Florence’s (and the World’s) Beautiful Game

Do you love Florence? Are you interested in football? If so have you visited the football museum located at Coverciano in that city? It’s where the Italian Football Association has its headquarters, its training centre and where Pier Luigi Nervi’s architectural masterpiece is located – the first reinforced concrete football stadium ever built, dating from 1931 and where, besides memorable matches, such immortal singers as David Bowie also have given concerts.

Italy boasts a proud history of the beautiful game and has been world champion no less than four times: in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006. ‘Gli Azzurri’ (or ‘light blues’ as they are called from the colour of their football jersey) are truly this country’s pride and joy and fully deserve this very well laid-out museum with helpful staff and an excellent archive.

The Museo Del Calcio, which I finally visited last week, is laid out in a historical sequence, starting from the late nineteenth century when athletic clubs used football to develop their members’ skills. The origin of football teams from these clubs is also apparent in the UK in such names as Charlton Athletic, our local south London team which was a firm favourite of the great Italian writer Italo Svevo (‘The Confessions of Zeno’)  when he was managing a paint factory near the college where I taught for a quarter of a century.

It’s so fascinating to follow the history of the Italian national football team and also to gaze in wonder at the jerseys of such greats as Pelé and Maradona.

It’s equally sad, too, to follow the tragedies of Italy’s magnificent international team: for example, the Superga disaster of May 1949 when an aircraft carrying the ‘Grande Torino’ football team, which included most of the country’s international players, crashed in thick fog on the side of the Superga hill near Turin killing thirty one persons, including the great Valentino Mazzola.

I should also mention that my grandfather, an avid sportsman, was a trainer of Inter football team in the years before World War One – something mentioned with pride in his obituary. Inter was founded in 1908 as ‘Foot-Ball Club Internazionale’ since the existing Milan team (originally known as the Milan cricket and football club) did not encourage foreign players. I am old enough to have recorded my grandfather’s account of Inter’s friendly game against Bayern Munich in 1910 (they lost but were applauded for their tenacity against a rather better funded and equipped German team.)

Although the modern history of football stems from England don’t forget that the game actually originated in Italy in mediaeval times. The official rules of the ‘Calcio Storico Fiorentino’ – a heady mixture of football, rugby and wrestling – were first laid down in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi, a Florentine count. This fact is remembered in Florence’s annual traditional ‘Calcio Fiorentino in costume’ which is played on June 24th on Florence’s feast day for its patron saint, St. John the Baptist. Four teams fight it out for the grand finale:   Santa Croce Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni. It’s also a great occasion for putting on one of the city’s most spectacular historical pageants.

Whether it’s the modern game you’re interested in (and especially if you’re a supporter of ‘Fiorentina’ la viola, Florence’s own football team – at present happily eighth in serie A – or whether you like to revel in the Calcio storico Fiorentino played out in the square before Santa Croce church your Florentine experience would certainly not be complete if you haven’t been present at one of the two versions of this emperor of all sports.

The Museo Del Calcio’s web site, including how to get there and opening times, is at:


Cross-Bows at the Palazzo Buonvisi

A tournament forming part of the Italian league of ancient and historical sports was held outside the Palazzo Buonvisi (ex-Villa Webb) in Bagni alla Villa, Bagni di Lucca on Sunday, 18th September.  The ancient sport was on this occasion, cross-bow shooting (gara di balestra storica da braccio ) and participants came from many parts of Italy including Orvieto, Genoa, Città del Castello and, of course, our own Bagni di Lucca where the Vicaria della Val di Lima organized the event. The results of the competition were valid for the Italian championship in ancient sports.

Here are some photos I took of the event last Sunday. You’ll see that the sport is open to both men and women. The Ukrainian Orthodox Bishop of Milan was also invited to the event.

Inside the Palazzo Buonvisi is a fine example of a quick crossbow loader. All crossbows would be prepared by a loader ready for quick-succession firing like a machine gun thus avoiding cross-bow shooters to waste time loading their own. (Cross-bows are more accurate than long-bows but rather slower in the loading of arrows.) Virgilio Contrucci, a key person in the vicaria (and also in the terme’s bar) is the demonstrator:

The Vicaria Della Val di Lima has done sterling (or should we call it Euro?) work in sprucing up palazzo Buonvisi. The gardens have been cleared of brambles, the approach steps cleaned of moss and many beautiful architectural features have been revealed after years of neglect.

Here’s something about the palazzo’s history. It was built between 1518 and 1570 by the Buonvisi, perhaps the richest family of Lucca, as their summer retreat. On its entrance portico is a coat of arms with a cardinal’s hat recollecting the fact that the Buonvisi had produced no less than three cardinals in their family tree.

Among illustrious guests and lodgers of the palazzo were James Francis Edward Stuart, (otherwise known as the old pretender, alias James III, and father of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie) and his wife Maria Clementina Sobieska.

The Buonvisi family sadly died out and the palace was sold to the noble Montecatini family who then vended it to John Webb in 1812. Webb was a rich merchant, originally from Hotwells, Bristol whose conservation society’s current chair is my former English master, Brian Worthington. Webb established a flourishing trading company in Livorno (Leghorn). Special exports from Italy included oil of bergamot, (presumably for Earl Grey tea?) and juniper berries (undoubtedly for London gin). Webb’s special imports included cane sugar from the West Indies and Jamaican hot red peppers.

John Webb is buried in Livorno’s English cemetery (which I still have to visit.) Among his coterie of guests was George Gordon Byron who struck up a close friendship and spent the summer of 1822 at the palazzo. (The plaque commemorating Byron’s visit appears on the right side of the palazzo façade with his first name spelt incorrectly in English (but correctly in German.)


In 1978 the palace was sold to Bagni di Lucca’s comune who restored it and used it as a nursery school. It’s also been used as a venue for the schools’ theatre season. Since 2010 it is the headquarters of the Vicaria di Val di Lima, our local historical enactment society. It’s a most worthy setting for the Vicaria, I feel.

The Vicaria di Val di Lima has a web site at http://www.contadolucchese.it/Associazione_Vicaria_di_Val_di_Lima.htm

Unfortunately the web site is not kept up to date but I did find information about the event from the Bagni di Lucca Proloco web site at http://www.prolocobagnidilucca.it/eventi.html which has a pretty exhaustive list of events happening in our comune and also from the tourist office and from some bar posters.

The publicity may have scope for improvement but I feel that much of the inertia of the lack of spectators was due to the fact that maybe, especially on Sunday mornings, several inhabitants may have been indulging in other ancient and historical sports largely practised between their bed-sheets. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, however!)


PS For the three fascinating museums now housed in the palazzo Buonvisi see my post at:




Calling All Campers

The best area for campers (both camper vehicles and those bringing their own tents) and caravans for anyone visiting Bagni di Lucca is the one at Chifenti in the Comune of Borgo a Mozzano. Inaugurated in 2013 and sited by a formerly overgrown pasture, it’s easily reached from Lucca by going up the Brennero road and then turning off sharply to the left just when you see the chain suspension bridge connecting Fornoli with Chifenti.

The facilities include water supply, a well discharge, site illumination, a nearby bar and electricity and water supply. Dogs are allowed and the site is open all the year round. The four attachments for water and electricity are free and there’s is space for up to ten camper vans. Garbage collection facilities are somewhat lacking, however.

There’s also a dining area.

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A rafting centre is also situated near the camper site:

The camper/camping site is in a beautiful location. There is a large grassed area leading to Nottolini’s suspension bridge which dates from the nineteenth century and is well-worth a look. By the side of the bridge there are underground passages leading to the holding points for the great chains. I once managed to get to these but they are now inaccessible behind grilled doors.

There’s also an ancient bridge said to date from Roman times.

The Borgo a Mozzano camping makes quite a contrast with the Bagni di Lucca one at Fornoli where there are no such facilities. When I passed the Fornoli site the other day there were still some vehicles parked which belonged to a circus held there a couple of weeks ago. The site looked rather forlorn, although it is sited next to a spectacular lime avenue, and in my opinion needs a good shake-up to attract more camper users to Bagni di Lucca.

PS It should be remembered that there’s a very attractive camper/camping place in the offing near Gombereto which I’ve described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/hello-campers/ just fifteen minutes away from Bagni di Lucca.

Tropical Paradise?

We had neglected visiting Bagni di Lucca’s swimming pools for some time mainly because we thought the management of them was inconsistent and, at  some stage, unsatisfactorily.

A new company has taken over since last November and I decided to take a rest from the heat and cement going on at our house and take a look at the bath.

There’s an entrance with on one side a delightful grotto chapel dedicated to saint Cristina. You can either walk up the main avenue or do a spot of mountain climbing on a little rocky short-cut path.

I was pleasantly surprised. All the pool furniture had been replaced. The bar offered a nice variety of ice-creams, drinks and cold dishes and, what is more important, the water quality was good and not over-chlorinated.

There is also a list of evening events at the pool.

The position of Bagni di Lucca’ swimming pools could not be more spectacular placed as they are amid the beautiful hills of the Val di Lima. There are three pools. Apart from the main one there’s a diving pool and a children’s one.

The atmosphere is relaxed and certainly not overcrowded.

If it ever rained there’s an alternative in the two covered pools here where small children were learning their first swimming lessons.

The bamboos at one end of the pool reminded me of some tropical paradise. Indeed, it was easy to imagine that we were not in an Italian spa but somewhere rather more exotic like Bali or the Caribbean, (Or did I have a beer too much?).

What is needed now however, is a good restoration of the Villa Ada gardens (former home of the British consul) in which the swimming pool are placed. This would give one an excellent chance to take a cooling walk amid the often exotic trees in this unfortunately still-neglected garden. (To say nothing of the extraordinary house itself).

I found hilarious examples of Italish notices round the swimming pool. They were so good that I decided not to give the management a lesson in English as she is spoke but to leave them,  as they were true collector’ items for those who appreciate signs lost in translation. (E.g.”all our room have French widows offering excellent prospects. Etc.”)

Don’t forget your “swimming cup and slippers anti-slide” when you go there, however!

When I returned home I was very pleased at what my builders had achieved. The balustrade had been removed and the felt had been laid with a grid now ready to receive the concrete.


The moisture of the room where I’m writing this had been reduced to below 80 for the first time in year and now we are looking toward a setting of the cement and a laying down of new tiles. Hopefully, within another week we’ll be able to be sipping our daiquiris in the heaven of our terrace. Or will the rains come?






A Flying Saucer Has Landed!

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It’s not actually a flying saucer, of course, but a drone picked up from our local discount food store, Penny Market, upon “prenotazione” i.e. if you book one. (The offer’s now closed). The price was around eighty euros.

I tried out the drone with the assistance of Guzzano’s resident aviator and managed to crash it against a drainpipe. As the framework of the drone is made out of polystyrene the damage was easily repairable with a bit of sticky tape.

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What I did discover, however, was that it requires almost extra-terrestrial skill to manipulate the drone correctly since its controls are highly sensitive and the drone itself is subject to atmospheric change like wind directions etc.

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With considerable dexterity the aviator managed to steer the drone onto a towel on his washing rack.

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I’m looking forward to the time when his skills will increase to the point of being able to manipulate the vehicle so that it can descend down from the kitchen carrying perfectly balanced glasses of gin and tonic.

The penny market drone has a built in video/still camera and, therefore, could be used for several useful applications which I would divide into four areas.

First, it could greatly enhance one’s photographic album by providing overviews of village, sites and other places one visits.

Second, it could be used for building work, roof inspections and such like.

Third, it could have a security value by checking up on suspicious neighbours although, clearly, this might create privacy issues.

Fourth, it could be used for sport or just for entertainment as it has some bright coloured lights creating magical effects which could liven up a dull evening outdoor summer party…

Drones have borrowed their terminology from male honey bees which, unlike female worker bees, do not have a sting and do not join in collecting pollen. The drone bee’s main function is, in fact,  to mate with a fertile queen.


The correct name for a non-bee drone is an UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Unlike missiles, UAVs are supposed to be returnable and I thought that perhaps the oldest UAV must have been that bright invention of the Australian aborigine, the boomerang.

In the nineteenth century Austria sent UAVs in the form of balloons to bomb Venice during the 1866 war.

The real breakthrough, however, was with the V1 flying bomb, known by brits as a “doodlebug”, one of whose achievements was to demolish the swimming pool and boiler block at my old school in Dulwich.


The possibilities of using UAVs’ or drones are endless. For example, last year, a drone successfully found an old boy with dementia who had gone missing for three days. Although I haven’t quite reached that stage yet I think our new toy could be useful for locating any of our cats that might go missing as was the case with Cheeky last year.

Here is a video of the drone performing a couple of days ago.

There is also a video from the drone itself!

Anyway, I won’t drone on any further and instead enjoy yet another scorchingly hot day.

All Dressed up and Everywhere to Go in Bagni di Lucca

There’s so much happening in and around Bagni di Lucca now that it’s truly difficult to keep up with things. There are, of course, web sites and calendar pamphlets but these are often updated, cancelled or lost at home amid the mountain of other leaflets we seem to pick up!

I find a good way to keep up with events is to take a photo of a poster. Just going down Bagni di Lucca high street the other day I came across these in shop and bar windows:

There’s the ever-popular volley-ball competition outside our local parish church at Corsena:

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Then there’s a tribute band concert to the Nomadi, one of Italy’ greatest groups founded by keyboard player Beppe Carletti and singer Augusto Daolio in 1963 and still going strong. In fact, it’s one of the longest lasting Italian groups. I don’t know if you’re into Italian pop groups but I like some of their songs very much and learning the lyrics is also a great way to learn Italian.  I also recognise the car…

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Daniele Bianchi is presenting his work at the new exhibition space in Bagni di Lucca’ town hall foyer.

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There’ll be more bring and buy street sales, tempting people to clear out their attic at the following dates:

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I’m not sure if I’d be interested in getting one of these, though they look cute enough when small. I think the cats would also object:

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The big patron saint procession and festivities I’ve already mentioned in a previous post:

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Barga get an advert in this exhibition by Mara Angeli, a local artist born at Coreglia Antelminelli.

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The amazing international music master class and festival is still continuing at Castelnuovo di Garfagnanan

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Italians are great at playing the fisarmonica or accordion and there’ a great event showing off this instrument at Coreglia.

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Thi one advertises Maestro Christopher Dyer, director of Music of Cambridge University. Actually, Christopher is director of music at Sevenoaks School, (founded 1432), just south of London, which has an enviable reputation for its high standard of music making. I think what they meant here is that he graduated from Cambridge University.

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It may not be King’ s College (my old college) choir but the event’s going to be a must for me – just to hear the English choral sound again! Evidently, pupils from this school have been having a summer break for a few years now at nearby Corsagna (not to be confused with Corsena!)…

This is definitely an event I won’t want to miss.

So it’s all dressed up and everywhere to go at the moment here in Bagni di Lucca. And that’s just the start of the summer season!

Think Pink and Win!

It was truly pink and tricolour balloon day yesterday. Just doing the stretch from Fornoli to Bagni di Lucca we came across these decorations paying homage to Italy’s classic cycle race, the Giro d’Italia. (Photos courtesy of Sandra Pettitt).

We thought this display was particularly sweet:

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To watch the Giro d’Italia cyclists fly past in the afternoon we took a position at Astracaccio by the junction where the Controneria road meets the Brennero from Bagni di Lucca. This enabled us to get back home without having to worry about road closures and also get a fantastic viewpoint, free of crowds

Our “viewing platform,” included three Vespas whose colours reflected the Italian flag. The mixture of the three colours of red white and green combined with the pink balloons reflecting the hue of the prize winning jersey dominated the decorations hung on the buildings and across the road.

Now pink will be for ever associated with the giro d’Italia rather than girlie toys and a particular kind of elephant!

About half-an-hour before the competitors arrived there was activity in the form of police motorcyclists and a souvenir truck which sold bandanas, “hand clappers” and flags at suitably rip-off prices. Instead, we got a free sleeve hat from Baiocchi biscuits which help sponsor one of the race’s classifications.

Further vehicle rode past including team cars carrying on roof-racks, spare bikes for the competitors, each one of which would cost a lot more than your average family saloon…

Eventually, the orange flag arrived signalling that the road would now be completely dedicated to the entrants in the race.

The “testa” arrived. This is the head of the cyclists – the finest competitors, all bunched up in a peloton – French term from which we get our word “platoon” from and denoting the close formation which competition cyclist like to travel in to reduce wind resistance and improve their collective performance.

The “peloton di testa” flew past in a couple of seconds. Among the group, of course, were those who would probably gain jerseys at the end of the stage.

We waited for the main body of cyclists to arrive….. And waited and waited. It was a good twelve minutes before they arrived on the scene. Few could remember such a distance between the head and the body, not even the last time the race went through these parts which was in May 2000.

Again, the body whisked through in seconds …. And that was it. All over! Like a transient vision, the Giro had sped through Astracaccio to reach La Lama and thence begin the most gruelling part of stage five – the climb up to Abetone.

Who won?

The winner stage was Slovenian. Twenty-three year old Jan Polanc from the Lampre-Merida team was first past the finishing line at Italy’s 98th giro. Just sixteen kilometres before the finish he broke out of the head peloton and sailed to the finish with no significant competition.

The overall winner of the coveted pink jersey, however, still remains Spanish Alberto Contador (who had a spot of trouble in a drugs test in 2010 but seems to have fully recovered): his total aggregate time for all the stages so far is the lowest so far. Will he be beaten tomorrow? Watch stage six today from Altopascio to Montecatini and find out!

Members of the British Commonwealth will be pleased to know that Australian Richie Porte, of the Sky team, came fifth.

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Historically, Abetone evokes fond memories of the great Gino Bartali who was first at the finishing line here in 1947 and 1948. That’s why this stage was dedicated to him. Some of my readers have asked me what was behind the rivalry between Bartali and Coppi, apart from the obvious sporting wish to be the best.  The fact is that no two people could be more different in life-attitude. Bartali was a fervent Catholic who had his bike personally blessed by the Pope and led a sober family life. Coppi, on the other hand, was a renegade and atheist, flirting with women and not just taking drugs but boasting about doing them. (That was obviously before the present regimen of strict anti-doping rules was imposed, of course).

Bartali died peacefully in 2000. Coppi died in 1960 as a result of malaria caught while big-game hunting in Africa. Both great personalities, however, had this in common: they gave a fantastic boost to a terribly demoralised Italy emerging from the ruins World War Two had inflicted upon it. For me, however, Bartali remains my man. This is especially so since only in the last couple of years it has emerged that Gino used his practise runs during World War Two as a cover to organise communications between resistance organisations to save thousands of Jewish people from transportation to Auschwitz. For this very recent discovery modest Bartali was posthumously awarded, in 2013, the heroism award “just among the nations” from the Israeli government and joins those exceptional people, like Schindler, who risked their lives against inordinate odds to save others.

Incidentally, the last time Abetone was used as a finishing post in the Giro was in 2000 when Italian Casagrande won that stage. I did feel privileged to be able to attend at least one moment of this mythical race in the humble but beautiful stretch of road that goes through Astracaccio. Perhaps I’ll take up cycling again?

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Re-cycling (and cycling!) at Bagni di Lucca

Where do all the tree branches that have either been broken off by the terrific tornado of last March, or been pruned subsequently as a precaution against further collapse, finish up? For Bagni di Lucca the answer is the camper park opposite the stadium located between Fornoli and Ponte a Serraglio. And what will they do with all this debris?

I passed this park yesterday on a recently re-asphalted and unbelievably smooth road, complete with new gleaming white markings, and received the answer to my question. A crane was lifting the branches into a hopper which then through a chute was ejected a hail of wood chippings. Undoubtedly, these will be used either for paper mills or for sale as winter fuel.

I’m glad that recycling the incredible amount of fallen tree debris is taking place so soon before the wood becomes too rotten to do anything with it.

I’m also glad that the classic Giro d’Italia cycle race has prompted the province of Lucca to give Bagni di Lucca 267,000 euros for road surface improvement. Not only will the world’s greatest cyclists avoid worrying about their tyre rims and their own backs but we too will be able to enjoy a ride on scooter or car without having to keep one eye on the look-out for pot holes.

The Giro d’Italia was first run in 1909 and, apart from interruptions during wartime, has been going strong ever since. It’s sponsored by the “Gazzetta dello Sport”, that pink newspaper you see people reading at every bar. (No it’s not an Italian equivalent of the FT.!) And that’s why a pink jersey is given to rider with the best cumulative time (“overall leader”). Other jersey colours are as follows:

The red jersey is given to the cyclist who gets the most points in intermediate sprints and arrivals (“leader of points classification”).

The blue jersey is for the cyclist who gains most points and bonuses for going across passes (“mountain leader”).

The white jersey goes to the cyclist who is under twenty-five years of age on 1 January of the current year with the best cumulative time (”youth leader”).

The high peaks (literally) of this classic race are, naturally, the stages which go across mountain ranges. Our area may not have quite the immense challenge of alpine roads, where single stages often have to climb over three thousand feet, but it certainly has its tests. In past years cyclist have had to climb over the Passo delle Forbici near San Pellegrino,  the highest Apennine village at 5003 feet. This year there will be a gentle climb through Barga before a descent via Ghivizzano to Bagni di Lucca. From thence, the cyclists will compete to reach  Abetone at a height of 4553 feet.

Despite the inroads of football, the Giro d’Italia has always retained a major interest in the hearts of Italians, many of whom still remember those golden years when Coppi and Bartali spun it out between themselves.

The tricolour flags now adorning Bagni di Lucca’s high street presage a great day today full of excitement and, hopefully, not too many spills.

Furthermore, our town will be on national and international television and people from Alaska to New Zealand will be able not only to enjoy the race but also to see what beautiful country it goes through – especially the stretch through Bagni di Lucca!

PS This is today’s stage – from La Spezia to Abetone:


(Competitors are expected to pass through Bagni di Lucca anytime between 3.30 and 4.30 PM.)