A Night in the Mountains

Saturday night we stayed up in our wee cottage in Pieve di Monti di Villa. It was so beautiful. The silence was penetrating, going deep into our bones, so that after a full on week, we could feel the tiredness seeping through us, at last our bodies allowed to rest. It was so lovely to think of nothing but clipping back the geraniums, watering them, not speaking, just gently, almost floating, in another tranquil world.

In our amble around our ancient village, visiting the Church with its old cypress trees and magnificent view over mountains and pristine valleys, we find ourselves up at the little bar. A dear old couple run it. It used to have an alimentari but Oriano had a heart attack and it left him in a fragile way, perhaps more childlike with shiny watery blue eyes, and the sweetest joyful smile, like he is in constant contact with all things magical. He doesn’t do much work any more. Pina, his strong stoic wife, younger by ten years, keeps the bar running, looking after other aged relatives, a big garden, managing all their properties and is as practical and pragmatic as they come. We buy some wine and then ask on the off chance if she has any castagna flour (chestnut flour) to sell as we want to make Necci (castagna pancakes with ricotta cheese). She has. The sweetest chestnut flour in the district, she said, from Benabbio, where the farmer had a traditional process of picking and shelling that kept the sweetness of the nut. She was disappointed we would waste the experience by frying the pancakes on an ordinary pan, and insisted we borrow her old pancake paddles, two identical flat iron paddles that you heat and then squoosh the firm-ish pancake mix between, flipping the paddles to cook both sides. Just flour and water. Amazing. After cooking, the pancake is folded over ricotta cheese. We had the ricotta with some fresh local honey which was absolutely yummy, but she also said we could mix the ricotta with a bit of espresso coffee and a twinkle of sugar. So, so good.

That night was a full moon. We lay in bed with the breeze from the open windows washing over us, the curtains floating like shadowy ghosts in the darkness. Perfumes from all the surrounding gardens wafting in the sweet mountain air. We fell to sleep like innocent babes. Roar. Then a roar and another and another. We scramble upright, trembling, and the night is rent with screaming tyres and big throaty engines. It went all night. It was the big rally event for the year. The morning after, on our walk up the narrow perilous roads towards Montefegatesi, huge crane trucks are plucking the broken bodies of cars from the cliffs below, debris everywhere. The mountains can be wild in all ways.


  1. Your blog brings me right back to where we’ve just spent the last two months and many summers of my life. So unbelievable to read about our lifelong friends, Pina and Oriano, on your blog and such a beautiful description of the village and the necci, which were a staple in a less affluent Toscana and which we enjoy every year at Pina’s family table.
    My father’s hope was to do more to help preserve the history of this ancient village of his birth but unfortunately did not live to realize this dream. He mainly managed to help in the fundraising for the restoration of the campanile. It is my sincere hope that the comune of Bagni di Lucca will make the necessary investments in these ancient villages for future generations to cherish as we have. It would be a true shame to let these villages die.
    I am sorry we didn’t get to say hello. Best wishes to the newlyweds. What a magical site they have chosen to celebrate their nuptials.
    Diane and Peter (white house w/blue hydrangeas)

  2. Hi Diane and Peter – The summer was too quick this year – I can’t believe you are back home already! We loved your Dad, Gerolimo, (is that how you spell it?), he was such a beautiful man. We took him as a great example into our hearts. He was so kindly and interested in life and had such great stories of life in these mountains. He also did the bella figura with such sweet generosity. We’d love to hear more stories of here – would you occasionally send a little story so that we could post it on the blog? Shona and Michael

  3. Oriano and Pina are our cousins (his father was a brother to my grandfather), so we loved reading your blog, which was forwarded to us by cugino Bert Ricci in San Francisco.
    I have had the good fortune to have visited Pieve several times, and to have met Diane D., her father and the blue hydrangeas in 2005.
    Do you know that Oriano & Pina’s daughter & her husband Laura & Paolo Tintori) manage “La Torre,” an agriturismo in Fornoli? (www.latorreagriturismo.com and http://www.agriturismoitaly.it)
    May all of your travels prove as wonderful as your “Night in the Mountains.”
    Karen Luessenheide in Minneapolis

  4. Hello, my name is Sean. I love your story from Pieve. My great-great-grandfather and grandmother, Constantino Gabrielli and Argentina Ricci, left Pieve in 1909 and 1913 for Southern Ohio. I have family that has been to Pieve and has met Oriano and Pina. My question is, has anyone ever been inside that church in town? I know it is only open once every four months, but has anyone ever been inside, and have you taken any photos inside. I would love to know as much info about the church and the town, especially stories of life during the war.

    Sean in Cleveland

    1. Hi, Sean,
      Are you related to Cousin Bennie and his wife Mela?
      My paternal grandfather was Noe Ricci, brother of Elia Ricci, who was Orianos father.
      The person who knows ALL of the history of the Pieve area is Frenchi Ricci, Orianos brother. I am on vacation in northern Minnesota right now, but will send Frenchies contact information when we get home this weekend.
      Possibly a relative,
      Karen Ricci Luessenheide

      1. Hi Karen,

        I do not know if I am related to them. My great-great-grandmother was Argentina Ricci, who married Constantino Gabrielli and moved from Pieve to Cleveland, Ohio in 1913. She was the daughter of Alberto Ricci and Delitta Bertolani (I have a picture of Alberto’s tombstone at Pieve and a photo of Delitta at her home there). She had three brothers (Orlando- died Cleveland, OH, Oreste- lived in Chicago, returned to Pieve, and Cesare) Constantino was the son of Basilio Gabrielli and Candida Ricci. I do not know the family genealogy beyond these people. I would need to know if someone is connected to Alberto, Delitta, Basilio, or Candida. I hope maybe you recognize any of these names. I would love Frenchi’s contact information (does he know English? I am just learning Italian myself) and any other Ricci family knowledge that might help make this connection.

        Thank you,


  5. Hi Sean, I have written a post that tells a little more of the story of Oriano and Pina in https://livingtuscany.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/back-in-the-mountains-of-bagni-di-lucca/ This post talks a bit about a festa in the Pieve Church that happens every year and also Oriano’s birthday.
    Our eldest son was married in the church at Pieve 2 years ago, and features in one of the posts in this blog and I am more than happy to do a new post giving you more info. We love this little village. It is pristine and really beautiful and unspoilt from the development of the 70’s in other areas. The old people in the area talk about the war as though it was yesterday…..
    all the best to you and your family.
    Shona and Michael

  6. Thank you so much. This whole blog is terrific! It is difficult to get this kind of knowledge about Bagni and Pieve elsewhere. I have been trying to do extensive genealogy on my family, but a trip to this area will be needed. Any addition info or photos of Pieve, the church, and the people during the war would be fantastic. Cousins of mine informed me that there should be family documents inside the church, so whenever I go, I’ll have to time it with when it is open. I am also a historian and I am interested in studying the events of Bagni from the 15th Century through the Second World War. Are there libraries or records buildings that contain the local history? I would like to conduct a study for my doctorate some day. Thank you for any and all information.


  7. Any chance you will be in Pieve on June 23 for the Festival of San Giovanni? I would be greatly appreciate any photos or blog on that event!


    1. Hi Sean – Unfortunately we are in Geneva this weekend, but I did write a little a bit about the festa in Pieve in a post last year called “Back in the Mountains of Bagni Lucca”. The whole village has been preparing for it all week. Alessandro has been practising ringing the bells every evening. The grass has been cut and the cobble stones swept. Today the wreathes and candles are being put out along the procession road and the whole village smells of cooking. People come from all the other villages and later they will dance way into the night….

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