Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bicycles, bogs, frogs and battle axes

Thursday, March 31
Lucy and I periodically debate whether we should get a Vespa or some other type of motorino next year. It would be nice to be able to go up to Montecarlo without walking twenty minutes up a steep grade. Today, however, is a good day to have only a bicycle, because otherwise I would have missed out on a couple of interesting encounters.

The first occurs as I ride along via Mattonaia and hear splashing noises in the boggy ditch. I slow down enough to realize that frogs, frightened by the sound of my bike, are jumping into the water. Then I stop completely and get off my bike for a closer look. I am passed by a boy of about sixteen on a motorino, but he swings back around and turns off his motor. "What are you looking for," he wants to know. "Frogs," I say. "What?" he says. I don't know if it is my bad accent or the fact that a grown man is looking for frogs that makes me hard to understand, but after I repeat the word a couple more times, he gets the picture.

"Are you French, German?" he asks. "No, americano," I explain. "Mi piaciono rane." I like frogs. This leads to a mini conversation, the only one I have had with a neighbor besides various nearby Seghieris. His name is Andrea, and he will be playing in a soccer match next week at Pescia against a squad of Americans. He likes the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team and has a classmate who is a Seghieri. Do I play soccer? No, basketball and baseball.

After a few more minutes, we both move on. I would like to meet more neighbors, but this year we have focused on language learning. Next year we hope to take private lessons in San Salvatore so we can spend more time in this little community. Now as I ride through the town, I pass a group of men of various ages who are throwing what looks like fancy hatchets at a wooden target. They are in the side yard of the local library down below the street level, and the yard is surrounded by an iron fence. I stop to watch for a moment and ask if they mind if I take some pictures. Certainly, go right ahead, they say.

It turns out they are throwing medieval battle axes, which, when thrown correctly, spin around and stick in the wooden target. Some of the throwers are quite good, while others appear to be beginners. Now some of them are throwing metal spears at the target, and there are also some fancy-handled knives stuck in the grass. I snap a dozen photos, and one of the men comes over to me and gives me a brochure that explains who they are.

It seems I am watching a practice session of the Historical Group of Montecarlo, which each year hold a festival in medieval costume to demonstrate the food, colors, arms and customs of the area during the period from about 1440 to 1510. The festival is held on the closest Sunday to June 20, and I am disappointed that I won’t be here to see it, but at least I have had a chance to watch this costume-less practice session.



Sentinels in Medieval garb from a photo I find on the site of the Gruppo Storico Montecarlese.




A battle with bastoni

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spadoni family secrets uncovered

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I had planned to see American cousins Colleen and her daughter Monica today, but they e-mailed that they were deeply engaged in una cosa d’amore for Monica. Okay, they didn’t really put it that way, and I am exaggerating a little, but probably not much. They are negotiating for the purchase of a cello for Monica in Firenze. She is an accomplished cellist and is quite taken with a particular cello made by the Florentine craftsman Paolo Vittori. Hopefully they will be successful.

I decide to use the unexpected free time to do some family history research. But before that, I am taken to Pescia by my bi-lingual friend Ari, and this time we are successful in obtaining my codice fiscale, the document I will need if I ever want to open an Italian bank account, buy a vehicle or get a job here. All we needed was a form filled out by Luca from the Casolare dei Fiori stating that he is providing us hospitality. Ari has already talked to the clerk here twice, so once we have the proper form, she says “perfetto” and the whole meeting is done in less than three minutes. All I am lacking now is enough money to actually buy a vehicle or piece of property.

After Ari drops me off, I am ready to hit the road again. I plan to take the 11 a.m. train to Pescia because on a previous trip to the parochial office there, I noted that the hours of opening are 10-12:30 p.m. Then I remember that there is no train at 11 a.m., and not even one at 12:00. The next train won’t come until 1 p.m., so I ride my bike for the first time to Pescia, which takes about half an hour. Once at the office, I am told that the archives are in a different building, and the hours there are 4-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday. I am also told that the office is not clearly marked but is the third door down on that yellow building down the street. I am now used to this routine, going to a place at a certain time and finding out that I must go to a different place that has different hours, so I am unfazed and I ride back home for lunch.

There is a train at 4 p.m., so after a ten-minute ride to San Salvatore, a five-minute train ride to Pescia station, and another ten-minute ride to the Archivio delle Parrocchie, I fill out a form stating what I want. Four other people, all Italians, are quietly reading historical documents at a large table. I am given an old book filled with hand-written records from the 1800s, but I am also given personal and professional assistance from one of the clerks, Andrea. Without his help, I would have been lost, because though I can comprehend textbook Italian well enough, all the writing is in old Italian script, which is nearly impossible for me to decipher. It takes me a minute to scan one page to see if it has any information I need. Andrea, though, can run his hand over the same page in ten seconds and still find something I have missed.

Oh, and the information he discovers! The Italian relatives we know here, to put it mildly, are not very interested in family history, and neither were their fathers and mothers. My grandfather Michele left Italy in 1903, and his brother Enrico paid Michele’s fare, according to the ship records. We know all the descendants of Enrico, but all they can tell us of Enrico and Michele’s father and mother are their names, Pietro Spadoni and Maria Marchi. Where did they come from? No lo so. When were they born? Non lo so. Did they have brothers and sisters? Non lo so. When and where were they married? A mystery. Were there other children besides Enrico and Michele? Only one, I am told, Eugenio, who did not marry. However, my Aunt Lola told me numerous times that Michele was the youngest of many children, as many as eleven, she thought. I am skeptical, though, because how would it be that Lola, who grew up in America, would know this, while the offspring of Enrico here in Italy said otherwise.

Well, guess what? It turns out that Lola was closer to the truth. Andrea and I discover three other children of Pietro and Maria. One I had uncovered myself on an earlier trip to the Pescia Comune, Zelinda, who died at age seven, but I had found only her death certificate. Today I discover her date of birth, July 9, 1880. I also find that Michele had a brother Domenico, born in 1870, six years before Michele, and a sister Maria Luisa Zelinda, born in 1864. What happened to Maria and Domenico is a mystery for another day, and how many more siblings were there really? Hopefully I will find more, but now we switch to another track.

We find the date that Pietro and Maria married—Oct. 17, 1863—and to my thrill, the record also shows their parents’ names. And their parents’ parents’ names as well! Pietro was preceded by Pellegrino, whose father was Francesco, whose father was Lorenzo. Maria’s father was Guiseppe and her mother was Luisa Vita. There are a few more names, and I am getting overwhelmed with information. It is almost closing time, so I thank Andrea heartily and leave feeling both euphoric and dazed. We have found little information on the Marchi side, so I will come back either Friday or next week.

I had sent a letter to this office in 2008 and never received a reply. Now I have received an hour and half of personal assistance, plus everyone in the archives took a break together and they gave me coffee and pastries. What a difference a personal visit makes!


Hard-to-read Italian script which shows Pietro's name at the bottom when he was two months old.

Post script: Later while looking up info on the Internet, I came across this family crest of the Seghieri family of Pisa. We are about 25 miles from Pisa here, so there is probably a connection to our Seghieri family. I also read that there is a different family crest for the Seghieri family of Pistoia, but I couldn't find an image of it. Pistoia is in the opposite direction and about 15 miles away.

In the written description, it says that the ribbon-like object in front of the lion is a band saw, which makes sense, considering that the name derives from sega, saw in English.



Rome is Rome, but there’s no place like home

Monday and Tuesday, March 28-29
Lucy has been wanting to attend a meeting of Bible Study Fellowship, which exists in Italy only in Roma, and only on Monday evenings. Roma is about four hours away by train, which means we will have to stay overnight, as trains do not run to San Salvatore at night. A further obstacle is the cost, about 50 euros each way. However, by playing around a little on the trenitalia.it website, I discover that by changing trains at various stations, we can take regional trains, the kind that stop at small stations, and cut the cost in half. It means the trip will take about five hours, plus additional time waiting in stations, but we will gladly trade a few hours for the saved money.

We fill up our backpacks with our overnight kits as well as snacks, books and Italian class homework. When we are not occupied with these things, we love to stare out the windows at the hillside cities in the distance. We wonder what life is like up on those isolated hills, and we marvel that these cities would have looked much the same if we had passed through these valleys 500 years ago. Some may have looked even more impressive, since in an earlier age it was important for anyone of means to build a tower to show off one’s status and wealth. I don’t want to disparage these early tower owners, however, because I would definitely have wanted to build a tower if I could afford it.

Bible Study Fellowship meets in a Baptist Church near the Spanish Steps, and we find it easily after checking into our room. I eat a leisurely dinner while Lucy, who has grabbed a quick meal at the station, goes off to the meeting. After dinner, I stroll back to the steps for some serious people-watching. Surprisingly, by walking slowly, confidently and purposefully, the immigrants selling toys and trinkets ignore me, because I have fooled them into thinking I am Italian instead of some foreign tourist looking for souvenirs. This gives me a small sense of satisfaction, though I know that if I were to open my mouth, my accent would betray me.

I meet Lucy at 8:30 p.m. and we go to have a drink with Mary, an American that Lucy met during the Bible study who also recently obtained her Italian citizenship and arrived in Rome with her mother only three weeks ago. We exchange stories for a while over tea and hot chocolate and are amazed when we get the bill. Each drink has cost five euros, or $7.04 at today’s conversion rate. And the hot chocolate was not even traditional thick and creamy Italian cioccolata calda but a thin Americanized version. We ask if there is a mistake, but no, that is what it costs.

The prices, the noise and the professional beggars we encounter on the streets and in the train station make us thankful to be living in Toscana. The historic sites here are unsurpassed, of course, but in short time we would run out of money and yearn for the quiet of San Salvatore and the welcome order of peaceful Lucca. In the morning, we decide too late to see the crypt of the capuchin monks. We would arrive there at noon, the start of the three-hour lunch break, and since our train leaves at 2:45 p.m., we go to lunch instead, where even there we are approached by a pair of beggars, a mother and her son, who looks to be about thirteen years old. Lucy sees them from afar, and the son looks relaxed, casual and even a bit bored, but once they get to work, his face is sad and imploring, and the mother is able to bring tears to her eyes at will. Somewhat grudgingly, I give them a tangerine and a coin that was my change from buying lunch. The boy pleads for more, but I tell him no. Lucy and I confess that we are both rather relived to get back on the train and look at the hillside cities and the countryside again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sogni d’oro of a casa toscana

Friday, March 25
Talk about scope for the imagination! Today we find out that two abandoned two-story houses on via Mattonaia are for sale. Both are right on the river and are within easy walking distance of our agriturismo.  They are set back from the main road, so they would have long driveways but would also have privacy. They have fields for planting vegetables and fruit trees and whatever else we could think of to plant.

We see the upstream house from a distance nearly every day when we ride to the station, but we have not looked at it up close until today, when by an interesting coincidence, we find out it is for sale. This all comes about because this morning we ask a real estate agent, Roberto, to show us an apartment that is for sale up the hill in Montecarlo. The apartment is advertised as very near Montecarlo and recently refurbished. The asking price is 200,000 euro, which would be in our price range if we ever decided to sell one of our properties in the states. We are not seriously looking, but it never hurts to have more information.

After he show us the apartment, which is really very nice, he mentions that he has the listing on a rustico in San Salvatore, and we ask to see it, not realizing it is the old house we have passed so many times on our bikes. It is about 2,600 square feet and sits on a little less than an acre of very flat farmland. No one has lived in it for forty years, and it is locked up, so we can only peak inside and see a large fireplace with an ancient pot hanging in the middle. We can also see some boxes and old farming supplies. It is made of brick and stone and then coated with stucco, but most of the stucco has fallen off.

Roberto tells us it is owned by two brothers who live nearby and that it is the old family house. He says we would have to run utilities underground from via Mattonaia and then put in a new driveway, because the existing driveway runs right between the two Lari houses. We know it would be very costly to put in the driveway and even more costly to renovate the house, but Roberto says we could finish the house a few rooms at a time. We ask why there is no for sale sign, and he tells us that such signs are rare in this area.

 Back home at the Casolare dei Fiori, Lucy asks our padrone Enzo what he thinks about this house. It is old and far from the road, he says. Do we know there is another rustico for sale that is newer and closer? We walk into his garden area and he points to a house a couple of fields away. It is owned by some Seghieris and has been for sale in the past. He doesn’t know if it is currently for sale, but it has been empty for some time and the owners are probably still interested in selling.

Lucy and I walk there and peak inside what we decide to call the downstream house. It seems slightly newer and looks as if has been unoccupied for maybe only twenty years. However, it has no trees and the nearby houses seem a little closer. We stand up on the river levy to see what view the home would have from the second floor. We can see Montecatini Alto and Uzzano Castello, but we also see a lot of electrical towers that are quite near. And what’s that faint hum we hear? It seems to be coming from an electrical substation across the river.

Now we ride our bikes back to the upstream house. It has a walnut tree shading it, and it is set back farther from the road so it has more privacy. It is only 60 feet from the river, so no one is ever going to build another house in its backyard. Across the river is a hill with a forest, and the train runs through the pine trees on the hillside. Some might say that would create unwelcome noise, but trains here run on electricity and are relatively quiet, and perhaps because we are fond of traveling, to us the sound of trains makes us think of adventure. To get to the river, we must scale a levy that is about twenty feet tall. Atop the levy, it is flat and broad, and we can imagine taking our lawn chairs, books and lunches up here and enjoying the breeze, the view and the sound of the murmuring stream. We also see a couple of fishermen on the other side. We love it!

“Sogni d’oro” is a thing that Italians sometimes say when bidding someone goodnight. It means, “Dreams of gold.” We love to dream, but we also are fully aware of reality. The asking price is 220,000 euro, about $310,000. Then it might cost another $300,000 to make it habitable. If I had $510,000, which I definitely don’t, I would be better to invest it (or pay off my current debts). $510,000 invested at five percent interest would earn more than $25,000 a year, and for that I could rent an entire villa for three months and still have money left over to buy a car. Still, there a strong inherent appeal in the thought of having one’s own estate, and we know we will now be destined to stare longingly at this enchanting rustico every time we pass it.

Il Carnevale staordinario di Viareggio

Sunday, March 20
Last week at church, we met a couple of charming German retirees who nearly thirty years ago purchased a ruin near Viareggio and have been working on it ever since, coming here regularly for a few weeks in the fall and spring. They took us out to lunch, and today we return the favor. Eberhard formerly worked in German radio and television. He has traveled extensively and tells us some intriguing stories about his work. Dorothea is a theologian and teaches ethics to students planning to become social workers. She speaks German, English, Italian, French and Czech and has experiences equally as fascinating.

At some point in the conversation, Carnevale comes up, and we tell about our soggy attempt to see the corso mascherato last week. Today is a beautiful day, and we know that because two of the five Sunday parades were rained out (and another was held in the rain, with some damage to the floats), the city of Viareggio has decided to hold a corso staordinario today to make up for the missed parades. We are interested but don’t feel ready to invest the rest of our day in this pursuit, knowing that the trains run less frequently on Sundays and we could spend much time waiting around.

Eberhard and Dorothea went to Carnevale here years ago and were disappointed because it didn’t match up to Carnevale in Germany cities. Not as much drinking, not as many people dressed in costume, not as much spirit, they said. They plan to go home and work in their backyard. An old olive tree tipped over this winter, and a handyman has cut it up. Now they need to gather and stack the wood. The thought of Eberhard, who is eighty, hauling wood on a steep hillside prompts Lucy to volunteer our services. Eberhard and Dorothea have a short discussion in German and make us an offer we can’t refuse. They will take us to their home, where we can help gather the wood, and then we can rest a little, and they will take us to Carnevale. Afterwards, they will take us out to dinner, and then we can spend the night in their guest room. The next day, they will drive us back to San Salvatore.

We accept, not so much because we are dying to see Carnevale as because we are enjoying the company of these interesting new friends. Their house, now nicely restored, is located on the steep olive-tree covered hillsides above Piano di Mommio. It reminds me a bit of my all-time favorite book about foreigners coming to live in Italy (and I have read about twenty of these), Extra Virgin. Neighbors can be seen on the adjoining hillsides, but it would take quite a hike to visit most of them. One can just see the Tyrrhenian Sea from here, as well as the northern half of Viareggio.

Lucy and I make short work of the firewood harvest, and she is ready to take a rest, but I am anxious to do more. Eberhard has mentioned that later he will use his electric chainsaw to cut the branches into smaller pieces to fit in the fireplace, and I find Dorothea, who shows me where the saw is located, and she and I string the electrical cord out the back window. Now Eberhard joins me, holding the branches while I hold the saw, and in twenty minutes, we are finished. We celebrate with nuts, crackers, cheese and a variety of beverages, and then we are off to Carnevale. On the way, we drive past Cittadella del Carnivale, a mini-city where the craftsmen make the floats.  Parking for us is not a problem, because Eberhard is not going to stay; he drops us off a block away from the entrance.

The corso mascherato is suitable impressive, and Dorothea admits it is much better than she remembered or expected. The floats circulate continuously along the two waterfront streets, and the artwork and animation are spectacular. We are told that the organizations which create floats must compete for the honor of being selected for the Viareggio parade, and each float has a theme with both serious and satirical sides. For example, U.S. President Obama, animated eyes roving from side to side, is pictured as a smiling grand magician waving a smoking wand in front of a flea circus, in reference to campaign promises that are becoming mere illusions. More smiling and head-nodding paper-mâché members of his staff, including Hillary Clinton, follow him. Suddenly, in a puff of gunsmoke, out from his top hat pops an armed Osama bin Laden. On another float, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi pulls back the mask that is his normal face to reveal a grotesque and grinning skull beneath, a reference to the problems that lurk under the surface of his administration.

The most notable difference between the corso mascherato and American parades is intricate use of animation and the finely detailed paper-mâché instead of the floating balloons of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the flower-covered floats of the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Live characters on the floats are engaged in singing, dancing and acting rather than just waving at the crowds or throwing candy. Also, there are no barricades to prevent spectators from walking in the streets and taking photos standing directly in front of the floats, although there are escorts on foot to make sure no one is run over or gets whacked on the head by a protruding animated arm or tail.

Later at dinner, we learn more about Eberhard and Dorothea, including a fascinating tale of how Eberhard escaped from East Germany balancing a backpack and a young niece while crossing a stream over a narrow railroad tie. He was near a guard station manned by Russians, but that was part of his plan, because he didn’t think anyone would be expecting someone to cross at that point. The frightened niece was able to keep quiet while Eberhard stepped over a knee-high trip cable placed on the railroad tie crossing.

After we go back to the house to get ready to spend the night, we are alerted to lights and sounds in the sky over the water. The fireworks marking the end of Carnevale have just begun, and we climb higher on the hillside to get a good view. It is a magnificent display, with several exploding shapes that we have not seen elsewhere. We clamber shivering back down the hillside and make our way inside and prepare for bed. What started out as a day with no plans other than going to church has turned into an unexpected and unforgettable memory.
Il boscaiolo fortissimo


Thursday, March 24, 2011

The warmth and welcome of spring

Saturday, March 19
Spring has started a day early in Toscana! This was the rainiest week since we have been here, but today is mostly sunny, and suddenly it is warm outside. Previously the predominant smells have been of the wet clay-laden soil, with occasional wiffs of decaying vegetation left on the ground from last fall. Now these odors are overpowered by the sweetness of blossoming fruit trees and flowers that seem to have opened up in the last twelve hours.

Lucy and I ride our bikes to Conad, a grocery store that is nearby but on a street we don’t usually take—thus the store avoided discovery until recently. For reasons unknown, the store is closed, though it is now 3:10 p.m. Lucy will go to Luigi’s little shop in San Salvatore instead, but I, now that I have roused myself from a day spent mostly in front of my computer, want to make further discoveries. I bid Lucy good-bye and ride off in the opposite direction.

I find a small tunnel that leads under the A-11 highway to Chiesina Uzzanese. This is helpful, because in our previous visit to this nearby little city, we had to ride over a narrow, steep and trafficoso overpass, not a pleasant task on our aging bicycles. I don’t stop at Chiesina, though, because I am looking for terra nuova today. I head in the direction of Ponte Buggianese. I don’t have a map, but there are always signs that can guide me back to Chiesina when I am done wandering. I have to stop and put my jacket in my backpack, the first time this has happened, another sure sign of spring.

In only fifteen minutes, I find myself unexpectedly in Ponte Buggianese. I must have missed the sign when I entered, and I only realize I have arrived when I look up just in time to see via I. Spadoni, which I recognize from a spring break exploration in a rental car three years ago. I know this street is in the very center of the city, and I follow it about a block to the Comune of Ponte Buggianese, where there is a plaque on the wall in memory of Italo Spadoni. I saw this during a fruitless search three years ago for the birthdate of my great-grandfather Pietro Spadoni. I know from his death certificate that he was born  here around 1831, but that was before Italy became a country, and there are no civic records. The clerk at the records office suggested that I try researching church records, and that remains on my to-do list. She also told me that there are about 100 Spadonis living in Ponte Buggianese, and at the cemetery here, Lucy and I saw dozens of Spadoni gravesites. This city truly seems to be at the center of the Spadoni family in Toscana.

The plaque reads:
alla memoria di
ITALO SPADONI
che nel fiore degli anni
il 1° aprile 1924
fu barbaramente assassinato
dai sicari del fascismo
---
il popolo di Ponte Buggianese
promotore il C. L. Nazionale
con sottoscrizione plebiscitaria
perché i posteri non dimentichino
i martiri che col loro sacrificio
prepararono la redenzione del popolo
e le scelleratezze e i delitti
compiuti sotto il regime del littorio
pose questo marmo
lì 28 settembre 1947

Here is my translation, to the best of my current abilities: To the memory of Italo Spadoni, who in the flower of his years, on April 1, 1924, was brutally assassinated by the hired killers of Fascism. The people of Ponte Buggianese, sponsored by the Community of National Liberation, all contributed so that those who come after will not forget. The martyrs and their sacrifice prepare the way for the redemption of the people and the wickedness and crimes committed under the regime of Fascism. This marble is set here Sept. 28, 1947.

I know that Italo is not in my family line, though we are likely tied together somehow in the distant past. It makes me curious to know more about the development and spread of fascism in Italy. I know that Fascism grew rapidly from 1922-1926, using violence and intimidation to gain power. Mussolini was named prime minister in 1922 and declared himself dictator in 1925. During the years before he joined the German side of World War II in 1940, he was powerful and fairly popular. I am pleased to know that “cousin” Italo saw through Hitler and his ill-fated Fascist movement long before much of the rest of Italy did, but I am sad and angry to think about the high price he and his family paid.

I ride on and find another Conad grocery store. It is open and I buy a few things that I know were on Lucy’s shopping list. Then I stop for ten minutes to watch a soccer game being played among teenagers in a stadium. As I ride back towards Chiesina and my apartment, I see a sign on the outside of a large building for a business called Cecchi & Spadoni. It is closed today, and though I can’t tell exactly what the business is about, I can see it has something to do with automotive services. I feel as if the warm weather and the “Spadoni sightings” I have had today are a way for Italy to say to me that even though I struggle to fit in here, I am welcome to return. I am still a part of Toscana.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Secrets and mysteries of Lucca

Friday, March 18
Mummies, backwards bodies, statues that change colors, oxen carrying out the will of God—these are all part of “The secrets of Lucca,” which is the title of our language school activity this afternoon. Interestingly enough, our guide’s name is Luca. If you have not studied Italian, you might think there is no difference in the way these names are pronounced, but Italians can easily tell the difference. For us, pronouncing Lucca and Luca correctly is a work in progress, as is detecting the difference when native Italians say the names.

Note leg on horseman on right.
The Basilica di San Frediano houses several mysteries, including a display of the body of Lucca’s patron saint, Santa Zita. The fact that it mummified without any preservatives in the humid climate of Tuscany is considered remarkable. Zita was born near Lucca and at age 12 became a domestic servant to the wealthy Fatinelli family of Lucca. She was beloved by the family and a devout Catholic who carried leftover bread to the local poor. One day a jealous co-worker accused her of stealing from the family by carrying away their bread to the poor. When the head of the family asked her what she was carrying in her apron, she opened it and a cascade of flowers spilled forth. Now her death on April 27 is celebrated with floral exhibitions in various places in the city.

Also at San Frediano is a fountain lined with bass relief images depicting the crossing of the Red Sea. One of the Egyptian horsemen has a body which from the waist down is facing backwards, while the top part is facing frontwards. Luca does not know if anyone is aware why the artist did this.

Before we leave San Frediano, Luca points out a painting called the Trasferimento del Volto Santo, the Translation of the Holy Face, in which a wooden statue of the crucifix is being pulled in an oxcart. The story gets pretty elaborate, and it is hard to tell which parts are true and which not, so I will just relate what I have heard and let the reader decide. The original crucifix was carved by Nicodemus, the one in the Bible who helped Joseph of Arimathea remove Christ’s body from the cross. He carved everything but the face, hesitating because he feared he could not do it justice. He fell asleep and awoke to find the face beautifully and miraculously finished.  It was hidden in the Holy Land for seven centuries and then discovered by Bishop Gualfredo, who was on a pilgrimage and learned about the cave in a dream. To determine where God wanted the crucifix to be located, he set it adrift in the Mediterranean in an unmanned boat.  It landed in Luni, Italy, but it wouldn’t let the people of Luni board it, pulling away from the shore every time they tried. The bishop of Lucca, also prompted by a dream, came to Luni and the boat came to him. To further determine where the statue should be housed, he put it in an unmanned oxcart, which carried it to Lucca and then stopped. It was placed in San Frediano, but the next morning it appeared instead in the church of San Marino, which was accepted as its rightful resting place.

This elaborate story, however, is not the mystery that Luca is about the reveal to us. It is just the back story. He asks us to look carefully at the painting, which shows the Volto Santo in an oxcart, on its way from Luni to Lucca. What is the color of the face and hands of Christ? White, we respond.

Now we are on to San Martino, where we see the actual Volto Santo. The face and the hands are a deep, deep brown. Why was it white when it came to Lucca and brown now? Well, that’s why this tour is called the secrets of Lucca, and there appears to be some disagreement about the reason. Luca believes it is because the wood of the statue has absorbed much candle smoke over the centuries. A web site that I consult afterwards says it was carved with dark cedar wood, and the “face has been left the deep brown color of the wood, with the beard, hair and eyes painted black”(www.sacred-destinations.com), but there is no mention on the web site of the white-faced crucifix in the painting.

These are not the only mysteries we discover on the tour, but we feel obliged to hold a few back. If you want more, you’ll have to come discover them in person!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Montecarlo and the Italian unification

Thursday, March 17
We go to a truly Italians-only event tonight, a special program in Montecarlo to commemorate the 150th birthday of the unification of Italy. In the big cities, there are huge gatherings with parades, orchestras, flag raisings, sbandieratori and fireworks, and that’s where most of the foreigners will be tonight. In little cities like Montecarlo, the festivities are quieter and draw mainly the middle-aged and older people, so in that regard, we fit right in. We saw a poster yesterday advertising the city’s celebration and decided that this would give us more insight into the local culture.

For one thing, the event is held in the Teatro dei Rassicurati, and for several years now, we have wanted to see the inside of this building. When we came here during my spring vacations, we would see well-dressed Italians going into the theater in the evening to watch live productions. We even considered inquiring about tickets, but we realized that plays usually have fast-paced dialog with minimal action, and we undoubtedly would understand little. But tonight there will be an orchestra and a chorus, along with speeches from the mayor and two university professors.

Typical of Italian events, the starting time is 9 p.m. We want to make sure we arrive in time to get seats, and we also are not keen on walking up the hill in the dark, so we leave home at 6:30 p.m. We ride our bikes ten minutes until the road becomes too steep for us, and then we lock our bikes and continue on foot, about twenty minutes more. We have clear skies now, but it has been pouring rain for much of the day, so the street and ditches on the hillside are awash with water.

We are fond of walking through Montecarlo because, though small, it always seems friendly and lively. We explore a restaurant that is perched on an outcropping on the edge of the hill and has a large covered outside dining area. It must be a spectacular place to dine in the summer, with a 180 degree-plus view of the valley below. Now it is too cold to eat outside, and the menu is a bit pricey for us, so we decide to go back to the trattoria where we dined with the Grays on the day in which they helped us get settled back at the beginning of February. We have found that a smart way to dine out here is to order a full course meal but split every plate between the two of us. That way we get to sample a variety of foods but don’t get too stuffed and don’t break our budget. The food is every bit as scrumptious as it was the first time, and we also are given a complimentary bowl of pumpkin soup as an appetizer.

We arrive at the theater at 8:45 p.m. and try to look like we know what we are doing as we choose a pair of empty seats. We have plenty of time for people-watching, as the program doesn’t actually get under way until 9:15 p.m. We recognize the sindaco, Vittorio Fantozzi, from a photo we saw on the comune’s web site. He looks to be in his late thirties and is smiling and dapper, with a neatly trimmed short beard and mustache. He is passing out ribbons of green, white and red with pins to fasten them to jackets or shirts, and we give him a grazie as we take ours.

The theater is old, dating back to the 1600s, but it has been remodeled several times and is well maintained with comfortable seats on the ground floor. In the balconies above, the seating areas are boxed off so that families can sit together in relative privacy. A good 80 percent of the audience tonight is composed of people ages forty and above, and there are many smiling and polite greetings between the attendees, though this is a formal event and voices are lower than they normally would be if you put this many Italians together in, say, a restaurant.

The orchestra has only nine instruments and the chorus about 18 persons, equally mixed between men and women. We listen to the Inno di Italia, the Italian national anthem, also known as the Hymm of Mameli, for Goffredo Mameli, who wrote the words. This is followed by a ten-minute welcome from Sindaco Fantozzi (see photo, left), who introduces historians Sergio Nelli (right) and Giorgio Yori (center). Dottor Yori makes a thirty-minute speech about the Risorgimento, the time during which Italy became united. I can understand this a little because I am familiar with the story. He says it was a type of civil war, sad and bloody, but the end result was beneficial.

Fantozzi, Yori, Nelli
Now is Dottor Nelli’s turn, and he talks about the history of the Montecarlo area during the mid-1800s. His speech is long and full of dates, names, cities and census data, and we are at a loss to understand many of the words in between. However, I perk up when I hear the name Seghieri. In fact, by the end of the speech, I have counted sixteen references to various Seghieris, including a Giovanni Seghieri, who could be a distant relative, according to the ancestry research we have done. I think he also says that a Seghieri accompanied Giuseppe Garibaldi on one of his campaigns.  We also hear the names Capocchi and Montanelli, which are in our family line. I wonder where Dottor Nelli works and if he speaks English so that some day I can find out more about the Seghieris’ role in local history, but my time here is packed already and I think that will have to wait for another year.

Then there are more performances from the orchestra and chorus, and we are struggling to stay awake when the end is announced at 11:15 p.m. We will have to walk down the hill in the dark, and we decide to leave quickly so we won’t have a line of cars driving up behind us. The moon is nearly full, and a confused rooster halfway down the hillside is crowing. We make it to our bikes without encountering many cars and arrive home just before midnight, tired by happy to have participated in a small way in an authentic community event.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting close to Italy’s birthday

Wednesday, March 16
We make our first trip to Firenze in the month and a half since we have been here. Even though we are only an hour away, it has not been on our agenda. We are here to learn Italian and to learn about being Italian, not to look at amazing buildings and works of art. It is true that we occasionally do become typical tourists as well, but we try to keep the tourism thing to a minimum. We purposely chose to live in a small city because most adults in rural areas speak little English, and we like it that way.

On so many occasions during previous trips to Italy, we will walk into a shop in a tourist city, say “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” or “Vorrei un cono di gelato” and get in response: “Hello” or “How many scoops?”  Sometimes I don’t even say anything, and I am greeted with, “May I help you?” It’s like I have a big sign on my head that says “Foreigner!” This used to really irritate me, because I have been told that I look Italian, so how do they know I am American? In fact, it still does irritate me, but I have grown to accept it as inevitable.

I admit that the accent is probably a giveaway. Even though I think my buongiorno sounds pretty good, I realize that when an Italian says “Good morning” to me, I can hear the accent right away. It is pretty nearly impossible for an adult to learn a new language without an accent. But how do they know I am American before I even say a word? I must concede that another giveaway is my lovely wife, who is taller, blonder and more white-skinned than the typical native. But there is even more to it than that. We have a friend, Pino, who once explained to us that the way we dress and walk gives us away, too. It is something that defies easy description, he said, but there are subtle clues that set us apart. He suggested that if we want to blend in, we should shop at Italian clothing stores, and that is part of my motivation for the two trips I have taken to Torello Abigliamento in the past three weeks.

Today I am wearing my new Italian sweater and boots as we walk through Firenze, but right off, I am met by a young person who wants me to sign a petition opposing drugs. I have said nothing, but the request is in English. What’s up with that? Did I just throw my money away on a sweater and boots? The same thing happens when we go into a bar and I order “Una cioccolata calda, per favore,” and the cashier tells me the price in English. I may have my certificate of citizenship, but I have a long way to go before real Italians will consider me Italian.

Tonight is the eve of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, and the streets of Firenze are packed. We walk over to the Ponte Vecchio at dusk, and as the skies get darker, the bridge seems to stand out more and more. Then we notice that it is not all the same color. One end looks greenish, and the other looks reddish. Leaning over the stone railing, we discover spotlights of different colors directed at the bridge, which is gradually becoming green, white and red—the colors of the Italian flag—as the evening darkens.

Back in the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, we find drums beating and sbandieratori marching. Sbandieratori are performers who carry flags on poles that are weighted at the end, and in synchronization they swing the flags around, throw them in the air and catch them in a dazzling display of color and dexterity. In earlier times, sbandieratori were soldiers who bore the flags not only as a source of pride and strength but also to communicate with the troops when to attack, what formations to use and other information about important phases of the battle.

The sbandieratori stop marching and form a circle, and pretty soon flags are flying through the air from one side of the circle to the other. I am kneeling down in the front row, trying to snap a picture at the precise moment when a flag is caught. So intent am I that I don’t realize a flag has gone astray. I hear some gasps around me and then a thump. I look up and find the crowd near me has backed up, and I alone remain, but only a foot away from me is the fallen bandiera. It must have narrowly missed my head, but I alone was fearless throughout the incident. Of course, I alone was the only one who had no idea what was happening.

Tutto a posto?” says the sbandieratore as he touches my shoulder and picks up the errant flag.

Si, sto bene,” I answer.

I have come about as close to the celebration as I can come, and this close call gives me my own special event to help me remember the day of the country’s birth.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spelunking with a Russian bear


Tuesday, March 15
We take a break from trying to be Italian today to visit the Grotta del Vento in the Garfagnana hills. We ride in Steve and Patti’s van and speak English most of the day. The cave is like many things we have seen in Italy—spectacular and intricate columns that look like white marble—only without the added touch of man shaping them into buildings or statues. We take the shortest tour, one hour, of the three itineraries available.

We learn that no bats or animals have lived in the cave because it has two openings and would be very windy inside if it were not for a door that closes the top entrance now. A few bones of large bears have been found in the cave, but it is thought that water washed them inside. Still, we see the skeleton of a large cave bear that has been pieced together inside. We learn that this type of bear did live in this region at one time, but this skeleton has been imported from Russia. He has very low hips, and Lucy comments that he reminds her of teenage boys wearing sagging pants. 
The cave is still very active, with calcium-laden drops of water dripping from the alabaster draperies above onto stalagmites below, not to mention onto our heads. We learn that the limestone was formed by shells, coral formations, fish skeletons, sand and slime found on the bottom of the sea. Then strong thrusts of the earth’s crusts created the mountains, and heavy rainfall created underground rivers that carved out these caves.

While the tour is enjoyable, perhaps the most memorable part of the trip will be the full course dinner we enjoy at a bargain price at a trattoria near Gallicano, still high in the mountains. We and a Spanish couple who also toured the cave are the only diners, and the cook and waiter are gracious and friendly. For some reason, the best dinner prices are in out-of-the-way cities like this. It could go without saying that the food is delicious, because a restaurant in rural Italy would soon be out of business if it wasn’t.
We thought this kind of looks like an alien head peering out from a cavern.

Columns of calcium carbonate.

Buying a pair of boots without losing my shirt

Monday, March 14
Even the dolce vita has a few moments of misery. Okay, I am exaggerating, but I don’t like shopping for clothes. Perhaps more accurately, I don’t like the thought of spending money on clothes. Nevertheless, after our rainy Sunday afternoon in Viareggio, I have to concede that I need boots. I am tired of walking around in wet tennis shoes all day every time it rains.

Steve and Patti Gray, our friends from Padova, have come today for a three-day visit, and since they have a car, Lucy suggests that Patti take me out shopping while Steve does some work on his computer. To find a good shoe store, we stop at Torello Abbigliamento to ask for a recommendation. Lucy and I came here a few weeks ago to buy me a couple of shirts, and the proprietress remembers us. Today, though, we meet the patriarch of the store. Torello Luporini, who looks to be in his eighties, is sitting at the cashier’s counter. Another customer is making a purchase, and the sales lady passes the customer’s money to Torello, who makes the change and passes it to the sales lady, who gives it to the customer.

Naturally, when Torello learns that we are American, he tells us about his cousin who lives in Chicago. Everyone in Italy has relatives in America, and it always makes a good ice breaker. With some help from Patti, we find that he once had a supervisor who was friends with a Spadoni, and that a Spadoni was once the sindaco, mayor, of Montecarlomore information for me to look into on another day. Torello recommends a shoe shop in Montecarlo, and he gives us a nice calendar and pen with his store’s name on them. I am ready to go, but meanwhile Lucy has been checking out the men’s sweaters and has something she wants me to try on.

I know where this is leading. Everyone will ask me if I like it, and if I do, I will be expected to buy it, and this is what happens. Then comes the painful moment when I find out the price, which is considerably more than I would pay at Macy’s during a sale. However, I remember that I am paying for more than just a finely made Italian wool sweater. I am shopping like an Italian and we are becoming acquainted with this nice family that operates a traditional clothing store in the hometown of my grandparents. On the wall are photos of the San Salvatore of eighty years ago, and Torello is inviting me to stop by again for another chat. So my wallet is opened and I have a new sweater.

Now it’s up the hill to Montecarlo, where we find a small but well-stocked shoe store with a friendly proprietor. I explain that I need boots, not elegant ones, to keep my feet dry in the rain, and I am shown two styles, both reasonably priced but not exactly what I am looking for. The third pair, though, is perfect, simple black leather that covers my ankles and has waffle-like soles. I brace myself for the price and am amazed to find that they are less than half of what I had expected to pay. I am assured by the salesman that they are made in Italy by a well-respected company. Patti is also impressed by the price and quality and says she will tell Steve about this place.

So what started out as an activity that I usually dread has ended pleasantly. I have gone shopping in an Italian way, practiced my language skills and met some charming local shop owners. And as a side benefit, I also have a nice sweater and pair of boots, purchased, on the whole, at decent prices. Even the unpleasant tasks of life here seem sweeter.


This is from the enlarged photo on the wall at Torello Abbigliamento. It does not say when the photo was taken, but I have a picture taken in 1969 which shows a gas station where the family on the left is sitting, and now there is a very popular bar there. The house where Pietro Spadoni and Maria Marchi lived would be just to the right of the viewable area. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celebrating a wet Italian Carnevale

Sunday, March 13
We live only thirty-five minutes from Viareggio, the location of one of the most famous Carnevale celebrations in Italy, and as the final Sunday of Carnevale approaches, we cannot resist the lure of the flesh. After going to church, no less, we decide to indulge ourselves and hop on the train to sample the revelry. Okay, that sounds a lot more salacious than it really is meant to be, but it does have some basis in history, at least.

Carnevale, or carnival in English, is celebrated in countries with Roman Catholic traditions and the “carne” part of the name does mean flesh or meat. During Lent, 40 days before Easter, Catholics traditionally abstained from eating rich foods such as meat, sweets, fats and dairy foods. So just before Lent, all rich foods had to be disposed of in some way, so why not have a big community party to get rid of them? This is thought to be how Carnevale originated, and the one in Venice was once the most famous, although now there is a bigger one in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Venice is still number one in Italy, at least by reputation, but some say Viareggio has surpassed it with a fantastic corso mascherato, or parade with masks. The floats are of immense size, three or four stories tall, and they are masterpieces of creative splendor befitting a country that is already famous for its art. Floats depict notable current or historic personalities and events, and they are animated both with sophisticated internal technology and live actors aboard in costume.

Unfortunately for us, we know this only by watching online videos, because after walking around in the rain for an hour and a half, we hear an announcement on the loudspeakers: Because of bad weather, il corso mascherato e annulato, canceled. We go back to the ticket booth and get our 30 euro refunded, and we do manage to snap some nice pictures of some of the carnevale celebrants, who are singing and marching in their own mini-parade.

Now we are faced with a difficult choice for our return trip. We have spent most of our time under our umbrellas and so we are mildly damp. We could wait an extra two hours and catch a train all the way to San Salvatore, or we could take a train right now that only goes as far as Altopascio, which would require a twenty-five-minute bike ride home. It has been raining off and on all day, so we could be in for a wet ride, but even if we wait for the San Salvatore train, we will still have an eight-minute bike ride home from that station. At the moment, it is not raining, and we decide to head out now and ride back from Altopascio. Alas, the closer we get, the harder it is raining, and we arrive home quite soaked, but one of the benefits of staying in a modern agriturismo is a shower with abundant hot water, so we are quickly revived. I suppose one could say that this is our worst day since we have been here, but we enjoyed watching the people, both the masked and unmasked, and we are still quite contented. Besides, this gives us something new to look forward to next year.


Here is where you can watch a nice video of last year’s Carnevale in Viareggio:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Abudius and the feather fertilizer

Friday, March 11
From San Salvatore we can see several small hilltop cities, and today we set out to explore one of the most prominent, Buggiano Castello. We can ride the train to Borgo a Buggiano and then take a 20-minute salita up the hill. There are other cities around here based on the name Buggiano—Ponte Buggianese, Buggiano, Colle di Buggiano. Buggiano sounds similar to the word bugiardo, liar. How did such a name get attached to this region? A bit of Internet research shows three possible solutions, two of which are rather boring and have to do with words that came from other languages.

One theory is that it came from the Gallic tribe of “Booj.” Another is that it derived from “Bovianum,” Latin for ox. The best story is about a Roman soldier, Abudius. He had fought a valiant battle, and his commanding officer wanted to reward him with a piece of property on the hill to live a life of peace. The officer gave Abudius an ox skin and said he must mark out the property with it, thinking that Abudius could get a piece of property only big enough to make his grave.  Abudius took the skin away and secretly cut it into many thin strings with which he was able to circumscribe a large plot of land. The officer had to concede to the cleverness of Abudius, and Buggiano grew from this land.

So none of these solutions are related to bugia, the word for “lie,” or bugiardo, “liar.” But then these stories all come from the Comune di Buggiano website, and perhaps these Buggianese are just master fibbers who made up some good stories to hide their true nature.

We chain our bikes up at the base of Buggiano Castello and climb a broad road that winds through fields of ancient twisted olive trees. Halfway up, we see what looks like snow on the grass between the trees. On closer examination, it turns out to be white chicken feathers, spread out evenly about three inches thick. We also see under a shed some tightly packed bales of feathers that have yet to be spread out. We guess that somebody has found out that chicken feathers make good mulch and fertilizer, and later I look this up on the web and find that to be true.

Castello Buggiano turns out to be entirely a bedroom community. It has many more houses and apartments than Montecarlo, but we don’t see a single restaurant or store. We get some great views from the top, because we can see both west to Montecarlo and east to Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto. During the entire half hour we spend exploring, we see only a handful of people. If we had to chose a hilltop city on which to live, we’d much prefer our own Montecarlo, which has a healthy mix of businesses and residences and is alive and active both day and night.

We walk back down and ride our bikes for ten minutes to Uzzano, where we stop in to say hello to Alberto Spadoni at his real estate agency. I recently sent Alberto an email asking him to help us look at some houses here so we can get an idea about the market. We are not in a position to buy anything now, but it might help us plan for the future, and besides, we love to dream. He will be glad to help us and we will call him back when our schedule clears up a bit more.

Then it is back to the bikes for another ten-minute ride, this time to Pescia, where we stop to see Francesca Seghieri at her bicycle shop. We have not seen her since she sold us our bikes five weeks ago. She is about to get in her car and take off, but she stays to chat for a while. I tell her that I have spoken to her Uncle Mario and found that we are truly cousins, she and I. We have the same trisavolo, great-great grandfather. She seems to take this in stride. She is friendly and helpful but probably not nearly as excited about this as I am, though I can’t read her expression. Her husband makes a few minor adjustments on Lucy’s bike, gratis, and we also talk to Francesca’s mother, Dosolina, who comments that our Italian has improved.

Our next stop is the EsseLunga in Pescia, where we stock up on heavy items such as potatoes, dish soap and laundry detergent. Everything has to fit in two backpacks and the cestino on Lucy’s bike, an amount that would fill two or three paper grocery sacks in the states. It is a short distance from here to the Pescia station, so we take the train home, where I get to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening.

Lucy, instead, takes a short rest and then is off again, this time to Lucca for a cooking lesson with our language school. In my opinion, she doesn’t need this, but I’m all in favor of anything that involves her practicing her culinary skills, so I feel it is tuition money well spent. I know that I will be the one to benefit in the long run.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

At home in an ancient museum

Wednesday, March 9
If one didn’t know any better, a visit to the Museum of the Chestnut Tree, castagno, might sound pretty boring, but it turns out to be my favorite activity of any that our language school has taken us on so far. The museum is significant because castagne, chestnuts, were not just something that one roasted on the fire at Christmas here. They were the most important life-sustaining force for many of the hillside communities in the Garfagnana valley and many other places in Italy.

Homer mentions chestnuts, and the naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century about which kinds of chestnuts were grown in Southern Italy. Chestnuts were one of the few food crops that could be grown on steep mountain slopes, and they were ground into flour and used as a staple in many recipes to provide sustenance through the long winter months. Much of the economy revolved around the chestnut, which people harvested in the fall and worked long into the winter to process, package and sell. The wood from chestnut trees was used to make beams and doors for houses and all kinds of furniture, including barrels for wine and oil. Dead branches were harvested for firewood for cold winter nights. Old stumps and logs were burned slowly under cover to make charcoal for cooking.

With so many uses for chestnuts, the Museo del Castagno has quite an extensive collection of ancient tools. First, of course, are all the tools used to process the chestnuts into food. There are specialized hand tools but also shoes with large metal spikes on the bottom to crush the chestnuts in tubs, kind of like the peasants used to do with grapes, except the grapes were smashed with bare feet. Later there were machines with hand cranks, and then devices powered by water wheels. We also see round paddle-like devices for roasting chestnut cakes over the fires.

Seeing all the tools for wood-working make me think of my dad and uncles. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, I remember seeing them working in their company shop using similar tools, but the ones we see here are hundreds of years older. We see saws, grinders and lathes that are driven by hand power, foot pedals and cranks, using leather straps as belts. Some take two people to operate, and there is a picture of a young boy providing the power while his father operates the grinder. How I wish my dad and his brothers Roy, Claude and Rudy—masters of 20th century machines and fabrication—could be here to see these simple yet ingenious devices. We also see a small model wooden chainsaw, and I think of cousin Al Spadoni, who could work wonders with woodworking tools, and who once made us a whimsical chain saw, literally a large chain made out of interlinked pieces of wood, fastened on to a handle shaped like that of a handsaw.

It feels like we have truly stepped back in time, because the buildings we are in and the tools that fill them seem simply to be pieces that were left where the artisans last used them. There are no glass display cases or roped-off areas. We are free to pick up objects and even try them out, something that would not be possible in most American museums. But this museum is high on the hillside of an isolated village, Colognora di Pescaglia, north of Lucca. It is open today only for our small school group, and it is unlikely that it is visited often by foreigners. The people who know this museum exists are most likely to be respectful of the colorful history and culture that these precious artifacts represent.

The connection to the past I feel here is even stronger that I have felt when viewing ruins of Roman, Etruscan or medieval times, or when I see the amazing art of the Renaissance. I think it is because even though I can fantasize about my ancestors being noblemen, sword makers, sculptors or cavaliers, I think that here we are much closer to the truth. My ancestors were most likely hard-working craftsmen who eked out their livelihood through sweat, determination and the use of tools which they sought to improve whenever possible. I feel very much at home in this museum.
This chestnut mill was more modern, using water power.

A drill press

This was part of a blacksmith's forge, with a bellows powered by a foot pedal. Charcoal from chestnut stumps and logs was used to make fire to heat the metal.

This tool took one person to turn the crank and another to use the grinder.

Hand-made nails made by the blacksmith.

A foot-powered lathe used to shape furniture dowels.

Another lathe.

Before power sawmills, this is how planks were made. A saw in Italian is a sega. The person who used this was called a seghiere. Plural would be seghieri. Heard that name before?

Firewood was brought home on horseback using one of these special wood saddles.