Yesterday, I visited Luca and Rebecca who run Bagni di Lucca’s wonderful new bookshop and art gallery, ‘Shelley House’.
There’s a fresh exhibition of fabulous local photographs. They are sensitively captured by the highly talented Simone Letari who was born in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana in 1971 and where he lives and works. He has received many national and international awards for his photography which he has cultivated from an early age.
Simone’s current exhibition is divided into two themes:’ winter shots’
and ‘on the tracks of the buffardello’ (an elfin-like spirit which haunts the Garfagnana).
See how many places you can recognize. (There’s the abandoned village of Bugnano, for example).
In the bookshop I also met a well-known personality of Bagni di Lucca, Fabio Lucchesi, born in New York in 1927 but who returned with his mother in 1931 to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana where he lived until 1943. Originally director of Bagni di Lucca’s post office, Fabio has been part of three administrations of Bagni di Lucca as councillor and cultural assessor. He’s also a journalist with ‘La Nazione’ and vice-director of the new ‘Corriere di Bagni di Lucca.’ For ten years he’s been president of the local branch of ‘Unitre’ (University of the third age).
Fabio is a truly generous and gentle man with an immense learning. I value him very highly indeed, as do all the citizens of Bagni di Lucca, and have joined him on various trips in beautiful Italy to places like Trieste, Caserta and Procida. It’s largely thanks to Fabio that I have been encouraged to participate in giving talks to Unitre. His daughters, Paola and Laura, run the excellent Borghesi restaurant in Bagni di Lucca, villa, which Fabio owns.
Fabio showed me his new book on a personally experienced war incident at Casabasciana which has recently been immaculately published by Luca and Rebecca’s press ‘Edizioni Cinque Marzo’. (They are the ones who have also published our book of poems and paintings described at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/septet/ . Have you bought your copy of that one yet?).
I won’t give away too much of Fabio’s story, which is beautifully written in his impeccable Italian prose and can be easily read by anyone with a reasonable knowledge of that beautiful tongue, except to say that it involves the discovery of a common language between friend and enemy, rather like the incident I’ve described (using yet another common language) in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/how-to-avoid-a-massacre/ ).
Failure to learn and use a common language is one of the main reasons for lack of integration in many communities throughout the world. I still remain astonished at how many people from other countries (I won’t say which ones) who have made a permanent or semi-permanent residence in Bagni di Lucca are unable to properly express themselves in Italian. After all, there are free evening classes available in this lovely language at the local school. The only alternative is to stick with people who can speak one’s native language which can be rather limiting socially and certainly does not add to any significant integration with the local population.
For example, there is a particularly obnoxious person who fortunately moved out of our village some years ago now and lives in the wilds of some forest (where he rightfully belongs) who once bluntly stated to me ‘why should I learn Italian properly? I don’t need to speak it.’
I realise I’ve been here over ten years now but yesterday I was actually complemented on my Italian and told that it had radically improved since my first appearance in the town. It may take a little time to learn a language but the rewards are immense! Imagine being able to read Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch in the original, or just following the news in the papers and the local TV station NOI TV! (Unfortunately I don’t know Russian but I’ve been told that reading such classics as ‘Crime and Punishment’ in that language is an immense experience. Certainly, my little knowledge of Sanskrit – learnt when I lived in India – has been of immense value when reading the wonderful plays of Kālidāsa. They just sound so much better!)
It’s always children that lead the way. Parents here escaping from the horrors of living in Tottenham or New Cross now have brought up children who are ambilingual in a way that their mums and dads truly envy!
The Shelley House bookshop and gallery is constantly receiving new additions of both English and Italian books apart from its changing exhibitions and is always worth a visit during its opening days which are from Thursday to Saturday. It’s certainly become a popular meeting point for anyone interested in reading, writing and cultural affairs. This year is a particularly significant one for Shelley House since exactly two hundred years ago a young eighteen-year old girl was completing a story which has held us all in suspense ever since. It was called ‘Frankenstein’. Her name? Mary Shelley of course! And she was glad to follow the successful sales and collect the royalties of her gripping tale in….Bagni di Lucca!