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Into the Garfagnana 03/08/2011

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c. 1910

The Valley of the Serchio, in its upperpart, is known as the Garfagnana. It lies between the Apennines and the Apuan Alps (the mountains of Carrara). A line of railway already runs up the valley from Lucca for about fifteen miles to Bagni di Lucca, and it is being continued through the Garfagnana to join the line which connects Spezia with Parma at Aulla in the Val di Magra. This district shares with the Garfagnana the distinction of being the finest of the mountainous parts of Tuscany. The forms of the Apuan Alps are of extraordinary grandeur, while the valleys of the Serchio and its largest affluent, the Lima, no less than the numerous clefts through which mountain torrents join the larger rivers, have the picturesqueness and beauty of a northern type which adds piquancy to the southern life abounding on all sides. The lower slopes of the mountains are covered with forests of chestnuts. Against the sky-line villages are outlined on the mountain ridges in what seem almost impracticable places. On the river level there are factories for cotton and paper making. The district everywhere shows signs of active life and general well-being. The most convenient centre for exploring this part of the country is one or other of the villages that together are known as Bagni di Lucca. The station is at the point where the Lima flows into the Serchio. Less than two miles distant is the village of Ponte a Serraglio, and a mile farther on is the village of Villa. Between these points the river Lima makes a sharp turn round the base of a steep hill upon which stands Bagni Caldi, reached from Ponte a Serraglio by a fine road winding up the face of the hillside, or from Villa by a delightful footpath on the farther side of the same hill. There are baths at each of these places. Bagni Caldi consists mainly of the summer palaces of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, converted into hotels. The views of the Lima Valley and the surrounding mountains are fine. Ponte a Serraglio is situated in a narrow gorge through which the Lima forces its way. The bridge and piazza are picturesque. Villa is the official centre; the valley is more open than at Ponte a Serraglio, and although there are no very distant views the characteristic chestnut forests and the torrent of the Lima give a peculiar charm to the place.

On the Tracks of Hare and Ruskin 24/07/2011

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c. 1900

Having passed through the gate and satisfied the courteous octroi (dazio consumo) officials that you have nothing to declare, you will, if you take Mr. Hare’s advice, drive straight to the Albergo dell’ Universo, and take your ease in that inn. It is good, sound, and serviceable advice. The hotel occupies the first floor of the old Palazzo Arnolfini (sixteenth century) and fronts the Teatro del Giglio, where in September there is excellent opera. Mr. Hare, who is usually reticent in such matters, launches into quite unwonted praise of the old inn. ‘It is’, he says, ‘most excellent and reasonable. It has a small garden, and its large lofty rooms are cool and airy in summer. This inn deserves special notice, because, without losing its character as an Italian albergo, it has all the comfort and cleanliness which English travellers require.’ I In turning over the leaves of the visitors’ book at the inn, I discovered unexpected and exalted testimony to its worth. Here is what I found: ‘Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Collingwood stayed here three weeks in the October of 1882; and have been entirely comfortable in the care of M. Nieri and his servants.’ The Lucchesi remember Mr. Ruskin’s several visits very well, and with much pride and pleasure. They tell many an anecdote about the ‘gran scrittore inglese’, who used to go about with a man bearing a ladder, and scale the facades and interiors of their churches, peering into all manner of nooks and crannies with strange persistency and devotion. And the landlady of the Universo will tell you, not without a touch of compassion in her voice, how the ‘povero Signor Collingwood’ was made to lie on his back, and copy the design on the ceiling of the master’s bedroom. Small wonder when one has seen the design, which is delicate and extremely beautiful.

The honest Englishman at Lucca 14/01/2011

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c. 1900

The sacristan [at San Frediano], who takes his charge seriously, will tell you the merits of a great silver cross, the Croce dei Pisani, which Lucca took from Pisa in Castruccio’s day, and never returned. He will show you, too, the best thing that Civitale ever did, and the smallest, a portrait in relief of the head of Pietro di Noceto, a sharp-faced humanist. But of all he had to say or do I prefer his story of the travelled Englishman – not Mr. Ruskin – who made a drawing of Ilaria upon her bier, and promised a copy to the sacristan. The Englishman went away, the copy never came. ‘Then,’ said the sacristan, ‘I knew that some serious thing had occurred; for this signore was an Englishman.’

God bless the man! I wish I had his faith in Englishmen. But the fact is, he was right. He inquired, he told me, of every traveller who came through Lucca, describing minutely (as all Tuscans can) the person and habits of the illustrious. His name he had never known. By these means he did discover that his Englishman had started in a ship for Leghorn, had died on the voyage out, and been buried at sea. If the drawing of Ilaria was not in his portmanteau the mischief was in it. There was no scruple of doubt in the sacristan’s loyal mind.