Along with a group of friends, I made my first trip to Italia in 1966. I was retuning from having served in the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa. Italy was such a different place fifty years ago. The Spanish Steps were filled with flowers and not the hoards of tourists that fill the steps today. Firenze was rather quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of today. It was possible to walk through the Ufizzi with only a handful of people rather than stand in long lines for, sometimes, hours at a time. Even so, I can’t say that, at the time, I fell in love with Italy. In fact, I don’t know what I was thinking – conjured up childhood memories perhaps – but I thought the pizza and the gelato I downed in Italia paled in comparison to that which we got in the good old U.S.A. – Silly me!
Twenty years later I made my second trip to Italy. It was to be a romantic escapade with my then “lover.” Turned out it was a bust. So after two trips to the country of Dante and Puccini, I definitely wasn’t ‘in love’ with Italia or anyone for that matter.
Then, in 1996, I met Donald. Donald had attended Rhode Island School of Design, commonly known as RSDI, and spent his graduate year in Rome where he fell in love with pretty much everything Italian. He insisted we visit the country together. So, the following year we made plans to do exactly that. Soon, seven of our friends decided that they wanted to join us, so we booked a wonderful villa, which turned out to be in the hills above Lucca.
I’d say it took less than an hour to fall in love with the walled city. I loved everything about it: the “new” 500 year old wall, the beautiful cobblestone streets, the incredible food, the vistas, the shopping, and the proximity to Firenze, Cinque Terre, Pisa, and even the Garfagnana mountains, not to mention the friendly people. After two incredible weeks, and as soon as we stepped on the tarmac to make our way back home, I vowed to return.
Over the next twenty plus years, Donald and I did return to Lucca, over thirty times. Interestingly, what initially drew me to Lucca, is not what keeps me coming back. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love the food, the wall, the sites, the proximity to so many other wonderful Italian towns and cities. But, what draws me back over and over again are the amazing friendships Donald and I have made with the Lucchesi, and a few stranieri – especially our dear Danish friends.
When I make plans to return to Lucca, I get very excited – the hairs on my arm stand on end. I know that soon Giulio will give me a great big bear hug. Manuela will smile broadly and give me a baci on both cheeks. Paolo and Yuriko will do the same, as will Patrizio and Monica, Marco and Emmanuela, and Stefi and Francesco. Matteo and Eleanora at Trattoria Canuleia will bring out the Prosecco to welcome us to our second home. Francesco at Ammodonostro and the staff at Da Giulio and Da Francesco will do something similar. Keti and Romina at our morning pasticceria will have one cappuccino, one caffe Americano, and due dolce ready to hand to us the moment we walk in. Maria Pia, Angela, and the others at Pinelli will do the same in the afternoon, as will Giulio and Manulea at Taddeucci’s. How could I not get excited to return to the walled city?
And, now the time has come to get ready. Donato and I are considering what to pack, knowing that in a few short weeks, we’ll be in our Italian home, ready to, once again, have the time of our lives. I hope each of you get the same opportunity to visit Lucca over and over again. And, I wish you the same glorious experience in this wonderful land of Italia.
Stare bene amici. I’ll soon be writing from Italia.