contaminations - la storia

Elisa Bonaparte arrived in Lucca after one of her brothers, probably the most famous and “ambitious” of the family, Napoleon, gave her as a present the Princedom of Lucca and Piombino in 1805.

It’s told in fact that Elisa was a very strong, confident and tenacious woman, and so she became Grand Duchess of Tuscany, but always remained to live in Lucca for the love she had for the city. She had, just like all the other Bonaparte family members, a great passion for botany, that made her transform her residence at the time, Villa Reale of Marlia, into an immense nursery in which she introduced many different species unknown in our areas at the time.

Thanks to Elisa the diffusion of new species began, such as silver wattles, magnolias, camellias, wisterias, olive trees, dahlias, peonies and geraniums. The silver wattles arrived with a special delivery from Australia,  where they were used by the Aboriginals as healing plants for various health issues, such as flus, coughs and headaches. The camellias were sent from her brother Giuseppe, King of Naples at the time, that made the plants being taken away from the Caserta Palace to have them sent as a gift to his sister. Every plant that was introduced into our city thanks to Elisa’s passion has a story, and became integral part of the history not just of Lucca but also of the people who were born, raised, or even just walked the streets of the city once.

History, memory, time and roots are fused together and amplified by the conscious effort of recollection, triggered by the power of involuntary memory not just in our own past, but also into the one locked inside the collective unconscious, re-emerged from the depths of our origins.

After coming back from Germany, where he had been kept locked as a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Second World War, Renato Maffei began working as a sharecrop farmer in the suburbs of Lucca. Over the years he managed to obtain part of the lands that he was cultivating to resell the products at the local market, inside the Anfiteatro square (so called because it used to be the Roman amphitheater), in the walled centre of the city. Together with his wife Jolanda, who came back from the housekeeping job she had with a rich family in Rome, they woke up at 4 am every day to load their fruit and vegetables on a small cart that they used to tie to their bicycle, riding it into the city market.

After many years of sacrifices and days of hard work, he managed to find a job in a cans factory. With the profits of the new job and the savings from the old one, my grandparents managed to build, starting with nothing,  a big house with lots of land around, that over the course of time accommodated our whole family.

Despite the increasing level of wealth my grandfather decided to keep working the land, creating a great fruit and vegetables garden, where he also planted many ornamental flowers and trees.

When I think back to my childhood I can see my grandfather while he hoes the ground, creates spaces for the tomatoes, seeds with painstaking effort the minuscule plants of basil and parsley, feeds the roses, cures the geraniums, trims the wisterias and the olive trees, cuts the deadwoods off the silver wattles, cleans the magnolias from the falling leaves. Every single one of my memories as a child is linked to the perfumes, to the various scents of these plants. And so on, the circle keeps opening and closing, in a continuous succession of events and plot of destinies. Beginning with a flowers-lover princess, arrived from France more than two hundred years ago, passing through an imprisoned soldier in a foreign and hostile land during a cruel war, who reinvented himself and his life thanks to his love for the earth, that red thread of history and memory continues through many twists, sometimes tangles, connecting us to our roots and destinies.

The past that is now abstract, no more tangible, but comes back to be presence, together with the nostalgia of a distant world, and is regenerated thanks to the plot of separated presences and lives, however tied together from the same name and a strong soul affinity.