A Restored Soldier

Our man in Ponte a Serraglio is now whiter than white in his resplendently cleaned-up Carrara marble nudity. Yesterday we passed him and had to put on our sunglasses to avoid being dazzled by his effulgent glory. I’ve mentioned the soldier in a previous post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/whiter-than-white/

To recap: the statue was sculpted by Alberto Cheli in 1923 and is in a markedly neo-classical style with leanings towards fascist grandiloquence. Its material is marble, and the steps are in pietra Serena.

Alberto Cheli was born in 1888 at Pieve Fosciana in the upper Serchio valley (where he also sculpted a war memorial). Cheli studied under Luccan Francesco Petroni. In 1932 he married Adalgisa Panconi, from whom he had twins, Giorgio and Lio. Among Cheli’s other monuments is one commemorating the poet Virgil in the Italian colony of Rosario Argentina (1930). He died in 1947 in Lucca.

It’s even more important today to preserve and conserve our war memorials for mankind has learnt nothing about the futility of war.

English war poetry is well-known to most of us. The patriotic myth of war as expounded by the likes of Rupert Brooke (If I should die, think only this of me; (…there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England etc,’) was largely demolished by the gritty realism of the verses of Wilfrid Owen so full of poignant ironies. g.g. in ‘Strange meeting”:
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend. 

I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned 

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed. 

I parried; but my hands were loath and cold. 

Let us sleep now. . . .”

But what about Italian war poetry of the same period? It’s clear the triumphal-heroic mode was elegantly expounded by the likes of D’annunzio (see my post on him at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/superman-or-satanist/ ). But was there anyone writing in Italy who approached the tragic reality of warfare in a way similar to that of Wilfrid Owen (who died just days between the armistice ended the greatest slaughter mankind has seen).

I can only think of Giuseppe Ungaretti who wrote disarmingly short poems, almost haiku like in form and sentiment, but which are full of cosmic resonances. Here’s one called ‘Soldati’ (soldiers).


Si sta come
sugli alberi
le foglie

(We are here

as leaves from

trees in autumn)


I wonder whether the restored statue at Ponte a Serraglio will be regarded in future years as a glorification of war heroism or as a poignant aspect of the greatest and most tragic aberration of the human psyche?

Cosmic Road Maps at the Casinò

A mandala is a two or three dimensional representation of a cosmic universe. It is, in effect, a road map of spiritual dimensions. As such, mandalas have been used in some of the world’s great religions as aids to meditation and spiritual exploration. Tibetan mandalas are well-known, especially the technique of creating them out of sand only for the painstaking work to be destroyed as soon as it is finished – thus representing life’s transience and the vanity of human conceptions.

We enjoyed seeing kolams drawn anew every morning at the threshold of villagers’ houses during our visit to Tamilnadu last month and Sandra took photographs of several of them:

Kolams (known as rangoli in other parts of India) are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to homes. They are also drawn in temples when supplicant’s vows have been fulfilled. Kolams are drawn with white rice powder and often coloured in. By the end of the day kolams may have been washed out by the rain or blown away by the wind so the following morning new ones are drawn. The Tamilnadu kolam, therefore, has a purpose similar to the mandala – that of a connection to another, heavenly universe. It also shares a comparable quality with the mandala, that of symmetry and precision. Radial balance can also be an important feature of kolams and mandalas – that of considering them as cosmic cakes divided usually into four or six slices and where each slice is identically related to the other.

I would also add that mandalas spread into western religion. What else are those marvellous rose windows seen in gothic cathedrals but celestial glass representations of a godly universe?

(North Rose window at Chartres Cathedral)

Morena Guarnaschelli held a class in creating mandalas yesterday at 5 pm at Ponte a Serraglio’s casinò as part of the events celebrating International women’s day ‘Omaggio alla Donna’. The class was very well-attended with a wide age-range including children. Morena’s explanations of what a mandala is and how to create one were exemplary:

Morena emphasised the fact that a mandala should be a journey into one’s own psyche and that spontaneity and fluidity are paramount in its creation. Soon a silence of concentration descended onto the participants as they started their own mandalas.

Andrea, a practitioner of Chinese tuina manipulative therapy, who has a shop at Ponte a Serraglio also participated by giving us an insightful introduction into the significance of dreams, Chinese medicine and numerology.

Our mandala activity was resumed after a welcome buffet supper which included a very good chocolate cake decorated with mimosa, the emblem flower for International Women’s day:

By the end of the evening the results were often quite special.

As a non-artist used only painting walls and window frames I began to get quite involved in the creation of my own mandala. I don’t know what it says of me. All I can note is that without Morena’s excellent class I would not have achieved much.

(My own humble effort)




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 https://bellabagnidilucca.com/2017/03/05/womens-day-exhibition/.

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.







International Women’s Day Concert

Bagni di Lucca’s celebration for International Women’s Day opens this Sunday, 5th March, at 5 pm at Ponte a Serraglio’s Casino. The casino’s exhibition will remain open daily from 5 to 8 pm until Sunday 12th March.

As part of the cornucopia of events there’s an attractive free concert, organised by the Montaigne foundation, on Wednesday,  8th March, at 9 pm.


This is the programme:


No booking is needed as it’s first come, first seated. However, knowing the popularity of these events, it’s best to come earlier rather than later!

Wine, Wine and Wine

The vendemmia (grape harvest) this year is reckoned to be a good one in our area of the Luccan hills. The wet start to June may have been a blessing after all and there was certainly plenty of sunshine afterwards! A couple of days of heavy rain a week ago did little to spoil the grape and it was all go at a friend’s vineyard the other day.

The men were picking and transporting the juicy products of what virtually defines the Mediterranean character. The women were stalking. (Not us, I hesitate to say but removing the grapes from their stalks, ready for the mulching machine which in this case was a piece of industrial archaeology manually driven as traditionally done).

I remember when rather young I was taken on holiday with my parents to Italy. I was particularly sad to return to a drizzly and grey UK. ‘Why does everyone look so glum in Britain after Italy?’ I asked in my childish philosophy. Before they could answer me I replied to myself ‘it must be the wine they have over there!.

Despite political and government strictures, every part of the world has their own consciousness expanding (or liberating?) products. Sadhus in India wouldn’t quite be sadhus without their ganja, South American Indians wouldn’t be quite the same with their coca leaves, Britain wouldn’t be Britain without its warm beers, and Italy certainly wouldn’t be Italy without its vino.

In all cases there is a social etiquette regarding these godly gifts. Like the ambrosia of ancient gods these substances should be taken in in company and in moderation. Italians seem to know the exact balance between enlightened joviality and drunken disorder – something certain northern European nations could learn from.

Anyway, enough of moralizing. La vendemmia is a great social event and, with a fine day before us, we started in the cool September morning gradually heating up to a lunchtime climax when the work was virtually finished. Just the time to gather round the table, wipe off the sweat and de-hydrate with, of course, a glass of vino which in my friend’s vineyard has improved by leaps and bounds since he first started on his venture of creating the human equivalent of heavenly drink not those too many years ago.


PS I hope you are making your elderberry wine in those parts of Europe not blest by the grape!


East Meets West at Ponte’s Milòn Mela

Milon Mela means ‘a coming together’ from the Hindu word to meet, ‘milna,’ and ‘mela’, fair or feast. It’s also the name of a remarkable group of dancers, singers and acrobats who together represent the finest aspects of Indian traditional culture.

We were meant to have Milon Mela’s show at Baba’s ashram near Guzzano but unfortunately uncertainty about the weather mean that the Baba was left alone and that I had to make a quick dash to Villa Demidoff where the performance would take place under cover.

In fact the God Indra did not bless our parched earth with his life-giving rain until this morning so I’m truly sorry that not only Baba but four friends of mine were unable to make it to the amazing spectacle witnessed at the Demidoff Global Village, a centre for holistic and alternative therapy.

Milon Mela had the backing of Baul musicians from Bengal. Bauls do not recognize caste divisions and originate from wandering mystical singers who embody the oneness of all faiths and believe that (quite rightly) God is within one’s heart.

The musicians accompanied a group of Gotipua dancers from Orissa who are linked to the great temples of Bhubaneshwar and the Devadasi, or female temple dancing, tradition.

This was a type of dancing style I had not been used to mainly, accustomed as I am to Bharatanatyam, and was amazed at the astonishing acrobat quality of this type of Orissan offshoot. Every hand movement or mudra, indeed the whole movement of body arms and legs, were a language which could well express the most transcendental ideas.

I’m sure that the tripartite plasticity of some of the tableaux vivants was fully expressive of the Shaivite origins of this dance which was accompanied by a lot of rhythmical foot stamping and reminded me not a little of kathakali dances from Kerala which we’d witnessed in 2000.

The tantric Sadhu Visajit Giri from north-east India gave an awesome display of asana or postures based on Hatha Yoga and climaxed with that most difficult of exercises: a horizontal belly-down asana on a bed of knives. We may sometimes think our life is like a bed of nails but this metaphor was literally realised before our eyes!

The arrival of two Chhau dancers from Bihar, clearly representing manifestations of Ganesh, brought some relief to the contortioned asana of the fakir. With magnificent headdresses and costumes Chhau dancers are used to invoke the divinity of Shiva to grant them rain and a plentiful harvest. They also relate tales from the two great Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Chhau dancing was punctuated by astonishing twirling where the performers almost took to the air like birds. Certainly, the dance has its effect for this morning it’s raining cats and dogs, or rather मूसलाधार बारिश , (torrential rains), as they say in Hindi, for the first time since June .

It was a magical show which transported me back to a sub-continent I have a great affection for.

As I once wrote when at Shivraatri at Mount Girnar in Gujarat when the sadhus come out of their caves in the middle of the night:


In darkness the holy mountain unfolds

its viscera: from hidden caves naked

saints stream into a flame-lit cortège that holds

Shiva’s night devotees in pious dread.


In the day’s heat I’d climbed to the summit

and slept alone at a pilgrim’s rest house,

withdrawing from press of crowds to submit

to music I recognised as my nous.


Intangible contact with the beyond

and communal meals under the large tents:

faces of joy sing bright chants that respond

to Lord Shiva and the time’s great events.


The mountain transmits like the internet;

god-like contact I can never forget.



Does your Body Need Repair?

‘Il Ritocco’ (‘touch-up’), a new ‘carrozzeria’ (car body-works) opened up in Via Letizia no. 83 (the road that runs on the opposite side of the Torrente Lima) at Ponte a Serraglio last Saturday.


The two works-partners have taken over from another firm and spruced up the establishment, refitting the paint-shop and the mechanics section.

This should be good news for anyone who has suffered damage to their vehicle through the too-often erratic indicator-free, stop-in the-middle-of the road-to chat-to-an-oncoming-vehicle, tail-gating driving which is often the case on Italian roads.

The body-works were officially opened by BDL’s deputy mayor, Vito Valentino.

A sumptuous buffet was laid on – one of the best I have attended this year

And I met up with old friends.

The fact that Bagni di Lucca has another car body-works repair shop is both good and bad: good because it will give some new jobs to an area which desperately needs them, bad because car-prangs don’t at all appear to be diminishing!

Another good point, however, is that vintage cars can be restored and newer cars resprayed.

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So do have a look-in if your car is not quite in perfect working order or if you are not content with its colour…

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The Real Winners at Villa Fiori’s Extempore Painting Competition

At the end of a sizzling day the judges convened to deliver their verdicts on the best paintings in Bagni di Lucca’s 9th extempore painting competition last Sunday.

Here are the names and qualifications of the judges:

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It’s not an easy task and, frankly, if the judges agreed among themselves, the spectators often had differing views. But this is the nature of art. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life and who remembers much of the once popular Millais today?

Artistic Creation is certainly not an exact science and for us the real winners were those who organised the competition, the goodly affluence of people present, the lovely weather and the sheer energy of those artists who’d take the trouble to come along to Bagni di Lucca, some of them for the very first time, and so spread news to the rest of the world of our lovely part of the world.

Without comments I’ll present all those paintings submitted. If you want to know the prize winners you’ll have to consult Debra Kolkka’s post at https://bellabagnidilucca.com/2016/07/12/colori-e-sapori-2/

There was real disagreement among us as to the winners, although each painting was seriously considered with an account of why it was chosen by the jury to receive a prize.

As usual the top five winners were announced in reversed order. Moreover, eight further paintings were chosen for an exhibition at Barga’s Comune Art Gallery. Mayor Betti and other noteworthies gave short speeches emphasising the fact that the competition was a true festival for all the lucky citizens of lovely Bagni di Lucca:

The children competing all won first prize just for entering. I think, anyway, that a prize should be offered to everyone who had the boldness to enter – although, of course, the prize winners did get a cash prize amounting up to four hundred euros.

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Next year it’s going to be a very special year for the Extempore Art Competition. It’s its tenth anniversary. So all you budding Turners and Canalettos don’t forget to enrol!



Early Morning at Villa Fiori’s Extempore Painting

Early last Sunday morning competitors from all parts of Italy were choosing their views, setting up their easels, arranging their brushes and sorting out their palettes. It’s one of Bagni di Lucca’s big days: the extempore painting competition, now in its ninth year, where in the space of a few hours artists paint a picture related to the multiplicity of beautiful views around Ponte a Serraglio.

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(Villa Fiori still looking for an Azure Prince)

The priority, however, above all else was to find a shady and sequestered spot, for the day promised to be torrid – fine if you want to have your paints dry quickly, not so good if you want to keep a cool head!

(Setting up essential supplies – the bar and the seating for lunch)

I’d be quite contented just to be able to paint the lovely bark on this plane tree in the villa’s gardens:

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Here are some shots of yesterday’s early morning. By six pm all entries had been delivered, arranged on easels, adjudicated and prizes allocated.

But to know the winners you’ll have to wait until tomorrow!

If you too love painting either creating or just looking at one I hope you had a fine Sunday too. And maybe next year join us at Ponte a Serraglio?

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(Morena Guarnaschelli (right) plus assistant.Without her indefatigable enthusiasm this event would never have taken off in the marvellous way it has done.)

The Sleeping Beauty No-one Wants to Awaken

Villa Fiori, that elegant sleeping beauty of a palazzo at Bagni di Lucca Ponte, has been put at auction several times in the past few years. In 2011 the reserve price for the property at its first sale was euro 2,250,000.  No buyer could be found. Villa Fiori was again put at auction in 2013, again without success. In November 2015 it was decided to put Villa Fiori at auction for the third time. This time the reserve price was halved to Euros 1,050,000 but by the close of the bidding last April again no buyers could be found.

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The fourth time the Bagni di Lucca comune tried to find a buyer was last month. The price was again lowered, this time to below a million euros. The building still remains unsold.

What does one get if one buys villa Fiori?

The cellar is over 400 square metres. The first and second floor adds another 1,200 square meters. Then there’s the delightful tower terrazza which is 400 square metres. So there’s plenty of space for a growing family – although it’s probable that conversion to a hotel or time-share flats could be more likely options.

The current aspect of Villa Fiori is the result of architect Paolinelli’s remodelling. He transformed a nineteenth century gothicky villa into its present aspect between 1916 and 1917. The house is an example of the eclectic taste prevalent in early twentieth century buildings. The presence of gothick towers in the garden are somewhat at odds with the villa’s neo-classical style but it must be remembered that they belong to its earlier ‘look’.

There are, in my view three reasons why the villa has still not been sold.

  1. The current economic climate in Italy means that buying a property (except in the centre of art cities like Florence or commercial hubs like Milan) is generally not a good investment – house prices are still falling – often up to 30% and more since 2008’s crash.
  2. The building has been empty for some time (it was formerly used by the health services) and, consequently, the usual damp and perhaps some rot has set in, I would estimate that essential restoration would add another half a million euros to the reduced price.
  3. Only part of the original gardens is included: just 8,470 square metres of the original area which is at least three times as much. There’s an ugly car park to one side of the villa and the most picturesque part of the garden by the banks of the river is now a public park used for such events as the extempore art exhibition.

All said, however, the villa must be sold. The comune can’t afford to keep it and any monies from the sale will go into paying off its considerable debts. The longer Villa Fiori stays shut up and neglected the higher the restoration costs will be for any prospective buyer.

The incredible thing is that, in another part of the world, London, most of the housing stock now rarely sell for less that half a million pounds. At the top end, if one goes to Mayfair for example, a six-bedroomed house would set one back 50,000,000 pounds and the surface area would be a just a fraction of the villa Fiori’s…

I realize that it’s location, location, location when buying a house. The location of the Villa Fiori, however, and the views one gets from it of the verdant Lima Valley, the wonderful parties one could hold in it and the dinner evenings one could take in the picturesque loggia would more than compensate for the boring street views of London’s exclusive properties, where a high crime rate, traffic pollution and the noise would also be included in a price well over fifty times the amount it would cost to buy the villa Fiori.