicality of this part of the world that anything is possible!

Incidentally, if there are any guitarists around here who would like to brush up on their technique then there are invitations to join the appropriate class at Borgo di Mozzano’s own music school. See their web page at




Rosy Straw?

Travelling north to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana from Gallicano the Serchio valley narrows considerably, largely due to a spur coming straight down from the Pania Della Croce. At this point one can either proceed through a dim and dramatic gorge or find sunlight and great views by going over the spur itself (especially if one is heading for a meal at the incomparable Bonini’s).

The crossroad at Bonini’s leads, to the left, to the high ranges of the Panie and a number of delightful villages. To the right there are also a couple of sweet villages which, in my opinion, are unduly neglected.

I’d already known Perpoli since our choir sang there on such a wet Sunday that rain was coming down inside the campanile itself. (See my post at for more information on Perpoli). The spur on which this tiny village is situated must have sported several castles due to its strategic position between the Luccan and the Estensi border and on a hill in the centre of Perpoli are the very overgrown remains of a fortress.

We’d never visited Palleroso which is the other village on the spur until a week ago and were delighted by it. Unfortunately, both our camera batteries were flat (does this happen to others too?) so no photographs remain of that visit.

When the sun peeped through yesterday I decided I’d have to return to Palleroso with a charged camera and was even more enchanted by this village, which is larger and more spectacularly placed than Perpoli.

In fact, it’s built including a whole castle, hence the sign to it describing it as the mediaeval tower of Palleroso. Palleroso is surrounded by several places that together form what the villagers commonly call “la campagna”. These locations are Pianaccia, Santa Cristina, Canipaia, Buriconti, Pastine, Novicchia, and La Casina.

The entrance to Palleroso is through a  square dominated by the church of San Rocco (the patron saint of plague prevention) built when the village was preserved from a bubonic plague in 1630.

One then proceeds through Via Tabernacoli and reaches a flight of steps leading to the castle entrance. The old gate was built in 1610 and the ground floor has a fountain, defensive slit windows, and an effigy of the Virgin. Upstairs is a room, formerly used by the Castilian which, over time, has served as a school building and as a municipal clinic.

The street then leads onto the main square which has a wonderful viewing platform and a sweet parish church dedicated to Saint Martin. Its interior is quite elegant and very well kept. The church’s structure recalls romanesque architecture but, instead of a rose window, there is a niche with an image of St. Martin. In the apse is an oil painting by the eighteenth Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Lorenzetti representing the Virgin and Child, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, Mary Magdalene and S. Ansano.

Continuing the Via della Torre you reach the highest part of the village at a height of 537 metres and find the ruins of an ancient circular tower. The large stone blocks suggest a probable Etruscan origin. The tower’s function was as a signalling post with other towers located on the surrounding hills just like the one I described in my post on the ”eye of Lucca” at

There are a number of trails which I must explore soon when the weather improves. What I most enjoyed of my time at Palleroso (which some people say is a corruption of Paglia Rosa – rosy straw) were the 360 degree views from it. I was able to recognize many villages from it which appeared to me for the first time as they must look like to eagles.

A local told me also that the Palleroso porcino and galletto mushrooms are the best flavoured in the area so that’s another reason for returning to this delightful village.

Because of its very strategic border position Palleroso has quite an interesting history for a village of its size.

The first historical documents date from the late twelfth century when in 1169 Berudico di Bolzano, leader of a small army, after conquering Gallicano, Barga, Cascio, Perpoli and Fiattone, destroyed Palleroso.

In 1346 the Marquis Spinetta Malaspina-sold Palleroso to the Florentine Republic for just 12,000 gold florins. In 1370, Lucca managed to recapture Palleroso from the Florentines. In 1383 Lucca was again forced to surrender Palleroso to the Florentines. In 1384 a document notes Palleroso as having one of the most important castles of the Garfagnana.

In 1451 Palleroso passed to the Marquis of Ferrara Borso d’Este and remained under Este rule until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. In 1836 the road that leads to Monteperpoli from Castelnuovo Garfagnana was built (the one we still use today to get to Castelnuovo over the spur).

In 1840 the village’s first aqueduct, “the Fontanino” was built.

Palleroso was unfortunately caught up in WWII. By the autumn of 1944 and spring of 1945 the war front between the Italian Social Republic and Germany on the one hand and Anglo-Americans on the other stood in Garfagnana along the second Gothic Line that went from Pania della Croce to the Rocchette, and from there to Bruciano, Eglio, Sassi, Molazzana, Monteperpoli, Palleroso, the Bridge at Campia and, crossing the river Serchio, up to Castelvecchio, Treppignana and the Saltillo pass.

In late August 1944, an American airplane fell in the woods near Palleroso. At the beginning of October the first bombs fell near Palleroso. On December 26, 1944, (at least they took Christmas off…) the Germans attempted an offensive against the Americans, recapturing Palleroso, and pushed up towards Barga and Gallicano, but the next day the Anglo-Americans launched a counter-attack. In February 1945 some bombs fell in Palleroso killing 30 civilians who were hiding in a shelter and the Chaplain of Castelnuovo. On April 18, 1945 Palleroso was occupied by American troops, and on Sunday, April 22 Mass was celebrated in the village church before a congregation who had now almost all returned from hiding in the mountains.

So even this o-so-peaceful place has had to suffer the tortures and uselessness of war….

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The Madonna’s Most Beautiful Chapel in the Woods

If one is feeling energetic or has a 4 X 4, or even a trail bike, then Corsagna is the starting (or finishing point) of an exciting route across the Pizzorne, that wooded pre-Apennine plateau which faces Lucca from the north and has on its lower slopes some of the best vineyards and olive groves in Italy.

We weren’t feeling so energetic the other day so decided on a much shorter walk, but an equally delightful one, which takes one to the sanctuary of the Madonna Della Serra.

Serra means at least three things in Italian. It could mean a greenhouse. So an “effetto Serra” means “a greenhouse effect”.

A “fiore di Serra” (greenhouse flower) is a person with such delicate health that they need constant loving care and attention. (Don’t we all!)

A “gas serra” is, of course, a greenhouse gas such as we know too well from plane and vehicle exhausts.

A Serra also means a closed or protected environment. A “porta serrata” is a locked door for example.

The word “Serra” takes on a special meaning in our part of the world. There are many chapels dedicated to the Madonna Della Serra (includingn one near Longoio: see my post at and in this case the phrase has a double meaning: the Madonna offers protection to those who pay her a pilgrimage and the Madonna herself is in an area protected by enclosed hills.

Serra can also mean a pass. The town of Serravalle, for example, is placed in an easy access route across the Ligurian Apennines.

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The path to Corsagna’s Madonna Della Serra starts off with a choice either of steps or a steep path. It then descends through woods and crosses a Timber Bridge under which runs an impetuous stream.

By its side is this fountain with channels feeding what once must have been the local Laundromat.

The path winds and the sudden sight of the Santuario Della Madonna Della Serra seizes one with the same sense of surprise as the treasury did for us after passing through the siq, or gorge, in Petra, Jordan, earlier this month.

The building is a beautiful, almost rococo, construction with fine terracotta embellishments and looks very large for a simple chapel. Dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation and recently nicely restored it dates back to the start of the fifteenth century and is supposed to contain a painting on its altar of the Madonna enthroned with child by Jacobo Mantovani dated 1596. At her feet are the holy deacons Stephen and Lawrence.

Actually, I have never been able to find the chapel open so have never actually seen the painting. However, opposite Corsagna’s church is an oratory with a very dilapidated painting showing the same subject. Saint Lawrence is immediately recognizable by the gridiron on which he was literally grilled alive. Is this the same picture?

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I’d always thought the chapel was very large for such an exposed and lonely place. I’ve since discovered that it was, indeed, the parish church of a village called Serra which has since been abandoned. There are just a few houses nearby to remind one of its former presences.

The views from the purlieus of the chapel are quite stunning and take in a large part of the Serchio valley and the rivers opposite.

I must try to make it to the Madonna’s festival at this most beautiful chapel, which takes place on the last Saturday and Sunday of August. Next year I’ll definitely make an effort to be there and see its interior!




Honouring the Fallen of Corsagna

Corsagna is that relatively rare village in our part of the world: an almost entirely self-sufficient one – at least socially. It has own sports centre, its own (well-regarded) philharmonic band, shops, bars and even a little industry. It even once had its own school. Although Corsagna belongs to Borgo a Mozzano comune I feel it’s big enough to make up its own comune.

I like to go through Corsagna as an alternative route from Bagni di Lucca to Borgo a Mozzano, creating a pleasant change and taking in some great views. On one particular occasion this was the only way of getting back home. That was a few years back when the Halloween festivities at Borgo had attracted so many people that all the main roads were blocked for hours.

Corsagna is spread out extensively on a sort of plateau four hundred metres above sea level. Its domestic architecture can be quite dignified and there are many Corti (or houses spread around inner courtyards). It also has a surprising number of rioni (or quarters) whose names are Pozzo, Verace, Fucina, Fabbriche, Cantone, Lama and Postabbio.

The highest part of the town is dominated by the tower of what once must have been part of the castle but now forms the campanile of a beautiful parish church with nave and two aisles dedicated to Saint Michael.

The views from the church are very panoramic indeed but what for me, during my visit two days ago, was most touching in this hundredth anniversary of the start of WWI was the unusual, almost English-like way, the Corsagnani had honoured their war dead, all twenty-four of them, each of the fallen in his own space that shall for ever be Italy, in a downward-sloping processional avenue, on one side of the village’s actual cemetery, instead of just the usual war memorial. What was even more poignant was that (apart from the short lives of so many of these young mountain soldier) some of the graves did not even have the customary fallen’s picture because none had ever been taken. Instead, the tricolour was displayed on the plaque where the photo should have been.

For me, these crosses were just as moving in the solitude of Corsagna’s descending twilight as that moated sea of poppies I’d only recently experienced around the Tower of London. For Corsagna too had contributed its own sacrifice to that slaughter, like any other area in the world which had been drawn into the terrible pity of war.

The White Stuff Arrives

From a temperate rainforest climate Mediavalle and Garfagnana have finally received their first real taste of winter with temperatures plummeting and the white stuff descending upon the Apennines.

There was a terrific storm a couple of nights ago with earth quaking thunder and lightning

The following morning, crossing the bridge across the Serchio which takes us to Penny Market, I saw this vision

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Now, rather late in the year for us we have begun lighting log-fires of an evening and started wearing our damart vests.

It’s also getting increasingly difficult to keep our cats from off our beds.

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Salads are giving increasingly way to thick soups using the famous Farro (spelt) for which our region is famous.


The orto (allotment) is producing the last of its apples and a few olives. At least apple pie will be plentiful this year.

Crickey, even Christmas has now made its appearance in our house!

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