Torture and Leather

9 July 2013

More exploring in Lucca today — but to start with, a snapshot of the outside of the building in which we are staying (it’s the terracotta-coloured one in the middle; we’re on the second floor), and the courtyard.



First on the agenda was a visit to the Henri Cartier-Bresson Exhibition at the Lucca Museum. For any of you out there who have not heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he is an exceptionally well-renowned street photographer who was active from about 1929 through 1979. He founded the prestigious Magnum photography agency. Google it, and see what I mean.

But we were a bit early. The museum didn’t open till 10am. So we trundled off to see what else we could see, and found the Villa Bottini. The Villa in itself wasn’t particularly interesting (we couldn’t get inside), but the wall surrounding it was a point of interest from an engineering perspective. Clearly falling over, the Italians have been busy figuring out a way of holding it up:


One has to wonder at what point it is acceptable to admit defeat. And that brings me to a musing.

Coming from the very young nation of New Zealand (in terms of the length of human habitation that involves significant construction), Italy so far seems incredibly inefficient and hamstrung by its long and fascinating history. Population density is high (everyone seems to live in apartment buildings)…


…but no economies of scale seem to exist. One simple example: rubbish. At home, we have a whopping great wheelie-bin for recycling (paper, cans and plastic all in the one bin) that is collected by a great big truck once a fortnight. The rest of the rubbish is collected weekly (by another great big truck), and we put it in big, purpose-built plastic rubbish bags. Here, and in Rome, rubbish collection takes place daily — different types of rubbish on different days. There are complicated instructions for here in Lucca that, since we are staying only a few days, Alessia has said not to bother too much about. But to the best of my Italian-deciphering ability, from the ‘ecocalendario’ in the flat:

Lunedi (Monday)and Venerdi (Friday) is mixed rubbish (multimateriale).
Martedi (Tuesday) and Sabato (Saturday) is organic rubbish.
Mercoledi (Wednesday) is paper and cardboard.
Giovedi (Thursday) is non-recyclables.

Outside the flat door in the stairwell there are two rubbish bins: one green and one white. They are very small. The white one is for paper and cardboard; the green for glass, tins and plastic. You deposit your rubbish in these bins, and then — on the collection day — put it in a plastic shopping bag, take it down the stairs and dump it in the small pile outside.

We have noticed the rubbish lady (yes, lady) in Lucca Centrale that last two mornings. She has a tiny wee truck that she drives about 50m, then stops, picks up the shopping bags full of rubbish and biffs them on the back, then drives another 50m and repeats the process. And this even appears to include rubbish from businesses.

But there really is no other way to do it: it would be impossible to have a large rubbish truck to pick up large bags or bins of rubbish, as the streets are far, far too narrow (and the corners too tight) for such a truck to be able to navigate them. Out here, where we are staying, the roads are tar-sealed and two-laned — more ‘normal’ to us, but still pretty narrow for a region that has 375,000 inhabitants — but nobody seems to have much in the way of a garage, so all of the sides of the streets are cram-packed with (small) parked cars (of which, out of interest, the vast majority seem to be diesel) meaning roadside rubbish collection would be a slow and tiresome process.

Aside from the rubbish issue, it would seem that all of the (retail, anyway) businesses are small; really small — what I would call boutique-y, even if they are not selling high-end products. Whilst this arrangement is wonderful for the character of the place, it isn’t very efficient: no economies of scale. But, again, there is little choice. Because all of the buildings are so old — and presumably knocking them down and building something modern and more practical is vietato (forbidden — I can hear you calling me a cretin for even mentioning the possibility) — any business has to make do with premises that have existed for centuries. Not only does this restrict the space available, but there must surely be serious restrictions on the facilities available to them: plumbing, electricity supply, sewage (of which you get the occasional ripe whiff). When you add in what must be the considerable and ongoing cost of restauro (restoration) of these historic places, frankly, I can see why Europe is an economic basket case.

On reflection, I have to say that the ‘temporary’ buildings we have at home are not really such a curse after all, at least from an economic perspective. Anyhow, enough musing.

After a saunter through a pretty courtyard (which we think might have been an old people’s home,
as Dave saw a nurse, and we saw several elderly folk) we made our way back to Lucca’s museum and the Cartier-Bresson exhibition. This was very cool. It exhibited a large number of his black-and-white images dating from 1929 through to 1979. (No photos allowed, of course.) His images are predominantly photo-journalistic in style, and he is admired most for his ability to catch people in special (but sometimes quirky) moments. The exhibition included this quote from Bresson, which struck a chord with me, as I always feel uncomfortable ‘stealing’ images of people on the street:

“Putting someone in front of the glassy eye of a camera always involves a measure of violence. One must do so with charm… without wounding.”

The images in the exhibition bore testimony to Bresson’s world travels. There were images from India, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, England, Ireland, Switzerland, China, Turkey, the USA and Mexico — and probably some other places that escape my memory. In the bookshop there was a biography — which I would love to have purchased — but it was only available in Italian. Might be a job for Amazon or Book Depository UK when I get home. The exhibition was well worth the 9 euro admission fee (and there was a free toilet — just the one, and it had no toilet seat.)

From there, we moved to our other on-the-list thing to do: Museo della Tortura (the Museum of Torture)! Fitting, I suppose, for a medieval town. It contents were horrific. Just horrific. Endless means of inflicting excruciating pain on those deemed deserving of such treatment. One particularly gruesome example is the skull splitters:



Following our fill of heinous torture devices, we lunched atop the mura (wall) in the shade, and with the accompaniment of a gentle breeze, not far from a reasonable view of the garden courtyard of a villa in Palazzo Pfanner.


Then my first (and probably only) bit of serious shopping in Italy. I bought a genuine Italian leather handbag from Cuoieria Fiorentina. It smells divine, like a new saddle! The little catalogue that came along with it says, in slightly curious English:

“From the ancient and famous artisan tradition, typical of this part of Tuscany, and the passion of master leather craftsmen created a unique and inimitable product, made with great care, using natural materials and high-grade. The result is a fine, elegant, and designed to last, quality that our growing customer base, in Italy and in the world, has to appreciate the past several decades.”

I intend for it to be with me for several decades.

Before heading off home a little earlier than the last couple of days, we stopped in to see the interior of Cattedrale San Martino. It is by far the most spectacular house of religion that we have seen in Lucca. It is huge, has spectacular ceilings, and a collection of gigantic, very old paintings that appear to have been either beautifully restored or exceptionally well cared for. Several were not on display — presumably off being restored — but the oldest that I saw was dated 1591.


The collection includes Ultimo Cena (the Last Supper) by Jacopo Tintoretto, also from the late 16th century, I think.


All of the late-16th century works are very dark, with muted colour palettes. There is no joy (at least not to my eye). In stark contrast, a work (sorry, didn’t record title or artist) from the very early 19th century (1804-1808) displays much more light and more vibrant colours.


Towards the front of the cathedral, to the left, is a small octagonal temple, with this sculpture on it:


It was fenced off for restoration — hence the odd angle of the photo, taken through the fence — and I didn’t realise until I got home and started reading the small book on Lucca that we purchased that the temple was built in 1484.

Entering the cattedrale there was a picture of a camera inside a circle with a red line through it — which I took to mean no photography allowed. So I refrained — until I saw everyone else taking photos. I asked the lady at the ticket desk (you had to pay to get close to the sacristy) if I was allowed to take photos. She said, in very fluent English, that taking photos was fine, just no flash allowed. So I took some photos — only to be told off (in Italian) about 10 minutes later by the older gentleman manning the stall selling books and pamphlets! Can’t win.

Yet again, it was brain-meltiningly hot — in the 30 to 35 degrees range — and humid. Sticky. Very sticky. So we had to stop for gelato. We chose Gelateria Veneta on Via Fillungo and, to my delight, discovered that they also serve yogurt and fruit. You can get a pottle / plastic glass full of low-fat, unsweetened yogurt with your selection of fruit mixed in. There was fresh strawberries (fragole), stewed (I think) cherries (ciliegie) or fresh fruit salad (don’t know what that was in Italian). YUM! And no guilt. We definitely need this at home.

So a relaxed late afternoon at ‘home’, followed by another sumptuous meal cooked by Chef Dave, accompanied by the 2.84 euro (on sale!) bottle of Sangioverse di Tuscana. Red. Merlot-ish. It would seem that familiar wine labels like pinot noir, cabernet, sauvignon blanc, Merlot, shiraz, Chardonnay, etc, are not used here. Choosing wine is a complete guessing game. The only labels I have understood so far are pinot grigio and Gerwurtztraminer (OK, so I completely cannot spell that).

Dave has been watching TV in Italian. The news becomes a bit like the 7 Days game ‘What’s the Story?’. Most entertaining. And then he found the ‘language’ button on the remote, so has started watching CSI New York with Italian captions. So a quickie from the iPad for all my fellow ex-TVNZ captioners out there!


And one last image, because this is funny. I’ve been meaning to take this since we got here. It’s in our bathroom, and I think it is shower soap. But perhaps it’s a special Italian product especially for idiotic tourists!



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