The Dormouse’s Den

If one takes the Via Brennero on the Lima’s other side from Bagni di Lucca one comes across this shop.

‘La Tana Del Ghiro’ means ‘the dormouse’s den’ and has only recently opened for business. The subtitle ‘dal campo alla tavola’ means ‘from the field to the table’ so the food is surely guaranteed free from those debilitating and polluting transport costs which shamefully characterise so much of the foodstuffs we buy today.

It’s a place that sells local agricultural products and also has a restaurant. At the moment the Tana is just starting but the proprietors have assured me that by the summer they’ll have plenty of food stocked which comes from our area. This includes olive oil, honey, potatoes, jams, cheeses, maize flour, vegetables, fruit, pickled vegetables inlcuding onions, crostini sauce, tomato puree, chestnut and wheat flour and mushrooms.

The restaurant is only open for evening meals on some days but the ambience looks promising and certainly what will be served will be both genuine and local.

I gather one thing ‘La Tana del Ghiro’ won’t serve you with is dormice. Although popular with the ancient Romans I’m glad these delightful furry creatures, which spent a large part of their lives sleeping, won’t be on the shelves!

Do phone up the Tana before going there for a meal. Its phone number and email are:

Tel. 0583 805864 –

Ford Anglia Sighted at Diecimo

Diecimo’s mercantino ‘Ti Riuso’ is a veritable treasure trove if you like to delve into second-hand stores. There’s everything to be found there from sports equipment to books to kitchenware to heaps of furniture and even a wooden spiral staircase. I visited it yesterday and found a young couple attempting to load four garden chairs into their hatch-back. They were still trying to work it out when I left.

Here are snaps of some of the items on sale. Don’t miss out on the tents outside which are a prime source for exercise bikes, among other items!

For me the most exciting find was a Ford Anglia with its distinctive raked-back rear window, 1960’s vintage.

Did I buy anything? Yes, an excellent and recent illustrated guidebook on Umbria priced at less than one Euro.

The Ti Riuso mercantino will also take items for sale if they are suitable. The seller must present his or her ‘documenti’ including fiscal number and the items are duly noted in a database and a receipt issued. The seller can set the price for the item and the mercantino takes a commission. It’s worth investigating if your Italian attic is getting a bit full or if you want to return to enjoy post-Brexit Britain.

Which reminds me: thinking about politics is bad for one’s health and talking about it to people with opposite view to one’s own is even worse.

Let the United Kingdom – or what will be left of it at the end of the process – pursue its lemming-type course. By that time I’ll still have a passport with EC printed on it – Italian, of course, courtesy of my wife’s lineage. However, you can still apply for one if you have no such luck. See for more details.

Do I still hanker after Diecimo’s Ford Anglia? At least that car was built in a country which could support itself with its own manufacturing base. I really do wonder what will happen after the UK leaves the world’s largest free market……

Does Christmas Really Come from China?

It’s a well-known fact that Christmas comes from China – at least as far as many of one’s decorations are concerned. This is somewhat unfortunate, especially for our part of the world, since it’s been famous for hundreds of years for its figurinai – plaster-of-Paris statue makers – which include, of course, all those lovely characters in a traditional Italian presepe.

Fortunately, if one is willing to be either creative and make one’s own or is well-funded enough to purchase the immaculate home-grown figures in such centres as Naples and Sicily or even our own Bagni di Lucca area where there’s a factory, Euromarchi, which is supplying the figures for Bagni di Lucca’s traditional presepe in front of the Circolo dei forestieri (they also have a special seasonal shop npw open on the main road to Lucca at Diecimo) , then a presepe does not have to come from the Orient. At the most perhaps the Three Kings may come from there, however!

(Bagni di Lucca’s own Presepe in front of the Circolo)

As for Christmas decorations themselves, one can quite easily go into the forest and gather pine cones, holly and ivy and even mistletoe and make a traditional garland. For the Christmas tree itself (a relatively recent, post war introduction to Italy, brought back by emigrants from the USA when they joined their families for Christmas) then just get one with roots that can be planted afterwards in your garden or watered and fed for next year’s Christmas.

This year, we’ve had to banish our Christmas tree to the orto (allotment) where, no doubt, it will grow into a fine fir and have replaced it with a smaller version. I wonder what will outgrow what – us or the new Christmas tree?

Anyway, I suppose it’s OK to get Christmas decorations from the Chinese shop (Dolif) in Gallicano.

Quite apart from the standard decorations there are some beautiful examples of Christmas fretwork scenes which can be had for under thirty euro.

I just wonder what the craftsmen in the People’s Republic will be making out about all this. But Christmas is becoming more and more an international festival. We were amused at seeing people getting ready for in it in Cambodia last year and spraying artificial snow on their windows.

Here, after weeks of dry, sunny coldness, we’ve had some rain and snow which will no doubt please all piste-yearners. We’ll always remember our first Christmas in this part of the world when the torch bearing skiers came down from the passo Della Croce Arcana to Cutigliano. So atmospheric!

Anyway here’s our own little humble ‘mantlepiece’ shelf offering to the Italian Christmas Crib tradition. I wonder how much of it comes from ‘La Cina’?


If there’s one store which has the same name in Italy as in the UK then it’s the ‘Co-op’ which in Italy is known as ‘la Coop’ (pronounced ‘cop’). The two coops, although having certain principles in common, are, of course, managed by different organisations which, however, are members of the international cooperative forum.

Historians of supermarkets will remember that the original ‘co-op’, or co-operative store opened in Rochdale in 1844 under the name of the ‘Rochdale society of Equitable Pioneers’. There were two main purposes in setting up this society. The first was to fight back against the truck acts whereby workers were paid in coupons to be spent at their factories’ own stores – clearly an infringement of individual freedom and a grossly unfair way of paying employees. The second, which has become the hall-mark of the cooperative movement, is the sharing of the company profits among members of the cooperative society through the use of the original ‘dividend.’ I can faintly remember coop dividend coins being issued used in Lewisham, London. They were made of tin and could be exchanged for products in the store. This was, in fact, an early type of the present day plastic ‘loyalty card.’

Italy, too, has had early beginnings in its cooperative movement – in Turin in 1854. However, it wasn’t until after the last war that the coop store started to become a regular feature in Italian towns.


Whereas in the 1990’s the British coop store hit some really hard times and appeared doomed to extinction, the Italian coop store has continued to expand throughout the peninsula. (I’m glad to say that the Coop in the UK is again thriving, especially since it bought up Somerfields.)

There is a huge newish Coop store in Viale Giannotti, Florence for example, and, last week I took my first look into Lucca’s mega-coop store which is at Viale Puccini no 1718 (the road leading out of Lucca city centre towards Massarosa). It’s open daily from 8 am to 9 pm, Mondays to Saturdays, and from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm on Sundays.


Like the great late Dave Allen in his famous monologue on the subject I feel somewhat manipulated in a supermarket but I have a particular affection for the coop and I was not disappointed by Lucca’s contribution to a retail outlet which was founded on idealistic principles. These principles are still largely upheld and they include the following:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member’s economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community and ecological issues

The store has a good variety of food and related items. I thought the fish section was particularly good.


The pet section was brilliant with non-packaged cat biscuits of all varieties to suit the fussiest feline:


I couldn’t find any baked beans though. (Esselunga has them at Marlia, however.)

Although prices are not at the ‘discount store’ level, there are still a number of bargains and ‘offerte’ to be had, provided you have your coop card with you (issuable at the store).

If you happen to be travelling down the Via Puccini the Coop is definitely worth a look-in and just next door there’s ‘Mercatone’ (pronounced ‘mercatonay’) too – good for home furnishings and electrical goods.




Le Soffitte (Attic Sales) at Bagni di Lucca

Last Sunday, the centre of Bagni di Lucca Villa was again filled with second-hand stalls selling a very wide assortment of goods ranging from clothes to radios to magazines and plenty more. It was part of the ‘soffitte’ which literally means ‘attics’. It was, in effect an attic sale, although some stall-holders were also selling some new objects as well.

The event was also a good occasion to keep some shops open. (There are hardly any shops open in Bagni di Lucca on Sundays except the two mini-supermarkets). I enjoy these sales very much and they have become increasingly popular.

I’m not sure if this armoured jeep, complete with turret machine-gun, was on sale:

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These ‘soffitte’, in my opinion serve seven main purposes.

  1. They are the best way to recycle things which otherwise might finish up in some tip.
  2. They can supply extra income to cash-strapped Italians today where people living below the poverty line are regrettably increasing.
  3. They can offer bargains to those persons who would like to buy such items as kitchenware, cutlery, glasses, plates and clothes.
  4. They bring in visitors from an increasingly wide part of the Lucchesia and thus serve to publicise our beautiful area.
  5. They are great social centres. The number of acquaintances and friends I met last Sunday was very encouraging.
  6. They allow more living space in one’s house by getting rid in a constructive (and often profitable way) of unnecessary clutter.
  7. They are very therapeutic for everyone, especially those suffering from disposofobia (obsessive hoarding syndrome)

In case you weren’t quite sure whether you were disposofobic or not check out the symptoms here:

  • An inability to throw away possessions including items too big or too small for one’s proper use.
  • A severe fretfulness when attempting to discard items including such things as used toilet rolls and goods wrappings especially polyurethane.
  • An enormous difficulty in organizing one’s possessions or even knowing where they are. Much of the time things seem to have disappeared in a domestic miniature black hole.
  • Hesitancy about what to keep or where to put things.
  • Distress, such as feeling stunned or embarrassed by one’s amount of possessions so that visitors to one’s house are discouraged.
  • Suspicion of other people touching or stealing one’s things.
  • Fear of running out of an item in the future and checking the rubbish bins for accidentally discarded objects. A typical example is over-buying supermarket food and then having to throw it away because it’s gone bad.

There are, of course, various degrees of disposofobia. I’m sure you’ve seen TV programmes where a team come in and help extreme sufferers in their possession-suffocated homes before they get crushed by the weight of books or wardrobes. For example, the great French composer Alkan was killed by an overloaded bookcase failing on him, (or was it by being trapped under one of his innumerable umbrella stands?)

Unfortunately, our society today is geared to make disposofobics of us all. The question we must all ask is the same when we do our packing for holidays. It’s not the question ‘what should we bring’ but ‘what can’t we do without?’

The success of rental storage space warehouse in cities where living space is becoming ever more diminutive is a symptom of this difficult-to-cure disease. Some celebrities realised they had too much and took appropriate action. Elton John, for example, gave away the majority of his record collection.

I try to counter any symptoms of disposofobia in me. I am attempting to refrain from buying yet more books since, I regret, I still suffer from bibliomania, which is a sub-species of the awful disease. I’m trying to get round it by getting books on an e-reader but it’s not quite the same thing as turning nicely scented pages in a good binding and perhaps a bibliomaniac I shall always remain.

I am very frightened of being an animal hoarder which is yet another subspecies of the obsessive-compulsive disease called disposofobia. I have stuck to three cats, two ducks and two goldfish for at least two years now so I trust I have that aspect under some sort of control.

One thing I do not suffer from is polygomania. One wife is enough for me and I shall always remain happy that way.

Anyway, unlike Thomas Hardy’s ‘The mayor of Casterbridge’, no-one was selling their wives at any stalls last Sunday, which at least prevented those suffering from that particular aspect of the dreaded disease which is termed polygomanic-disposofobia…


PS Future ‘soffitte sales’ at Bagni are on the following dates:

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Mr Brown Closes Shop

It’s always sad when a shop closes down in Bagni di Lucca, especially if that shop has been there for half a century.

Signor Marroni (Mr Brown in English…) has ever been a courteous shopkeeper always keen to satisfy his client’s requests and give advice on house repair matters. I’ve used his hardware shop for such items as paints, nuts and bolts, nails and various D. I.Y tools.


Finally, Mr Marroni has decided to close shop for the last time and the ‘liquidazione’ signs on it clearly mean ‘closing down.’


There will be other hardware shops and stores within reasonably easy striking distance but none of them will be able to replace the personal service and the politeness so characteristic of these increasingly rare shops, so many of which have closed down in the last few years. (I still remember the one in Ponte, for example).

We wish Mr Marroni a long and happy retirement although we realise that closing his shop will clearly take so much away not just from Bagni di Lucca’s life but also from his own abiding interest.


Diecimo’s Earthly Paradise

A new garden centre has opened up on the right hand side of the road going from Diecimo to Lucca. It’s called ‘Il Paradiso terrestre’ (the earthly paradise). Actually it’s more than a garden centre and is what in Italy is called an agraria i.e. agricultural centre. This means that one can buy gardening implements, fertilizers and even pet foods.

The range is quite extensive and the centre is well-laid out.

The staff, consisting of Roberto and Maria, is helpful. On my visit I was able to get a good leccio olive tree for a very reasonable price to replace one that has mysteriously died in our field.

The ribbon development on the main road outside Diecimo may not be aesthetically pleasing but the shops along it do at least have this one advantage: that one can easily find parking in front of them.

Along this same stretch one can also find a good restaurant ’Di cotte e di Crude’ (which I’ve described at and some of the best pastries in the area at the Bar Guidi next to the Q8 petrol/gas station.

Il Paradiso terrestre has a web site (just in Italian) at


New Art at Ghivizzano

Ghivizzano is usually visited for its upper walled town with the castle tower.

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Few people think of spending time in Ghivizzano Basso – that part of the town which lines the road leading to Fornaci di Barga. Yet there’s a lot to see here.

First are the fine art nouveau villas built by Ghivizzanians who struck it lucky overseas and wished to retire in a brand new house rather than the closely huddled quarters in the ‘castle town’:

Then there’s a new art gallery. Kety Bastiani’s exhibition is continuing at no 116 Via Nazionale, Ghivizzano. It originally formed part of an educational art day’s event held at Ghivizzano castle towards the end of last April in which school children had their art work displayed and were also able to ask questions, via Skype, to Giorgio Michetti, the great Viareggian artist who is now in his one hundred and third year and still going strong (latest exhibition held in Lucca’s Ducal palace in 2012). Kety has now entered into an artistic collaboration with Ghivizzano comune and has installed an art gallery at no 116.

I visited the exhibition yesterday and found a development of her technique into further multi-layered compositions. The superimposition of monochrome drawings onto painted works I found particularly effective.

The themes of dreams, transformations, the elements, animals, angels and universal love continue to permeate and enlighten Kety’s work which shows an ever more imaginative approach and technique.

If you’re at the exhibition don’t forget to visit the amazing Ars Nova artistic store next door in the same building. I had been forewarned by friends about the treasury of paintings that Ars Nova contains but had never attempted to enter its incredible confines.

Ars Nova Rossi is a company of craftsmen who are proud to have continued the area’s artistic traditions. It was founded in the 1950s when Tarquinio Rossi opened a workshop for the production of crystal photographs in Ghivizzano, Lucca province. Photo crystallography is a technique which enables slices of crystals to be personalized with one’s photographs. This technique is still carried on but Ars Nova has also branched out into hand prints applied on glass. Sculpture entered its domain in the 1970’s and it’s particularly strong on devotional items such as Christmas cribs and religious icons. Some of the items are still made according to last century’s procedures using clay and papier maché.

In the 1980s Ars Nova started collaborting with experienced painters who paint both original works and vintage reproductions. The firm is now managed by Tarquinio’s son Gisberto and his grandson Stefano.

When I entered into the store I was greeted by someone I knew – a member of the Ghivizzano choir – and was shown around this extraordinary place. I felt I was in some fantasy scenario – a sort of troll-like workshop for producing the world’s artistic and not-so artistic masterpieces. I’d never seen so many pictures in so many different formats, styles and frames before! Every corner uncovered yet more hidden riches.

It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that Kety’s new art gallery for Ghivizzano should be located in the building owned by the Rossi family’s Ars Nova. It’s a truly international business supplying the world with a product that is better than just a printed reproduction but which remains within the pockets of those who can’t afford to dish out thousands (or even millions) in today’s world art market.

I wish both Kety and Ars Nova the fullest success in their continuing artistic venture.

For more on Ghivizzano Bassa my posts at:

and for Ghivizzano Castello see




Castelnuovo di Garfagnana’s Paintbox

One of our favourite shops in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, which we sometimes visit for its very extensive Thursday market, is the arts shop situated just south of the Rocca Ariostesca.

Apart from its artist’s equipment and framing the shop has a very extensive collection of paintings and objects d’art which should please all sorts of taste. I found the examples from Dariush, the painter of Iranian origin, particularly delightful and they not excessively priced.

There are plenty of other things and it would be a strong will to escape from this cave of attractions without at least one purchase.

What did we buy (or rather me)? It was a case of paints and brushes which I gifted to Sandra, again at a very reasonable price.

I’ll let you know how those brushes transform the paints into little masterpieces. Meanwhile, we remind you that there are still copies of our book ‘Septet’ available at the Shelley House in Bagni di Lucca (see

Enjoy your Easter week! The weather here is brightening up every day. No troublesome storms here (cross fingers…)


Another Garden Center, But……

The Versilia, that part of the Tyrrhenian coastline in the northwest province of Lucca, that stretches from north of Pisa to the Magra and is named after the Versilia river, is famous not just for its beaches, its pine forests, its marble centres, its architecture which ranges from Romanesque to Art Nouveau but also for its mild climate. Like several English seaside resorts which attempt the same thing (somewhat less successfully) it’s a haven for those in search of a retirement in their own country without the undue rigours of a Tuscan winter.

This mild climate has given rise to several garden centres, some of which we’ve already described in previous posts. Our most recent find was a few days ago was, returning from a pleasant ‘passeggiata’ down Viareggio’s promenade, when we came across L’ortoflora versiliese which is just before one of the outer roundabouts reaching to the Via Aurelia near Torre del Lago.

L’ortoflora versiliese is huge and there’s a signed itinerary in it which takes one round to the plants, flowers, garden accessories, ornaments, seeds, fertilizers and anything else associated with gardening.

Rather than giving one a description of it I’ll just show you some of the pictures we took of it.

Perhaps you might ask what we bought there? It was, in fact a peyote cucumber. Now work that one out!