The Mists of Time

Rain returned yesterday and for the next few days it’s going to be very damp and misty. It’s a good time, perhaps, to look back at photographs one’s taken ten years ago of this same part of the world.

Sometimes it’s easily recognizable where the photographs have been taken, sometimes it’s not. The village must be somewhere near Corfino by the views from it but is that stretch of water Lago Pontecosi?  And what about these amazing mill wheels?

Already mysterious mists of time are descending onto pictures I’ve taken here.

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From the snow’s embrace

a crocus thrusts forth its bud:

when will spring arrive?

Trassilico’s Sweet Little Castagnata

Not all Castagnate have to be big affairs. There was a little confusion this weekend about which Castagnate should be where.

Trassilico is one of the most loveable villages in the Gallicano area and I was able to attend a miniscule but very friendly castagnata (chestnut festa) there.

I particularly enjoyed talking to the maker of the model of this metato (chestnut drying hut). He has built many such models including a mill.

There was also a very friendly cat called Ruffo:

I had a chat with one particularly knowledgeable local about the history of Trassilico. It used to be a truly important Estensi centre (i.e. under the rule of the Estensi family from Ferrara) and to this day does not enjoy being under the yoke of Lucca. It even was its own comune until 1947 and the recent merger of Vergemoli comune not with it but with Fabbriche di Vallico made my narrators’ blood boil. History in these parts of Italy isn’t something one just reads about in books. It is felt upon the pulse and there is real resentment against Luccan domination to this day!

I’ve already written about transcendental Trassilico. (See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/trassilican-transcendence/ )

There is however, always more to discover. The walks from Trassilico are some of the best in the Apuan Alps and I took one to the church of San Ansano, a little way outside town. Can you see the Monte Forato (the mountain with the huge natural arch) in the distance?

On the way I passed an old version of a fridge – a stone hut called a ‘casalino’ built into the side of a rocky outcrop to keep items like milk and cheese fresh.

Trassilico, in fact has four churches and finally I was able to find out why the finest is some way down the hill, It’s because in the fourteenth century there was a massive earthquake in the area and people decided to rebuilt their village further up on the ridge, leaving the magnificent church in isolation and only reachable by footpath!

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The little church of San Rocco in the village’s main square is also worth a look (if it is open as on this rare occasion).

Trassilico can never fail to please and the view of the Estensi fortress from the other side of the settlement set against the startling backcloth of the Apuans is almost Himalayan in its feel.

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The White Death Hits Bolognana

I came across this monument a few days ago when I decided I’d go through the town of Bolognana instead of by-passing it as is usually done.

It clearly refers to a great tragedy where several workmen working on a hydro-electric project lost their lives. This kind of death, which is all too common in Italy, is called ‘morte bianca’ – white death.

I need to find out more about what happened back in 1939. Perhaps the tunnel the workmen were excavating to channel the water down to the hydro-electric station collapsed upon them or they were blown up in a misaligned dynamite explosion.

Whatever the reason for the terrible accident the monument, which is divided into two parts – the original one and the much later one dedicated to victims of work-related accidents in general – , moved my emotions considerably. I thought the peace dove particularly beautifully done.

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PS I have since been told that my hypothesis was correct. A tunnel which should have brought water from Gallicano to Turrite Cava Lake collapsed killing ten young workmen on the ENEL project. It was the night of 24th November 1938. All victims came from the local area. The original monument was erected in 1942. Although restored in 2015, I still think it needs a bit of gardening around it to bring it back to its full glory and dignity again.

PS When you get your next ENEL bill a good idea to avoid cursing it is to think of the past sacrifice of so many young men in bringing you an electricity supply.

 

 

 

Mighty Senators of the Forest

On my way back from Vagli’s Tibetan bridge (see previous post) I came across one of Italy’s own noblest green-robed senators of mighty woods (to adapt a phrase from Keats’ ‘Hyperion’). This senator was a tiny seedling when the New World was just discovered, and has given hope and nourishment to generations of families in the areas of Roggio, Puglianella and Roccalberti. It still belongs to the descendants of those families. For me it is one of the loveliest living beings upon this earth and something to truly kneel before in awe and adoration. No wonder our ancestors worshipped trees (and some of us still do!) There are many religions and cultures which give praise to these verdant giants thankfully, for without them we would not only be deprived of their fruit and wood but, most importantly, of their life-giving oxygen.

The Bread of Life in our part of the world is not just the Divinity but the Castagno, the chestnut tree, which has supported so much of the population with the flour made from its fruit.  This magnificent tree, a little outside Roggio, is half a thousand years old and is truly an immense power emanating a mystic strength which I felt throughout my whole self as I touched it.

There are many other such colossal beings in your area and perhaps, if you live here, you may have your own favourite Castagno. Just feeling it and putting your arms round it will fill your whole existence with new life and energy because the tree is one of the highest manifestations of life itself.

Here are some of pictures of that ‘Castagno monumentale’ di Roggio taken the other day.It’s 86 feet high and its circumference is 33 feet.

Which reminds me – have you already been to your Castagnata if you live in this part of the world? Yesterday I was at the delightful one at Cascio. If you weren’t there you’ll have to read all about it tomorrow….

A Tibetan Bridge in the Garfagnana

If you live in the Lucchesia you don’t have to go all the way to Tibet to cross a Tibetan bridge. Since the summer this year you only have to go as far as Lake Vagli which is reached on the road leading left from Poggio, north of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.

I love the thrill of highly strung pedestrian suspension bridges and, of course, we have our own in Val di Lima which I’ve described at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/ravioli-and-suspense-in-val-di-lima/ so I was keen to try out the new one at Vagli.

In Tibet suspension bridges are usually made of strong chord and are used to provide a short cut across the many deep valleys of that country divided by such rivers as the Mekong and the Brahmaputra which originate in the Himalayan snows before descending into the plains of India and Indo-China.

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(A bridge in Tibet)

There are already two bridges in the Vagli valley plus the dam that was built shortly after the last war to provide hydro-electric power and drinking water for Pisa and Livorno by blocking the river and forming a large lake which effectively encircles Vagli di Sotto. Vagli’s mayor thought it would be a good idea to add a third bridge to carry across a mountain trail and provide an added frisson for ramblers in the area.

(Vagli Dam dating from 1947)

It was an idea which brought over two million visitors to the area in summer. Such was the demand to see and cross the bridge that crossing it had to be restricted to visitors just for the week-end. So it was a bit of a disappointment when I reached the bridge on a Thursday and found the gate to the lakeside path leading to the ‘ponte Tibetano’ closed.

Fortunately, I had two allies in my side. First, the lake of Vagli was practically dry. Because of the lack of summer rainfall most of the inhabitants of Pisa and Livorno had drunk its contents! In theory it would have been possible for me to get down towards the lake bottom and thus circumvent the fence. Then I met two kindly officials who said that since I’d come all this way to cross the bridge I could, with their approval, carry out my plan.

The scene before me was totally spectacular – one of the most astonishing days I’ve passed for a long time. The almost emptied lake was breath-taking with its grey, lunar-like, landscape and I could make out some of the old buildings and roads and bridges which would have led to the now submerged village of Fabbriche di Careggine. The lake had last been emptied for maintenance in 1994 – a sight I’d experienced (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/the-exquisite-alpeggio-of-campocatino/ on that supernal experience). There were promises that the lake would be emptied this year but because of the water shortage the importance of having some sort of reservoir was essential.

Reaching the bridge I approached a monument park and was particularly moved to see that the wonderful dog Diesel, killed by islamists terrorists last year, was commemorated by a marble statue to him with the words ‘honour and respect’ inscribed on it. To read more about Diesel and other heroic dogs (and cats) see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/of-simon-the-cat/.

The bridge, itself is a political statement for it honours the naval squadron of which the two Italian Marò (marine fusiliers) so wrongly accused of the murder of two Keralan fishermen in 2012 and who are still undergoing the almost unbearable stress of a legal case (I know I’ve been through one in my own minor way).

Crossing the bridge was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Quite alone, hundreds of feet above an almost dried-up lake I crossed to the other side witnessing the most wonderful views of the Apuan Mountains around me.

I returned to Vagli without missing the ancient mystique of the Romanesque church of Saint Augustine.

Vagli di sotto is itself a charming, quiet place with a beautiful marble and stone striped parish church and silent alleyways whose main inhabitants seemed to be a variety of cats.

Vagli di Sotto’s Tibetan bridge is less dippy than the one in Val di Lima and its foot-walk is made up of wooden slabs rather than reticulated steel plates so it’s quite possible to take a dog across it provided, of course, that the owner doesn’t suffer from vertigo!

If you go there aim for a week-end and don’t expect to see the lake as dry as I found it. Within twenty days I was told it’ll be full again.

(A Beleagured Mermaid – where has my lake gone?)

Which reminds me – we have no water to our house today unless we go down to the stream!

Thinking Twice About Your ENEL Bill….

Pian Della Rocca, previously dismissed by me as being of little interest in a post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/rock-hard/ in favour of the much more picturesque old settlement of La Rocca which lies above, is worth a second look. The monumental hydro-electric generating station referred to in that post is a major contribution to Italian fascist architecture as well as being part of one of the country’s most ambitious hydro-electric schemes.

Amazingly built in 1942 when Italy was in the thick of the Second World War and when the Gothic line was being constructed nearby, Pian della Rocca’s generating station lies opposite the village’s only bar (good coffee, friendly service and sports and newspapers to read). I suspect Pian Della Rocca was built to house those working on the project.

The Francis turbines (invented in 1848 by English engineer James Francis and using centrifugal force to generate their energy) use the waters of the Turrite Cava torrent, which is a tributary of the Serchio River, to generate electric power. There is an example of one of these turbines in the grounds of the station:

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If you go towards Fabbriche to Vallico you’ll see the dam holding back the waters of the Turrite Cava which form a lake. Both these and the waters descending down in a huge tube towards Gallicano are used at Pian della Rocca’s generating station.

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It’s not often realised that the majority of the villages in our area only received electricity in the last fifty odd years. The channelling of torrents and natural underground waters into a complex system of tunnels and reservoirs, begun before the last war but only completed in the 1960’s, form part of a great scheme of harnessing water power in an environmentally friendly way. Indeed, the whole scheme was awarded the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) certification in 2007.

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The Pian della Rocca generating station was thoroughly overhauled and restored by ENEL in 2011 at a cost of 23,000,000 euros.

Although not open to the public (I’ve made a request to visit it, however) the main building is the work of one of Italy’s greatest art nouveau architects, Ugo Giovannozzi. Not only that, but the beautifully proportioned structure, if not quite in the class of those ‘temples of power’ mentioned in architectural historian and erstwhile school-mate Gavin Stamp’s book of the same name, is certainly one of Italy’s most beautiful ‘pievi di potenza’ (parish churches of power).

Giovannozzi (Florence 1876 – Rome 1957) has been completely revalued in recent times. Of his most significant works are several of the spas at Montecatini, in particular the well-known Tettuccio establishment.

Rocca’s station’s main hall is characterised on its exterior by three statues by Angiolo Vannetti, a sculptor from Livorno. (I’m sure the central reclining lady must represent the Serchio river). Angelo Vannetti (Livorno 1881 – Florence 1962) was one of the greatest art nouveau artists in Italy. Later his work developed into a variety of art deco and his statues are to be compared favourably with the work of Aristide Maillol. He studied at Florence’s Accademia delle Belle Arti and was particularly influenced by trends in French and Belgian art.

 

 

In the 1920’s Vannetti worked extensively in the Far East, especially in Vietnam. Recently a beautiful statue of his in Tripoli called the source of life – a nude lady representing water with a gazelle symbolising the union of the two provinces of Libya, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania – was seriously damaged by (inevitably…) jihadists in 2014.

 

 

Vannetti worked closely in conjunction with art-nouveau architect Giovanni Michelazzi. Anyone who has visited the horticultural gardens near Florence’s Piazza delle Cure can’t have missed this lovely Vannetti sculpture of a pair of deer:

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Michelazzi himself was for long neglected so that several of his buildings were wantonly destroyed in those vandal years of the sixties and seventies. However, he embellished Florence with some of its finest liberty style buildings. Who hasn’t admired this glorious house, casa Vichi, when passing near the church of Ognissanti on the northern lung’ Arno in that city, for example?

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So make it a point of not by-passing even Rocca on your way from Garfagnana to Lucca on the Lodovico road. There are some of the most startling treasures to be found in the most unassuming location and that is for me one of the greatest pleasures of life.

 

 

And don’t complain too much about your ENEL electricity bill! Some of it must surely have been gone on not just on keeping your house lit up but also in maintaining ENEL’s beautiful engineering architecture in our area, another wonderful neo-classic example of which can be found just outside Ponte a Moriano:

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A Parenthesis of Violoncellists

The violoncelli recital at Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico last Thursday was a great way to start September off for Sebastian Comberti and Raphael Wallfisch’s partnership is wittily magnetic. Now for the first time they were able to display their supreme talents in Bagni di Lucca Villa and not in an attractive, but slightly remote village in the adjoining valley.

The violoncello is, of course, another Italian invention from that country which has produced some of the world’s outstanding stringed instruments. Developed from the violone (the English equivalent would be the bass viol) its rapid entry into the world of instrumental music was helped (as explained by Sebastian) by the Bolognese invention of wire strung cat-gut strings which enabled the instrument to be enhanced with thicker strings and sustain a louder, more consistent and mellower sound. Today, apart from the baroque cello, the majority of cello strings are made with a steel core.

The two cellists played with a supporting spike at the end of their cello (not usual on baroque celli) but Wallfisch’s was considerably longer so that his arm and hand position was somewhat different from Comberti’s. I think this may emphasise the fact that the cello is really a part of the family of those ‘da braccio’ (arm-held) string instruments which include the violin and the viola.

Technicalities apart, it’s the sound that counts and in the intimate acoustics of the Teatro it was ravishing. The evening was introduced by deputy mayor, cultural ‘assessore’ (and our family doctor) Vito Valentino and consisted of a variety of pieces with the main emphasis on that great rococò Lucchese Luigi Boccherini. The choice of this composer was particularly appropriate since Wallfisch plays a Gagliano instrument dating from 1760 and, therefore, of the same era in which Boccherini, himself a distinguished cellist, lived.

During the evening the violoncelli propagated themselves to three and even reached four with the addition of two further members and students of the summer course for budding world cellists held by Comberti and Wallfisch at Tereglio.

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I particularly enjoyed the foursome playing a diabolical study by Piatti which, predictably led to this piece being replayed as an encore.

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To hear the incredibly high quality and realise the international provenance of the students attending the summer courses at Tereglio don’t miss out today’s (Sunday) concert in Tereglio’s parish church at 17.30 (5.30 pm for followers of Captain Mainwaring…). You will certainly not be disappointed and for encouragement there’s a very nice selection of locally backed cakes at the traditional ‘rinfresco’…

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(Boccherini playing on outside Lucca’s Conservatorio, named after him, but using bronze strings.)