A newspaper in South Africa has just run a two page travel special on Barga. It was written by a journalist, Wendy Lopatin from Cape Town, South Africa who was a regular visitor to Barga in the late 80′s but has not visited the city for the past 18 years.
She was once again in Barga this summer and will be publishing some article on this site in the near future about her expectations, thoughts and feelings on once again making contact with Barga and some of her friends from the past.
In the meantime we are publishing the article in the Weekend Argus in full below.
Could this be the start of a new source of visitors coming to Barga?
Time will tell.
Un periodico sud africano ha dedicato un servizio di due pagine alla cittadina di Barga. Il pezzo è stato scritto dalla giornalista di Cape Town Wendy Lopatin, che negli anni Ottanta ha visitato Barga regolarmente.
Dopo 18 anni di assenza, questa estate Wendy è tornata e non è da escludere che presto pubblicherà anche su questo sito le sue impressioni, pensieri e sensazioni a proposito del suo rapporto con Barga e i vecchi amici del passato.
Intanto, di seguito, riportiamo l’articolo integrale apparso su “Weekend Argus”.
Che possa aprire le porte a nuovi flussi di turisti sud africani? Il tempo ce lo dirà.
The Salvi family have owned the Villa Moorings Hotel in the new part of Barga, Ghiardino, since it was built by their grandfather in the 1930s. It is a large, airy, Florentine-style villa with high ceilings, spacious rooms, wonderful frescoes and beautiful family antiques. Of the nine rooms, many have balconies, with panoramic views over the mountains as well as old Barga, with the Duomo, dating back to the 12th century, dominating the scene.
It was September and the start of our sentimental journey back to this enchanting medieval Tuscan town, last visited 18 years before. Beatrice Salvi, daughter and owner, and her father, Guido, welcomed us warmly. The grounds are large, with long lawns, trees and shrubs, a big patio and swimming pool. Barga is less than a 10-minute walk away, across the bridge linking Ghiardino and the walled town.
Old Barga had lost none of its charm. Many of the ancient buildings had been restored and redecorated since last we were there. The flat on the Piazza Angelio, where we had sometimes stayed, had been repainted in delicate greys and soft pinks, complementing the surrounding buildings.
We had approached this trip with much excitement, but also a little trepidation, as we had loved the place so much, visiting regularly over 11 years between 1985 and 1996, staying in the villa of friends in the little hamlet of Loppia, near Barga. We had made many friends among the local people, and some English folks who had recently bought or rented property in the area. Now, after an absence of so many years, we didn’t know if our former friends still lived there, or even if some were still alive. Not speaking or writing much Italian, we had not kept in touch in recent years.
On our first evening we wandered up the hill, returning to Aristo’s bar, our former favourite watering hole, as ever full of patrons enjoying an early evening drink. The place was unchanged except for a few tables and chairs outside. Sadly, our wonderful friend, Aristodemo Casciani, had died two years before, but somehow his presence could still be felt.
Hams still hung from the ceilings and his old whisky collection, alongside bottles of wine and other beverages, lined the shelves, with many baskets of interesting-looking liquors for sale. Local Chianti-type wine was still sold from large vats, and a good red from the Lucca area cost only E2 a glass.
Marino, son-in-law of Aristo, and the new owner, shook hands warmly. Despite our rusty Italian, and his small knowledge of English, we reminisced happily about the early years, showing Marino photographs of Aristo, ourselves and old local friends. Many litres of wine flowed, and we enjoyed sampling the bread, local cheeses and prosciutto crudo, the raw ham.
Aristo’s bar, we learned, was still the “cultural centre” of Barga. Aristo, a musician himself, had encouraged musicians to play there over the years – there were guitars, a keyboard which stood in the bar, (which Aristo had encouraged me to play on many occasions), and many other instruments. Aristo had been a drummer and a talented accordion and guitar player, who loved to sing. Nowadays, Barga has an annual summer jazz festival and many a group can still be heard playing at the bar and in other venues. July still boasts a good opera season, and a variety of food and other festivals are held throughout the warmer months.
Now, we were welcomed and “adopted” by a Canadian couple who were renting a villa in the area for the summer months. Friendly and warm, they introduced us to most of the barflies, some local and many English, Scots and other former foreigners who now live permanently in Barga and the surroundings. There was Keane, an Irishman, editor of Giornale di Barga News, talented artist, musician, raconteur and organiser of many Barga events and festivities. He said he had first come to Barga some 30 years before, and, encouraged by Aristo, had stayed, married a local girl and lived here ever since with his family, one of the stalwarts of the town.
We heard news of old artist friends Mario and Giulia, who were working in Milan but would return at the weekend. Another Mario still ran the newsagent and bookshop. The following morning we set off to find him.
We had met Mario on our first visit to Barga in 1985, at a time when we couldn’t afford to rent a car, and had always walked up the steep hill from our hosts’ home to Barga to shop, explore and socialise.
One morning, Barga-bound for provisions and trying to keep out of the way of passing cars – there being no pavements on this narrow, winding road – a tiny, white Fiat 500 Cinquecento stopped. A tall man emerged, or sort of unravelled, and offered us a lift to town. Our Italian conversation was limited, but we managed, and subsequently saw him quite frequently. Mario’s number plate was Lu 13, so we nicknamed him Louis the 13th. Now, all these years later, Mario recognised us, greeted us enthusiastically, showing us pictures of both his old and new Cinquecentos. The new model, in bright orange, was obviously his pride and joy, the number plate Lu 15 earning him the inflated title of Louis the 15th.
Of prime importance on this trip was to reconnect with our closest Barga friends of the ’80s and ’90s, the Funai family. Beppino, his wife, Asunta, Nonna (Granny) Georgia, son Amerigo and daughter-in-law Maria Elena had been so hospitable to us over 11 years. We knew Asunta and Nonna Georgia had died, but had no idea if Beppino, our wonderful friend, was still alive.
In our tiny hired Lancia, we set off for Uccelliera 1, the Funai family home. Brian negotiated the many hairpin bends and drove carefully along the narrow, sandy path leading to the house. Imagine our great joy as we came around the corner to see our dear friend sitting on a chair in the sun. Beppino came to hug us, with tears in his eyes. “Bere,” he said, inviting us inside for a drink, as he had done for so many years long ago. “Mangiare”.
This wiry, grey-haired and sun-bronzed Italian had first approached us as we were picnicking, feasting on divine local bread and cheese, with a bottle of slightly chilled Tuscan Chianti waiting to be opened. Beppino, our new “teacher”, was the peasant, or mountain farmer as they are known in the area, who lived a quarter of a kilometre down the dirt track from the holiday home of our hosts. It was 1985, our first visit. The tiered land around his home supported grapes, corn, vegetables and olives, and he also made his own salsicchia, a delicious sausage. Their way of life appeared simple, but Beppino was very knowledgeable about the land, farming and winemaking, not to mention the gathering and cooking of chestnuts.
On one of our subsequent visits, he invited us to help with the grape harvest. We started at dawn, Beppino and Brian picking together, while Nonna Georgia and I worked alongside one another. The old, rotund lady was a marvellous harvester. It was great fun. By this time I had a rather basic knowledge of the language, composed mainly of nouns, with the odd verb or two and no tenses, but Georgia and I managed to communicate pretty well.
Lunch followed our labours, accompanied by Beppino’s own Funai vintage and a glass of home- distilled Grappa. I remembered feeling so emotional when bidding farewell to Beppino on those previous occasions. Emotions ran high, and one day he warned me that if I dared to cry, he would cut my throat and throw me over the cliff. Seeing Beppino now, as then, was a deeply moving experience. How fortunate we were to have been able to return and meet again.
In 1996 Barga had only one restaurant, Cafe Pizzeria Capretz. Its owner of 35 years still served his customers while his wife prepared the best pizzas imaginable. Now the town boasts another six or seven wonderful restaurants.
We had pizzas at Capretz on our first night – thin crust with lashings of prosciutto crudo with artichokes and sheep’s cheese. Our host recognised us, as we did him. Scacciaguai and Riccardo’s, the latter with stunning moonlit views over the valleys, were other favourite eating places.
Mordimi’s was our choice a number of times. Delicious risotto with local funghi porcini or Nonna Laura’s special ravioli were two of their star dishes. On our last evening, Mordimi’s chef prepared a feast of seafood and truffles, paired with local sparkling wines. Together with new friends Ken and Marlene, we indulged happily.
Leaving Mordimi’s on our last evening, we wandered around the cobblestoned lanes of old Barga, bidding farewell, sadly, but determined to visit again next year. We reached Piazza Angelio, our old haunt. The restaurant Osteria and John’s Bar next door were full to the brim with customers, spilling out on to the square, toasting a folk-singing guitarist with glasses of vino rosso. We were invited to join in the spontaneous festivities.
A young country and western singer followed. Then a beautiful young Japanese woman pushing a baby carriage joined in, and serenaded us with a divine rendition of Summertime. What a voice! My new young friend, a chemist from the town, told me the diva had been part of a visiting Japanese opera company, had fallen in love with Osteria’s owner and stayed in Barga. A real vocal treat, and a most moving and wonderful end to our sentimental visit to Barga. Can’t wait for September next year.
The beautiful medieval hilltop town of Barga lies north of Pisa, its closest airport. You can hire a car at Pisa airport and drive to Barga via Lucca, or catch a train to Lucca and change for Fornaci di Barga, the most convenient station (approximately an hour by train from Pisa). Catch Archie’s Taxi, based in Barga, for the last two kilometres. Telephone +39 327 625 1760 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Weekend Argus – source
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