Cat-astrophe Avoided

Napoleon (my cat, not the French emperor…) began to move in a very slow-motion manner and not feel very hungry so that I started to get a bit worried about him. After all, Nap’s going to be eleven this year, which means sixty in terms of ‘cat years’.

I, therefore, took ‘Nap’ down to our local vet, Claudio, who has his place in Fornoli opposite the post office. Nap is a well-worn pillion passenger on my Scarabeo scooter:

Almost immediately the cause for Nap’s behaviour was found out. A giant abscess, perhaps as a result of an unwanted encounter with some wild feline yobo, under his left front paw-pit burst open covering part of the poor animal in blood. Nap’s a brave sort of fellow so he didn’t scream (or miaoogle) at all.

A clean-up followed and an antibiotic injection was administered. Nap was then ready to go home, Doctor Stefanini asked me (and Nap, of course) to return in four days’ time and tell him how the cat was proceeding.

I’m happy to say that Nap is recovering well and has started again to complain if he doesn’t get his breakfast (or lunch or dinner) – surely a good sign in any feline!

These are Claudio’s veterinary practice opening times:

You may also be interested in reading another post I’ve done about Claudio and his practice. It’s at:


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.

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)



‘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:


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….


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..



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?


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


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

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.

Il Baluardo di Lucca

Il Mammalucco is the name given to Fornoli’s cultural association. This means that, in that part of the comune of Bagni di Lucca, anything from a concert to a dance evening to children’s activities is likely to be organised by’ Il Mammalucco’ whose facebook page is at

What a name for an association! What does ‘mammalucco’ mean anyway? In common parlance it means a dolt or an idiot but it’s really a bit more subtle than that. It also means the willingness to be made a fool of, or risk doing something which could turn out either way – a resounding success or an abject failure.

The etymology of the word is also subject to different interpretations. It could derive from ‘Mamluk’, which is Arabic for ‘the king’s slave’. In fact, the Mamluk became the leading warrior class under the Ottoman Empire obeying the king’s orders unto death. Presumably, their willingness to die for their master in unthinking obedience during the mediaeval saracenic raids against Italy may have seemed a bit stupid to Italians, so the term was applied generically to anyone who didn’t have a brain to think for himself.

A second interpretation is more fanciful and relates to the ‘figurinai’ or statuette sellers from our Lucca region who emigrated to America with their craft. (A well-worn urban myth says that when Christopher Columbus landed on the new continent he was immediately greeted by a figurinaio who was itching to sell the captain a souvenir statuette.) According to this interpretation children, excited by the little statuettes the Lucchesi were selling in the streets of New York and other cities, would cry out ‘Mamma look!” in an effort to attract their parents’ attention and get them to buy a statuette.

Whatever the origins of the word the Mammalucco association is doing a fine job of enlivening social life for its inhabitants. This July 14th for example, it invited ‘Il Baluardo’ choral group to perform in front of Fornoli church. Together with the Coro delle Alpi Apuane it’s one of Lucca’s premiere folk-song choirs.

Founded in 1989 ‘Il baluardo’ has participated in over five hundred concerts. They have performed in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain and have established ties with other Italian and foreign choirs. Directed by baritone Elio Antichi the choir also includes guitarist Gabriele Cinquini and keyboard Tiziano Mangani. ‘Il Baluardo’ repertoire consists of traditional Tuscan folk-songs which they perform in a cappella style. They also include folk-songs from other regions of Italy and several European countries.

In addition’ Il baluardo’ includes performances of such items as French renaissance chansons and contemporary pieces.

The concert we heard at Fornoli was a delight. The first half was a sequence of Italian work folk-songs which were cleverly brought together with a narrative and some lively inter-acting between the choir members.

The second half consisted of more ‘classical’ repertoire including French chansons, crusaders’ ballads and more modern pieces.

The choir was introduced by the inspirer and organiser of the Mammalucco association, Marco Nicoli, who is also a noted journalist of ‘La Nazione’ newspaper and writes many articles on our area bringing to the public’s attention important issues and sparkling events (like the Fornoli carnival, for example).

We are glad to have such public-spirited figures as Marco in our midst and that evening he did us and the association proud by bringing along a truly inventive and highly enjoyable choir.

For more information on ‘Il Baluardo’ and forthcoming concerts see

PS ‘Il Baluardo’ means bulwark and clearly refers to Lucca’s walls in which lovely city the choir is based. At least we have a well-defined origin for that word!


Calling All Campers

The best area for campers (both camper vehicles and those bringing their own tents) and caravans for anyone visiting Bagni di Lucca is the one at Chifenti in the Comune of Borgo a Mozzano. Inaugurated in 2013 and sited by a formerly overgrown pasture, it’s easily reached from Lucca by going up the Brennero road and then turning off sharply to the left just when you see the chain suspension bridge connecting Fornoli with Chifenti.

The facilities include water supply, a well discharge, site illumination, a nearby bar and electricity and water supply. Dogs are allowed and the site is open all the year round. The four attachments for water and electricity are free and there’s is space for up to ten camper vans. Garbage collection facilities are somewhat lacking, however.

There’s also a dining area.

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A rafting centre is also situated near the camper site:

The camper/camping site is in a beautiful location. There is a large grassed area leading to Nottolini’s suspension bridge which dates from the nineteenth century and is well-worth a look. By the side of the bridge there are underground passages leading to the holding points for the great chains. I once managed to get to these but they are now inaccessible behind grilled doors.

There’s also an ancient bridge said to date from Roman times.

The Borgo a Mozzano camping makes quite a contrast with the Bagni di Lucca one at Fornoli where there are no such facilities. When I passed the Fornoli site the other day there were still some vehicles parked which belonged to a circus held there a couple of weeks ago. The site looked rather forlorn, although it is sited next to a spectacular lime avenue, and in my opinion needs a good shake-up to attract more camper users to Bagni di Lucca.

PS It should be remembered that there’s a very attractive camper/camping place in the offing near Gombereto which I’ve described in my post at just fifteen minutes away from Bagni di Lucca.

The Circus is Coming

The circus has come to town, or at least it’s come to Bagni di Lucca near Fornoli, where it will remain for the next couple of days. It’s also the Circo Orfei. Not the great Moira’s, so loved by Fellini and other film directors, who sadly died last November (though not before we’d had a last glimpse of her at Firenze’s Nelson Mandela centre) but one of her descendants, Oscar. So the tradition carries on!

Although large circuses are clearly more spectacular there is a true intimate feel about a small-scale travelling circus. It’s almost like being in a scene from that classic film ‘La Strada’.

For those of you who justifiably protest against the use of animals in circuses there are some in Oscar Orfei’s circus too. But I could see they were treated as loved pets, appeared in good condition and were, indeed, asked to do very little.

After an opening which had clear allusions to Leoncavallo’s ‘vesti la giubba’ where the clown prepares for his transformation:

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the first part of the show included the standard acts of juggling, high-altitude acts, fire-eating and buffoonery, especially, with a very temperamental taxi.

There was a true family-feel about the whole event and half the fun was experiencing the local children’s reaction to the events, some of which they were asked to participate in by the clown.

No-one was asked, however, to participate in this one.

I think snakes are a much maligned species and the specimens on show were ravishingly coloured but I do not feel I could share this woman and her snakes as well!

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Actually, snakes are not at all slimy to the touch and the children were amazed at the smooth feel of the skin of these down-fallers of Eve.

After the show all the animals, including the unusual hybrid Bactrian-camel-dromedary and the ever surprising lamas, got their hay-worth of reward.

I wish humans would get on as well together as this sociable bunch of quadrupeds did. As for the snakes, that could be another matter, especially as far as human ones are concerned…

I remember as a child reading books about escaping to circuses by Noel Streatfeild. I got that feeling yesterday in this truly Fellinian version which was fast moving, friendly and provided a well-deserved diversion to the often entertainment-starved families of Val di Lima.

Here are the dates and times for the circus performances:

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Two Carnivals at Bagni di Lucca and More

It’s Carnival time again in Italy!

It’s the time to have a last fling of fun and games before traditionally plunging oneself into Lenten fasts, sack-cloth and penitence.

Bagni di Lucca this year has two carnivals.

There’s a first for the Bagni di Lucca Villa Carnival. It’s called Carnevalvilla. Together with the parish of San Pietro in Corsena, the Red Cross and the local tourist association all streets will be pedestrianised on Saturday, February 6th, and a fantasy world created to appeal to children of all ages. We are promised Umpa Lumpa with sweet distribution, Mago (Wizard) Cilindro, face painting with Sissi, and Masha and her bear plus, of course, the usual stalls selling handicrafts, fripperies, toys etc.
02022016 021Then there’s the very successful carnival at Fornoli on 14th February which has now run for some years:


Of course, if you’re more ambitious there’s the fabulous Viareggio carnival which runs every week-end with its imaginative floats poking sophisticated fun at Italian politics and everything else in Italy which doesn’t exactly work to plan.


The Venice carnival, which began at the end of last month, is yet another incredible option but be warned: it can get very overcrowded and booking is essential. What is also essential there this year is the inspection of what’s under the mask you’re wearing. Security is tight in the light of recent tragic events in France and elsewhere.


There will be carnivals throughout Italy. Depending where you are check out the list at:

Carnivals from time immemorial have served a double purpose:

First: that of having a good time before the Lent (quaresima) season of atonement where one is supposed to give up something. Two years ago I gave up smoking (it was only a few roll-ups anyway) and now actually try avoiding the fumes of that weed wherever its noxious vapours hit my nose. (Incidentally, new anti-smoking draconian measures have been instituted in Italy today. Just chucking a dog-end in the street could land one with a serious fine or even in the dog-house). Last year I also started my wine-free days in the week (but have forgotten which days they are now). This year I will be giving up bottled water in restaurants since it clearly adds to food-mileage and plastic pollution. (Anyway, there’s no need for bottled water in my part of the world where the local stream can supply the best drinking water possible. It’s the restaurants which are the real culprits and now they are realising that more and more customers are quite happy with tap water).

The second purpose of carnival is flirting at masked balls. Images of Casanova and Don Giovanni creep into one’s consciousness. Anyway, Carnevale comes suitably close to the traditional Easter wedding season so I’m sure that there will be plenty of romance flying in the air especially as February 14 is happening right in the middle of the festivities!


PS To order your own personal carnevale costume there’s this shop in Fornoli you might like to try. It’s next to the vet there:

Thanksgiving for Tractors

Italians, as befits members of a nation where Roman Catholicism was the state religion until the revision of the Lateran pacts of 1929 (the pacts which established the Vatican City as an independent state) still very much include religious ceremonies in their everyday lives.

In 1984 under law no. 203 of the constitutional court Roman Catholicism was ‘demoted’ in favour of the supreme principle of secularism. This, of course, has little bearing on a country which is Roman Catholic by osmosis if nothing else. This comes out to the fore in the blessings bestowed on all and sundry. Annually, for example, our house (or at least our garden wall) gets blessed by the parish priest or the deacon. (I’m quite sure that this is a prime reason why the wall hasn’t fallen down yet!)

Last week-end another blessing took place – one which has particular importance in this agricultural part of the world – the blessing of the tractors. This took place in Fornoli and a fine parade of the huge-tyred machines lined the high street.

Tractors are, of course, more than any Ferrari Testarossa, an indication of how far economically farmers have progressed in this part of the world. Not too long ago it was oxen that pulled the plough and it was pure manual effort involved in threshing the farro (spelt). Now, it’s all different and the presence of these gigantic mechanical beasts show how comparatively well off farmers are, even in an Italy which is still creeping out of its 2008 economic crisis.

It’s all part of the ‘Giornata Del Ringraziamento’, Thanksgiving Day, or as one would equate in England, the Harvest festival.

This festa was first celebrated in 1951 and recognized by the Church. Its origins, however, date back from long before and refer to the period between the feste of Saint Martin (11th November) and 17th January (the feast of Saint Anthony abbot, patron saint of all those who farm crops and herd animals).

As with all other festivals at this time of year necci (chestnut pancakes) and vin brulé were served up, on this occasion by the Alpini, and stalls sold their multifarious wares. On the squeeze-box our own virtuoso Mila was playing to an invisible crowd of dancers. Perhaps more did join her in Fornoli’s main square but we were off to another chestnut festival so weren’t to know. I do hope she got more feet dancing, however.