Mediaeval Times are back in Lucca

The mediaeval Lucca festa is only in its second year but it’s certainly developing into an ever more delightful part of Lucca’s festival calendar. Although not quite on the scale of such events as Volterra (one of the best mediaeval feste in Tuscany – see my post mentioning that one at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/mediaeval-medley/  ) it is becoming unmissable.

It’s not often realised that the English term ‘quarter’ e.g. ‘the Latin quarter’ comes from Italian ‘Quartiere’ which originally denominated one of the four quarters a mediaeval town was divided in. Lucca was, however, divided into terzieri or thirds. Lucca’s terzieri were formed on the 20th July 1653 (before that the city was divided into five ‘contrade’) and are:

  • Terziere di San Paolino
  • Terziere di San Salvatore
  • Terziere di San Martino

Here’s a map of the terzieri of Lucca. San Paolino is to the left, San Martino is to the right and San Salvatore is to the north.

Each terziere has its own coat of arms and is divided into areas known as gonfaloni (banners) which are in turn divided into pennoni (pennants).

For Terziere San Paolino there’s the:

  • Gonfalone of the sirena (with the pennoni of S. Tomeo, S. Giorgio, S.Masseo e S.Maria Corteorlandini )
  • Gonfalone della Luna: pennoni of Dalmazio, S. Giusto, S. Pietro, S.Maria;
  • Gonfalone del Granchio: pennoni of S.Maria Filicorbi, S.Alessandro, S.Maria Rotonda and Magione;
  • Gonfalone del Falcone: pennoni of Donato, S. Giustina, S. Pellegrino and Ospedale di S. Matteo;

 

For  terziere San Salvatore there’s the

  • Gonfalone del Sole
  • Gonfalone della Corona
  • Gonfalone della Rosa
  • Gonfalone del Gallo

 

For terziere San Martino:

  • Gonfalone della Rota
  • Gonfalone del Pappagallo
  • Gonfalone della Stella
  • Gonfalone del Cavallo

 

I’ll leave you to work out the English equivalent of the Italian term. Just look at the pictures!

Of course, today postal codes are used – the CAP (short for Codice di Avviamento Postale) but in the medieval Lucca festa the old divisions are used. So there’s no point in asking the postman to deliver your letter to the person you know in Lucca who is living in terziere San Paolino, Gonfalone Della Sirena, pennone di San Giorgio!

Lucca’s city gonfalone reflects these old divisions of the city.

The city’s Festa Mediovale last week-end had all the ingredients to make it a fun day out.

There was a mediaeval market with its fortune teller and craft objects

 

Birds of prey including barbagianni (barn owl) and Corvo (raven, like the ones at the Tower of London which are supposed to fly away if that city falls).

 

A display of arms to suit all defence purposes including huge cross-bows weighing over 20 kilos.

 

A gorgeous procession of lords, ladies and squires.

 

Divisions of cross-bow men.

 

There were several other events. On the walls there was mediaeval fighting and in some churches there were ceremonies reflecting ancient allegiances. The full programme is at http://luccamedievale.it/

I love these occasions and am so glad that Lucca has truly got into the swing of it. I’m sure next year, third time round it’ll be even bigger and better. Don’t miss it if you’re here next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crumbs!

‘La festa delle briciole’ literally means ‘the crumbs festival’. It’s a term sometimes applied to the third Sunday in advent which was last Sunday.

The festa delle briciole in Fornoli was organised by the Mammalucco association under the indefatigable direction of Marco Nicoli. I’m not altogether sure why it’s called the crumbs festival. Crumbs also apply to leftovers and surely it’s the time after Christmas that is a time of leftovers?

Anyway, the festa was a big success with its multifarious Santa Clauses arriving to Fornoli after having walked all the way from the Villa Buonvisi in the old part of Bagni di Lucca.They were well-fed and watered upon arrival at Piazzo Moro:

To see more on the Santa Clauses read Debra’s post at

Santas out walking

Very well attended, especially by children, there was a goodly variety of stalls:

and plenty of activities including horse and pony trap riding:

Bubble blowing on a big scale:

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Playing old-tyme games:

Or just meeting up with friends for a chat.

It’s the fifth time this festa has happened. Long may it continue for, although it wasn’t exactly a warm day – even if the winter sun was doing its best – the festa delle briciole warmed everyone’s heart and helped us to prepare for an even more gladly expected Christmas.

Meanwhile it was so sad to realize last night that twelve people visiting the characteristic Christkindl markets in Berlin will never see Christmas again – to say nothing of the almost fifty who have been injured by the madness of one person.

We too have been injured, psychologically. Can these bastards strike anytime, anywhere, even in the middle of such a lovely family festival like the one we are approaching?

Meanwhile, the children are starving in places like Aleppo and Mosul. Truly, it is a modern-times massacre of the innocents….

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PS The holly’s prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified and the red berries are the drops of blood that He shed because of the thorns. Holly is traditionally a male and Ivy is a female plant.

If you are into Celtic religion then the holly is a truly sacred bush..

 

 

There’s no Known Cure for Christmasitis, Thankfully!

Why waste your time with grotty Santa grottoes when the real thing is right here in Bagni di Lucca. The Villa Webb, Byron’s residence when he stayed in Bagni di Lucca, has been transformed by the amazing hands of the Vicaria di Val di Lima and other volunteers into a magical Christmas mansion complete with a Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) whose voice sounded remarkably like my GP’s. He spread happiness to all the kids (including myself) visiting the transformed palace in the enchanted grotto of the ancient kitchens. Better than any anti-depressive pills I think….

Let these pictures tell the story.

Down in Villa there was everything from the primeval Santa Claus (green rather than coke red and white),to line dancing to street food. Although the day wasn’t exactly sunny there was a smile on everyone’s face and it was truly good to be part of the pre-Christmas fun.

Though there isn’t much money around in people’s pockets as Italy fails to raise much above the original crisis of 2008 who cares? The best things in life – comradeship, laughter, singing and dancing – are free anyway!

In the evening there was an amazing concert of contemporary music at Borgo a Mozzano’s library, Given by the Etymos ensemble put together by Luccan composer Girolamo Deraco, Etymos played pieces composed by the Luccan association for contemporary music ‘Cluster’. It ended a season of four very enjoyable concerts artistically directed by Giacomo Brunini.

The pieces were amazing explorations in the field of living composers living in the Lucchesia today of which there are at least fifty. Not bad for a province that counts just 390,000 inhabitants – little more than most London boroughs.  Among the pieces played was the winner of last year’s Cluster contemporary music competition – Alastair Greig from the UK who studied under Oliver Knussen.

It’s lovely to hear Mozart and Beethoven but regrettably one can’t discuss their music with them because they’re dead! It’s thus truly wonderful to hear music by living composers who are actually present in the concert hall and who will tell you something about the inspiration behind their pieces.

The fact that most of the pieces were first performances played in a ‘provincial’ town and that the concert hall was very well attended just shows the interest so many lucchesi have in music.

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Did I have my favourite? Gatti’s electronic piece ‘aspettando Puccini’ had me guessing what Puccini piece was subject to such extraordinary transformations. (I suspect it was ‘La Fanciulla’, however). I did particularly enjoy the last piece by Marco Simoni, perhaps because I’m a Leo myself.

Christmas in Bagni di Lucca is like nowhere else (except of course, if you go to the next Italian town). I think I may be suffering from presepetitis. A post on the number of Christmas cribs around our area would fill several volumes.

Here is a list of some more nativity scenes in our area:

Incidentally, if you want to make your own traditional plaster-cast crib here’s a course you’ll be interested in.

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Hope you too manage to survive the pre-Christmas excitement wherever you live!

Christmas Count-Down in Mediavalle

As another prime minister, this time leader of Europe’s third largest economy, has shot himself in the foot over yet another referendum I wonder whether the traditional method of Parliamentary voting through one’s representatives is going out of fashion if one wants to change the government…..

Something that is not going out of fashion or be decided by a referendum, however, is Christmas despite the past efforts of certain English councils, to appease practising atheists and those of other faiths, to have it renamed ‘winterval’. I remember the occasion  when my own former place of work decided not to have a Christmas tree in its foyer. The first person to complain about this new ‘regulation’ was our receptionist who came from India. She was quite livid about it and the Christmas tree was put back in its proper place.

Christmas is not just for Christians. It has become a world-wide celebration of hope in the coming year, a gathering together of families and communities, a celebration of faith in the Earth. The only humbug thing about Christmas are those nice zebra-striped boiled sweets.

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Christmas in Italy, especially in the mountain villages, is something not to be missed. The ‘presepe vivente’ or ‘living crib’, where the village streets provide a perfect scenario for presenting old traditions and crafts and the birth of the baby Jesus himself, is particularly special. We have been privileged to have been role-players in one particularly spectacular one at Equi Terme. There are many more, however, closer to home.

Every year in the comune of Bagni di Lucca there’s a circulating one which each year chooses a village out of Granaiola, Monti di Villa and Pieve di Monti di Villa. This year it was Pieve di Monti di Villa’s turn but on the same day I could have gone to at least five others within an hour’s drive from our house. Moreover, there was a great Christmas market at Borgo a Mozzano with a re-enactment of Saint Nicholas (the original Santa Claus) throwing the devil off the Ponte Della Maddalena. To top it all there was a magnificent guitar recital by a great virtuoso at the convent of Saint Francis. Doubtless there was more happening but how on earth could I fit it all these activities?

I started with the Christmas market at Borgo. This was the beginning of the afternoon so the crowds hadn’t arrived yet. There were stalls to please all tastes for Christmas gifts.

My next stop was the Presepe Vivente at Pieve di Monti di Villa. I found this beautifully organized and very well-attended. It was good to meet many friends too. I couldn’t stay on for the actual nativity scene for I’d promised to be at a concert.

See how many old village crafts you can count. Needless to say some of them are still being carried out to this very day. Have you prepared your garden for spring planting? How well stocked is the winter feed for your goat? And who hasn’t got a friend who can cheer you up with some folk music. (There were no less than four bands that afternoon). And as for the food on offer…..so tasty and home-grown, especially the cheese!

Our living crib villages have got it absolutely right. The crib should be just for one day and it should start from mid-day and finish in time for dinner before it gets too dark and cold. Full marks and more for the presepe vivente di Pieve di Monti di Villa. It was absolutely brilliant.

It was then back to Borgo a Mozzano for the market and the concert. The high street was now very well attended. I had to miss the Saint Nicholas procession, however. (He chases the devil and throws him from the stupendous mediaeval ponte Del diavolo). A concert of John Dowland and J S Bach played by Nuccio D’Angelo, one of the world’s great guitar virtuosi (he’s even played in Darwin Australia and all over the USA, of course) could not be overlooked!

This was the programme:

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Within the beautiful setting of the convent of San Francesco the church grew colder and colder but Nuccio’s expressive playing more than warmed up the capacity audience. I particularly enjoyed his use of baroque ornamentation.

His transcription of Bach’s Lute suites for guitar (which involved quite a bit of re-tuning) was close to miraculous.

An encore was requested but although Nuccio jokingly said ‘you’ll have to wait for it next June when it’s warmer in this church’ he provided us with another Bach meltingly beautiful sarabande.

There are still twenty days to Christmas. Will I have the energy to make it to that day when there is so much happening just in our little valley? And I haven’t even mentioned the light shows and street parties and the best fun and games to warm up a month which is getting even ccccccccolder!

Harvest Festival Fornoli Style

Fornoli’s harvest festival with its impressive line of tractors goes back a very long way. It would have been nice to have seen the time when a row of white oxen filled the town’s high street. I wonder if there are any archival photographs of these gracious animals in Fornoli?

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Despite a somewhat greyish afternoon the event was well attended. There was a motley array of stalls selling harbingers of Christmas.

The Alpini group of chestnut roasters were busy at work with their inventive recycling of discarded washing machine drums. The results were delicious.

The highlight, however, was a folk singing and dancing group from Rivoreta which is a village between Cutigliano and Abetone. We’d visited this village some time ago and it’s well worth a detour for its fascinating folk museum.

The group performed a number of traditional folk songs and characteristic Tuscan ‘stornelli’ – improvised sung verses.

This stornello wishes that all the chestnuts would supply wine as well

More dancing followed:

Their dances infected some of the younger viewers

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so much so that in the end the bolder of us (myself included) joined in a vast country dance which included such patterns as circle and ‘chioccola’ (snail – that’s when the long line of dancers join up to form a coil which then uncoils itself through a human tunnel.

It was a great way to liven up an otherwise dull Sunday afternoon. I could, of course, have gone to the necci (chestnut pancake) and vin brulé festa at Benabbio or the castagnata (chestnut festival) at Lupinaia which we’ve attended on a number of occasions – see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/new-chestnuts/

but Fornoli was far enough for me….

Not surprisingly the long dresses of the ladies with their multi-stripped aprons reminded me of Tibetan costume. I promise I’ll get back to our eastern quest in my next post.

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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Nuts About Chestnuts

Castagnate (chestnut feste) abound at this time in our part of the world. They are places where one can meet up with friends, enjoy products made from the chestnut (including, of course, roast chestnuts themselves!) and they are also places where old memories are remembered and traditions revived.

If Dr Johnson demeaningly said of oats that they are ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ then more proudly and happily one can say of chestnuts in Italy ‘they are a fruit which today give pleasure and joy through festivals and the many food and drink products they are the basis of but which once supported the entire population of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines.’

Where would one be without marrons glacées, chestnut jam, necci (chestnut pancakes made with chestnut flour), mondine (roast chestnuts), chestnut cakes (delicious!), and pan di legno (literally ‘wood bread’) chestnut bread?

It is sobering to think that without the chestnut tree many Italians, especially ‘gli sfollati’, those escaping from the second world war-ravaged cities into the woods, would have literally died of starvation. One of my favourite books is intrepid traveller Eric Newby’s ‘Love and War in the Apennines’ (made into a film in 2001 starring Callum Blue) where he describes his experiences as a British soldier. Having escaped from an internment camp in Italy Newby manages to survive in the forests of the Apennines surrounding us and where he met hospitality from the locals and his future wife too. Sadly Eric died in 2006 – I would have loved to have met him! Now I won’t even be able to meet his wife, Wanda who died last year. For, when asked if there was one thing he couldn’t travel without, Newby replied: “My wife.”

There are so many castagnate happening now and they are all as unique as the little villages where they take place.

Last Sunday, for example, there were the following to choose from near us and this is just a selection!

Our favourite one has always been the one at Lupinaia in the comune of Fosciandora (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/new-chestnuts/ on that one. Bagni di Lucca was supposed to have its castagnata soon  but, regrettably, it has had to be cancelled this year. However, there are still the following to get to:

You’ll still be in time for the castagnate at Bolognana and Trassilico on October 16th. the ones at Mont’Alfonso Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, Careggine and Pieve Fosciana on October 23rd, the Pontecosi castagnata on October 30 and the Lupinaia one on 13th November. There will be others in our area of course. You’ll just have to look out for them!

We’d never been to the castagnata at Cascio, so plumped for that one this year. The weather however, looked ominous with very stormy, dark clouds. It turned out, indeed, to be a somewhat wet castagnata but visitors were out in droves, the umbrellas added a colourful touch and, luckily, the locals didn’t postpone the event.  For when it rains in Italy it’s truly a serious thing and, unlike the UK where precipitations seems more the norm, rain in Italy tends to completely reschedule open-air events.

We queued up to get our tickets and I obtained an excellent platter of local products including biroldo – a sort of blood-sausage -, pecorino cheese, bread, crisciolette (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/whats-a-criscioletta/ to find out what those scrumptious items, unique to Cascio, are), wine and water, and even managed to find a dry spot under the ruins of the fortress. The views from this part of town are stratospheric.

Meanwhile, the serving department was busy at work.

This year the chestnut roasters were saying how lucky they were to have a warm toasting fire before them. It was getting a bit nippy with all that rain! Last year, evidently, they were complaining how unnaturally hot it was at this time of year and what a sweaty job roasting the caldarroste.

Cascio has a charming church dedicated to Saints Lawrence and Stephen. It contains a sweet Della Robbian Madonna:

The village’s gatehouse had two fine local photographers displaying their art.

The ciambelle (doughnut) makers were busy at work.

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Two wandering minstrels gave us a medley of favourite songs including that perennnial ‘volare’ by the great Domenico Modugno and now almost sixty years old!

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The upper part of town had the necci makers hard at work with their ferri (waffle irons) and there was also a desert course included.

A sign tempted to a metato (chestnut drying hut) deep in the surrounding woods where further goodies awaited us including a delicious liqueur made out of chestnuts. I was told that I could find places that sold it in and around Barga.

All-in-all it was an exhilarating day with the rain diminishing in the afternoon. Congratulations to all the Casciani for their great efforts to make this Castagnata another success in their annual calendar of events.