Archive for August, 2011

Jason, Al Maranca and Jake

This area is really interesting culturally.  There are people starting to gather here with their marvellous gifts, proffering events that are supporting contemporary musicians and singers and acrobatic performances and visual artists and writers who are all possibly great.  Bagni di Lucca is attracting not just artists but also sponsors and patrons and lovers of the arts.

Guy Dowsett and Jake Cartwright began the Bucket of Sound collective

Jake, our eldest son and married to Jaqueline, is part of several collectives of young musicians and performers. One of the groups was formed recently here in Benabbio, a village above Bagni di Lucca in a spectacular old villa, San Rocco.  The collective is sponsored by Jason Beacon and it has been gathering musicians from the south of Italy; opera singers from Australia; guitarists from England and Australia; Jake is here too, himself a composer, musician and music producer, and of course many more talents are arriving daily.  In one of the attic rooms of the villa, Jake and Jason have begun to build a private recording studio.  A big sparse room of uneven walls and varying lengths and heights, and, untouched by the busy mayhem below, the studio has become a sanctuary to these delightful souls who are industriously creating music and albums to accompany the events that take place in the vast drawing room below.  This collective in these beautiful surroundings in this rambling house full of eclectic and eccentric visitors, has a bohemian quality that one rarely finds and is truly lucky to have.

San Rocco
Kasia and Jason
Kasia and Jason of San Rocco

Last weekend we attended one of these cultural events, hosted by Jason and his lovely partner, Kasia, and Aengus (the resident artist).  For 10 euros we had pasta and wine and one of the loveliest evenings of music we had had for a long time.   Al Maranca was the feature of the night, accompanied for several of the songs by Jason with song and guitar and Jake on clarinet.  A musician from down near Naples, Maranca’s music is influenced by the south and sounds really middle eastern, we even picked up hints of Pakistani music.  He was really a one man band, flipping from instrument to instrument as he wanted them, setting up beats on his recorder and getting instant sound playback as he wove a magical layout of tones and amplification.  The evening finished with wild exuberant dancing, Jake and Al jamming together, in a wonderful tease of lilting melody and drumming beat.  The floors were trembling.

Al Maranca

The next day we were back again to partake in more festivities.  San Rocco had put on an exhibition of photos and old film footage from the local people showing the history of the area.  It was such a hit with people coming from far and wide, nostalgic as they remembered.  Jaqueline had set up a store of local books in one of the rooms and Aengus had an exhibition of his paintings and drawings.  Aengus is an accomplished realist artist and lots of his talent is found in the seccos, (paintings on dry plaster walls rather than painting on fresh plaster walls – frescos), throughout the villa, giving elegant fantasy to, especially, the bedrooms.  On this day, we discovered Jason to be a writer and were really delighted to be able to buy his book, just published, ‘The President, The Terrorist & The Torturer’ – sounds ghoulish, but we are told it is metaphysical and allegorical.  So we look forward to some time in the evenings up in our little mountain house in Pieve, with peace and tranquility to peruse this other artistic element from one more of the creative people of Bagni di Lucca.

Aengus Dewar's secco, painting on the wall
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Lovers

We have an amazing life.   Here we are now, living in a little town in the mountains of Tuscany, a town that people for centuries have been coming to, to bathe in the thermal waters and enjoy a summer that is cooler than down on the plains.  All around us, gracious old villas with stately pines and magnolia trees are scattered between the old palazzos that were once hotels for all the people who came here; Byron, the Shelleys, Napoleon’s sister and mother;  the list of the famous is long.  A much reduced population now resides in this historic place and it must struggle a little to maintain all its splendid features, as the area of Bagni di Lucca is huge.  It takes in all the little surrounding hilltop villages and the locality of Fornali, Ponte a Serraglio and the Bagni di Lucca township proper, and yet it only has 6000 permanent residents.  It is on the edge of the National Park and is an area of such intrinsic natural and architectural beauty that it is extraordinary how forgotten it has become.

Lima river at Ponte a Serraglio

For us, life here is a joy.  We are able to create in tranquility and beauty and still be close to everything that is interesting to us; Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Pietrasanta, Pistoia, the beaches, the mountain walks, the visits to all the little hilltop villages.  Nowhere seems too far away.  It is a dream for us and it is a wonderful reality.  So daily we wander down to the local Patisserie, have a pastry and a cappuccino for breakfast while we talk to the local people, sleepily gazing up into the surrounding hilltops bathed in sunlight.  Then we take a little passegiata down the river to peer into the water and stand in the sun, all the while talk talk talking with all our ideas, all our dreams and all our plans, finally resting in the little park of Villa Fiori with its quirky towers and delightful old gardens.  Its wonderful.  The luxury to have the space and time to do this. Then we usually go home to our studios before going to the Borghesi for lunch….

Villa Fiori

The Borghesi for lunch.  Opposite the Banca di Toscana in Bagni di Lucca, The Borghesi is also a little bar and a Pizzeria at night. We love the Borghesi.  In fact, there are few people who don’t enjoy going there.  The food in this little trattoria with its rabbit warren of rooms is great country cooking and in traditional Lucchese style. There is a changing lunch time menu with heaps of choice, three courses including water and coffee for 9 euros and everyday it is crammed full of people, they have to turn people away and they also do as many take aways, so it is a raging business.  The latest owners, Michela and David, are very hospitable and charming, with Michela keeping a perfectionist eye on the service.

Normally we go home to our studios, but lately we have been fixing up our properties.  Our little Pieve house is getting a new roof and insulation at the moment, lovely new copper guttering, the outside walls are being ‘refreshed’ and inside too, a new paint job and we will soon have a working fireplace.

Restoration on our Pieve cottage

We also have an old apartment we want to sell on the river in Ponte a Serraglio that we have slowly been restoring. Now, at last, the last of the floors have been stripped from the miles of carpets and glues and linoleums, and we have unveiled some very special old tiled floors that have been protected for half a century below the sheaths of fashion.  Often with these old properties, the restoration is usually just undoing the ‘improvements’ of time and bringing the old place back to its original beautiful bones.  It has been a lovely process of discovery.

Dreams are special.  I am so glad we dare to dream.  Life seems to go so fast and now there seems to be nothing worthwhile to us anymore than finding the things in life that bring us joy and happiness and growth.  For us its not about being safe and secure, though we like it a lot,  its more about flying in the wind and trusting the abundant fertility of life to land you somewhere in the vicinity of that marvellous idea you had.  Scary, but wonderful, and we continue to say, we love our life!

Florence, the rebirth of beauty
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