Elysium on Earth

In these lovely spring-time, true-blue, wall-to-wall sunshine days there’s no better place to go than to visit the stupendous display of ‘giunchiglie’ or wild daffodils that grace some of our appenines.

There are two mountains which at this time are filled with vast spreads of these delightful, heavily scented flowers which are also interspersed with several other wild floras. One is Monte Croce which I have described in my post at:

https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/if-there-is-a-heaven-it-is-here/

The other is the Prato Fiorito (literally the flowering meadow) which is the whale-backed mountain overlooking Bagni di Lucca.

Yesterday I could not resist immersing myself in wild daffodils. Taking the road from Bagni di Lucca to Montefegatesi I branched off at the sign to Albereta and reached, via a somewhat bumpy road with hidden culverts, the starting point of my walk to the flowering meadows of Prato Fiorito, which is marked by a crucifix.

I following a fine little footpath.

Soon I reached the intoxicating expanses of the jonquils which, more correctly, should be called by their Latin name ‘Narcissus Poeticus’.  It was a joy to be there and the air was so sweet and the views so clear.

Wordsworth’s famous lines were quite apt  for the flowers were

Continuous as the stars that shine

and twinkle on the Milky Way,

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Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

Again, since these flowers are correctly called in English, ‘poet’s narcissus’, (or sometimes ‘pheasant’s-eye daffodil’) I could take these lines from Keats’ last sonnet which came to mind as my brain and all my feelings became ever more inebriated by the powerful scent of the narcissi spread around me, and embracing my whole being in a variation of the Elysian fields for I seemed, indeed

awake for ever in a sweet unrest, 

and felt, too, that I wanted to

live ever—or else swoon to death.

 

 

 

 

 

Venus’ Harbour

The ‘Cinque Terre’, that dramatic piece of Ligurian coastline which incorporates the little towns of Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, almost desperately clinging onto the rugged coastline to avoid being swallowed by the sea, are easily accessible from Bagni di Lucca and are rightly very popular (sometimes I think too popular) with walkers traversing the footpath connecting the five places.

Porto Venere is actually a sixth town on the list, so the ‘Cinque Terre’ should more correctly be called the ‘Sei Terre’. However, since Porto Venere doesn’t have a railway station and is reachable by bus from La Spezia it’s often left out. This is a great pity for Porto Venere is one of the most beautiful places on earth and it was only this week that I first visited it after ten years of making Italy my principal residence. How strange!

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I arrived at Porto Venere after taking a train from Bagni di Lucca and changing at Aulla for La Spezia, which is worth a day to itself: see my posts on La Spezia at

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/la-spezia-again/

and

https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/a-top-secret-establishment/

I then took the 11P bus to Porto Venere from Viale Garibaldi which is just ten minutes from the station. Parking must be a headache in Porto Venere and the road to it is twisty and often narrow. The greatest hazard, however, is not the road itself but what you can see from it: the views are so spectacular that you could be easily distracted and plunge to your doom over the often steep sides!

The whole public transport journey from Bagni di Lucca to Porto Venere takes a little over two hours if you study your connections well. My return journey took me via Viareggio and Lucca involving a couple of changes but I was glad I didn’t use my own transport.

From ancient Ligurian beginnings Porto Venere became part of the great Genoese maritime republic and shares many of the republic’s characteristics:

Massive fortifications crowned by the Doria fortress:

Narrow alleys called ‘caruggi’:

Beautiful Romanesque zebra-striped church architecture:

San Pietro

San Lorenzo with its miraculous image of the Madonna:

And the most delectable seascapes including the island of Palmaria, separated by the stretch of water known as ‘le bocche’:

Not leaving aside Byron’s favourite haunt, the cove where he would forget his club foot which made him limp embarassingly and swim his disability away in the lovely waters of the bay of poets:

There is something quite magical about visiting normally tourist-infested haunts in mid-winter when there only a few hardy souls about. There may not be many bars, restaurants and souvenir shops open but the freedom from crowds is surely something to be enjoyed.

It’s great that we have these wonderful places, so different from our mountain haunts in their seascapes, at such a close distance from the Val di Lima. What other country, I wonder, has so much variety packed in so small area of territory?

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PS Fellow blogger Debra Kolkka has written extensively on Porto Venere. For example, see her post at https://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/portovenere/

There’s also a pretty good web site for Porto Venere at https://portovenere.a-turist.com/index

 

 

 

 

 

View from a Watch-Tower

Amazingly warm and clear days are still with us in the heart of winter. I checked the long-range weather forecast and it seems that the rough weather will finally reach us in February.

It’s an ideal time for walking as the air is crisp and I took advantage of it to reach the top of Monte Bargiglio where there is an old watch-tower erected by the Republic of Lucca. I’ve described this structure at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/the-eye-of-lucca/ and it’s worth looking at that post as it shows the tower before recent work on it was completed. The views from the tower remain as spectacular as ever but the entry to it has changed considerably and I’m not entirely sure whether it’s for the better.

I appreciate the replacement of the old wooden rails which prevent one from descending into the depth of the steep ravine on one side.

I do miss, however,  the raw reality of the entrance to the old watch-tower where one could take pictures of the surrounding views through the little windows.

Instead, there are now well-graded steps leading up to a purpose-built metal structure which incorporates a staircase and a viewing platform. It’s quite impossible to go down to the interior although certainly the panorama from the platform is splendid.

This wasn’t just my view (sorry!). Shortly after I had arrived a party of three came and pronounced the same judgment. On the other hand, new signage and conservation of this primeval internet communication hub has eased the access to it.

Restoration of any monument involves often highly debatable decisions. How far should one go? The Arthur Evans reconstruction of parts of the palace of Knossos in Crete using inappropriate material such as concrete is definitely passé but will future generations regard the viewing ‘platform at the Bargiglio tower a little over the top?

 

Our Christmas 2016

“Pasqua con chi vuoi ma Natale con i tuoi” is a familiar Italian adage meaning ‘spend Easter with whom you like but spend Christmas with your own.”

Our own are us two, our cats and ducks (and two goldfish to be on the complete side) and that’s the company we spent our Christmas with.

First we opened our presents (which are strictly either utilitarian or chocolaty).

Then Sandra set busy preparing Christmas lunch.

After the hors d’oevre which consisted of home-made bread crostini with salmon and liver pate a la fiorentina:

we plunged into scrumptious oven-baked lasagne:

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This was followed by quails and a variety of vegetables including fennel and mushrooms. Delicious!

We finished off with mince pie and cream.

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After a little festive rest after lunch we went for our traditional Christmas walk with two of our cats Carlotta and Cheeky. (Napoleon is over seventy cat years old so we made an allowance for him).

The evening finished with us watching the Moscow ballet production of the ‘Nutcracker’ as performed at Lucca’s Giglio Theatre (see my post on that at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/nuts-about-ballet-in-lucca/ )

The Christmas period in Italy has been so mild that it hardly seems winter at all – rather a harbinger of spring. I wonder if winter will really make itself felt later on, however…

 

A Perfect Day

What’s the definition of a perfect day?

First, perfect weather like we’ve rarely had it this so late in the year.

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Second, perfect company: people you really feel at your ease with.

Third, a perfect walk to appreciate the beauties our blue planet can offer to the entire cosmos of creation.

Aren’t the winter beeches and silver birches fabulous against that cerulean appenine December sky!

Fourth, perfect food. And, since it was also the feast of the Immaculate Conception, our host wittily quipped it’s also the feast of the immaculate confection.

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The bignole came from a patisserie I’d never suspected of producing such wonders. It’s called Da Pino and it’s located at Calavorno, a place one usually sweeps through in search of more romantic locations. I savoured their chocolate truffles and also their cherry liqueur bomba. Truly it’s a mouth-watering explosion of flavour. Be careful though: the cherry has its pip like all true cherries. So don’t get too stoned eating them…

Finally, a bustling Christmas mercantino di Natale at Fornoli where one meets half of one’s little world of friends.

That’s my definition of a perfect day:

 

 

Hills unfold blue waves:

The sun on my face breaths love:

Contentment of life.

Mighty Senators of the Forest

On my way back from Vagli’s Tibetan bridge (see previous post) I came across one of Italy’s own noblest green-robed senators of mighty woods (to adapt a phrase from Keats’ ‘Hyperion’). This senator was a tiny seedling when the New World was just discovered, and has given hope and nourishment to generations of families in the areas of Roggio, Puglianella and Roccalberti. It still belongs to the descendants of those families. For me it is one of the loveliest living beings upon this earth and something to truly kneel before in awe and adoration. No wonder our ancestors worshipped trees (and some of us still do!) There are many religions and cultures which give praise to these verdant giants thankfully, for without them we would not only be deprived of their fruit and wood but, most importantly, of their life-giving oxygen.

The Bread of Life in our part of the world is not just the Divinity but the Castagno, the chestnut tree, which has supported so much of the population with the flour made from its fruit.  This magnificent tree, a little outside Roggio, is half a thousand years old and is truly an immense power emanating a mystic strength which I felt throughout my whole self as I touched it.

There are many other such colossal beings in your area and perhaps, if you live here, you may have your own favourite Castagno. Just feeling it and putting your arms round it will fill your whole existence with new life and energy because the tree is one of the highest manifestations of life itself.

Here are some of pictures of that ‘Castagno monumentale’ di Roggio taken the other day.It’s 86 feet high and its circumference is 33 feet.

Which reminds me – have you already been to your Castagnata if you live in this part of the world? Yesterday I was at the delightful one at Cascio. If you weren’t there you’ll have to read all about it tomorrow….

A Tibetan Bridge in the Garfagnana

If you live in the Lucchesia you don’t have to go all the way to Tibet to cross a Tibetan bridge. Since the summer this year you only have to go as far as Lake Vagli which is reached on the road leading left from Poggio, north of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.

I love the thrill of highly strung pedestrian suspension bridges and, of course, we have our own in Val di Lima which I’ve described at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/ravioli-and-suspense-in-val-di-lima/ so I was keen to try out the new one at Vagli.

In Tibet suspension bridges are usually made of strong chord and are used to provide a short cut across the many deep valleys of that country divided by such rivers as the Mekong and the Brahmaputra which originate in the Himalayan snows before descending into the plains of India and Indo-China.

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(A bridge in Tibet)

There are already two bridges in the Vagli valley plus the dam that was built shortly after the last war to provide hydro-electric power and drinking water for Pisa and Livorno by blocking the river and forming a large lake which effectively encircles Vagli di Sotto. Vagli’s mayor thought it would be a good idea to add a third bridge to carry across a mountain trail and provide an added frisson for ramblers in the area.

(Vagli Dam dating from 1947)

It was an idea which brought over two million visitors to the area in summer. Such was the demand to see and cross the bridge that crossing it had to be restricted to visitors just for the week-end. So it was a bit of a disappointment when I reached the bridge on a Thursday and found the gate to the lakeside path leading to the ‘ponte Tibetano’ closed.

Fortunately, I had two allies in my side. First, the lake of Vagli was practically dry. Because of the lack of summer rainfall most of the inhabitants of Pisa and Livorno had drunk its contents! In theory it would have been possible for me to get down towards the lake bottom and thus circumvent the fence. Then I met two kindly officials who said that since I’d come all this way to cross the bridge I could, with their approval, carry out my plan.

The scene before me was totally spectacular – one of the most astonishing days I’ve passed for a long time. The almost emptied lake was breath-taking with its grey, lunar-like, landscape and I could make out some of the old buildings and roads and bridges which would have led to the now submerged village of Fabbriche di Careggine. The lake had last been emptied for maintenance in 1994 – a sight I’d experienced (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/the-exquisite-alpeggio-of-campocatino/ on that supernal experience). There were promises that the lake would be emptied this year but because of the water shortage the importance of having some sort of reservoir was essential.

Reaching the bridge I approached a monument park and was particularly moved to see that the wonderful dog Diesel, killed by islamists terrorists last year, was commemorated by a marble statue to him with the words ‘honour and respect’ inscribed on it. To read more about Diesel and other heroic dogs (and cats) see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/of-simon-the-cat/.

The bridge, itself is a political statement for it honours the naval squadron of which the two Italian Marò (marine fusiliers) so wrongly accused of the murder of two Keralan fishermen in 2012 and who are still undergoing the almost unbearable stress of a legal case (I know I’ve been through one in my own minor way).

Crossing the bridge was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Quite alone, hundreds of feet above an almost dried-up lake I crossed to the other side witnessing the most wonderful views of the Apuan Mountains around me.

I returned to Vagli without missing the ancient mystique of the Romanesque church of Saint Augustine.

Vagli di sotto is itself a charming, quiet place with a beautiful marble and stone striped parish church and silent alleyways whose main inhabitants seemed to be a variety of cats.

Vagli di Sotto’s Tibetan bridge is less dippy than the one in Val di Lima and its foot-walk is made up of wooden slabs rather than reticulated steel plates so it’s quite possible to take a dog across it provided, of course, that the owner doesn’t suffer from vertigo!

If you go there aim for a week-end and don’t expect to see the lake as dry as I found it. Within twenty days I was told it’ll be full again.

(A Beleagured Mermaid – where has my lake gone?)

Which reminds me – we have no water to our house today unless we go down to the stream!