Svizzero’s Greatest Guest

One of Bagni di Lucca’s Hotel Svizzero’s greatest guests (both in mind and in girth) was Alexandre Dumas Senior – he of the ‘Three Musketeers’ and so many other swashbuckling romances. Rumour has it that the hotel’s front entrance had to be enlarged to admit the author’s  waistline into the entrance lobby. I wonder if his bed had to be strengthened as well…

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Further distinguished guests have stayed at the hotel including a dear Irish friend. Regrettably, the hotel suffered decadence and has been for some time excluded from the tourist industry.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this garish sign the other day in front of it. The gates were equally painted with a brash turn of violet. The hotel, however, remained its usual neglected self. Just at that moment a very-well preserved veteran of hotel ownership in Bagni di Lucca turned up and I asked him what was going to happen to the Svizzero. He, too, seemed in the blue (or violet) about it.

Let’s hope that something positive happens to this building which has hosted such celebrities in that past and occupies such a central position in the road surrounding the town’s public gardens.

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As a matter of tittle-tattle Alexandre Dumas was the son of a white Frenchman and an African slave woman from Haiti. Napoleon appointed him as a general and Dumas’ latest book, ‘The Last Cavalier’, was only rediscovered and published in 2005. As with all his other productions it became an instant best seller.

Dumas wrote voluminously. A regrettably deceased friend of mine Robin Buss, had the task of translating ‘The three musketeers’ – he almost had to move out of his home since his translation proofs seemed to occupy half of his floor space! Last but not least, Dumas had over forty mistresses (though not all at the same time I hasten to add). His personal life was, therefore, as energetic as the plots of the wonderfully adventurous books he wrote.

Most important of all, Alexandre Dumas played an essential part in the Italian Risorgimento founding a patriotic paper called ‘Indipendente’ there. At the very least, the comune of Bagni di Lucca should erect a plaque on the hotel where Dumas relaxed during his summer holidays (and probably had a few more liaisons amoureuses with some of the local ladies).

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Incidentally, Dumas was only interred in the Pantheon, that hallowed temple of French greats, as recently as 2002. It was a victory for all those who abhor racism in this world – Dumas was a literary Obama of his time.

As then president Chirac said when the great author’s ashes met their final resting place: “With you, we were D’Artagnan, Monte Cristo, or Balsamo, riding along the roads of France, touring battlefields, visiting palaces and castles–with you, we dream.”

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PS One of Alexandre’s illegitimate sons was the author of that wonderful novella ‘La Dame Aux Camélias’ which inspired Verdi’s opera ’La Traviata.’

 

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