Luck has Fun at Bagni di Lucca

For around a week now in Longoio my head has literally been in the clouds. Mist and a little drizzle have blotted out all the surrounding hills and almost make me nostalgic of such Celtic areas as Wales and Scotland. It’s no better time for enjoying reading, looking at holiday photos or going to see films and the theatre.

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I don’t have to go far for the last. Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico is hosting as usual an intoxicating winter season. The only snag is that in Italy theatre performances generally start after 9 pm just when I’m thinking of my nightcap. True, there are matinees: il Teatro del Giglio in Lucca always has one but here it’s a case of drinking a strong cup of coffee and then descending through the mists of time to reach our little and historic theatre.

On Saturday night La Fortuna si diverte (Luck has fun) by Athos Setti was offered with well-known actors Daniela Morozzi (who starred in canale 5’s Distretto di Polizia) and Emanuele Barresi.

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I had no idea of the existence of either play or playwright but journalist and friend Marco Nicoli soon put me right about it since he’d played the key role forty years previously. In fact, Marco played the starring role when the theatre company insieme he was in debuted at the Teatro. ‘Long live the theatre’ he exclaimed.


(Marco Nicoli in La Fortuna si diverte at the Teatro Accademico in 1975)

La Fortuna si diverte was written in 1936 and became an instant success. The plot centres on a devotee of Dante who worships and always consults a bust of the great poet in his living room. Family fortunes are at low ebb especially when son-in-law gets sacked and drink starts taking over. Meanwhile, the women try to make ends meet by dress-making:

One night, however, the protagonist has a dream in which Dante tell him which four numbers will win the next lottery. There’s one snag, however: the four numbers will also predict when he will die!

Scene two opens in an opulent flat. Gone are the rickety wooden chairs and toiling women. Louis XVI gilded chairs decorate the salon and the nouveau riches are extravagantly dressed in the latest kitsch fashions which only those just come into the money will indulge in. Even the butler is embarrassed by them and has to teach etiquette and ‘comme il faut’ to the family.

However, the final hour is coming and our hero is getting frantic about it. His wife is already donning her flowing black widows weeds and everyone is waiting for the fateful moment.

When it arrives a doctor friend comes into the mansion, takes the supposedly dead man’s pulse, examines his heart beat and confirms that he is still alive. Relief at last! But wait a minute, or five…..The doctor has set his watch correctly by the local observatory and everyone else’s watches are five minutes fast. There’s still five minutes to go!
With that cliff hanger the play ends.

The acting was quite superb, especially in the ensemble pieces, and the audience, thankfully quite numerous, was vivaciously amused. The company recognised this and thanked them for giving them such a good send-off since this performance would be the start of the company’s tour…

Who was playwright Athos Setti? He came from Livorno. Indeed, the whole play was spoken with a thick livornese accent which really had my ears perked up to try to follow everything that was said.

However, Setti comes to his fame second-hand for one of his great admirers was that doyen of Italian vernacular comedy playwrights, Eduardo de Filippo. It was Eduardo who adapted the play to a Neapolitan setting and renamed it Sogno Di Una Notte Di Mezza Sbornia (A half-drunken dream). Later, in 1959, a successful film was made of Eduardo’s adaption starring Eduardo himself and Pupella Maggio.

I’m glad I stepped out of the misty gloom of Longoio and ventured into the limelight of our local theatre. It was a truly enjoyable evening and I look forwards to the forthcoming performances at the Teatro Accademico:

The next one, incidentally, will be that perennial classic, The Florentine Straw Hat, on the 6th of February. Don’t’ miss it:

Here’s the link for the whole season’s programme.
Note them in your diary now!

Click to access stagione%20di%20prosa%202015%202016.pdf


Italian Underpants?

The recent visit of the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, to Italy was only controversial in so far as Italian prime minister Renzi decided to have all nude statues on the route taken by Rouhani through the Capitoline museum covered up with panels ‘so as not to offend the sensibility of the Iranian president.’

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The majority of Italian citizens were not amused and neither was most of Renzi’s government. After all, these statue represent some of the most wonderful examples of Italian art and culture.

Cultural appeasement is the next worse thing to iconoclastic destruction of ancient monuments such as is happening right now to such important sites in the development of civilization like Nineveh, Babylon and Palmyra.

At the same time, western culture has not been immune to such ridiculousness. In the past Michelangelo’s great ‘Last Judgement’ in Rome’s Sistine chapel (did the Pope show Rouhani that painting at their meeting?) was almost ordered to be destroyed because of objections to the large number of nude representations in it. It was only when Daniele di Volterra, detto il braghettone, (big underpants) was brought in to paint the standard loin-cloth over the various genitalia displayed that the painting was saved for posterity. Fortunately, in the fresco’s recent restoration braghettone’s work has been removed to reveal once more ‘private’ parts in all their full, pub(l)ic glory.

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(Underwear designed by Il Braghettone)

Anyway, how can you walk around historic Rome without coming across a nude statue every five minutes?

In more recent times, Victorian women were not encouraged to make journeys to Khajuraho’s temples and Orissa’s black pagoda because of the large number of sexually explicit statues on them. In fact, sexual union is symbolic of spiritual union with the Godhead as expounded in Advaita Vedanta (non-dualist Hindu religious philosophy).


(Non-dualistic philosophy expounded at Khajuraho)

Similarly, the Capitoline Venus, shaded from the Iranian president’s eyes, represents the goddess of love in all her procreative loveliness. It’s not just a statue of a posh tart.


Is India supposed to give health warnings to the many visitors that visit its gorgeous temples?

Is Bagni di Lucca supposed to put veils, cloths knickers or brassières around its lovely nude statues in case some may be offended?

I think not!

Sir Kenneth ‘Civilization’ Clark made a clear distinction between the nude and the naked. For nudes go to museums and art galleries and for the naked enjoy your naturist beach, the closest one to us being just south of Migliarino. A tad cold I feel at this time of year, however…

PS What’s just as bad is that Renzi invited the head of Iran to a state banquet without any wine being served. Now can you imagine a meal in Italy without the liquid gold of fermented grapes? And some wines here are derived from fruity Iranian varieties like Shirazi! At least when Rouhani visited Paris the French president just invited him to take tea… probably not P(arental G(uidance) Tips, however.


Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley House

While it’s not a good idea to judge a book by its cover it is a good idea to judge a town by the number of bookshops it has. What Bagni di Lucca has lacked for too long a time is a proper bookshop. True, it’s possible to buy maps and books of local interest at Petri’s but theirs is also a tobacconist, and sports shop. At Fornoli there’s an edicola (newsagent), there are books for sale but it is not a dedicated bookshop.

Now for some weeks Bagni di Lucca has a bookshop: (libreria- don’t get it confused with library which is ‘Biblioteca’) to do it honour.


Named Shelley House in homage to the stay in this town of the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, it is run by an enthusiastic duo, Luca Guidi and Rebecca Palagi, supreme devotees of literature and art.

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Shelley House is, in fact a lot more than just a bookshop. It’s a publishing house (Edizioni Cinquemarzo, always on the look-out for new and promising authors of novels, essays, poetry, cartoons and art) and the books it produces are of a very high quality both in printing and contents.

Shelley House is also a place where authors can present their new creations, and where discussions and conferences can be held. On 13th February, at 5 pm, for example a book of poems and prose by Maura Bertolozzi ‘Cassiopea’, will be unveiled to the public through Shelley House at the Circolo dei Forestieri.:


Shelley House is even more than that because its walls are a free exhibitions space (currently hosting some stunning photographs).

Shelley House’s aim is to turn Bagni di Lucca into a centre of poetry excellence: ‘Bagni di Lucca, città di poesia’. The town is already situated in a landscape of natural poetical beauty. As the hot thermal waters flow from its hill so surely will inspiration for writers and artists as it did for the likes, not just of Percy and Mary Shelley, but also for Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Heine, Montale and so many more.

Luca and Rebecca are great organisers In 2010 Luca and Rebecca started the first Shelley Festival dedicated not just to Shelley but to English romanticism in general which has gone from strength to strength. Rebecca’s re-creation of Shelley’s Adonais (see my post at ) was magical.

Eleonora, la principessa dei sogni is a theatrical monologue written by Luca which describes the love of Rilke for Eleonora Duse which inspired so much of his poetry.
In Bagni Di Lucca Luca and Rebecca also organised the enchanted evening on the river described in my post at .

What books does Shelley House have on its shelves? Naturally there is a corner dedicated to Shelley: not just his works but those of his re-appraised and pioneering wife, Mary Shelley, (who wrote not just Frankenstein but several other novels of outstanding interest and quality). There are works, too, about Shelley and some unusual items like the travel diary Percy and Mary published when travelling on the continent just after the Napoleonic wars (see also my post at ).

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There is a good selection of classical and modern Italian authors, English literature in Italian translation and Italian literature in English translation. There are travel books, cooking books, nature books. Most books I saw there seduced me to want to open their covers so carefully chosen had they been to arouse interest.

I asked Luca and Rebecca, (who hail from Viareggio, off the coast of the town where Shelley met his death by drowning at the age of just 29) how and why they started Shelley House. ‘Because we’re crazy,’ they simultaneously answered. I thought to myself, ‘if this is craziness then a lot more of it is needed for Bagni di Lucca to rise up from its sleeping- beauty-like semi-lethargy.

In an age where fewer and fewer people (especially children) seem to be able read at least one book a month (the figures for Italy are frightening – more than half don’t even read one book a year!) bookshops need to make their presence felt for they are not just selling books, they are spreading love of reading and awakening the mind to higher sensibilities. Caffé talk is fine, even a chat on a park bench is too. But there are moments in life that are too precious for even the most convivial small-talk. It’s then that we turn to the talk of great minds and that means opening a book and not just looking at its cover, no matter how nicely designed that is, but reading words that have entranced so many generations and truly define the highest values of civilization.

Shelley House is open from Thurday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 6 pm. Here are some further details:


PS As a Shelley acolyte (something which my Leavisian English teacher at school felt was incorrect) I have always been attracted to his poems. At my posts at:
and at
I refer to places where some of his wondrous verse was conceived.
As for Mary Shelley, see my post at
to find out where ‘Frankenstein’ might have started out from.

Last Chance to See Francesca Cei’s Exhibition

One has until January 29th to see Francesca Cei’s  exhibition in Bagni di Lucca’s Town Hall foyer.

Here is a selection of what you can see there. The subjects are always presented beautifully. I especially enjoyed the circus scenes and the fairy-tale subjects.

The exhibition’s organizer, Kety Bastiani, told me she’d been overwhelmed by the amount of artistic talent shown in our area. She’d had no idea how much visual creativity was happening here. It’s almost like the rive gauche all over again and I do not exaggerate.

As all of us have a novel within ourselves waiting to be written so I’m sure that all of us have a picture we’d like to put down in charcoal, oil, tempera, watercolour, pastel or mixed media. After all, Churchill began rather late in his career as a painter and then only by chance.

Get yourselves a drawing pencil and start today if you’ve last touched one at primary school. You never know what could happen next on that piece of paper!


PS Don’t forget. If you wish to exhibit do leave a message of Kety’s Facebook page.


More About Liliana Urbach from Silvana Bracci

I was moved to discover this comment made by one of my Facebook (and real-life too!) friends, Silvana Bracci, (sister of the great wine expert and Bagni di Lucca Enoteca – wine shop – owner, Guido Bracci), to whom I give sincerest thanks. I felt her comment should be also translated into English so that it could reach a wider public. The note deals with the story of Liliana Bracci. Those of you who have read my post at will understand more about Liliana’s situation. Indeed, I thank Silvana again for allowing me to share this tragic story on my blog and for being the first to appreciate my post for yesterday which included a section on the same subject:

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Silvana writes:

I found a note written in 2011. I was telling the story of Liliana Urbach (1942-1944), the only citizen from Bagni di Lucca who died in Auschwitz. I wrote it because many seemed to have forgotten about her. I myself knew about her only at the end of the nineties thanks to a journalist from the ‘Tirreno’ newspaper and from a report by Lucca’s Resistance Institute, when Bagni di Lucca dedicated a Peace Park to the little girl. However, little was said about the incident. An expert in history even said to me that it was an exaggeration to define the Bagni di Lucca Cardinali villa as a concentration camp (the old Terme hotel) as if it were somewhat exaggerated by a particular ‘political’ viewpoint. Not so, there are documents to prove it.

I’m again publishing the note because I’m satisfied with it: in recent days some primary school classes have gone to the park to remember Liliana. Teachers, thanks so much!


26 January 2011 19:54 Article

Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I want to remember a story from Bagni di Lucca. It’s the story of Liliana Urbach and her family.

The Urbach were Jews who’d fled from Vienna to avoid racial persecution. Leo Urbach, and his wife Alice and his son Kurt 4 years old, arrived in my country in 1942, and took lodgings in Via Vittorio Emanuele, Ponte a Serraglio, Liliana was born here on October 19th 1942 and was registered as a citizen of Bagni di Lucca.

The family felt tranquil. They were “free internees” with many personal limitations, but were not prevented from working, and Leo was a watchmaker. Other Jews sheltering in the municipality had the same conditions: no radio, monitoring of correspondence, no political activities, minimal relations with the rest of the population, twice daily reporting to the police. But they were alive…

In late 1943, after an order of November 30, Jews in the Lucchesia began to be rounded up, and a provincial concentration camp was opened at Villa Cardinali at the Terme Calde of Bagni di Lucca. It was a transit camp for inmates and aimed at their deportation to the death camps.

The Urbachs were arrested and taken to the concentration camp at Villa Cardinali. In January, a convoy set off with about ninety Jews, including Leo, Alice, Kurt and Liliana Urbach. They were taken to Florence, then Milan. From here on January 30th of 1944 they left by truck for Germany. Leo, pushed by his wife (who told him “get out, they won’t do anything to me and the children!”) jumped from the truck and fled. He was later recaptured and interned in a prison camp, from which he was freed at the end of the war.

Alice, Kurt and Liliana, arrived at 6 am on February 6th at Auschwitz.  By noon they had already been murdered in the gas chambers.

Liliana was 15 months old. When I remember her, I think of the fact that she never managed to attend school, never kissed the boy of her dreams, never got her driving license, never was awed before a flag …… she didn’t die in her bed while the children knocked back their tears so as not to scare her. Maybe she didn’t even die with her mum, because the Nazis often divided their prisoners by age. I hope she wasn’t frightened and that her brother Kurt took her by the hand.


Thank you so much Silvana for sharing!

I would like to know what happened to Liliana’s father Leo. And was there ever a photograph taken of Liliana? It must have been quite unendurable for Leo to realise that he’d lost his wife and children contrary to their last words to him. Anne Frank’s father was also in a similar position after the war. When one of us survives a terrible situation and our loved ones perish we clearly must feel unimaginably devastated. Primo Levi, another survivor, found his situation unbearable as anyone realises who has read his poignant book about his experience in ‘Se questo è un uomo…’ (If this is a man).  Indeed, I’m quite sure that this fine author’s – we’d met him when he came to England to attend an opera based on his libretto which had been translated into English – suicide in 1987 was to be explained by another survivor, Elie Wiesel’s words: “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later”.

The truth is we all die a little bit more when we hear about atrocities perpetrated by humans on humans for ‘whoever kills a person unjustly it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind’.  (Quran 5:32)

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Commemoration at Anchiano Concentration Camp Memorial

Yesterday at 11.30 am at the memorial stone commemorating the concentration camp at Socciglia in the comune of Borgo a Mozzano a ceremony was held for all those victims held there either for hard labour or for eventual transportation to the German extermination camps.

Present were the mayor of Borgo a Mozzano, Patrizio Andreuccetti, who delivered a very pointed speech, quoting phrases by Hannah Arendt, representatives from the Gothic Line preservation society and local branches of the Alpinisti regiment who had suffered the greatest losses in World War II during the Russian campaign.

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The morning was overcast with thick grey clouds and there was a slight drizzle – almost like tears from the heavens.

I was able to find out more about the camp from those present, many of who had been little children or whose fathers had been interned there. The camp was actually called Anchiano camp after the nearby village since the present industrial estate of Socciglia didn’t exist then.

Anchiano camp occupied the area now filled by industrial units including my scooter mechanic’s one. At its height over eight hundred men were imprisoned there. Their choice was simple: either to work for the Todt organisation and help build the Gothic line defences or be transported to forced labour camps and extermination in Germany.

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(Anchiano concentration camp is now occupied by the industrial units to the left in this photo)

One Alpino remembered how the prisoners were always missing their vines so one day their wives decided to collect some grapes and put them in a big basket. As a twelve year-old he carried the basket to the fence surrounding the camp and was just about to get it through to the men inside when a German guard appeared from behind angrily shouting ‘Heraus!’ ‘I could see his point,’ said the Alpino. ‘After all we might have hidden a gun under all those grapes.’

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There was just one woman at the ceremony and the total number of those present was a little over ten. It would have been good if younger generations had been present but the mayor assured me that he’d talked to the local school about the Shoah earlier that morning and was satisfied that the memory of the terrible events which afflicted Italy from 1942 to 1945 would never die but be passed safely intact to a future age.

Never again…..lest we forget.

From Bagni di Lucca to Auschwitz

Today, as you’ll most probably know, is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Bagni di Lucca was not exempted from the worst horrors of the last war. Although it narrowly avoided being bombed to smithereens, a fate that Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, further up the Serchio valley, had to suffer (see my post on that at ), it became one of two ‘collecting centres’ (the other being at Socciglia where a memorial stone marks the place) for undesirable members of the human race which 99% of the time meant those of Jewish descent.

(The memorial at Socciglia yesterday)

(Trans: “This place knew the inhuman suffering of patriots and the incarceration of civilians waiting to be deported to Germany and a more tragic fate. We entrust the memory to future generations so that they may travel more decisively on the paths of peace”).

Under the abomination of the racial laws promulgated by Mussolini in 1938, largely a propaganda gambit to please his new ‘pact of steel’ ally Herr Hitler, Jews were marginalised by Italian society into what became ghettos. The irony is that the word ‘ghetto’ originates from a district in Venice, Italy largely inhabited by Jewish people.

The ‘Regio Decreto 17 Novembre 1938 Nr. 1728’  minimized civil rights for Jews, excluded them from schools, forbade them to hold any public office, greatly limited their travel, stripped them of their property and assets. Eventually, at the height of the Italian civil war of 1943-45 (when the partisans and allied forces fought against the puppet ‘social republic’ of Salò set up by Hitler under the pretended governorship of Mussolini, ‘rescued’ from imprisonment at the Gran Sasso rifugio), people of Jewish origin were rounded up and incarcerated in local concentration camps to await their transportation to the death factories of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen and Belzec.

To the honour of the vast majority of  the Italian people the laws were unpopular and even prominent fascists like hero Italo Balbo opposed them. Italy’s Jewish population had lived in the country for centuries and were fully integrated in the life of the community. Merely thinking at random of some great Jewish Italians one recalls the names of Rita Levi-Montalcini, Italo Svevo, Lorenzo da Ponte, Natalia Ginzburg, Anna Magnani, Vittorio Gassman and Castelnuovo-Tedesco to be fully aware of the incredibly high contribution this community has made to the enrichment of Italian life and culture.

By 1943, however, Italy was in the grip of teutonic brutality and effectively in the hands of field marshal Kesselring. Having had to abandon the Gustav line between Rome and Naples Kesselring set all his hopes on the Gothic line stretching from Viareggio to Rimini and crossing the spine of the Apennines among which Bagni di Lucca is situated. (For more on the Gothic line see some of my posts on it at: , , ,


The concentration camp for Bagni di Lucca was situated in the now derelict and crumbling walls of the old Hotel delle Terme behind the church of San Martino, above the present Hotel delle Terme. Three children, Luciana, Paolo and Liliana, with an added-up age of less than three years were the first to be killed with another thirty children and teenagers when they arrived at Auschwitz. They died in front of their parents, their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. In all, the total number at Bagni di Lucca taken to the extermination factories was one hundred and twelve. Only five managed to return to Italy alive. The Bagni di Lucca Konzentrationslager contained not just people from Bagni di Lucca but also from many other parts of Italy. The prisoners stayed there for six months without proper food, no heating and few clothes and passed what was one of the hardest winters the area has ever suffered.

I took these photographs of the derelict hotel yesterday and had to be very careful to avoid things falling on top of me. If you ever go there do wear a hard hat (I really should have worn my crash helmet).and watch out for the trapdoors leading to the cellars and hidden under the foliage. They are rotten through and you might have a long way down to fall. I wonder with a history like that would anyone want to buy it up and restore it? Perhaps it should be left as it is as a memorial to some very dark years at Bagni di Lucca:


Throughout my hour there tangible feelings of a terrible evil and of a great sadness almost overpowered me.

The prisoners from the ex-albergo were transported by train to Lucca and thence to Florence. From Florence they went to Milan where they were housed in that city’s notorious San Vittore prison near Piazza Aquileia.

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They were then taken to Milan central station where they left for the gas chambers from the infamous ‘Binario 21’ (platform 21), still there to this day and now turned into a monument to the victims of the Shoah. It was utilised for mail trains before being used for its sinister purpose between 1943 and 1945. It’s below the main station platforms and can be entered from a side door. (Binario 21 is visitable as I did some years ago. The web site is at ).

(Platform 21 at Milan Stazione Centrale)

There’s a word now inscribed in concrete on one wall which sums it all up:

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I don’t need to translate that…

Figures show that 7,680 Jewish people were deported to the death camps, representing over 17 per cent of the total Italian Jewish population – a relatively low (!) percentage when one considers that 85 per cent of the Jewish population in Lithuania were exterminated.

To return to Bagni di Lucca: some of those deported died on the train journey to Auschwitz. Crammed like sardines into cattle trucks, Angela Ferrari, for example died aged just 26.

Was there anyone brave enough to stop this happening to them? Yes. The number would have been much higher had it not been for Don Arturo Paoli who only died last July aged 102 and who is on that great list of ‘the just of all nations’.


It is my eternal regret that I only found out recently about this man from Lucca who collaborated bravely with DELASEM, the Jewish resistance movement, to save over eight hundred Jews in this part of Italy from entering the extermination camps. At least, however, we know a close relative of Giorgio Nissim, the organiser of DELASEM, from Pisa.

Who were the five from Bagni di Lucca who survived? Among them was Leo Urbach, Liliana’s father who had to suffer the killing of his wife and two children Liliana, aged less than two and his son aged five before Auschwitz was liberated by Russian troops on January 27th 1945. (That’s why we have International Holocaust Remembrance Day on that day).

Liliana was born in Bagni di Lucca on 19th October 1942. She was taken from there on 23rd January 1943 to Milan.  On 30th January she left Binario 21 at Milan station, reached  Auschwitz-Birkenau on February 7th 1943 with her family and died on 19th  February 1944. There was one witness to their leaving Bagni di Lucca: a little girl who later recollected:” I just remember that it was cold and they had few clothes on, all in dark colours. But it wasn’t us who’d taken their clothes. The soldiers had taken them and they were now leading the children, dragging them by holding their little hands.”

What memorials are there to the Shoah as experienced by Bagni di Lucca? In Fornoli there’s the peace park with this memorial to little Liliana, inaugurated in 1999.

It’s next to the primary school where in all probability Liliana would have gone had she lived.

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In the park there was this graffiti scrawled over a water pump box:

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Amor Vincit Omnia (Love conquers all)

Behind it was the old Ponte delle Catene over the Lima. Built by the great Nottolini in the nineteenth century it seemed to me that both it and the graffiti had a message to say about loving each other and building bridges.

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And yet the killing, worse, the genocide, still goes on: by fanatics just across the sea from us and by the sea itself. Since last year over 3,000 people, including a shamefully large number of children, have drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean in boats handled by unscrupulous people-smugglers .

Meanwhile, the sinister and decrepit façade of the old Hotel delle Terme has nothing to show on it that this was the last sight many people would have had of their beloved families and their beautiful country.

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This, in my opinion, is a scandal that must be rectified as soon as possible. Here is a building that, more than any other in this area, witnessed man’s brutality to man and people pass by it without realizing what purpose it was used for. A memorial plaque should be placed on it now because if we don’t remember……..

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Ash pond reflects clouds

silence by the little wood

a stork takes to flight.


Twisted iron bars

concrete minds

rusty furnaces:


Resurrection’s castle

is a heap of crumbling concrete



(Written when I motorbiked to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2001)


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The Fall of the House of an Italian Usher?

Pian di Cerreto, at the start of the road from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana to Corfino, may appear to consist of just one sweet but undistinguished church and a couple of houses. Last Monday I decided to see if there was anything more to this hamlet.

Beyond the church which, in fact, only dates from the 1920s when the old church, much closer to the centre of Pian di Cerreto, collapsed as a result of the terrible earthquake that devastated nearby Villa Collemandina (see my post at I came across a veritable charm of  alleys lined by old stone buildings. Pretty but nothing too special.

But when I turned the corner I suddenly saw this:

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The incredibly large palazzo, one of the largest I’ve seen anywhere in the region, merited a closer look. I found that it was abandoned and actually falling apart.

At the risk of collapsing beams I entered the half-open door. Here was truly that phantasmagorical interior landscape of decrepitude through paralysis. In its own way it was just as frightening as the recapture by the jungle of so many of the temples we’d visited in Cambodia the previous month.

In the gloom I put my foot on a plastic bottle which created a bubbly creak. ‘Anyone in there?’ said a voice from outside. I exited the building to find a man feeding his chicken in a run just outside the north part of the palazzo.

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‘Be careful’, he said. ‘The whole building is pericolante (unstable).’ I took his advice and decided to halt my exploration. The thought of giant rafters suddenly collapsing on my head was too much to bear. I asked the person why nothing was being done to repair the building. ‘It costs too much money and no-one wants to buy it from us anyway,’ he explained. I enquired as to whether there were any frescoes such as the ones I’ve described in my Pontremoli post at . ‘No’, he replied. ‘There are none.’

I wanted to find out more about this ghostly apparition of a mammoth palazzo. This is what I discovered:

It’s called the Palazzo Poggi. The building is set in a location with stunning views of the Apuan Alps to the southwest and the Apennines to the northeast. Among the mountains I could see the highest of the Apuans, the Monte Pisanino (last one on right), which I’d climbed twenty years ago:

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and the Pania di Corfino which I’d tackled again just two years ago.

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The current owners of the building are descendants of the ancient family of the Counts of Bacciano and it was inhabited until the last century.  Count Poggi Poggio Castellaro, husband of Maria Anna Giovannoli, expanded the structure but because of two world wars he was unable to finish it.

In fact, one can clearly see the original structure to the right in this photograph and the unfinished extension to the left. This would have made the palazzo an almost symmetrical quadrilateral structure.

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The building is built on classical architectural lines  with portals, windows, stone stairs, carved from local quarries owned by the Count Poggi Poggio They were crafted by master stonemasons. The palazzo has three main stories, cellars and attics and is contained within a park of about 8,000 square metres.

What a pity this incredible building is left to wreck and ruin! What mysteries must be contained in it if only its collapsing walls could tell before they fall? It’s probably the same old story of the decline of family fortunes, of bad business deals, of dissipation a-la-seventh-Marquess-of-Bristol. Who knows?

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I’d passed another vast building just outside Pian di Cerreto for years before I decided to explore it too on this occasion. Again, I found an uninhabited decaying building, but this time in rather better condition. It was now used as a storehouse and all the doors were locked.

Here, too, there had been the idea of an extension but in this case it was never started. The exterior façade shows a lack of symmetry with two sets of windows on the right but only one on the left.

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The jagged set of extension stones, however, remains to give the general idea of what might have been.

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What was most delightful about this semi-ghost of a palazzo was its garden with an attractive maze of box hedges.

At least part of the garden was kept up…

Let me finish this post on an upbeat note. There is one grand palazzo in Pian di Cerreto which is beautifully maintained. Here it is:

Is this the original palazzo Giovannoli?

There are still three mysteries, lurking in my mind about Pian di Cerreto. How come this charming but unassuming little place has these grand buildings sprouting among its rather more modest houses?  And where was the old church situated? And why do some of the smaller houses have huge corbels on their facades? Were these stones taken from other buildings vanished in the earthquake? Or perhaps from a castle?

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I must return and try to investigate further. Italy is so full of seemingly unsolved mysteries that it becomes a most tantalizing country!

I did discover, however, why the hamlet is called Pian di Cerreto. It’s because of this tree:

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The plaque next to it reads:

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(Trans: Cerro (Quercus Cerris = Turkey or Austrian Oak) The plant which has given the name to Pian di Cerreto (Turkey Oak level)


UFOs Return to Garfagnana

Monte Palodina, near Gallicano, makes a great walk and one which I have done several times (see my post at ). It is also known as one of the most mysterious places in the Garfagnana, indeed in Italy, and fully worthy of an entry into the X-files.

Earlier this month, while enjoying a Campari soda and free buffet (from 5.30 pm) at the AGIP service station in Chiffenti, my attention was drawn to an article in the local Il Tirreno newspaper. Translated it said:


Last summer the cameras of the Italia Uno channel series  “Mysterious Italy” came to investigate the mysteries of Monte Palodina, the  scene of numerous UFO sightings and weird forest creatures.

Case studies and testimonials in time are so numerous as to define Palodina an Italian equivalent of ‘Area 51’. (Me: remember the Edwards Air force base and the Roswell incident?) On December 30, 2015 at around 10.00 pm five people who were in the village of Trassilico in the municipality of Gallicano, spotted two red balls at a height of about 50 meters.

One ball was huge, the other smaller in size and appeared to be part of a single body. Two of the five tried to photograph these unidentified objects but it was useless. In one case the smartphone was out of juice while in the other the downloaded photo came out totally black. The two spheres from above the village entrance flew very slowly towards Monte Forato, above Monte Albano. This is a case that will be widely discussed and will help make Monte Palodina even more mysterious.

The last sightings of unidentified flying objects date back two years ago when a giant illuminated “cigar” and a fire-red disc appeared in the sky above Trassilico.

Now don’t just say it was a load of balls. I would be most interested hearing from you if you have seen recent sightings of UFOs in your area. In particular, if you stay in any village near Monte Palodina like Trassilico or Vergemoli, do keep a look-out. You never know!

Here are some photographs of what to look out for in case you weren’t sure.

They could be standard flying saucers:

Or spherical, as in the recent case of Trassilico:

Or even cigar shaped:

Warning: some people have been allegedly abducted by the occupants of flying saucers. A case happened at Avery Hill near where I lived in South London. Be careful… As world-renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking said:

“I think contacting an alien civilization would be a disaster. The extraterrestrials would probably be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very happy, and they were the same species. I think we should keep our heads low.”



A Lovely Library Ceiling at Borgo a Mozzano

Every week I go to give an English lesson at the library of Borgo a Mozzano which has now moved to the gracious palazzo Santini, restored after over ten year’s work and re-opened in 2014.

The palazzo is next to Saint Rocco’s church which I have described at

The library was originally housed in the palazzo Pellegrini in Borgo a Mozzano’s high street. That beautiful seventeenth century palazzo is now for sale at one million euros (see if you’re interested!)

It’s very relaxing to gaze up at the ceilings of palazzo Santini. Many of them have some delightful frescoes. Here is one I particularly like.

I don’t know who the painter was but the romantic landscape scenes and the grotteschi decorations point to the end of the eighteenth century.

The art of interior decoration in Italy reached its apex by the nineteenth century and even in small villages one can come across some rich decorations.

Fortunately the tradition of landscape and trompe-d’oeil decoration continues in Italy (and elsewhere, I hope). In a fine former orphanage at Benabbio there are good examples painted by Julia Alexandra Mee, daughter of the late painter Raymond Victor Lee. Julia continued her training at the Accademia delle Belle Arti, Florence, where she learnt traditional painting techniques such as fresco. (If you are a ‘Grapevine’ reader you’ll have read her fascinating articles on that subject).

The library of Borgo a Mozzano, which is free to join and also holds several English language books, has a facebook page at: