Franco and Roberto Creatini are what are known around here as Bolgheresi DOC. There have been Creatinis in Bolgheri since the 1700’s and Roberto and Franco have lived all their lives in the shadow of the Castle of Bolgheri, although they would consider it less of a shadow than a sheltering wing. They belong to a bygone age when the counts in the castle owned the whole village, the surrounding farmhouses and the fields and olive groves as far as the horizon. The della Gherardescas built the primary schools in Bolgheri and San Guido and sent the children to pursue their education further afield – Roberto was taught cabinet making in Marina di Cecina and still today he can be seen in his garage at the end of the village mending window shutters and broken chairs and any odds and ends that come his way. Then they were found jobs on the estate or in the castle and sometimes worked for the counts, like Franco, their whole lives.
Roberto and Franco’s father, Patrizio, looked after the count’s horses and went riding every day with the young countesses, impeccably turned out and complete with a bowler hat which Franco still preserves. Later he was to become the Conte Ugolino’s chauffeur. Their grandmother, their mother and later their wives all worked in the castle. Meanwhile, the two boys joined the other children in the village under the huge Christmas tree in the castle where there was a present for everyone, pistols for the boys and dolls for the girls. At Easter time, they played egg and spoon races in the formal gardens behind the castle. As a young boy, Franco would be taken to the beach to play with the little countesses and it came as something of a shock when he discovered as he grew older that he was downstairs rather than upstairs in the social order of things.
While still an adolescent, Franco was given the job of training the hunting dogs for pheasant and pigeon shoots and he had two magnificent Labradors who would retrieve the birds at shoots in the “macchia” or in the swamplands near the sea where the guns were rowed in flat-bottomed boats. Franco, the least bloodthirsty of men, was grateful that he never had to fire a shot himself. Bales of cloth were brought from England so that the beaters and everyone, including Franco, following the shoot would be dressed the same. Later Franco became the major domo at the castle where he always wore livery, a starched shirt front with a white tie, black waistcoat and tails. In summer the livery was white. Every button big and small bore the crest of the della Gherardesca family. He has the happiest memories of those days even though some of the rules of the house would make Downton Abbey look like a socialist commune. The staff was not allowed to turn their backs on the count but retreated backwards beyond the baize door. When serving at table they were instructed to breathe exclusively through their noses. Working for the della Gherardesca family, Franco learned French and the urbane demeanor of the perfect gentleman’s gentleman. Members of the aristocracy from all over Italy and beyond whom he accompanied on shoots and served at table still remember him fondly. He made the acquaintance of Sarah, Duchess of York, when she was staying in the other della Gherardesca castle in Castagneto Carducci and for years she sent him Christmas cards with photographs of the little princesses.
Conte Ugolino was very grateful for Franco’s help in cataloguing his precious collection of majolica which consisted of 387 pieces, as a dedicated photograph on Franco’s chimney piece testifies. The entire collection was sold for an impressive sum after the count died.
Both Franco and Roberto were married in the Bolgheri church in 1966. Roberto still lives with his wife, Orietta Parrini, whose family goes back even further than the Creatinis, above the Caffe della Posta. In recognition for his services to the family and especially the majolica collection, when Franco got married he was presented with the money to buy his present home above the bank. It was here that Bionda Maria, Giosue Carducci’s first love, lived when the poet was dedicating his verses to her and there is a plaque to this effect above Franco’s front door.
Franco has a fine baritone voice and is often invited on important village occasions to sing “stornelli”, local poetry set to music, part of a dying tradition of peasant culture. Now, at 86, an age Franco carries with aplomb, he and his brother are both pillars of the church, serving at mass and carrying the Madonna in procession on feast days. He confessed that every morning when he wakes up he says “I am at your service,” no longer to Conte Ugolino but to his God.
It is to Roberto, Franco’s younger brother, that we owe our Christmasses in Bolgheri. He has been perfecting his Christmas creche in the chapel of Sant’Antonio to the left before the arch leading into the village since 1980. Every year new additions, a sylvan scene or special effects enrich a Presepe that hundreds of visitors come to see every year. This year there are real fish in the pond in Bethlehem. Then there is the crèche for the castle in front of the old well as you come through the arch, the presepe under the Christmas tree on the village green and this year there are crèches made out of barriques in the side streets. Roberto has a son, Patrizio, named after his father with the bowler hat and is fond grandfather of Sebastiano. He is also always “at your service” in that at every small emergency he comes running to change a lock or mend a fuse or to put his talents as an artisan and carpenter to good use. He has devoted his life to maintaining the local traditions in Bolgheri and I would like to think that there will always be Bolgheresi DOC like Roberto to keep the spirit of Bolgheri alive!