Thursday, October 23, 2008

Living La Dolce Vita...

Very few things set my heart on fire more than: 1) Scottish men in kilts, and 2) real down-home Blues music. I got to experience both of those things today – right here in Lucca. In fact, as I write this blog, I am listening to the most wonderful Blues music – complete with harmonica and vocals – directly below my window in the anfiteatro. I have to admit, though, that the Scottish guy wearing the kilt and playing bagpipes as he walked down my street was the ultimate! Darn it! I didn’t have my camera with me…sigh…

So, how does one live on a day-to-day basis in Lucca you might ask? I’ve had lots of chances to learn this week now that I’m in my own apartment. I’ve purchased (or tried to purchase) many items that I used at home, shopped at a large grocery store and tried to find items I thought I needed only to buy new ones that looked more interesting, and dealt with conversions and measurements. Also, I forgot to mention a big one – getting used to the plumbing and electricity in a centuries-old city!

The electrical is okay once you get conversion plugs. After reading many expatriate sites, I was smart enough to leave the majority of my electrical gadgets and appliances at home. I had to purchase many new ones here, but at least I don’t have to fear that they will explode on me. The surprising thing that didn’t work was a small alarm clock. It turned on after I found a conversion plug for it and then it went kapoot!

The plumbing’s another story…I told you about the small shower I had in the B&B. Now, I have a much larger shower and bathtub combination and no shower curtain. Rarely does one use (or even own) a shower curtain in Italy and subsequently, the floor gets drenched no matter how much I try to shift the shower head toward the wall. The walls have tile all the way up so I don’t have to worry about getting plaster wet, but my rug is always drenched. I don’t think it will ever dry while I’m here unless I don’t take a shower one day.

The shower is the type that is hand-held with a long metal hose and there’s a catch on the wall where you can hang it for a shower. I thought I’d be smart yesterday and only use the shower as a hand-held, but the floor still got wet.

Did I mention the smell? Okay, I know this isn’t the most pleasant topic, but when it rains, the overflow of the rain goes down into the deep, dark recesses under the city and up comes the most wonderful aroma from your drains…yuck! My landlords kind of waved their hands in the air and laughed when I asked about it and said (in Italian) – that’s what comes with living in the anfiteatro! They said to just run water in all the fixtures with drains in the bathrooms and it would go away. It does go away, but it’s not the most pleasant thing to wake up to in the morning.

Cooking 101 in Italy: Oh my goodness! You have to lift the lid on the stove and push in a button that makes the burner click and then you have to push in the actual knob and move it just so and hold it in until it catches and both buttons can be released. Things tend to cook faster here than at home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scalded my milk for my coffee in the morning.

I learned how to use a new percolator of sorts for making coffee and it’s stupendous. Coffee and wine can’t be beat here in Italy.

Baking 101 in Italy: I had to read the conversion system online in order to bake some fish last night. Our 250 degrees Fahrenheit is equal to 130 Celsius here so that’s been an interesting adjustment. I thought I’d be smart (once again) and bring my teaspoon and tablespoon measuring gadgets along with my cookbooks with me but didn’t think to bring the stupid cup measurements! I have to weigh everything out to see that it equates to the amount I need and go from there.

I have friends who are coming for dinner and insisted that I make an American meal. Little do they know but most of the meals I prepared at home were Italian! I decided to make vegetarian chili and cornbread. It was really fun finding chili powder, baking powder and baking soda here. Now, if I can just bake it correctly. I found some beans that are very similar to pinto and everything else I need so it will hopefully come out as tasty as at home.

Cleaning 101 in Italy: I thought I’d be smart and get down on my hands and knees and clean the tiles in the bathroom this week. I think I mentioned that the building is very old. I don’t know why I thought I could get the tiles cleaner than they already were. It was if I thought magic would occur or something. They didn’t look any different than when I started even though I used a heavy-duty boar bristle brush and scrubbed like crazy. The good thing is I knew it was “my” clean even though it looked the same.

Shopping 101 in Italy: I ride to the mercato every Wednesday on my bici to get discounted items for my house and fresh fruit and vegetables. Everything is fresh out of the ground and the basilico (basil) I bought yesterday still had the roots on it – fantastico! For the things that aren’t available at the mercato, I buy at EsseLunga or Sidis – the local large grocery markets. I found out the first day at EsseLunga that you get the discounts on items just like you do in America only if you have one of their cards! Darn it! All those things I picked up that were sconto (discounted) were only if you had a card. Yesterday, when I went there, I proudly showed my card like a real local.

Transportation 101 in Italy: I rode the train to and from Florence to be with friends. Needless to say, I didn’t realize the train was a local that stopped at every town on the way back to Lucca so it took me almost exactly two hours to return. I found out later that it’s best to take an express bus that makes no stops.

I took the bus to Viareggio a couple of days ago to get my hair cut by the master Mario and barely made it to the station before the bus left. I couldn’t for the life of me find the transportation schedule in English online and, of course, the bus station (and train station) are on the other side of Lucca so I had to swerve in and out of people on my bici in order to get there.

When I arrived in Viareggio, I found out that I left the address to Mario’s salon on my desk at home. I called the salon to ask for the indirizzo (address) and asked a girl in a local shop the way. She said she had no idea, and when I said that I was going to StudioMario, she pointed in a direction and I quickly went that way. The directions didn’t seem correct for some reason as I’d been to the shop before.

When I got about two blocks away, I asked another woman on the street where it was and she pointed back the direction I came and told me to turn right at the main street and follow it down along the coastline. After about a mile, I found the salon but realized that it was at least the second or third time people have given me the wrong information when I’ve asked directions. It sucks not knowing the language sometimes. I think they must do it to have fun with tourists or something.

Anyway, a mile or so back to the bus station and guess what? The bus was a local and it took me an hour to make it back (30 minutes going). I looked at it in a positive way, though. I got to see some amazing hilltop towns along the way and hear some very interesting conversations between the passengers.

And, of course, Transportation 101 wouldn't be complete without adding a note about my bici. It has been the best purchase I could have made. I ride it around the walls with my dogs in tow, and back and forth to the many mercatos and other modes of transportation to be found in Lucca. It has saved me from missing a train or bus on many occasions. I can even take it on a train if I want (of course we could do that in San Francisco, too). The baskets on the front and back have carried many a parcel and plant.

Still no work, but I have things in the making and have taken the time to get settled and work on my website and marketing materials. I have faith that everything will connect soon. How can it not after experiencing my two favorite things today – right here in Lucca!


Martha said...

Welcome to Italy. You are living in one of my favorite cities. We would have loved to live there but ended up in Monte San Savino. I have only ridden a bike around the walls one time. To be able to do it with your dogs, how special. Very Luchese. Sounds like you have good contacts and I am sure work will be coming your way soon. Come to the country for a visit if you have a chance.

Tina said...

Hi and "Welcome" to Lucca! I am actually writing from Buenos Aires but Lucca is my family's hometown so your blog struck a chord with me. I love that city so much and I miss my family there. I actually used to live in Umbria (Perugia to be exact). I'll be following your adventures closely - it's nice to finally find a blogger in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.

Scintilla said...

Hi there just found your blog and a lot of things you say ring true with me too.
Power plugs - we have three different types in our old house and each time I'm going up and downstairs plugging and unplugging to get the right converters. Sometimes they melt on me!
I'll be back. By the way I love Lucca and haven't be there in years though!
'Les Cotrions' posts from there too.

Toscana Marlene said...

Thanks to everyone who's left comments. It's so nice to hear from expats everywhere - especially who love Italy! Martha, I'd love to take you up on the offer to visit the country sometime soon.