Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 August 2009

They Still Ring Church Bells In Italy

They still ring church bells in Italy; their changes float from belfries up and down the Serchio Valley. I try to rest in the sun in Chiesetta’s soothing garden. I read a little but then remember the raspberry bushes that grow on one of the terraces at the far end of the garden. They are loaded with fruit, fat, pubescent, pink and subtly flavoured. They’re ready to come off the canes but the first one I pull sets off a convulsive rustling in the bush. I jump back wary of a viper but it was probably one of the lizards that wriggle in the garden. The raspberries are morish and abundant; I make a pig of myself.

Later, some of us go to Castelvecchio Pascoli, a hamlet north of Barga, to inspect the house of Giovanni Pascoli a poet of renown. He lived with his sister, Maria, at Casa Pascoli from 1895 until he died in 1912 (they’re both buried here) during which he wrote much of his most important work. The house is now a museum very much as he left it. 

Three old ladies in black, ravens sunning themselves on a bench in the gravel forecourt, point to a concealed bell-push. The door is opened by a lugubrious, overweight, uniformed, pasty-faced ‘guard’ who admits us, charges us ten Euros each, insists that I leave my camera bag in his cubby hole (but I’m allowed the camera and tripod) and then gives us a conducted tour around gloomy, mouldy smelling rooms with high, frescoed ceilings. There are six thousand books and carefully indexed archives. Pascoli obviously rates in Italian literature but one suspects that he is given additional status to enhance tourist income. In one of the rooms are his desk with his quill pens and other objects in situ. The walls are covered with photographs, drawings and paintings: Pascoli and family, prominenti - including Garibaldi with Pascoli - and local scenes.

Apart from a sunny, collonaded balcony on the first floor, from which we can see Barga, the gardens of the house, and the river valley, I find it cold and uninspiring; I wonder what his poetry was like? Indeed, I wonder what was his relationship with his sister for there’s a hint of illicit propinquity about their connecting bedrooms…
From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy’


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By Don Donovan