Stories from Italy

 I was lucky enough to spend 4 weeks in Italy in 2012 and while I was there I took some time from gallery wandering and pasta eating to write a few blog posts. I hope you enjoy them.

Michelangelo the rock star

Michelangelo Buanarrotti is a bit of a rock star in Italy judging by the interest in an exhibition of his drawings that opened 3 days ago.  I found the queue outside the Palazzo San Macuto  by accident as I wandered from the Piazza Navona towards the Pantheon and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what had dragged a small crowd of Italians away from their caffès so early in the morning.

The exhibition celebrates 500 years since the Sistine Chapel opened to reveal Michelangelo’s ceiling for the first time, after being closed for 4 years while the artist was at work. On display are numerous pencil sketches of an arm, torso, hand or face that were the blueprints for the ceiling fresco. Some of the drawings are unfinished but they are all beautiful, more beautiful in their starkness and simplicity than the finished art in the Sistine Chapel I think.

It’s quieter than a church inside the library where the exhibition is being held and more respectful too. No photographs are allowed, bags are scanned on entry and access is controlled so there is plenty of room for everyone.

Michelangelo was 33 years old when he started work on the ceiling. He had been reluctant to accept the commission (perhaps foreseeing a very sore neck!) but 24 years later, he was back to decorate the wall behind the altar with his painting of the Last Judgement.  He was 61 years old by then and a lot more feisty. He managed to offend just about everyone at the time by with the large number of nudes and controversial iconography in his painting.  The Last Judgement survived only because of some clever repainting by Michelangelo’s friend and student. Thankfully the rock star himself went to his grave never knowing that his masterpiece had been photoshopped.

The Greatest of Them All

The greatest of them all

At 6.30am this morning I joined a small group of people standing in the rain waiting to enter La Basilica di San Pietro. The huge heavy doors swung open at 7am sharp and the old mamas and papas in the crowd suddenly found a higher gear as they rushed forward to secure a prime spot in one of the many small chapels. My favourite sight is La Pietà. So still and beautiful. How can white marble look so soft and warm , even behind thick bullet proof glass? Truly miraculous

Ponte Sant’Angelo

Ponte Sant'Angelo

This is the Ponte Sant’Angelo leading across the Tiber river to the Castel Sant’Angelo. It was originally called the bridge of St Peters because the pilgrims used it to get to St Peters but when an angel appeared on the roof of the castle to announce the end of the plague, the names of the castle and the bridge were changed. Well you would, wouldn’t you?
Notoriously, and not very angelically, many executions were done in the castle and the heads of the bad guys were hung along the bridge as a warning to others.

Arrivederci Roma

Today I take the train to Lucca and begin living my Italian life. I’ve loved Rome but it’s an exhausting pace to be for me. I love that the city is crammed with amazing things to see and I just can’t stop myself from wandering down new streets, losing my sense of direction and ending up somewhere where I didn’t expect to be. Even when I’m trying to follow a plan Rome seems to have other ideas. Like yesterday for example. I set off purposefully to see an exhibition of 50 years of neon which I thought sounded interesting, and a bit different. Never got there. Ended up instead at the bumping into Pasquino and finding Il Fornaio.

Pasquino was the first speaking statue in Rome. Back in the day, this was where people could have their say about the politics or social issues of the time by writing their complaints down and attaching them to the statue for all to see. A bit like talk back radio, before radio was invented.

Il Fornaio is one of those life changing experiences. OK, it’s basically a bakery but OMG….pizza bianca with mortadella, suppli di riso, every kind of torta, cannoli and so many more delicious delicious things. I just love that le pizza and le torte are priced by the kilogram. I’ll have half a kilo of that  torta di crema per favore….

Actually, it was more like 200g and it was delicious 🙂

For 4 days every year, Lucca hosts the Comics and Games convention and today, as I wandered around this magical little town, I thanked my lucky stars that I timed my arrival to coincide with the day after this major event finished.  Major because it is the third largest of its kind in the world and this year there were 200 000 visitors. Lucca has a population of abut 83 000 and I swear that every one of them breathed a sigh of relief this morning as the temporary pavilions in the piazzas were dismantled and they could cycle and walk in the streets again.

This morning I walked around getting my bearings (aka getting hopelessly lost) and smiling a lot.  Everything is beautiful. The shop windows, the tangle of narrow streets, the vegetable shops, the pastry shops, the BOOTS.  Oh my word.

My apartment is in Via Buia which means Dark Road. It’s not dark but it is narrow. It’s on the first floor in a building which is 1300 years old. There’s a huge stone fireplace, exposed ceiling beams and wooden floors. The upstairs neighbours must also have wooden floors and as I sit here it sounds as if they are rolling gigantic marbles all over them.

In the afternoon I walked around the wall that runs all the way around Lucca. It’s lined with trees and is perfectly preserved, dating back to the Renaissance. Locations are defined as being Within the Wall or Outside the Wall and it is clearly much loved by the Lucchese for walking, running and cycling. Tomorrow I’ll join them for an early morning run.

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Market Day

There was a huge thunderstorm last night and lots of very heavy rain but this morning the sky was bright and clear. I woke up just in time to hear President Obama’s acceptance speech live on TV, in Italian.

I kept my promise and went for an early run around the Wall. It was quiet but I suspect that all the runners who had to go to work had already been and gone. The view to my left was to the mountains beyond Lucca and to my right across the rooftops of Lucca. Not bad at all. And the Wall is flat 🙂

There’s an open market every Wednesday on the east side of the city under the Wall at Porta Elisa so I went to have a look. This is shopping at the opposite end of the scale from the shops in the centre. It’s a rumage until you find what you want kind of place. Huge tables pile high with jumpers, racks and racks of winter coats and jackets, kitchenware, flowers, vegetables, and the kitchen sink! I bought a copy of a film that I saw recently at the Italian Film Festival in Auckland for 2 Euro after remembering to check that it has English subtitles. I’ve been caught out on that one before.

I’ve noticed that there are always people hanging around the fountains in some of the piazzas and today I discovered why. They come to fill up bottles and cannisters with the water which comes from an ancient aqueduct built and tastes better than the water from the taps. I tried it, and it does.

I can’t believe that this is my third day here and I have yet to visit any of the famous monuments, or take any photographs of them, or buy any shoes. I must be relaxed 🙂

A domani!

Good Morning!

The morning breakfast show is called Uno Mattina [sic]. It’s quite a serious show. No comfy sofas or flower arrangements. Every morning I try to keep up with the interviews and news reports with varying success. I’ve come to realise that it’s not always my limited understanding. Some people just talk clearer than others and this makes me feel a tiny bit less inadequate. This morning I had a small breakthrough as I understood Prime Minister Monti’s comments on the US election and what it means for Europe.  It helped that he spoke very very slowly.

What I’ve still to understand is why the weather man is dressed like this every morning. Image.

Here’s today’s breakfast. It’s called il Buccellato and it’s the most typical and famous bread in Lucca. The saying goes “Chi va a Lucca e non mangia il Buccellato è come se non ci fosse stato” which means going to Lucca and not eating the Buccellato is like never being there.

Il Buccellato is either straight like this one or made in a ring. It’s basically a fruit bread but the actual ingredients are closely guarded and recipes are passed from generation to generation with great secrecy.

It’s very versatile. It’s mostly eaten like a cake either plain or toasted, or cut into thick slices and dunked in wine, or soaked in Vin Santo and layered with cream and strawberries. It’s only 9am so probably too early to try that.  Maybe later.

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City of Music

My apartment is called the Luigi Boccherini apartment. I didn’t know Boccherini Luigi was an Italian composer and cellist who was born in Lucca when I made my booking online. I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought it was the name of the person who owned the apartment 😦 Turns out he wrote a very famous minuet which is popular at weddings. I’m sure you’ll know it.

Lucca is also the birthplace of Alfredo Catalani Giacomo Pucchini. Puccini was the black sheep of Lucca. His crime was to be from the middle-lower class and to  have had an affair with a woman who was married to one of the most prominent merchants in Lucca at the time. The “mentally restricted and bourgeois”  people of Lucca couldn’t handle that so Puccini left Lucca and made his home in a town nearby. Although he visited often, he never spent a night in Lucca during the rest of his life.

It has taken some time, but the City of Lucca has come to forgive its most celebrated son. Performances of his work are held every night of the year with a different programme each night. I am by no means a fan of opera but I had a very happy hour last night listening two beautiful singers performing a selection of Puccini’s music in the church where he was baptised.

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Puccini looking relaxed, and just slightly smug, at being back in Lucca.

As I walked back to my apartment after the concert Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was drifting out of a pizzeria and across one of the deserted piazzas. It felt quite appropriate. Here I am in Lucca searching for something…maybe my own heart of gold.

 Rain, tiramisu and rugby

It rained and stormed overnight and stories of flooding and evacuations were the main item on breakfast news. Tuscany and Liguria were hit badly and two hundred people were evacuated from towns not far from here. Inside my building, there were puddles on the stairs because the top of the building is open to the sky.

It’s my first Sunday in Lucca. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was delighted that the bar at the corner of my street was open and with a fresh supply of breakfast pastries. I was feeling quite pleased with myself after asking for coffee and a pastry and having a brief conversation about the weather only to be brought back down to earth by giving the wrong money for the bill. Come stupida!

Rainy days are great for exploring and today I found a real treat.  In the shell of an old stone building, tucked down a street that I hadn’t noticed before, a most unlikely exhibition. On the first floor,  huge photographs of Lucca as it was and as it is today accompanied by beautifully shot videos revealing the metamorphosis in real time. On the second floor elegant black and white photographs from the 1920s to 1950s strung from industrial scaffolding in rooms with polished floors and dusty windows, and on the third floor the original drawings in pencil and ink by famous comic artists, none of whom I recognised but all quite stunning. Everything beautifully displayed in rooms with faded frescoes and cracked plaster, and all totally empty apart from me.

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Since being in Lucca I’ve taken to having lunch. I mean a proper, sit down, at least 2 course affair with wine of course! Today I found La Trattoria da Gigi.  Everything homemade and everything delicious, especially the tiramisù.  (As an aside, did you know that tiramisu literally translates as pick me up? Very effective it is too.) The problem with a midday meal is staying awake afterwards so I set off on a walk around the Wall. Because it was a rainy day I was wearing my waterproof AB jacket. Now it’s fair to say that it is not cool to wear branded clothing in Lucca (unless you’re a teenage soccer fan) so it was a surprise to see the familiar black jersey with the silver fern walking towards me. A charming man who was at great pains to tell me that he was the only AB supporter in Lucca. In a country that is so soccer mad, that’s quite an admission. I didn’t manage to find out why but we high fived and I finished my walk, in the rain again, with a warm, proud to be Kiwi, glow.

School’s Out

We all have blind spots, right? Ways of being that are comfortable for us, so comfortable in fact that we don’t realise that they’re even there, sometimes stopping us from doing the very thing that we want ( or even need) to do. It’s taken years for me to recognize one of mine. I think of it (fondly) as my “I’ll be right if…..” blindspot. You can fill in the blank with a variety of things such as ” I’ll be right if I just read the manual” or ” I’ll be right if I do this course” or ” I’ll be right if I ask someone who knows this better than I do”. You get the idea. I’m one of those people who does courses, reads manuals, buys the books, and defers to other people when I’m learning something new. I am definitely missing a dollop of the “just do it” attitude.
Learning Italian is a classic example. I’ve bought the books, watched the films and taken the classes. What I haven’t done a lot of is speak Italian. And now I’m here, in Italy, surrounded by endless opportunities to have conversations and where did I find myself last week? Right… at La Scuola di Lingua in Via Santa Anna, just outside the city walls but well within my comfort zone, ready to sign up for another course.

This morning was the start of the class so I got up early, had a cappuccino and set out on a leisurely walk to school. Five minutes before I was due to arrive, I realized that I was in completely the wrong place, and at least 20 minutes away from where I should be. Still determined to get to class, I walked faster, getting more flustered with every step. That was when it hit me.

I don’t need to do this. This is not what you came to Lucca for. Go to a caffè. Order a cappuccino and be in Lucca, not in school. So I did.

And I have been sitting here ever since writing, watching and listening as people come in for their first caffè of the day, meetings are held and cornettos are eaten. I’m sure I would have learned a lot at school but there’s nothing to beat being recognised by the barista and offered my cappuccino before asking for it, or being mistaken for an Italian by two American visitors.

Lunch Italian Style

I am a creature of habit which is why I find myself having lunch at Trattoria da Gigi again.  I came here for the first time on a recommendation. I had been walking in the rain and needed something to warm me up. Gigi’s homemade soup full of vegetables and beans and basket of fresh, soft bread was just the thing.

The waitress rattles off the house specials and then graciously waits while I stumble through my choices in Italian.  First to arrive is tagliere di salume, a thick wooden platter covered in chunks of salami, paper thin prosciutto and slices of sausage, all local to Lucca and totally delicious. Then rigatoni alla Gigi, beautiful squares of homemade pasta with a rich ragù.  And finally, pollo alla cacciatora. Chicken cooked slowly with tomatoes, onions, olives, wine, rosemary and thyme. Simple, hearty and delicious.  To finish, biscotti to dunk in sweet amber Vin Santo.  Bliss.

One of the things about eating alone is that there is plenty of opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations at adjacent tables, particularly in a small room like Gigi’s. Sitting opposite are two elderly people speaking in very proper English accents about planting vegetables and how parents spoil their children these days.  I’m totally surprised when they break off their pronouncements to speak fluent Italian to la Signora who arrives and sits at the table next to mine.

La Signora is eating alone and is obviously well known to the staff at Gigi.. She eats a bowl of soup very very slowly and drinks a tiny carafe of red wine. As I finish my biscotti she’s fallen asleep in her seat and one of the waiters immediately props her loose arm over the back of another chair to stop her from falling.

At three o’clock five men at the last table in the room are just starting their main courses. They grilled the waitress with questions about the dishes on the menu before they ordered and they are still talking about the merits of different cooking methods when their food arrives. As for me, my glass is empty and my tummy is full and I’m already looking forward to my next lunch at Gigi’s.

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La Bella Figura

There is much to see in Lucca. The historical sites, the glittering gorgeous shop windows and the people. How is it possible for there to be so many beautiful people in one small town? In fact, across Italy in every town big or small it is the same. Men and women, young and old, each making their own fashion statement and each one perfectly aware that they are. It’s just what people with Italian genes (pardon the pun) do. They just can’t help it, and I can hardly restrain myself from photographing them as they buy their daily groceries.  La Bella Figura is important and long may it be so.

Even on the Wall, and presumably in the gym, no sacrifice is made to la Bella Figura. I have witnessed this. Early in the morning when I’ve fallen out of bed, pulled on a baggy t-shirt and leggings, and left for some exercise with only a cursory smoothing of my bed-hair, I have seen i Signori with their perfectly groomed ponytails and lip gloss, matchingrunning gear and cute headbands (or ear muffs depending on the temperature).  Sure they run hard and work up a sweat but even then they somehow manage to look good.

So it is with some embarrassment that I must tell you of my first, and hopefully only, sartorial faux pas. One morning, I had an idea to start a new routine. I’d exercise early then stop in a bar for a cappuccino on the way home. It would be a nice way to start the morning and exchange a cheery ‘buon giorno’ with the barista I thought. Ha!

The barista could barely hide his surprise at seeing a red faced, trainer-wearing straniera (foreigner) in his bar. He made me a coffee but clearly would have preferred that I’d chosen another bar. And I did too. His bar happened to be lined with mirrors and everywhere I looked I could see my reflection, the complete opposite of la Bella Figura.

La Bella Figura isn’t just about being well dressed and well groomed. It’s also about having good manners, displaying appropriate behaviour and knowing the correct social etiquette for every situation. In a country blessed with so much glorious art, music, sculpture and architecture, it’s quite fitting that its people live their lives with such style and elegance. And it’s also understandable that they hold everyone to their high standards.

I got a ‘not achieved’ that morning. I finished my coffee and rushed back to my apartment. I took extra care with what I wore for the rest of that day and, although I’ll never compete in the Bella Figura stakes, I’ve done the same every day since.

Weekend in Rome

The reason for my trip to Rome was to see the All Blacks play Italy at the stadium build for the Olympics in 1960. This was the place that Murray Halberg and Peter Snell won gold medals for New Zealand. The stadium has a seating capacity of 74 000 seats and the All Blacks drew a capacity crowd which is a major achievement in itself as a recent local derby between Lazio and Roma didn’t manage more than 55 000.  Strangely though, the seat next to me was empty.

You’ve probably all seen or read about the game but I wonder if TV coverage conveyed how electric the atmosphere was in the stadium. There was no pre-game entertainment on the field. It was all off the field. The Italian supporters were exuberant and optimistic. I saw a lot of face paint and a fair number of silly hats and wigs (no skin suits though). When the national anthems were sung, it was clear that this was going to be a special occasion, and then when the stadium was asked for silence for the Haka, and got it, it was spine chilling.

Early in the game, the Italians cheered their team every time they touched the ball or made a tackle. But they also cheered and clapped when the All Blacks made a move and burst through the line of blue defenders. At half time, two teams of school girls played a version of touch rugby (the one where they rip tags off each other) and the crowd cheered for them too.

There were Mexican waves that went around the ground back and forward. I sat next to a young guy from Brazil who filmed it all on his mobile phone making sound effects as the waves got closer and closer. There were spontaneous outbursts of singing the Italian national anthem and everyone joined in. There was lots and lots of noise and leaving the ground after the game, even after a big loss there were smiles and shouts of “good game Kiwis” and absolutely no doubt of the respect that the Italian fans have for the All Blacks. Image

 

The best thing about the Spanish Steps is …

… the Fontana della Barcaccia (the Fountain of the Old Boat). In my opinion anyway, this is by far the most interesting thing about the Spanish Steps notwithstanding that lovely scene in A Roman Holiday.
The Fontana della Barcaccia sits at the bottom of the Steps in the Piazza di Spagna and reminds us that the Tiber used to often flood here and once, when the water withdrew, there was a boat left behind. And if that’s not enough, John Keats used to be able to listen to the peaceful sounds of the fountain as he lay dying. That’s a lot more interesting than some steps now, isn’t it?

Marilyn

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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.

Sapori e Saperi

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…

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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.

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!

An Unexpected Journey

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.

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