A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice.
– Frances Mayes, American memoirist and poet, from Under the Tuscan Sun
David was giving me a hard time about spending so much time blogging (as usual, I’m just losing sleep over it – it’s not as if I’m taking up waking or touring hours to blog, in other words). I tried to explain to him that we have done so much in so little time that I’m forgetting the little gems, the backstories, from our trip. So finding this quote from Under the Tuscan Sun was perfect. This trip has been intense in so many ways – visual, mostly, but also dense with adventures – and putting my thoughts into words, trying to put pen to paper, so to speak, is making our trip enduring in my heart and mind, and leaving no stone unturned in terms of memories.
Today we got up early to make the 60km trip to Lucca, a fortress city that never tore down its Medieval walls and has preserved its ramparts. When we entered its walls, we headed to the top of the embankment that surrounds the city and walked about halfway around. The wall is 2.5 miles long and takes approximately 20 minutes to walk its entire length. Trees border this walking area on both sides and provide shade for pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers alike. The shade made for a pleasant Sunday stroll, something many locals – or Lucchesi – and Italian tourists were enjoying. While foreign tourists were in sight, tour guides and buses were not, and in fact the tourism overall was understated, which was welcomed for us. It would have been cool to rent bikes to ride, but perhaps that’s for another visit. While cars are allowed within the walls, the traffic is minimal and many people get around on bicycles – both stylish and functional.
We discovered later that the last weekend of each month local artisans set up their stalls to sell their wares. What a treat it was to wander among the stalls to see what these artisans had created – from wooden sculptures and glazed pottery to hammered metal, leather, and beaded jewelry. One guy was selling leather bracelets in single, double, triple, and more strands. I couldn’t resist. I also saw the leather purse I was coveting in Firenze here from the same brand, Pratesi – and it was 10 euros cheaper – so I took that as a sign that it was meant to come home with me. Lastly, in the shopping department, we came upon a small Vespa shop and I got a tin sign that I’m looking forward to hanging in our courtyard at home. The funny thing about this shop was that the shopkeeper was nowhere to be found, even as I poked my head over the counter and kept calling out, “Ciao!” – even though later I found that this means “pleased to meet you.” Determined to get the tin sign, I went to the shop next door and the guy led me to the Vespa shopkeeper who was chatting with the shopkeeper on the other side of her shop. Mission accomplished.
Raissa stopped at a shop called Zazzi, which sold beautiful locally loomed scarves made of silk, cashmere, linen, cotton, wool, and modal. She befriended the owner Vladimir, who used to work for Gucci and then started his own business. He bought the rights to an 18th century print of the city of Lucca to feature on the design of one of his scarves and also reproduced nine original paintings by Lucchesi artist Sibilla Stefani on scarves. Really beautiful work. Vladimir apologized for his English, although Raissa told him his English was very good. He sheepishly told us that his English was not so good for the tourists yesterday. While trying to explain to them that he had three versions of the same scarf, he instead told them he had “three virgins,” to which the English-speaking tourists smiled and told him he was “very lucky.” Raissa bought a beautiful pink version of the city of Lucca print.
We stopped for lunch, which reminded me of the type of food you get as a tourist – okay but not great, but we made up for it by snagging gelato. David also found a quaint little shop that sold Porcini mushrooms and promptly bought two big bags, which he reported he got for a song. Back home, they are quite expensive. So he was very happy.
By the time we got back, the day was nearly done. The boys jumped in the pool and we purchased groceries for another home-cooked meal – chicken cacciatore and fan-favorite sautéed fagiolini. The piazza was being set up for an open-air movie. I wish we had gone, but everyone was too tired by the end of our late dinner. I kept thinking of scenes from Cinema Paradiso. At any rate, we heard loud booms after midnight. Fireworks were going off at the square. We found out later that June 27th is Piazza al Serchio’s Notte Bianca – White Night – a town celebration.
This little respite in this beautiful region is just the thing everyone needed. If you are planning an Italian vacation, I highly recommend coming to the region and staying in a villa.