Of Angel Staircases and Angelic Seafood in Livorno

I recently discussed with a friend what we considered to be the most neglected towns and cities in Italy. Neglected, that is, from a point of visiting them rather than having them badly looked after.  I consider Livorno one of the most neglected cities in Italy, especially as it happens also to be Tuscany’s second largest urban centre and one of Italy’s major seafood centres. Until quite lately it was also neglected in terms of its appearance too. But things are changing.

I’ve written quite a bit about Livorno. I won’t repeat what I said here but would suggest you read my posts at:


and at:


Our day at Livorno had begun with the visit to the ‘Amerigo Vespucci’ (do see my previous post). More was to follow. In particular, there was a trip to a sumptuous villa with fabulous paintings by that greatest of Italian impressionists, Giovanni Fattori. I’ve visited this extraordinary place twice already. Depending on your taste-buds you can either call villa Mimbelli an elegant example of La Belle Epoque, or a supreme case of O.T.T. vulgarity. The villa was built by Architect Vincenzo Micheli between 1865 and 1875 for Francesco Mimbelli, a rich merchant and his wife, Enrichetta Rodocanacchi. If nothing else, the villa just shows what wealth flowed into Livorno.

(PS The Mooreish (moresco) room above is the smoking chamber for men only. I originally thought it may have been a harem.)

The grand staircase is decorated with charming ceramic putti. There were very differing views in my party about if they would allow this sort of thing in their residence:

There are some interesting, somewhat eclectic paintings on the first two floors:

The finest paintings, however, are kept on the top floor whose modest decoration and lower ceiling height show that this must have been the servants’ quarters.

Livornese Giovanni Fattori’s paintings of military manoeuvres and battles during the Italian war of independence show his supreme skill in capturing horse anatomy and the dynamics of the drills themselves. He is, indeed, the painter that dragged Italy into the new world of impressionism and French trends. The term macchiaioli (macchia=stain) is used to describe this Italian version of ‘plein-air’ and light-infected painting. Other paintings on this top floor included examples of some of the Livornese painters who followed Fattori’s technique.

Here are some fine adornments for their lords and masters:

We didn’t have much enthisiasm to explore the exotic gardens surrounding the villa (which also have specimens of palms from the Canaries) because of the deluge that was raining ‘a catinelle’ (= cats and dogs) upon us. So the brave act of one of our group to fetch the car enabled us to drive to a very particular restaurant for lunch; but not before taking a walk on the spectacular Terrazza Mascagni and gazing on an even more spectacular seafront view. What a passionate backcloth for that couple having their wedding photographs taken!

Cacciucco is Livorno’s most famous dish. It’s a fish stew/soup like no other and has featured not only in many famous recipe books but, more recently, also on TV.  In London’s Seymour Street there’s the unmissable Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli for some of the best Italian food in town. (Giorgio Locatelli has won ‘best Italian restaurant’ award twice already too). Locatelli with art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon decided they’d track down the cacciucco in Livorno:

If you slide to 47 minutes. 46 seconds of this video of the BBC programme ‘Italy unpacked’:

you’ll find out more about where, what and how and how we ate!

After lunch the weather brightened up a little and we decided to explore a little of Livorno. Despite the almost blanket bombing of World War Two, we came across some delightful corners in this cosmopolitan city including the new fortress, ‘la nuova Venezia’, the aristocratic via Borra, the fabulous market building, the Inigo Jones-designed cathedral in the main square, the statue of the four moorish slaves, the sanctuary of Saint Caterina and much else including that inimitable Livornese drink, Ponce, (punch) a sort of caffé corretto with rum and cognac introduced by English sailors to the city they called ‘Leghorn’.

Just look at these pictures to entice you to Livorno:

I, at least, am sure that relegating Livorno to a city not worth a special journey is a big mistake!









Catching the Train at Borgo a Mozzano

There are four reasons for visiting nearby Borgo a Mozzano’s square (Piazza Marconi) in front of its railway station.

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The first reason is the obvious one of catching a train from there. (But be warned, not all trains that stop at Bagni di Lucca’s Fornoli station stop at Borgo!).

What are the other three?

The second reason is contained in the station itself. It houses the’ Museo Della Memoria’ opened in April 2012.

The initiative is one of the objectives that the ‘Committee for the Recovery and Enhancement of the Gothic Line’, which passed through Borgo a Mozzano, had when it was established.

The museum contains photographs and oral testimonies of those who lived through the dramatic and terrible moments of the last war. It holds relics, posters of the period and contemporary documents (e.g. warnings to those who broke the Nazi curfew i.e. execution).

The museum is open to the public on Thursdays from 9 am to 1 pm and, on special occasions, like the Azalea festival. More information is available at http://www.lineagoticalucchesia.com/museo-borgo-a-mozzano.html

Special visits can also be had by phoning 3472420419 or 0583888881

Visits to the Gothic Line itself can also be arranged. I’ve written various posts on this fortification wall which once divided Italy and has been best preserved in our area. See, for example:


https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/war-and-peace/ , https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/il-castellaccio/ ,https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/secret-mission-across-the-gothic-line-a-success/ , https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/olive-oil-persian-cats-and-the-gothic-line/


It’s ironic that at this very moment walls are being rebuilt throughout Europe, the latest being across the Brenner Pass, to ‘protect’ Europe against the millions of immigrants expected this summer. Where have the banners of ‘we welcome refugees’ disappeared to, I wonder?

Incidentally, the old station building is also HQ for the local Ferrari owners’ club and the Alpini soldiers’ section.

Indeed, there are further military connections in this square for the third reason for stopping at Piazza Marconi is to admire the war memorial. The original statue of the soldier was, in fact, melted down for the war effort. The present ‘Fante Glorioso’ was sculpted by local artist Gilberto Malerbi who also did the fine statue to Salvo d’Aquisto at Bagni di Lucca.

The fourth reason is to read the inscription on the stone which is placed in a well-kept garden in the centre of the square. It’s dedicated to the Brazilian regiment which, together with the US Buffalo soldiers, were part of the allied force which liberated Borgo a Mozzano from Nazi oppression at the end of 1944.

It’s not often realised that Brazil entered the war on the allied side in 1942 when its shipping began to be attacked by German U-Boats. In 1944 Brazil contributed 25,000 soldiers to the allied war effort in North Africa and then in Italy where, in the Valle del Serchio, it also liberated Gallicano and Barga from the Nazi hordes. It lost close to 1,000 soldiers in combat. If you go to Pistoia you will see another memorial to the brave Brazilians, designed by Olavo Redig de Camposa, fellow architect to Niemeyer who planned Brazil’s capital,Brazilia.


There are a further three monuments to the F. E. B. (which was the only South American country to participate in WWII) in Northern Italy.

It’s worth remembering the Brazilians contribution to WWII especially during this year where, despite some home problems, the country will be hosting the Olympic games. See the games web site at http://www.rio2016.com/en/olympic-games

Translated, the inscription on the stone (which is also written in Brazilian Portuguese) reads “On 29th September the Brazilian expeditionary forces (F. E. B.) entered into Borgo a Mozzano. This plaque is placed in eternal memory and recognition of the contribution of the F. E. B. towards the fight for liberation from Nazi occupation and the re-establishment of liberty and democracy.

Borgo a Mozzano 25 October 2014.”

You may be wondering why the Brazilian Expeditionary Force emblem is a pipe-smoking snake.

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That’s because in the early part of WWII Brazilian politicans used to say that Brazil had as much chance of joining in on the allied side as one seeing a snake smoke a pipe. It’s like our ‘pigs can fly!’ The F. E. B. proved them wrong and, to mock the saying, reversed its meaning and used it as their emblem. Indeed, the Brazilian soldiers were known as the Smoking Snakes!

So next time you’re at Borgo a Mozzano railway station don’t just gaze at the train timetable and wait. Have a little look around you. There’s more than meets the eye!

Florence’s Magic Railway: Part One

There’s a delightful railway route from Florence over the Apennnines which takes in some very sweet small towns and also some major cities. We discovered this route some years ago when the first part, which goes from Florence to Borgo San Lorenzo, had still not been reconstructed after being damaged by the Germans in World War Two. It had to take over fifty years to get the trains running on the rails again (in 1999). It was well worth the wait for not only does the route pass through some spectacular scenery but has also become a well-used commuter route to and from the Mugello region of Tuscany.

The full route takes one to Ravenna with its awesome Byzantine basilicas, mosaics and, of course, Dante’s tomb. One can, however, stop at some beautiful places en route. Faenza, we visited some years ago when we had to go by train round Pontassieve. If you’re into pottery and renaissance crockery (Faenza is where we get the word Faience from) go there for the museum is fabulous, the eateries are great (especially the flat unleavened bread called Piadina) and the town is absolutely charming.

We only had an afternoon to travel from Florence yesterday but visited two places which we found very rewarding.

Florence Railway station is one of Italy’s seminal modern buildings. Desiged by a team headed by the great Michelucci to replace the old station (designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel of Clifton Bridge fame) and completed in 1934 its amazing glass roof is an evocation of the city’s Arno river.

The station also conserves a sad memory (like so many other Italian Railway station – remember my post on Milan’s railway station at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/ )

This time it’s platform 16 where a poignant memorial has recently been erected to remember the thousands of victims of man’s intolerance to man who were deported to the Nazi death camps between 1943 and 1945. It’s only respectful to give a minute’s silence to this exterminating railtrack.

To return to our journey: first, for old time’s sake, after a plesant journey through the appennines

we alighted at Marradi, famous for the biggest and best chestnut festival in the whole of Tuscany. The town is homeland of the great Italian poet Dino Campana (who was born there in 1885 but who sadly ended his days in a lunatic asylum and is buried in the Badia of Scandicci near Florence in 1932).

Marradi looked a bit empty without the October chestnut pageants but its was still very pleasant to walk around its old streets

We also visit the chestnut museum. I was amazed to find also a section on the chestnut industry in Australia. I’d never thought there was one.

Our second stop, was a wonderful surprise…but you must read tomorrow’s instalment to find out what surprise!




PS Warning. The magic railway line starts at platform 17 at Florence’s main-line SantaMaria Novella station. What the authorities don’t tell you is that it’s a long way down from the starting platfrom of all the other railway lines and requires a ten minute’s walk to get there!


More About Liliana Urbach from Silvana Bracci

I was moved to discover this comment made by one of my Facebook (and real-life too!) friends, Silvana Bracci, (sister of the great wine expert and Bagni di Lucca Enoteca – wine shop – owner, Guido Bracci), to whom I give sincerest thanks. I felt her comment should be also translated into English so that it could reach a wider public. The note deals with the story of Liliana Bracci. Those of you who have read my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/ will understand more about Liliana’s situation. Indeed, I thank Silvana again for allowing me to share this tragic story on my blog and for being the first to appreciate my post for yesterday which included a section on the same subject:

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Silvana writes:

I found a note written in 2011. I was telling the story of Liliana Urbach (1942-1944), the only citizen from Bagni di Lucca who died in Auschwitz. I wrote it because many seemed to have forgotten about her. I myself knew about her only at the end of the nineties thanks to a journalist from the ‘Tirreno’ newspaper and from a report by Lucca’s Resistance Institute, when Bagni di Lucca dedicated a Peace Park to the little girl. However, little was said about the incident. An expert in history even said to me that it was an exaggeration to define the Bagni di Lucca Cardinali villa as a concentration camp (the old Terme hotel) as if it were somewhat exaggerated by a particular ‘political’ viewpoint. Not so, there are documents to prove it.

I’m again publishing the note because I’m satisfied with it: in recent days some primary school classes have gone to the park to remember Liliana. Teachers, thanks so much!


26 January 2011 19:54 Article

Tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I want to remember a story from Bagni di Lucca. It’s the story of Liliana Urbach and her family.

The Urbach were Jews who’d fled from Vienna to avoid racial persecution. Leo Urbach, and his wife Alice and his son Kurt 4 years old, arrived in my country in 1942, and took lodgings in Via Vittorio Emanuele, Ponte a Serraglio, Liliana was born here on October 19th 1942 and was registered as a citizen of Bagni di Lucca.

The family felt tranquil. They were “free internees” with many personal limitations, but were not prevented from working, and Leo was a watchmaker. Other Jews sheltering in the municipality had the same conditions: no radio, monitoring of correspondence, no political activities, minimal relations with the rest of the population, twice daily reporting to the police. But they were alive…

In late 1943, after an order of November 30, Jews in the Lucchesia began to be rounded up, and a provincial concentration camp was opened at Villa Cardinali at the Terme Calde of Bagni di Lucca. It was a transit camp for inmates and aimed at their deportation to the death camps.

The Urbachs were arrested and taken to the concentration camp at Villa Cardinali. In January, a convoy set off with about ninety Jews, including Leo, Alice, Kurt and Liliana Urbach. They were taken to Florence, then Milan. From here on January 30th of 1944 they left by truck for Germany. Leo, pushed by his wife (who told him “get out, they won’t do anything to me and the children!”) jumped from the truck and fled. He was later recaptured and interned in a prison camp, from which he was freed at the end of the war.

Alice, Kurt and Liliana, arrived at 6 am on February 6th at Auschwitz.  By noon they had already been murdered in the gas chambers.

Liliana was 15 months old. When I remember her, I think of the fact that she never managed to attend school, never kissed the boy of her dreams, never got her driving license, never was awed before a flag …… she didn’t die in her bed while the children knocked back their tears so as not to scare her. Maybe she didn’t even die with her mum, because the Nazis often divided their prisoners by age. I hope she wasn’t frightened and that her brother Kurt took her by the hand.


Thank you so much Silvana for sharing!

I would like to know what happened to Liliana’s father Leo. And was there ever a photograph taken of Liliana? It must have been quite unendurable for Leo to realise that he’d lost his wife and children contrary to their last words to him. Anne Frank’s father was also in a similar position after the war. When one of us survives a terrible situation and our loved ones perish we clearly must feel unimaginably devastated. Primo Levi, another survivor, found his situation unbearable as anyone realises who has read his poignant book about his experience in ‘Se questo è un uomo…’ (If this is a man).  Indeed, I’m quite sure that this fine author’s – we’d met him when he came to England to attend an opera based on his libretto which had been translated into English – suicide in 1987 was to be explained by another survivor, Elie Wiesel’s words: “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years later”.

The truth is we all die a little bit more when we hear about atrocities perpetrated by humans on humans for ‘whoever kills a person unjustly it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind’.  (Quran 5:32)

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Salvo d’Acquisto

Salvo d’Acquisto was a carabiniere who, aged just 22, sacrificed his own life to save those of his comrades on September 23rd 1943 during World War II.


Salvo joined the carabinieri in 1942. At Torre di Palidoro, a place on the Lazio coast, there occurred an explosion in a munitions dump causing the death of two German soldiers. The explosion was actually triggered by an improper storage of dynamite and was not a pre-meditated action. Field-Marshal Kesselring, using his powers as governor of Italy, remained convinced, however, that the explosion was caused by a resistance group and ordered an investigation which failed to find anyone responsible for the act. He therefore, rounded up twenty-two men who were marched near the Palidoro tower and ordered to dig a common grave in which they would be thrown after their execution. True to the word ‘decimation’, whereby, for every German soldier killed, ten Italians would pay with their lives, Kesselring was adamant about their fate.

However, the twenty-two year old Salvo d’Acquisto spoke, through an interpreter, with the commander in charge of carrying out the executions. Salvo declared that he was the only one responsible for the explosion and that the twenty-two men should be set free as they had nothing to do with the incident. This was clearly a white lie but what a lie to save the lives of twenty-two other innocent men!


(Torre di Palidoro where Salvo d’Acquisto was executed by the Germans)

Those twenty-two were released and witnessed Salvo stand unflinchingly to attention to receive his executors’ bullets. “Long Live Italy”, he shouted and then collapsed lifeless on the soil to be thrown in the pit originally dug to accommodate twenty-two bodies.

The Germans were impressed by Salvo’s dignity: “your soldier was a hero. He remained impassive to the last.”

Since his death Salvo d’Acquisto has been all but apotheosised as a hero of self-sacrifice and a supreme example of altruism. Throughout Italy roads and piazzas have been named after him, carabinieri stations and barracks have been named in his honour and films made about his life.

Bagni di Lucca, too, celebrated Salvo d’Acquisto on 12th November 2005.


A local sculptor, Gilberto Malerbi, cast a bronze statue of Salvo which can be seen to this day at the corner of the Contessa Casalini gardens.


(The sculptor, Gilberto Malerbi at the unveiling of the statue)

A military parade, the largest of its kind ever held in Bagni to this day, including Carabinieri on horseback (the carabinieri are a branch of the military and not police, as in the UK), Bersaglieri with their capercaillie-feathered hats and a host of dignitaries from near and far, graced the day with the splendour of their uniforms. Speeches were made and bands played.

Here are some of my photographs from that memorable occasion: first the panoply of officers present:

Second, details of the statue and its unveiling:


It’s important to realise the role of carabinieri as peace-keepers in the troubled zones of the Middle East and, especially, to remember the terrible incident at Nasiriya Iraq on 12th November 2003 when 19 of them were killed when a truck load with ammunition drove into their barracks.

I’m quite sure that in the present climate of fear and uncertainty that has descended over Italy (as it has in the majority of European countries) we can be in no doubt that the carabinieri will help the country in ensuring that we can still lead our daily lives with increased protection from the terrorist threat.



Pian Della Rocca is usually by-passed on one’s way from Gallicano to Borgo a Mozzano and beyond. Apart from a monumental electricity generating station and some useful garages for revisione (MOT) and car repair there’s not too much to stop there for except for an excellent espresso at its one and only bar.

Rocca, above it, is quite another fish, however. Rocca clearly mean rock in Italian and it’s the ideal place to build a stronghold. The village has one dating back to at least the fourteenth century, if not before.

Rocca rises 314 meters (1030 feet) above sea level and is built on a steep slope of a hill dominating the valley of the Serchio and Lima. Thanks to its strategic location it was a stronghold of the Suffredinghi clan for many year before Lucca took it over.

The settlement retains the characteristics of a medieval village with stone arches and narrow cobbled streets, clearly part of the castle keep at one stage.

At its top are the ruins of the old fortress and the base of a circular tower.

Obviously, a more ample archaeological dig would be needed to uncover the extensive castle ruins such as has been done to great effect at Benabbio. But one can still see the slits where arrows would be flung at the enemy

The village church was built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries and is attached to a spacious rectory which was once the seat of Suffredinghi and the Antelminelli. We’ve visited part of the rectory before, which contain an interesting collection of old farm implements, but it was closed when I went to Rocca the other day.

The road leading to Rocca has a chapel dedicated to the Alpini on whose wall are the names killed or missing in two wars in Borgo a Mozzano comune.

Unlike the other Alpini chapel on top of Bagni di Lucca’s Colle, this chapel has nothing modern about it. It’s a conversion of an old oratory. From it an avenue called the avenue of the fallen rises up into the surrounding sweet hills and behind the chapel are a series of coats of arm of the various regiments involved.

It should be remembered that the Alpini suffered the worst losses in World War II when Mussolini had the crazy idea of aiding Hitler in the conquest of Russia. The Alpini, because of their experience of mountain combat, were meant to conquer the Caucasians but instead got bogged down in the River Don valley to disastrous effect and with inadequate clothing and ammunition. Just look at any war memorial in our valley and you’ll see the longest list of soldiers commemorated on them is those “dispersi nella Russia”.

It’s difficult to realise this context of war in such a beautiful setting ,especially when one sees the gentle countryside dotted with the  picturesque hay stacks one builds in this part of the world.

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:


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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So many War Memorials…

The amount of new statuary appearing in London is sometimes hard to keep up with. Not all of it is immediately welcome. Mahatma’s statue, only unveiled this March, was a loved addition to the other figures adorning Parliament square, although if statues could speak, commendatore-style, nearby Churchill might have a word or two to say to one he termed a half-naked fakir.

The animals killed in war service memorial in nearby Park lane  is another poignant addition to London’s statuary. The inscription reads “they had no choice.”

When at Hyde Park corner the other day I noticed a Grecian white arcade, almost re-evocative of Decimus Burton’s screen on the other side of the huge roundabout in this part of London. We decided to inspect. It turned  out to be a memorial commemorating a major war activity almost seventy years ago, and the subject of much debate ever since.

I could not visit places like Dresden in 2001 without a certain embarrassment, indeed shame, at the overkill aspect of the situation. A friend’s fiction book, “A cold unhurried hand”, and my discussions with him helped me re-assess my doubts. Michael David Anthony, sadly no longer with us since 2003, reminded me that over 55,000 bomber crew lost their lives in ww2 and that their effort were as important as the few to whom so many of us owe their lives of freedom and democracy. It’s crazy to think that 44% of all bomber crews were killed in action.

I was completely impressed by the very overdue memorial to Bomber Command and found the group, representing a typical bomber crew landing after a mission, cast using metal from a Halifax bomber, truly riveting. The detail on this group, by sculptor Philip Jackson, was fascinating. Even more were the tired expressions, the stance of the figures, their youth, their determination to do an unpleasant job, quite overwhelming.

I hasten to add that the memorial not only commemorates all Europeans taking part in the raids, including Poles, but also civilians killed in them.

I place this monument to the still controversial Bomber Command (it was vandalised by an Islamic sect in 2013) as one of the most awesome pieces of war sculpture in London.

My only hope is that we won’t have to continually add to this sad phenomenon of our human psyche. Hyde park corner is already loaded with monuments to mankind’s supreme folly and the millions of lives it has lost and continues loosing.

Just to add to few more there’s the Royal artillery memorial, the Australian memorial, the one for new Zealand armed forces, the machine gun corps….

And if you think the nearby statue to Byron is an exception to all this war devastation think again – after leaving our bagni Di Lucca where he stayed at the villa Webb  he died for the liberation of Greece…

Happy Easter = Buona Pasqua



Piero dellla Francesca’s “Resurrection” at Sansepolcro is described by Aldous Huxley in his 1925 essay as “the world’s best picture standing there before us in entire and actual splendour.”

Thanks to British artillery officer Tony Clarke who, remembering Huxley’s description, defied orders and held back from shelling the town of Sansepolcro, this extraordinary painting was saved. We visited it a few years ago and its visual effect is greater than any photo could possibly reproduce.

There’s even a street named after Tony Clarke’s action (or non-action) in Sansepolcro.

Will there be any streets named after those who will save our world heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, I wonder.


(Tony Clarke)




What’s Easter but resurging earth

beyond dark season’s blight;

reliving flesh, unseeding birth,

the new day over night.


Soil’s primal violence, cracking roots,

holds shaking of the skies,

tumescence of fresh shoots,

inconsolable eyes.


And must they fall upon this day

that ripped the veil in two?

And shall world’s peace still yet betray

and ever war be through?


The people weep when they might joy

at life anew refound;

could love reform what hates destroy

as Christ rose from the ground?


Sins fall like bombs upon the heart

and tear away its breath:

where is the strength, so far apart,

to conquer living death?        


F. L. P.

War and Peace

The hamlet of Domazzano lies on a side route from Borgo a Mozzano to Lucca. One turns off at Valdottavo and find the sign for Domazzano to the left.

Lying at a height of 190 metres and with 130 inhabitants, Domazzano is a sweet little scattering of houses with a beautifully simple Romanesque church, remarkably untouched by later accretions, a separate, later, campanile and some gorgeous views.

The church dates from the twelfth century and still preserves the original plan. It was slightly damaged in the last war, as a result of which tombs arranged in a herringbone pattern following the main church axis were discovered and an opportunity was taken of removing later additions, including a wall that separated the nave from the gracefully curved apse, and taking the walls back to the original stonework, thus restoring the building to the typical single nave plan of so many Romanesque churches in Lucca province.

Domazzano assumed an important role during WWII when it lay on the main Gothic line. From it a footpath leads to the top of a hill where trenches laid as part of the defences can still be clearly seen.

The walk up to the top takes little more than half-an-hour.

Also well-preserved is this casemate. The view from it is very beautiful – so ironical for such an instrument of death. (Incidentally the word casemate, or armoured structure, comes from Italiana “casamatta”, the etymology of which is unknown. Literally it means “mad house” –  I think anyone designing these structures, or manning them, must have been or become mad to do so.)

There is also the base of a cannon platform.

Returning to Domazzano you can take a different route through a beautiful wood.

Domazzano’s war memorial is an odd mixture consisting of a plinth dedicated to those who fell in WWI and an added G.I. helmet with a US star to commemorate the allied intervention in WWII.


We’ve done this lovely walk at least four times. The pictures you’re looking at all date from July 2006.