No Ordinary Days

This is a catch-up post for the past couple days, which were pretty ordinary, and then again… not. Because while it may seem to be one excitement after another in Italy, that isn’t always the case.

There are lots of ordinary moments and plenty of real life going on here. It’s just that I AM a writer and I choose to tell the best stories I can. I like to think I could bring a bit of mystery to making toast if called upon to do so.

But there’s no need for that kind of stretch right now. The last couple days have been ordinary, but with much still going on. And as I grow older, which I am fortunate to do, I find that taking pleasure in ordinary things is quite the key to contentment. So let me fill you in on some mundane satisfactions…

Thursday here was just another day – not Thanksgiving. So the streets were full of people on their way to work and school and whatever errands they do. And I went out for my version of the perfect lunch… a slice of da Felice pizza and small glass of red wine. 2.44 euro. Delicioso.

ImageThis place has such history. It is a small “hole-in-the-wall” but it has been there for quite a while. Here’s a photo taken of the family/owners in 1960. I wonder what a slice of pizza cost back then? Geez, it just occurred to me to ask the next time I go there!

ImageAnd here they still are, 50 years later. Same family, same pizza, same pride of the business. And the line of customers is out the door all day every day. I think that is beyond awesome. Because if you go here, you’ll see that they are slinging pizza from daylight to dark. And they’ve obviously been doing it for over half a century. That’s dedication – and I am going to FIERCELY miss this pizza when I go home!

So that was lunch, but it didn’t stick with me all day, so I started wondering what to do for supper. Believe it or not, I’m worn out on pasta, which is something I never thought I would say. I decided to go out to the market and see what looked good. Now here’s the beauty of neighborhood markets… Within less than two blocks I picked up half a chicken and a bottle of wine from the butcher, some lettuce, artichokes and potatoes from the produce market, and a fresh roll from the bakery. And even though I was on foot, I was back home in under 30 minutes, firing up the stove.

Now you could do the same at Kroger, but it just isn’t the same. I was frequenting – and supporting – long-time family businesses. With unmatched quality products.

ImageThen, as I was frying up the chicken, it dawned on me… I have the ingredients to make noodles! Grandma’s homemade noodles! Well, that might sound like a kissing cousin to pasta, and indeed it is the same dough, but it is a world apart when you are done. I grabbed an egg and some salt and flour and got busy.

ImageNo rolling pin? No problemo… I have a full bottle of red wine that will work just as well. And before you could say “fettuccini” I had the dough rolled out and resting on the counter.

Now I know most of you are not from the same neck of the woods that I am, but in my world, there is no more beautiful sight than a mess of homemade noodles drying on the counter. And they look like this…

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And you know how I’m always slamming the Italians for being so carb-heavy? Well, maybe I’m part Italian after all. Because there’s only one way to eat homemade egg noodles, and that’s on top of mashed potatoes. Yes siree – starch on starch. And there better be lots of butter and milk or cream in those taters. If you don’t go into a food coma after that, you never will.

So here I am in the land of pasta, plating up some good ole Ohio carbs. It was fantastic. And just so I didn’t lose consciousness, I included a salad and a couple of freshly steamed artichokes. What a meal! Here’s a sketch of one of the artichokes before I ate it – and the market right across the street where I bought it.

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Well, that was Thursday, and like I say, nothing too extraordinary. But I sure had a good time having an ordinary day. So I decided to repeat it on Friday.

Thankfully, pizza still sounded good because I wanted to go back to Bella ‘Mbriana to catch up with the staff there. They had let me take some photos of the Pizzaiolo and the wood oven so I could make sketches. And it’s a great place to hang out for a while. Of course you have to order a whole pizza, but I just take half of it home.

Here’s the sketch in my book, which does not look like the pizza chef at all. Sometimes the space is just too small for me to get a likeness. Just the width of the pen line can make a difference, but this sketch IS him at the oven. He is such a nice fellow and I had some good photos of him, so I decided to do a pencil portrait to give him. I like the practice and I knew that Bella ‘Mbriana would get a kick out of it. Here’s Lakbir (I have no idea the origin of that name!)

Well, yes, they flipped over it and I got a mighty fine pizza for lunch. I ordered the “Principessa” which has ham and sausage and mozzarella. But I failed to notice that it is a “white pizza” meaning no tomatoes. And their idea of ham and sausage is a lot different than ours.

However, Lakbir loaded it up and when it was time to hand it through the window, he just brought it right out to me. When he noticed that I had my drawing stuff out, he pushed another table up to mine and rearranged everything so I had plenty of room. Full service in a self-service place! Sweet!

I drew for a while and then packed up the pizza to go. Then I realized it is Friday – and I keep forgetting every Friday what I mean to do in Lucca…

Lucca is the home to opera composer Puccini. And the town is so proud of him that they have arranged the “only permanent festival” in the world. That means you can go to a Puccini concert in Lucca any day of the year. Every Friday evening, the venue is Puccini and Mozart and I have meant to check it out. I don’t know much about Puccini, but I love Mozart, so I figured it would be a good time to go.

This evening I walked over to the Museum where the low season concerts are held and bought a ticket. I was given a program and took a seat. It was a beautiful place, but the time came for the program to start and nothing happened. Finally, an Asian girl in jeans, boots and a parka came in and walked up on stage and behind the screen. A few minutes later another girl did the same.

I was glad I had a book with me to read. It was pin-drop quiet while the sparse audience waited. Then a pianist appeared, dressed all in black, and started to play. The Asian girl strolled out, dressed in a black sheath with a feathered bodice and strappy high heels. It would have been visionary except she had on a raggedy old white cardigan sweater over the evening dress. And even though she had the voice of an angel, all I could look at was that tacky sweater! And I am not a member of the fashion police!

Next the other girl came out. She had on a floor length sequined black number and at least her sweater was a sparkly gold shrug. But elegant – she was not. Her hair was half pulled back in a pony tail and her heavy bangs made her look like a teenager, not a professional opera singer. Again, the voice of an angel, but no image to match.

The program went on like clockwork through the listed songs. I enjoyed the operatic content – it is the first time I ever attended a live opera of any sort. It’s just too bad it was so poorly executed. As soon as the last encore was wafting away, the girls scurried behind the screen and put on their coats. Not 5 seconds had passed. If they had a back exit, they probably beat the audience out the door.

Oh well, it was still a nice Friday evening. And when I went outside, the fountain in the square was very scenic. It was a mild evening and couples were walking away, hand in hand, off to dinner somewhere. So even though I went out for lunch, I figured that the leftover pizza could wait. I have to be my own date – wherever I am in the world, and I wanted dinner out.

There are tons of places left in Lucca I still want to go, and I knew just the one. Gigi Trattoria is a most charming little place. I was smitten with the furniture both inside and out. Whoever owns it decorates with my taste. I had been there once before, but it was the wrong time to eat. So off I went. And this place even has a small taxi service with their own little vehicles. Isn’t this clever? I figured I would order some wine and an appetizer and that would be supper for me.

Ahhh, well. They didn’t have the appetizer I wanted. Va bene. Allora. I looked at the menu again and decided on the quail. That’s something I’ve never ordered before. And fried potatoes. Sounds good. And indeed the quail was very appealing. But it is just a bird like a chicken, which is exactly what it tasted like. And the fried potatoes? Now I know that means french fries. I’m not that big on french fries, but yes, I asked for some ketchup and they were pretty tasty while they were good and hot.

OK, Friday completed. This trip to Lucca is going by fast. And now it’s Saturday again and you know what that means. One hopping town to get out and about in. I had some work to do so I had to discipline myself to get that accomplished before I went out to play.

Later in the afternoon, I went out to find some friends I made several weeks ago. I met them when I went to a meeting at the local Kingdom Hall and then we lost touch. It seems they moved during that time, but they sent me an email with their new address. So I went out in search of it and along the way, I ran into this character on the streets. Only in Lucca on a Saturday!

Eventually I found Francesca at home. She made me a cup of tea and we caught up the best we could considering that I don’t speak Italian and she speaks very little English.

After the tea, we walked to a nearby ceramic shop so she could introduce me to her friend and art teacher, Mariposa. It is a beautiful shop and Mariposa paints a lot of the items there. I shared my sketch book (at Francesca’s request) and we chatted the best we could. And now we have wonderful plans for tomorrow!

First I will walk to Francesca’s house so I can ride to the meeting with her and her husband (who thankfully speaks fluent English!) Then we will come back for lunch, change our clothes, and go to Mariposa’s house for a ceramic art lesson! I am so excited to do this!

So you tell me – are these ordinary days or not? They seem to start off plain as can be and then amazing things happen. I don’t know if it is because I am in another country and I am looking for opportunities all the time – or if that is just the nature of travel. But it is a wondrous combination of circumstance and curiosity.

I even believe it might be part of a particular state of mind. Kind of like that movie Field of Dreams… “if you build it they will come.” That isn’t exactly my philosophy in life, but I can imagine “if you are looking for it, you might just find it…”

So I hope when I go back home I can keep an open mind for the treasures that lie in wait every day. I’m beginning to think you just have to be of the right mind to find them. And when you are, there really are no ordinary days…

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pam
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 16:48:17

    I love your artichoke!
    Enjoy your ceramic art lesson. Keeping an open mind is a reminder for all! Thanks!

    Reply

    • thesketchylife
      Nov 24, 2012 @ 17:21:55

      Ciao Pam! I am so happy you are still reading! I just got a notice when I published this post that it is number 65! And the very first one was that day in Barga when we all arrived for art class. Can you believe the adventure I’ve been on ever since? I may never be the same! I may have to come to Cape Town one day just to recapture some excitement! Thanks again for your support and friendship. It means a lot…

      Reply

  2. Paula
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 19:56:43

    You may be right. Being in a different country, having wanted to go there for so long,you might just be welcome to any excitement. But on the other hand, you didn,t look for Mrs.P to thwart a cell phone snatcher. Or, have to look for a nice lady to push you off the right train stop!!! Maybe you just see the positive and life in things. An open mind for treasures in life and appreciating the precious life we have. My sober thoughts for today inspired by none other than my friend Starr Lynn!!!! Ordinary CAN be great! Love to the bros. there!

    Reply

    • thesketchylife
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 06:45:57

      Thank you for the nice comment! I like to think I am positive and look for the good side of things. Especially when Mrs. P gets testy and rather unpleasant. But when it comes down to it, I am always grateful for (as you say) the precious life we have…

      Reply

  3. the more punkin pie eatin' billy
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 20:34:14

    there are some bands i don’t have to visually see to enjoy. the best example is our wine maker. i am completely content to lay back in the grass (when playing the amphitheaters) and just listen. maybe the clothes shouldn’t have affected your opinion and just try closing your eyes. i am not much of a classical feller but if it looks like i am sleeping at the opera, maybe i am just focusing on the music itself… (yeah, that is it)

    yes, there are memorable and interesting pieces in every day life, even in middleburg, ohio. i do think being in new surroundings with new people and varied cultures and flavorful foods makes the amount of eye opening experiences so common you believe you must be missing it in your every day life. of course there aren’t as many in our daily routines but with eyes and ears open, they are there.

    it is good thing you spent such an extended period in it-ly for things to sink in. i think mrs. p does live in a haze at times but things do digest with enough fermentation.

    but what do i know…

    Reply

    • thesketchylife
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 06:42:15

      Actually, I did try closing my eyes. The music was divine. But I could still “see” the distracting things. Visuals, obviously, are important to me. The girl with the bangs looked like she rode her bike up to the door, came in and threw on a black dress and started singing. It was almost as shocking as if she had been 10 years old and was playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes. To me, it was on the verge of disrespectful of the venue. So you have to show up 15 minutes early and look like an opera singer – isn’t that part of what people are paying for? I think so…

      Reply

      • Paula
        Nov 25, 2012 @ 07:41:02

        I agree with you Starr. The visials do effect a how we recieve a performance. Opera should be all-in-one. Dress presence and of course, the voice. That,s why people get stylist. So their appearance doesn’t distract from their talent. Sorry punkin B!

  4. Ellyn
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 21:37:21

    This is very heartwarming. Of course, you are very friendly, which attracts hobos as well as nice, interesting folks. So no surprise there. And I think you’re right about finding adventure when you’re looking for it. I think a book or two has been written on the subject of laws of attraction 🙂

    Reply

    • thesketchylife
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 06:43:31

      Aha! the laws of attraction! I wasn’t even thinking along those lines, but it makes sense. Hmmm… I need to do a little research and see what else I can attract…

      Reply

    • Paula
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 07:34:00

      Ok now! I haven’t heard of laws of attraction. (I don’t think!) Well now there is something else I must check into. Hmmmmm… I should follow Ellen to the library……

      Reply

      • monkey... again!
        Nov 25, 2012 @ 19:35:20

        I guess I have, only not in those words. I looked it up online(Yes I really did!). And that is what we’re taught every week at the KH are we not? But you are still one of those folks who are naturally inclined that way. It’s the artist in you. I’ll be quiet now!

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