Saturday, December 12, 2009

I am so proud of myself…

I bought a car! For those of you who are expatriates (especially in Italy) you will know just what a huge accomplishment that is. And, I am legally parking inside the walls of Lucca – that’s humongous!!!

I have accomplished in a little over a year what some people take 10 or more years to do. I have my permit to stay in the country. With that, I got my Tessera Sanitaria card which covers my entire medical needs. With the permesso (permit), I also became an official Lucca resident. As a resident, I became eligible to buy a car. And, with the residency permit, I was also able to get a parking permit to park inside the beloved walls of Lucca. Do you have any idea how few people can say that who have lived in Lucca for years?!?! Well, just trust me that there are few if they’re not born and raised Lucchese.

Now, my car isn’t anything to write home about, mind you, but it’s just what I need for driving in Italy. It’s a little ’98 Renault Clio with three doors including hatchback. It’s little and in great shape with approximately 50,000 miles on it. It was recently completely serviced, has excellent tires, and gets me places other than the distances my bicycle, a bus or train can get me. And, for all you worriers, I took it to my mechanic to thoroughly check out before I bought it.

With a car, I will now be able to go to the tartufo bianco (white truffle) festivals and local fairs that are difficult or impossible to get to without a car. And, I can stay out past 8:30 at night which is the time the final buses leave most little communities to return to Lucca. And, I can drive to IKEA and the outlet stores to save tons of money! Life is great!

Today, I took the girls with me to get my parking permit and then went to ArcaPlanet to buy their dog food. When I returned to the city, I had to drive around for about 20 minutes before a parking space became available but it was so much more pleasant to walk a few feet with my large bag of canned dog food rather than lugging it home by hand or winding my way through pedestrians with a full load on my bike.

Okay, so lots of people buy cars. Why am I so proud of myself? Because I sold a Mr. “T” style 18K gold necklace that I rarely wore and had for years which pretty much paid for the car! The car is completely mine with no monthly payments, I have full coverage insurance and parking paid for a year, and also purchased additional insurance similar to AAA which gives me free towing service anywhere in the country of Italy - and covers emergencies in other countries! Now I just get to deal with Italian drivers – yikes!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Learning to live with habits…

I have now lived in Lucca for almost 15 months! What a year it has been. Things are back to semi-normal now. Summer has come and gone and fall is in the air. The leaves are absolutely beautiful this time of year and there is a crispness in the air that you can almost taste. The sun has been shining brightly and everyone is out and about enjoying the break in the rain. I feel like I’m finally getting a fresh start on my life here.

The fortress walls are filled with strollers, people on bikes and rollerbladers. There’s something invigorating about walking in the brisk air and having leaves fall all around you. The walls are lined on both sides of much of the wall with beautiful trees that are so old that they create a bower over your head. I’ve seen unique leaves that are native to this area that are non-existent in the States (or at least I’m not aware of them). They almost resemble a large acorn with the end cut off.

The leaves are some of the most vivid colors imaginable. They are the same colors that are painted on the homes in Tuscany, so I am sure they have been the inspiration throughout the years for these gorgeous colors. Of course, autumn is my favorite time of year so it makes it extra special for me to be able to finally enjoy an actual change in seasons.

Things seem to be going very smoothly with my paperwork to stay here. My new company is very pleased with my work and has been great at helping me deal with the bureaucracy of getting to stay in the country. The company attorney went with me personally to meet with the head of Immigration and I was told I just need to renew my permesso (permit) to stay here. Hopefully, everything will continue to go smoothly and I can return to the States to visit for fun instead of dealing with the stress of bureaucracy for a while.

I plan to stay in Italy for the holidays this year so I can experience Christmas and New Year’s with the locals. Lucca is already getting prepared for Christmas and the streets are lined with lights and the store windows are filled with decorations.

My health is pretty much back to normal and I am once again eating more things than rice, potatoes and carrots. After a visit to a very well-respected doctor who is the father-in-law of a friend of mine, I was diagnosed with colitis and after a three-week period of drugs and a very bland diet, my problems seem to be gone. Yeah!

Now, I want to focus more on an actual social life. I know I’ve said that before but it seems a lack of work, then working at a new job, and then dealing with being sick for over four months had left me with no time or the desire for one.

The Italians seem to be people who develop and stick to life-long habits. I have habits that haven’t been that healthy such as holing myself up in the house after work. I plan to go for more walks around the walls now that I and the weather are better. I want to run into people I see on a daily basis and stop for chats. I also plan to get up a little earlier so I can stop by a local coffee shop for a cappuccino every morning. And, go out in the crowds for the afternoon passegiata through the streets. After all, how am I supposed to meet more of the locals if I don’t get out and about? They have seen their parents and grandparents do this and now are doing it themselves. It’s so nice to see people with routines that are more sociable.

I’ve resumed weekly conversational Italian lessons with a wonderful group of people, several of whom I already knew and was delighted to see in the class. I also go to a monthly English book club meeting where I’ve met lots of expats and several Lucchese.

I began a Meetup group last year for expats and locals who want to meet new friends. After a slow start, we now have lots of members and have had some very successful turnouts. I have met friends from all over the States, Great Britain and Europe. One of our most recent and favorite outings was to Il Desco. It is a mercato that is held indoors in the college behind San Frediano church. All the vendors are from the province of Lucca and sell the fruits of their long year of labor.

On the first floor you can find wonderful local wines, olive oils that are so green they bite when you taste them, breads, fagioli (beans) and legumes, polenta, formaggi, meats, pepperoncini, jams and many things made from chestnuts. On the top floor are beautiful works of art, including handcrafted items, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and much more. In the afternoons you can listen to live music played by musicians from all over the world.

On Thanksgiving, I and several of the Meetup members will be attending an official Thanksgiving dinner put on for Americans and people who want to experience the holiday. I hope to meet many new friends there.

Hopefully, my blogs will become more interesting when I have more fun experiences to share. I’ll keep you posted…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween in Lucca...

Halloween is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. It is the one day in the year when people can dress up to be anyone or anything they want without repercussions about it later. That said, I still have visions of my friend Steve dressed up in a very bright yellow wig, wearing garish makeup with tons of bright red lipstick and a dress. It wasn’t a pretty sight – sorry Steve…

I would love to go to a Halloween party here, but alas, there are few (if any) to be found. Many of you from the States and other countries are always curious (or automatically assume) that any holiday celebrated in the States is also celebrated everywhere else. Not!

Until very recently, Halloween wasn’t even really a word that was in the Italian’s vocabulary. As more Americans and other foreigners who celebrate Halloween come into the country, more Italians are finding out about it and having their own form of celebration.

In Italy, as in many other Latin countries, people celebrate Day of the Dead on November 1. On Hallow’s Eve (October 31), people take flowers to the cemetery and leave them on the graves and tombs of their loved ones. In ancient times, people believed it was the night when ghosts of the dead roamed the land of the living. In Italy people left bread and water for the ghosts and lit lamps so they could find their way. In America, jack-o-lanterns were invented and originally placed in people’s windows to scare the neighbors and the ghosts.

In the nineteenth century, immigrants took these traditions to America and over time, the holiday transformed into what is now celebrated as Halloween as you know it. Children dress in costume and go to people’s houses to get candy and trick or treat.

In Italy, the children are beginning to dress in costume for school, but they have not yet begun the tradition of going to people’s houses to trick or treat. They do get candy from some of the stores in town and say, “dolce o scherzo” (sweet or joke).

My young students, Sylvia and Valentina, are back taking English lessons again and I am having a great time teaching them all about the American Halloween customs. They are having loads of fun making faces on pumpkins, and learning how children celebrate in America. I am actively trying to find pumpkins to carve for next week’s lesson so they can have their very own jack-o-lanterns. In some of my previous lessons, I taught them about emotions and adjectives. Their compiti (homework) for this week is to draw faces on five paper pumpkins of some of the emotions that they learned; e.g., scary, silly, happy, sad.

On a different note, my beautiful grandson Jacob Allen Smith was born on October 15, weighing in at 7 lb. 2 oz. He is such a little doll. I hope you enjoy seeing his darling photos in the video this week.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things are better now, thank you very much…

I was pleasantly surprised at all the wonderful support and encouragement I received after my last ranting and raving blog. I had a terrible month and didn’t feel like being my usual cheery self. Some of you actually thought I was thinking of leaving Lucca! Not a chance…

My life has gotten significantly better in the past few weeks. The weather cooled off to something more tolerable, my medical problems are better and I’m getting back into my old routines (which were good ones). And, I’m staying put so no worries about me packing it in and moving anywhere.

I went to a nutritionist who did a “Vega” test to find out what types of foods I might have an intolerance to. Well, the list sucks! Just a few of things I have had to eliminate from my diet include: all dairy products including cheese; tomatoes, eggs, white flour, white sugar, yeast, peas, and the biggy – alcohol! Okay, I wouldn’t consider myself a big drinker but it’s nice to have an occasional glass of wonderful Italian wine now and then... come on, now, really. How am I supposed to enjoy everything wonderfully Italian like pizza, spaghetti and parmesan cheese!?

I have been a very good girl, however, and have been sticking to my new diet. It hasn’t been easy but I hope after my stomach returns to normal, I can start incorporating things slowly back in to my diet and stop writing and talking about my problems so much.

Lucca has been very active this month. The Lucchese have returned from holiday en masse and it’s time for them to celebrate. In fact, this time of year is considered, “Settembre Lucchese.” All September long, we can enjoy operas performed in local teatros and piazzas, attend plant and flower shows on the fortress walls and celebrate local fairs.

Last weekend we had a medievale faire in the college parking lot where I take the girls for their daily walks. It was great! People were dressed in period costumes and there were crossbow tournaments and very old-fashioned booths where only food items and things that were made in medieval times were sold. A guy was weaving baskets by hand, old metal tools and knives were being honed and sharpened, and food was being prepared solely by cooking over wood fires.

There was even some sort of chicken event (which I missed, thank goodness) that involved hay because the next morning there were feathers and hay strewn everywhere. The girls went crazy when they smelled all the chicken feathers and started trying to roll in them and the hay. Special cleaning crews and trucks came in later to clean up all the mess. One thing I can say for Lucca is they don’t do anything halfway – it’s all or nothing. And, everyone has a great time!

A carnival has been going on for about three weeks across the street from where I work. It has roller coasters and all the usual rides. It’s called Wild Wesser – I think that might mean Wild West, but who knows? The air is filled with the sounds of screaming children and lots of laughter.

Every year on September 13, Lucca has a beautiful candlelit procession, the Luminaria di Santa Croce, from San Frediano to the Duomo to honor Lucca’s most prized holy relic, the Volto Santo statue of Christ that tradition holds was carved by Nicodemus himself. People from all the neighboring cities and throughout the world come to celebrate this special occasion. Many are dressed in costumes and the participants sing, play instruments and proceed down the center of Lucca streets which are lit solely by candlelight and torch, to the cathedral of San Martino. The evening ends with a giant fireworks display.

On a social front, I went to Viareggio with girlfriends from work to celebrate a friends’ birthday. We had a wonderful seafood dinner and then went to a nightclub in Marina di Pietrasanta to dance. It was interesting going to an all-Italian nightclub with a group of gorgeous women. The men literally walk around as if they are in a parade checking out every female in sight. They did a double-take when they saw our group since we had a mixture of blondes, redheads (me) and brunettes. Nightclubs in Italy don’t open until midnight and close at a minimum of 4:00 in the morning. After a night of revelry, followed by breakfast, I finally got back home at 5:30 in the morning. And, I only had one glass of champagne to toast my friend’s birthday. I hate this diet!

Next on the calendar for me is my year anniversary here. I moved to Lucca on September 30, 2008. Wonder what I can do to celebrate…a presto!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bursting the Bubble

I know…many of you might not like this blog, but living in Italy isn’t always “la dolce vita” (the sweet life). It isn’t for the faint-hearted or anyone who isn’t willing to work hard and be tough. Unless, of course, you are independently wealthy and live your life in a bubble.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a pretty tough cookie and have been able to get through the hardest of times. In the past year, I’ve moved to a foreign country, learned a new language (or at least I’m doing my best), started renting an apartment again, looked for and finally found a job, left my beloved pets in Italy while I went through a bureaucratic nightmare in the States, had a stint in the hospital, and left the warmth of my family and friends back home. I’ve made it through all that but this month, even I feel as if I’ve had my butt kicked.

On a health note, I am getting better although I still have days that aren’t so great. I just finished my first full-time week since March 2008 to try and make up for all the time I missed while I was in the hospital and recovering. It felt good to get back on a regular schedule.

The first horrifying experience I had was a few weeks ago when I had a medical procedure which involves a very long tube with a camera on the end that is inserted into a very private area and pushed and shoved to the end of your intestines. Sound familiar? Well, try it without the benefit of sedatives or medication!

I have to tell you that it was the worst experience I have ever had in my life. I was screaming in pain and hitting and grabbing everything I could to try and get off that table, only to be told to calm down so I wouldn’t scare the people waiting in the hall. It was truly agonizing and very distressing. I kept asking for sedatives in my broken Italian, to no avail. I was in tears and hysterical by the time I left the hospital.

When my boss picked me up to take me home, his little girl was in the car and still hugs and kisses me every time she sees me. It was her first experience seeing an adult in distress and I will restate for the record that I can’t remember having been in that much distress for years.

It has been really hot and humid here. Lucca, being inside those beautiful fortress walls, has very little air that circulates during the hot months. I feel like I’m living in a sauna. Very few stores and homes have air-conditioning and I have three circulating fans going pretty much 24 hours a day. My poor girls just lay around like beached whales all day.

All the tourists are out en masse and it’s very difficult weaving in and out of them to take the girls for their 4-time-per-day walks. That’s right…now that it’s hot, they drink more water which equals more bathroom breaks. They absolutely hate the heat and Ruby stops in her tracks every five seconds because she’s too hot to walk. I am too hot to walk, too, but it’s a necessary evil when you have pets.

I ride my bicycle to and from work. I ride home for lunch and to take the girls out, then get back on the bike to ride back to work. This is during the hottest time of the day, of course. By the time I get inside the office I feel as if I’ve just been through a sweat shower. It was so hot on Friday that my key broke off inside my bike lock when I tried to unlock it.

I thought I had been safe from those pesky mosquitoes that just love the humidity here in Lucca, but about a dozen of them decided to have a party on my back a few days ago. I usually sleep with the Vape thing plugged in but forgot one night. I won’t forget again. I have bites in places where it’s impossible to scratch.

The toughest time I’ve had, though, has been with friends - or those who I thought were my friends here in Italy. My Italian friends have been very concerned about my health. Some of my ex-pat friends who I felt closest to didn’t end up being there when I needed them most and others went out of their way to help me get through this month.

It has been a very enlightening and disheartening experience. Two of my "friends" have completely distanced themselves from me because of jealousies and hurt feelings because I relied on another friend more than them. What is this? Kindergarten? I was and am grateful that my new friend came through for me. Without her help, it would have been an even rougher experience for me than it was. Very strange…I’ve learned a lot about ex-pats during the past few weeks…and, it has made me very grateful to have the truly good and dear family and friends that I do have.

This past month has also made me realize that I have to stay tough to make it here. Nothing goes as smoothly as you think it will and there always seem to be glitches at every turn. As I’ve said before, “It’s a simpler way of living, but it definitely isn’t easy.”

I've spent the past month "nesting" with some lovely new things that were given to me or sold at a great bargain by a friend who had to leave her home in Italy. I have had time to think a lot about what I need to do or change in my life to keep things moving forward. And, I know that I have to keep faith that things will work out. And, if they don't...everything happens for a reason.

This past month has also made me realize how alone I am here. I plan to work on that...I know that will make many of my family members and friends very happy. I've spent the past year trying to find a job and getting settled and now it's time to focus more on my personal life.

I hope I haven't burst too many of your bubbles. I don’t regret for a moment my decision to move here. I love Lucca, the people who live here, my walks on the walls, the wonderful food (although my bland diet doesn't allow me to eat many of these wondrous morsels), the incredible history, the delicious coffee and wine, and so many other things. All of these things get me through the tough times. So for now, I will continue to live “La Dolce Vita.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Introducing the Locals...

First, let me tell you that it took me being in the hospital to finish this blog. I’ve been here for three days and decided to take advantage of my boredom by finishing this blog that I began about a month ago.

I have had some stomach issues for the past 18 days and decided that I either had a very long-term flu or that I might need to consider something else was going on since I had no fever, chills, or nausea. I went to the doctor on Tuesday and she sent me directly to the emergency room. They admitted me after running a series of tests and I am still here sitting in my bed with my new best friend – my IV buddy Giorgio. He follows me everywhere. He’s a little on the thin side but tall, just like I like my men.

The health care system is much different here than in the States. First, Italy has a National health care system and there is no fee for my stay here. The hospital is exceptionally clean and the staff are very professional. Of course, the language barrier continues to be interesting.

After leaving the emergency room, I was wheeled into a room with three other women. The nurse turned on the light to position my bed even though everyone was sound asleep. After she left, I looked around for a gown and when I couldn’t find one, I walked to the nurse’s desk and asked for one. She looked at me very strangely and indicated there were none. When I continued to pester her for something to sleep in other than my dress, I was given a paper/fiber robe. When I realized it was much too hot to wear, I slept in my underwear. The next day my friend brought me a nightgown.

My friend, Serenella, informed me that in the past, patients even had to bring in their own toilet paper and silverware. They now have a huge roll of toilet paper in each bathroom which has come in handy since I spent the first few days in the bathroom. There is also soap, but no paper towels to dry your hands. However, did I mention everything is cost-free?

My doctor is very nice and speaks some English. He explained that unlike in the States, they keep the patients here for as long as it takes to diagnose the problem correctly. I have had ultrasounds and many blood tests and have been given many samples to be tested. I don’t know what’s next except that I want to get home.

I share a room with three other women. There are no privacy curtains and no visiting rules, so when the nurse or doctor comes in to speak with a patient, all the visitors are asked to leave. It was a little uncomfortable for me to be in the bed next to a woman who needed her diaper changed…sigh…I began doing my pelvic floor exercises immediately and then as new patients arrived, I realized there is another difference here. They don’t use catheters so diapers are the alternative for patients who can’t get out of bed. Boh!

Visiting hours are all day. Most family members come in and out all day long. Many family members are here from 7:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night. They take a break during the lunch hour as the nursing staff ask them to leave, but other than that they stay right next to their loved ones. It is very comforting and helpful for the patients to have so many friends and family nearby.

I have had a few visitors. I have an Australian friend, Sandy, who has been exceptionally helpful and a godsend. When she found out that the doctor told me to go to the hospital, she immediately came and got me and my dogs and took me directly there. She has had the girls ever since and is spoiling them rotten. They’ll probably forget I even exist. She has brought me everything I need from home and has come to visit me every day at least three times. This morning she called and told me to look outside my window as she was in her car with the girls so I could see that they were okay. It was very cute.

My friend Terry stopped by a few days ago and brought me a word search book. I’ve spent many hours completing them and am almost finished with the book.

My landlady Antonella called this morning because she noticed the apartment had been dark for a few days and asked if I was okay. When I told her I was in the hospital, she said she would be right here. Little did I know that she and her husband were in Garfagnana which is many miles away. When she told her husband Filiberto that I was in the hospital, they dropped everything and came straight here. She said she cautioned Filiberto to slow down as he was speeding the whole way.

All the original patients were discharged yesterday and I had the room all to myself. Today, three new patients were admitted and two have gone to surgery. The third is waiting patiently for her turn. No one is allowed to eat or drink anything but me at the moment. I am own a terribly bland diet that consists of potatoes, rice, carrots and apples. Boring! But, until they rule out what the issue is I’ll live with it. Oh yes, and they provide silverware now, too.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, here’s my original blog:

I have been in Lucca long enough now to really get to know the locals. It’s very difficult for me to rush anywhere as every time I take the girls out for their walk, I get stopped by at least 4-5 friends for a chat or for them to pet the girls.

Gianfranco is an elderly guy who walks with his sweet little wife who is on crutches. He absolutely loves the girls and calls them “bellini” (beautiful little girls) every time he sees them. They love him as well and wag their tales as he stops to pet them. Gianfranco’s wife is no longer walking with him which saddens me deeply. He is getting thinner every time I see him and I worry about his and her health. He was very proud for me to ask him, “posso fare un fotografia?” (literal translation – is it possible for me to make your photograph?).

Sandra and Cesar own Miraglia Gelateria which is my all-time favorite place to go. I actually have to stop going because it’s so good that I’ve been eating it daily. Not good for the waistline. The girls love them, too, as they always stop whatever they’re doing to pet and love them and give them biscottini (little cookies). It’s the highlight of their day. They both drag me along at a fast pace when they see Sandra and Cesar so they can get/give them some love.

Marco – what can I say about Marco? I met Marco when I first moved to Lucca. He is a partner with my other Italian friend, Luca, and he is a dream. Sorry all you readers…he’s already married to Margherita and is not available. Marco was instrumental in helping me find my wonderful apartment, helping to find my friend Terry her apartment and taking me everywhere I need to go that’s outside of town. He always has a ready smile and baci (kisses) every time I see him.

Margherita and Ilaria are sisters and own the local vintage store. I met Ilaria back in September 2005 when I had the pleasure of touring her lovely home. Both of us didn’t realize we knew each other from that experience until a few months ago. As mentioned previously, Margherita is married to Marco. They had me over to their home for a wonderful Italian meal back in November. Margherita isn’t that fond of dogs and calls the girls, “tarponi” which means little rats. She did stop to pet them one day which took us all by surprise. We made such a big deal of it, though, that she hasn’t done it since.

Ilaria, on the other hand, absolutely loves Ginger. She doesn’t mind Ginger’s constant kisses and encourages them. She likes Ruby, too, but is crazy about Ginger.

The construction guy stops to say “ciao” to me every time he sees me. He is my neighbor and also has a Beagle who is very scared of other dogs and looks sideways at us when we pass. He works very hard doing various construction jobs and I see him carrying huge bags of concrete into and out of his truck morning and night. He always has time for a rather toothless smile. I am sorry to say that I don’t remember his name.

Principessa is a stray dog that lies on the road where I ride my bike every day. I don’t know her real name but she’s such a sweetheart that I named her “Princess.” She never acknowledges me but I always tell her hello as I pass.

My little students Sylvia and Valentina are little sweetie-pies. They are really smart and show up for class with a smile on their faces. They’re on break for the summer but I look forward to seeing them again in the fall.

I hope you enjoy watching the video and finding out more about my new friends.

A dopo…(until later)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Trust and going back in time...

I had three amazing “firsts” in my life in the past few weeks which dealt with trust. Well, I guess after the first one, it would be second and third…oh well.

I have met many kind and wonderful people since moving to Lucca and find it difficult to rush when I’m in a hurry because I have so many people stopping me to chat or play with the dogs. I always say ciao to the people I see daily and a few of these include the owners of my favorite gelateria, my neighbor who works really hard all day lugging cement bags to and from his truck; the guy on the corner who sells tourist souvenirs near the Anfiteatro, all the people I see in the shops near my home, and a little old man who walks with his little old wife who is on crutches. Two of my experiences were with the shop owners in the Anfiteatro.

I recently went into Mywalit and found a small shoulder bag that was the exact type and color I had been searching for! I was shopping with a friend and asked the clerk if she would hold it for me until the next day when I could return with the money to purchase it. She told me to just take it with me and bring her the money when I was in her shop again!

Then, I went to another shop, Le Sorrelle, because I kept admiring a tablecloth that was in the window. I brought a pillow and some other items that I wanted to match it with into the shop and the store owner told me to take as many of the tablecloths as I wanted upstairs with me and keep them for a few days to see which one I preferred.

However, the ultimate experience I had with trust was when I walked into an eyeglass shop to look for sunglasses. I was returning from a long walk with my friend and stopped in looking grubby and probably smelling worse. I had never met or even seen anyone in the shop before.

I told the owner that I needed prescription sunglasses but couldn't remember what my prescription was. She immediately sat me down in the chair to conduct an eye exam. I explained that I didn’t have any money with me because I hadn’t planned to stop and she just waved her hand at me and said I didn’t need any.

After the very lengthy exam, she wrote out a prescription for me. I stared at it in disbelief and asked her how much I owed her. She said I didn’t owe her anything. I asked her if I could look at some sunglasses and she took me downstairs and put contact lenses in my eyes so I could actually see what I looked like when trying them on! That had never happened to me before and I always had to rely on the store clerk or my friends to tell me if I looked good or didn’t.

Then, after I found the perfect pair and got the quote for them I asked how long they were open so I could run home and get my money to give them a deposit. She and her son, the gorgeous optometrist, looked at me curiously and he wrote the hours on the back of their business card. I told them I would return immediately with the money and they said, “You don’t need any. They’ll be ready for you on Monday. You can pay us then.”

Now tell me, when would that EVER happen in the States?

It is so nice to get back to basics and have people actually trust you to be an honest person and not rip them off.

Other cool things that happened or will be happening:

I got a wonderful job doing marketing for Mywalit in Lucca. I bought a wallet and some other products from them in September 2005 and have been a frequent customer every time I've returned. Now, I try my best to keep out of the shop. However, since my friend Katinka works there I stop in often. It will be easy to market their products because I am a huge fan.

I went with my friend Terry to Barga and the Garfagnana a few weeks ago and had a wonderful time. When we returned to our car in Barga, we actually ran into an Italian Barney Fife! Seriously! He was this skinny cop with his hands on his gun belt and a hat on his head directing traffic. He had the same attitude and everything! It was hilarious.

Terry and I went to a place that I've wanted to visit for almost three years - Il Giardino dei Tarocchi! It was absolutely beautiful. There were giant sculptures in beautiful leaded glass and ceramic of all the major arcana of the Tarot deck. My favorite was The Empress where the artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, lived for the 19 years it took her to complete the garden.

I had dinner with Katinka and her husband at their lovely home at the tip-top of a mountain overlooking all of Lucca. I saw so many fireflies during dinner that it was just like having Christmas all over again. The little white lights were flickering all around us. Dinner was spectacular, too.

This weekend I will be going with Terry and some other friends to a wine tasting on Friday night in a little mountain community; a cherry festival near Pisa on Saturday (they have festivals for everything in Italy); and a mangia-longa (long eating walk) on Sunday. We literally walk along a designated route and stop all along the way to experience delicious food and beverages. Who ever heard of such a thing?

Oh yes, I have an official local library card and even joined a book club. Life continues to be interesting in Lucca...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Too busy to blog...

I know that sounds like a lame excuse, but seriously…these are just a few of the things I’ve done in the past few weeks:

  1. met some wonderful new friends (Terry, Anne, Sandy, and Carolyn)
  2. took the train to Viareggio where I met another new friend, Ambra, and went to Torre dei Lago to the Puccini Festival
  3. attended the Santa Zita Flower Show down in the Anfiteatro at least 10 times
  4. went to Firenze for dinner
  5. rode to Pietrasanta with Terry and then walked on the beach with my dogs
  6. made cookies and did the Hokey-Pokey with my two young students
  7. attended two interior design shows in Lucca
  8. went to approximately five job placement offices
  9. attended an English book club meeting
  10. walked almost 10 miles through the wonderful town of Marlia on a villa tour followed by imbibing in vino and eating marvelous food (the imbibing started at 9:30 a.m. after we finished the walk - yikes)
  11. reconnected with a dear friend who I first came to Lucca with back in 2000
  12. got my hair cut in a radical new hairstyle
  13. went to an English-language library followed by a homemade lunch with friends
  14. went apartment hunting with Terry
  15. interviewed for a new job…and whew!
Life is getting crazy in Lucca...

Oh yes, and I also continued to teach English and take Italian lessons. Actually, everything I listed with the exception of the Puccini Festival, I did in the last week! I walked over 30 miles in five days and rode my bike at least another 10. I am proud to say that I am able to wear my skinny jeans again!

On Sunday, I had friends over for wine and appetizers and we got to enjoy the liftoff of a beautiful hot-air balloon from my kitchen window. The event was held in honor of a famous Lucchese, Vincenzo Lunardi, who helped pioneer mongolfiere (hot-air balloon) flights back in the 1700s. Apparently, he flew all over the world but was ignored in his own home town of Lucca. The city is making up for their error now to the glee of residents and visitors alike.

The balloon was huge and had beautiful stripes in vivid, bright colors. When unfurled, it laid across most of the ground in the Anfiteatro. As usual, the locals and tourists ignored the caution tape and little kids had to be asked to move so they wouldn't be hurt during takeoff. To their credit, the takeoff was delayed for about three hours so that the wind would die down to ensure the safety of the pilot and crew. But still, it isn't uncommon for parents to sit at a local cafe and eat and drink while their children are left to run and play in the piazza on their own.

Speaking of safety, it has been very difficult for me to get used to the idea that there are no laws within the city boundaries to protect children and infants from being hurt on bicycles. Parents strap their infants and children into child seats on their bikes and ride all around town. Children aren't required to wear helmets and I can just envision accidents waiting to happen. The children, of course, think they're in heaven flying on the front or back of mamma's bike with the wind blowing through their hair.

It is also very common for people to walk through construction zones as if there is no danger. I've seen people walk under steel beams and cranes and duck under caution tape because they don't want to be inconvenienced in their daily routes. The construction crew stops what they're doing to ensure the pedestrians' safety.

Back to the fun stuff...this week I am going to shop at the local IKEA (pronounced eeh-kay-ah) in Florence, go to a pub quiz with friends in Livorno, go on a private wine tour and tasting in a very old winery in Lucca, go the pane (bread) festival in Altopascio followed by al fresco dining with friends at their farmhouse, and...oh yes, that's just through Sunday.

I'll try to squeeze in time to blog more often but I hope you can understand my dilemma.

Ciao from Lucca!