Country Dancing in Limano’s Piazza Gave

Limano, like most villages in the Val di Lima, retains a very small population outside the summer season. In winter you’ll only find around sixty persons living here. In summer, however, its diaspora, who have emigrated to such places as France (largely to Marseilles), Finland, Switzerland (especially to Geneva) and Canada (in Toronto the largest number of ex-pat Limanesi live) return to regain their roots and Limano becomes a place of feasting, dancing, meeting, relishing and enjoyment.

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The Limano back-to-home festival officially starts on August 1st when there’s a traditional dance on the main square which unites the two sections of the village, each placed around a little hill. (If you want to see more pictures of Limano, including its castle and church do read my post on it at

For me Limano is one of the most attractive villages in the Val di Lima and, at a height of around 540 metres, has some of the most spectacular views to be found in our valley.

Emigrant Limanesi have regularly sent back money to their home village and so Limano has many old well- restored stone houses. Indeed, there are no more houses for sale in the village – it seems that, sensibly, those who have left for pastures new want to keep their base here. Moreover, several Limanesi who may live down the valley in such places as Borgo a Mozzano, or even Lucca, transmigrate back to the cooler climate during the summer months and reoccupy their ancestral homes.

The social centre of Limano is the club which itself was a decaying building until Limanesi from Toronto offered funds to buy it and have it restored. I really appreciate the Limanesi for not having abandoned their village entirely and given it over for holiday homes for other nationals as has sadly happened too frequently…

The Limanesi have also made an effort to preserve and record their old traditions, stories and poems before these die out. In the club, among other books, I found a fascinating book on poets from Limano published by those now living in Toronto.

Limano is also a place of music and, indeed, the director of Borgo a Mozzano’s music school hails from Limano. The school’s web site is at

Her sister was very happy to tell me about the traditional dance which, although not quite the splendour it used to be in the past, is still continuing, which is to be applauded. There are two groups of dancers, the little ones and the older ones and they performed a quite complex formation country dance whose aim in the past, must surely have been for young men and women to decide on possible partners for their future family.

Many of the costumes are quite splendid and are hand-loomed locally. Some of them clearly belonged to the dancers’ mothers or even grandmothers. Strict rules apply as to what to wear especially shoes and sneakers are definitely frowned on, although I did spot a few…

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The accordionist is an old hand in his part. Evidently, he’s been doing it for years and is also the church organist.

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One tradition which has vanished, my friend’s mother narrated, was the custom of serenading the girl one took a fancy to under her window in true Don-Giovanni style. If the girl accepted the serenader she would throw down a handkerchief as a pledge.

There are several other traditions which, unfortunately, have disappeared but the mum is working on a book describing them which will be presented at Bagni di Lucca.

It’s wonderful to know that villages which were once felt by so many to be places to escape from because of their poverty are now being revaluated by emigrants and their special features, stories and traditions are being recollected and preserved for future generations before they, alas, disappear for ever.

I’ll leave you with a few videos of Limano’s traditional country-dance:


Napoleonic Pageant at Bagni di Lucca

Last Sunday a major event took place at Bagni di Lucca as part of Lucca’s Napoleonic circle celebration. Around eighty persons in period costumes descended upon our town. Starting from the Circolo dei forestieri they walked up to the Villa Webb (whose past guests included Byron).

By some regrettable fluke I was not present and, indeed, the event was not publicized at all widely. Not even the local pro-loco web site, which is normally quite good in these matters, listed it. There were, in fact, many more people in costume than those watching them.

Where was I? I’d returned to Ponte a Serraglio at 2 pm only to be greeted by a violent hail storm and decided to get home as fast as possible The weather, however, did clear up in time for the pageant to proceed. I heard eye witness accounts from a friend living in Bagni alla Villa who said that the dresses worn were particularly exquisite.

Rather than deny the pleasure of any of my readers I am presenting photographs of the event by permission of pro-loco chair Valerio Ceccarelli.

This occasion, which should have celebrated the Napoleonic connections of Bagni di Lucca, was clearly one of the grandest event for the comune for some time but it was, regrettably, poorly advertised and even more poorly attended. It’s quite a shame for a place where Bonaparte’s sister, Elisa Baiocchi, princess of Lucca, had her summer palace and where the casinò, the first in Europe to be established, was attended by the most distinguished guests of a past age.

Evidently, the empire-style guests moved on to parade themselves in Barga before returning to Lucca where a grand ball was held with over one hundred costumed participants and dancers coming from all parts of Europe.

There was a complaint from some residents that the turn-out to watch wasn’t as wonderful as it should have been and that a toast should have been offered and that a local band playing the Marseillaise would have been welcome. However, it’s clear that those attending, both as participants and as spectators, enjoyed themselves. May this event be repeated as soon as possible so that I, at least, won’t miss it the next time!

Meanwhile I leave you with the photographs of an event I was unfortunately absent from, with gratitude to Giulia Maraini and Valerio Ceccarelli:

For more information on Napoleonic events in Lucca see


A Load of Cobblers?

I feel a friend of ours was slightly unfair when he described Ferragamo as “just another shoe-maker.” That Ferragamo certainly was but he was also rather more than that.

Ferragamo got involved in shoemaking at a very early age when he designed and made some shoes for his sisters. He learnt his trade from a cobbler in Torre del Greco and subsequently opened up a small shop. In 1914 he left for the USA reaching one of his brothers in Boston who was working in a shoe factory. Ferragamo then moved to California where he obtained contracts from the American Film Company to design and make shoes for their studios. Ferragamo also studied anatomy, particularly that of the foot, at the university of southern California.

In 1923, Ferragamo moved to Hollywood, where he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop and soon earned the name of “Shoemaker to the stars.” It is said that the ruby slippers worn by Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz” were designed by him. He indeed made them but the original design was by Gilbert Adrian, a Hollywood costume couturier.


Ferragamo returned to Italy in 1927, settling Florence, and opened his first shop in Via Manelli. In 1928 he formed his first company “Salvatore Ferragamo”. After some hard times, exacerbated by WWII, Ferragamo returned to increasing fame in the 1950’s. His new home was now the lovely mediaeval palace of Spini Ferroni which dates back to the 13th century. This became a destination of film stars, royalty, aristocracy, the rich and the demi-monde. His designs now showed even more originality and style.

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But what makes Ferragamo an artist rather than just another shoemaker? It was his visionary approach which combined his intimate knowledge of foot anatomy with the finest materials and the most desirable designs. If it’s possible for a piece of jewellery to be a work of art then it’s certainly possible for a pair of shoes to be one as well.


(The evolution of a Ferragamo shoe design)

Ferragamo died in 1960 but the business has flourished and grown into mythical fame as a result of the efforts of his wife Wanda and their six children: Fiamma, Giovanna, Ferruccio, Fulvia, Leonardo and Massimo, who continue the creativeness of Ferragamo original concept.

If all this sounds a little beyond those who just seek to buy a pair of comfortable sneakers then, like so many other Italian (and international) firms, Ferragamo has given a lot back to the society which has enabled it to flourish. There is a foundation which has set up a museum, holding fascinating exhibitions, in the palazzo Spini Ferroni in piazza Santa Trinita, Florence.

The most recent exhibition we visited (lasting until 23rd April) was, not inappropriately, on bipedalism and titled “Equilibrium”. Together with ducks and other avians, we humans indulge, uniquely among mamals, in bipedal locomotion or in, more common terms, we walk on two feet, creating a uniquely studied balance (quite apart from suffering from back-ache more than other animals). The theme of walking was exemplified through the exhibition in various ways – from philosopher-walkers to those who walk from one end of the Great Wall of China to the other.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes have served as a stimulus for this topic. Features from mountaineer Reinhold Messner, tightrope walker Philippe Petit, Will Self, architect, engineer and artist, Cecil Balmond, dancer Eleonora Duncan, developed this focus on equilibrium.

There are also art works by Canova, Degas, Rodin, Bourdelle, Matisse, Picasso, Lipchitz, Severini, Klee and Calder.   Viola and Marina Abramović, Kandinsky, Melotti, Albrecht Dürer, Giulio Paolini, Nijinsky, sketches of Isadora Duncan dancing, Martha Graham and Trisha Brown are also represented.

It’s remarkable how so many of Italy’s great manufacturing names, especially those in the engineering; fashion and culinary fields, have contributed so significantly, both economically and inspirationally, to Italy’s cultural funding and its artistic milieu. I’m thinking just of the Piaggio museum at Pontedera, the Monte dei Paschi di Lucca and the Ferrari and Ducati museums as starters.

England did kick off the trend with the Courtauld Institute and the Tate Gallery but Italy seems to have taken it to admirable heights. It’s largely because Italy is that country in the world which most successfully combines superb design with superb craftsmanship and engineering – so immaculately seen in its cars, motorcycles and, of course, its fashion.


(Ferragamo’s shop in the palazzo Spini Ferroni)

Sorry if you’ve missed the Ferragamo exhibition. There will be a new fascinating exhibition to follow, no doubt. Just keep your eyes peeled on the Ferragamo web site at


Jewels of The Night

Several of my friends appear to have been having strange dreams since the great storm hit us last week. Yesterday night it was my turn to have a terrifying experience when I found myself being kidnapped by a strange group of people. I tried to tell friends, local shopkeepers, anyone I met, what was happening to me but, somehow, none seemed to understand what was going on and I was quickly taken away from them with a feeling of total helplessness. This sense of having my freedom taken away was suddenly interrupted when I heard the pawing of my favourite cat Napoleone in my back, presumably wondering when I would wake up and give him his breakfast. I realized it was just a bad dream and coming back into the reality of a new day I thanked Napoleone for saving me from the kidnappers.

I had also experienced another unreality for me that evening since I’m not a general frequenter of fashion shows even when they take place at Ponte a Serraglio’s casinò. However, celebrating women’s week it was a very special exhibition, divided into two parts

Ilaria, who lives in Benabbio, is a great designer of highly original jewelry much of which she makes out of recycled material.


Her very original creations were exhibited through the modeling of girls who looked like professionals but who were, in fact, all local. Indeed, I recognized some of them as shop assistants, office workers and waitresses who’d served me on previous occasions but here they looked utterly transformed into near goddesses.

It is a tribute to the grace of Italian woman but these girls seem to move naturally and with élan as if it were part of their primeval nature showing off Ilaria’s creations to the highest accomplishment.

The show‘s second part was a modelling, by the same girls, of 19th and 20th century nightgowns. If this at first sounded boring for me, it turned out quite the opposite.  The nightgowns related to the ongoing exhibition of bedroom milieus in bygone times and were relics and hand-me downs from grandmothers of the local families. They fully showed how much richness of historical material there is in Bagni di Lucca hidden away in wardrobes and cupboards.

The lacework of several of these garments was quite exquisite and showed the care even the remotest village ladies, working in the dimmest candle-light, would put into making sure their nubile daughters would have the best trousseau possible for their future maternal life. Indeed, some of the gowns had been adapted at a later stage to form the most delightful summer dresses!


I was reminded of the sadly deceased wife of an old friend of mine who had an exquisite collection of Victorian and Edwardian women’s underwear and bed linen, some of which has happily been donated to a local museum in Swindon.

Bedclothes were not just used to keep warm in winter or cool in summer. They were also meant to seduce the husband and keep alive the initial flames of love. As Italian women succeeded supremely in this art in the nineteenth century so do they continue the tradition today, as the displays in the shops, charmingly named “intimissimi”, recall. No vulgarity or raw sex here – just elegance and pure seduction.

Historic clothes are not mean to be hung up on pegs or displayed in glass cases but should come alive, whenever possible in the figure of a modeler. Unfortunately, fabrics can be so fragile and perishable that this is not always possible. It was, therefore, a real delight to see these items so well introduced and modelled. We, the audience, were totally enchanted by the unusual evening.