Monday, May 28, 2018

Lucca's fascinating past is reenacted by various colorful, spectacular events

This entry is written by guest columnist and Lucca native Elena Benvenuti of Discover Lucca with Elena.

Lucca periodically relives its storied past with colorful celebrations of historical eras and events, most of them relative to the Middle Ages. These events make the city’s history come alive and provide great entertainment and amusement for citizens and tourists.

The most important celebration takes place September 13, the Luminara di Santa Croce. This famous festival is a devotional procession in which the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix, is carried in a colourful yet solemn parade that starts from the Church of San Frediano and ends at the Cathedral of San Martino. The route follows the historical “miraculous path” of the Volto Santo, a relic precious to Lucca.

The celebration starts at 8 p.m., with praying people marching in medieval costumes along with parish priests and warriers with crossbows, bow and arrows and other traditional weapons. All participants carry a candle or lamp and create a parade of lights, while all the buildings along the procession route are illuminated or decorated with tiny glasses containing lit candles. Also included in the long parade are instrumental bands and choirs, the latter singing variations of a hymn called Lodi to the SS. Cross, Praise to the Most Holy Cross.

Lucca hosts other parades in costumes and lights besides Santa Croce. The Luminaria di San Paolino, named to honor the first bishop of Lucca, is held July 11. This Luminara consists of many events, including a parade lighted by torches and candles, historical costumes worn by members of the “Gruppo di San Paolino,” the firing of cannons, and religious ceremonies to honor the patron saint of Lucca.

The Association Contrade San Paolino (ACSP) with its crossbows, tambourines and actors was founded in Lucca in 1991. The members’ deep passion for the history of Lucca led them to recall and relive the origins and history of the independent city town during the medieval period. The balestrieri (crossbowmen) march in parades during the whole week leading up to the festival.

Lucca has a long tradition with the balestrieri. Written testimony about the crossbow appeared as early as 1169, when the Republic of Lucca asked for help from the friendly Republic of Genoa, and the latter sent a company of balestrieri to defend Lucca from incessant attacks from the Republic of Pisa.

A selected group of crossbowmen was then created, and the balestrieri became a highly honoured profession, entrusted with the protection of the city. The “capitano del popolo,” Castruccio Castracani, who led the town between 1316 and his death 1328, established prizes to encourage the use of the crossbow. Regular competitions were organized to train the balestrieri during periods of peace.

The next appointment with the Association Contrade di San Paolino is coming very soon: The weekend of June 2-3 the public can witness the dramatic work of six different reenactment associations in Piazzale Verdi. Medieval villages will display equipment such as armor, helmets, swords and crossbows. In addition, live performances will be conducted demonstrating the particular skills of fire manipulation, falconry, drum parades, flag throwing, stilt-walking, juggling, dancing and medieval combat. An important and thrilling crossbow competition will take place on Sunday. If you want to enjoy this incredible experience, you can also read more about it at the website for the Contrade di San Paolino:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beware those deadly (and sometimes humorous) false linguistic friends

Banashree Das art
As I work on making travel reservations for a coming trip to Italy, I’m reminded of a verbal blunder I once made while corresponding with the proprietor of a bed and breakfast. After agreeing on the dates and cost, I asked how I could send the deposit. I didn’t know the word for deposit and didn’t want to take the time to look it up, so I just called it the depositobecause I was pretty sure I had heard that word before in my travels. True, I had heard the word, but it is not used the same way in Italy. It means warehouse or storeroom. The word I needed was quite different, which I soon discovered when the proprietor wrote back with instructions on how to make the caparrawith no mention of my gaff. Probably he had probably heard it from other foreigners before.

Such words are called amici falsi, or false friends, because they fool you into thinking you know what they mean, but they actually mean something else. Here are just a few other examples of false Italian friends:
Sensibile means sensitive, not sensible
Fame means hunger, not fame
Largo means wide, not large
Fattoria means farm, not factory
Noioso means boring, not noisy
Parenti means relatives, not parents
Preservativi means condoms, not food preservatives

Many, many times the Italian and English words truly are similar, which makes Italian easier to learn than other languages, but one can’t take anything for granted. I have seen and heard some funny stories about false friends and other language blunders that are worth relating.

Of course, the problems go both ways. I once saw a sign in Italian about how a museum was being remodeled and thus was temporarily closed. The explanation ended with “Ci dispiace per il disagio.” Agio means ease or leisure, and disagio means inconvenience, which could be translated more literally to mean a lack of ease. The sign included a complete translation below into English, and it ended with “We apologize for the disease.”

Almost every English speaker learning Italian can provide ready examples of awkward misstatements they’ve made. Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua, recounts: I’ve learned a lot of Italian from slips of the tongue. Once we were on a boat sailing to Sardinia and my husband and I invited the two co-captains to join us for dinner in port. They worried about interfering with a romantic dinner, but I assured them that after so many years of marriage I feared my husband was getting bored. Except I said boring. It made for an interesting three days at sea!”

My wife once wanted to tell our hostess how much she had enjoyed a remarkable home-cooked dinner. Lucy hoped to say, “You are amazing” in Italian, and the first two words proved to be no problem—but not the word amazing; it turns out there is not an similarly equivalent word in Italian. Still Lucy had heard something that sounded like it, so she went ahead and said, “Tu sei ammazzata!” When the host looked confused, I quickly chimed in, “Vuol dire, tu sei fantastica.” That is, “She wants to say you are fantastic.” Ammazzare means to kill, so what Lucy had actually told the hostess is “You are killed.”

An entire article could also be written about the many, many words in Italy that have ordinary meanings but also are earthy sexual innuendos. For example, scopare means “to sweep,” but it’s also crude slang for “to have sex.” But we’ll leave the numerous other examples of this genre for some other day—or even better, some other author.

My favorite story comes from my friends Steve and Patti Gray. It involves a British missionary lady who was ordering some work done on her kitchen while she returned on leave to England. She had laid out the plans just fine, until she told the Italian carpenters that she wanted them to purchase and install a cabinet, which she referred to as a cabineto, right here. “Qui?” they asked incredulously. “You want it here? But why?”

“Because that where I want it,” she said. “It’s the most convenient place.”

They continued to question her, but she was insistent: “Mettete il cabineto qui.”

And so they did. There is no such word as cabineto in Italian, so they did what they thought she wanted. When she returned, she found a gabinetto, a toilet, installed in her kitchen.
🔺 🔺 🔺

American confetti
This more extensive list is provided courtesy of author and blogger Michelle Fabio:
Attualmente: Currently, NOT actually (in realtà)
Italian confetti
Camera: Room, NOT camera (la macchina fotografica)
Cocomero: Watermelon, NOT cucumber (cetriolo)
Comprensivo: Understanding, NOT comprehensive (completo)

Confetti: Sugared almond, NOT confetti (coriandoli)
Confrontare: To compare, NOT to confront
Crudo: Raw, NOT crude (volgare)
Educato: Polite, NOT educated (istruito or colto)
Educazione: Good manners, NOT education (istruzione)
Eventuale: Any, NOT eventual (finale)
Fabbrica: Factory, NOT fabric (tessuto)
Fastidio: Annoyance, NOT fastidious (pignolo)
Fattoria: Farm, NOT factory (fabbrica)
Firma: Signature, NOT firm, as in company (azienda) or firm, as in a mattress (rigido)
Gentile: Nice, NOT gentle (dolce or leggero)
Intendere: To understand, NOT to intend
Libreria: Bookstore, NOT library (biblioteca)
Magazzino: Warehouse, NOT magazine (rivista)
Morbido: Soft, NOT morbid (morboso)
Noioso: Boring, NOT noisy (rumoroso)
Parente: Relative, NOT parent (genitore, madre, padre)
Patente: License, NOT patent (richiesta di brevetto)
Peperoni: Peppers, NOT pepperoni, the spicy sausage (salame piccante)
Preservativo: Condom, NOT preservative (conservante)
Pretendere: To expect, NOT to pretend (fare finta)
Rumore: Noise, NOT rumor (voce)
Sensibile: Sensitive, NOT sensible (ragionevole)
Simpatico: Nice, NOT sympathetic (comprensivo)

Stravagante: Eccentric, NOT extravagant (sprecone)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

On American Soil tells previously untold story of Italian prisoners of war and the lives of black soldiers

Most of us know about the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and many also know that Italian Americans were under suspicion and suffered hardships as well at the hands of our government. Few, however, know that Italian prisoners of war were detained in prison camps in the Northwest—and that at one of these camps, an Italian prisoner of war was found hanged on the beach of a U.S. Army base in Fort Lawton, near Seattle, after a riot by African American army troops.

The trial that followed was the Army’s longest during World War II. The lead prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, who later led the Watergate investigation. The complete story of this encounter is told by local author Jack Hamann—TV correspondent and documentary producer—in his book On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II. Hamann asserts that much of what was reported about the incident at the time was inaccurate, and the court-martial ended in a miscarriage of justice.

The Italians were captured in North Africa and dispersed to various Allied countries for the duration of the war. Those who weren’t Fascists were eventually put to work in noncombatant duties to help free up American soldiers to participate more directly in the war efforts overseas. This was done only after Italy surrendered, and thus the captured soldiers were no longer considered enemies. As American GIs worked alongside them, resentments grew over what was perceived as coddling. Both white and black soldiers were irritated, but white soldiers egged on black soldiers until a riot broke out because of underlying tensions. A black soldier, in a drunken state, cursed a group of Italians, and one of whom struck back and knocked out the black soldier. The black troops, trained to seek revenge for any assault on their brethren, unleashed a violent assault on the Italians in their nearby compound. Besides the Italian prisoner who was killed, dozens of others were seriously injured by the time the MPs came upon the scene to break it up.

The justice dished out was self-serving for JAG attorney Jaworsky, who prosecuted the case with an eye to advancement of his own career. He was determined to get convictions, as was the Pentagon and the White House, given that Italy was now an ally, and the murder cast America in a bad light. Jaworsky found the initial investigation shockingly inadequate, but he compounded the injustice by withholding evidence from the defense. The lives of more than 40 men were ruined by the miscarriage of justice, many being sentenced to hard labor and dishonorably discharged from the service. The murder was never really solved, so the best and brightest of the black soldiers were charged with the crime, it being assumed that they were the ones leading the charge. The author brilliantly brings this story to light after discovering long classified material.

On American Soil sheds light on two underpublicized aspects of the war. First, Hamann brings attention to the fact that 50,000 Italian prisoners were interned in the United States, with Americans displaying a mixed attitude towards them. Many Italian Americans visited the POW facilities, hoping to find relatives or information about relatives in Italy, and some even ending up marrying the POWs. Other Americans resented the fact that the Italian POWs were treated so well and allowed to visit and dine off base. Second, Hamann publicizes the fact that even as late as 1944, African Americans in the military were kept in segregated facilities and allowed to work only in menial jobs in the service—loading and unloading ships and supplies. When these two aspects collided, murder and mayhem resulted. Anyone interested in either of these two aspects of WWII will find this book invaluable.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

One of worst slaughters of civilians in World War 2 depicted with realism in 2010 film "L'uomo che Verrà"

The film L'uomo che Verrà (The Man Who Will Come) makes no sense. Who lives and dies has nothing to do with fairness, justice, compassion, humanity. Yet it is utterly and ruthlessly real. If it lacks sense, that’s only because the slaughters of Italian civilians at the hands of the German army and secret service can hardly be explained with any sense of logic.

Peasant women making bread together.
I’ve read about the mass killings at Sant’Anna di Stazzema (560 killed August 12, 1944) and the Padule di Fucecchio (175 killed August 23, 1944), both of which occurred in Tuscany, near the birthplace of my grandparents. But the Strage di Marzabotto, a slaughter which took place from September 29 to October 5 in the vicinity of Monte Sole, claimed even more lives—at least 775—in an attack so brutal and crude that makes one question how humankind has managed to survive this long.

L'uomo che verrà portrays a series of events that go from the winter of 1943 until September 1944 in the Bolognese Apennines. At the center is a family of farmers, which includes Armando Palmieri, his wife Lena and their only daughter Martina, as well as a group of relatives living in the same house. The story is seen mostly through the eyes of Martina, who moves through the scenes almost like a fantasma. She’s 8 years old and hasn’t spoken since her baby brother died her arms a few years before.

In December 1943 Lena becomes pregnant again. As the months pass, the film does a superb job of depicting the everyday life of this community of peasant farmers. Meanwhile, the child grows in Lena’s belly while the signs of war become increasingly evident and disturbing. Some Italian defectors appear, a family from Bologna arrives to escape the bombing of the city and the partisans form a brigade to protect the community and harass the Germans.

And then the first signs of violence and death appear. In the night between 28 and 29 September 1944, the baby finally comes to light, just when the German secret service launches an unprecedented raid, slaughtering civilians in houses, churches, a cemetery and in the streets. Afterwards the Germans are shown in houses of survivors, drinking, laughing and celebrating their victory over what they label in their reports as bandits.

Somehow Martina survives despite being among a group machine-gunned by soldiers. In the final scenes, she runs into the woods to gather up her baby brother, who apparently is the man to whom the title refers. The film ends with her singing him a lullaby, her speech apparently recovered.

There is a small attempt to explain the unexplainable—that is, how such a thing could happen. In one scene, an Italian priest and a German officer converse in the German’s office. He comments in a matter-of-fact manner: “Tutti noi siamo quello c’e’ hanno insegnato di essere. E’ un questione di educazione.” We are all as we were taught to be. It’s a matter of education.

This harsh truth seems so simple, so blunt, and yet so inadequate. But this movie is not about justice, fairness or the way things should be. It just shows what was, offering only the hope that bringing to light the events at Marzabotto will help deter a future reoccurrence.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Elena Benvenuti and students from liceo guide our tour group through a leap into Lucca’s Roman past

Elena expounds on Lucca's origins to a large
tour group in the piazza of the Anfiteatro.
Thanks to recent research and archeological discoveries, the Roman roots of Lucca are gradually becoming clearer—and known to the public. The latter is partly thanks to the passion of history buffs like Lucca native Elena Benvenuti.

Elena recently organized and directed a tour of more than 40 people to explore Roman artifacts and explain the influence that Roman society had on Lucca. Once inhabited by Etruscans, Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC. The Romans built a walled city with streets in a grid pattern, complete with an amphitheater used for gladiatorial battles, a theater for music and drama, a large forum and fancy homes for wealthy government officials.

Remnants of the Roman blocks at one of
the entrances to the Antiteatro of Lucca.
Elena showed our tour group a Roman sarcophagus in Palazzo Pfanner and pointed out pieces of Roman walls of the amphitheater and theater before taking us to the Domus Romana, the remains of an important building from the first century before Christ. The home is now known as the “Casa del Fanciullo sul Delfino,” a name that comes from the drawing of two cupids riding on a dolphin in a frieze that was found in the house. The house was discovered during the restoration of the Orsucci Palace in the summer of 2010, and now the site is a museum. The group watched a documentary video on the uncovering of the ancient domus, at which site a Roman coin was also found, helping archaeologists date the ruins.

Caesar and Pompey drink a toast to the plans they made at the First Triumvirate, which was held in Lucca, probably close to  this very location in the Domus Romana. The meeting was re-enacted by local students for our tour group.
From the writings of Plutarch, it is known that Lucca was the site of a secret high-level meeting between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus in 56 BC. The three conspired to maintain their various spheres of power and influence. “Most of the men of the highest rank and greatest influence came to see him (Caesar) at Lucca,” Plutarch wrote, “including Pompey, Crassus, Appius the governor of Sardinia and Nepos the proconsul of Spain.” Caesar helped many candidates for office “win their elections by corrupting the people with money from him.” In return, they voted to provide Caesar with an additional five years of provincial command and allotted him more money from the government’s coffers.

The meeting, known at the First Triumvirate, also resulted in Crassus obtaining the influential and lucrative governorship of Syria, to use as a base for a grand campaign to conquer Parthia. Pompey would retain his holdings in Hispania. A highlight of the tour came when students from the Liceo Majorana of Capannori acted out the secret meeting of the powerful trio in the very location that it probably took place, the Domus Romana.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Another scam attempt using my identity—this time unsuccessful

My scammer body double is at it again, trying to sell a car to a woman in Germany. The woman, whom I’ll call Maddie, contacted me today on Facebook, saying: “Dear Paul! I was about to buy a car and was contacted by “Fekete Zsolt Akos,” who obviously stole your identity. He sent me a passport (which was photoshopped) and some of your pictures. Thanks to Google, I found (with the pictures) your blog and read about your identity theft.”

Maddie sent me a copy of the passport, which shows a handsome middle-aged man (okay, okay, an average-looking elderly man). It is a copy of my passport, but most of the vital information has been changed, including the place of birth, which now reads Roma. The other photos she received have been copied from my blog.

Maddie lives in Berlin, and she explained that the scammer “writes me Whattsapp messages and tries to sell me a car. I asked him to send me a picture of him and the car. Maybe now he smells a rat. He writes from a German number and writes in (not fluent) German. He says he’s a doctor, living in Rome.”

I printed out the fake passport photo, along with a copy of my correspondence with Maddie (who also gave me both her number and the number being used by the scammer) and took them to Carabinieri Marshall Ratta this afternoon. He wrote up an additional report to add to my previous denuncia.

In the best of all worlds, the Italian and German police will now work together on a sting operation, contacting the scammer by using his German number and pretending to be interested in buying a car. They’ll then cleverly lure him into a meeting and nab him, forever clearing my good name! Nei miei sogni (in my dreams)!

Actually, Marshall Ratta told me that since the person being contacted is in Germany and the scammer is using a German phone card, the Italian police probably won’t do anything about this current complaint. I doubt that they’d successfully be able to trick the scammer into coming out in the open anyway.

However, this new incident may serve to bolster my case with the Agenzia dell’Entrate down the road, and I’m also happy to see that my recent blog entries about my identity theft helped warn Maddie away from a fraudulent purchase. Thanks also to Google, which allows people to do an image search by dragging and dropping a photo. That’s how Maddie found my blog. Who knows what will come next?
See also: A high stakes challenge: I must fight the Italian IRS and
Slow progress in the case of my identity theft.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Slow progress in my case of furto d'identità—identity theft

My identity theft case continues to move at a glacial pace, a common occurrence with Italian bureaucracy. It’s now been two weeks since I was told it takes a least a week to obtain the record of the purchase and sale of the car I supposedly owned for almost two years. However, I did file a denuncia—a formal complaint—yesterday, and I’m happy that this went smoothly.

It helps to have good advice from friends. I may be more fortunate than the average foreigner because I have access to some useful resources. Although I was initially disappointed that I didn’t receive any help from my lawyer cousin, a couple of other relatives came through. First, distant cousin Paolo Venturini gave me the good advice to file a denuncia with the police. That brought to mind something I hadn’t thought of previously: I have another cousin, Claudio Del Terra, who is an officer with the Polizia Municipale of nearby Altopascio. I e-mailed Claudio, and he came to my home a couple of days later to hear my story.

At first he thought the notice may have had something to do with a car I might have rented in the past, but once he saw the documents I’d received from the Agenzia delle Entrate, he had no doubts that it was a truffa—a scam. Should I go to his office, or to the Carabinieri in Altopascio or Lucca? Claudio said he would make some inquiries and get back to me with a recommendation.

He e-mailed me a couple of days later that he had spoken to the Carabinieri head marshal, who said I could file the denuncia with him. I waited a few more days, hoping that the Sra Iacopi from the PRA (Pubblico Registro Automobilistico) would contact me to say that she had received the documents we are awaiting from Rome that will show the details of the bogus auto purchase and sale. When I still hadn’t heard from her by yesterday, I went to the Carabinieri anyway.

I could feel my heart pounding as I told the young officer at the front desk why I had come. Being in the headquarters of the state police of any country can be a bit unnerving, and of course my shaky skills in Italian added to my lack of ease. I had to wait about 15 minutes, which helped me regather my composure. I was welcomed into the office of Capo Maresciallo Giuseppe Ratta, who asked for my carta d’identità and other basic information, such as my phone number, occupation and marital status. I introduced myself as a journalist rather than a small business owner. Both are true, but being a journalist seems more impressive than being a guy who patches and seals asphalt during the summer. I also showed him all the paperwork I’d received from the Agenzia delle Entrate, detailing the approximately 1,000 euro I supposedly owed in unpaid auto and telephone taxes.

Sr. Ratta clicked his mouse and read documents on his computer for a good 10 minutes before asking me a few more questions. “Have you ever owned a car here? Do you know the person who bought the car?” I had typed out an entire timeline of my comings and goings in Italy, including the dates I had become a citizen jure sanguinis, obtained my passport, codice fiscale and residency. He didn’t need these dates, he said, and then he started typing rapidly on his keyboard while I waited in silence. We never mentioned my relationship with Claudio, but I’m sure that Claudio’s conversation with Marshal Ratta had been influential in the ready acceptance of my story.

He printed three copies of the denuncia and we both signed all three. Essentially it provides all the relevant details, “formally denouncing the unknown person or persons responsible and expressly requesting punishment by the competent authorities.”

And what do I do next? Does he need to see the documents from the sale that I’m awaiting from the PRA? No, the police can request those documents from Rome. Should I show the denuncia to the Agenzia delle Entrate? Yes, that’s a good idea.

So off I went today to the AE, but they had no interest in my prized one-page form. The lady at the Sportello Amico, the friendly desk, said that a denuncia is not enough to cancel the taxes owed. That will have to be done by the PRA, following an investigation. She suggested I take my denuncia there, which I did.

But after showing it to Sra. Iacopi, who had helped me two weeks earlier, she didn’t make a copy either. I was pleased that she at least read it, but she gave me the same story in different words. A denuncia is a good start, but it’s not enough. She called her counterparts in Rome to inquire again about the documents, and they told her they had not received them from the archives yet. Srs. Iacopi promised that she would contact me as soon as the documents reached her desk, and I was encouraged by the fact that not only had she recognized me immediately, but she also had my file right at her fingertips on her desk.

On the plus side, the slow pace of progress probably means that the AE won’t be breathing down my neck about paying these fees. After all, the taxes were from events that occurred in 2014 and 2015, and I had only received notice recently. Maybe it’ll take another two or three years before they even bother to send out a second notice.

Monday, April 9, 2018

We find bellezza and bruttezza in our weekend explorations among the hills of Emilia-Romagna with friends

Castell De' Britti, viewed from our trail.
I belong to a Facebook group called “Traveling to Italy,” and every so often someone asks the group about great places to go “off the beaten path.” The answers come quickly and with passion and include glowing descriptions of places all over the country. I stopped paying much attention, because the answers all reinforce the same theme—there is beauty everywhere in Italy.

Last weekend, we decided to meet up with our friends Stefano and Nancy, who live in Padova, and we picked a place
Lucy and me overlooking the Calanchi.
about halfway between Padova and Montecarlo. It shows on the map as the Parco dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa. None of us had never heard of it, nor had any of our friends—but no matter. It’s a park in the hills of Emilia-Romagna, so it must be worthwhile. And, of course, it was.

Located on the gentle hills south of Bologna, the park

includes a band of chalky outcrops called calanchi, bare clay hills eroded by wind and rain and then hardened by the sun. My Italian dictionary translates calanco to “badlands” and gesso means “chalk.” So think of the badlands of South Dakota, but made of chalky clay that erodes easily instead of the harder multi-layered sedimentary rock that takes longer to wear down.

We met Stefano and Nancy Saturday morning at Castel De’
Nancy, me, Stefano.
Britti and hiked about three miles up into the park, ate a snack lunch at an abandoned church and then returned on the same path. Though we saw only a tiny wrinkle of this vast 7,700-acre (3123 hectares) park, it gave us enough of a taste of the wilderness to satisfy.

We saw bare rocky cliffs and
harsh gully slopes protruding out of big basins, reminding of us natural amphitheaters. We strolled along a wooded trail, and although we saw little wildlife except birds and bugs, we did have the closest encounter I’ve ever had with an Italian deer. We often see road signs warning of deer, but we’ve never actually seen one here. In Gig Harbor, we see them frequently, and they’ve become a nuisance to gardeners in some neighborhoods.

So how close was our sighting? Well, I actually touched this
Primroses lined many of paths we took.
deer on the leg bone, though unfortunately that was the extent of the encounter. Nancy had brought her pet Labrador, Oby, on the hike, and at one point, he disappeared over a hillside. He returned a few minutes later, sporting a happy doggy grin and clutching a long bone that still had some decaying hide and fur on it. After posing proudly for some photos, Oby finally relaxed his grip just enough for Nancy and me to pry it from his clenched jaws and dispose of it in a trash bin. At least we now have some visual evidence to justify the road signs.

We were joined near the beginning of the trail by a most
Return of the proud hunter Oby.
unusual guide, a small dog named, according to a tag on her collar, Holly. She and Oby met and gave the usual dog meet and greet rituals. Then Holly took off in the lead and walked the entire trail with us, often leading the way at intersections, as if to say, “This is the right way.” Holly and Oby scouted around separately, having a great time gleefully sniffing everything possible.

We noted that Holly was not looking for affection or
Our guide dog, Holly, far right.
attention, just traveling companions. She lay down once to let me pet her briefly, but then she jumped back up and plunged back on the trail with numerous exploratory detours into the bush. After a while, we had no doubt that this was a daily routine for Holly. She would meet the first travelers at the beginning of the trail and join them. She never hesitated or looked doubtful. We offered her part of our snacks, but she wasn’t interested. After lunch, we started back down the trail, and we immediately met another group that was bypassing the church and heading further into the hills. Holly joined them without even looking back at us.

We spent the night at an agriturismo near Marzabotto and
A family of victims: A mother and her
seven children were all put to death.
then took another hike in the hills nearby to visit a camp that Stefano and Nancy fondly remembered because they had taken their scouting troops there numerous times when their children were young. After lunching at a trattoria, we drove into the hills again to visit the Parco Storico di Monte Sole. I could (and possibly will someday) write an entire entry on this park and what happened there in 1944, but we didn’t stay long. The park and its story deserve more attention than I have the time and energy to give currently. Suffice it for now to say its location and presentation is beautiful, while its history is among the ugliest of modern times. The retreating German army slaughtered at least 770 Italian citizens there and in nearby communities, most of them women, children and elderly people—including five Catholic priests. They were hunted and executed for their supposed support of partigiani, resistance fighters, and it was the largest massacre of citizens committed by the Waffen SS in Western Europe during the World War 2.

We parted ways with Stefano and Nancy at the park in the
Waterfall near Poretta Terme.
late afternoon, and this may seem like a sobering way to end our weekend. That’s undeniably true, but I have no regrets about our visit. It’s vitally important to recall the atrocities of this war and remember the victims with sympathy and compassion. The beauty of the park contrasted with the brutality of the acts committed there are vivid reminders of the unavoidable vicissitudes that make up life.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Visit to the Museum of the Innocents in Florence is a moving experience

No child ever asks to be an orphan—but accidents, illnesses and poverty happen. Epidemics of malaria, cholera, flu, bubonic plague, yellow fever and other diseases occurred
Mary is usually drawn with baby Jesus, but here she
is shown protecting innocent children. The identity
of this Florentine artist is unknown.
regularly through Europe up until recent times. Work accidents were common. Medical knowledge was primitive. Birth control was not available. Parents died or fell into extreme poverty. Italy, as did all countries, faced a steady stream of children who were left without parents—or born to parents who were without the means to support them, including unwed mothers.

However, thanks to the
Photo of the Spedale from the early 1900s.
strength of Tuscany’s economy during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, combined with the compassion of the business community, the Catholic Church and the general population, orphans in central Italy had a good chance to thrive. A great example of this can be seen today by visiting the Museo degli Innocenti in Firenze, which provides a thoughtful and sensitive look into the lives of Italy’s orphans.

This museum was completely remodeled and re-opened to the public in June of 2016, and it provides a vivid and
A portion of the historical timeline of the Spedale.
emotional experience. One can rent an audio guide or simply read the well written explanations on the walls to learn the history of the institution. For more information on the history of the Spedale degli Innocenti, read Care for the ‘Innocenti’ born in Tuscany established a nurturing pattern of enduring tradition.

In one room, visitors can view 140 objects that parents left
An archival record of one of the foundlings, one who
thrived under the care of the orphanage.
behind to identify their children. These objects recorded a child’s origin, family circle, social class, village or city. Included are messages, coins, rings, hair clips, holy pictures, small crucifixes, colored beads or buttons and small pieces of fabric. The objects could be used if the parents or other family members came to reclaim their kin during better times—a hope that their family could be reunited that accompanied the orphans throughout their lives.

In another section, one can read the notes that the orphanage
Not every story ended happily, unfortunately.
made on a variety of the foundlings. One reads: On 16 March, 1706, a woman abandoned an eleven-day-old baby boy, called Pasquino in memory of his dead father, and with a blessing around his neck. He was given to Lisabetta in the neighborhood of Dicomano for suckling and he stayed with her until he was eleven. He returned to the Innocenti in 1717 and was entrusted to the “boys master.” Ten days later he was given to a new keeper, Giuseppe di San Giovanni in Petroio, near Barberino di Mugello.”

After the orphans were placed in adoptive homes, parish priests followed up with home visits to make sure the children were well looked after. I read of one instance where the priest reported that a child was living in a filthy environment, and the child was returned to the Innocenti.

One of the inner courtyards, where the orphans could play safely in the sunshine.
Many of the children had been baptized by local priests in Tuscany before they were brought to the orphanage. Some had family names, but many others only had first names, so the orphanage assigned surnames. It was common practice to give the surname “Innocenti” or “degli Innocenti” to indicate that the children were innocent of having caused their condition. The orphanage in Pisa used the same designation, and I confess to having a special interest in the care of these orphans, since I recently discovered that my fourth great grandmother was named Bibiana degli Innocenti di Pisa. Born around 1735, Bibiana married Lorenzo Petrocchi of Pescia and went on to have at least seven children.

In another section of the museum, one can select and watch videos of people who describe how their parents or grandparents were orphans and were successfully adopted after having been raised in the Spedale degli Innocenti. Also included are some photos taken inside the orphanage in the early 1900s.

On the floor above the museum, one can see the outside courtyards of the orphanage itself and enjoy the splendid
In these illuminated drawers, protected by glass, one can view
the remembrances that parents left with their children.
architecture, and above that is a bar and terrace with a great view of Florence. For those who have a descendant who came from the Innocenti, it’s also possible to make an appointment with a researcher who can provide information on a particular person recorded in the archives. All in all, the museum is a treasure and well worth the 7 euro admission fee.

Florence native Enrico Michelassi, in a Google review written in Italian, commented: “If you think this is just a museum, you would be off track. True, the environment has an architectural beauty that touches perfection, true the view of the panorama from the terrace is worth the visit alone, true that the museum is modern and absolutely adapted to the theme—but it is the historical content and humanity that make this place exceptional. It is the first orphan asylum in history, a model followed up to our time. In reading the stories of children over the centuries, you enter the life of the city and you discover how impressive is the number of those reintroduced into society, and how important this has been for the city itself.”

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Our afternoon in little-known Larciano is an unexpected pleasure

We found another interesting place off the beaten path today—way off the beaten patch. Even among Italians, few have heard of Larciano in the Valdinievole, and though it is only 35 minutes from our home in Montecarlo and an hour from Firenze, we would not have thought to go there had it not been for a special event we read about in a brochure we picked up while eating in our local gelateria.

The tower in the Castle of Larciano.
It turns out we picked the right place on the right day. Not only was this the clearest and warmest day of the year so far, but we were able to climb to the top of the tower of the Castle of Larciano. We also saw two museums there, all for free with no lines, and staffed by helpful locals. It’s part of series of events called Open Week, sponsored by a consortium of private and public agencies created to promote tourism in the Valdinievole.
View of the city from the tower.

While the tower and the civic museum are compelling attractions, the real jewel of the afternoon was a roving display of more than 50 small machines that have been created from the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci—who, by the way, grew up just six miles away from Larciano. Most likely this proximity to Vinci helped the Larcianesi snag this fascinating display.
We enjoyed a room full of models of Leonardo's ideas, each with a full explanation of its function.

Leonardo is one of the most prolific
Leonardo is credited with inventing canal
locks, which are still used today in much
the same way as shown in his sketches.
inventors in history. The technology of his age prevented the construction of many of his ideas, but that didn’t stop Leonardo from using his knowledge of physics and his imagination and dreaming of what might be possible in the future. His sketches show weapons of war, flying machines, improved work tools, devices to control water flow and many other innovations. The models, made mostly of wood, show how the devices would have worked, and the displays include explanations in Italian, English and French.
View northwest from the top of the tower of Larciano.

The tower view facing the Albano mountains.
However, even if the Leonardo exhibit had not been there, visiting Larciano would have been worthwhile for the sole reason of climbing the castle tower, which allows a 360-degree view that includes the town, the valley, the swamps of Fucecchio and the Albano mountains. After enjoying this breathtaking vista, we spent a few minutes in the city’s civic historical museum, where we viewed items dating from Etruscan times through the Roman occupation and all the way up to modern times.

Larciano's church bell tower.
I read that the tower is normally open to the public on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Museum hours vary by season, and it’s best to check the city’s website before going. Both the tower and the museum are free, not just during this week but year around. For more on other events of Open Week (March 31-April 8), see

Looking down on the stairway inside the tower.