Tales of a wandering lesbian

The Nani of Barga

When I decided to join my family in Italy for a two week vacation, I had no idea the rabbit-hole I was entering.

I would be joining my mom, dad and aunt in Tuscany – tagging along on a trip I had decided earlier not to take.

My family, being excited to share with me the research they had been doing for the past year began sending links to articles, websites, language tutorials – the whole deal.

One of these links caught my eye and theirs as well. It was titled “Barga Gnome City: European Gnome Sanctuary.”

We considered Venice, Florence and Rome, but Barga was definitely on the list.

The morning we decided to go gnome hunting, we were all very excited. Would there be gnomes in the streets like it showed in the article? Gnomes at city hall? Gnomes in the parks?!?!

After a gnome-free hour of looking around this totally charming town, we decided to ask. Now, we had a little skill with the Italian language, but “gnome” was not an often practiced vocab word. Being logical individuals, we headed to the tourist information center.

The lady there thought we were insane.

Seriously, I think she thought we were joking her. “Nani?” she asked after I pantomimed a short man with a pointed had and beard. “Si, nani!” I tried. “No” she shook her head looking concerned for my sanity. She gave us the location of a shop where we might be able to buy a gnome and sent us on our way.

We tried again with the English-speaking owner of the restaurant we stopped at for lunch. “Nani?” he asked after a repeat performance of the gnome pantomime. “Yes, nani.” This was not promising. He thought a minute, considering us. He laughed. “No Nani.” Then his face lit up, “Oh yes! Maybe two years ago there were many nani. It was a…fad.”

A fad? Are you joking? What part of sanctuary means fad? We were ready to mutiny.

We finished lunch and headed out to see the Barga Duomo – utterly defeated. We had come for gnomes, not for churches. There are lots of churches in Italy, but how many towns have gnome infestations?

As we walked out of the first church, we found a surprise. One little nani was waiting for us.


Totally beside ourselves, we took pictures and cackled with joy. We had found the nani of Barga.

It wasn’t until several days later when I met an Italian linguist who I could ask about the article, that we learned that the gnome liberation movement was one that relocated the gnomes from the town into the woods – explaining the utter lack of gnomes within the city. Next time I’m in Barga, I’m heading for the woods.

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July 8, 2009   4 Comments