Magic Moments at Bagni di Lucca’s Casinò

The first evening of the week dedicated to celebrating International women’s day at Bagni di Lucca was, as expected, up to the high standards of past years and even exceeded them.

The occasion opened with speeches from the main figures who have done so much to make this ‘Omaggio alla Donna’ such an essential feature of Bagni di Lucca’s calendar of events. Among them I single out Natalia Sereni, Morena Guarnaschelli and Gemma Fazzi.


(Natalia Sereni and our mayor)

There will be plenty of reportage on the events and the marvellous art and photographic exhibition,  which spread over a truly international network ranging from Chile to Poland, at the casinò in other blog posts.  See, for example, Debra Kolkka’s post at

For me however, the highlight of the evening was a superb concert given by two artistes of exceptional quality. Barbara Kelly is well-known for her lively renditions of a repertoire extended from musical to opera to folk songs. Beatriz Oyarzabal Pinan from Mexico is the partner of artist Wilson Guevara, whose paintings have already graced the Casinò last year. She has an immaculate voice with a lilting tremolo and her performances truly involve the audience as she has the rare capacity to fully live her songs.

In her repertoire Beatriz sang some mariachi songs from Mexico. Her performance was not only brilliant – it was seductive too. Judge for yourselves from these tantalizing snippets:

It was wonderful to have both Barbara and Beatriz collaborating in duets from the best of Lloyd Webber. An encore was truly merited!

Beatriz’ future recitals can be consulted at


(Barbara and Beatriz)


PS Don’t miss the concert at 9 pm this Wednesday at the Casinò.







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.

Treasure Trove of (Mainly Local) Old Photographs

Just over a week ago a chance subject in a conversation with a nearby long-standing friend revealed that her grandfather had been a photographer and that she had discovered a large box filled with hundreds of old photographs in the attic of her house.

I was particularly excited by this news since photographs are increasingly being used as past evidence and social history. A book many of us have bought showing old photographs of the Bagni di Lucca area and published by the local Historical Association branch shows how fertile this area of research can be.

My friend came down with the cardboard box and I cursorily sifted through their contents, Here indeed, was a large part of the photographs her grandfather (who had sadly died prematurely in 1929) had taken, There were also photographs taken later by other members of the family and stacks of old postcards.

The photographs could be divided into the following categories:

  1. Individual studio portraits
  2. Informal individual and family photographs.
  3. Photographs of important local public events.
  4. Miscellaneous.

I was allowed by my friend to take home some of the photographs to scan them and correct some defects (in contrast, mainly).

I started publishing a very small selection I’d made of these precious documents on Facebook and received a truly rapturous reception from many of my Italian friends in this area.

The majority of photographs deal specifically with the Bagni di Lucca area although some, from their background, originate from the USA. This one of the photographer’s studio in Ponte a Serraglio was even identified by one facebook friend as her great-great-grandfather!


The photographs date from the 1870’s to the 1970’s. Interestingly, some of the photographs have writing or pictures on the back. The writing is very much of the ‘I miss you’ type and these come from those pictures taken abroad in the USA (and one from Russia) where so any bagnaioli emigrated to.

A lot more research will have to be done on these photographs, particularly with regard to their subjects and dating. However, I have permission to publish the following under the separate categories I have given them. It would be so interesting to receive comments about them especially if you recognize any of the persons or places depicted.

  • Studio portraits (individual – couples – groups)
  • Informal individual and family photographs.
  • Photographs of important local public events.

Some of you will recognise the opening of the road (la carreggiabile) which now connects San Cassiano and adjoining villages with Bagni di Lucca and which featured in an exhibition at San Cassiano some years ago. It was built in the twenties and before that time the only way you could get to Bagni di Lucca from Longoio was by Shanks’s pony’ or a mule if you were lucky.

Others will see the Corpus Domini procession from San Gemignano to the Pieve di Controni which I also attended some years ago. I haven’t seen it happen, unfortunately, for some time now.

  • Miscellaneous

(Viareggio c 1913)



(War memorial at Pieve di Controni, Giardino Collodi and Val di Lima among subects included above)

There are plenty more to scan and preserve but I was particularly struck by these ones.

PS BTW It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary today (a public holiday in Italy) so why not listen to the best setting of her song of exaltation: The Magnificat:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum,et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo,quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae.Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes,quia fecit mihi magna,qui potens est,et sanctum nomen eius,et misericordia eius in progenies et progeniestimentibus eum.Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;deposuit potentes de sedeet exaltavit humiles;esurientes implevit boniset divites dimisit inanes.Suscepit Israel puerum suum,recordatus misericordiae suae,sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,Abraham et semini eius in saeculaGloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,et in Saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.


PS If you don’t know what the Immaculate Conception is do read my post on it at





Luigi Polito’s Butterflies are Back!

Luigi Polito s exhibition of beautiful photographs of butterflies associated with the Pisan Mountain is back again. This time it’s on show in Ghivizzano. Attached to the art and framing firm ‘Ars Nova’ I’ve described at is the new gallery inaugurated by Kety Bastiani where you may see the photographs.

I’ve already described Polito’s work in my post at but if you missed it when it was at the atrium of Bagni di Lucca’s town hall now’s your chance to see it.

Should the exhibition room be closed just knock at the front entrance of ’Ars Nova’ during working hours and you will be let in. It’s a good idea to phone 0583 77012 beforehand too.

The variety and number of butterflies in our Apennines and the Pisan Mountain is truly amazing including some varieties which are all but extinct in the UK; for example the high brown fritillary and the large blue. It’s sadto realise that over 76% of UK butterflies are declining due to unecological farming practices. Happily in our area of Italy they are still fluttering around as this delightful exhibition, photographed with real care shows.

PS The following photographs are repertoire and not included in the exhibition. I’ve added them so that you too can be able to spot these rare species.

index(An Italian High Brown fritillary)

index2(An Italian Large Blue)


PS Do hurry to see the exhibition as it closes on the 24th of this month!


Infra-Red at Bagni’s Shelley House

Despite the absence of a ‘Bagni di Lucca arts festival’ this year, the town is abounding with art and photographic exhibitions, no less than three having been inaugurated in the past few days.

One of them is titled ‘L’irreversilibiltà del sogno’ (the irreversibility of the dream’ – i.e. the permanence of the moment of taking a photograph)  and is a collection of photographs by Sergio Garbari at Shelley House. It opened on the 4th of August and runs until the 27th of the month.


Born in Bagni di Lucca in 1955, Sergio was brought up in an ambience of film and photography thanks to his father who was chief projectionist at Florence’s Ariston cinema. (A sort of ‘Cinema Paradiso’ experience in fact!) In 1976 Sergio became an architecture student at Florence University. Since 1981 he has been official photographer for the world-famous Uffizi art gallery in Florence where he supplies pictures for exhibition catalogues.

In addition Sergio has extensively photographed the Medici villas and such iconic places as the Boboli gardens, the Medici chapel and the San Marco museum.

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At the same time Sergio has explored more experimental aspects of his art. For example, he exhibited photographs of the ex-prison of Thessaloniki in Greece in 2008.

There are also some beautifully lyrical compositions. I especially liked this one:


I was particularly taken by Sergio Garbari’s use of infra-red photography which he explained to me was a somewhat difficult process as all light, including that emanating from the camera itself which had to be specially cushioned against any luminous infiltration. Here are some infra-red photographs of those celebrated Boboli gardens.


Don’t miss this exhibition and certainly don’t miss the Shelley House book-shop and gallery on your next visit to Bagni di Lucca Villa.

There’s an interesting duo of photographs on the exterior wall of Shelley House to the right of its entrance. Why are they of special interest? Do let me know. (Sorry no prizes given – there are enough free surprises anyway by visiting the great addition to Bagni’s cultural landscape that is called Shelley House.

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(Sergio Garbari outside Shelley House)

PS Shelley House is open from Thursday to Saturday: The next major event there will be its open –air ‘salon’ which will take place on 13th August at 6 pm

What’s a Criscioletta?

‘La Sagra delle Crisciolette’ at Cascio which I attended a couple of evenings ago is a delight. We always seemed to miss it but this time with friends we finally made it!

Cascio is a charmer of a village with a great ambience and is famous for its unique criscioletta, a sort of pancake made with yellow (maize) and white flour, topped with a couple of slices of bacon and then cooked between two ferri (toasting irons) which have been greased with lard over a fire. The bacon melts its fat over the flour and thus binds the pancake firmly together.

I’ve described the town of Cascio and its history in some detail at . You’re welcome to read there how Cascio got its impressive town walls, turrets and gateway.

From being the food of the poor the criscioletta has been turned into a much-prized dish of the Garfagnana. The sagra has been going since 1969 and is now more flourishing than ever having been moved from the sports ground to the historic centre of the town, adding considerably to its atmosphere.

It’s best to arrive at Cascio by 7 pm so that one can admire the old town and enjoy the extensive views of the Serchio valley with the Apennines on one side and the Apuan range on the other. It’s also a good time because you can find a parking place with (relative) ease.

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One is then directed to the cash desk where one can order food and drink. We decided on a platter which included a criscioletta, ham, salami, cheese plus some beer.

Having found our table we then queued up with our food vouchers and collected the scrumptious vittles.

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Above us, on top of a terrace, the crisciolettari (crisciolette makers) were all in a line, busy making the pancakes topped with bacon slices which were then delivered to the general populace via a chute.

It was great fun, in addition to see the children play on the bouncy slide, and to generally people-watch.

The views from the ‘terrazza dell’Ada’, on the base of one of the four towers which mark the quadrilateral marked by Cascio’s 16th century walls were extensive and a warm sunset glow permeated the Garfagnana valley.

We took a digestive walk around the town after barely managing to devour the contents of our brimming platter. It was so filling!

There was a beautiful photographic exhibition inside the main gateway by La Spezia-born  Iris Gonelli, an engineer working at a nearby biopharmaceutical factory, who clearly loves travel and has a striking eye for taking spectacular photographs.

Most pretty were the flowery decorations set up by the local children at various points of the town.

At the top of the town was another row of crisciolettari busy at their crisciolettian task.

A folk-rock group was getting ready to play a selection of traditional melodies from the Lucca hills.

It must have been hot on that hot evening on the grills!

There’s also a disco further down in the remains of the Castellan’s mansion,

Some sagre provide less than spectacular food, other sagre are overcrowded with insufficient eating space. Cascio’s sagra is just right.  Excellent seating, spectacular views, lovely town, friendly people and most of all that irresistible criscioletta, truly worth travelling half the globe (or at least the Lucchesia) to savour it, whether with bacon, cheese or even with home-made Nutella!

The sagra continues from the 5th to 7th August and is open from 10 am until around midnight.

Don’t forget that Cascio also hosts a brilliant chestnut festival in autumn.

Another Fabulous Borgo Azalea Festival

It doesn’t matter how many times one goes to Borgo a Mozzano’s annual Azalea festival for there’s always something new to delight and it’s not just the azaleas which, as ever, are artistically displayed througout the narrow main street with its ancient houses often reaching five stories in height.

The displays are not only sponsored by flower nurseries but also by towns and communities wishing to advertise their attractions.

This year Bagni di Lucca was represented for the first time. Our Mayor Betti was not the only mayor pleased with the result organised by the indefatigable Valerio Ceccarelli of Bagni Pro Loco.The theme was water: the thermal water from Bagni’s hot springs and also the amazing white-water rafting of our river Lima.

I spotted mayors from Borgo itself, of course, and other adjoining comuni too.

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There are also the stalls selling various crafts.

I couldn’t resist this one and was happily persuaded by a friend accompanying me that I should buy it. It only cost a frippery of euros too. Amazing for something sculpted out of Tuscany’s famed pietra Serena.

Chair art is truly imaginative here!

There was a diminished presence of azalea-selling stalls. I’m sure there will be more today:

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The photographic displays were of the highest quality. I was stunned by these displays of flowers, and their sensuous associations, by an extremely talented group of photographers.

The highlight, however, was the display organised by the ever-untiring Gemma Fazzi who is seen(second left) in this inauguration photo:

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The display, which stemmed from a talk Gemma gave to Unitre, displayed women’s changing role in the work situation and included photographs taken from early last century to just thirty odd years ago, picture which form part of Lucca’s precious photographic archive. A picture is worth more than a thousand words: it’s worth a million. Look at these pre-washing-machine women doing their laundry in the Serchio River.

This one shows a lady baking bread in a local oven at Benabbio in 1980.

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In Longoio the bread oven continues to thrive and supply the local BDL shops. It’s a great place to warm up if one is coming back home late in winter on one’s scooter!

This is becoming a rarer vocation in Italy:

Factory employment, especially in the textile sector, was a great point in helping women’s emancipation. At last women were able to start developing some economic independence. The Società Anonima FIFC (Fabbriche Italiane di Filati Cucirini), became Cucirini Cantoni Coats (CCC), when it was bought up by the Scottish Coats firm in 1904. That firm prided itself on improved care for its employees and I remember a now sadly deceased lady from Longoio, Stella, telling me how proud she’d been working for this British firm near Lucca!

The following photograph is so poignant. It shows the last silk-worm market in Lucca in 1935. The people are selling their silk-worm cocoons (bozzoli).  Raising silkworms was a common part-time activity for many people in our area from the growth of the pupa to the chrysalis and the boiling of the cocoons killing the little worms before they could burrow their way through and destroy the precious silk thread.

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It’s worth going to the azalea festival just to see this fascinating exhibition.

How many occupations have been lost in the past few years in Italy! During our visit to Cambodia last December we were pleased to find that at least there, during a visit to a silk-worm farm, that the silk industry (which made mediaeval Lucca so important and wealthy – just look at the Arnolfini’s portrait in London’s National Gallery depicting a wealthy silk merchant and his wife from the walled city)

is thriving and providing new employment for a country which has suffered so much.

Last but not least, one of the pleasures of going to the Azalea festival is that one bumps into friends and acquaintances without any need to make appointments beforehand. Azalea birds of a feather obviously flock together!

Don’t’ miss today’s last day of the festival, especially the concert at 4 pm in the courtyard of the Santini palace which has been organised by artist Simonetta Cassai and her team from the local Salotti music school.