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.