Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

24 September 2009

Bagni di Lucca: A Place of Torture

No. 2 Via Della Chiesa is an unusual four-storeyed triangular building in Bagni di Lucca. The façade at the sharpest point of its triangle is comprised of three wedding cake tiers of pompous Corinthian columns topped by an open, eagle’s nest balcony adorned with plant pots of scarlet and pink geraniums. Once washed a mustard orange-yellow it’s now peeling with neglect and is filthy from diesel fumes. Two grimy marble plaques are inset into its walls. The first, installed in September 1974, commemorates the imprisonment and torture here of patriots by ‘Nazi Fascists’ during the second world war. One comes up short imagining the screams that would once have emanated from the shuttered basement windows…

Pause for reflection

I am intrigued by the words ‘Nazi Fascists’. European union demands that old enmities be set aside and that those who were once oppressed by Germany should avoid direct criticism of the German people. So, on war memorials, ‘Nazi’ is the politically correct word that describes the oppressors, neatly avoiding giving offence while leaving older Germans to decide whether or not any blame attaches to them for past atrocities. I first came across this form of tombstone diplomacy at Echternach, a small border town in Luxembourg, separated from Germany by a narrow river. German tanks had rolled across Echternach’s mediaeval stone bridge to invade Luxembourg early in the war and the town’s subsequent liberation ‘from the Nazi invaders’ by American forces in 1945 is recorded on a memorial plaque in the town. Clearly the Italians as well as the Luxembourgeois have taken the polite route when it comes to memorial texts.

… the second tablet records that in this building lived ‘Ouida’, Louise de la Ramée, ‘scrittrice Inglesi amante del’ Italia, amica degli animali qui dimoro negli anni 1904-1905’ which, I think, means that she was an English writer, lover of Italy and friend to animals.

Marie Louise de la Ramée was known as ‘Ouida’ because that was how she pronounced ‘Louise’ when she was a child. She wrote forty-five novels and was sixty-six when she died in 1908. I wonder what life was like here for those English litterati some of whom finished up in the neglected English cemetery up the road? I think the Italians took them to their hearts - otherwise why would they record ‘Ouida’s’ stay in their town with as much prominence as the torture of patriots by the ‘Nazi Fascists’?

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