Ascanio sits on his folding chair outside the cemetery of Nonna Lucia at the end of the village and waits for visitors all year long. He takes a proprietary interest in the cemetery, watering the plants in summer and delighting in taking people around. The visiting times vary with the seasons but basically the cemetery is open from nine o’clock in the morning until sundown. Nonna Lucia is the grandmother of the Nobel prize winning poet Giosue Carducci who spent the happiest days of his childhood in Bolgheri. Much later he was travelling on a train from Bologna to Rome and, seeing from the window the avenue of cypresses leading to the village, he was inspired to write the poem which every child in Italy has to learn by heart: “Davanti a San Guido”.
In verse number twenty Carducci recalls his Nonna Lucia returning from the cemetery: Tall and solemn, dressed in black, which makes one wonder why the statue of this famous grandmother in Bolgheri’s main square is such a jolly old lady who would not be much taller standing up than she is sitting down. Nonna Lucia died in 1842 when she was eighty years old and the poet was a little boy of seven. She is buried in the cemetery to the right of the little chapel. Most of the graves in the cemetery are much older, as Bolgheresi have been buried here since the 1500’s. Originally the entrance was on the other wall offering the departed of Bolgheri an uninterrupted view of the sea. The crosses, now crooked and rusty, planted in the grass, their names eroded all represented a local family and as many as four generations are buried underneath each, one on top of the other. The more affluent mourners could afford a marble plaque on the cemetery wall. The village hospital was in Piazza Ugo and death from illness, referred to on the graves as a “morbo” covering any number of pathologies, many of which were unknown at the time, was frequent, sometimes “repentina” meaning sudden, sometimes more protracted, borne we are told with Christian forbearance. The average life expectancy in earlier times was only thirty five. The language used on these marble plaques is very florid, a form of poetry in itself. One little girl, who died in 1907 at only fifteen, is described as an angel of goodness, the idol of her relations, raised in the warmth of her dear ones’ affection from which she was torn by a sudden illness like a tender plant that had not yet bloomed, this memorial her inconsolable parents, Quintilio and Agata, put. The verb, “pone” or “pongono”, always comes, as in German, at the end. Sometimes just the initials QMP – “Questa memoria pongono”. For Biagio Biagi, a little boy of six who died in 1898, “young ones run to this tomb to spill your tears”. Romano Romani – there seems to have been this strange usage of combining Christian and family names – was 19 when he died “like a lily on its stalk cruelly felled by the scythe”. Other departed rest beneath this cold marble or have flown to heaven or to a better life or have simply succumbed to the “comun fato”, which I presume means the fate that awaits us all. One plaque for someone who died in 1886, having farmed the fields on the estate for forty years, owes his QMP to Count Walfredo della Gherardesca, “padrone”.
In the little chapel are the two litters which carried the dead to the cemetery, covered in black sheets and scattered with flowers, one for adults and one for children. Most people were too poor to afford coffins and the bodies were lowered into the graves by the ropes you can see on the litters, wrapped in a shroud. Family members would lend a hand in digging the graves.
Today’s Bolgheresi are buried about eight hundred metres up the little road to the village cemetery. Just to the right before you arrive are two stone steps apparently leading nowhere. If you follow the stony path through the macchia you will come to a clearing where an enchanting little domed temple resting on columns above an altar suddenly appears, an Indiana Jones moment in the middle of the Mediterranean jungle. Behind are two graves for Ugolino della Gherardesca who died in 1947 and his wife, Flavia, who survived him for 58 years and is buried beside him. The grave site was designed by Cecil Ross Pinsent, an English landscape gardener who also designed the Green Garden at Villa I Tatti belonging to Harvard University and the gardens of Villa La Foce. Villa La Foce was the home of Iris Origo who, in her book “The War in Val d’Orcia” , remembers coming to Bolgheri with her husband and staying at the castle with the della Gherardesca family.