Monday, September 04, 2006

Belated posting--Lucca, Italy, June 22-23, 2006

June 22-23

More about Lucca. This is not intended to replace a tour guide. First of all, I have no intention of visiting every major tourist site. Others have done this better than I and the kids will not put up with it. Last year we did climb the Torre Guinigi and enjoyed it very much. The view was fantastic and there is a certain romance to trees on top of a tower. There are other towers to be climbed but maybe another trip.
Let me instead tempt you to visit with a description of our breakfast stop. We sit in a café in a small square. Zoning laws in Lucca must be quite interesting. The tables and umbrellas are laid out in the middle of a road. How did this café get permission to do this? Across the square from us is a fountain shaped like a bathtub. People fill their water bottles from a tap on the side. I’m too anxious about GI disturbances to do the same. Not that I doubt that the water is potable, but living in France 20 years ago, I discovered that I avoided minor but chronic GI upset by not drinking tap water and it was well worth the investment in bottled water. My husband thinks I am paranoid.

There is a small church across the way as well. It has some wonderful marble carvings above the arched doors although the walls are unremarkable. A few older women wander in to pray. There are few tourists in this particular square. Next to the church is another ancient building housing the local ambulance corps. The ambulances are parked next to the church walls which is a typical European juxtaposition of ancient and modern. I think you have to come from a historically young country such as the United States to be as strongly struck by these contrasts. The Beatles music playing loudly in the station house adds to the ambiance. Ironically this music seems old fashioned too although in context the Beatles are not exactly antiquarian.
I turn D loose with his camera. He is especially taken by the semi-feral cat in the door of the café. The cat’s fur is matted and he looks unkempt so D feel sorry for him. I explain that this does not mean the cat is necessarily neglected. Proof arrives as a woman walks by, opens a can of cat food into a dish outside the café and then walks on. The cat and pigeons appreciate the food. D tells me the cat is related to our cat at home because he cleans himself like ours does.
Today we buy Legoes at a toy store. Not exactly the quintessential Italian souvenir but I too think Lego Bionicles are toys worth having especially if it buys a happy child for a few moments. I take a photo of an interesting shop window. It commemorates the on-going World Cup with soccer balls and shoes entirely in chocolate. The photo does not do justice to the window (or the chocolate).
For lunch we meet our friends who spend their mornings studying Italian while we loll about. We eat at a local pizzeria (run by Brazilians). This year they are understandably proud of their new air-conditioning. This is a rarity in Lucca and makes the pizza go down a lot more easily on a hot afternoon.
After lunch a brief swing into the Anfiteatro for a gelato. Local gelato is as good as reputation would have it. My favorites are frutti di bosco (literally wood fruit–actually mixed berries) and fragola (strawberry). The kids love chocolate. Mint is D’s current favorite.
The afternoon entails a return to Marlia. The kids head directly to the pool. One recent afternoon I hiked into the hills above the Azienda. This is a longer hike than I had anticipated. There are some tempting small towns up the hill and I have been wishing to see the church attached to the tower I can see from our house. The roads are unbelievably winding and I never did arrive at the tower in question. After multiple switch backs I arrived at a different church in a different small town.
A foreigner hiking up these hills must be quite a sight. I felt that everyone is staring at me wondering what I am up to. It was hard to take pictures for the same reason. The Tuscan stone farm houses are striking to my eye but I had trouble doing them justice with my untutored photography skills. I was also shy about photographing someone’s house in too obvious a manner.
One older gentleman who was putting chemicals on his grape vines tried to strike up a conversation. He might have been asking where I was coming from and I tell him I am from the Azienda. In retrospect he was probably asking which country I am from. He seemed to think I am either German, British or Dutch. It mystified me that anyone could believe I am Dutch. With my dark skin, hair and eyes, I look more stereotypically Mediterranean than the fair colored Tuscans. I think American hikers are less common around here. I don’t know if I managed to convince him that I am from the United States. We part in mutual, amicable confusion. I wish I had better Italian language skills and more understanding of the local etiquette. As on many days, that one ended with hungry children demanding why I had not returned hours ago to feed them.

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