It’s Pinocchio Time Again..

We were glad we attended Bagni Di Lucca’s Pinocchio celebrations on Saturday for this event, organized by the master mind of Marco Nicoli, had to be cancelled on Sunday because of the uncertain weather. This morning the first rain we’ve had for weeks continues unrelentingly.

Anyway, Saturday was full of enjoyable happenings.


The intensely colourful paintings by Eva Alessandra Lombardi in the town hall foyer vividly illustrated key episodes in the world-famous children’s book authored by Carlo Collodi. Buildings from the town featured in the exhibition, the casino and Villa Ada among them. This was most appropriate since the land of games, toys and pleasure, ‘il paese dei balocchi’, as described by Collodi, was inspired by the former reputation of Bagni Di Lucca as the playground of Europe, with its spa and casino.


The stalls sold a wide variety of handicrafts:


There was an abundance of activities to delight children at heart of all ages.


I was happy to see the return of the colombina, the traditional Bagni bun in the shape of a stylised dove, baked by the Tana del Ghiro restaurant.


The puppetter was especially good and held his audience in thrall with an Italian transformation of the English Punch and Judy show with the crocodile transformed into that equally ferocious giant shark.


It was indeed a pity that this highly attractive festival could not continue into the following day as originally planned. However, Autumn is now truly with us: temperatures have dropped, the mountains are shrouded in mists and further thunderstorms are on their way. After all, September 23rd is the day of the solstice when days will start becoming shorter than nights…

First-Rate Second-Hand

The second-hand market, or ‘mercatino dell’usato’, is thriving in the Lucchesia with several outlets in the area.

Two of my favourites are ‘Mercatopoli’ in the Arancio area of Lucca. Their website is quite well organised with a list of items on sale and can be found at:

The other is the ‘mercatino dell’usato’ which can be found near the straight stretch of road leading into the city from Bagni Di Lucca. Its web site is not so brilliant and is at:

It’s best just to turn up and see what wonders are found in this veritable Aladdin’s cave. Here is a random selection of things we chanced upon yesterday stored in the cavernous holds of this ex-factory:



As can be seen there’s everything to be found here and most of it is adequately organized (apart from the clothes section which is a dismal jumble – although my wife managed to find a couple of attractive items.)

The mercatino (little market) is really a mercatone (big market) and one could happily spend some hours bargain-hunting in it. I was particularly drawn to the outside salvage section with garden furniture and various house fittings.

Italy does not have  a panoply of charity shops such as can be found in the UK but it more than makes up for this with its mercatini. These bric-a-brac depositories can also be useful if one is moving, down-sizing or just getting rid of superfluous clutter: one takes one’s stuff to the mercatino and agrees a selling price. The shop adds its own commission and the longer the item remains unsold the lower its price becomes.

I try to de-clutter from time to time and the mercatini certainly do help!

A New Start for my PC

Over six years ago I wrote this post about Fornoli’s computer shop run by Maurizio Canelli.

I stated that I was very happy with the service provided by the shop.
I have continued to remain very satisfied since that time. After all, if one is a blogger a reliable computer is a must!

In the past months my computer (an Asus laptop) became painfully slow and I thought I might have to invest in a new machine with all the trouble of having to transfer settings and data from the old to the new. Maurizio, however, suggested otherwise. He proposed the following improvements to my existing laptop:

1. Updating from Windows Seven operating system to Windows Ten, especially as this September Windows Seven would no longer be supported and, therefore, no longer safe from virus attacks.
2. Replacing the existing internal disc drive with a solid state one which would make operations so much faster.
3. Having the old disc drive placed in a separate box and used as an external one, useful for backup purposes.
4. General maintenance and cleaning of the keyboard to ensure smooth response.

I took my laptop to Maurizio ‘s shop PC start last week and collected it a couple of days later.


The difference in response was startling; it seemed as if I had bought the latest machine: every operation took a fraction of the time it used to take. Moreover, Windows Ten was a very amenable OS – quite unlike some of the ghastly systems Microsoft has produced in the past. The price was astonishingly reasonable: certainly a lot less than it would have cost me to purchase a new laptop.

So I have no hesitation in recommending Maurizio Canelli’s expertise to anyone who has a computer in poor health and needs some advice on what cure to effect. Whether it’s upgrading, as in my case, or buying a new machine, Maurizio is the man.


Not forgetting, of course, that the shop also supplies all those essential items like printer cartridges, paper, speakers, routers, etc. which are part and parcel of running a computer.

Maurizio has a web site at:

and a Facebook page at:

with full details about opening times, facilities available and special offers and discounts including the Mammalucco Fornoli traders discount card and the cashback world scheme.

Main details:


V. Papa Giovanni Xxiii – Fornoli, 27
55021 Bagni Di Lucca
Tel.: (+39) 058386484)

(Meanwhile, last Friday at Marina di Pisa).


Liberating Lucca

September is the most important month for Lucca; the ‘Luminara’, the great religious procession of the Holy Face commemorates the crucifix, traditionally supposed to have been carved by Nicodemus and bearing Christ’s features. This year the candles adorning the city’s streets were substituted by LEDs to some disappointment. However, attendance and the spectacular fireworks finale were as good as ever. To know more about the Luminara do read my post at:

The other important event commemorated in September is the liberation of the city of Lucca from fascist-nazi oppression. On the fifth of the month Allied forces entered inside the walls of Lucca and, last Sunday, we were privileged to meet one of the soldiers who was a member of the army freeing the city seventy five years ago.

Ivan J. Houston has written about his experiences in “Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of WWII,” the Second World War’s first Black combat team under the 92nd Infantry. He says of the Lucchesi:

“These were white Italians and we were black Americans, but they made us feel like heroes. We were never treated like that in our own country where we were still second class citizens.”

Ivan was amazed to find that the holiest image of Lucca, the Holy Face, has a black complexion.

We met up at San Giusto di Brancoli and were taken round the fortifications of the German defensive Gothic line. We visited bunkers, tunnels and look-out posts around Monte Pittone.
Ivan Houston’s division arrived in the area of ​​Morianese and Brancoleria on 15 September 1944. The Allies found strong resistance from the Nazis at the entrance to the Serchio valley in the bottleneck created between Monte Pittone and Piaggione, Monte Castellaccio in Aquilea and the Monte dell’Elto in Domazzano, in front of defenses from which the enemy could cross-fire and control all forces entering the valley. These clashes continued until September 19, 1944 when the Allies managed to break through the enemy lines and conquer these strategically placed hills, helping to free Bagni di Lucca.


We returned to San Giusto just in time to welcome Ivan Houston.


We joined the procession to the church where a most moving ceremony took place honouring Houston and remembering all who died in the campaign to free this part of Italy. We were so glad to meet the youthful 95 year old veteran who has since become an icon for afro-americans wishings to progress in the world of business.


The buffet lunch was up to the high standard expected in Italy.


We visited the interesting collection of uniforms, armaments, military equipment and photographs housed in the newly opened museum.


The day was truly memorable and we are thankful we were able to be present in the company of a soldier who fought that we might be free today.

Spectacular Environmental Art at Villa Celle

Villa Celle and its grounds contain a gloriously varied display of environmental art – art which is inspired by its surroundings whether by acceptance or rejection. Of course, it might be stated that all art is environmental: those Madonne lining the walls of a gallery once formed the centre of an altarpiece and many statues, in particular, were designed for a grand landscape scene.

For me environmental art also has a ritual dimension; as Stonehenge is both a ritual centre and a supreme sculptural statement, so the Angel of the North transforms itself from an artistic creation into a ritual declaration.

Villa Celle dates back to the 15th century and is located in Santomato, near Pistoia.  Starting in the sixties Giuliano Gori, a dynamic entrepreneur from Prato, began to build a rich collection of contemporary art.

Dissatisfied with the traditional way in which works of art are exhibited, and inspired by the museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona and the Venice Biennale, Gori thought about the possibility of creating works of environmental art in the vast area of the villa’s romantic park and transformed it into a laboratory open to artists wishing to create works influenced by nature’s spaces and rhythms.

Gori’s Villa Celle has been described as one of the most evocative collections of contemporary art in Italy and I concur with that statement. The collection is private and is  open only by invitation: (see web site at ). We were privileged to visit it the other day in the company of friends.

The curator led us on a wonderful voyage of discovery through the varied landscapes of the villa’s grounds. The trek, lasting close to four hours, took us through bosky woods, olive groves, wide lawns, dark ravines and past shimmering stretches of water. Round each corner artistic creations sprang up to delight, amaze, bemuse or puzzle us.

Here are some of the installations we saw.

Magdalena’s Abakanowicz’s ‘Katarsis’ (1985):


Daniel Buren’s ‘La cabane éclatée aux 4 salles’ (2005):


Fabrizio Corneli’s ‘Great Extruded’ (1987):


Fusto Melotti’s ‘Theme and variations II’ (1981):


Hidetoshi Nagasawa’s ‘Hyperuranium’ (1996):


Marco Tirelli’s ‘Excelle’ (2009):


Anne and Patrick Poirier’s ‘La Morte de Efialte'(1982):


Robert Morris’ ‘Labyrinth’ (1982):



Robert Morris’ ‘The fallen and the saved’ (2000):



Here are further views of the panoply of environmental art and features in Gori’s estate:




The Villa Celle’s collection is certainly enjoyable and it makes a pleasant change to combine a country walk with an art gallery at the same time!




What’s On in and around Bagni di Lucca for the Remainer of September


The Lucchesia’s late summer is beautifully warm during the day and refreshingly cool in the early mornings and evenings. It’s truly a great time to enjoy oneself before autumn warns of the coming winter season.

There are many events to look forwards to for the remainder of September in the Bagni di Lucca area. Here are some of the main ones:

13th to 15th Sept.

Bagni di Lucca library. International congress on well-being and places and literature connected with health.

15th Sept.

Brancoli. Gothic Line. Arrival of WWII veteran and visit to the fortifications.


21st and 22nd Sept

Paese dei balocchi. Toyland returns to town at Villa.

23rd Sept to 3rd Oct.

Circolo dei Forestieri. Exhibition commemorating 75th anniversary of liberation from the Nazis in Bagni di Lucca.

27th Sept

Piazza Jean Varraud. Vintage car show starting at 12.30 pm-

29th September

Second-hand, craft and bric-a-brac market at Villa.

Montefegatesi. Grape festival.





Queen Victoria’s Secret

Queen Victoria first visited Italy as a ten-year old. Over fifty years passed before she returned to a beloved country. In the meanwhile Victoria’d been crowned Queen and Empress of India, been married to and widowed by Albert and spent several of her holidays in that part of Germany where her Prince consort was born.

The Queen was guest of John Temple-Leader when she visited Florence and where she was joyously welcomed by the locals. Temple-Leader had a vast estate around Maiano which included the castle of Vincigliata’ which he rebuilt, and the quarries where stone used in the great renaissance sculptures was mined. Victoria visited a lake formed by the stone excavations and was so enchanted that she decided to sketch it, an event featured in the Illustrated London News of the time.


The fattoria (farm) di Maiano exists to this day and is open to the public. Its picturesque walks take in belvederes, garden pavilions, romantic woodlands, silvery olive groves, the quarry lake and animal (including ostrich) paddocks. The fattoria is also a delightful venue for agriturismo stays, has a farm shop and is often used as a wedding venue.


It was truly lovely to appreciate this part of Florence ‘s hinterland bathed in the rosy hues of a late summer sunset.

The Last Princess Demidoff

My name is Maria and this is my grave where I was buried in 1955, the last Demidoff princess.


That name may be familiar to you, especially if you know Bagni Di Lucca where, in 1825, my grandfather, Prince Nicholas, built a hospital for the poor who had come there in search of a cure from the healing thermal waters. The hospital, with its miniature pantheon of a chapel, is still there and now used by the global village.

My family made their fortune from iron and steel. The first Demidoff, Demid Antuf’ev, was a smith from Tula in Russia and invented a gun which was adopted by Tzar Peter the Great for his army and used successfully to ward off a Swedish invasion of Russia. (Tsar Peter’s visit to Woolwich dockyard in London, where he learned how to build effective fighting vessels, also came in useful).

By the nineteenth century our family had become the second richest in Russia after that of the Tsar. If anyone today thinks we simply exploited our country’s serf to build our wealth they are wrong. My forebears did much for health and education in my country, founding several schools and hospitals and giving grants to Moscow university. In addition Prince Nicholas was appointed ambassador to the grand duchy of Tuscany and that’s how my Italian connection began.

My husband, Simon Amabalek Lazarev, became a noted archaeologist but tragically was killed in 1917 in the October revolution, leaving me a childless widow for the remainder of my life.

Our wonderful palace in Florence’s Novoli quarter was badly damaged in the last war and had to wait until 2012 to be restored and converted into flats. Meanwhile, I needed to find a new home and found it in the park of the former Medicean villa at Pratolino.

Of the score of country retreats built by the Great Medici dynasty of Florence Pratolino was the grandest. It was surrounded by formal gardens built along a central axis on which were placed the huge colossus of the Appennines by Giambologna:

The fountain of Jupiter:

And the statue of the river Mugnone.

Francesco Medici, a curious and scholarly person, (rather like my poor Simon), adorned the villa’s parkland with a thousand wonders all centred around the theme of flowing waters. There were fountains which formed watery pergolas, water flowed over the colossus, there was a sequence of ponds which were used as shrimp nurseries, a lake of lilies and, underneath the villa itself, a maze of decorated grottoes and hydraulically powered automatons.


Alas, it was this miraculous water that proved the undoing of the most beautiful of all the Medici villas. In 1821 the building was dynamited as it was decided by the dynasty succeeding the Medici, the House of Lorraine, that the damage caused to the foundations by the water flowing through them was too expensive to repair. The rubble was used to fill in the prawn ponds and the original formal park layout converted into a landscape English garden more in keeping with the new romanticism and certainly easier to maintain.

It was in 1872 that my family bought what was left of this park of wonders. They converted the service buildings into their summer villa and added a stately salon.


This is where I spent the last stage of my life. Every afternoon I would be driven round my estate to make sure that everything was in order. If I came across children from the adjoining village I would distribute candies to them and It was behind the chapel, built by Buontalenti in the sixteenth century and one of the features still remaining from the original park layout, that I requested to be buried.


I am happy that people still remember me, for every year, on my birthday, the priest and choir from Florence’s Russian orthodox church come to my tomb to pray and sing for me.

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A Commemoration of a Great Lady

In 2012 Bagni Di Lucca held a poetry competition on the subject, (appropriately for a spa town) of healing waters. The organiser was Carla Guidi and the president of the judging panel was Valeria Catelli. I sent in two entries and found that each poem had been given a prize. Valeria’s reasons for the awards was very sensitively analysed. As is often the case, the critic reveals unsuspected details in a creator’s work.

For over ten years I have contributed, as part of the teaching staff, to the Bagni Di Lucca branch of the University of the Third Age. When Fabio Lucchesi retired as the branch’s director Valeria Catelli succeeded to the post.

Quite unexpectedly Valeria sadly died last year. In her memory a newly restored gravestone in Bagni Di Lucca’s historic protestant cemetery was dedicated to Valeria last Sunday.

The ‘cimitero inglese ‘ was looking at its best in the late summer sunshine.

The ceremony was followed by a quartet and vocal recital in the town’s library, the former Anglican church.

This was the programme:

The quartet played with passionate elan. I was particularly taken by the Boccherini piece which was intensely dark-hued.

The afternoon was, I felt, a fitting tribute to an exceptionally fine teacher, a great contributor to our town’s cultural milieu and a lady I have been very privileged to work with.


Jeeps, Jags and Joy at Fornoli

The late summer vintage car gathering in Fornoli, combined with a crafts market, is one event that I truly look forward to. It’s now in its second year.


There is nostalgia for a time when traffic jams were occasional, when children could sit between their parents on one continuous front seat, when seat belts were unknown, when the AA man on his motorcycle and sidecar saluted you as you drove past him, when gears were changed in the steering column, when dickey seats opened up out the rear boot….ah I could go on.

One car at the event which sums up quite a few of these images was the Triumph Roadster 1800 dating from 1946 and appearing  in the TV series ‘Bergerac’. Designed for the US market, (hence its name – a roadster is what Americans call a two-seater sports car) the car, a remodelling of the firm’s pre-war Dolomite, has a largely aluminium body because of post-war steel shortages and is the last to feature dickey seats. Performance isn’t exactly its best feature (it can barely touch 80 mph) but its appearance remains quite impressive. Only around two thousand came off the assembly lines and Italy has three of them.

Here is a selection of other vintage vehicles at Fornoli last Sunday for lovers of older cars to spot. Note the Citroen DS (pronounced Deese i.e. Goddess in French) with its pioneering hydropneumatic suspension, disc brakes and futuristic looks, the Alfas, the Fiat 1100s, 600s and 500s (we still miss ours, crunched up in 2017), the MGs, the Jaguar, Jeep and other delightful and elegant specimens when cars were still being designed and assembled by humans rather than computers.

At the end of the morning the stirring rumble of vintage engines filled the air as the procession of cars set off for their proud owners’ lunch. What devotion has gone into making these cars look still wonderfully young while we….