Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

23 September 2009

At Bagni di Lucca

Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany’s middle Serchio valley, moulded by the confining, forested hills either side of the Lima River is a town of gracious villas, spas, hotels and slab sided houses three or four storeys high whose walls plunge like pastel cliffs to the stony river bed.

‘The Baths of Lucca’ where mineral-rich hot springs well out of the rock, have been used for therapy and luxury since Roman times. Emperor Frederick I praised the town in 1245, I guess he wallowed in one of the pools for the gout or poxy pustules that had been wished upon him by Pope Gregory IX to go with his excommunication. He must have been a bit of a lad, Fred, because he not only became Emperor of the Germans at age two, and King of Sicily at three, he also managed, in his fifty-six years (during which he earned the title ‘Stupor Mundi’ - Wonder of the World) to get himself crowned King of Jerusalem and throw all Italy into turmoil when he made war on a couple of popes. He lost, and his family, the Hohenstaufens, went into an irretrievable decline.

When Fred took the waters in the thirteenth century the road up the Serchio Valley was probably just a mule track so I guess the hot pools were mostly used by the locals; but Napoleon’s sister, who also liked a wallow, had a decent road made from Lucca in 1805 and started the town’s tourist boom.

In a shaft of sunlight that illuminates the soup plate leaves of the plane trees we see four young nuns walking briskly, in step, two by two, jolly, waving their arms in conversation like something out of ‘The Sound of Music’. You don’t see nuns much these days, let alone young ones. They look beautiful; pink, virginal faces trapped in black and white frames. I wish I could stop the car and photograph them - but I’d never ask, I’d make a terrible paparrazzo!

There’s always a key shot to illustrate an article; as Bagni di Lucca is a river town it’s a view upstream from the main traffic bridge, Ponte di Castruccio. Nearby there’s a café, where Pat says she’ll be happy to sit under a sun umbrella and drink cappuccino while I go over to the bridge and set up the camera and tripod. Just as I frame the picture the sun shuts off so I have to wait. I hear a warbly whistling and looking below and to one side I see on the balcony of one of the houses an ugly looking fellow with a wall eye and tattoos trying to attract my attention. Behind him an old, black-clad woman sits in a rocking chair, her eyes closed like a basking cat. Whistler’s mother.

He shouts to me but I can’t hear him for the noise of traffic over the bridge. I shout back ‘No parlo bene, Italiano. Sono da la Nuova Zelande’ but he goes on chattering away, mostly inaudibly, and making gestures, then he asks me if I’m German.

‘No. No No. Nuova Zelande.’
‘Nuova Zelande. New Zealand!’
‘Si, Australiano.’ That’ll do, thank God for Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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