From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 47
Fun at the Fair—Antique Fair, That Is
Every third Saturday and Sunday of the month, an antique fair is held in the streets of Lucca within the ancient city walls. I do not believe that we have ever missed going to the fair even though we need absolutely nothing. We have so much stuff accumulated because of my insane passion to collect a little of everything that I consider to be either very beautiful or very ugly. I have even created the web site as a reminder that I must stop the madness of continuing to buy things that we don’t need.

Sue has always been in control of her pocketbook, and we would probably not be in debt if she had been able to control my addiction. There is, however, one good thing and one bad thing that I am doing in my efforts to get out of debt and thus be able to permanently protect The Holy Trinity Wilderness Cathedral from bankers and ravenous developers.

The good thing is that I am forcing myself to spend hours a day writing this book rather than goofing off with a glass of wine in my hand, staring out over the Serchio Valley from the loggia of the Palazzo, or exploring the many towns and villages that I can see from afar but have never visited. The bad thing is that I am making a horror movie, since I have been told that they usually make a profit for their producers. I am producing what I hope will become a moneymaking horror classic: Long Pig.(

So, on Saturday, June 17, 2006, off to the fair we went with me vowing to not spend a dime but just to look. The excuse I used in order to justify the trip to Lucca was that I had been struggling with my chapter on Castruccio Castracani degli Antiminelli. His family had come from Coreglia degli Antiminelli, a town that emerges from a V in the mountains across the valley from Gioviano. I often stare at Coreglia from the Palazzo loggias, while contemplating the life, adventures, and death of this remarkable man

Because of Castruccio’s loyalty to the Holy Roman Emperor and thus his automatic disloyalty to the Pope, Castruccio had been excommunicated. Upon his death, it was thus forbidden that he be buried in hallowed ground. The Franciscans had taken possession of an ancient church in Lucca that had originally been dedicated to Mary Magdalene and renamed it after St. Francis of Assisi. The Franciscans defied the Pope and buried Castruccio in their church, but told no one where his grave was in order to keep it from being desecrated.

When we got to Lucca, we spent the better part of a half-hour or more struggling with the tortuous maze of one-way, dead-end, and no-cars-allowed streets. Finally, in my frustration, I found a parking place about a half of a mile from the church. Once inside the church, I was hoping to be inspired to continue work on my book about the life of Mary Magdalene as well as to be inspired to wade through the hundreds of erudite pages written in Italian about the complex life of Castruccio. Then, I would need to be able to boil it down to a mini-chapter while weaving Gioviano into the story.

I left Sue at the car and began a forced march to the church. Alas, as is far too often the case with Italian monuments, it was closed until further notice for major repairs. I had been hoping to meditate in the church -- which would no doubt have been empty --and allow the combined spirits of the Magdalene and Castruccio to lead me to his secret burial place within the bowels of the ancient relic. The Franciscans have refused to reveal the secret for the many hundreds of years since they secretly buried him there. By now, they had probably forgotten the exact spot anyway. So, back to the car I plodded.

Of course, that meant that we had more time to explore and examine the many booths and stalls of the antique dealers. I felt like a cocaine addict who had been invited to a drug cartel party and who could partake of all sorts of forbidden fruits there.

“Stay strong!” I said to myself as I passed beautiful pieces of Murano art glass, hundreds of beautifully illustrated books, lovely paintings of every genre, ceramics of all sorts and sizes, brass bells, African bronzes, and finally, a five-foot tall, silver-plated candlestick that had been converted into a very ugly lamp.

I immediately recognized this as a potentially rare object indeed, because the lamp part could be easily removed. I had seen price tags on much smaller candlesticks of 500 Euro and more. I couldn’t control myself and asked the owner how much he wanted for it. He said, “È già stato venduto per cento Euro.” (“It has already been sold for one hundred Euro.”) That’s only $130.00! I said to Sue, “Thank goodness it has already been sold. Otherwise, we would be lugging that big candlestick back to the car and to the Palazzo where we would probably have to store it in the attic with all the other unneeded treasures.” I was very proud of myself for not wailing and gnashing my teeth because someone else had the prize.

We found an 18th-century fireplace iron that would have been perfect in Anne’s fireplace in California. It showed a really precious scene of a big wolf frightening a shepherd. It was only 200 Euro, but how would we get it to California? It, too, would go to the attic only to grace the fireplace in the unused servants’ quarters. I started to lose control and found myself bargaining for a wonderful rotating hand forged fireplace grill from the 18th century but snapped into remorse about losing control before it was too late, I bid the dealer goodbye.

I spied an iron mask worn by executioners during the Middle Ages, but it was easy to pass up since the dealer wanted $13,000.00 for it. At first, he didn’t even want me to take a picture of it, but after I started telling him about Long Pig, he got so excited that he posed for the camera with the mask on and even said that I could borrow it to use in the movie. He changed his mind when I told him that it was being shot in Texas and and that he might never see his mask again.

A short time later, I struck up a conversation with a dealer of ex-votos. These are the little silver hearts, legs, arms, eyes, and other figures that the faithful place on sanctuary walls in thanks for the answering of prayers about ailments and being saved from death in accidents. The first one that caught my eye was of a horse, the second a wolf, the third a set of eyes with little angels posed around them, and the fourth a body with the intestines exposed.

After about 15 minutes of chitchat and helping two American boys purchase postcards with Hitler and Mussolini walking arm in arm, I started to break down. The poor old gelding of Sue’s may need some prayers, and my mother’s macular degeneration might be helped if we gave her that set of silver eyes. We have been trying to protect the few red wolves struggling to survive their persecutions in East Texas, and most importantly, I know that my mother needs the ex-voto of the person who had been cured of perhaps the same cancer that she has been bravely fighting.

I had therefore justified the purchase of the four silver ex-votos. They were extremely light, thus easy to carry, and would serve a practical purpose. With my superb bargaining skills I was able to get the price lowered for the lot of them from 70 Euro to 55. “My what a good boy am I,” I said to myself. Lying to oneself to justify the unjustifiable is an old human trick.

The first snort of cocaine was in my nostrils. It was a losing battle from that point on, until we both ran out of Euro – but wait! Wasn’t there an emergency hundred-dollar bill stuffed in the back recesses of my wallet? Next, there was the hand-forged snake that we were told was made to hold a pocket watch on his tongue. Well, I do have my grandfather’s pocket watch somewhere, but better yet, “Sue, don’t we need something to keep that window in front of my computer from blowing shut? Don’t you think that iron snake would be the perfect thing?” After fifteen minutes of haggling with the price going from 80 Euro to 55, the very critically necessary window stop was ours.

At the very next booth was a huge metal fly that opened up to reveal a small compartment put in it. None of us smoke and it was obvious that the fly was an ashtray, but I overlooked that and said, “Sue, Anne hates flies with a passion. We’ve just got to get that fly for her. She will be horrified.” I was only able to negotiate the price down from 10 to 9 Euro.

The sack of goodies was too heavy to tote for a mile or two while continuing to resolve to not purchase another thing even if it was a Stradivarius violin for fifty cents or a Gutenberg Bible for a quarter. I asked the lady in the snake booth if she would mind keeping our sack of loot for us while we wandered deeper into the den of “drug dealers.”

We were almost home free when we spotted a set of signed, hand painted Cecconi pottery from Orvieto that was almost identical to pieces that we had purchased from our friend Mirella in Orvieto back in the 1970s. There were 21 pieces altogether, which if purchased individually from the dealer would have been something over 200 Euro-- a bargain! When the dealer said that we could have the entire set which was in mint condition for only 130 Euro, Sue and I were both hooked.

Our excuse was that we had given our set of Cecconi pottery to one of the girls --we had forgotten which -- and that perhaps one of the other two or even Andrew might like a set. So when the dealer not only came down another 10 Euro to 120 and also agreed to wrap each piece individually to insure safe passage, the last of our Euro left both my pocket and Sue’s purse.

While the dealer was wrapping the pottery, I was rapping with another dealer just down the passageway. Within a few minutes I had drawn a crowd of dealers with my antics about Texas, and poverty, and Long Pig, and all sorts of other nonsense. I had the whole gang in such an uproar of laughter that the dealer wrapping the pottery almost got sloppy with his wrapping because he was so anxious to join in the levity. The men were all anxious to learn about my role in Long Pig and also the long hair, which I grew especially for the movie. I told them that I needed “una bella fanciullina” (a beautiful young lady) in order to illustrate my part in the show.

Just about that time, a young American girl and her mother were staring into the passageway seeming a little apprehensive about having to pass a gang of rowdy men. Finally they entered, walking as briskly as possible between us. I asked, “Are you American?”

The young girl stopped and said, “Yes”.

“Would you mind taking just about one minute helping me show these men my role in my horror movie?” I asked.

“No, no, no! We’re running very late. Gotta go.” she replied nervously.

So that the action could continue, one of the men sporting a big mustache offered to play the part of the beautiful girl. He was so good at squeaking and screaming that I couldn’t finish killing and eating him in proper cannibal style, because we were all laughing so hard. Near his antique booth, there was a beautiful painting of a town in the Garfagnana by the Livorno artist, Giacomo Vaccare. Out of idle curiosity I asked the price. It was 130 Euro but for the producer of Long Pig it would only be 120. I told the dealer that 60 plus of my mother’s paintings as well as dozens of others by various artists left not even an inch of space for another painting. I pulled out my secret emergency hundred dollar bill and flashed it in front of him and said that with the current exchange rate, it was now virtually worthless, at least not worth more than 70 Euro. The dealer took it out of my hand and gave me the painting.

The men begged me to return the next day and said that we would drink wine, eat prosciutto (ham) and pane (bread), and laugh all day. My excuse for telling them that I couldn’t return was that I had to work on this book, but the real truth is that cocaine addicts must stay away from cocaine and I have obviously not gotten over my addiction to antiques so must also stay away to prevent a further relapse.

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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