Love of Literature in Mediaevalle

UFor lovers of literature and poetry there are two unmissable events today in our part of the world. The first is at 5 pm at Shelley House, Bagni di Lucca. It’s the presentation of Enrico Botta’s book, Mal-aria D’Africa, which has been produced by Luca and Rebecca’s publishing house Cinque Marzo.

(Enrico Botta)

Who is Enrico Botta? He’s a Viareggio director and known to the public for his musical ‘Snow White’ and ‘Aenigma’ with Antonio Casanova. Mal-aria D’Africa is Enrico’s first novel and the title clearly alludes to the disease, literally meaning ‘bad air’, a contagion which once proliferated over marshland areas like the Italian Maremma. The novel is about a young entertainer who travels to Africa and, in particular to the beautiful lands of Kenya. Here he becomes seriously ill. Meanwhile an actor thousands of miles away in Milan puts on a replica of the entertainer’s last show. The two events are thus bound together in a strange parallel universe: Italy and Africa.

Regrettably I won’t be able to attend this presentation since a friend and member of that heavenly vocal group Stereotipi who have done so much, through their school and performances, to raise musical standards in our part of the world, Lia Salotti, is, at the same time, arranging a presentation of a book of poems written by her mother Ivana Domenici.

The appointment with poetry is also this Saturday at 5.00 pm in the hall of the former Convent of the Oblate in Borgo a Mozzano. Present will be the poet Ivana Domenici who teaches history at Borgo a Mozzano’s school Borgo a Mozzano.

The book is published by Ama Ducci and enriched with illustrations by Mirco Martinelli. It brings together some forty poems that retrace the author’s life: feelings and emotions and moments. The event will be presented by Gabriele Matraia and Maria Teresa Malerbi, while actors Valentina Gianni and Federico Barsanti will read selections from the book. There’s also going to be a musical accompaniment with Martino Biondi, guitar, Lia Salotti, violin, and Serena Salotti, voice.

I’m so glad that literature, especially, is alive and kicking in the Lucchesia – which reminds me that my  own humble effort will soon see the light of the world after the success of my volume ‘Septet’, publshed last year (See )





My Wife’s Illustrious Ancestor

As part of the continuing series of’ lezioni’ or lectures given by the Bagni di Lucca branch of Unitre, the University of the Third Age, I’m giving a talk at 4 pm today at the library of ex-Anglican church. The subject is ‘Giovanni Battista Cipriani – un pittore Toscano in Inghilterra’. The lecture will be delivered in Italian so you are warned. However, even if your knowledge of the world’s most beautiful language is limited you can still enjoy the afternoon as there will be plenty of pictures to illustrate the artist’s work.

(Giovanni Battista Cipriani 1727 – 85)

Giovanni Battista Cipriani was one of a distinguished group of Italians who made the United Kingdom their home, particularly in the eighteenth century, that age of enlightenment. They included such notable persons as Francesco Xaverio Geminiani, the Luccan composer (see my talk on him at and Giacomo Leoni, the Venetian architect who introduced Palladianism to England and whose masterpiece, Clandon House, owned by the National Trust, was so tragically gutted by a fire in 2015.

Among his considerable achievements Cipriani is especially noted for the following:

  • He raised the art of interior decoration and architectural embellishments to new heights
  • He improved graphic arts immensely especially with regard to posters, invitations and certificates
  • He was a co-founder, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, of Britain’s premier artistic institution, the Royal Academy
  • He collaborated with Robert Adam in producing some of the most exquisite furniture ever seen
  • He was a superb painter in his own right and contributed to the beautification of several English country houses

(Cipriani’s Decorations for Trafalgar House’s Music Room)

  • He painted the Gold state Coronation and the Lord Mayor’s coach

(H.M. The Queen’s Golden State Coach)

Last but not least Giovanni Battista Cipriani was an ancestor of my wife, Alexandra Antonia Cipriani, no mean artist herself and whose presence will grace my talk.

(Alexandra Antonia Cipriani – descendant of Giovanni Battista Cipriani)

So if you are in the area do drop in to Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican Church, now library, at 4.00 pm and soak in the talent of an Italian – and a Florentine to boot – who did so much to raise standards of design and cultured living in eighteenth century England.

Of course, Italy today continues that great tradition of inspiring the improvement of so many cultural facets in the United Kingdom, whether it be in fashion, food, film or music. It is, therefore, a real tragedy that a group of mal-informed, and largely philistine, members of the British populace, through their apparently freely cast votes, have initiated a path that can only lead to greater isolation and ultimate perdition of all that the United kingdom was once famous for – the unconditional welcome of talented people from the continent – and other parts of the world – who have done so much through their effort and genius to contribute to the enhancement of the proudly eclectic nature of artistic and social life in those island.

Whiter than White!

No, Bagni di Lucca is not preparing for the visit of an ayatollah – remember how those gorgeous classical nudes were covered up (including the Apollo Belvedere!) during the recent visit of an eastern potentate to the Vatican museums.

In this case the scaffolding at present surrounding its war memorial is for a much needed restoration of the statue: Ponte a Serraglio’s homage to the Fallen. The work is sponsored in large part by the Cassa di Risparmio of Lucca which is also contributing towards restoration of the equally fine monument at San Cassiano.

The restoration, which is taking place one hundred years after the greatest massacre Europe has experienced, was sorely needed since moss and lichens had been covering the statue giving the noble figure a somewhat sickly appearance. Moreover, the various parts of the monument were becoming separated from each other.

(The memorial before restoration)

The statue was sculpted by Alberto Cheli in 1923 and is in a markedly neo-classical style with leanings towards fascist grandiloquence. Its material is marble, and the steps to are in pietra Serena.

Alberto Cheli was born in 1888 at Pieve Fosciana in the upper Serchio valley (where he also sculpted a war memorial). Cheli studied under Luccan Francesco Petroni. In 1932 he married Adalgisa Panconi, from whom he had twins, Giorgio and Lio. Among Cheli’s other monuments is one commemorating the poet Virgil in the Italian colony of Rosario Argentina (1930). He died in 1947 in Lucca.

(Alberto Cheli)

Certainly, the end results of the Ponte a Serraglio monument are beginning to show and a whiter-than-white heroic figure is emerging. It’s a bit too refulgent to my eyes but I’m sure time will give this fine monument some patina back to it.

Incidentally, someone I knew who lived on the opposite side of the river would wake up to a splendid view of the statue’s posterior every day. I’m sure that part of the monument’s anatomy will be nicely cleaned up too.

Valdottavo’s Unctuous Festa

Were you at the Festa dell‘olio at Valdottavo this past week-end? I hope, if you live locally, you were for the festa celebrates local production of Italy’s superb olive oil and we should all try to support this ancient and respected agricultural craft.

When you’re in a supermarket do you just stretch your arm out and grab any bottle of olive oil or do you stop to read the label? Italy’s olive oil production is being undermined by ‘contraffati’ – fake products. We’ve all heard about fake news but there are a lot of other fake things going around and olive oil is one of them. That’s why it’s so important to check your source. Life is too short to waste spending money on a product that is cheaper but doesn’t taste a fraction as good and, more importantly, doesn’t help our local farmers.

Valdottavo has been for centuries an area of prime olive oil production. Indeed, it’s one of the remotest areas of cultivation of the olive tree for which the whole Lucchesia is famous.

The week-end’s festa was a celebration of the great tradition of olive oil production. The number one task there is to get a decent bottle of the extra virgin stuff:

There were also lots of other things happening including this demonstration of judo, including its offshoot, kick and elbow boxing. I wouldn’t try to challenge any of these youngsters!

Art exhibitions, which are normally held on the first floor of the Teatro Colombo, were instead moved to a more accessible place further up the high street. Two artists exhibited. Paola Begliomini, self-taught and whose work is a wonderful example of naïve surrealism, had a representative collection of her paintings which combine naturalism with excursions into dream fantasy:

Giuseppe is also a part-time painter and his canvases display a finely observant eye to the landscapes and buildings of this part of the world.

His Deperian sculpture is a prime example of how even superannuated boilers can be put to new use. I’m sure if it had been signed by Tracy Emin it would have been beyond the pockets of most of us to buy.

The day proved sunny and the social ambience was most pleasant. Congratulations to the comune of Valdottavo and its lovely location for continuing with this unctuously sweet event.

Whisky Without Soda

Miao! If you read Francis’ blog regularly you’ll know who I am. Just because I’m black and white – no great thing for a cat – my servant has called me Whisky.

Actually I wouldn’t touch the stuff – prefer a nice dollop of cream myself. I’ve got a sister called Cheeky but thankfully she’s miles away as we don’t really get on except for giving some nice claws to each other.

Here is a picture of my sister climbing up a tree. Hope she can’t get down! Her butler is Francis from Longoio.

I think I’m quite a privileged cat as my patron is none other than Prof Sam Stych who must be the most venerable citizen of Bagni di Lucca. He will be 101 years old this July the 15th!

There’s nothing I like more than snuggling up on Sam’s lap and sleeping and dreaming away. After all 101 in cat years is 25. No mean feat! Sam’s very good to me as he truly loves cats. I get three meals a day and unlike other humans Sam doesn’t shove me off everytime I land on him.

Make it an Interesting Journey from BDL to Florence

The journey should be part of the joy of travelling from the Lucchesia to Florence. How many of us going by car just head for the Autostrada del Mare, Italy’s second oldest motorway dating back to the 1920’s, and speed along until we reach the city of the Lily?

Of course, if one is in a hurry that’s the best route to use. But there are luscious alternatives – and plenty of them. One of my favourite routes to get to Florence from Bagni di Lucca is to follow the Val di Lima to the Lima junction. From thence you either take the main route to Le Piastre which goes through San Marcello Pistoiese and over the Monte Oppio pass, or via Cecafumo and Prunetta. From Le Piastre it’s a pleasant descent into the Arno Valley and if you really want to take the Autostrada you can do so at the Pistoia toll-gate. Pistoia, with its gorgeous sights, merits at least a few hours to visit, especially as it’s this year’s city of culture. Otherwise, you could take strada regionale 66 (evocative number…) with a welcome break at Poggio a Caiano to visit the wonderful Medici villa there.

To return there’s nothing better than taking the FI-PI-LI, strada di grande comunicazione, from Florence but exiting at Lastra a Signa. Here you could stop and visit Caruso’s Villa (see my post at

and thence travel along one of the Arno’s most picturesque stretches. This is where the river cuts through a gorge known as ‘La Gonfolina’. The road shares this part of the river course with the main Pisa to Florence railway.

Why is this area known as the Gonfolina? It’s perhaps because the word ‘Gonfio’ means swollen and it was this part of the Tuscan landscape that divides the Arno into two stretches. In ancient times the river would swell up in the upper stretch until it formed a lake which would overflow and cascade down to form a second lake.

There is still a part of the huge boulder which once damned this part of the Arno in Cainozoic times.

It’s this stone which appears in an engraving by Giuseppe Zocchi in 1744.

It’s also this stone which has inspired many folk tales.

On the stone there’s a plaque with an inscription by the great and curious mind of Leonardo da Vinci:

This reads:

“La Gonfolina, Sasso per antico unito co’ Monte Albano in forma d’altissimo argine il quale tenea ingorgato tal fiume in modo che, prima che versassi nel mare era dopo a’ piedi di tal Sasso, componea due grandi laghi de’ quali el primo è là dove oggi si vede finire la città di Firenze insieme con Prato e Pistoia”

Translated this is “Gonfolina, A rock, in ancient times forming part of the Monte Albano  which once divided the river into two stretches before it reaches the sea, each stretch forming a lake of which the first one reaches out to the city of Florence together with Prato and Pistoia”.

After this delightful part of the Arno the road takes one to Montelupo Fiorentino, famous for its terracottas and ceramics. From thence one could stop and have lunch at Empoli and visit the sights of this somewhat neglected but characterful town, including the Piazza degli Uberti with its fine church, the Pretorian palace the Pinacoteca and composer Busoni’s house.

Then it’s across the Arno valley, heading for Fucecchio, Bird-watcher could make a slight detour to the Padule di Fucecchio, one of Italy’s largest wetland areas and which provides some of the best bird observations in Italy. Thence it’s to Altopascio, another fascinating town with its Templar hostel and mythical bread. From Altopascio one can either head for Lucca or go to Marlia, the Serchio valley and Bagni di Lucca.

So do make the journey part of your delight in visit Florence from the Lucchesia. And there are still umpteen more routes to discover!



PS I’ve just realised we did this route more years ago than I care to remember – on our way to Empoli and San Miniato Tedesco, by bicycle from Florence. Ah those were the days!

Prince Charles to Visit Bagni di Lucca

A great last-minute surprise! As part of the centenary celebrations of the British Institute the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles in the company of the Princess of Wales will tomorrow be paying a visit to Bagni di Lucca. He will be received by the Mayor and the President of the Montaigne Foundation.

The visit celebrates the centuries-old ties of the thermal town with Great Britain and commemorates one of Bagni’s most notable past residents, Ian Greenlees, who was director of the British Institute.

Highlights of the Prince’s stay in our beautiful spa town will be a visit to the library which has been prepared for its original function as the town’s Anglican Church. The reverend Farthingale will be conducting a church service at 11.30 am and Prince Charles will deliver a speech on the important relationship between Bagni di Lucca and Great Britain. Charles will also pay a visit to Professor Samuel Stych, 101 this year, who was a neighbour and friend of Ian Greenlees.