Our Swimming Pool

There are some people around who are not aficionados of private swimming pools. They feel that, like television and DVDs did for cinemas, they are an infliction on former large-scale social gatherings. Perhaps on-line buying and drone delivery may eventually do the same for supermarkets and future hypermarkets may become as quaint reminiscences of the socio-commercial scene as, sadly, British Home Stores are now. I sincerely hope not, however, for shopping can be a highly sociable activity. For example, I constantly meet friends and acquaintances at our local one at Penny Market Borgo a Mozzano and exchange notes.

However, there is nothing quite like being invited to a friend’s private swimming pool especially after a long walk on a sweltering summer’s day and when the company is good. When the pool looks out over extraordinary mountain views and even has a hydrotherapy facility  it’s as close to heaven as one can get on this planet. The pool I am secretly referring to also has the added advantage that it is fed by a natural spring so let no one complain that it’s taking away life-giving liquid from anyone else!

I do also love public baths just as much as the ancient Romans loved theirs and enjoy visiting our local spread of swimming pools which includes not only the ones at Bagni di Lucca and Borgo a Mozzano but also the refurbished and reorganised one at Gallicano.

The facilities there are good, the pools (one adults, one children) are open seven days a week from 9 is to 8 pm until around the middle of September or beyond, weather permitting. The staff is helpful (PS don’t forget to bring your obligatory bathing cap, otherwise they are on sale there at five euros), the all-day admission price is free for under-fives, five euros for under twelves and six euros for the rest of us. Decently priced refreshments, including soft drinks, beer, focaccie and ice cream, are available.

What more could one want: a deckchair or sunbed, clean water, a beautiful setting, friendly users to meet up with and chat?

Gallicano’s swimming pool facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/piscinagallicano/about/?entry_point=page_nav_about_item&tab=overview

Unofrtunately, the open-air swimming pool season in our area barely lasts for three months – just as long as the wonderful lidos that were built during the art-deco era in London.

Thinking about those great water-temples, several of which still survive at Brockwell and other corners of London, I wrote this about the miraculously rescued Lido at Charlton London SE.




In summer’s light the lido elongates

fresh turquoise-dappled water to high sun.

Liquidity of wavelets captivates

and melts a splash of swimmers into one.


Ideals of expired years, young nature’s skin

unsheathed, pretended a new age of health

while war-clouds hung and hid mad fiend within

and river maidens lost their golden wealth.


Lank flowered dresses are undraped and breasts

and seaside conversations dream away

for secret gardens, lonely sands and quests

in search of that which stays pale flesh’s decay.


Entowelled by suburban rose-flanked wall

star-glinted water clasps me in its thrall.




Monica Cirinnà at Gallicano

One kind of festa we’ve enjoyed in the past, especially in the Cascine Park of Florence,  is the ‘Festa dell’Unità’. This is an event organised by one of Italy’s multifarious political parties which, besides providing food and drink and some music and dancing events, is also an arena for often important political debates.

After revisiting the delightful ‘Sagra dell crisciolette’ at Cascio – described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/whats-a-criscioletta/ we made a brief detour to Gallicano’s ‘ Festa dell’unità’, organised by Prime Minister Renzo’s party, the SD (social-democrats).

Italian politics is a maelstrom of ever-changing allegiances, kaleidoscopic alliances and confusionary tactics. To add to the muddle is the presence of a religious state – the Vatican City – in the middle of a nation nominally secular constitutionally but permeated by centuries of inbred-Catholicism.

Only this year the ‘legge Cirinnà’ finally sanctioned civil unions between same-sex couples. The end of years of crusades against laws which bound Italian society to a quasi-feudal morality (for example, divorce was only introduced in 1970 and any kind of abortion was declared criminal until 1975) the legge Cirinnà was only pushed through to avoid Italy being condemned for abuse of civil rights by the European Union which threatened sanctions against it.

Despite passing through the ‘legge Cirinnà’ only in June this year there are still shortcomings in Italy compared with other western countries. First, the new law doesn’t allow adoption between same-sex couples. Second, it  doesn’t permit in-vitro fertilization for children (as in the case of Elton John) so the chances of same-sex couples having proxy-children is nil. There has been a huge debate on this with violent clashes between the country’s secular and religious factions, with the condemnatory phrase ‘uterus for-hire’ and others of equally vociferously emotional tones.

In the middle of this moral-political-religious clash stands one remarkable woman, Monica Cirinnà, who managed to be the leading influence in getting the law, named after her, through the complexities, hurdles and mayhem of Italian politics.

It was this very woman who spoke and debated at Gallicano’s ‘Festa dell’unità’ yesterday evening. We reached the venue quite by chance but I wouldn’t have missed hearing this extraordinary woman speak. And one has to be an amazing woman to be able to survive in the still macho-dominated Italian political scene where females are subject continuously to vulgar sexist remarks: most recently even addressed to the leader of the chamber of deputies herself, Laura Boldrini.

Something about Monica. Born in Rome she graduated in Law at that city’s Sapienza University. She entered politics in 1993 when she was elected to the green party representing the capital’s council three times. In 2008 Monica joined the Social Democratic party. Cirinnà is married to former senator Esterino Montino.

In 2013 Cirinnà was elected to the Italian senate where she fought against dinosaur-sized odds (including such powerful people as Vatican city cardinals and highly traditional, yet supposedly left-wing politicians) to finally enable Italy’s first law to give equal civil union rights to same-sex people to be passed through parliament. Indeed in 2016 Monica was voted by Gay.it Italy’s foremost ‘Gay rights champion.’

Until the Cirinnà law came into being no mayor in Italy could perform a civil union between same-sex people. I remember that some years ago I was approached by the now-mayor of Bagni di Lucca to act as a ceremony facilitator between two girls who’d been united by civil law in the UK. It was a lovely occasion in Pian di Fiume and my ritualistic role was much appreciated. Then, the mayor could just look on. Now he can fully act his part in sealing both heterosexual and same-sex marriages.

I was bold enough to take the platform and talk about my experience there and was applauded for what I related.

Monica Cirinnà spoke forcefully and passionately about her experiences in the situation of same sex civil unions. She said there was a lot more to do but at least the unions had been officially sanctioned by law.  Monica also stated that a true watershed had been passed between church and state. She bluntly and courteously remembered remarking to a leading figure of the Catholic C.E.I. – ‘your job is to look after the spiritual and religious dimension of Italian society, ours is to safeguard its secular and civil rights’.Cirinnà is married to former senator Esterino Montino.

Clearly the debate will go on and on. So many Italians are used to the traditional family of mum and dad plus children that it will take years for them to accept that the overriding feature of any union is love. Children need to be loved, protected and guided. They do not need to be discriminated against because they come from one-parent families or same-sex-partner families. Furthermore, the terrible spate of feminicide that has been occurring in Italy, where every three days one woman is killed by a partner or husband who thinks she is his possession and just won’t let go of her, is atrocious. Even in relatively civilised Lucca there has been a woman, Vania Vannucchi, who recently had petrol poured over her by ex-husband Pasquale Russo and set on fire. Vania was rushed to Pisa hospital with 93% burns over her body. Despite every care she died after three days of unimaginable agony this 3rd of August..

Heterosexual civil unions are some form of guarantee that children and spouses will be afforded the respect, protections and rights they deserve. It is good for Italy that the Cirinnà law has finally been passed to afford the same rights for same-sex civil unions on 5th June this year. And about time too!


PS Monica Cirinnà is also a campaigner for women’s rights and a firm believer in rights for animals too.







Superlative Spectacle at Gallicano’s Palio di San Jacopo

The Palio di San Jacopo, Gallicano’s patron saint, always occurs on 25th July every year. This extraordinary event, where allegorical floats are preceded by fantastically costumed participants enacting complex choreographies, has been going since 1972 and, apart from a few instances when it was cancelled, has been growing from strength to strength. This year the Palio was exceptionally fabulous and anyone who missed it truly missed a great deal.

Like other Italian palii there is a competition between various rioni to compete for the prize. Gallicano has three rioni today (there used to be four). They are Borgo Antico, Monticello and Bufali.

Each year a new theme is given to the three rioni. This year it was ‘The Power of the Sun’. The prize of the palio is a special coloured cloth called ‘il cencio’.

What is so incredible is the wonderful creativity and imagination a small town like Gallicano in the middle of a remote valley can muster for its Palio. Everyone has a chance to contribute with their skills, no matter what age. For a whole year before the actual palio (and especially during the long winters) ideas are thrashed out, designs produced, costumes made. There’s sewing, cutting, pasting with every conceivable material available. Floats are meticulously built up and mechanized in a special warehouse dedicated to the palio. It’s a sort of mountain version of Viareggio but with a greater emphasis on spectacle and with universal world themes rather than sometimes heavy political satire.

The sheer love and resourcefulness put into the Gallicano palio is quite extraordinary and demonstrates fully the ability of Italians to get together, lay aside differences and produce something which I truly feel is of an international standard and equals some of the best shows of the world’s capital cities.

After a procession of the floats through Gallicano’s narrow streets the event takes place in the natural arena below the church.

The first rione to present its spectacle was IL Borgo Antico with a subtitle ‘Multiverso’.

The second was Monticelli with the subtitle ‘the biggest show after the Big Bang.’

The third was Bufali with ‘the legend of Garfagnana’s birth’.

I thought Bufali would have won but instead it was the Borgo antico. Here are the jury’s decision based on these criteria:




PUNTEGGIO FINALE: (Final points)

After the wonderful spectacles presented by Gallicano’s three rioni, (frankly, I thought they should all have first prize!) we were treated to a splendid fireworks display. I ascended to the old church of San Jacopo in front of which the fireworks were to be set off.  The launching pad was only a few metres away – I’d never been so close to seeing rockets actually taking off!

It was quite awesome but also very noisy and a little terrifying! I thought that if this was great fun for us for others in less peaceful parts of the world it was, sadly, a spectacle they had to witness every day under the name of bombardments and death.

The sun is life, however, and Gallicano and its inhabitants did themselves proud that evening with one of the very best of its Palii I’ve ever seen.  It was an absolute treat for all those three thousand+plus lucky enough to have been there and was fully written up in the region’s papers giving Gallicano well-deserved publicity for a comune which not so long ago was dying on its feet but is now a model example of enterprise and strong future vision.

A Dollop of Chestnuts outside Dolif

I don’t know if roast chestnut sellers are still commonly seen in London’s streets as winter deepens. Here chestnut feasts, or castagnate, are a communal event from October to December and truly add a seasonal touch. They may involve a whole village, as at one of the best ones at Lupinaia, or just be a stall set up by a local voluntary association, like the Red Cross or Animal rescue.

During a recent visit to that neo-Woolworth’s store at Gallicano, now called “Dolif” but once known as “Stefan” and described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com, I noted a merry gathering seated on benches by the store’s car park.

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Necci or castanaccio (chestnut flour pancakes):

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frittelle – served either with ricotta cheese or nutella – (chestnut flour pancake fritters):

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and mondine (roasted chestnuts), were all available, washed down with vin brulé if one wanted. Money went to the local sports association.

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 I like these seemingly spontaneous events in Italy. They all make hum-drum activities like buying a light-bulb or a pair of socks less boring. What spontaneous event will I come across today I wonder? At least it’s not spontaneously raining as I step outside my autumnally-coloured dwelling!



Shanghaied in Gallicano

In one of my English language classes I asked my students to write down what their favourite interests were. Annoyingly, I found out that the majority included “shopping” as their prime focus in life.  Is buying, for example, a pack of toilet rolls that engrossing I thought. The word “shopping” in Italy, however, means something rather different. Like many English words adopted into their vocabulary, Italians give a slightly different twist to the significance. The most obvious example is “gadget” which, in fact, refers to free marketing gifts or, as the dictionary definition has it: “accessorio originale, curioso più che utile, offerto a fini promozionali”. In the case of “shopping”, the word’s meaning is more akin to “window shopping” or “bargain hunting”.

Inadvertently, I chose the presiding interest of my class yesterday and found myself “shopping”.

Looking for the supermarket that sells everything from buckets to boots and from cat food to crystal glasses? Something like the old Woollies (Woolworth’s) if anyone is old enough to remember it? There used to be a “Stefan” in Gallicano which almost fitted the bill but it seems that several of their stores have been having problems and this was one of them. It shut last August. However, my wife managed to find out that the building was going to be taken over by the Chinese. Judging from others of their household stores we have visited (especially the ones round the Porcari industrial estate) this would be an excellent idea.

The Gallicano store opened on September 15 and yesterday I took my first look at it.

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The prices were excellent and other shops should beware. Even the connecting cables for both android and iPad were so much cheaper here.

At the check-out I found that I’d bought the following items:

  • Analogue bathroom scales (couldn’t stand those digital ones that always require new batteries)
  • Clock for kitchen wall
  • Touch screen pen
  • USB cable
  • Cat food
  • Laptop extension speakers
  • Front door mat
  • Toiletries for bathroom
  • Optical mouse
  • Nutcracker
  • Computer screen cleaning kit
  • Some other odds and sods.

I couldn’t believe the bill; it was under sixty euros.

I’ll definitely be back once I make a list of essential items I need. It’s dangerous if you’re not careful about keeping lists before “shopping”…..


PS  a hint – swot up on your Mandarin if you need to make enquiries from some of the shop staff who are otherwise quite helpful.

We are such Stuff as Dreams are Made of

The Italian word “Palio” can be applied to many different events. The most common use of the word is in the “Palio of Siena”, the famous horse race which takes place in the central fantailed and sloping square of this city between the various contrade or districts (all seventeen of them) at different times.

The element of competition between a town’s districts enters into the majority of palii, of which there are at least fifty-four listed in Italy (seventeen in Tuscany alone!)

It’s the form the competition takes which is the distinguishing factor between the various palii. They can be cross-bow competitions, as at Gubbio, or lance tilting as at Arezzo, or boat racing as at Pisa’s Palio (which I describe at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/pisas-san-ranieri-regatta/.)

Gallicano’s Palio, which is of more recent origin, dating from the early 1980’s, is essentially a competition of costumes, choreography and floats between the three rioni, Monticello, Bufali e Borgo storico, of this central Garfagnana town.

The aim of the different rioni is to win the cencio or “rag”.

The “rag” is a not very large piece of cloth designed with the colours belonging to all the “rioni” or districts. It’s a symbol of the town and embodies its creativity, enthusiasm and passion.

It is also a symbol of a community who share a magic stage in which the creativity of this town (population less than four thousand!)  produces a fantastic show that in my opinion has few equals anywhere in the world.

All this is the result of hard work from each rione which starts almost as soon as the last Palio has ended. It involves every one of all ages and skills, from the design of the amazing costumes to the electronic wizardry of the floats to the planning of the themes. The Gallicano Palio, in short, involves everyone and everyone is involved in the Palio.

I have been a couple of times before to this Palio and have always admired it. This year, however, the Gallicano Palio seemed to have taken a considerable step forwards, almost as if to affirm that those two recent years it didn’t take place because of economic difficulties were over and that the future now looked bright again.

Any couturier or fashion-designer would be stunned by the inventiveness of the local people to make up expensive-looking costumes with the cheapest of materials and make them up in a highly imaginative and inspired manner.

Each year a theme is assigned to the Palio. This year it was “The Zoo is here”. Each rione developed its own interpretation of the word “Zoo”.

For Borgo Antico it was the zoo of our lives, imprisoned in our own little worlds, unable to even look up at the sky anymore and subjecting ourselves to stereotyped and obsessive behaviour

Gallicano’s symbol – its cockerel.

For Monticello it was the story of the evolution of animals on this planet and the huge force of the earth, as sadly demonstrated last year when this area was devastated by an earthquake in mid-June and flooded out in mid-October

(The Serchio flood as represented last night)

(and last June’s earthquake)

For Bufali it was the way that the internet has somehow created a human zoo, a parallel world in which we meet in a virtual reality but must be able to use it in a positive way, not denying what is true reality.

A lot more could be read into the ways the different rioni interpreted the zoo theme set to them. Clearly, there was a philosophical interpretation on the vast warm, open-air stage floor but for me that interpretation was transformed into a glory of colour, movement, joy and sheer ecstasy.

I could not believe that such artistic force could come from what is essentially a mountain people living in a harsh environment on the fringes of the main centres of Tuscan culture.

The Notting hill carnival was nothing compared to it in terms of grace, beauty, and imagination. It was also happily nothing compared to Gallicano’s Palio in terms of the presence of forces of order. I only spotted one policewoman at Gallicano in an event attracting thousands.

At the end of this absolutely superb spectacle I could not help being reminded of the following words from Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. They did sound so apt for this occasion.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Incidentally, the true meaning of the word Palio derives from Latin pallium which means a cloak and points back to the woollen cloak a competition winner would be awarded. In Siena this cloak becomes transmuted into a standard painted by a famous artist and celebrating the Virgin.

For, of course, behind all these competitions there is a celebration of a saint. In the case of Gallicano, it’s Saint Iacopo (Jacob) the town’s patron saint who, from somewhere on high, must be admiring the complex working relationship between faith, community, culture and art which make such events still possible in a country like Italy.

PS Gallicano’s symbol is the Gallo (Cockerel):

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A few more snippets follow: