Celebrating May in Fornaci (di Barga)

The first of May at Fornaci di Barga is unmissable. Each year it goes from strength to strength and has something to offer to everyone.

The high street is pedestrianized so one can admire some of the old villas that line it without getting mown down by vehicles. There are styles ranging from eclectic through art nouveau to orientalism and thirties modernism.

The stalls are plentiful and full of variety and there are many places one can be fed and watered at:

A master patissier was showing off his skills:

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This gentleman was demonstrating the rejuvenating properties of snail slime (in cream form, it should be said, no snails were actually present).

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This is a great way to publicise one’s Wedding Dress Shop!

There’s a new statue to the local Judo club at Fornaci which I found rather effective. It’s near the station and celebrates the foundation of the club which has won several national awards.

In the central square there’s an overflowing of flower stalls.

A highlight was the splendid display of vintage and not so vintage motorbikes and scooter. I particularly enjoyed the Ducati and Vespa section. Thanks to the Fornaci di Barga moto collectors group for putting on such a great display.

What’s this? It’s a separate starter motor for motorbikes that had to be pushed to get going! I’ve forgotten the Italian word for it…

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Nearby the geological society opened up their museum which is filled with minerals showing the rich diversity that is contained in the complex geology of this valley where one half is metamorphic and limestone and the other is largely sedimentary rock. There can’t be many valleys in the world like that with totally differently created sides.

A sales point gave one the chance to buy a specimen without having to search the surrounding mountains for them:

The fossil collection is also very fine. Among the trilobites and ammonites they include my favourite – sharks’ teeth from the cretaceous era. That’s what links this area to the Blackheath Beds in Abbey Woods, London SE where we enjoyed hours of harmless fun searching for these predators teeth.

I wonder when we’ll join them….

The tattoo studio had a very fine display of photographs from different persons of the area. We were invited to vote for the best photographer. I voted for this one:

Few people have recaptured the Garfagnana like Luca Famlonga has. I do hope there’s a book out soon with his amazing photos. You can see more of his stuff at http://iconosquare.com/lucafamlonga

Among the other photographs I was amazed that the ones entitled Pop London included one of my favourite teenage watering holes!

As befits a tattoo studio there were also pictures of tattooed persons. I didn’t realise that tattooed western women were around in Victorian times!

I was quite impressed by the blues band outside the musical instruments shop. Their Creamy version of ‘crossroads’ was most effective.

The highlight of the events at Fornaci was the steam engine pulling a train consisting of an old diesel followed by characteristic thirties railway carriages. Yet again I missed the chance to be a passenger on this train. How evocative is the hiss and smoke of these wonderful machines which almost appear to be living organisms rather than mechanical contraptions!

Here’s a little video showing those amazing sound effects of an Italian steam locomotive.

If you’ve been there did you enjoy yourself at Fornaci’s First of May? What did you like most? I’d be pleased to know.

New Chestnuts

The biggest chestnut festival in Tuscany at Marradi in the Mugello north of Florence ended at the end of last month but in our area these delectable feste are still happening. One of the best, at Lupinaia had been postponed from last week-end because of uncertain weather but with a week of wall-to-wall sunshine we knew it would be a great autumn day when we visited the attractive hill village in the comune of Fosciandora, yesterday.

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The roads are narrow and twisting above the gorge the Serchio makes for itself between Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and Gallicano, and parking places are at a premium. Fortunately, there were four navette (shuttle buses) plying their way to the festa and we didn’t have to wait too long by Fosciandora railway station to catch one of them.

We’d last been to Lupinaia several years ago. All the familiar features of a chestnut festa were still there.

The stalls selling a variety of handicrafts and local ‘slow foods:

An exhibit in the local hall, this time poignantly displaying photographs showing how the First World War (it’s the centenary of Italy’s entry in that war this year) impacted on the area.

Sadly, for such a small village, twenty six of its young men never returned from the slaughter.

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The armaments factory in Fornaci di Barga

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Writing home (that is if you’d learnt to write)

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Mass before going over the top

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The war fronts

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Some of the Lupinaia fallen

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A soldier from Lupinaia

There was duo of flute/harp and guitar playing and singing Celtic inspired songs:

There were stalls selling products made from the local chestnut flour. We opted for a neccio (chestnut flour pancake) with a filling of ricotta cheese and Nutella – delicious!

The afternoon was quite heavenly. There was an increasingly golden glow settling on the surrounding landscape with its soft forests and jagged Apuan mountain peaks. And it was warm!

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the festa – this time we had to wait a bit longer for the navetta as the crowds had increased considerably.

By this time the silhouettes of the mountains encircling Lupinaia had become quite magical:

The Merry Month of May has Arrived!

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
O, and then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen.

(Thomas Dekker)

The weather on the first of May this year wasn’t quite as merry as the month is supposed to be. A light soft rain at frequent intervals meant it was definitely a part-time umbrella day. This, however, did not deter us from celebrating the start of May which, in the Roman Catholic calendar is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The day started with a visit to the chapel of Saint Joseph which is the one you pass on the road just after Gombereto. It’s very rarely open for business so we were glad to find that there was a Mass celebrated on Saint Joseph’s day which falls on May 1st.

The chapel is in good condition apart from some damp on the walls and is now approached by a highway of a footpath to replace the old gravel one which was washed away. On the altar is an excellent copy of a beautiful painting by Murillo showing the young Jesus with his dad.


If you’re a Londoner and think you’ve seen the original somewhere there then you’re right. The original is called “The Two Trinities”, dates from around 1680 and is in the National Gallery. The Gombereto copy omits the Virgin and the Trinity to concentrate on Saint Joseph, to whom, after all, the chapel is dedicated.


Murillo is one of those painters whose reputation, like, for example, Guido Reni, has suffered since the nineteenth century. His pictures have now been deemed to be too often sentimental and cloying. Yet the Spanish painter’s life was quite other than gentle. His parents died when he was just nine and Murillo outlived his wife and all but three of his nine children. He lived through a particularly war-torn period of Spanish history and died as a result of falling off scaffolding while working on a painting for Cadiz’s Capuchin church.

Gombereto’s’ copy fails to appreciate the original triangular composition which compares the heavenly trinity of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost with the earthly one of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. It still, however, includes the flowering rod in Joseph’s hand showing that he had been chosen to be Jesus’ dad. Jesus is shown on a stone illustrating the passage from Isiah: ‘thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion…a precious corner stone, a sure foundation’.

From the sacred to the secular, as usually occurs in Italy, is but a short step and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon at Fornaci di Barga’s first of May celebrations, an event which goes back many years. The high street was mercifully closed to through traffic and there were plenty of stalls especially selling flowers. We concentrated on cabbages and zucchini for our allotment, however.

That luminary in the geological field, Marco Barsanti, opened up his association’s marvellous collection of fossils and minerals to the public. I’ve already posted this under-publicised museum at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/the-earth-at-our-feet/.

The collection is always being expanded (although I noted the model dinosaur seems to have walked away) through Marco’s efforts and is truly marvellous in its quality and variety both of rocks and minerals:

and fossils.

There were plenty of specimens for sale to the general public, no doubt extracted with the greatest care and effort from mother Earth.


Rain certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying the first of May and we look forwards to the ever-abundant cornucopia of events which the start of May kicks off and which continues throughout summer in Lucca province and most other places in festive Italy. For a start, thinking on a international scale, have you booked your ticket for Milan’s and the world’s “Expo 2015” yet? Already ten million tickets have been booked, (two of which are ours!).

anchors away

In the centre of the very large roundabout just north of Fornaci di Barga and leading both to the newish bridge across the Serchio and to Castelvecchio Pascoli is a huge anchor and chain monument which was inaugurated on March 15th this year. Its effect on me, when I first saw it was like that of a stranded whale until I realised that there are very important connections between the inland town of Fornaci and the sea. Yesterday I decided to take a closer look at it.

The monument, seemingly unusual for this part of the world, commemorates those who died at sea and, in particular, four members of the Italian Navy. Two of these were Submarine officer Umberto Terigi and missile launcher Pietro Chiezzi, both victims of WWII.

The monument also commemorates a much more recent tragedy: the death of Navy Petty Officer Marco de Candussio who was born and brought up in Fornaci di Barga and harbour pilot Michele Robazza from Pistoia who were both tragically killed in Genova harbour on May 7th 2013 in a freak accident.

A further maritime connection is the fact that Fornaci di Barga (as the name suggests) had metal furnaces which manufactured anchors, chains and other marine equipment. Moreover, Fornaci has traditionally supplied a large number of recruits for the Italian navy.

In this inscription on the anchor the “anno XX” refers to the twentieth year of the fascist regime i.e. 1942.

So it’s not too surprising that in the middle of the Serchio valley between the Apuan and the Apennine mountains there should be this reminder of those who have given their lives in naval service and were reported “lost at sea”.