So I just returned from Paris last night and had a wonderful time, but of course I am beyond exhausted. Before I do a super long entry about it, I wanted to update everyone on my move from Rome, my first few days in Lucca, and the next step in my Italian adventure. Leaving Rome Saturday was pretty hectic as we were all trying to get our stuff together and not forget anything. I was able to share a cab to Termini station with Kathryn and Susan (we somehow managed to fit 6 huge suitcases and 4 people in an average-sized car!), and I'm so glad I did because I had forgotten how heavy and big my suitcases were! I was a little apprehensive about taking the train with my luggage, because the day before I left, I heard that a girl in my program had ALL her luggage stolen on the train on her way to Bologna! I can't even imagine having to deal with that, it's literally my worst nightmare! I was able to grab a seat near the luggage racks on the train however, so I could watch my stuff the whole time. I went to Florence first, which took about 2 hours, then caught another train from there to Lucca which took about an hour. The train ride was actually quite nice and the scenery of the Italian countryside was beautiful, but nonetheless I was glad to finally make it to my final destination.
After somehow lugging both my suitcases up two flights of stairs, I was about to call Adele, my grandmother's brother's wife, whom I thought I was staying with the first couple nights, when I suddenley heard someone shout my name from a car! Gina (my dad's cousin) had come to pick me up and take me to her house! It was funny because Gina had only seen pictures of me when I was young so she didn't really know what I looked like, only that I was blonde : ) Anyway, she speaks fluent English from having grown up in the States, so it was a bit refreshing to be able to hold a real conversation with someone without struggling with a foreign language. Driving to her house, looking around Lucca, I already know I'm going to love it here. It's so quaint, beautiful, and tranquilla, so different from chaotic Rome. Her house is huge and so beautiful, two stories, a pool in the backyard with a great view of the hills, a cute little kitchen, and of course a spacious dining area for Italian dinners family-style : ) I have my own room upstairs with a queen-size bed (so amazing after what I slept on in Rome!) and a bathroom I share with her daughter, Tanya.
The best part, by far, about staying here is their dog, Taquila! She is half weiner dog and probably the cutest thing ever... She has this ball that she is absolutely OBSESSED with! Seriously, it's all she thinks of or pays attention to. She could literally play fetch for hours, and she'll do anything to get the ball. If you through it in the pool, she doesn't hesitate for a second, she just dives right in, over and over again, and even climbs out using the ladder! I posted a video of her jumping in the pool to get the ball... I couldn't figure out how to rotate it right-side up, so just tilt your head to watch it : ) Mostly it's just nice to have a dog to play with again. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge dog lover, especially my own puppy who I miss like crazy, so it's really great to have Taquila. My first night here, she even wondered into my room and jumped up onto my bed to snuggle for a bit : )
Sunday was really fun because every Sunday Gina has her family and some friends over for a big lunch. I got to meet Vic and Adele (my nonna's brother and wife), Gina's in-laws, and some of her close friends. I managed to speak a little Italian, and believe it or not, they were all very impressed! But I think they don't really know just how much Italian I've had, because I'm really not that great when you take that into consideration. However, I was able to understand pretty much everything that they were talking about in Italian, so I think my listening comprehension is getting better. Vic was really great, especially for his age, 90! It was kind of uncanny how much he looks like my nonna though. Unfortunately there are some bitter feelings between him and his two sisters, and the feeling were passed down, to some degree, to their children, creating some tensions amaong family members. For instance, Adele made it very clear to me how she felt about my father and then refused to talk about him anymore. I know they are all very old and bitter feelings are hard to look past, but it is still frustrating and sad to here these things. I feel like these issues have also prevented me, until now from having any relationship with my dad's side of the family, and not just those in Italy, but even his cousin Debbi in California and her mom, Annie. I'm so glad I'm able to spend time with everyone here and get to know them. They are constantly referring to me as their cousin (true, although distant) and really think of me as family which is so great. After a delicious lunch, I called my parents on Skype and took my computer downstairs where they were able to chat with Vic and Gina for a bit! It was really nice that my dad was so willing and enthusiastic about talking to all of them, despite wahtever happened in the past. A little later, I went for a swim to cool off and sipped limoncello poolside : ) One drawback to staying here, however, is that Gina forbid me to speak to either of her kids in Italian because she wants them to practice their English! Normally this would be a relief except that I really, really, really need to practice my Italian! I'm sure I'll still have chances to speak it with other people though so I'm not too concerned. I'm also finding that I'm not very good at being a guest. Gina and her family do everything for me and won't let me help with anything. I know this is how most Italians are, but I just feel so spoiled and want to contribute something to show my thanks for letting me stay here so long, entertaining me, and feeding me. I really appreciate everything, but I'm just not good at this. But it's so great to be cared for again, although at the same time it makes me miss home a little bit. Anyway, I'm loving it here in Lucca. Tanya is fantastic, so similar to me and so much fun, and she speaks wonderful English. Also, Lucca is super close to a lot of the places I want to visit (Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, etc.) so I'm going to be taking some day trips while I'm here.
p.s. My post on Paris will soon follow!