Happy Sixtieth Birthday European Community!

Today Europe will be celebrating sixty years of peace. The last time this happened was around two thousand years ago during an age described by the historian Gibbon in these glowing terms:

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

As clocks adjust in Italy to ‘ora legale’ by putting the clocks forward one hour the UK will be starting to put its clocks back over seventy years, returning to the dark ages of a country shaking the dust and destruction off a six year long war.

Just the achievement of sixty years peace for the members of the European community – for which that same community obtained the Nobel peace prize in 2012 – should make one hang on to something that is imperfect though precious, riddled with mistakes yet right-minded. The European community has not only preserved us from the utter waste of war but has also safeguarded our right to work, study, live and love within its area. It was thanks to the EU that I went on a teacher exchange to Genoa in 1995. It was again thanks to the EU and the Comenius project that I was able to have a  collaboration with Austrian schools in 1999. Again, thanks to these valuable and enriching experiences, I subsequently obtained jobs with Italian schools and colleges ever since I became a resident in Italy over ten years ago.

So many other areas, like human rights, employment protection, and climate change, are directly touched by the EU. Furthermore, this community is the largest and most powerful free trade area in the world and the only one to be able to fully compete with the rising economies of the Far East. Quitting it will just leave a post-colonial stump of a country begging for bread-crumb trading deals with some of the most questionable nations of the world who share few of the ideas of democracy and freedom which the UK is proud of.

Yet this week-end, thanks to an ill-informed slight referendum majority fed by false and bigoted information, all these hard-won benefits will be placed in jeopardy for the population of the United Kingdom: that is, unless Northern Ireland uses its majority opinion to join with Irish republic and make a unified state or if Scotland manages to obtain and win a second independence referendum. In that case we shall clearly see the break-up of a nation.

The issue which swayed the otherwise negligible majority to vote to quit wasn’t anything to do with the uneatable British sausage having to be renamed the emulsified high-fat offal tube, or the equally unpleasant British imitation of real chocolate being called chocoveg, or something equally unpalatable, and looking remarkably like dishwater, being passed off as real coffee.

(Yes Minister, of course)

No, it wasn’t even the European economy which has dragged up the UK from the dismal abyss into which it had landed before joining the common market 1973 with worn-out industries, tired-looking cars and demoralised work-forces. It was, in fact, the subject of immigration. Not immigration from Commonwealth countries, however, which, starting with the arrival of Jamaican on board the MV Empire Windrush at the port of Tilbury in 1948, provided a much needed workforce to help rebuild the UK after WWII (in which so many servicemen from Commonwealth countries too, gave their lives). No, it couldn’t be that sort of Powell-discredited immigration which I vaguely remember as a child was characterised by notices like ‘no blacks’ on properties to rent.  Immigration against people of a different colours skin would now immediately be classed as racist and the perpetrators be accused of race hate.

No. It wasn’t that immigration which had to be controlled. Yet take a white person who doesn’t speak English, or speaks it with a ‘foreign’ accent, then it’s different. Sadly, this is the type of immigration the bigoted Daily Muck readers want to control – in short, the free movement of labour within the European community. It doesn’t matter if there will be skills shortages, especially in hospitals and service industries, as already is happening now from an uneasy European work-force in the UK. It doesn’t matter if members of the European Youth Orchestra, at present based in the UK, will have to move abroad in order to preserve this freedom of movement. It doesn’t matter if City banks are relocating or have plans to move to mainland European financial capitals such as Frankfurt. It doesn’t matter if so much of the field of education and the arts will suffer and be depleted as a result. It doesn’t matter if research and science opportunities for UK youth to work in the European community will be slashed.  At least these specimens of UK Daily Muck readers will say they will be spared the offence of people speaking Italian, French, Rumanian, or any other of the twenty-three officially recognised EU languages, as they catch the 176 bus driven by a Pole or do their shopping at the local convenience store served by a Lithuanian.

‘Ah yes’, they will say. ‘At least we’ll be able to control our country, free from all those EC laws.’ What laws in particular? I’ve asked some of these people. None could give me any specific example…

For me the ultimate insult to anything that is of value in an organisation which has saved us from so much evil that previous European generations had to endure is that dismal crowd of so-called expats – immigrants in fact  – that propagate their ridiculous views in such places as the otherwise acceptable bar at Ponte a Serraglio, Bagni di Lucca. To use anagrams in order to avoid libel and name in this way just two: the soft roes and retoolings of this world.

How can immigrants from the UK, resident in an Italian comune for over ten years and getting their income from this country, ever have had the idiocy of voting to quit a union that has achieved so much for a great continent that last century all but destroyed itself twice over? I suggest that these ‘Cretini’ could leave and spare the likes of me the ‘Daily Merde’ back-chat that soils the atmosphere of an otherwise pleasant ambience in Bagni di Lucca.

Happy Sixtieth Birthday European Community! Long may you live and may your children have the chance to continue to build upon the great foundations laid by Italy’s De Gasperi, Germany’s Adenauer, France’s Monnet and, last but not least, Britain’s Churchill who said at the congress of Europe in 1948:  ‘I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible….Britain must play her full part as a member of the European family’

Viva L’Europa!

PS I cannot leave this rant without a sad thought, but a defiance one, for those victims of the recent terrorist attack in London. Of the killed and injured victims three were French children, two were Romanians, one was German, one was Polish, one was Irish, two were Italian, and two were Greeks – all countries of the European Union – and all of which countries pasted ‘I am a Londoner’ on my facebook page too.

Tales of the Night

What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than attend a talk as part of the Unitre (university of the third age) programme. Natalia Sereni, our local historian is well-known for her books on, among other subjects, the Prato Fiorito, Bagni di Lucca’s part in World War One and the entry of Fornoli in the comune.

Sereni’s subject yesterday was ‘Racconti Notturni’ (Tales of the Night). To this day stories are told locally of witches, demons, sorcerers, elves, sibyls and soothsayers. Indeed, Italy today is even fuller of what are generally called superstitions. Horoscopes are eagerly read and broadcast and posters advertising fortune tellers and card-readers drape our town walls. Why should beliefs in magic and witchcraft still be flourishing and expanding in what is supposed to be a rational and scientific age?

The fact is that these beliefs go back an incredibly long way and are rooted in ancient pagan beliefs. Indeed, the word ‘pagan’ comes from the root for ‘village’ and that’s where these beliefs survive to this day. Religion (derived from the Latin ‘religio’ – tying together) systematised and created a hierarchy of these credences with God placed firmly on top of the pyramid.

In post-reformation northern Europe there was no place for magic and witchcraft. Indeed, such practices were actively discouraged by burning perpetrators of anti-religious heresy at the stake. A manual, ‘Malleus Maleficarum’, (the hammer of witches) written by clergyman Heinrich Kramer and published in 1487 and apparently still in use by the church is an excellent guidebook to the discovery of witches and the ways of interrogating them with appropriate punishments and the correct instruments of torture to use.

So it was the Protestants who led the league in the burning of witches, especially during the start of the seventeenth century. Indeed, King James I was a specialist in the subject – no wonder that Shakespeare dedicated ‘Macbeth’ to him. In catholic Italy there was less burning and persecution going on – the last witch was killed off in 1828.

The reason for this is that the Catholic Church used a process of syncretism in which previous pagan beliefs were incorporated into a new scheme approved by the ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, the Earth goddess Diana was incorporated into the Virgin; the attributes of wizards were made part of the characteristics of St John the Baptist and at least one divinity who protected shepherds’ herds and farm animals became St Anthony Abbot (whose ancient statue incidentally graces our local church at San Cassiano).

No wonder so many churches here are built on the foundations of pre-Christian temples and shrines. Recently we visited Tamilnadu in India and were amazed by the fact that the rites carried out in the magnificent temples of that part of the world have remained the same for thousands of years. Even the appearance of an Asian messiah in the form of Gautama did not interrupt rituals of worship but became incorporated within the multiplicity of idols which adorn these religious centres through the process of syncretism.

The multiplicity of saints in the Roman Catholic faith may be regarded as replacements for the many gods, sprites, fauns and deities of ‘pagan’ times. Catholics are in reality, worshipping in a structure which systematises and orders primeval beliefs whose main object was to help people understand the weird world they lived in. Myths and legends are, in fact, narratives which explain why things come to be and are what they are. If one complains saying that science has done away with this sort of ‘magic’ interpretation then think again: there as so many things which happen in one’s life, so many strange coincidences, phenomena, intuitions, singularities, miracles even, which cannot simply be explained by the laws of quantum mechanics or physics or, indeed, any other form of scientific or rational theory.

An aside by Bagni di Lucca’s own Vito, who combines modern medical science with holistic practices and psychoanalysis, was most perceptive, especially when regarding dreams. Vito sees dreams as the only state where mankind experiences complete freedom: in daily life we are obliged to place the chains of social restrain on us. Dreams, therefore, can provide an indication of who we really are and where we are likely to go. The problem, however, is the way we interpret them.

Natalia Sereni finished her perceptive and provoking talk with a quote from Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. After all even I have difficulty in explaining that our planet is a globe to a determined believer in flat earth theory. That’s why I’m off to the local wise woman to get some advice on what is the best washing powder I should buy.

 

Bagni di Lucca’s Town Hall is now Open to All

Bagni di Lucca Villa’s Palazzo della Lena, better known as the ‘municipio’ or town hall, is the town’s oldest building and dates back to the mid-sixteenth century.

It’s named after the ancient family of Lena, one of whose illustrious ancestors’ tombs is marked by a marble slab placed in the centre of the nave of Corsagna’s parish church.

The palazzo’s exterior has proud stonework worthy of some of the finest Florentine palaces. The interior houses the council chamber with ceiling frescoes decorated by the coat-of-arms of the villages which comprise the comune. On one side of this noble room are paintings dating to the nineteen thirties and including work by the Barga artists Bruno Cordati. One of the canvases amusingly depicts a local figurinaio selling plaster souvenir statues to a just-landed Cristopher Columbus in the new world. This is probably to emphasis the point that such craftsmen were in existence well before the great navigator was born!

The palazzo’s entrance hall is graced by the beautiful statue of a female bather which has become the symbol of this spa town.

Anyone who has had to enter the palazzo Lena on council business will have realised that it’s full of stairs and steps and a warren of passages giving few concessions to those persons who have reduced mobility. The present council has done much to redress this situation and yesterday a ceremony was held at the palazzo to inaugurate the completion of the works to make the whole building more accessible. Mayor Betti addressed a substantial crowd in the brilliant sunshine of the palace’s garden courtyard. The mayor stated that the restoration and restructuring of the town hall in order to make the place accessible to all without hindrance was carried out under various separate contracts – so no excuse now for failing to pay one’s council tax!

Among dignitaries present, in addition to regional administrators, were Max Mallegni, the president of the provincial disabled association, Paolo Bonassin of the accessibility committee, Massimo Diodati from the National Disabled Association and a representative for the National Blind Association.

A tour of the improved facilities was then undertaken. The old blocked archway which formerly led to the ufficio anagrafe (registry office) has been opened out to provide wheelchair access to the rear of the building.

Here there is a new lift reminding me somewhat of the one in Lucca’s own town hall.

There is also a wheelchair ramp.

Inside the palazzo floors have been smoothed out and steps reduced wherever possible. This was a particularly difficult job to do since the building is historically listed and everything has to be carried out with regard to this fact.

Finally, the proceedings finished up with a beautifully prepared rinfresco which proved most scrumptious!

 

 

Cosmic Road Maps at the Casinò

A mandala is a two or three dimensional representation of a cosmic universe. It is, in effect, a road map of spiritual dimensions. As such, mandalas have been used in some of the world’s great religions as aids to meditation and spiritual exploration. Tibetan mandalas are well-known, especially the technique of creating them out of sand only for the painstaking work to be destroyed as soon as it is finished – thus representing life’s transience and the vanity of human conceptions.

We enjoyed seeing kolams drawn anew every morning at the threshold of villagers’ houses during our visit to Tamilnadu last month and Sandra took photographs of several of them:

Kolams (known as rangoli in other parts of India) are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to homes. They are also drawn in temples when supplicant’s vows have been fulfilled. Kolams are drawn with white rice powder and often coloured in. By the end of the day kolams may have been washed out by the rain or blown away by the wind so the following morning new ones are drawn. The Tamilnadu kolam, therefore, has a purpose similar to the mandala – that of a connection to another, heavenly universe. It also shares a comparable quality with the mandala, that of symmetry and precision. Radial balance can also be an important feature of kolams and mandalas – that of considering them as cosmic cakes divided usually into four or six slices and where each slice is identically related to the other.

I would also add that mandalas spread into western religion. What else are those marvellous rose windows seen in gothic cathedrals but celestial glass representations of a godly universe?

(North Rose window at Chartres Cathedral)

Morena Guarnaschelli held a class in creating mandalas yesterday at 5 pm at Ponte a Serraglio’s casinò as part of the events celebrating International women’s day ‘Omaggio alla Donna’. The class was very well-attended with a wide age-range including children. Morena’s explanations of what a mandala is and how to create one were exemplary:

Morena emphasised the fact that a mandala should be a journey into one’s own psyche and that spontaneity and fluidity are paramount in its creation. Soon a silence of concentration descended onto the participants as they started their own mandalas.

Andrea, a practitioner of Chinese tuina manipulative therapy, who has a shop at Ponte a Serraglio also participated by giving us an insightful introduction into the significance of dreams, Chinese medicine and numerology.

Our mandala activity was resumed after a welcome buffet supper which included a very good chocolate cake decorated with mimosa, the emblem flower for International Women’s day:

By the end of the evening the results were often quite special.

As a non-artist used only painting walls and window frames I began to get quite involved in the creation of my own mandala. I don’t know what it says of me. All I can note is that without Morena’s excellent class I would not have achieved much.

(My own humble effort)

 

 

 

Magic Moments at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò

The first evening of the week dedicated to celebrating International women’s day at Bagni di Lucca was, as expected, up to the high standards of past years and even exceeded them.

The occasion opened with speeches from the main figures who have done so much to make this ‘Omaggio alla Donna’ such an essential feature of Bagni di Lucca’s calendar of events. Among them I single out Natalia Sereni, Morena Guarnaschelli and Gemma Fazzi.

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(Natalia Sereni and our mayor)

There will be plenty of reportage on the events and the marvellous art and photographic exhibition,  which spread over a truly international network ranging from Chile to Poland, at the casinò in other blog posts.  See, for example, Debra Kolkka’s post at https://bellabagnidilucca.com/2017/03/05/womens-day-exhibition/.

For me however, the highlight of the evening was a superb concert given by two artistes of exceptional quality. Barbara Kelly is well-known for her lively renditions of a repertoire extended from musical to opera to folk songs. Beatriz Oyarzabal Pinan from Mexico is the partner of artist Wilson Guevara, whose paintings have already graced the Casinò last year. She has an immaculate voice with a lilting tremolo and her performances truly involve the audience as she has the rare capacity to fully live her songs.

In her repertoire Beatriz sang some mariachi songs from Mexico. Her performance was not only brilliant – it was seductive too. Judge for yourselves from these tantalizing snippets:

It was wonderful to have both Barbara and Beatriz collaborating in duets from the best of Lloyd Webber. An encore was truly merited!

Beatriz’ future recitals can be consulted at

http://operabase.com/a/Beatriz_Oyarzabal_Pinan

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(Barbara and Beatriz)

 

PS Don’t miss the concert at 9 pm this Wednesday at the Casinò.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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:

ITALIAN ENGLISH
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.

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!

LILIANA

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.

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…..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.