Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How to entertain yourself while visiting us in Tuscany's Montecarlo

We’ve been inviting friends from the United States to pay us a visit while we’re in Tuscany, and each year a few people take us up on the offer. Now that we have our own two-bedroom house in Montecarlo, we expect more people to visit in the coming seasons, so I’d thought I’d write down some ideas on what one can do while here.

Lucy welcomes you to Lucca, our favorite and nearest large city.
We love to share our passion for this place, but it’s important for everyone to know what to expect during a visit. Some people want to use our house as a home base for exploring Tuscany, and it’s well situated for that purpose. From Montecarlo, you can reach Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre, San Gimignano, Viareggio, Volterra, Carrara, Livorno or the Chianti wine region in less than two hours. Therefore, you can easily take day or overnight trips and then return to Montecarlo to rest, regroup and plan your next expedition. We’ll be glad to give you travel advice and listen to your travel stories.

There's a reason this church looks a little unusual. But it will
take some research or a good tour guide to tell you its story.
Some people, however, say they just want to come and chill in Montecarlo and enjoy the surrounding little cities—like we do. We’re glad to welcome you for this experience as well, but I should warn you about two things. First, our lives here are not all that exciting. We eat at home, we take walks, we go shopping. Lucy makes quilts. I write. We live the slow life. You may say that’s fine for you too, but my second point is that this is a bit of a waste of money, because there are a lot of wonderful things you can do without going far from home. It costs a lot of money to go to Italy, and you should go out and experience the place.

Now we’d love to lead you to all the cool places near Montecarlo, but we’ve already done them a few times already. As special as these places can be, we don’t want to visit each one again and again every time friends come to visit. Therefore, we’ll make a list and post it here so that anyone who is coming to visit will have an idea of the possibilities. We’ll probably join you on some of your adventures, but don’t be disappointed if we sometimes just stay home.

We enjoy a festa in Pescia, only 10 minutes from our house (and the birth city of my nonno and bisnonna).
Before we start, though, we should talk about whether you need to rent a car or not. The answer depends on how long you’ll be here and where you want to go. You can easily reach Lucca, Pisa, Montecatini, Firenze, Pistoia and most other large cities by train. One minor problem is that we live in a hill town, and the train only stops at the bottom of the hill. Walking down the hill may take 20 minutes, but going back up can take twice as long. However, we usually have a car, and we’ll be happy to take you to and from the train station.

There are some places on our list that do require a car, however, so you’ll have to decide if you want to spend the extra money in exchange for the freedom to go anywhere you want and at any time. Having a car certainly makes you less dependent on train and bus schedules.

OK, here is the list, in no particular order:

The funicolare to Montecatini Alto.
TAKE THE TRAIN TO MONTECATINI TERME. It’s only a 15-minute ride for a couple of euro. Walk through the town (which is a fairly modern town popular with Italian tourists). It has a permanent street market every day. But the best activity is to take the cute old funicolare (funicular) up the hill to Montecatini Alto, the old town center. Stroll around the outside of the city and enjoy the views (you can see Montecarlo from there, as well as the hills leading to the Alpi Apuane mountains). Then go to the central piazza and enjoy a lunch or dinner, outside, if it’s a warm day. To read about one of our own forays to Montecatini, you can read this earlier blog: Montecatini Alto beautiful to visit, would be a great place to live.

TAKE A TOUR OF LUCCA AND MONTECARLO WITH A PRIVATE GUIDE. Yes, it’s nice to just walk around these towns, but a guide can make your stroll so much more meaningful by putting everything into a historical perspective and explaining the significance of the sights. You won’t remember all the dates and details, but you’ll get a feel for the events and characters that have shaped these important cities. I happen to be a personal friend of the very best guide in the land, who was born in Lucca and lives just down the hill from us in San Salvatore. Elena Benvenuti has been voted on Tripadvisor as the number two attraction in Montecarlo (the Fortezza of Montecarlo is number one, and she can take you there, so you’ll get the best of the city in one tour). You can easily visit both cities without need for a car. For more on this topic, read Good personal guide well worth cost.



Lindsey, right, enjoys a sampling of fine Montecarlo wines.
GO ON A WINE AND OIL TOUR, OR TAKE A COOKING CLASS. Again you’ll need a guide like Elena to make this happen, but you can easily arrange these without need of a rental car. When you get back home, you’ll find that your most memorable times in Italy had nothing to do with what you saw but everything to do with whom you met and what you did with them. Talking, cooking, eating and drinking are all experiences that involve multiple senses, and you’ll enjoy and remember them much more vividly than all the sights you’ll see. It will be well worth a little extra expense. You can also read Free wine tour nothing to whine about and Cooking class, Italian pranzo both enjoyable and special experiences.

TAKE A TRAIN TO LUCCA AND WALK OR BIKE THE WALLS AND CENTRO. This is best done after you tour the city, so you’ll have a better idea of the history and design of the city. There may be places you saw on the tour where you wanted to spend more time, and this is a large city that deserves more than a few hours to experience. One of the best features of the city is its incredible wall and bastions. The city is very level, so bikes are a great way to get around. You can rent them at several places, including just outside the train station. See The incomparable city wall of Lucca and Lucca took the advice of Machiavelli seriously.

The amazing marble mountains of Carrara.
BOOK A TOUR OF THE MARBLE MINES ABOVE CARRARA. We did this a few years ago, and it may still be our all-time favorite day trip. You’ll need to contact a tour company in advance to make an appointment, and it’s best to split the cost with another couple, but even if you’re single, it’s still worth the cost. You can get there by train, but you’ll need to change trains in Lucca or Viareggio, and figure it will take as much as hour and a half each way (we can show you how to use the trenitalia.com website). If you’re not convinced it’s a worthwhile trip, read Going inside the marble mountains of Carrara is an unforgettable journey.

Flag-throwing sbandieratori can
sometimes be found at local
town celebrations.
ATTEND A LOCAL FESTA OR SAGRA. Every city and town in Italy has some kind of local festival, usually in honor of a traditional food or possibly some historical event. Sagre (plural of sagra) give you an authentic taste of country food and culture away from the artificiality of tourists. Your meal, reasonably priced, will be cooked by locals with a passion for the local cuisine, and you’ll sit at communal tables with locals. Sometimes the best way to find out if there is to be a sagra nearby is keep an eye out around town bulletin boards for posters, but you can also do a web search. You may need a car to get to some of the smaller towns. We’ve been to several sagre, including this one in Marliana: Sleepy Marliana comes alive with sagra in honor of chestnut flour treat.

TOUR A CASEIFICIO WHERE PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE IS MADE. This will engage your senses of sight, smell and taste at the very least, and a good guide will make the experience even more memorable. You’ll definitely need a car for this suggestion, because we’re more than an hour away from the region where this delicious cheese is made, but the tours are very inexpensive, sometimes even free. Of course, you’ll want to buy some cheese or other fresh dairy products at the end, but that’s a small price to pay for this sensuous adventure. See Smells, sounds and flavors of our visit . . .

TAKE A DRIVE TO VINCI, THE BIRTHPLACE OF LEONARDO. You’ll either need a car or a tour guide who has one, because getting there by train and bus from Montecarlo can be complicated and time-consuming. We’ve not done it that way, so maybe some more experienced bus traveler can prove us wrong, but I doubt it. It’s about 45 minutes by car, mostly on the back roads, a fairly pleasant drive. GPS is highly recommended, though, unless you don’t mind doubling your time with wrong turns. The town is on a hillside, worth a trip just by itself, but there is also a museum dedicated to this incredible Renaissance man, and there are more displays and activities at the house where he was born. If you don’t have a tour guide with you (this is one of Elena’s favorite locations), the museum can be a little frustrating, because the display explanations are not translated into English, but it’s still worth it. I recommend reading up on Leonardo before going (we have a book). Also read Visit to Vinci, Leonardo’s birthplace, one of Tuscany’s best day trips. Finally, if you’re a real Leo buff, you might want to take a second trip to see what likely is one of only two known surviving sculptures that he created, located in a church near Collodi.

This view is from the hilltop above Lucchio, in the Garfagnana Valley in the Alpi Apuane mountains.
TAKE A HIKE IN THE ALPI APUANE. This rugged collection of mountains is not far (you can see part of the range from our terrazzo), and we have a book that describes numerous hikes that begin within an hour from Montecarlo. We’ve only completed one of the hikes so far, so if you pick one we haven’t been on, maybe we’ll join you. Hikes range from moderate to difficult. See A perfect day for the first of our 50 hikes in the hills of Tuscany.

EAT A MEAL OR TWO AT THE OSTERIA ALLA FORTEZZA. This is not the top-ranked restaurant in Montecarlo (there are soooo many good ones!), but it’s possibly the most friendly for English speakers. The food is authentic to the region and top notch. They also periodically bake up some homemade cantuccini (we Americans wrongly refer to it as biscotti) that’s to die for! Iris, the proprietress, will make you feel welcome, but it’s her brother Davide who speaks more English and is an especially charming and gracious host (even though he isn’t an owner of the restaurant and has another job). I said earlier that the things you’ll remember the most about your trip are the people, not the sights, and if you eat here more than once, you’ll remember these gentili local Italians. The osteria is right next to the Fortezza.

Poggio: Just another typical hillside town in the Garfagnana.
TAKE A CAR TO THE GARFAGNA VALLEY. It will be hard to take in all the sights of this valley in a day, so an overnight trip would be better. Notable destinations are the Ponte della Maddelena (better known as the Devil’s Bridge) in Borgo a Mozzano, and at the very least the cities of Barga, Lucchio and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. There also a great ropes course with zip lines and the Grotta del Vento (cave of the wind). It’s better to have a car for going to the Garfagnana, but you can get to some of the cities by train.


AND THEN THERE ARE THE MORE WELL KNOWN TOURIST DESTINATIONS. As mentioned before, you’re not far from Pisa and Firenze, which are considered must-see cities and can be easily reached by train. If you’re here in February, you have to see the fantastic floats in the Carnevale parade in Viareggio. You can’t see them all, but it will give you good reason to come back regularly. We certainly do!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Something about our recent stay was definitely different for us in Tuscany

We left Montecarlo last week for another summer of work in Gig Harbor. Our sixth season in Tuscany had a distinctly different flavor than the first five—as it should have, since now we are homeowners instead of guests at an agriturismo. Was it all we had hoped it would be? Absolutely so!

Being able to walk out the door and onto the main street of Montecarlo made an immediate difference. We chatted occasionally with shop owners, checked books out of the library, bought staples at the two small general stores or just strolled around town greeting people we passed. In previous years, we rarely saw anyone when we took our evening walks along the rural roads in the Marcucci neighborhood.

We love our new location in other ways, too. We’re on the top floor, so we have a great western view of the plain of Lucca and sunsets. When it’s clear, we can see the walls and towers of Lucca, and from our terrazzo, we can also see part of the Alpi Apuane mountains. The view side is very quiet and private. I could sunbathe on the terrazzo and nobody would see me. The view from the other side of the house is full of vitality: We can watch from above as tourists and residents stroll down the main street of town, and we can lean out and see all of via Roma, from the Fortezza to Porta Nuova.

A quilt Lucy made for Micah.
We also have about four times more space, which allows us to spread out and do our projects—Lucy made three quilts, and I worked on my genealogy and writing. At least equally important, the space allows us to host visitors, which we did on half a dozen occasions.

But it’s more than just a matter of space and location. It’s our house, and knowing that fact makes an important psychological difference. We are more than visitors now. We are committed, we are part of something, we are Montecarlesi. And we will be back.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What started as Seghieri Day extends into a week of family activities

Seghieri Day soon extended into Seghieri Week as the festas continued. I met with Jean-Paul and Marcel on Monday to share some genealogy information, and on Tuesday we enjoyed a scrumptious feast at the Poggio restaurant with Seghieri families from Italy and France, and, of course, we two Americans.
Elena offers a brindisi to the Seghieri families of the world while we dine at the Poggio.

Marcel offered a brindisi (toast) to me Tuesday evening, noting that my research had brought together Seghieri families from three countries, showing everyone how they were connected. It was only then that I fully realized how well my humble six-year-old dream to reconnect with my grandmother’s Seghieri roots had come to such grand results. I had truly found a group of relatives that shared my feelings about the importance of family history, connections and pride.
Marcel, Jean-Paul, Sergio, Elena at the state archives.

Then on Wednesday, Jean-Paul, Marcel, Hervé and I met with Montecarlo historian Sergio Nelli at his work in the Archivio di Stato di Lucca. He gave us a thorough tour of the facilities, and we looked at room after room of weathered books and parchments. The documents are divided into sections: diplomatic, concerning the Republic of Lucca, Napoleonic and notarial. The archives are the results of a 1804 decree that all of the papers from the governments of the suppressed Republic of Lucca be brought together at a single institution.
It was awesome to see so many old books and scrolls in one
place, and to be able to open them and look inside.

The documentary material in the diplomatic section includes 19,855 parchments ranging from the 8th to the 19th centuries. They are arranged in chronological order and by provenance: from monasteries, from families of the nobility and from the secret archives of the city-state. The documentary material on the Republic of Lucca, conserved organically from the beginning of the 14th century, includes statutes, the proceedings of the elders before the liberation, the proceedings of the elders after the liberation, public amendments of the papers of the general curia and the papers of the Guinigi government.
We must have looked inside at least a dozen rooms like this, filled from floor to ceiling with old documents.

From the archives of the Napoleonic government of Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte and of the Bourbonic duchy come the civil list and property list of the princes, the senate, the council of state and council of ministers; ministries; secretaries of the governments; prefecture of Lucca; registry office; public health and hygiene; education, arts, industry, commerce and food office; water, roads and buildings; militia; police; the mint and public treasury; state property; register, mortgages and public debt; tax collectors. The notarial archives include the records of the nobility and private individuals, as well as special collections including documentation on congregations in the city and the territory, brotherhoods and hospitals.

The archive is impressive in its volume and depth, which speaks to the respect that Italians have for their history. However, it is also a bit overwhelming, because the texts are in Latin or old Italian script, both of which the average person can’t read. It’s great that all these documents are being preserved, but it would take a lifetime just to read through the books contained in a single room. And given that most of the documents are technical accounts of legal and political acts, one might die an early death from boredom. However, I’m thankful that there are people like Doctor Nelli, who have a passion for reading and noting the details of our shared past.

For my part, I came with the primary hope of discovering more about the family tree of the Seghieri family, but most of our time was spent on the tour. However, Doctor Nelli agreed to drop by the agriturismo where the French Seghieri families are staying to share more Seghieri genealogy, and he was true to his word.

Just a few of the fine cheeses we enjoyed.
That evening was our last in Montecarlo for this season, as we started on the return to the United States the next morning. But we left in high spirits, as the French Seghieris treated us and the Italian families to a dinner featuring champagne, wine, bread, meats, gelato, biscotti and a large assortment of fine French cheeses from various regions of the country. As each cheese was served, Jean-Paul explained where it was from and a little about its production and flavor. We started with the sweeter cheeses and moved to ones which were strong in both aroma and flavor.

France boasts from 350 to 450 distinct types of cheese, grouped into eight categories. There can be many varieties within each type of cheese, leading some to claim closer to 1,000 different types of French cheese. In 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle was famously quoted as saying “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” (“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”) We didn’t have that many, but definitely enough to appreciate the variety and quality of the country’s choices.
A toast to Dr. Sergio Nelli, who was indispensable in bringing us together.



Doctor Nelli showed up with his Montecarlo genealogy books, and I took photographs of about 20 pages that provided partial or complete Seghieri family trees. This will give me days of work adding these names into the computer database that makes up our already huge family tree. Before I left, I offered a brindisi to Doctor Nelli for all the help he has provided this year and in previous meetings. I ended the toast by explaining that I wanted to find more members of the family, because the more Seghieris I find, the more festas we can have—an explanation that met with widespread expressions of approval.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Parties and music with lively Seghieri families from three countries

The family shield, taken outside the house
in Montecarlo with the shield over the door.
It’s always interesting to find old family records—names, photos, places of birth and occupations of deceased ancestors—but it’s 10 times more fun to meet living relatives, especially when they are as lively, gracious and cheerful as our distant Italian and French Seghieri cousins.

This weekend has been a celebration of the return of two Seghieri families who immigrated to France from Italy in the 1800s (see Long lost French Seghieri families . . .). Two of the families from the Marcucci neighborhood welcomed the seven French visitors with a pizza dinner at La Terrazza pizzeria in Montecarlo Saturday night. Linda, Cori and I also attended, while Lucy remained at home to prepare food for the next day.
Pizza dinner at La Terrazza.

Since Linda and Cori had to return home early Sunday morning, Elena presented Linda with a copy of the Seghieri family shield painted on concrete. Elena had the shields hand-made by a craftsman from Lucca especially for the French guests, but Linda and I each ordered one as well. The rest of us received ours later.
Our song leaders.

We met again in the yard of Davide, Elena and Flavia at 11 a.m. Sunday for a potluck lunch that included many of the other Marcucci families: Sergio and Silvana, Celestino and Antonella and their sons Matteo and Diego, Ivo, Sandra, Nicola and Laura, Rita and her mother Nicoletta (her son Dario and his fidanzata Federica came to the pizza dinner but not the potluck). There was even a brief appearance from Emanuele, Dante’s grandson, whom we met for the first time.
And the chorus . . .

We were also blessed with the presence of Andrea Mandroni, who was well qualified to join the party. Like me, he had a grandmother who was a Seghieri. He is the top genealogy researcher in the area, and he helped Marcel Seghieri trace his ancestry back a couple of generations further than Marcel was able to do on his own.

Our accompanist
The fact that we represented three different countries and languages didn’t slow us down too much, although the conversations made me think of the Tower of Babel. Only a couple of people spoke any English. I could understand the Italian most of the time and the French once in a while. However, some of the French cousins knew some Italian, so we conversed in Italian as best we could. However, they might start a sentence in Italian, but lacking the vocabulary to continue, they would finish it in French, leaving me with only half of the meaning. Or it’s possible that they said the whole sentence in Italian, but with a French accent so thick that I couldn’t tell if they were speaking Italian or French.

Two events left me quite emotional. The first was when Marcel directed the entire party in the singing first of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Va, Pensiero,” and then in the Italian national anthem, “Inno di Mameli.” I was touched to see how proud the French families were of their Italian heritage. Flavia accompanied on clarinet for the anthem, Elena and Marcel did a great job of getting everyone involved in the singing, and after some initial feelings of embarrassment, everyone smiled and laughed through the rehearsals and then the final production. A few people recorded the performance on their phones, so eventually I may get a copy to share.

Then the French group sang the French national anthem. At that point, I hoped that everyone would forget that Lucy and I were there, but no, we had to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Our food expert, Ivo
The other memorable event came when Marcel pulled out some photos of his family. One of the photos (I think it was of one of Marcel’s uncles) greatly resembled some members of Sergio’s family, both his brother Pietro and his grandfather, also named Pietro. This provoked one of those special Italian moments where everyone is talking at the same time, saying things like: “They look almost the same, it could be they are the same person, it can’t be the same person, even if it’s not the same person the resemblance is surprising, etc.” All of this in Italian and French at the same time, and it went on for a good 20 minutes.

After the potluck, the party continued when we went up the hill to see the concert of the
Società Filarmonica Giacomo Puccini at the teatro of Montecarlo. Although the community is small, the band is incredible, and we enjoyed it immensely. We filled an entire row of seats and then some, applauding enthusiastically, especially for our favorite musician, clarinetist Flavia Seghieri. Lucy and I walked a few blocks home, contentissimi to be part of such a grand family and community.
The whole gang! Actually, more people came later and didn't make it into the group photo.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Want to see a verified da Vinci sculpture? No problem! No lines!

Historical documents attest that Leonardo da Vinci created many sculptures, but few works existing today can be verified to be the results of his skilled hands. However, in Pescia, a city of 20,000 inhabitants (and only 10 minutes from Montecarlo and Montecatini), rests a verified sculpture of da Vinci, one that can be seen almost any day of the week, at no cost and with no lines. The statue, however, is by Pierino da Vinci, not his uncle Leonardo.
The da Vinci sculpture is on the left side. The reclining Baldassarre Turini in the center was probably done by a pupil of Michaelangelo, Raffaello di Bartolomeo Sinibaldi of Montelupo. A twin statue on the right side was probably completed by Silvio Cosini after Pierino's untimely death.

I came across this interesting information while researching another nearby statue that key art historians believe to created by Leonardo. They have to base their beliefs on stylistic comparisons with Leonardo’s known works, because no documents have been found to prove his authorship. But that’s not the case with the work by Pierino da Vinci.

The sculpture is part of the mausoleum of Baldassarre Turini. It is located in the cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta in Pescia’s Piazza Duomo.

Ample documentary evidence exists to
attribute this sculpture to Pierino da
Vinci, the nephew of Leonardo da Vinci.
Very few people are aware of this,” said Emanuele Pellegrini, director of the Journal of Visual Arts (www.predella.it) and associate professor of art history at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca. “But it is proven to be work of Pierino da Vinci. We have the payment documents to show this, but if you search on the Internet, you’ll see that you will find very little about this sculpture.”

Pierino, the grandson of Leonardo’s father, ser Piero da Vinci, was well on the path to fame as an artist, but he died of malaria in 1553 at age 23. Pierino, born Pier Francesco di Bartolomeo, received a payment for all of the sculptures on the tomb, but he died after he completed the first one, which is on the left side. A statue similar to Pierino’s but on the right side of the mausoleum may have been started by Pierino, but it was probably finished by one of his friends, Silvio Cosini, Professor Pellegrini said. Raffaello di Baccio Sinibaldi da Montelupo probably did the reclining figure of Turini in the center.

While he finds it unfortunate that the da Vinci sculpture has received little attention, Professor Pellegrini doesn’t find it particularly surprising. “It’s quite common in Italian provinces to find many masterpieces which are relatively unknown,” he explained.

He pointed out that a crucifix on display in a chapel in Padova went largely unnoticed for 500 years before someone realized that the author was Donatello.

“Sometimes you have masterpieces right before your very eyes, but you don’t see them because you don’t pay attention, or someone finds some documents that show who the artist was,” he said.

The duomo which holds Pierino’s sculpture has its origins in the fifth or sixth century and has been rebuilt several times. It was consecrated in 1062 by Pope Alexander II, who, according to tradition, was the parish priest of Pescia before becoming bishop of Lucca. The church was entirely rebuilt after a fire in the city in 1281.
This well done copy of Raphael Sanzio's famous work hangs
in the duomo of Pescia, near Turini's tomb.

At one time, the church also held a 1507 masterpiece by the illustrious Raphael Sanzio di Urbino. However, the Madonna of the Baldachin was sold to Turini, who removed it to his private chapel. In 1697, a high quality copy was painted by Pier Dandini, and it was placed near Turinis tomb in the Pescia duomo.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Long-lost French Seghieri families coming to Montecarlo for a reunion

It is not only Italian Americans who seek to reconnect to their roots by returning to Italy. In a few days, some distant cousins from France will also be in Montecarlo, looking to visit their ancestral home. They are connected to me on the Seghieri side, and we have only met electronically—through e-mail, Facebook and my blog.

They read about my Seghieri research on my blog, and in the past year, they also contacted Elena Benvenuti to enlist her help in learning how they are connected to the Seghieri families of Montecarlo. Elena is fluent in French, English, German and, of course, Italian. There are at least two distinct branches of the Seghieri family who live in Marseille, and both branches will be represented.

Jean-Paul (far right) and other family members.
I am Facebook friends with Jean-Paul Seghieri and Marcel Seghieri, and I have also corresponded with a second cousin once removed of Jean-Paul, Claude Guillan Romaine, whose mother was Huguette Seghieri. Jean-Paul and Claude trace their Tuscan roots back to Carlo Olinto Seghieri, born in Montecarlo in 1840, and Maria Pasqua Ulivieri, 1847, Montecarlo. Carlo and Maria moved to Marseille prior to 1868 and had 12 children there. Carlo Olinto was the ninth cousin of my great grandfather, so Jean-Paul and I are 12th cousins.

Marcel’s ties to the family are much more distant—so distant, if fact, that we may never discover them. His ancestors lived in Livorno and spelled their surname Sighieri instead of Seghieri. Around the time Marcel’s grandfather moved to Marseille in the early 1900s, the family changed the spelling to Seghieri. I enlisted one of the foremost genealogists in the area, Andrea Mandroni, to see if he could find a Montecarlo connection for Marcel’s family. The earliest ancestor he has found to date is Ranieri Sighieri, born in Livorno about 1763. Before that time, we don’t know how the family spelled the name or from where they came.
This collage was sent by Marcel Seghieri. I haven't met any of these people yet, so I can't name them!

From what I have learned, the Sighieri spelling was more common around the Pisa and Livorno areas, while in Montecarlo and Altopascio, Seghieri was used. Another variation sometimes found in Altopascio is Sevieri. I don’t know when the various different spellings originated, but it could have been prior to the 1300s. If so, it is doubtful that any records exist to tie these long-standing lines together. Prior to the 1300s, there are some documents that list people of importance in Pisa who had the Latinized name Seghierius. Montecarlo historian Sergio Nello states that the Seghieri name has Germanic origins from the occupation of the Longobardi between 568 and 774.

Elena has met some of our French cousins and says they are a lively group, enthusiastic about their Italian heritage and history. They’ll arrive Saturday afternoon, and we’ll go with them to dinner at La Terrazza pizzeria in Montecarlo, along with Davide Seghieri, Elena and their daughter Flavia. My sister Linda and her daughter Corina will still be here, so they’ll get to meet the cousins as well. That evening, Flavia plays in a concert in Montecarlo, which many of us will also attend.

Sunday afternoon will be the biggest event in this informal reunion, when we share a potluck style lunch at Davide and Elena’s house. Beside the contingent from France, several other Seghieri families from Montecarlo will attend. It should be interesting trying to communicate, since I don’t speak any French, and it’s already a challenge for me to get across everything I want to say when I have to speak Italian. The French families don’t speak much Italian or English. I think Davide and Flavia know French, but Elena will probably be exhausted before the reunion is over, since she’s the only one who can speak all the languages easily.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Going to community market is a weekly experience not to be missed

Lucy buys a pillow for the couch
Shopping at the open air village markets in Italy is one of our favorite experiences. Each community has a market once a week. Our visits combine people-watching, fresh air, historical town centers and fresh food—the best parts of living here. In previous years, we went to the little Wednesday market in San Salvatore, but our favorite fruit and grocery seller, Grazia, no longer sells at that market. We can catch her in Borgo a Buggiano on Tuesday or Porcari on Wednesday, but this year, we’ve usually gone on Friday to the market in Ponte Buggianese.
Our favorite produce venditori at Ponte Buggianese.

Cheeses of many types and cured meats, all made in Italy.
Although the Esselunga supermarket here is excellent (it recently received recognition from The Boston Consulting Group as one of the top small chains in the world, behind only Trader Joe’s and Wegmans), we like to get our produce from the small market vendors when possible. We also like knowing that markets such as these have existed for millennia; we are shopping in a long-standing and traditional Italian way. The produce is extremely fresh, the prices are great and the sellers recognize and greet you upon your return. Food just harvested tastes ten times more delicious than its out-of-season counterparts, but be warned: It is best consumed within a few days of purchase, because it is already ripe when sold.
Colorful fabrics, drapes, blankets and tablecloths are beautifully displayed.

I’ve learned not to buy from the first vendor in the row. These are prime positions, but sometimes the prices are a little higher than the ones in the middle. We also note which vendors have more customers, because the locals know who has the best produce. At the Ponte Buggianese market, we had a half dozen vendors to chose from, but we ultimately picked a stall run by a friendly middle-aged couple because the man likes to sing about his produce when there is a lull in sales. Not exactly songs, but he will call out the names of his fruit and veggies in a lilting, musical voice, adding the price: “Belle, belle mele, solo un euro al chilo.”

We often buy roasted chicken, turkey or ham , taken straight
off the spit, from this booth from this man.
In general, the venditori prefer that shoppers don’t handle the produce. This is an issue of good hygiene. Instead, we tell them what items we want, and they place them in a bag and weigh them for us. When ordering something easy to count, like apples or oranges, it’s easy to explain how much one wants. Otherwise, when ordering something like string beans, we can just say, “Per due,” for two people. Sometimes we are handed a bag, which is an invitation to go ahead and pick out our own fruit and vegetables. We usually get Italian parsley (prezzemolo) and celery (sedano) thrown in as a freebie, per sapore (flavor).
We don't buy much seafood, but it's always interesting to see it displayed.

We had wondered if bargaining is expected in the marketplace, but we’ve learned that it is not done when shopping for food. Also, don’t expect to use a credit card at a market; they are almost always cash only.

We sometimes also buy clothing, fabric, tablecloths, cheese, kitchenware, scarves and hot food such as roasted chicken or fried vegetables. Larger markets have even more items, and then there are specialty markets held less frequently for used merchandise, antiques and hand-made items. Beyond that, there are sagras and festas, which feature foods with special names that have historical significance for the region. Believe me, one doesn’t have to visit all the great historical or artistic sites in Italy to enjoy la dolce vita. It can be done without leaving the neighborhood!

Monday, April 25, 2016

A delicious Spadoni rinfresco

Last month we had a little gathering to show my Seghieri relatives our new house. Today we had a second open house, timed to coincide with a visit from Linda and Cori, for a few of our Italian Spadoni relatives. Lucy made a bunch of sweets and we enjoyed a couple of hours of conversation with Enrico and Enza, Loriano and Gabriella, and Claudio.

Claudio, Paul, Loriano, Enrico, Enza, Gabriella, Linda, Cori.
Overall, it went great. We shared information on family and activities and gave them a house tour. They are always very gracious and patient with our limited language skills, and of course we Americans always end up vowing inwardly to re-double our efforts to learn Italian so we can better communicate (even if we usually don’t follow through). I understood most of what they said, but the words came to me slowly when I spoke. I was able to translate a little for Linda and Cori, but for the most part, they were on their own.

“Everybody seemed happy and energized and had lots to talk about,” Linda said. “I understood what the subjects were but couldn’t really follow the details. It made me feel like a child again, because that’s how it was when dad and his sisters and brothers got together. They would be all gathered around and talking loudly all at the same time. They would start out in English and sometimes switch to Italian. I didn’t understand any of it, and tonight brought me back to my childhood.”


When I first came to Italy in 1996, I stayed with Enrico and Enza for about a week. I couldn’t speak much Italian and was treated as a special guest, enjoying huge meals and being taken on sight-seeing expeditions. Now I feel like our relationship is on a more relaxed and informal basis, which is what I had hoped it might be someday. Having cousins is truly a blessing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Burning of olive branches an ancient tradition in Mediterranean region

Lucy adds branches to the fire. Piles of burning olive
branches is a common sight in Tuscany.
All through February, March and April, I see them—men and women out in the olive fields, trimming branches, piling them up and lighting them on fire. Thousands of trees and millions of branches fuel fires on every hillside. I’ve counted as many as a dozen fires visible from a single vantage point.

Considering the environmental impact of so many open fires, I’ve wondered why the branches aren’t hauled away for chipping and composting, or even chipped in the field with portable devices. I’ve been told that the burning must be completed by May 31, but a lot of smoke and ash is generated before that deadline.

Dorothea and Eberhard worked along side us.
I now have some ideas why burning is preferred to chipping, as Lucy and I had a chance this week to participate in the gathering and burning process. Our friends from Germany, Eberhard and Dorothea, invited us to their home in the hills near Viareggio, and we spent an afternoon and the next morning helping them clean up branches that had been cut for them by a local olive farmer.

Even though the branches had just been cut, they burned extremely quickly. Eberhard told me that we had to keep the burn pile small, and I soon saw why, as even a four-foot by four-foot pile created an intense heat. The leaves are full of oil, and they sparkle and flame up quickly, like dry fir tree needles, or small firecrackers. A larger pile would burn so hotly and quickly that you couldn’t go near it to add branches, and the heat would damage any nearby trees. The piles require near constant attention, though, because if left to burn alone for about three minutes, they will burn down and go out. The hot ashes can be rekindled fairly easily, but not without putting a lot of smoke into the air until they blaze up again.

Almost done!
Our conclusion was that a lot of branches can be burned in a short time, making burning more economical than hauling away or chipping. I’m also not sure that the chemicals in the oil-filled leaves and branches would make good compost anyway.

The chips, however, might be a good energy source. Olive pits are now being used in fireplaces and energy-producing incinerators. The website Howstuffworks.com reports: “Olive pits don’t just burn; they burn well. In fact, pound for pound, olive pits produce more energy through combustion than hardwood, according to the not-for-profit engineering organization ASME. Musco Family Olive Co., for instance, generates about half of the electricity needed for the company’s olive processing plant to run simply by burning the olive pits that it once paid to ship to the landfill.” I would think that fuel from chipping olive leaves and branches would also be a good heat source.

Aside from that, we appreciated the chance to participate in an Italian tradition, a task that my ancestors performed for thousands of years.

“I loved being with our friends and doing something that we see Italians doing every year,” Lucy said. “It’s interesting to know that people have been doing exactly the same thing we did throughout the centuries.”

Our family ties with Ilio, Lara and Mauro Spadoni et al resolved

Ilio Spadoni
After some initial frustration, I found the link that connects the family of Ilio Spadoni of Ponte Buggianese to ours. The problem was that Ilio didn’t have quite the steel-trap memory that I thought he did. He had given me the wrong birth date for his grandfather Francesco and the wrong wife for his great grandfather Virgilio.

Lara Spadoni
When I stopped by Ilio’s house to ask for additional information, I talked to his sister Lara, because Ilio was out working in his fields. She looked at the info that Ilio had given me and said that the wife of great grandfather Virgilio had been Emilia Benedetti, not Annuziata Foderi. The latter had instead been married to one of Virgilio’s brothers, she said. Once I had this information, and the correct birth date for Francesco (which I found in the baptismal records of Ponte Buggianese), the clerk at Buggiano found the documents I needed to connect Ilio and Lara’s family to our tree.

Mauro Spadoni
Once again, though, the tie is distant, as it has been with many of the Spadoni families I have found here. Our nearest common ancestor is Francesco Spadoni, born around 1455. I had hoped to find that they had descended from one of the brothers of my great great grandfather Pellegrino Spadoni.

Yesterday I went back and met with Lara, Ilio, their brother Mauro, and Ilio’s wife Rosanna. I gave them a detailed line of descent dating back to 1430, showing all the names and dates I have for their ancestors. Ilio and Lara argued briefly over whether their great grandmother had been Emilia Benedetti or Annuziata Foderi. In the end, Ilio realized that he had remembered poorly and that Lara and the documents I had found were correct.

I also explained how the first Spadoni family of Stignano had probably been land owners and somewhat wealthy, because one of the three tombs beneath the floor of the church of Stignano is for the early Spadoni family. Ilio said that likely some of the first Spadoni families to move to Ponte Buggianese had been land owners, but in the passage of time, they had met with economic problems and also had to divide the land among their many sons. His nearest ancestors had been tenant farmers, as had most of the Spadoni families I’ve found in the region.
Lucia Spadoni x 2


When Lucy and I went to the weekly market in Ponte Buggianese today, we stopped at the hairdressing salon of Lucia, one of Ilio and Rosanna’s daughters. Lucy said that if she hadn’t already made an appointment with her regular hair dresser in Gig Harbor, she probably would have had Lucia cut her hair—one Lucia Spadoni cutting the hair of another.