Monday, September 26, 2016

Santini Historic Gelateria (Ice cream parlour) Celebrates 100 Years.

Gelato is a competitive business in Lucca these days. Both inside and outside the city walls there are many amazing gelato makers.  I use the Italian word gelato on purpose as gelato should not be confused with ice cream as they are not the same thing.  Gelato is a denser, smoother, less rich mixture served at a slightly higher temperature, which means the natural often delicate flavours become the main player on the taste buds.

On 26th of September, one of the oldest Gelateria in Lucca just across from the family house of one of Lucca’s most famous sons Giacomo Puccini celebrates its 100 birthday this year.  The Puccini family would no doubt cross the piazza and buy whipped cream from the Santini family  “latteria”  (a small shop selling milk and cream). I was very disappointed in Italian bought cream until I discovered the trick of buying it  from a gelateria, though it is a bit of a luxury. My first taste of this delicious indulgence, In Lucca, came from that same Santini Gelateria. The recipe for cream or “panna”  has remained unchanged since Puccini’s day and I can’t pinpoint how they make it so special .

The Santini parlour is run by the fourth generation of the same family, two sisters, Michela and Elisa with their parents Dora and Sergio. The  great great grandchildren of Pietro, who opened the shop during the war in 1916 with his wife can often be seen playing in the piazza.  The Gelateria now has 28 different flavours but originally before fridges, there were just four flavours, which were kept cool using ice. The Chocolate and Crema (a sort of custard) are still the flavours most loved by the Locals. The Gelati are all made from fresh ingredients, eggs and milk and sugar those more diet conscious can go for the fruit options which contain no milk or sugar. A truly healthy afternoon treat.

In Italy, a dessert is traditionally offered to your host at a dinner party and Santini have a wonderful selection of semifreddo delights including a variation on the Buccellato, the famous aniseed sweet bread in Lucca and there is also the famous Zuccotto plus much more. At Christmas, you can add a zip to your Panettone with a semifreddo version.

I for one am very happy to have been in Piazza Cittadella with Puccini statue  looking down on us celebrating this wonderful 100th anniversary with the Santini family. With so many historic shops closing in the city we should celebrate this families tradition and raise a cone of Crema di Puccini to them.  


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Story of The Luminara di Santa Croce and "Volto Santo", Centre of Events of The September Lucchese.

Every year many tourists come to Lucca for the Luminara di Santa Croce but what is the legend of the “Volto Santo” and why it is celebrated by a candlelit procession on 13th September in the city of Lucca? The “Volto Santo “ is literally a wooden cross with the sculptured face of Christ but what makes it so special and revered by the citizens of Lucca?
The legend of this ancient wooden cross and its arrival in Lucca is told in frescoes in a side chapel of San Frediano. Nicodemus, who defended Jesus at his trial and anointed his body supposedly carved the cross and figure of Christ from cypress wood in the Holy Land. The sculpture was complete except for the face when overcome by tiredness Nicodemus fell asleep. When he awoke he found that the face had been executed by a divine hand. The crucifix was discovered by Bishop Gaulfredo, who in a vision was instructed to load the huge carving onto a drifting boat. The boat landed in the Tuscan port of Luni. The locals tried to pull the vessel ashore but the boat would always float away. The Bishop of Lucca at the time a certain Bishop Johannes, had a dream and went to Luni. The boat came to him and he was able to unload the Volto Santo and bring the heavy crucifix  back to the city of Lucca on a cart drawn by oxen without a driver and place it in San Frediano.

However, Nicodemus's sculpture miraculously relocated itself to San Martino. The church was then declared the city’s cathedral.

The 13th September is the Procession for the people to revere this carving. In medieval times most citys celebrated their Saints with these candlelit processions but Lucca is one of the few cities that has continued this celebration for over a 1000 years. Why is the procession held in the evening and lit by candles? The answer is simple, wax was a valuable commodity. The route followed by the procession today is the taken by the “Volto Santo" on its miraculous journey, starting from
piazza San Frediano,
via Fillungo
via Roma
piazza San Michele
via Vittorio Veneto
piazza Grande
piazza del Giglio
via del Duomo
piazza San Giovanni
piazza San Martino.

The flickering candles outlining the windows takes the city back to another Lucca. The Volto Santo is no longer removed from the cathedral and indeed the one on display in the beautiful shrine designed by the Renaissance Lucchese architect Civitali, is a 13th-century copy. The original supposedly destroyed by overzealous pilgrims. Today as for centuries the parishioners from the surrounding area plus the local dignitaries and clerics make up the procession. They are also joined by Lucchese citizens from around the world and locals in costumes. The joy of being part of this day is that it is a local festival for the locals and still acts as a meeting place for friends from far flung corners of the province. The historical markets held on 14th, 21st, and 29th September are also a meeting point and Luna park returns every year to amuse the populace. This old fashioned fun fair seems like a parallel world.

The procession starts at about 20.00 hours on 13th September every year and finishes with a mass in the Duomo of San Martino and the Mottettone polyphonic music. The festival is capped off by fireworks at about 23.00 hours, best seen from the walls above the church of San Frediano.