Flying Solo Again

It’s hard to believe I have been in italy for over a month now. For me, time is suspended and I am living a different life. But I think it is happening in stages…

First there was the overwhelming rush of just being in an unfamiliar culture. Everything from the environment to the language is jarring and unsettling. There’s nothing to grab on to as customary and routine.You have the feeling of being on vacation.

Then, after a while in one place, you start to recognize landmarks and little driveways where you turn to go “home” and you get into the pattern of things. It doesn’t feel normal, of course, but every few days you become more accustomed.

Now, after a month, I don’t really understand much more italian but it isn’t so strange to my ear. The lilt and cadence seem warm and welcoming and not so “foreign.” And I am much more willing to try out my few words on waiters and shopkeepers – many of whom actually speak english. No matter – I want to absorb la bella lingua as much as I can.

Yesterday was Sunday (Domenica) – Mary Beth’s last full day here. It was a bittersweet day as we decided what to do.

ImageThe first decision was easy. We had putzed the whole morning and were starving, so we went back down the street to our friend, the pizza maker Michele. MB ordered the same mushroom pizza again and I got the lasagne. Both were delicious. And MB would have eaten her whole pizza but she saw me staring at it and saved me a piece! Michele spent a lot of time chatting with us – and wants MB to find him some real estate in the US where he can open an authentic Italian restaurant. He seemed to know a lot about market conditions and locations, so I think he is really interested!

Since we were only a block from the apartment, we ducked back in to drop off leftovers and re-group. We had heard there was an “antique fair” near Napoleon square, so that was our next destination.

ImageWe found it right away and it turned out to be quite massive. It went on for blocks and blocks and the dealers did have a lot of antiques. If you were wanting to furnish an old residence with authentic pieces, (and had the funds!), it would be a treasure trove.

But really, I would call it more of a flea market – and the prices were pretty high. I had thought it would be fun to pick up some small piece that you could take home and later say, “oh that? I got that at a flea market in Italy…”

ImageWell, I actually did find one bargain just when I thought I wouldn’t. We were at a textile booth and I had been drawn in by the sweetest baby dress that would be gorgeous on my youngest granddaughter – but it turned out to be 65 euro. Drats. So when I saw a pretty old table linen I didn’t think it would be in my price range. MB saw me admiring it and took it over to the dealer.

“Quanto costa?” she asked. “Cinque” was the reply. I looked at MB in amazement. “50?” I asked. “No – 5!” replied MB. “That can’t be right,” I retorted. “Ask him again.”

“Cinque” he said. Well I ’bout broke my arm getting my change purse out. Holy smokes! 5 euros for this little beauty? It’s mine! Now when I come back to Ohio and I have it casually draped on the table and someone says, “oh, that’s nice” I can say… “Oh that? I got that at a flea market in Italy…” (like that’s something I do all the time!) And I know that of everyone I know, Nicole will appreciate it…

At any rate, I was having a time getting around. Usually it is my feet giving me grief, but today it was my middle back as well. I stopped, I stretched, I stood in place and rotated my shoulders until everything cracked repeatedly. I stood it as long as I could and finally told MB we had to do a wine and advil stop – but this time for my back. She obliged.

ImageThis time, however, we had wandered to an area of Lucca we hadn’t seen before and landed in a wine bar. On the menu they had several tastings available: wine, olive oil, cheese and/or honey. I’ve never seen a honey tasting before! We decided to taste the pecorino cheese varieties and have a glass of wine each. (With advil for me.)

The cheeses were surprisingly fresh and good. The walnuts and grapes were a nice palate freshener. And then the honey… MB tasted it first and almost gagged. I was shocked at her reaction and thought she surely must be exaggerating. Honestly, how bad can honey be?

Well, it’s a good thing I took a very small taste based on her feedback. It was smooth and thick, like the texture of honey you are used to. Then the taste settled in. I almost gagged, too. How can honey taste like gasoline? And coat your taste buds like a cloak?

Geez o’ pete it is one of the worst things I ever tasted in my life! What the heck was it? I told MB we had to find out just so we could be sure never to taste it again by mistake!

When the waiter came back I asked. He had to go check. It turned out we were randomly given one of three honey choices they carry: Orange Blossom, Chestnut, or Lime Blossom. This was Lime Blossom, also known as Miele di Tiglio.

Now I can’t imagine Orange or Chestnut being objectionable, but I’m almost glad we got the Lime. Now we know to stay far away from it. Far, far away…

After that break we wandered through a lot more of the antique fair and made our way back to our own neighborhood. Things were very lively. The locals all seem to come out on Sunday evening to stroll and the crowds were shoulder to shoulder in the streets.

But the thing is, this is the beginning of the low season, so I am very surprised at the crowds on the streets on the weekends. What must this be like in mid-summer when the tourists are at a peak? I really don’t think I could tolerate it!

ImageWe see tourist groups many times a day whenever we’re out. And I am always so glad I am not in one!

I’m sure it is a great way to travel, but for some reason it just turns me off. You see the leader of the group walking along with a headset and microphone on and carrying some sort of stick like a drum major. There is a flower or a flag or some chach-kee on top, which looks ridiculous, and a huge group follows behind like a herd of cattle. They crowd around each attraction, listen to a canned spiel, and shuffle on to the next thing.

ImageI don’t know if it’s me or them, but just the sight of those groups makes me want to run screaming in the other direction. I know I am probably missing a lot and I do get turned around when I’m exploring, but I think I prefer that to being so regimented. I’m afraid that all I would think in a group like the one above – who are viewing the Puccini statue – is how I could escape and find a cafe and order a mezzo litro of vino bianco all for myself. And get out my sketchbook and draw the Puccini statue – which I did the other night when MB and I had dinner at the cafe right beside it. Moreover, it is a small cafe – that whole group couldn’t even crowd in there for dinner! What a waste!

This isn’t the best photo of the sketch as it is dark right now and I can’t scan it flat, but you get the idea.

At any rate, MB’s visit to Lucca has come to an end. We had a lovely dinner on her last night and talked about all the things we have done while she was here. We started out asking each other what our favorite thing of the trip so far was, but neither one of us could narrow it down. There’s just been too many different and varied experiences that could only happen in Italy and you can’t pick just one. It’s like trying to say one of your children is your favorite – you simply can’t do it because each one is so individual.

But what a gift it has been to spend the time together. And not just any time any where – time in Italy, which we both feel a particular passion for. Neither of us knows why – we just do. And being here has confirmed it immensely and not dimmed the expectations in any way.

Traveling (for pleasure) in general is always wonderful because it is living intensified. You are so aware of everything around you because it is a new perspective. There’s always a potential adventure – maybe even a disaster – around the corner. You can get a meal that you enjoy and find memorable – or you can taste the worst honey in the world. You just never know – but either option is fine when it is part of the journey.

So MB is on a plane on her way back to Ohio. Now she’ll have jet lag in reverse. And I’m here rattling around in the apartment by myself, flying solo again.

Either way, I’m having the time of my life…


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MaryBeth
    Oct 22, 2012 @ 23:18:29

    MB only made it as far as Boston.

    I am not a fan of Air France or the Paris De Gaulle Airport. Nonetheless, after 9.5 hours on the jumbo jet, I missed my connecting flight. At least I have my suitcase though, and am in a hotel, with a new flight to Columbus booked for the morning.

    Buona notte.



  2. Ellyn
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 08:53:52

    Your favorite child here loves the tablecloth. Oh, and the highly favored child also is very curious to know what lime blossom honey tastes like. Gasoline? Really? In this instance, I refuse to learn from others and must make my way to Jungle Jim’s to see if they have any of this particular delicacy for me to try.

    Your favorite child, Ellyn


  3. Paula
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 09:18:25

    I too, love that beautiful tablecloth! What a treasure to casually drape over something! And the price! Wow! The flea market/antique fair was a find. I would have loved to browse there. I settled for shopping via pic. The honey…..I’ll let Ellyn try that!


    • thesketchylife
      Oct 23, 2012 @ 09:58:23

      you guys are too funny! Yes, please, let Ellyn try that atrocious honey – who knew you could use those two words together? I would love to see the look on her face after a big bite of that. Really, she is not near as food-venturous as me and I guarantee she’ll be spittin’ for an hour! If she gets some, Paula, you must be in attendance for the taste testing. It will be memorable.

      And you, Paula, would have had a hey-day at the antique fair. It was awesome, even if over-priced and very fun.

      Thank you Ellyn and Paula for commenting on the blog. I know I am sending messages out to cyberspace when I write, but I love hearing back on what you think. Love love you both…


  4. Nicole
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 15:50:15

    Good day! You are so right…your fine linen is very much appreciated. Great find! Oh, it sounds like you are having so much fun. Loving all the stories and photos, however, I must ask if your menacing art critique is in the photograph at the flea market? I could not help but notice the large painting by the furniture under the tent in the ‘background’. Three men are gathered around and it looks to me like they are either admiring or critiquing this abstract piece. Actually maybe the picture is a depiction of him? Large eyes looking…with unmentionable speech spewing from his mouth…?! Lol. Well anyways looks to me that you are having the time of your life! Great company with MB, great food, great shopping, and great painting via the one and only Starr! Love and miss you. Bambino sends wet juicy kisses 🙂


    • thesketchylife
      Oct 23, 2012 @ 16:08:31

      That is cute that you looked at the antique fair photo so closely. It is entirely possible that my critic was there making his opinion known on more artwork! More power to him! That was such an unusual occurrence, but actually quite memorable.

      I AM having the time of my life and I am looking forward to more painting. And you MUST give that gorgeous bambino wet juicy kisses from me in return! Love you all!


  5. Aimee Kunau
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 15:57:31

    Hi Starr!
    I am enjoying your blog and living vicariously through your posts. How long are you staying? You probably told me but I forget. Perhaps you are there for good…I wouldn’t blame you! Everything is good here, business is picking up, etc. Hope you could vote by mail. Anyway, ciao and can’t wait to see you sometime, hopefully!


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