No Mute Inglorious Miltons Here: Benabbio’s Claim to Fame

If anyone thinks that the villages surrounding Bagni di Lucca were inhabited by what Gray, in his immortal elegy on a country churchyard, referred to as mute inglorious Miltons, then think again. A series of conferences, started in 2010 under the aegis of the Fondazione Michel Montaigne and its director Marcello Cherubini (whose own father was a distinguished historian of the comune of Bagni di Lucca), continues to reveal the number of inhabitants who made a highly significant impact on the international scene, especially in art, literature and music.

The results of these study days will be presented next Saturday 27th June at 5.30 pm in Bagni di di Lucca’s library, otherwise known as the ex-Anglican church.

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I remember the conference on that extraordinary engraver,  Bartolomeo Nerici, at Crasciana last  year (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/enlightened-engraver/), in 2012 the conference on Nicolao Dorati, the great renaissance composer born in Granaiola, and the amazing connections brought out between the English court at the Royal palace of Eltham where Chaucer was poet-in-residence and Pancio da Controne (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/from-pieve-di-controni-to-eltham-palace/

This year’s conference was held at Benabbio which is a large village on the way towards the passo Del Trebbio and, therefore, an alternative, mountainous route to Lucca. This may explain the extraordinary richness of Benabbio’s heritage, some of which I’ve described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/visiting-in-the-rain/ but which requires a lot more sites added to it, including the castle and the museum

Here are two exquisite statues of the annunciation by Jacobo della Quercia’s dad, which date back to the 1300’s.

Here are other items from this marvellous little museum in the hidden mountain village:

The conference was held in the very beautiful oratorio of the SS Sacramento, which dates back to the XVII century and has still part of its ceiling encased by a “cassettone” above the precious altar.

Benabbio has produced at least five important historical figures of which three were the subject of the conference.

This was the conference programme:

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The conference was introduced by mayor Massimo Betti and coordinated by Bruno Micheletti.

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Antonio Nicolao (1753-1827 or 1830) was a historian and chronicler who produced Lucca’s first major history in several volumes, the last of which remains incomplete but which was to deal with the buildings of Lucca itself, including churches and palaces. The speaker, Tommaso Maria Rossi, is archivist of the diocesan archive of Lucca cathedral and was able to discover many new details, not the least of which is that we are not exactly sure when the great man died, 1827 or 1830. It would be good to get a reprint of Nicolao’s work as it is difficult to find and what he wrote sounds fascinating.

It’s significant that Nicolao became a regular cleric of the order of the Mother of God which was originally in the monastery of the church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini, the church Luccans popularly call Santa Maria Nera to distinguish it from Santa Maria Bianca , Santa Maria Forisportam. The order placed great emphasis on learning and, indeed, the Lucca state archives and public library are housed in the former monastery.

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Francesco Cianelli 1838-1910 was Antonio’s nephew and he too, was ordained as a priest. Francesco became a classics scholar and teacher at Lucca’ seminary and was the author of various epigram and inscription published together towards the end of the nineteenth century. He was also one of the great poet, Giovanni Pascoli’s, Latin mentor and friend. In fact, Pascoli refers to Cianelli with great esteem and affection. Pascoli should know for he managed to buy his lovely house at Castelvecchio Pascoli with the prize money obtained by winning various international Latin verse writing competitions!

Incidentally, Francesco Cianelli is buried in the local cemetery. Clearly, he is not one of the mute inglorious ones inhumed there.

Marcello Cherubini gave his talk on  Antonio Viviani 1770-1830, a poet to both the Pontifical and Neapolitan courts who wrote various dramas, poems and tragedies in a neo-classical style, with reference to Viviani’ chronicle of events in the area between 1799 and 1802.

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Both papers were not only interesting but fun too, especially Viviani’s account of what happened to the area during those momentous years 1799-1802, i.e. between Napoleon’s invasion of Italy and the peace of Amiens. The antagonism between the republicans and their tree of liberty, erected in Benabbio’s main square, and the religionist who opposed them chopping down the infamous tree and replacing it with a cross, only to have Lucca turned into a Napoleonic principality in 1802 with the arrival of Bonaparte’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, gave rise to the closest the area had to an insurrection until that is, of course, the years 1944-5 with the battles between the partisans and the Nazi occupiers.

I would also add that Benabbio continues to host significant persons. Some of them have their ancestry there. Thecla Reuten, for example, the Dutch actress born in 1975 has a mum born in Benabbio and often returns to the village. And of course the great English painter Raymond Victor Mee (1945-2006) and his wife Julia Mee, also a highly regarded artist, fell in love with this almost hidden village which inspired their work as Tahiti inspired Gauguin and Barga, Bellamy.

However, it’s slightly disappointing that I have been unable to find details of any famous cultural contributions some other villages, like Longoio, have made to the world.

The conference was concluded by a short concert of music by Kreisler, Beethoven, Paganini (who was Elisa’s music teacher and lover) and Sgambati (who spent his summers in Benabbio) played by Carlo-Andrea Berti (violin) and Alvise Pascucci (keyboard).

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After the Storm a Bit of Calm…

The work of clearing roads, replacing roof tiles, sweeping streets free of debris, and generally getting back to some sense of normality goes on. It was truly a great storm, tornado or hurricane even, with wind speeds of up to 220 kilometres per hour recorded. Of all the Tuscan provinces affected it’s been confirmed that Bagni di Lucca was the hardest hit. Capannori then followed, not forgetting the pines of Versilia.

This morning I went down with our local woodman Maurizio to work out how to put my orto shed up again. Much to my disappointment I noted that the sciacalli (jackals) had already been at work and that both my bush strimmers, one of which I’d just bought last August as “my own” birthday present had disappeared. My pump had also gone and the wind had wrecked part of the plastic sheeting used to line my reservoir.

I checked up the pictures I took of the shed on the day the storm on Wednesday at 4.30 pm and noted that the bush strimmers had already been taken. So my theory of their disappearance is that either they were taken on the day of the storm before 4.30 pm or that the shed had been broken into during my absence in London some time in February. Since the front door was down with the rest of the wreckage there was no way of knowing if the shed had actually been broken into. It is now literally broken.

Anyway I now realise that storm damage can be an opportunist open door (forgive the pun) for jackals (I’d use a far stronger word in English) AKA thieves and pilferers.

On the bright side of things the raging wind inferno, if it was the earth’s will that it had to happen could not have happened at a better time. Most of the damage was done around 6.30 am which meant that few people were out and about. Moreover, none of the trees (except the evergreens which were, of course, the worst affected, also because of their shallow roots) had sprouted their leaves as yet. Furthermore, several of the fallen trees showed signs of inner decay – they could have fallen at any time and perhaps killed someone.

As it was the victims in our area remain only one (one too many, of course) – a lad who was killed when one of the boulders, which are traditionally used to secure roof tiles (the tiles are of two types: tavole, the actual tiles, and coppi, the rounded bits which are used to bind the tavole together), fell off down on his head. The worst damage was, of course, to the cars many of which in our area have smashed windows, dented body work, not just as a result of trees falling on them but because of the whirlwind of debris which smashed against them.

I shall now have a little more knowledge of what it’s like to go through a Caribbean hurricane or a south East Asian typhoon. I shall know how frightening the noise of the wind can be, an almost biblical rushing of the winds after a great calamity. I shall also know how people can pull themselves together in a concerted effort and help each other. Indeed, I’m shortly off to be rewarded by lunch from a friend who lives in San Gemignano for having aided her in sweep up the mountains of tiles which were swept off her house on that fateful night which no-one ever remembers having happened in living memory. We had to eat the food anyway as without any electricity everything would have gone bad in the deep freeze. I don’t think I’ve eaten so much pizza at one meal in my life!

Anyway we’re alive, the sun is shining today and the gusts of wind have largely abated. And the shepherd girl who has just come past my front gate with her flock has confirmed that all her sheep are safe. These are the truly important things in life.

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(A romantic candle-lit supper by default)

A couple more things. One of Mr Plod’s blinds is now flapping perilously in the wind and will eventually drop down on the ground. I wonder if he is going to accuse me of having stolen that one too. Is it the case of the blind leading the blind?

On more positive notes, our lovely lemon tree has found a new home or at least a new pot and Cheeky, among the other cats, doesn’t bat an eyelid at any recollection of the night when the universe howled and even uplifted a neighbour’s cat from ground until it was found the following morning at the top of a tree.

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Incidentally, here’s a picture of my storm survival kit which saw us through it.

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And I would include the flowers I planted this morning as another calming measure, apart from the G & T.

What’s seeing us publish, at long last, these much delayed posts is the generator they’ve installed in our little village of Longoio. Viva l’Italia!

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