Mr Kepler Arrives at Ponte

There’s a person in the centre of the river Lima just south of the bridge at Ponte. He hasn’t moved from there for quite a few days. The person is made of metal.

At this time of year he’s not very wet but he could find it very different when the rains promised after Ferragosto (the middle of August Italian bank holiday) start up.

Who is this person?  His name is Kepler and he has landed here after a journey that took him one thousand four hundred light years to achieve. No wonder Kepler’s taking it easy relaxing in the cool waters that bathe this part of Bagni di Lucca.

Johannes Kepler himself was a remarkable man. Born in Weil der Stadt in 1571 he died in Regensburg in 1630. Besides being an astronomer he was also a mathematician, a musician and an evangelical theologian.


His three laws of planetary motion, called Keplerian laws, laid the foundations of modern astronomy just as much as Galileo’s discovery that the sun is the centre of our solar system.

Without entering into more complex arguments all you need to know is that Kepler discovered that the planets move in an elliptical path, in contradistinction to his mentor’s Tycho Brahe’s impossibly torturous planetary paths which involved cycles and circles.


Kepler died in distressed circumstances and on his grave were inscribed the words:  “Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras. Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet” (I measured the skies; I now fix the shadows of the earth. My mind was in the celestial spheres, now my body lies in obscurity)

As for the planet Kepler it’s actually called Kepler 22-B and rotates around a star called Kepler 22. Unless we find a faster way to travel than the speed of light I doubt that most of the next thousand generations to come will get a chance to shake hands (if they use that custom on Kepler 22b) with any of the planet’s inhabitants.

It would be easier to approach our own Keplerian inhabitant in the centre of the Lima instead. It’s a sweet thought that it’s there and makes us earthlings feel that little bit less isolated in the vastness of space. (Although Prof. Hawkins has professed that he’d rather not like to engage in encounters of the third kind just in case they prove less friendly towards us than we might otherwise imagine!).

Mr. Kepler’s surrounded by tall helix-sticks which make a nice noise when a breeze rises up, as this video shows:

Kepler’s nearest relation, however, is not so much us bagnaioli but Anthony Gormley’s amazing “another place “sculptures on Crosby Beach in Lancashire, as a local artist and friend pointed out to me.

But then art builds on art and has always done. Michelangelo wouldn’t have been able to paint his Sistine chapel’s last judgement without first seeing Signorelli’s frescoes in Orvieto cathedral, for example.

Anyway, we won’t have to travel 1,400 light years to visit another Keplerian-like person – just take the plane to Manchester airport instead.

The river installation has now become a prime feature of Bagni di Lucca’s Arts festival and this year Mr Kepler will attract and be remembered by all those who have seen him or even dared to walk across the pebbles to touch him.

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