I noticed with a shock that my last post here was in December 2012. I’d just returned from Italy and it was the start of a gorgeous NZ summer. Blogging slipped down my priority list, and summery outdoorsy things became much more interesting. Weeks turned into months and now, 8 months later, this blog is about to disappear. In two weeks to be exact.
I’m feeling a bit sad because One Day at a Time will always be special to me. I loved wandering the streets of Lucca absorbing things to write about and I loved the satisfaction of hitting the publish button. Thank you if you read it. It made all the difference knowing that someone somewhere noticed.
My plans to return to Italy are simmering away but, in the meantime, I have a new business to keep me busy (see below) and a new blog to pour my heart into. It’s called The Local Tourist in NZ and it’s all about the slightly out of the way places and experiences that visitors (and sometimes locals) miss when they are in NZ (predominantly Auckland at the moment but I do intend to get out more!).
The photos above are from some of the posts on The Local Tourist. I hope that you’ll take a look, and maybe if you like what you see you’ll click the “follow” button.
This week I had lunch with a friend that I hadn’t seen for a long time. It was wonderful to remember things that we’d shared a long time ago and to remember why we were friends in the first place.
It got me thinking about friendship. John Donne said it best when he wrote “No man is an island Entire of itself”. Most of us don’t need hundreds of Facebook friends but we all need to be connected with other people. Just one will do.
I’ve been lazy with friendships in the past . To my shame, I haven’t always done the work that any relationship needs in order to survive and grow and past friendships have drifted away. That’s what makes rekindling an old friendship such a joy.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the devastation caused by cyclones and tornadoes, the carnage on the roads and the countless other sadnesses that we read about every day remind us that life is fragile and that we must take the time to look after the relationships that we have and to be grateful for them.
So my friends, old and new, near or far, I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas with your families and your friends.
Isn’t it odd how quickly holiday memories fade once you’ve returned home? I’ve been back in New Zealand for just over a week and to be honest, the time I spent in Lucca feels like a lifetime ago. When we return home from our expeditions overseas we fall into our daily routines so quickly and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a bit sad that the excitement and wonder that we have when we’re in a new place fades when we get back to our familiar surroundings.
In Lucca, my greatest pleasure was to walk early in the morning while the world was still waking up, and to do the same again at the other end of the day when the streets were dark quiet. Now I can’t recreate the magic of Lucca’s narrow cobbled streets where I live in Auckland, but I can watch the world wake up and experience the same peace and sense of well being that I had every day in Lucca.
This morning I noticed that there are two kinds of people out walking in the morning. There are people who smile and say good morning and then there are people who don’t. It was the same in Lucca.
I haven’t got anything profound to say to explain the difference, and I am quite sure that the reasons are many and varied. This morning I realised that I am in the first group, and so I wanted to wish you all a very GOOD MORNING.
It is the first of December today and the countdown to Christmas can officially begin. Irrespective of how much the shops try to convince me otherwise, it is impossible to think seriously about Christmas before I’ve flipped to the last page of the calendar.
Today is also a first as I woke up this morning as an unemployed person. I don’t know about you but the word ‘unemployed’ conjures up all sorts of images that I’d rather not contemplate but the reality is that I have no office to go to on Monday, no meetings scheduled and no deadlines to meet. But sometimes even change that you weren’t anticipating just feels right and that’s how this one feels.
Lucca was the best buffer between the old and new that I could imagine. When you stand at a metaphorical crossroad what you need is an environment that is safe and nurturing and Lucca was that place for me. The people of Lucca didn’t know it but the daily rhythm of their lives was my anchor and instead of feeling uncertain and lost I felt safe and protected, challenged and excited. It was a perfect place to plan and to dream and to remember to be grateful. I may not have a job but I have something much more important. I have peace and as long as I have that I know that all will be well.
This morning I walked to the beach near my house with my camera to catch the sun rising on the first day of the last month of the year. As the water glistened and a dog chased seagulls, a woman out walking with her friend stopped. “We live in paradise” she said, and as I walked back home I realised that whether it’s beautiful Lucca, a beach in Auckland, or anywhere else for that matter, she was right.
I’m in Hong Kong at the moment. I’ve been traveling for just over 24 hours although I’m not 100% sure about that as I’ve lost track of what day it is and it could be much longer. It feels like the car came to pick me up from my apartment in Lucca a million years ago. I know that I had been traveling for 7 hours and hadn’t managed to leave Europe. That’s by choice though as I love trains and I chose to travel from Lucca to Rome airport by train. Three of them. Not so much fun though when you’re lugging a suitcase that is dangerously close to the weight limit (even with the extra that comes with a Koru membership) and a carry on bag that is almost the same.
I ‘m glad I chose the train. Italian trains are so convenient and relaxing. The fast intercity train that I jumped on is actually runs from Milan to Salerno and one day I’ll do that trip. It would actually be easy to travel all over Italy by train. Now there’s a plan! I bought a ticket for one of the fancy compartments which means leather seats, free coffee and newspapers and no loud cell phones.
I was sad when the plane left Rome and even sadder when, after leaving my Alitalia flight, Italian was no longer what I was hearing all around. I have become so accustomed to it over the past few weeks and I miss it. I said “Sì Grazie” to the Chinese lady who cleared my table just now. She probably sees lots of confused people in between flights and she just smiled.
So, right now I’m in the Koru lounge looking out on a foggy, drizzly dark Hong Kong. A little bit of New Zealand in the middle of more duty free shops, luxury boutiques and fast food outlets. Disappointingly, I have seen not one hobbit but there were a few in London (well Air NZ ground staff wearing t-shirts which is close enough for me). My lovely sister is in Wellington at this very moment rubbing shoulders with the stars and a few short hairy people too if she’s lucky.
Only another 12 hours or so and I’ll be back in Middle Earth. Time for (another) second breakfast I think.
Today is my last full day in Lucca. Although I have marked each day since i arrived on the most amazing cryptic calendar which is hanging on the back of my front door, I can scarcely believe it’s almost time to go home.
I arrived in Lucca on the 5th of November. The trees were still covered in autumn leaves, the sky was brilliant blue and there were people in shorts and t-shirts walking around the Wall. Now the trees have lost all their leaves, the sun is pale and watery and there are definitely no bare legs to be seen.
In the past week or so, Lucca has started to get ready for Christmas. The street lights are up ( but to my great disappointment are not going to be switched on until after I leave), Christmas trees have appeared and the shops are stuffed with Christmas treats. I have spent too much time trying to figure out how to get a panettone into my luggage but have had to admit defeat. Packing is going to be challenging enough.
There have been so many things that I have loved about Lucca. Just being here day after day seeing the same people in the bar having their morning espresso has been a thrill. It’s been lovely to be recognized too. A smile from the barista in the morning, a conversation with the lady who lives downstairs or a complimentary glass of wine at lunchtime are the small things that I have really appreciated.
I’ve loved going to the supermarket and have had to stop myself from taking photographs of the entire aisle of pasta, the huge flagons of freshly pressed olive oil or the dozens of varieties of prosciutto. I’ve loved walking around Lucca without a map, knowing where the short cuts are, and I was thrilled when a group of tourists asked me for directions.
I’ve found a favourite place for coffee, for pizza, gelato, pasta. I’ve found the best filled rolls in the train station in Florence. I’ve paid too much for coffee when I should have known better and avoided the tourist spots, I’ve eaten far too much bread and drunk far too much wine. I’ve sat in a cafe drinking prosecco and reading for an afternoon, I’ve tapped away on my keyboard, and read on a bench in the sunshine on the Wall.
I’ve watched American sitcoms translated into Italian (who remembers Felicity?), tried to read the daily newspaper and I’ve slowly been able to figure out how the TV game shows work. And everywhere that I have tried to speak in my broken Italian I have been met with kindness and patience. The more Italian I know the more I realize that I don’t know and that is both depressing and exciting for one thing that I know for sure is that I will be back someday. A presto Lucca!
At the Ferragamo museum in Florence there is an exhibition honouring the death of an extraordinary woman 50 years ago. It is simply called Marilyn.
The museum is in the the Palazzo Spini Feroni which is also the headquarters of the Ferragamo shoemaking empire. It is a remarkable setting for a moving and beautiful collection. Shoes are prominent, of course. More that 30 pairs in the same style with the 11 cm heel that she always wore. One pair is completely covered in Swarovski crystals, others are in soft leather or suede in every shade. They have been looked after well but if you look carefully you can see marks of her toes on the inside.
The dresses that the shoes were made to match are on display too. There is, arguably, the most famous dress in the world of cinema – the white halterneck from the subway scene in The Seven Year Itch. Then there is the shocking pink satin evening dress and gloves that she wore as she sang Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend, the split to the thigh, scarlet sequined gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the black dress that Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon couldn’t take their eyes off in Some Like it Hot. Off to one side, looking out of place among the sequins and satins and furs there is a simple sun dress from the last film she completed, The Misfits. Monroe was physically and emotionally unwell when she made this film and she poured her own life experiences into her part. It’s a heartbreaking performance, and quite moving to see the dress that she wore during that time.
There are dozens more dresses and what is striking is how petite she was, and how cleverly made the dresses are to make her look so incredible and to let her breathe at the same time!
In another room there are photographs, magazine covers, pages from her diaries and notebooks. Video clips show her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy, giving press conferences, entertaining US troops in Korea, and scandalously swimming in the nude. There’s her famous pose for Playboy and some of the last photographs taken of her a few days before her death.
The last room is completely white with only an unmade bed in the centre and the shape of a body under the sheet. In other circumstances it could be criticised for being overly dramatic but here it seems a fitting and respectful finale to a dramatically lived life.
There’s a food and wine show on in Lucca this weekend. It’s a celebration of local produce and slow cooking and people have come from near and far to show off their products. The area to the north of Lucca is called the Garfagnana and it is famous for amazing artisans who still use traditional methods to produce amazing food. I can’t believe my luck really as I can sample all the delights from the area without having to leave Lucca.
The show is called ‘sapori e saperi’ which means ‘taste and knowledge’ and that really sums up food in Italy. It’s got to taste good, and there has to be a story about where it has come from and/or how to cook it.
There are cheeses, fresh pasta, olive oils, wine, bread, sweet things (including ricciarelli), sausages and all sorts of salami and cured meats, homemade jams and salsas, and a selection of peperoncini that are a joy to look at. Wine is being offered for one euro a glass, and there are paninis stuffed with pork, and small dishes of gnocchi and pasta with a variety of sauces. The smells drifting out of the big stainless steel pots are delicious.
There’s a competition running too. Each visitor can buy tickets to sample the dishes on offer and then vote for the one they thought was the best. I was too full of lunch to do that today but I might go back tomorrow…
I’m in one of my favorite places to eat in Lucca. Osteria Baralla is tucked away behind the old Roman amphitheater. It has red brick vaulted ceilings, huge bronze chandeliers and today it is packed and noisy, mostly with big family groups and visitors from the area who have come to Lucca ( the largest town in the area) to shop and eat. There’s Italian chatter swirling around, and lots of eating.
Today I have ordered i piatti di giorni and although I trust my understanding enough to know that I’ll like what I get, I’m still surprised when each course arrives.
First, bread made with flour from the hills beyond Lucca. It’s chestnut flour and the bread is dark and slightly sweet. A perfect accompaniment to a selection of salamis and cured meats.
Then beautiful linguine with coniglio and I make no apologies to the Easter Bunny. It was delicious. And next, pork medallions with fagioli beans. Even more delicious.
By the time I’ve had my coffee, the noise level has dropped but some of the big tables are still on their secondi piatti ( main courses). Eating takes a long time here and I am amazed at how well behaved the very young children are. They start their food education early here.
As I’m leaving I notice a plaque on the wall which says (and this is a loose translation fueled by two glasses of wine) ” an eternal reminder of the libations that were made in this place that was dear to the muses on the occasion of the memorable exhibition of the sculptor Giannetto Salotti”. I can only agree. This is a wonderful place for libations.
There has been commotion in the streets of Lucca for the past few days. White vans have been parked in piazzas normally reserved for pedestrians, ladders have ben propped against the old stone walls, and workmen in hard hats have … Continue reading →