Embraced by the Walls
When I decided to spend a month in Lucca, I anticipated periods of loneliness because I hadn’t travelled alone in a decade. Life had gotten somewhat stale and certainly predictable. I yearned to be out of my comfort zone.
I wanted to be in a place where I didn’t know anyone so I would be forced to speak and improve my primitive Italian. I considered Ravello, Greve in Chianti and Certaldo but in the end, it was Lucca that captivated me.
I had visited Lucca the past, but only for day trips. But if I lived in Lucca, I could listen to opera every night, visit galleries and discover secret alleyways and canals and maybe even make new friends.
I found an unusual apartment near Piazza San Salvatore in Palazzo Tucci. Besides living in the safety of a walled city, my apartment door was camouflaged. You could walk by and not even know it was the entrance to my new life. I felt like Eloise, the little girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel and the protagonist of the children’s book series of the same name who had daily outrageous adventures.
The Tucci family still reside in the palazzo. They operate a small bed and breakfast on the upper floors and additionally rent out two apartments. It was good fortune that led me to meet Daniela Forti, a glass artist and the wife of Carlos Tucci, the owner of the palazzo. A few years ago, a travelling companion wanted to see Daniela’s work so I arranged a meeting in the Palazzo Tucci where she has her gallery. Though we had no common language, Daniela and I were simpatico and over time, a friendship developed.
My first days in Lucca were confusing. Even with google maps on my phone, I managed to get lost while eating some barely adequate food in tourist places.
Yet I forced myself out of bed every day, to walk the walls with my camera, to try to conjure some magic.
The first place I discovered was Forno F. Casali, a small bakery that creates focaccia bread made with corn. I have never tasted anything so delicious! I returned frequently, getting a little lost every time. On my most recent visit, I observed the man ahead of me order focaccia sliced in half horizontally with a few slices of Mortadella inserted in the middle. Of course, I copied him and suddenly, I had my dinner. I had planned to feast at home but abandoned all self-control as I devoured my panini on a bench outside of the Guinigi Tower.
The focaccia is always warm with the perfect amount of salt. And the corn adds texture as well as taste. Condiments are neither required nor offered.
The Lucca Italian School (LIS) has a curriculum for all levels and interests in all things Italian. Here, you can study not only the language but also participate in cultural events in the afternoon, such as Pizza night in a local place and day trips to Cinque Terre. Also, they provide cooking classes, walking tours, and art classes, all in Italian! The school is in an old villa very close to the walls so students can easily bike or walk to class.
Wherever I am in the world, I try to discover a local cafe, a place where they remember my name and appear happy to see me.
I found Café de Fede very close to Piazza San Salvatore, perfect for my morning café or a light lunch. Federica, Roberta and Claudia greet me by name and seem to understand my Italian as we chat away. I can finally pronounce “ chiacchierare,” a word I have stumbled on for years.
I found Trattoria da Giulio in Pelleria serving traditional Tuscan dishes, always well prepared and reasonably priced. Look down from the walls shortly after you pass Palazzo Pfanner (just after you see the Mother Gorilla Sculpture with her baby)
Pappa Pomodoro, Pollo Della Mattone and Zuppa con faro have been my favourites so far. Visitors to Italy may be disturbed to see horse meat on the menu, but it is a part of the culture.
Then I stumbled upon the offices of the Grapevine, “the magazine for those who live in Tuscany- or wish they did.” The Grapevine is a monthly publication with articles about living in Lucca and Tuscany and includes a complete calendar of local events.
Norma, the editor, welcomed me. Thanks to her, I now attend English Mondays, a friendly group of expats and Italians who can answer just about any question you may have about Italian culture and offer practical solutions to everyday problems.
Norma also directed me to the Luccalibri Libreria-Caffè Letterario, a bookstore café that has become my second home. Besides books and food, they have events and meetups such as the Wednesday evening language exchange group, “Drink, Speak and Share”
Through Roseanna, an Australian expat I met at English Mondays, I visited LaTela Di Penelope, a social cooperative that enables people with disabilities to explore the healing power of working with textiles. There are numerous looms in this workshop where one can learn to weave or volunteer like Rosanna.
With Comics and Games descending upon the city and my commitment to help friends with the olive harvest, my time in Lucca will soon end. I know I will return. The walls may enclose the town but my experience here has opened my mind as well as my heart. And isn’t that the reason why we travel?