Thursday, August 14, 2008

Life in Lucca

August 20, 2008

My time in Lucca has been more than amazing…it was pretty damn near perfect, and just what I needed. I was pretty busy while here but I had a blast, and now that I’m about to leave for Padova, I can’t help but be a little sad. It's been amazing to be in a place with so much personal history for me; the same place that my nonna grew up in, where my Italian roots began. It was great to hear stories about my family, too, some that I probably would have never heard elsewhere. I'm so grateful to have gotten to know everyone here and form a relationship with this side of my family. I am especially glad to have met my cousin Tanya : ) We are similar in many ways, and she is such a sweet and fun girl to be around, not to mention everything she did for me while I was in Lucca! I'm sure after I leave we will be in touch often, and we are even planning for her to come visit me in Santa Barbara! Gina and Lia are more than wonderful as well, I could never thank them enough for letting me stay, feeding me amazing food, and entertaining me. It's great to be around mother-figures, too, since I've been on my own for a while and won't be going home to my own mother anytime soon. On more than one occasion I found myself in wonderful conversations with Gina about life and the issues of family, and she always seemed to know just what to say to ease my worries and make me smile again.
Lucca is exceptionally beautiful in its simplicity; every time we would go anywhere I tried to soak it all up and imprint it on my mind. From the rolling green hills and grapevines, quaint houses and elaborate villas, to the charming city center surrounded by exquisitely intact walls, I loved it all. Especially after chaotic and crowded Rome, Lucca was exactly the break I needed. Anyway, this post is kind of a run-down of my two weeks in Lucca since I got back from Paris.
Saturday night Tanya took me to a dance party on the beach in Viareggio called Croda. I guess a few times during the summer they have this event, with a DJ, bar, lots of dancing, and practically everyone under 25 in a 20 mile radius. It was fun to see the young generation of Italy, who surprisingly were quite similar to that in the States, in both behavior and dress. We went with her friends Alberto, Alberto (there were 2 of them), Elena, and some weird guy, but they were all really nice. We just sat on the beach, drank a little, talked, and smoked a bit. I was still exhausted from Paris, I wasn't used to staying out so late (we were there until 3am!), and I hadn't drank hard alcohol or smoked in while, and the combination of these things made me fall asleep right there on the beach! Finally they were ready to leave, but I was so out of it when I woke up that I completely forgot to grab my purse... As we were walking back to the car, Tanya got a phone call from her mom, turns to me immediately and says, "Oh my God, where's your purse?" It turns out some Italians had found it on the beach, went through my phone, and called almost everyone in my phonebook (at 3:30am!) to let me know they had my bag. We ran back to the beach and found them, thanked them profusely, and then finally made our way home. Carlo was one of the people they called and after I'd gotten my purse back he called me to see if everything was ok. I don't know if it was because I was super tired or had drank a little, but I spoke to him in near-perfect Italian! It was nice to hear from him though, I feel like he's actually a true friend I'll keep in touch with even once I’m back in California. Nothing was missing from my bag, and I was really so thankful to have got it back. We finally got home at 4am and I literally just passed out.
The next day, after sleeping in very late, Gina told me just how lucky I was because I guess most Italians would never do something so nice. Seriously all day, everyone just told me how lucky I was. That afternoon I went with Gina to the grocery store and on the way back we stopped at the house where my great-grandmother was born! Such a pretty house and so much history… I met Lia for the first time when she came over that afternoon. Her and Gina are seriously so similar, the way the are together reminds me of the connection between twins! She was really sweet; we chatted a bit and I instantly knew I would love her, too. She even told me something I had never heard before - that my grandmother had had another sister who had died when she was a baby! Maybe it's not super exciting news, but I found it extremely interesting. I also found out that my great-grandmother, my nonna’s mother, was a witch! Not a bad witch of course, but more of a “healer”. It was something to do with the order of her birth, but she was well-known in Lucca and was summoned by many for help. On top of that, she was born on a leap year and died on Halloween! I think that’s quite cool : )
That night Gina had dinner at her house and the guys from the night before came over to eat, as well as two more of Tanya's friends. They were all so nice, asking me if I was ok, because I guess they didn't realize that I had just been extremely tired on the beach the night before. That night Gina watched my copy of the rather vulgar but hilarious movie, "Superbad", with Ricky. I was a little apprehensive about telling her to watch something like that, so I gave her plenty of warning, but she ended up loving it! Ricky luckily doesn't understand enough English for it to have been harmful. I love how young and open Gina is; she likes the same movies as me and even listens to a lot of the same music. One of my favorite moments here was when "Closer" by Ne-Yo came on the radio in the car on the way home and Gina turns it up, says it's her favorite song, and starts singing every word!
The one thing that's hard about hanging out with Tanya and her friends was the language issue. They speak some English, but talk to each other mostly in Italian. This would be great for me to practice, except for a few problems. First of all, they speak way to fast, use a lot of slang, and often talk about “inside joke” type stuff. I've told Tanya to tell them I would like them to speak Italian to help me, but they need to speak slower, but it hasn't really happened. Second, they only ask me questions once in a while, and always in English, so I don't have many chances to speak Italian. It got kind of frustrating hanging out with people and not understanding exactly what they are saying, and having to put in so much effort to understand.
On Monday Gina and Lia took me into the city center of Lucca, aka what is inside the city walls. We stopped by their school first and picked up some bikes and then headed into Lucca. The city center was typically Italian, with narrow streets full of cafès, shops, ristoranti, and people, both on foot and bike. I guess most of the people were tourists, however, because most of the native Lucchese were on holiday. I loved seeing so many people biking, but it made me a little homesick for Santa Barbara : ( They showed me some wonderful piazze, a beautiful church known as the Basilica di San Frediano with the preserved body of St. Zita inside and a wonderful mosaic on it’s façade, the huge circular Piazza dell’Anfiteatro lined with cafès and full of people, and the gorgeous cathedral known as the Duomo di San Martino with delicate gothic-style columns and the temple of the Volto Santo di Lucca inside. I just wish now I could remember all the little details Lia told me about these places! She also told me that the city center is almost entirely the same today as it was when my nonna lived here, and the thought of walking and being in the same places that she had been as a girl was strange. Before heading home we rode our bikes along the top of the tree-lined walls. Apparently Lucca is the only city in Italy whose walls are still completely intact and can be walked and biked on!
On the ride back Lia told me more stories of my nonna, about how she was the town beauty and was engaged to the local “hotshot”, and was heartbroken to leave Lucca. I never even knew the details of why they immigrated to the States until now either. I guess years later, after she had already married and American, my nonno, her former fiancée moved to the States and settled in Sacramento where she was, not having any idea she was already taken! The thing I can’t understand is how the two of them managed; he eventually married as well, but both remained in Sacramento, had the same friends, went to the same social gatherings. It must have been difficult, and my heart goes out to them. Knowing things like this help me to understand the bitterness my nonna cannot let go of. That night we had another wonderful dinner (Gina was such a great cook!) and then Tanya’s guys came to hang out. They mostly talked amongst themselves, but they did ask me some questions, and they were especially interested in the fact that I’m in a sorority. They also taught me the Lucchese word bao, which I’m still not exactly sure of the meaning. They seem to just throw it out there whenever.
Tuesday Tanya, Niccola, Alberto and I went to Pisa. Apparently there is some kind of rivalry between Lucca and Pisa… Lucchese often change the phrase pezza di merda (piece of shit) to Pisa merda! Anyway Pisa is actually mostly a university town, and the only real highlight for visitors is the famous square, Piazza dei Miracoli with the Leaning Tower, Duomo aka Cathedral, and dome-shaped Baptistry. The square itself really was breathtakingly beautiful. The sky that day was a bright blue scattered with a few fluffy white clouds, providing a perfect background for these monuments, and the lawn in the center of the square was a vivid green. I spent a moment as a tourist taking photos, entertained by all the people standing on the markers connecting the chains surrounding the grass, trying to get that picture giving the illusion of them holding up the Leaning Tower. Being the tourist that I am, I couldn’t resist doing it, too : ) After we got cappuccinos and chatted for a while, and then headed back. The plan had been to go bowling afterword, but both places we went to were closed, so instead we went to a sweet shop where they got gelato and I marveled at all the wonderful cakes and sweet creations lining an entire wall of the shop! I couldn’t help but think of my friend Sarah, who would probably die in this shop : ) That evening we went over to Lia’s for dinner and met the two English girls staying there. I guess Gina a Lia met them on one of their trips to England with their students, and the girls had asked to come visit in Lucca for a couple weeks. They were nice, although I’m not sure we really clicked; I think our personalities were a little different. Wednesday was just as busy. Lia, the English girls, Chiara, Gina, Ricky, and I spent the day at the beach. The weather was strangely overcast and windy for the first half of the day, and then got pretty hot later in the afternoon. We spent close to 6 hours there, so not surprisingly I ended up with a little too much sun, resulting in a body tanned black and a face burnt pink! The sun really took the energy out of me, so I was glad that the evening was pretty low-key. We went to Lia’s for an American-style BBQ, complete with hotdogs and hamburgers, and Gina even found veggie burgers for me! After dinner Tanya, the two guys (yes, I saw those two basically everyday I was in Lucca!), and I drove to a spot in the hills where you can look down on Pisa, all lit up at night, and watched shooting stars for a while. Just laying there in the dark, staring up at the sky put me in one of those thinking moods where you reflect on life, its meaning, etc., but nonetheless is was a great way to end the evening.
Thursday I was supposed to go to Florence for the day with Chiara and the English girls, but when I woke up super early to get ready, I was way to exhausted. Also, we wouldn’t have been able to see the Ufizzi Museum, which is my number one reason for going to Florence. I figured I would definitely have another chance to go later on my own, so I decided to spend the day relaxing, catching up on sleep and correspondences. Dinner was at Gina’s again with various guests (I think I ate with her family alone only two times the whole time I was there!). Afterword, people started throwing each other in the pool, so before I let that happen to me, I changed into my suit and jumped in on my own accord. The highlight of the evening was getting to meet my cousin Danny, Lia’s son, who has been in London the past few years. I was surprised that he had already picked up an English accent, which disappeared the second he spoke Italian. I was glad he was able to come visit for a few days while I was there, because otherwise I may not have had a chance to meet him again since the first time we met in Sacramento when we were tiny, tiny kids.
Friday the 15th was the big Italian picnic holiday of Ferragosto. Lia hosted the festivities, which included absurd amounts of food and tons and tons of family and friends. During lunch, it started to rain, which at first was ok because we were under umbrellas, but soon came down harder and we had to move everything and everyone under the awning. And then of course, once we had done that the rain stopped and the sky cleared. I ate way too much of course, so to work some of it off I joined everyone else in a “friendly” game of volleyball for an hour or so. While we were playing the ball hit the trees next to the court and knocked loose a bird’s nest! We were able to rescue one of the babies, and everyone immediately started taking care of it putting it in a box, feeding it, and, sadly, betting on how long it would survive : (
After volleyball, a bunch of us went on a walk around the area so Vic could show me the villa he and my nonna grew up in. Once again, along the walk I was in awe of the simple beauty a row of grape vines or a green field can elicit. On the way we passed a house where a little tiny dog was running up and down the top of the wall surrounding the house, barking like crazy and so funny!The villa was big and yellow, and not exactly what I had imagined, but it was definitely grand and beautiful. My family knows the woman living there now, so she let us in and gave us a little tour. Vic showed me the room my nonna shared with her sister, and I was surprised to see that they had their own bathroom connected, which in that time was an absolute luxury! Speaking of bathrooms, the villa must have had about 10, I swear they were everywhere! The tile on the floors was even the original! I wish my nonna could come back and see the house today; I can’t help but wonder what she’d think. It’s funny though because the entire family regrets having sold it and wishes one of them owned it today. It is kind of sad knowing that such a big, beautiful house, with so much family history, is being used by only one person, not really related, who certainly has no need of something so grand.
During the walk my stomach started to feel a little strange and I had a headache, but I wasn’t sure if it was from all the food I ate or something else. I ignored it for the most part, and later that night I felt a little better. Maybe the best part of that evening, however, was when I called my Mom on Skype, and she had brought my nonna and her sister Annie to our house so they could talk to everyone there and actually see them, too! Annie had a blast, recognizing everyone and talking to them in Italian, but I think it was frustrating for my nonna not only because she doesn’t really have a relationship with her family anymore, but also because she couldn’t really hear or understand people. But whether she enjoyed it or not and despite any bitter feelings, I think it was good for her to see her relatives, especially her brother, because it will probably be the last time she ever does. I just think it’s so great that technology today can enable such wonderful things like this, and it made me feel really good that I arranged it for them. I felt a little better later that night, and summed it up to simply eating way too much at the picnic.
For the weekend Tanya had invited me to go with her and some of her friends to Lake Garda. We left super early (like 7am!) because it was about a 3 ½ hour drive from Lucca. I didn’t feel so great, but I assumed I was just really tired and maybe hungry. Anyway, the plan for Saturday was to spend it at one of Italy’s biggest amusement parks, called Gardaland. Let me just say first that it did not compare to even the bad parks in the states… the rides, the food, the attractions, everything was less than impressive. My stomach qualms ended up lasting the whole day, but luckily they weren’t too bad that they prevented me from going on rides, eating, and enjoying myself. One thing I noticed when we first got their and were waiting in line for a water ride (almost 2 hours in line for a 2 minute, uneventful ride!) was the type of Italians that the park attracted… which I have decided are the equivalent of “white trash” in the States. I don’t mean to be offensive or judgmental, but the way these people presented themselves and acted in public was just gross. Tanya said it was partly because we were so far north and the Italians there have had different influences. Overall I enjoyed myself, although I never felt great the entire day and it was a little exasperating spending an entire day at an amusement park in Italy when they are plentiful in the States, and this one wasn’t even a good one either. I just feel like those aren’t the types of things I should choose to spend my time and money on while I’m here. We stayed until closing, which was a little frustrating because I was tired and really wasn’t feeling too well at that point. When we finally made it back to the cabin/hostel we were staying at, I quickly changed and fell into bed while the others went outside to chat and smoke. Around 2:30am I was woken up by all of them coming in loud as hell, laughing, talking, and joking around. I wouldn’t have made it a big deal except that I really didn’t feel well and it kept going for quite some time. Eventually I got up, walked outside (where it had strangely started pouring rain) and slammed the door to make my point. It worked, and Tanya told them to be quiet, and in the morning they all apologized. I hate being a bitch like that, but it was just a little too immature and thoughtless.
Sunday was spent in the sun, first at gorgeous Lake Garda and then at the large pool facility on our campgrounds. The lake was a 5 minute walk from our room, and absolutely breathtaking. Bright blue sky, sparkling water speckled with swimmers and boats, green all around the perimeter… It was just about perfect. I lapsed in and out of naps, alternating them with taking quick dips in the surprisingly warm water. After lying out there for a while, we went to get lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool. Since you are required to wear a swim cap to go in the pool (and I would not be caught dead in one), I lay out instead and read Cosmo and napped some more.
When we were all sunned out for the day, we went back to the room to freshen up and then went to the camp restaurant for dinner. Dinner ended up being one of the best parts of the whole weekend because a simple question about why I’m a vegetarian evolved into an hour long discussion about animal rights, of which I am deeply passionate. I was shocked at how interested they were in my opinions and even more so by how open they were. In America, my words on the topic are usually met with ignorance, indifference, uninterest, and even hostility, so I don’t often have the chance to discuss things. Maybe people assume I will try to change their opinions or tell them they’re wrong and I’m right, but in reality I only think people should be informed and open before they form an opinion, and whatever that ends up being I respect. When I explained all this to them during dinner, they were surprised. They even admitted that they thought all my argumentative points against animal cruelty, etc. were right, but they could never do what I do and cut meat out of their diet. So I explained that there are other minor things they can do to help, and I actually think they might try them out! It was one of the most refreshing and mature conversations I’ve had in a long, long time. Even though we finished dinner in the evening, everyone wanted to wait until later to leave, with the result being that we left late at night, had to stop a couple times to get coffee for the driver, and drive slower to be extra careful. I was cramped in the backseat with Tanya, trying to sleep, with a fever and upset stomach to add to the uncomfortable situation, which lasted a horrible 4 hours! We got home in the middle of the night, and dead tired and feeling sick, retired to my room asap.
Monday was uneventful as I basically just slept in and relaxed the whole day because I still wasn’t feeling too hot. I had thought I was going to make sushi for Gina and the family that night, but it turned out Lia had already invited us over there for homemade pizza. And unfortunately, that was my last chance to make it for her because she and some others were leaving the next day to go camping for a few days. I didn’t feel like eating much because of my stomach, so I was eager to go back to Gina’s and rest a while longer.
The next day, Tuesday, was supposed to be my last day in Lucca since the 20th was our arrival day in Padova. Tanya and I had made plans to do a day trip to Cinque Terre, the famous and beautiful “five lands” along the coast of Liguria, which I was absolutely dying to visit while in Italy. Even though I still wasn’t feeling up to par, I knew this would pretty much be my only opportunity to go there during my time here (it’s a little too far from Padova and since it’s on the coast fall is not a good time to visit) so I decided to go and just take it easy. It was pretty easy to get to by train, and it only took about an hour and a half. We got off at the town of Riomaggiore and then walked the short trail along the coast known as Via dell’Amore, aka “Lover’s Lane” to the next village, Manarola. Along the lane the walls were covered in cool graffiti and declarations of love left by couples; every square foot there was a “so-and-so + so-and-so” on the wall. There’s also a bench along the way with the backrest in the shape of two people kissing, and the railing behind covered in padlocks because it’s a sort of tradition for couples to leave one as a symbol of their love being forever. A little cheesy but cute all the same. From Manarola we took the train to the next village because I wasn’t feeling up to doing the hike there. However, when we got to Corniglia, we discovered that in order to get to the actual village, you have to climb up 382 steps! Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but with how I was currently feeling I was a little apprehensive. Tanya and I took it slow and eventually made it to the top, where there was a sign congratulating you for making it. I thought maybe getting a light lunch would help my stomach, but as soon as we got into the center of the village, my stomach went haywire and I had to find a bathroom asap. By that point I knew I wouldn’t make it the rest of the day, so we decided to eat and then head back early. Even eating a small salad didn’t help, and I could tell things were getting worse. It was tough making it back down the stairs and to the train, and we had to go super slow, but we made it. The whole trip home was pretty difficult actually. It ended up taking a lot longer than we thought (like 3+ hours) because of wait times between trains, and I had to devote all my energy to not thinking about how terrible I was starting to feel. I knew I had a fever and by the time we got to Lucca, I could tell it was pretty high.
Finally back at Gina’s, I went straight to bed with some tea and took some Tylenol, hoping that after sleeping a bit I would feel better. Tanya and I had decided to go ahead with the sushi that night without the rest of the family, and despite feeling bad, there was no way I was missing out on sushi. I managed to last long enough to show Tanya and her friend how to make it and had a few pieces myself, but then I had to go back upstairs. I decided that evening that there was no way I could make it to Padova the next day, so I made some phone calls to let people know and to make sure it would be ok to come a day or so late. EAP said it was fine, but that I should really try and get their by Friday morning because we had our placement test then and apparently it couldn’t really be made-up at a later time. Relieved that I at least had another day to rest, I fell into a feverish sleep. That night was tough; my fever peaked at 103 degrees, I was in and out of the bathroom constantly, and I was starting to have pretty bad pains in my abdomen. Most of the medicines I was taking didn’t seem to be helping much either. When I woke in the morning, my fever had gone down but I wasn’t feeling much better, so Gina and Lia had their doctor make a house-call to see me. He wasn’t completely sure what I might have, a virus maybe, so he prescribed me some antibiotics and told me to rest and take it easy, but that was about it. By the evening I felt much better and decided to catch the train to Padova the next afternoon, so I packed my suitcases and spent my last night in Lucca, with Tequila sleeping right next to me : ) Although my final days in Lucca were spent in a semi-sick state, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or better people to spend my vacation with. I’m so grateful for everything and everyone, and I know I’ll be going back to visit every chance I get! Although I’m sad to leave Lucca, I’m excited to head to Padova and start my next adventure, and especially to settle into my new town where I actually get to stay for more than a month!

p.s. Although I am posting this now, in September, it was written before I left Lucca but I was unable to post it until now… see my next post for the reason why!

Baci per tutti

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