Monday, March 31, 2014

Fresh Tuscan air, an outdoor fair, family history and even Leonardo impel us to take a long bike ride

Sunday, March 30
Lucy buys a vase in the outdoor market of Collodi.
Truly spring-like Tuscan weather beckons us nearly every day to take a brisk bike ride, and we more than answered the call. Signs around the community advertised today as the “Antico Mercatino di Pinocchio,” a little market selling things “antique, new, made by artisans, collectables and so many curiosities.” The sole connection to Pinocchio is that the fair was located in Collodi, the maternal home of the iconic children’s tale author.

Dawn's poster
Despite living only six miles from the little town, we had not yet visited it, mostly because it was in the direction of the hills north of us and not on a route to anywhere we normally travel. We had a second reason to make the trip, as a couple of years ago I had seen a poster that my cousin Dawn Stanton had brought to a family reunion in Gig Harbor. The poster advertised a musical performance directed by the “Ornatissimo Maestro Signor” Torello Seghieri, who was listed as conductor of the Philharmonic Choir of the Chiesa of San Gennaro in Collodi. Torello was the great grandfather to me and many of my Gig Harbor cousins, and I wanted to see the church where he had been employed. Ornatissimo can be translated as
“most decorated.
So it all added up—a sunny Sunday in the low seventies, an interesting outdoor market and a chance to see a historical church that was only a few miles from the center of Collodi. We took the train to Pescia, which shortened our bike ride to only a couple of miles up a gradual incline to the Collodi fair. I bought some Italian comic books (Topolino and Tex) and Lucy bought a vase, and we also picked out four used movies on DVD to help us practice our language skills.

Collodi viewed from partway up the
opposing hillside.
Collodi is also the site of the Parco di Pinocchio, which has received 219 “terrible” or “poor” reviews on Trip Advisor as opposed to only seventy-three “excellent” or “very good” ratings. It seems the park is more of a monument for fans of the story than an amusement park, which is what many of the negative reviewers expected. We had no desire to pay the 12-euro entrance fee to make our own judgment, but we did grab a bite to eat outside the park.

I had looked up information the day before about author Carlo Lorenzini, who used Collodi as his pen name. Lorenzini is a very old family name in this region, and I note that Maria Pasqua Lorenzini was the great grandmother of a Guido Spadoni who immigrated to San Francisco in 1903. Thus my California cousins can make a legitimate claim that they are probably very, very distantly related to the author of Pinocchio.

Getting close to San Gennaro.
What we had not realized is that San Gennaro is on the side of a hill, perhaps a 400-foot change in elevation from Collodi, so we had to push our bikes most of the way. But as more than adequate compensation, we received inspiring views of the green valleys and hills north of Montecarlo, so we took the climb without a word of complaint. Most interesting was the view of upper Collodi, an ancient city with an unusual rectangular shape, on the hillside opposite the one we were climbing.

When we arrived at the Pieve di San Gennaro, it was closed (a pieve is a rural church with a baptistery, upon which other smaller churches depend). However, after we sat for ten minutes recovering from our long climb, I rang the bell of the rectory and asked if we could look inside the church, explaining that I wanted to see the place where my bisnonno had once worked. We were allowed to enter for a few minutes and take some photos. We could see a balcony on the side which was probably used by the choir director, and there was also an old organ in the back, evidence that music is indeed a central focus of this parish.

Another notable feature of the church is a terracotta angel that may have been carved by none other than Leonard Da Vinci. This is not some wildly imaginative story—it could really be true. Vinci is only about twenty-three miles from San Gennaro, and both are hillside villages overlooking the Valdinievole. There are records showing Leonardo was regularly consulted regarding canal engineering, and San Gennaro is included on a map that shows the route of one of the hydraulic engineering survey trips.

Ample evidence exists that Leonardo worked as a sculptor from his youth onward. The statue in San Gennaro, which depicts the archangel Gabriel, is about four feet tall and is estimated to have been made between 1476 and 1482. Da Vinci was born in 1452, so he would have been less than thirty when the statue was made. If this is indeed the work of Leonardo, it would be the only one of his sculptures that survived.

The leading expert on the life and works of Leonardo has added credence to this belief, though he stops short of giving a full endorsement. Carlo Pedretti, born in Bologna and now professor emeritus of art history at UCLA and author of numerous books on Leonardo, is cited in an online interview that I have translated from Italian:
“I’m not saying that the sculpture was done by Leonardo . . . (but) . . . the draping on the arm and the setting of the body suggests movement” similar to the works of the great artist and scientist. “Then there is the particular anatomical detail of the feet. But above all is the hair, typical of Leonardo, and the face, like the faces of the images in his early paintings, which backed up the later works of Leonardo.”

Whoever did the sculpture, it is certainly of the highest quality for a little country church, and seeing it made our visit even more worthwhile. Riding back to Pescia was all downhill, and we arrived forty minutes before the next train, giving us plenty of time to sit under an umbrella and enjoy some gelato. We had to change trains at Altopascio, which gave me time to go to the Panificio Gianotto and get two loaves of our favorite bread, the perfect ending to a great outing.


  1. Thank for the notification of this story. I sat with my morning coffee and read thru your post. Please add me to your auto-noticing list so I can continue enjoying your la dolce vita too!!

  2. Nothing like a old church and the history they keep.


  3. Beautiful - very intriguing story about the angel - I choose to believe it's a DaVinci!


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