A Presto Lucca

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!

Saturday lunch

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.

Florence’s favourite son

Florence is a very special place to spend a day,  especially for fans of Michelangelo Buonarroti. You’ll know the name. Painter of the Sistine Ceiling and the Last Judgement in the Vatican City, architect of St Peter’s Basilica, creator of many many beautiful sculptures and of course the father of David, the most famous naked man in the world (sorry Mr Beckham).

Michelangelo was a maverick burdened by his talent, a perfectionist and by all accounts a ‘difficult’ man. Perhaps this explains why he never married. It definitely explains his boxers nose, smashed after a friend punched his lights out after Michelangelo was less than complimentary about said friend’s artistic talents.Image

Judging by the number of people waiting outside the Galleria dell’Accademia, I am not alone in thinking that Michelangelo’s character flaws are more than outweighed by his talents. He had an unbelievable ability to transform blocks of marble into sculptures of such exquisiteness that they seem to live and breathe. You can see it in his statue of David. Standing 5.2 meters tall (that’s almost three times Mr Beckham’s height…think about that for a minute), David is breath taking. And Michelangelo was only 29 when he finished it. Looking at way the veins stand out on David’s hands and feet and the way his abdominal muscles ripple it’s clear that the months Michelangelo spent dissecting cadavers to understand how the human body worked on the inside paid off.

Notwithstanding the magnificence of David, Michelangelo’s Four Captives, or Slaves,  are in a way even more powerful. Michelangelo didn’t finish these sculptures (because he received a more lucrative commission)  and I’m glad he didn’t. The figures are captured forever struggling to free themselves from their marble blocks. Their struggle is dramatic and heroic just like the captive’s own struggle for freedom.

There are many more paintings and sculptures in Florence by Michelangelo as he continued to work until a few days before he died. He was 89 years old, a good age for a man who lived a physically demanding life breathing marble dust almost every day. He is buried in Santa Croce in Florence. He never finished the Pietà that he planned for his tomb and it was designed instead by his great friend Vasari who was with him when he died.

Michelangelo would turn in his grave if he could see what’s in the courtyard of the Gallery gift shop. He may have appreciated its boldness but not its lack of originality.