Seventy five kilometres from Pisa and twenty four from Lucca, nestled on the hillside 400 metres above sea level, sits Corsagna. We were very happy to stumble upon this small nugget of a place for our family holiday this year.
Driving up from Borgo di Mozzano, just when you are either beginning to get the hang of the hairpin bends or thinking you can't possibly cope with another, the village finally appears.
After that an immediate left turn brings you into the Piazza de XX Settembre. It turns out that there are quite a few Piazza de XX Settembre apart from this small one in Corsagna. The signficance of the date - which was when in 1870 the Bersaglieri of the Italian army entered Rome through the Porta Pia, ending the temporal power of the Pope, and completing the unification of Italy - was lost on me, until we came home and I looked it up. One of the things I love about travel is that every day you learn a little something about a lot of different things!
One of the best things about that tiny village square was the posse of venerable male villagers who occupied the benches on the shady side. They seemed to be always there between dawn and dusk, with baggy, slightly too short trousers, open neck shirts and the occasional dark jacket, smatterings of hair and teeth of varying degrees of discolouration shared amongst them, and eyes that held secrets and wisdom they had no intention of sharing with the likes of us interloping tourists. Each day as we passed them, either in the car when, even if driving, I made a point of giving them a friendly wave, or on foot when I would go one step further and try to make eye contact with a cheerful, 'Buongiorno', those collectively penetrating eyes would turn to follow our path with not a flicker of acknowledgement. They became my challenge. I would have loved to have heard their stories, but I would settle for at least a twinkle in just one of those eyes!
A photo of them would definitely not have been appropriate and would have ruined my chances, but this is the Piazza de XX Settembre at twilight when the 'order of the benches' had retired to their solitude or, more hopefully, their womenfolk. (Or menfolk just as hopefully - no sexism intended!)
You can see how small it is. But all the more cosy for the village street party that took place over the middle weekend of our visit. The square was filled with tables, chairs, bunting and kindred spirit. We were told that we were most welcome to join the fun but felt that ten of us were probably a few too many. However we were still able to enjoy the atmosphere in passing and when we had negotiated the windy windy road back to our temporary home on the hill we were entertained by the whoops, wails and cheering from the five-a-side football tournament played on the flood lit astro turf pitch below us.
666 inhabitants doesn't sound that many for a village. But our host, Daniele, told us that almost every one of those inhabitants plays a musical instrument or sings, and that they have a village band. Most unfortunately we did not get a glimpse or a sound of that, but I did stumble upon the Corsagna Music Festival on Facebook. It appears we missed that too as it was held just last week in the fabulous Ristorante Branduzzi where we had several excellent meals and friendly welcomes.
Venturing further afield than the square one day we discovered the 'High Street' - 'high' being the operative word.
Through that arch and a wee bit further up on the right, we found the village garden centre.
and peeping into someone's backgarden on the way
We reached the top, or rather the top was reached by my better half while I rested half way to save my gammy foot for the journey down. So it was he who took the picture of the church on the very top of the hill.
and the view of the village below
At the top of the 'high street' there was a T-junction with a welcoming brass water fountain set into the wall. I waited there looking at the narrow street we had climbed
when a shiny black BMW that virtually filled the width of the road came roaring up to meet me. The turning to her right was so steep that steps had been cut into the sides for pedestrians, but undeterred the driver gave me the briefest of smiles through her windscreen, as I stood spreadeagled against the wall in fear, and swung around the corner - her tyres screeching up the steps and to a halt on the bend at the top. There she jumped out and began to haul her shopping out of the boot. Clearly an everyday occurrence and an indication that life in the village was a wee bit different from ours!
One difference was that being a hilltown (or village) it was obviously impossible for the dustmen to call at every house. So the rubbish had to be taken to the large communal bins which we guessed were emptied once a week. There was, though, a system for recycling which it seemed was well followed as the bins were all brim full.
The one service that did make it door to door, I think - because he came up to our farmhouse - was the postman.
Maybe not quite so distinctive as our red vans but just as full of expectation.
Now this has nearly reached the watershed wordcount of a too long blog post but, just before I go, if you have the time and have become curious about Corsagna you will find the very essence of the village by going to YouTube and typing in 'Corsagna Corpus Domini 2011' by Pasquale Mastronaldi. And following that on the list is what I imagine is the village band, 'Banda di Valdottavo e Corsagna.
Oh, and did I ever get that twinkle or a wink? Not exactly. But on our last day, I did get a very guarded and muttered, " 'giorno" in reply to mine. I considered that a victory :-)