May 2015 — Today is a free day. Since we are high on a hill, with a winding road that is part of a delicate and complicated labyrinthine system none of us has been able to decipher yet, we must plan in groups if we want to go somewhere.
Six of us pile into the van to head back to Lucca. A few return to Cinque Terre, a couple to the beach, and one or two stay “home.” We go to Lucca.
We are both feeling the need to ground ourselves somewhere. So while the other four rent bikes to ride the ramparts in the drizzle, we head down a street toward the Puccini Museum.
On our way we pass a dolce shop. Lots of chocolate goodies in glass cases rimmed in highly polished brass. The walls a textured dark chocolate, a beautiful crystal chandelier at the center and wall sconces dripping with warmth. We go in. After surveying the options I ask for a piece of hazelnut and chocolate fudge that is maybe 1/2″ square. She hands it to me and I ask, “How much?” She smiles and says, “No, no, is gift” then offers Karin a piece. Lovely start to our day.
We’re not sure exactly where the museum is so we ask. A lot. It’s just fun to say, “Casa Puccini?”
We do eventually find it but it’s a lot of euros for a little amount of time for someone we’re just marginally interested in. Instead we go to the Puccini Museum store. We can see his stuff, listen to his music and walk away with a souvenir. Karin gets an eraser shaped like a grand piano, I get a super cool perpetual Turnadot calendar.
We decide without really consulting one another to stay right here on this street, linger, stroll then find a cafe or trattoria or quiet spot to journal or just stare into our cups of cappucino.
We start with an adorable cafe. Caffeinated drinks in hand we move to the back where we can view everything and get a sense of place. We watch locals and travelers stop in for their drink of choice then leave or sit down to chat. But the straight ladder back chairs with rush seats will not allow this for long. We drink our treats restlessly as we try to find a comfortable angle to sit. It’s not working out.
A restaurant close to the rampart wall looks promising but we have our doubts this close to a main entrance. We give it a try. We are greeted by an enthusiastic woman who beckons us to a table near the back with a great flourish. She takes the form of a character from a Toulouse Lautrec painting, sweeping her arm back with a grin and a twinkle in her eye, indicating the most magical table in the house. In truth she is exuberant and full of life and wants to take care of us. She is the chef, her name is Anita, and she will “make anything we want and it will be very good!”
Our food is delicious as promised. The wine, the perfect accompaniment. The atmosphere sparks with an untold story. Nothing at all in this space matches. The water glasses are bright orange or bright green with translucent white stripes, the pitcher of wine a majolica style knock off, the plates non-desript. There is a counter near us where preparations seem to be taking place but it is nearly impossible to make out the origin of the activity behind the army of wine bottles and other detritus. It’s charming, and as we had hoped, authentic.
Between our wine and food, I take out my journal and a few colored markers. Karin breaks out her journal and the tiniest traveling watercolor kit. We create separately together. This is what we needed. Time to absorb our experiences here.
Reset, grounded and well fed, we take our leave.
We meet the others in the middle of Lucca as we did just two days ago. From here we are to head home to attend an Italian cooking class. But first some more shopping as a group. It just never ends.
As we were wandering earlier we found a great leather shop, Lucca is known for their fine leather work, but we bought nothing. Now we are headed to a different shop that we discover is run by the brother of the woman in the first shop, a leather making family. So of course we have to purchase something. And we all do.
As we drive home we share our days with one another and look forward to our cooking class.
Once back at the villa the cooking class is already underway. More of a demo really, but even that feels intrusive. So while one or two take notes, the rest of us find places to perch until dinner is ready.
Dinner was served at 10 pm, you know, Italian time. We are still adjusting to this later dining hour, but amazing food, prepared by a woman – who just weeks ago had a baby – and her aunt, make it all easy to digest.
Off to bed with a belly full of love and a great sense of presence from doing just what felt needed.