My day begins at dawn, as has become routine in Italy. I’ve grown accustomed to wandering narrow streets alone. But this is a bit different. On the pathway that circles atop the walls of the old city, there are joggers and bikers. And I thought I was the only one crazy enough to be up so early.
The sun rises as I walk, streaking orange across the sky, over grassy, park-like spaces, and back toward the center of the city, looking down at historic buildings. Sorry, Mom, but this is definitely cooler than walking the reservoir.
I go into a church i don’t even know the name of, and its vastness surprises me. There is a small block of seats along an archway. There’s something about it that’s dimutizing. A group, or a family, comes in with two young men in wheelchairs.They look… bad, basically, somehow palsied or for lack of a better word, damaged. One of the other people, a woman — perhaps the mother or caretaker — dips her hand in the holy water and touches it to one of the boys’ hands.
The church is beautiful and I want to take a picture, but I’m reluctant to do so with other people around, since there’s more than one sign blantantly forbidding photography. And yes, I’m more concerned with the judgment of other people than of God. I figure any divine being probably has better things to do than bring the wrath on a woman for her camera.
My attempt to communicate at least mildly in Italian have been going okay, but of course, there are snafus. I tried to ask for 50 cents worth of pecorino and 50 cents worth of parmagianno. Instead, I somehow ended up with 4 1/2 dollars worth of cheese. Perhaps the woman thought I was asking for a certain unit of measure. But, not knowing how to explain myself, I just paid the money. I’m now in search of what I’ve been told is the best gelato in town. As I walk, a smiling, toothless man rides by on a bicycle, waving and calling out “Ciao! Ciao!” I turn a corner and there he is again, propping his bike up by a building. He notices me and comes over, his hand extended. I shake his hand and wish him buon giorno.
Thanks to my championship level sense of direction, I manage to get myself hopelessly turned around, fighting the clock with less than an hour left until I have to leave to catch the train to Venice. The goal is to find the gelateria. It is vital that I have a gelato in each place I visit. So I’m trying to use a central location as a base point, at least, and my attempts to inquire for directions become almost farcical.
First, I inquire as to the way to Piazza San Marco. This does not exist in Lucca. Then, I ask someone else how to get to the Piazza San Michele, but pronounce it as if I’m speaking French, as in “Michel(l)e, ma belle.” Finally on the third try, I’m able to ask correctly. And still I get turned around. Fortunately, I continue to run into the same nice man with the orange briefcase, who finally guides me to where I need to be.
He asks me questions, and I nod, understanding every 10th word, including “Franchese” and “Inglese.” I’m saying “si, si,” until I finally realize he’s asking me whether I am French or English, not whether I speak French or English.
Finally, however, I find my way, and the gelato is worth the trouble to find it. I settle down for a few moments in the Piazza Napoleone and listen to a woman sing along with her accordian. I have no idea what she’s singing about, but it sounds haunting and hopeful.
It’s time to leave. I place a two Euro coin in the box by her feet and hope she gets what she’s looking for.