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





Living More Safely at San Cassiano

The inauguration of San Cassiano’s first defibrillator this Sunday was a very happy and well-attended event. I was amazed to find that Paul Anthony Davies and his wife Morena (who was born in San Cassiano) had managed to raise the near two thousand euros required to purchase the defibrillator in the space of just three months. Paul first got the idea last May. From a few initial donations a true avalanche of offerings began to pour in from all sections of the San Cassiano community.


This is a real proof of how it just needs the drive and perseverance of the right persons to achieve life-enhancing goals in even small settlements.


(Morena and Paul without whose inititiative San Cassiano would not have had its defibrillator today) 

The inauguration started with the blessing of the defibrillator by Don Franco, our parish priest, in front of the ravishing façade of San Cassiano church.


Speeches were made by the representative of the mayor and other dignitaries but, of course, the last and best words came from Paul and Morena who received a hearty applause from all present.

The buffet was served in stalls specially set up before the church square and was most delicious, ranging from pizzas to pastries and both hard and soft drinks The San Cassiano museum was also open with its delectable statue of the horseman (Saint Martin?) wood-sculpted by Della Quercia.

This was a truly sociable event attracting the many little ‘frazioni’ of San Cassiano into one whole.

The defibrillator will have training courses on how to use it and will be placed under a special alarm system by the side of the museum. The local branch of the Italian Red Cross plan to map out all the defibrillators in the area so that wherever one is one can know that in case of difficulty there will not only be the ambulance coming from Bagni di Lucca but also, much nearer at hand, the use of a defibrillator. In cardiac situations seconds separate life from death.

Truly the inauguration was a life-enriching event. One doesn’t have to be a particular age to suffer from heart conditions. In fact, the defibrillator could be used in situations where over-exertion by the youngest people in sports, such as mountain biking, could cause serious conditions as recent events have shown .

I, for one, feel I can sleep more safely tonight than ever before since I came into this lovely area of Italy with its community-conscious band of inhabitants.


San Cassiano Inaugurates its New Wonder Machine

Italian weather is rarely understated, unlike English weather, which is tempered by maritime conditions and the Gulf Stream.

Italian storms are of a Vivaldian intensity and stop as abruptly as they start, with virtuoso cascades, terrifying rumblings of thunder, landslides and dramatic lightning effects in between.

Here was the situation only a couple of days ago, best caught on these videos from our house in Longoio.

Today Sunday, however, we woke up to this,:

It was as if our whole Val di Lima had had a cardiac crisis with its meteorological conditions and that today everything has been beautifully cleansed, peaceful, blue and calm. Just the day to celebrate, thanks to the enthusiasm of the fund raisers, the inauguration of a machine which, especially because of our torturous mountain roads (never easy for ambulances to drive fast down), will most certainly save lives because it’s close by and acts quickly.

Today there’s going to be the inauguration (with blessing by the parish priest and the customary rinfresco afterwards) of the defibrillator at San Cassiano. (Defibrillation consists of delivering a therapeutic electric current – often called a counter shock – to the heart with a defibrillator in the case of life-threatening cardiac dysrhythmias and ventricular fibrillation which could so easily lead to cardiac arrest and certain death). Funds were raised locally largely due to the sterling fund-raising work of local citizens Paul Anthony Davies and his wife, Morena with the support of  the indefatigable Roberto (alias Coco).

There are already defibrillators at the villages of Montefegatesi and Tereglio so why not at San Cassiano? Well, there’s one there too from today!

The event starts at 3.30 pm at the square in front of beautiful San Cassiano church. You are cordially invited to be there if you are nearby.

Incidentally, you usually increase your appreciation of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ by living in Italy. Here’s the red priest’s take on our storm:


Two Knights Come Together at San Cassiano

A moment of great significance, not just for San Cassiano Bagni di Lucca, but in many respects for the whole world, occurred last Saturday when a precious Islamic ceramic from the eleventh century was returned to the parish. There had, indeed, been a copy of it installed high up on the church façade (which will remain there) but the invaluable original will be housed in the Pieve’s adjoining museum. This is just as well for old timers recalled that when they were children they’d throw stones at the ceramic trying to see which ones would be able to hit it!

(The copy of the Islamic ceramic on San Cassiano Church facade)

Representing a knight holding a (hooded) falcon in his hand, the incomplete dish may have been made in Arab-dominated Sicily or Tunisia. Indeed, it may have even been collected by a Templar knight fighting against the infidels in the first crusade. Apart from the novel value of having an exotic piece of art on the pieve’s façade, there is also a suggested symbolical meaning in the plate: if the wild falcon represents the non-spiritual soul with an extraordinary but undisciplined sight and potential sinfulness then the tamed (and hoodable) falcon symbolises a convert to Christianity, pursuing his new path with courage, obedience and determination leading to victory and salvation.

Islamic plates on Italian church exteriors dating back to Romanesque times are not uncommon. There are at least eighty churches in Italy listed with this type of decoration. Coincidentally, I visited another of these churches only a few days ago and described it in my post at

I have also written further on the subject at, at and at

So the event at San Cassiano was truly an occasion that absolutely intrigued me. Our parish priest, Don Franco, introduced the proceedings under the beautiful vaults of San Cassiano church. Mayor Betti then gave a short history stating that the plate had been returned courtesy of the Museo Guinigi of Lucca and that his wish of having it returned to its original location had at last been fulfilled four years after he’d officially opened the San Cassiano museum. (See my post at for more on that occasion).

Dr. Ilaria Sabbatini, historian, then talked about the importance of the Val di Lima as a through route for that mediaeval pilgrim’s motorway, the via Francigena which continues from where most of Chaucer’s pilgrims left off at Canterbury and finds its apotheosis at the tomb of Saint Peter’s in Rome.

Dr. Silvia Nutini, an archaeologist, followed with a synopsis of Islamic plates distribution among Italy’s churches.

Finally, Dr. Marino Marini, historian and archaeologist of Florence’s Bargello Museum, gave an interesting survey of knights and horses all the way from Etruscan to modern times.

After these highly interesting and well-delivered talks we were ready for the inauguration of the ceramic itself by Mayor Betti. No longer will Della Quercia’s cavalier be alone in his museum. Now, in a well-lit showcase, he will be able to have a companion knight from the Islamic east.

If only today’s successors to those knights in the Middle East could live together in peace like the two knights now happily co-existing in San Cassiano’s small but highly prestigious museum.








Feline Fun

Autumn colours have finally begun to splash our Val di Lima landscape. Here are some leaves (and mists) on the way to San Cassiano yesterday.

Last night we’ve also had thunderstorms and, again, parts of Tuscany, especially the coastal areas, are suffering from the notorious and ever-increasing water bombs with widespread flooding and landslides.

Mentioning colours, I took a look yesterday at the painting our highly talented artist Kety Bastiani from San Cassiano is doing of our cats, Napoleone, Carlotta and Cheekie.

Here is the finished product.

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I couldn’t take it home yet as the paint’s still drying.

I am so pleased with it. Kety has captured our cats’ colouring really well. She had free rein with the composition and the theme of our pets playing with a ribbon gives a fine sense of feline movement to the picture. It’s a truly delightful creation.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a painting is worth a thousand photographs!




The Black Dog

A local neighbour told me the very sad news. At the age of 54, Remo Menchini from our nearby village of San Cassiano committed suicide last week. He’d gone into the bathroom of his house and fired a bullet into his head. Another friend said to me ‘he could have chosen to go into the forest to do it!’ I only knew Remo slightly but he seemed to me to be a very personable and, indeed, positive person.

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It’s so  terrible – Remo leaves a wife (who was the first one to discover her dead husband) and four daughters..

Remo’s funeral was last Sunday at 3 pm  in San Cassiano’s beautiful parish church. I did not attend – I’d already promised to be a helper at Ponte a Serraglio’s chestnut festival and, besides, I’m not particularly one for funerals. All the same, it must be said that a considerable number of people who would have attended the festival were at San Cassiano.


Remo Menchini worked in the area of care and maintenance of the countryside including parks and gardens. His firm was on the Via del Brennero at Bagni di Lucca.

What immediately strikes me about the terrible act R did to himself is that I thought that suicide was something much more frequent in northern climes where the relative absence of sunshine, decent wine and greater sociability all impinge on emphasizing a sense of individual isolation. Perhaps I should re-examine the statistics.


(Suicide rates from European countries and some more. Evidently, the worst place for this sort of thing is Lithuania)

In my area I know of three other suicides, two of people I knew rather well.

I’ve already described the suicide of the desperate young woman who threw herself off the spectacular Vergai bridge in my post at

When teaching English at the Istituto Comprensivo of Gallicano, in one of my classes there was an extrovert and very amiable student, Sergio Fini, who presented me with a beautiful book of poems he’d written and with illustrations of magical trees that he’d drawn. Just two years later in Fornaci di Barga I passed by a black-bordered poster which stated that Sergio’s family thanked all those who’d sent condolences or attended his the funeral. I just couldn’t believe it! Again, there was nothing to herald the self-immolation of this incredibly talented and seemingly happy family man who left a grieving wife and two young children. I just found it so difficult to believe that someone who seemed so much at peace with himself, who worked successfully with special needs pupils and who was deeply versed in oriental philosophy and yoga, could have hung himself – at home!

For some years we would have a brilliant pizza at Libra’s in Chiffenti – that is until Libra himself was found lifessly hanging in his own restaurant. Again, totally unbelievable. San Cassiano’s (and Lucca’s) most promising young organist was then a pizzaiolo at Libra’s restaurant and earned enough money to perfect his divine art at the Vatican City’s conservatoire and our evenings there in the company of friends were truly memorable. Later, when delivering English language courses at a well-known paint factory I re-met Libra’s daughter who was receptionist there and became one of my students. She’d seemingly made the greatest effort to come to terms with the family tragedy – even mystery, for Libra had been involved in some shady dealings with eastern Europeans and, just one day before being found dangling at the end of a rope, he’d gone to the local hospital because they’d jumped him. (Nothing, however, was found to incriminate them).

One of the most lamented suicides was that of my schoolmate and university friend Ian McCormick (pen name McDonald) in 2003. He was perhaps one of the most brilliant writers on music I’ve ever read,  Ian’s range was amazing – from his seminal book on Shostakovich to his definitive survey of the Beatles songs. Yet, just after the critical success of his last book of essays on British pop icons (he’d been in a band too) Ian was found gassed in his kitchen with a sign on the front door stating ‘please call the police’.

Depression, Churchill’s black dog, is surely largely to blame for all these mournful situations – exacerbated, of course, by money and emotional problems.

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It just doesn’t matter whether you live in a beautiful earthly paradise surrounded by green hills and in close touch with miraculous nature (like where I live) or within an inner city tower block in a drug-infested housing estate, the black dog makes no distinctions. It chooses its victims with equal disregard for their loved ones and their friends.

May the ghastly animal never bite me, not even on Friday the thirteenth!

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The Most Holy Crucifix Blesses our Valley

Italy abounds in religious processions centred on a town’s patron saint or holy relic, especially in the south. Recently there was a news item in which the priest leading a procession in a Sicilian town was heavily ticked off for allowing it to halt and get the Saint’s statue to bow before the house of a well-known mafia chief (who had apparently also helped to sponsor the event).

San Cassiano’s Festa Triennale del SS Crocifisso (Feast of the Very Holy Crucifix, celebrated in grand style every three years) has fortunately no such shady associations. It is a very moving festival of the religious and community spirit of the area, bringing together not only the inhabitants of the surrounding villages but also relatives who have emigrated to the Americas and northern Europe. For an anthropologist the Festa is a complete vindication of Durkheim’s concept of “collective effervescence” and the identification of God with Society.

The intermixing and fusion of the sacred and the secular can be felt throughout the three days of this wonderful occasion, both for San Cassiano and for the entire Valle di Lima.

This was the programme:


The High Mass I attended on Sunday was brightened by the glorious singing of the San Felicita choir from Lucca who sang organ-accompanied plainsong with a delightful alternation of men’s and women’s voices.

I returned in late afternoon for the Vespers where the most spectacular part of the celebration takes place. The fourteenth century and wonderfully expressive crucifix, which normally resides in a side chapel to the right of the high altar, has been positioned above the altar on a pedestal placed on a trolley on a carmine-covered “railway”. A cable then lowers it at the slowest of paces, just like a San Francisco cable-car, until it reaches the safe hands of the bearers who place poles through the pedestal and carry it with the maximum care (low entrance door!) out of the church into the bright sunlight. For the sun always shines when the crucifix is brought out – even yesterday when storm clouds broke out in the morning and were threatening for much of the day. No-one can remember the procession ever being cancelled because of bad weather!

The order of the procession is as follows:

  1. The various local associations and religious guilds
  2. The holy host held in a beautiful ostensory
  3. The crucifix itself born by around twenty bearers with further bearers in their white and red costumes (signifying their adherence to religious self-help associations)
  4. The band of brass and wind instruments playing various religious songs.
  5. The people following on.

The route taken by the procession is a symbolic “beating the bounds” and is meant to instrumentalise the imparting of blessings by the holy crucifix on the entire parish area for good crops, fertility and avoidance of pestilence and war. It’s virtually like a gigantic house blessing.

I returned in the evening to witness a fabulous fireworks display over the illuminated church of san Cassiano.

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It’s wonderful that these events can still happen in the difficult times Italy is still passing through. True, there may be fewer people present than once – so many have emigrated. All the features of the ancient rites are there, however, as is the very Italianate sense of solemnity and jollity of this glorious event.

I do hope I shall still be here in three years’ time to witness this great communal outpouring again! It is so very special and shows that Italians have an innate sense of organisation and order when it comes to their village celebrations that the government they labour under would do well to emulate.

Here are a few video clips from this event: