Neighbors Round the World

I’ve always been fortunate enough to have pretty good neighbors.

I’m not one to hang out having coffee or chatting all the time, but a good neighbor is one you know, one who will lend a hand when you need help and one whose number is in your phone in case of emergency. I guess I’m neighborly to that extent.

A couple years ago when I went to Italy for a few months, I met my new “neighbor” within my first hour in Lucca. And what a valuable friend she turned out to be!

Annamaria runs the nicest leather goods shop in Lucca. Her family has been making leather items for many, many years and she is the face of the storefront called Magellano. My apartment was directly above, so when I came downstairs, it was the first shop I went in to look around.

Oh my! The leather goods were displayed in glorious colors and felt like butter to the touch. I had never seen such beautiful wallets, purses, bags, cases and books. It was all I could do not to slobber on all the items there were to admire. And then there was Annamaria…

This gorgeous creature greeted me warmly and we struck up a conversation. I told her I had just arrived in town and would be staying a while. I was delighted she spoke English! And from that first moment, we were friends.

When I would get confused about something I would stop in and ask Annamaria to explain things to me. She did. And I would often linger in the shop looking at the tempting goods for sale.

Every time I walked past the shop, Annamaria would look up and call out “Ciao Starr!” and I would smile. Oh how fun to be part of the neighborhood!

I decided when I needed a new sketchbook I would buy it from her. The only problem was, the smaller notebooks had paper I liked and the bigger ones didn’t. There was nothing in the shop I could actually use. But when I explained this to Annamaria, she simply said… “tell me what you are looking for and maybe we can make it for you.”

And that’s what we did. I showed her the paper I liked from one book and the size I liked of another. “No problem,” she said, “we can make that for you!” I got so excited that I went and picked up another small wallet off the shelf and asked if they could make that in a size that my pencils would fit in. “Of course,” she said. “Let’s measure!”

I ran upstairs and brought down an assortment of pencils and we decided on a size. The wallet would have a long cord wrap closure just like the book. And I chose a dark blood-red leather with handmade rag paper for the book. The wallet was the same leather with a similar cord.

Not long after that I was able to pick up my new book and wallet on a sunny Saturday morning. And Annamaria’s father had made both pieces for me himself. I was beyond thrilled. Especially since Annamaria had included an engraved monogram of my initials on both pieces as a gift!

Then, as we were talking, Annamaria told me how her parents went to lunch at a local pizza place every Saturday with relatives. Well, I was always ready to try new pizza so I asked where it was and found it. So when Annamaria’s parents came in, I was there sketching in my new book. I wrote about it in this post from October 27, 2012… Real Life in Lucca

That was the day I started drawing in that sketchbook and I am just now finishing it up. And I’ll fill you in on that in just a minute…

MagellanoMeanwhile, I did a sketch of the Magellano storefront and gave it as a gift to Annamaria. She immediately uploaded it as the logo on the store’s Facebook page and it is still there! What a sweetheart she is!

Now, I am finally to the last page of that gorgeous sketchbook. And the thing is, the last page is the one on the inside back cover so it is a single left-hand page, not a two page spread. I wondered and wondered what to draw on it.

Finally I figured it out. Yesterday, Annamaria posted a beautiful sepia-toned photograph of herself on her facebook account that I was mesmerized by. It is absolutely perfect for the last page of my Italian sketch journal. After all, the first page is the day I went to the pizza place to meet her father and thank him for making me this spectacular book – which was a challenge since he spoke no English and I spoke almost no Italian. But we communicated and I was able to thank him and his family for making my trip so special with this beautifully handmade book.

So the book is at an end and I can think of no better way to finalize it than with a pencil sketch of the stunning Annamaria. She was a wonderful friend and neighbor while I was in Italy and I can only hope that I will get to visit her again. And I have to insist that she is even more gracious than she is beautiful.

Ti amo Annamaria, mia cara!

This is my gorgeous friend…


And I can’t end this post without mentioning another friend I met when I got home from that trip.

I moved from my house of 23 years to a small apartment and it was a drastic change. But again, good neighbors can make all the difference. I kept seeing this lady in my new neighborhood riding one of those three-wheel trikes for adults all over the place. I was fascinated.

One day she stopped to chat when I was outside and she is a delightful person to know. Here is my neighbor Kathy…

Kathy White

So I guess no matter where you are in the world, you just need to make friends with a few nice neighbors. They’ll be there for you and you can return the favor when they need someone. I sound a bit like “Mr. Rogers” here, but I do enjoy having good neighbors. You never know when you’ll need to call on them!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. hememd
    Apr 22, 2015 @ 19:13:34

    Wonderful story and portrait. I’ve always wanted to rent an apt inside the walls in Lucca for 1-2 weeks. I think it would be so much fun to walk the walls, sketch, wander the town and try a different restaurant each day. .


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