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.

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.

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.




From Carpet-Eaters to Carpet-Baggers

The carpet-eater of Braunau am Inn started off by admiring someone who was once Churchill’s favourite Italian. (In  January 1927, he wrote to Mussolini: “If I had been an Italian I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”)


(Berlin 1937)

Sadly by 1938 it was the other way round. The Italian racial laws implemented that year forbade all those of Jewish descent and other minority groups to hold property, marry white Italians etc. etc. M was truly sucking up to H. This poster dating from that year sums it all up:leggi1

(Jews can’t …….)

It’s interesting to note that the terms ‘racialist’ or ‘racist’ at the time meant those who believed in the implementation of the theory of a superior race: quite the opposite of what the term means today, as these posters from post-1938 Italy demonstrate:

To the credit of Italians the majority of that nation was shocked by such grossly xenophobic rules. For years Jews had been integrated into Italian society in a way often unimaginable in other European countries. They had contributed profoundly to the peninsula in terms of culture politics and science and fought with distinction in the First World War. Jews and those of African descent were also fully integrated in Mussolini’s ‘balilla’ fascist youth movement’:


Just to name a few Italian composers of Jewish descent the following come to mind: Giacomo Orefice, Leone Sinigaglia, Felice Boghen, Fernando Liuzzi, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Aldo Finzi (a relative of the English Gerald Finzi, also a composer), Renzo Massarani and Vittorio Rieti.

The contribution of Jewish-origin people to Tuscany was particularly significant and the ‘Ebrei/Jews in Toscana/Tuscany’ exhibition in the Galleria delle Carrozze (next to the Medici-Riccardi palace on its right)  brought out this contribution in an excellently designed and documented display which, opening last December, continues until 26th February from 10 to 6 daily..

From the relaxation of mediaeval persecutions to the establishment of thriving communities, particularly in Livorno and Florence, the exhibition documents, with flair, the essentiality of Jewish culture in Italian society and culture .

It’s unfortunate that the Jewish ghetto, together with the old market, in Florence’s mediaeval centre was torn down by misguided town-planners in the late nineteenth century,  One has to go to such places as Pitigliano (see my post at to savour the atmosphere of these ancient centres and, of course, visit Venice where the original ‘ghetto’ was founded back in mediaeval times in an area of that city with the same name.

As compensation one can visit Florence’s beautiful synagogue where the exhibition continues:


When faced with the draconian racial laws several Italian ‘Schindler equivalents’ saved many Jews from being entirely ostracized. However, after the establishment of the Repubblica di Salò puppet state in 1943, when Italy was divided between Nazi fascists and Allied-army supporters, anti-Semitic persecution got really bad. Underground movements and the Catholic Church provided shelter and escape for Italian Jews;  the numbers finishing up in the gas chambers were far less than those in other parts of the Third Reich. Around 7,500 Italian Jews were victims of the Shoah as distinct (for example) from 500,000 Hungarian Jews,(and Hungary had a total population of just nine million  as compared to forty-five million Italians in 1940….)

I have already written posts about particular people of Jewish extraction (see my post on the great Piero Nissim at and also his ancestor, Giorgio Nissim.

01142017-330Giorgio Nissim, an Italian Schindler)

On my mother’s side of the family (my mother originated from northern Italy) there was at least one marriage between Gentile and Jew. Eliezer Turri (whose son now lives in Denmark with his Danish wife, and where he directs a media company) was a distinguished artist and writer. I remember him, particularly from childhood days, when a visit to his house was a supreme treat, for Eliezer was fascinated by model railways and had built an incredible Rivarossi set complete with local and international express trains. The display even incorporated a tram system. It was thanks to the absence of racialist sentiments among his friends that Eliezer was able to avoid a real-life train journey to Silesia’s extermination camps.

It’s important to realize this and reflect on danger signs that are returning to impinge on our society today. There is no need to remind intelligent and tolerant citizens of what these signs are. We got one yesterday…

Indeed, this Monday in Fornoli, at 10 am, there will be a ceremony in the peace park in memory of little Liliana Urbach from Bagni di Lucca who wasn’t so lucky and was the youngest Italian to die in a death camp. (For more information on her do look at my post at


It’s so important to remember what happened in Italy to a seemingly well-integrated community. It doesn’t take a demagogue to change opinions – all it requires is indifference.


 (Platform 21 at Milan Stazione Centrale – final destination Auschwitz)


Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

‘Who knows where the time goes?’ asked folk-rock singer Sandy Denny in her beautiful song dating from 1967 and which accompanied her throughout her short life.

Where does it go indeed? It’s now ten years since my friend and builder, Fabio Lucchesi, died on a cold but sunny January 7th in 2007. If there was a perfect gentleman in these parts it was him. Sandra and I shall never forget those last days Fabio spent in Barga hospital where, on oxygen, he said to us. ‘I’m fine breathing real Himalayan air.’ The very last time we saw him he was in such pain that he could not utter a single word to us. These moments will stay with us but, more than ever will we remember the happy times he passed with us getting our new central heating system installed and working and helping us out on a thousand and one other jobs on the house we’d bought in Longoio in 2005.

Fabio originated in these parts but emigrated to America where he brought up his family in a farmstead in West Virginia. Deciding to return to Italy with his relative Paolino (better known as ‘Uncle Paul’) he accepted the fact that his wife did not decide to follow him. Fabio had already suffered the heart-rending loss of his teenage daughter Giovanna, of Leukaemia in 1993. In 2006 his son came to visit him in the Controneria and Fabio was glad that I took his, initially somewhat withdrawn, son on my scooter for various outings, as a result of which he opened out.

Fabio had many, many friends and was known for never having a bad word to say about anyone – something which many people would do well to remember today in these ever more difficult times, Fabio’s home was open to all and I recollect some highly convivial evenings at dinner with him.

Fabio was never afraid of getting his hands dirty in any job given to him but surely he deserved better in his life for he was a highly intelligent and well-read person.

Fabio found a close friendship with an American woman, similarly of Italian origin, but confessed to me he wondered whether there would be anything serious in their relationship. I think he had premonitions that he would soon go to another world.

When Fabio’s final Calvary approached we were devastated but relieved to know that it was short and that his suffering had come to an end.

Fabio’s funeral at the Pieve di Controni was held in a packed church with several of the people he’d helped getting their house in order flying in from countries such as the USA and Britain specially for it. At the funeral I read something I’d written for Fabio. It was one of the first occasions when members of the congregation would be able to personally contribute some homage. This has now become customary on most funerary services in our area today.




7 Gennaio 2007


Se ritrovi la luce nel fosco della notte

Ricorda le tracce mie nella tua casa


Se nell’’inverno non soffri più freddo

Ricorda la mia mano sul piccone


Se ammiri l’arco che amplia la stanza

Ricorda chi ha tolto le pietre


Se adocchi la tua legna messa a modo

Ricorda come ti aiutai a disporla


Se pensi alle cenate conviviali d’estate

Ricorda le nostre belle serate


Se rimpiangi di perdonare

Ricorda quelle mie ultime parole a te.


Mi ritrovo più alto dei monti dell’Imalaia

– il mio ossigeno è Dio Lui stesso.


I lavori miei vivranno di là da me:

Nel tuo focolare, nel tuo cuore, ti sarò sempre vicino.



January 7, 2007

If you find yourself in night’s dusky light
remember my traces in your home.

If you don’t suffer winter’s cold
remember my hand on the pickaxe.

If you admire the arch enlarging your living-room
remember who took away the stones.

If you pile up your firewood correctly
remember how I helped you place it.

If you think about convivial summer dinners
remember our beautiful evenings.

If you fail to forgive
remember those last words to you.

I find myself higher than the Himalayan mountains
– my oxygen is God Himself.

My works will live apart from me:
in your home, in your heart, I’ll always be near.


The following year two friends, Brian and Mary, arranged for a bench in memory of Fabio to be placed near Gombereto.

This prompted the following from me – little did I know that the next year Brian would be gone from us too.




Let none dare sit upon this wooden bench

who in their hearts show any bitterness

but only those who in their souls can clench

the good that pardons all who will transgress.


As the man whose name lives for evermore

among these hills, among these living woods;

whose honest work spells out one word “amor”,

whose simple life embraced all brotherhoods.


And as you gaze upon the dying sun,

and as the twilight falls upon the flock

may you feel that you and the world are one

and that you are as steadfast as a rock.


For such is he that was and still will be:

just sit yourself down here and you will see.





Su questa panca di legno non sieda nessuno

che nel suo cuore conserva qualche rancore,

ma solo chi, nell’anima sua, nutre bontà

ed il perdono per quanti commettono errore.


Come l’uomo il cui nome sempre sarà

ricordo vivo fra queste colline e verdi boschi

e al cui lavoro fu eco la parola” amore”,

la cui vita semplice ha abbracciato ogni fratellanza.


E quando guardi fisso là  dov’è il tramonto,

ed il crepuscolo cala sopra le greggi

che tu possa sentire l’unione tua col mondo

e che come roccia saldo il  tuo cuore regga.


Così è colui che era ed ancor sarà:

qui siedi, solo, e vedrai, per sempre.



Who really knows where the time goes, I wonder…….







Thinking of you, dear Fabio. Ten years have gone since you left us for a better place. Why it is that the best people are always the first to go?



Winter State of Emergency in Italy

We are here waiting. The winds from Russia have hit the eastern and southern parts of Italy with a vengeance. The news tells us of villages cut off by the snow, of farmers in the earthquakes areas having to bring their cattle into barns, officially out-of-bounds, because weakened by the quakes, just to save them, of hoboes dead of hyperthermia in cities like Florence and Naples, of snows in areas which haven’t seen the white stuff for almost fifty years. In short, for the next few days Italy, supposed land of sunshine and vino, for ALL of us living here has been turned into a facsimile of a Siberian province  .

(The situation around Naples!)

Strangely we, in Tuscany, haven’t seen much snow except on the mountain tops. Our valley is still bathed in blue skies and golden sun. But it’s deceptive: the temperature is just above freezing at noon and our ducks are wondering why they can’t swim in their pond even at lunchtime.

Our thoughts go with those persons who are now living in tents because their homes have been destroyed by the quakes and those farmers whose animals may soon die because of the abnormally low temperatures (descending up to twenty degrees below zero in some areas of the Abruzzi).

It’s odd to think that many visitors to Italy have only seen this beautiful land in the summer. For them the trees are always green and the sea is always swimmable in. Do remember, however, that Italy has the widest range of temperatures of any European country and that in winter anything can happen. Indeed, we are now paying the full price for those balmy spring-like days over Christmas. Time to stock up with essential items (e.g. pasta, cat food and wine) before the snows reach us here in Val di Lima?

It’s also a good time to view feature films in the evening. Last night we saw a film (available on youtube)  directed by Dino Risi and starring Lino Capolicchio who has since gone on to become a director himself. It also starred a girl who would become my wife. Here is a photo I took of the dance sequence. Sandra is the girl looking at us and wearing a white dress (which she still has somewhere in her wardrobe I’m told). Just by the way she moved in the film I knew it was her…and that’s just one film Sandra has starred in!


Ah well….. I suppose winter evenings in sub-zero temperatures have their compensation too!