Attics in the Street

One of Bagni di Lucca’s most successful ventures is the quarterly ‘soffitte in tavole’ (attics in the street) sales of second-hand and antique items. There are also craft stalls.

The cornucopia of little treasures is well-filled. There’s everything from furniture to clothes, from old postcards to kitchen items, from ancient bed-warmers to canvases:

The weather last Sunday, although crisp, was sunny and the stalls were well-attended. I almost fell for a mandolin from Catania, Sicily as I thought it was thirty euros. I looked again and realised that it was three hundred instead. I managed to bargain it down to two hundred and I’m sure it was a bargain at that price – I just don’t go around with two hundred euros in my pocket. Instead, I managed to get an old Dinky toy for five euros, which can’t be bad.


The dates of the next ‘soffitte in strada’ are as follows:



See you there?




A Pawsome Show with Cattitude

Lucca has a newish trade fair and exhibition complex and it’s easily reached from near the city’s autostrada exit. Housed in a refurbished ex-factory building it hosted a cat exhibition organised by ANFI (Italian National Cat Association) last weekend. I could not resist and headed to Lucca’s ‘polo fieristico’.

I was not disappointed. Every species of cat was there: from ragdolls to Persians, from Siamese to leopard-spotted, from blues to that giant of cats, the Maine coon which can reach up to ten kilos in weight. There were also the strange hairless cats called Canadian sphinx. (Actually they are not hairless but their hair is very short and fine). Cats were arranged in spacious cages which formed squares with their owners in the inside. It’s not exactly easy to photograph a cat, especially if it’s in a cage, but here is a selection of the species I saw on show:

There was a competition for the best cats in various categories.


There were talks about how to look after one’s cat and even train them how to use the loo and avoid having to clean cat litters! There were stands selling cat requisites from food to shampoo to cat-hammocks. I was particularly impressed by the recycling of vegetable market containers to produce cat baskets. Every cat-lover must have been surely well-pleased to attend the show.

There was an art corner where one could pick up a Rembrandt or Van Gogh for under a a thousand euros. (copies, very well-done, of course.)

As I arrived around mid-day I started to feel hungry. Fortunately there was a lunch stand specialising in truffle products. I could not resist!

There were also truffle and porcini mushroom flavour crisps. They certainly made a change from salt ‘n vinegar and cheese ‘n onion…

I got there in time. After 2 pm the queues started and they became rather long.

Competitors and breeders came from all parts of Italy and, indeed, the EU. I was amazed at the devotion so many people give to cats. Well, not so amazed: cats are ever fascinating – and mysterious too.

As I returned to the parking I met up with two magnificent Spanish greyhounds.


In the parking this car showed just how much cats are part of a family in Italy:


I came home back to my common or garden cats and realised that they are the most special cats in the world – at least to me…

Venus’ Harbour

The ‘Cinque Terre’, that dramatic piece of Ligurian coastline which incorporates the little towns of Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, almost desperately clinging onto the rugged coastline to avoid being swallowed by the sea, are easily accessible from Bagni di Lucca and are rightly very popular (sometimes I think too popular) with walkers traversing the footpath connecting the five places.

Porto Venere is actually a sixth town on the list, so the ‘Cinque Terre’ should more correctly be called the ‘Sei Terre’. However, since Porto Venere doesn’t have a railway station and is reachable by bus from La Spezia it’s often left out. This is a great pity for Porto Venere is one of the most beautiful places on earth and it was only this week that I first visited it after ten years of making Italy my principal residence. How strange!


I arrived at Porto Venere after taking a train from Bagni di Lucca and changing at Aulla for La Spezia, which is worth a day to itself: see my posts on La Spezia at


I then took the 11P bus to Porto Venere from Viale Garibaldi which is just ten minutes from the station. Parking must be a headache in Porto Venere and the road to it is twisty and often narrow. The greatest hazard, however, is not the road itself but what you can see from it: the views are so spectacular that you could be easily distracted and plunge to your doom over the often steep sides!

The whole public transport journey from Bagni di Lucca to Porto Venere takes a little over two hours if you study your connections well. My return journey took me via Viareggio and Lucca involving a couple of changes but I was glad I didn’t use my own transport.

From ancient Ligurian beginnings Porto Venere became part of the great Genoese maritime republic and shares many of the republic’s characteristics:

Massive fortifications crowned by the Doria fortress:

Narrow alleys called ‘caruggi’:

Beautiful Romanesque zebra-striped church architecture:

San Pietro

San Lorenzo with its miraculous image of the Madonna:

And the most delectable seascapes including the island of Palmaria, separated by the stretch of water known as ‘le bocche’:

Not leaving aside Byron’s favourite haunt, the cove where he would forget his club foot which made him limp embarassingly and swim his disability away in the lovely waters of the bay of poets:

There is something quite magical about visiting normally tourist-infested haunts in mid-winter when there only a few hardy souls about. There may not be many bars, restaurants and souvenir shops open but the freedom from crowds is surely something to be enjoyed.

It’s great that we have these wonderful places, so different from our mountain haunts in their seascapes, at such a close distance from the Val di Lima. What other country, I wonder, has so much variety packed in so small area of territory?


PS Fellow blogger Debra Kolkka has written extensively on Porto Venere. For example, see her post at

There’s also a pretty good web site for Porto Venere at






How People Work in the Lucchesia

A fine photographic exhibition curated by Luca Lorenzetti opened last Sunday at Borgo a Mozzano’s library in the elegant Palazzo Santini.


The exhibition focuses on manual occupations and at first sight the photos could be mistaken for belonging to another age. This perception is heightened by the fact that most of the photographs are in black-and-white.


However, the pictures are of the present times and it is wonderful to see how many traditional crafts are still being carried out in our area.

It’s the hands of people, whether they are harvesting barley, threading baskets, pounding pasta or arranging flowers, that grabs one’s attention.

The exhibition, which is titled “Vi presento il Mestiere Lucchese” (“I’m showing you how people in the Lucchesia work”), is accompanied by a book which describes six crafts in the area. These are the following:

Corbellaio Basket-maker
Fabbro Blacksmith
Mammaluccaio (figurinaio) Plaster figurine maker
Mietitore Harvester
Norcino Pork butcher
Pasticciere Pastry maker

In a post-industrial society Italy is beginning to realise how important it is to preserve traditional crafts and to interest younger people in them before the knowledge vanishes. Already Italy’s youth, in desperation at the lack of jobs and the amount of land going uncultivated, have re-considered agriculture as a worth-while occupation. Moreover, smothered by imitative mass-produced products from other parts of the world, this country has refound what it’s best at: making some of the finest and most beautiful objects found anywhere in the world and, of course, producing some of the tastiest food and wine one is likely to ever come across.

This very worth-while exhibition is another in the sequence of interesting photographic shows at Borgo’s library. It’s open until 5th March at the following times:

Mon-Thur 14.30 -18.30; Fri 9,30 -12,30, 14,30 -18,30; Sat 9.30 -12,30.

View from a Watch-Tower

Amazingly warm and clear days are still with us in the heart of winter. I checked the long-range weather forecast and it seems that the rough weather will finally reach us in February.

It’s an ideal time for walking as the air is crisp and I took advantage of it to reach the top of Monte Bargiglio where there is an old watch-tower erected by the Republic of Lucca. I’ve described this structure at and it’s worth looking at that post as it shows the tower before recent work on it was completed. The views from the tower remain as spectacular as ever but the entry to it has changed considerably and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s for the better.

I appreciate the replacement of the old wooden rails which prevent one from descending into the depth of the steep ravine on one side.

I do miss, however,  the raw reality of the entrance to the old watch-tower where one could take pictures of the surrounding views through the little windows.

Instead, there are now well-graded steps leading up to a purpose-built metal structure which incorporates a staircase and a viewing platform. It’s quite impossible to go down to the interior although certainly the panorama from the platform is splendid.

This wasn’t just my view (sorry!). Shortly after I had arrived a party of three came and pronounced the same judgment. On the other hand, new signage and conservation of this primeval internet communication hub has eased the access to it.

Restoration of any monument involves often highly debatable decisions. How far should one go? The Arthur Evans reconstruction of parts of the palace of Knossos in Crete using inappropriate material such as concrete is definitely passé but will future generations regard the viewing ‘platform at the Bargiglio tower a little over the top?


Suffer Little Children

A truly moving ceremony took place last Monday in Fornoli’s Peace Park. At 10 am in a freezing morning, to which we are now accustomed, a commemoration of Bagni’s own child victim to the Holocaust, Liliana Urbach who died aged just fifteen months in Auschwitz, took place before a considerable gathering of mayors from adjoining comuni and several citizens.

I received the following note regarding Liliana from Silvana Bracci in January last year. I can only copy my translation of that note:

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.

As if to make the occasion even more poignant the children from the local primary school participated. The headmistress gave a little speech.

A bouquet was laid before Liliana’s commemoration stone by a survivor and two children.

Then violet (the colour of Tuscany) balloons were let loose to rise into the blue skies above.


…..lest we forget that children are still being killed in countries near the same Mediterranean sea that washes Italy at this very moment….. Che non si domentichi mai!!! Lux Perpetua Luceat Eis.

Where’s the White Stuff?

Central, and now southern, Italy is still besieged by cruel winter weather which, especially after the three major earthquakes, is hampering rescue services. Italian TV isn’t so much bothering with trumpians and brexians as with focusing on any possible lives still entrapped in the Rigopiano Hotel which was smothered by an avalanche.

Although the emphasis is on getting people out there are already accusations and prosecutions in the air. Why weren’t holiday-makers told about the avalanche risks of staying at the hotel? Why was the hotel built at the entrance of a huge gully going up the steep slopes of Italy’s highest Apennine peak, the Gran Sasso? Why weren’t the local emergency services fully prepared? This seems to be the general rule in Italy – disaster management where all the praise goes to the hero volunteers who are actually doing something about saving lives and condemnation of the bureaucratic apparatus which is hampering progress in this country.

Meanwhile, at Longoio and the Val di Lima there is still no sign of snow, indeed of rain. We are experiencing a winter drought and I am having to water some plants on our house terraces! It’s the same drought that has caused the forest fires around the Genoa region which closed down a major artery last week and involved the evacuation of hundreds. How strange! On the one side of the peninsula people are saying they haven’t experienced such bad weather in living memory. On the other side people are suffering tinder-dry forests.

It’s therefore reassuring to cast one’s mind back to what the situation was like at our house during our second winter here ten years ago. On this day then it was actually snowing as these photographs demonstrate:

I wonder if Napoleon (cat)  remembers his first taste of snow?

A New Year Ten Years Ago in Val di Lima

How did we pass the start of the New Year a decade years ago? Memories reinforced by photographs give us intimations.

The New Year aperitif (‘Buon Anno’) was beautifully prepared by Sandra:

Our cat was ten years younger (and us too, of course):


We went to Barga to meet Italy’s favourite white witch, the Befana:

We visited the underground excavations under Lucca’s baptistery.

The circus was, of course, included:


The days were blue and sunny – snow had not yet fallen.


We had friends in 2007 which we longer have:

And some which we still have:


And we still have ourselves:



Darkling as a Tuscan forest, perfumed

with Venus’s scent, my darling, I had thrown

myself before your loveliness: consumed

by passion’s volcano I saw you alone.


Life’s end in eternity frightened me,

yet, reborn in concord of symphonies

untouched by strange waters, I wished you free

rejecting another suitor’s deaf pleas.


I know and know you not, Florentine girl

shimmering like night’s river; surrounded

by winter, your soul’s body shall unfurl

with mine and weave a single radiant thread.


And then our nights of love will shine as one

across the square’s lights to the future sun.


That poem refers to a party in Lowndes square, London, lost in the mists of time but sealed by a bond that has never left me through the mountains and valleys of life.