Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Around Montecatini

Saturday 9th April, 2016

The day we arrived was overcast and drizzly. By the time we pitched the cloud had lifted a bit, so we donned cagouls and wandered off the have a look at Montecatini Alto. It's a typical Tuscan hill village, a little gentrified due to its proximity to the nearby spa to which is connected by a funicular. We considered stopping for a drink in the pretty central piazza, but having grown used to Mezzogiorno prices, 5 euros for a glass of local red seemed exorbitant. Even somewhere touristy like Taormina we could expect to pay less than that for a glass each. With the pound weakening due to uncertainties around the June referendum, and the prices in Northern Italy and France higher than in the Southern Mediterranean, the trip homeward is likely to cost considerably more than the outward leg last autumn. We can't even save by wild camping due to the problem with the leisure batteries. I guess its wince, and pay up! 

On the way back we called into the local Frantolo, took a few pictures of the milling machines, old and new, and bought 75cl. bottle. We must have over 5 litres of different olive oils from Greece, Sicily and mainland. That should keep us going until next October and reduce the need to use blended supermarket brands.

Next morning Wunderground proved correct; the weather had improved, still somewhat cloudy, but no rain forecast until late afternoon. The bus-stop down to Montecatini Terme is only a few yards from the campsite at the nearby junction. It was lunchtime when we arrived. The place seems still to have retained some vestiges of an up-market health resort with grand fin-de-siècle hotels and streets full of designer shops. We needed to find somewhere to buy a couple of panini. Fancy cake-shops, a chocolatier, shops selling impossible heels for 250  euros, designer bags galore, intricate lacy lingerie, but not a humble panini to be had! Eventually we found a small cafe and had a slice of pizza each, only 3 euros - we discovered why, they were very slender slices!

Stylish arcades

Old fashioned past-times

Up-market spa hotels

Designer shoe shops - but where can we buy a panini?
Spa towns are odd places. Their heyday is long gone, and some of the original thermes, as we found in Spa in Belgium, are in a near ruinous condition. The decline of these places had been going on for seventy years or more. So as well as the decayed grandeur of the original buildings, you can trace attempts over the years to re-generate them with various modernist interpolations ranging the ambitiously tawdry to the entirely ill conceived. 

Some of the Spa buildings are well looked after

in lovely gardens
with interesting 'liberty style' ironwork

The beautiful tiling on Terme Tamarici is fenced-off - the building is dangerously decaying.

Other spas are in better condition

many are decorated with late 19th Century realist style motifs.

others  have reliefs in a Art Deco inspired moderrnist style

Or vaguely symbolist fin-de- siecle inspired sculpture 

A strange mix here of neo fascist social realism and Art Deco - why the potter appears to be wearing his trousers back to front is a complete mystery!
I quite like the second half of the 20th century's love of the concrete monstrosity. At least it shows a certain ambition to be new, and even if the moderns sense that the world could be re-invented for the better proved as ill-conceived as a multi-storey car park, is today's tendency towards catastrophising the future any better? Question posed by Montecini Terme - which is preferable, delusion or depression?

The facade of the Spa seems to reference  Brunelleschi's famous Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence - the 1970s annexe at the back seems to take its inspiration from a multi-storey car park - a strange mix.

This square mixes older buildings with uninspired 1950s blocks - WW2 damage perhaps?

The vista from the Spa area down towards Piazza del Popolo is dominated by the modernist church of Parrocchia Di Santa Maria Assunta - which is typical of the 1950s - lots of bare concrete and strident pursuit of symmetry - I bet its not particularly loved...


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