Tina was one of the first people I met when I came to Ponte a Serraglio, lucky me. She has been a great help to us in all things, in fact, our lives here would have been much more difficult if not for Tina. She knows everything worth knowing about Bagni di Lucca….and she speaks perfect English.
Tina’s mother was from Bagni di Lucca, and her father came from Piacenza, but she was born in New York. Her father died when she was young, and at 12 years of age she came with her mother to live at Ponte a Serraglio in 1949, in the lean years after the war. I asked her to tell me some of what she remembers of her life in the village.
Tina arrived after the war, but memories were still fresh then. There was a lot of fighting in the area. Remnants of the Gottica Line can still be seen nearby.
The Ponte a Serraglio piazza was damaged during World War 11. The retreating Germans destroyed the bridge and a temporary one was put in by the Allied Troops. Tina’s grandmother told of an incident involving the over enthusiastic use of dynamite to widen the road to allow tanks through, which resulted in the near destruction of several buildings in the square. The front of our building also suffered some damage, but was able to be repaired.
What is now the Bar Italia and the Bridge Hotel were rebuilt in 1951 – 1952 along with the new bridge. Things slowly improved in the 1950s when buildings were repaired and painted and by the 1960s Ponte a Serraglio was a thriving town.
There were 3 grocery stores, 2 fruit and vegetable shops, 2 butchers, a pharmacy, 2 hairdressers and 2 barbers, a hardware store, 2 bakeries, a fabric store and one that sold sewing machines, a cigarette and cigar store, a shoe store, shoe repairers and bicycle repairs and a bank.
As well as the 2 bars, which are still operating, there were 3 osterias to provide meals and places for people to gather and socialise.
At the time ready to wear clothing was still not popular and there were a few seamstresses in the village. Not everyone had a well equipped kitchen and people would take their roast dinners and cakes and biscuits to the bakeries to be cooked after the bread was done for the day. One of the cooks was particularly good with biscuits and quite a few of hers never made it home.
There was a police station near Villa Fiori which supplied a source of eligible men for the village. New recruits were quickly snapped up by the local girls.
I asked Tina what happened to all the shops and businesses as there are very few left. She said it was a combination of things. Before the war families had lots of children. Tina told me that the school she attended wasn’t big enough to hold all the children and some of them were sent to a nearby building for their lessons. The school building is still there, but is now empty and in need of serious renovation. It would make a great apartment building.
During the 1950s and 1960s there were fewer babies born. Most families had only 1 or 2. This coupled with young people slowly moving away to find better paid work than was offered in the few factories in the area, meant that the population slowly declined and the businesses couldn’t survive.
Tina remembers that there was still a horse and carriage to take people to the station and to make deliveries when she was young. One of the first cars to appear after the war was a Fiat Cinquecento, which must have caused a bit of excitement.
Foreigners, like us, are now moving into the area and buying the empty houses and apartments. While this may not be the perfect solution, I think is better than having the village die. It is good to see the houses lived in and gardens growing again. Our little piazza is constantly full with locals and people from all over the world. We have English, Australian, Norwegian, Brazilian, Finnish, American, Dutch and lots of other nationalities chattering to each other in the bar and I think it is great. It is still an authentic Italian village and I don’t think any of the foreigners want to change anything.
I would love to have seen Ponte a Serraglio in its heyday, it must have been a lively, fun place. I think it is delightful now and buying our apartment near the bridge has been a wonderful thing, allowing us to spend several months a year in the village.
If you see Tina at Bar Italia, say hello. She often sits with a group of lovely Ponte ladies.
The photo below was taken in early 2018. The next one is an earlier photo.
Sounds like perfection
Ponte a Serraglio is a lovely place to live.
What a wonderful article! Could one of the lovely ladies seated with Tina be Bianca Castrucci and/or possibly her daughter Giovanna?
Bianca is the one sitting beside Tina. Her daughter is not in the photo.
I love to hear the story of Ponte a Serraglio! I hope we can all keep it as lively as it is for centuries to come! Hugs, Rose
Have a chat with Tina next time you see her at Bar Italia, and get her to talk to you about how things used to be.
Love this post Debra. Means so much having visited the place. I was picturing its heyday too as I walked around. Wouldn’t it be great to see just a little bit more activity in the village. It so deserves it. If you’ve got anything to do with it, there’s every chance!
I would love to see some of the shops open again. I love our little part of Bagni di Lucca and more activity all year would be a good thing for everyone.
Great post Deb – she has certainly enhanced our lived and makes our lives easier in Italy – what we do without our Campari & soda with her at 6.30pm in the Bar Italia ?
Life would not be nearly as much fun without Tina. We are lucky to have her.
I totally agree with you, friends and neighbours are an essential part of our lives in Bagni.
That is so cool. Great to learn history from the people who actually participated in it / saw it happen. Thanks so much for this new knowledge.
I think it is wonderful that there are still so many dressmakers working in this area, producing wonderful wedding gowns, costumes for all the local medieval festivals as well as smart clothes for the local ladies.
Where do they operate from? I have never seen any shopfronts. I have seen some of the wonderful costumes in a recent festival.
I have seen this lovely lady around Bagni but did not know her story. I will try to catch her at Bar Italia and perhaps she will accept a drink and a chat. Would love to exchange some stories with her. Bagni has certainly changed from what it was in my childhood. I know quite a number of Italians hoping to come back to the villages their families left for work so many years ago. In some ways, it has come full circle.
I’m sure Tina would love to chat, she is really interesting. Please say hello next time you see her.
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Tina looks lovely in the picture. John and I will always remember her kindness to us when we first arrived at Ponte a Serraglio, and during our stay at your beautiful apartment. I love her story about the village life, and it’s wonderful that Tina returned to stay in her village. Her house has a beautiful view of Bagni di Lucca, along with yours.
Thanks for this story Debra. I think it is important to hear about the recent past, preferably before the people that have lived it are dead. These stories usually don’t make it to the History Books. It is a pity the old generation generally doesn’t think their lives are of much interest to other people and tend to keep these stories to themselves.
Tina has a very good memory and loves to talk about her home…and I like to listen.
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I couldn’t agree with this post more. At least, there are some foreigners living here, and they wouldn’t want to change it. I just hope that the Italian language is preserved there and in major cities in Italy. They need to built some plots or at least renovate some, but no need to built 21st century condos as they are already infesting the world.
Most people in the village are Italian and speak only Italian, which is great. I think there are about 300 foreigners in a population of 6,500. There is no need to build anything new as there are lots of houses suitable for renovation.
A lovely local identity! Hugs from Doug and Christine from QLD AUSTRALIA.