Lucca, I’m in Tuscany

Wednesday 21-Jul

Gun platform and/or restaurantStart of second week. Actually, it seemed more: I’d really settled in to Lucca. For the morning excursion, I went to the walls by my regular route, but this time turned left, instead of right towards San Frediano. The other way led me to the bastion of Santa Croce, and I realised I hadn’t been to it before, proving that I hadn’t yet covered all the wall. (I think that did complete it though.)

There is some work going on to the walls between San Fred and Santa Croce, with notices on the hoardings to explain what’s going on. I seem to have been right about the truncation of San Frediano’s bastion, because, if I understood the text correctly, that was the last area of wall to be upgraded from the medieval one. And it seems it was a botched job, because just five years after completion, the city issued a contract for repairs. But that’s still the area of wall that’s in worst condition and needing restoration today.

The bastion at Santa Croce itself is fine for shady relaxation. There is a ruined gun platform in the centre (some bastions have them — there’s one on San Colombano (one of our boys) which has been roofed over and turned into an expensive restuarant.) Not all the bastions have benches, but in this case I found one and sat down. After a while, an old gentleman cycled up in polo shirt, shorts and trainers and long sports socks (you know the look: everything washed and ironed. It’s supposed to look sporty, but isn’t.)

He asked for permission and sat on the other end of the bench with a motoring magazine, but he couldn’t settle to it. Probably, I was sitting on HIS customary bench and had ruined his day. Eventually he bid me a good morning and got on his bike and left.

When I’d had enough of sitting idly (and in my case, that’s a lot) I walked on round to the next bastion, San Donato, and the city gate, Porta Santa Anna. There’s a piazza there with a tourist information office, and I took the opportunity to get a couple of different free city maps. It’s good to compare different ones, and with a lot of restaurant ads on one of them (with addresses) there was the potential for hungry evening wanderings being a little more directed.

There was a big metal map outside as well, with the interesting addition of the lines of the earlier walls being shown. Actually, it’s obvious when you see it that the core of the old city was originally within the Roman walls, and has a grid street pattern on a different orientation to the outer parts. My apartment is inside the Roman city. It’s clear that there was some continuity between Roman and Christian times, because the big church of San Michele has the epithet “in Foro” because it was built over the Forum. There’s also a church of Santa Maria Fore Portam — SM By the Gate — where the Decumanus Maximus (Via Roma) from the Forum would have met the walls at a gate.

I took a walk through the little streets in the general direction of the Piazza Napoleone, still set up for concerts (another week to go, with Placebo the last). I sat down again and in a short time I heard the sound of vuvuzelas (not a word I’d have known a month previously). Round the corner came one of the 4-wheel pedal bikes that usually circle the walls. Noisily, because there was a stack of tin cans tied to the back; and the pedalling was being done by a bride and groom. Behind them came an entourage of wedding guests, including the ones making with the honking. Some very fine ladies in most glamorous and sexy dresses, and shoes to die for. Or to fall off a cobblestone and break your ankle for.

After that interlude, it settled down again, getting on for the heat of midday. A pretty young woman sat on the bench next to mine, and posing most artfully, went through the girly routine of hair and makeup. I have no problem with that: artifice and playing a role are normal forms of human expression and part of the difference between the sexes. And Vive la Différence.

The only thing was, and maybe the heat was getting to my brain here, I was the only person near, and I thought I could see her taking looks at me. It seemed, well, unusual. After the brush and compact were put away, the girl took out a long white cigarette and put it, unlit, in her mouth. Now, as I understand it from the old movies, once upon a time that was supposed to be a social signal: I am open to being approached. That custom may have become extinct or endangered now that smoking is left only to a minority of poor unfortunates, and, even in Italy, has about the same level of glamour as say, leprosy; but I think I have the gist of the original idea.

So at that point, I could have whipped out my lighter and offered a light and conversation would have started, and before you knew we’d have been having lunch together and making plans to meet up for disco dancing and all kinds of activities. But no. For one thing, I don’t carry a lighter; and for another, I don’t like no skanky bitch that smell like an ashtray (in my head that was in an Ali G voice. I don’t know why.). I made no move and after a while, on looking away and looking back, she was gone, leaving me with the thought “what just happened there?” As you do.

It occurred to me that she might have been a prostitute. I have no experience of such matters, but she definitely wasn’t the poor, desperate drug-addict kind of prostitute, and I don’t think the high class type (and boy, was she class) solicit in the streets. It’s either a mystery or my heat-addled imagination. I went home and had some lunch.

While out, I’d picked up a free glossy magazine, published by the council. Lucca citizens pay well below the national average for council services, and the lowest in Tuscany. It says. Anyway, briefly scanning through it, I was reminded of something I’d seen before coming to Italy (on Facebook, of all places). There’s a series of exhibitions under the banner “Images of Sound”, including one called “Love Me Fender” (SWTDT?)

After siesta, I set off to find it, in the Villa Guinigi. The Guinigi family were the big shots in Lucca for a critical period of its history, and the villa was originally their country retreat, but was enveloped by the new walls in the 16th century. It’s now a museum. I paid the modest 4 euro entrance fee (it seemed cheap after Florence) and followed the approved route (there was a lady hovering to ensure that I did) which progressed chronologically.

Neolithic to Roman, by way of Etruscans; and then Longobards taking us up to a round 1000 AD. That was all quite interesting. The Roman work was very stern and functional, contrasting with a less sophisticated but more playful and joyful artistic expression of the “barbarian” Longobards. They were Christian, of course, so much of the sculpture was churchy, but I still liked it.

It was after that time that the frescos and paintings and crucifixes started to appear, and after a while I was desperate for any kind of secular art. I was overcome by rancid piety, all the way from 1300 to 1750. Saint Sebastian was a popular subject, full of arrows, and often accompanied by San Rocco, whom I hadn’t met before, but who seemed, less seriously, to suffer from an ulcer on his thigh.

I left the building somewhat irritated. It had been like television with all adverts and no programmes. I did remember that all the bastions around the walls are named after saints, and many of the streets. There’s a piazza for Napoleon and other streets are named after royalty, suggesting an overall right-wing theme. There is a Corso Garibaldi, but even he was fighting for a monarchy, albeit a relatively democratic one. (The Kingdom of Piedmont eventually absorbed all of Italy and became the Kingdom of Italy thanks to Garibaldi and his followers.)

I looked at the building plan on the leaflet they’d given me and saw the room labelled “Temporary Exhibitions”, and guessed that it had to be the Fender place. A nice lady intercepted me and led me into it, handing me a fat magazine celebrating the exhibitions. Not huge, but a happy place for a guitar nut. I liked the panda.

San FredianoOverall, I’d spent a couple of hours in the museum. I could actually have gone direct into the Fender room without paying for the rest of it, but in retrospect, I was happy to have seen the lot. If I’d just gone into the Fender exhibition I’d have felt I walked right across town for very little.

When I came out, I walked up to the nearest bastion for some shade and looked at my “Images of Sound” book. There were various exhibitions around, including “Wonderful Tonight”, photos by Pattie Boyd. Clapton wrote the song about her. She also dated George Harrison and other musicians. There was a photo history of Guns’n’Roses called “Reckless Road”. I thought I’d give that one a miss.

Photos by and of other rock musicians. Michael Stipe looking like a prat. Kim Gordon with a pump-action shotgun, looking mean. (Remind me not to call her “Kimbo-Bimbo” again.) There was one of the Guitarist from Sleater-Kinney (I always forget who’s Sleater and who’s Kinney) and you know what? When I got home and put on some music, the first track (on random) was ‘One Beat’ by Sleater-Kinney. Spooky.

Evening time and hopes of directed restaurant seeking were dashed. I wandered and found nothing promising until I came to an antica osteria. It was too expensive, but I was hungry. The meal was not bad but the pretentiousness of the restaurant was borne out by the lack of house wine. I had to buy an expensive bottle and leave some. Overall, I paid too much for a mediocre meal. The pill was sugared slightly by the fact that they were playing 80s pop funk when I arrived (“That’s The Way I Like It” to be precise) but when that ran out after an hour, someone picked Dean Martin, which I could live with, but just before I left, some Italian singer was selected, which would have driven me away if I wasn’t already going.

Thursday 22-Jul

I’d meant to get up early to get in a trip to the supermercato before it got too hot, but missed that target. Instead, I went up to Piattiforma San Frediano with my free news sheet which I’d picked up at the station in Florence. I can read enough to get the basics of the articles, but it’s hard work for me. I took my little dictionary in case I needed help, and indeed, I learned two new words in Italian: nightmare — American oil leak — and avalanche — in this case an avalanche of money, which was what Exxon was putting in to the climate change denial industry. (“l’incubo” and “valanga”)

When I got the apartment, I received no instructions on disposal of garbage, leading me to the solution adopted the world over: see what the neighbours do. Central Lucca’s streets are too narrow for the usual large roll-top bins that are used by councils everywhere else for communal collection, and I didn’t know what the process was instead. I noticed rubbish left out in bags one day shortly after I arrived and noted that for a potential “bin day”, but gradually I became almost sure that every day was bin day. Rubbish left by the litter bin in the street outside definitely seemed to be taken by the rubbish fairies within 48 hours, if not 24.

Palazzo PfannerI had seen the waste disposal operatives at work elsewhere in the city. Of course, a full-sized bin lorry can’t be used: they have miniature electric ones. It’s still hard work, and probably sometimes unpleasant in the heat. Most of the bin men just wore their high-visibility waistcoats over a bare chest, and I saw a lady bin man in a bikini top, shorts and work boots, with the waistcoat unfastened. In spite of my general antipathy to shorts on women, it was a kind of sexy look.

On another occasion, I saw the more downmarket version of that with a girl driving the truck with waistcoat buttoned, but just her bra underneath. Immediately afterwards, two more female-piloted garbage trucklets passed me with the ladies in smart blue shirts under the high-vis, which I assume is the official uniform.

I did buy rubbish bags on a supermarket visit, but because of my frugal lifestyle (if you can’t eat it, don’t buy it) (except rubbish bags) it was over a week before I needed to worry about disposal anyway.

On this occasion, having missed the early shift for grocery shopping, I bought two filled panini from a shop and brought them home for lunch.

I dozed a siesta and wasn’t out again until five. I thought I’d go and see the Palazzo Pfanner. The gardens are visible from the city walls near home and I was intrigued to see more. I assumed that the place would be open until seven-thirty, which is the norm for ancient monuments etc., but for the palazzo it’s six o’clock, meaning that I had less than an hour, but got a reduced entry fee. One hour was more than enough for the gardens, but not for the house (and there’s an additional ticket to buy). I settled for the gardens. Statues, fountain, flowers, lemon bushes. I stole a ripe lemon.

I took a short break on nearby San Frediano platform waiting for the sun to go down a little more, then went on the postponed supermarket trip. Inside, I had a minor panic attack when I realised that I had an unauthorised lemon in my bag. What if they thought I stole it from them? I tried to remember the Italian for “wild” as in plants. (I did, it’s “involuntario”.) Wild lemons.

After my home-cooked dinner, it was after nine and I went to Piazza Napoleone, where the finalists from a battle-of-the-bands competition were to play the big festival stage. It was billed as “Summer Giovani” or Summer Youth, but some of those guys looked about thirty. There was a really good punk-folk outfit (with an accordion) which I liked, although I didn’t catch their name; and finally, last year’s winners, “Venus in Furs”, a loud, grungy-metal band that I enjoyed as well. They tossed out CDs and I got one, although I had no means of playing it in the apartment.

Once everyone had performed, I waited for the result, but no, first there were speeches. And then more speeches. And then “I’d like to ask this member of the committee to say a few words.” and so on. I got bored and came home, so I never found out the victors. No matter. BotBs suck anyway.

Actually, I haven’t mentioned that this one had comperes. The usual combination of portly middle-aged man with an artificial tan and a comb-over, plus very thin young woman in a sprayed-on dress. Troupers, both of them, able to prattle on while band changeovers went on behind them. There were two drum kits set up so that drummers could change smoothly, but as always, guitarists were last to be ready, faffing about with  pedals and connections for ages (while bassplayers stood waiting). I don’t know what it is with guitarists.

Friday 23-Jul

It was the first morning that I’d felt at a loose end, unsure what to do. I had slept well enough but couldn’t really get my act together to get up and get out. Eventually, I emerged into daylight and proceeded at random in a general Southerly direction to Via San Paolino, which becoming Via Roma and Via Santa Croce, forms a central East-West axis of the city. Going West to the gate at Piazzale Verdi, I noticed the tourist office where I’d got my free maps.

Their blurb says “WiFi Zone”, but there was no indication if it was free or paid. There was an ordinary Internet point inside the building, with the usual line of decrepit PCs. I assumed that it was paid. There’s actually a surprising shortage of Internet cafes and the like in Lucca. The other main tourist office at the opposite end of town had one, and I think I saw just two others. In Florence, they’re everywhere.

That reminds me of another difference between Florence and Lucca. Florence is stuffed with stalls selling cheap tat. When I was there I decided that I needed a new pair of cheap sunglasses because my nice red ones were scratched (Tesco: £3.45) and found many at €5 on the stalls. There was nothing similar in Lucca, whether through being behind the times, or, more likely, deliberate control. There was a shop at the end of my street that sold €300 sunglasses.

That aside, Internet had been an issue for me. My apartment had 3 of the neighbours’ wireless networks detectable, all encrypted. Not like the old days. In theory, I might have been able to crack the encryption, given that I could leave the laptop running for days at it if necessary, but then I realised that I’d forgotten to load the laptop’s own encryption module, so I couldn’t use the key even if I found it. Massive fail.

I was reduced to using my phone, at an astounding £3 PER MEGABYTE from O2. Compare that to 35p a minute for a voice call. (60 seconds times voice at 64 megabits is equivalent to half a megabyte, so that’s 70p vs. £3. The EU needs to look into that.)

I couldn’t exactly “war drive” around the streets of Lucca looking for an open wifi network, which was why I was interested in the possibility of loitering outside the tourist office, perhaps after they were closed.

That reconnoitre accomplished, I wandered a little more. Clouds had appeared, quite dark ones, occasionally blocking the sun, but not noticeable reducing the heat. Maybe it had been the pending change in weather that had affected my mood earlier. I went for lunch at a typical outside cafe, not far from home, and then retired for a siesta.

The afternoon expedition was also in the form of a reconnaisance. I had noticed a couple of self-service laundrettes and wanted to find the handiest. The one I remembered and located was clean and modern, but quite a long walk away, part of that walk being down the very posh Via Fillungo, where the bags carried are by Gucci, D&G and Chanel, and probably rarely contain laundry.

Still, I went in and read the instructions (in four languages) and mentally made a note of where the place was. Not too far from the church of San Frediano, which had had a wedding imminent the first time I went in. I took the opportunity for a quieter visit and took some photos. The city’s favourite saint, Santa Zita, is there. Dead, but on display.

After dinner at home, I went out again, with the laptop in a guerilla Internet mission. My route took me past a nearer laundrette, and slightly cheaper, making that the likely candidate when needed. At Piazzale Verdi, where the tourist centre had just closed, I sat down on a bench, started up the laptop, and bingo! Eight open wifi networks.

My wifi-sniffer program actually crashed with a surfeit of data, but I got it going again and tried to connect to one of the networks. It worked. I could see that the computer had been allocated an IP address on the network, and had set up its DNS and routes. Except, it DIDN’T work. I couldn’t browse the Internet, or even contact the DNS servers set by the wifi network itself. (It occurred to me later that the wifi equipment might have been left switched on, but the Internet connection unplugged or switched off, because actually, I had set everything up correctly.)

Basically, the problem was that I hadn’t ever practised connecting to a public network before, and thus had no idea what to poke to get it working. I spent about forty minutes before giving up and packing up.

I dropped the laptop back at the apartment and went for a drink. Old Simply Red had started performing in the Piazza, which I had to detour round, but the sound was good and the performance was clear for a fair distance around. He can sing, certainly, but there’s something lacking: emotion, or passion, or soul. The date was part of a tour advertised as the final one. Let’s hope so.

Band at McCullough'sAt the Irish Pub, excitingly, a band’s gear was set up. A5 flyers taped to the pillars promised a “Hell Party” with live rock, compulsory head-banging, and free drinks for ladies in costume. In the event, there were none of the latter as far as I could tell, but a stocky, middle-aged guy with long blonde hair did come in. Wearing a leather miniskirt. Nobody stared or reacted. He wasn’t particularly effeminate or anything. Just wearing a skirt.

The band didn’t start to play until eleven-thirty. Actually it turned out to be not so much a band as a rotating musical collective. Four guitarists, three bassplayers and two drummers swapped places and various singers took the lead. The musical fare was covers of the heavier end of classic rock, with AC/DC, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and so on. They were all pretty good. (You know, apart from the ludicrously bad rhyme in the first and second lines, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is a really good song.)

Amusingly, they featured the Black Crowes’ “Remedy”, and a version of “Baba O’Riley” by the Who, as arranged by Mr. Big: two songs that I perform when at home. I really enjoyed the set as the evening progressed. Singing and lead guitar solos took place from the tops of tables, and the top of the bar; and there were general rock’n’roll theatricals and posing. One of the bassplayers was the hairy barman I’d seen on my first visit, (but the pretty barmaid wasn’t there).

Coming up on two in the morning, the current line-up launched into an extended version of AC/DC’s “Long Way To The Top” as in the outro of “School of Rock”. Band members were introduced and applauded, and I thought that it was going to be the final number. But no, one more tune: Neil Young’s “Keep On Rocking In The Free World”, whose opening riff still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. This song went on for more than ten minutes, with players swapping places and instruments, until finally, with the hairy barman on drums and at least one guitar string broken, they found a place to land and played the final crash. Ears buzzing and throat sore from singing along, I made my contented way home.

Saturday 24-Jul

This was the first day that I didn’t go out in the morning at all, due to my… exertions of the night before. Following a healthy salad lunch, combined with a slightly less healthy glass of chilled white wine, I did make it to the outdoors, quite early in the afternoon, before the heat had abated much.

The air seemed to be clearer and the light harder. The mountains which surround Lucca seemed sharper. (On the day I came home on the train from Florence, the sun was getting low towards the westward mountains, the ones made of marble, and layers of haze separated the ranges into a receding series of silhouettes, just like a Chinese painting.)

The previous Saturday, there had been a market composed of van and trailer stalls near the Eastern gate, the Porta Elisa, and I headed around the walls in that direction. Slowly in the hot heat. At San Pietro bastion, I stopped in the shade to cool down. Across the road from me was a girl in what I thought at first were black stockings — I could see the stocking tops (and points North) because of the way she was sitting — but then I realised that they were leopard-print FOOTLESS stockings, something I’ve never encountered before. Curious. I’ve never worn stockings, but I’m guessing that they aren’t entirely optimal for hot weather, footless or not.

Should have been a Fiat 500I carried on and by the end had completed a half-cirumnavigation of the walls, then cut North into the interior. At the festival site in Piazza Napoleone, arrays of seats had been laid out for what I remembered was the penultimate concert, a free one by “Karima”. It’s pretty much a rule that an Italian artiste with no surname and whose publicity shots show a smouldering look in ultra-real, retouched sharpness is going to perform sentimental ballads in a bland pop style. I wouldn’t be going to see Karima.

On the return trip, I went to the foccacia shop and bought some big lumps to be used for dinner. I’d forgotten once where I’d seen the big loaves in the window, but rediscovered it a couple of days later. What I hadn’t realised was that the shop, long and thin on the inside, actually has a door at each end, and one of them (no room for a shop window at that end) exits into Piazza Antifeatro.

I like the Piazza, very much unique to Lucca. The ring of buildings has the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre as its foundations, and the central part was cleared and levelled as a town landscaping project, in the 1800s, I think it was. Which reminds me: there isn’t much that’s “new” in the old part of the city inside the walls. There’s almost nothing that looks later than about the mid-1800s, perhaps reflecting the start of preservation laws. (Later note:I was reading on some town history and realised I was wrong about preservation. What really happened was that Lucca was absorbed into the Duchy of Florence in 1847, the bigwigs moved out, and investment stopped. I was spot on about the time period though.)

Most of the building stock though is much older than that, typically “town houses” of various levels of pretention dating to 1300s to 1600s, now filled with individual apartments. The exteriors are in various states of repair, from freshly rendered to falling to pieces. I’d seen a few in real states of decay, and some that appeared empty and seemed never to have been modernised, because the ground floor windows were unglazed, with only the big antique iron grilles on them. Ground floor rooms weren’t lived in. They were for storage, or in grander palazzo houses, open loggias that had free access to the public to mingle and do business. Changing attitudes caused these to be walled in, but there is one survival, next to San Michele church, the Pallazo Pretorio.

My own apartment was a ground floor room in a four-storey town house, with a high vaulted ceiling and one massive, street-facing window, with a huge wrought-iron grille over it. Hard to know what it might have been for originally. Stabling mules, I’m going to say. The near-by area of my abode seemed to have been predominantly the quarter of the medieval lower-middle classes: rich enough to have a whole house, but nothing too fancy. (But there are some big, glowering palazzos not too far away, and there is a house further down that same street with a huge stone archway leading into a substantial inner courtyard and gardens.)

Before making dinner with my freshly captured foccacia, I had a mission. The owner of my apartment hadn’t been in touch about fresh bedding and towels, and I decided, the hell with it, I’ll do it myself. I packed the linen and my own sweaty clothes into two plastic sacks and walked round to the laundrette, or lavanderia automatica. It was empty, which was good, because I could take my time and not feel I was looking awakward. The instructions were in Italian, English and French, and by cross-checking all three, I was confident enough to put my load all in the machine and start it up. I selected a medium-cool wash (a step missing in the English and French) which would take only 30 minutes.

As you might expect, there was reading material sitting about, but in this instance, it consisted of motor-cycling magazines (including a glossy “Ducati World” which I considered thieving) and two ladies’ underwear catalogue booklets. I imagine that the place is mostly used by women. Perhaps they like motorbikes. A sign on the wall gave an emergency phone number for “Stefano”, presumably the biking owner.

After the cycle finished, I had to dump the stuff in a basket and take it over to the dryer. The apartment’s bath towel was a new, yellow one and of everything in the pile, yes, whites and all, only the pillowcases seemed to have taken up a little of its colour. Honestly, it was hardly noticeable unless you held them against the white sheets. Oh well, not to worry. They can use a shot of bleach, I thought.

Dinner worked well, but I was overambitious in the quantity of foccacia sandwiches, meaning that one large one was left for lunch the following day. Manfully resisting the urge to go and hear Karima, I settled down with a glass or two of wine for a relaxing evening at home. My first, really.

Sunday 25-Jul

I was up and out for the usual morning constitutional. Cutting through the alleys, I passed my nearest church, Santa Maria Corteorlandini, and could hear the singing coming through the open door. I intend to visit, but not on a Sunday. It’s an interesting little church. The facade is a baroque one from the eighteenth century (not my favourite style), as is the interior, but the structure is actually very ancient. The name “Corteorlandini” is thought to have been “Corte Rolandinga”, the courtyard of Rolandinga, a Lombard name. The North side of the church has a unique pair of medieval loggias, the sort of thing you’d see on a palazzo, not a church.

Another reason to visit is that they have a Black Madonna, a copy of the Loreto one. Ancient Black Madonnas occur all over the South of Europe, and the Christian theological explanations are confused and unconvincing. I much prefer the theory that they are representations of a pre-Christian Goddess, a version of Kali, Goddess of destruction and renewal. There’s a place in the South of France where the Roma carry a Black Madonna into the sea on a flower-decked platform, exactly as in a Hindu puja.

The atmosphere was still haze-free and clear, and the temperature was maybe a little lower than in the previous week. I walked clockwise along the walls from San Frediano to the next bastion, San Martino, one of the ones with a gun platform in the centre. I hadn’t previously looked around it, and when I did, I could see that the chambers and courts below it showed signs of being accessible. Well, graffiti and litter, basically. I’d thought that the bastion next to the botanical gardens, San Regolo, might be the only one whose underground works could be visited, but I was wrong.

At San Martino, there is one of the relatively modern (1800s) pedestrian gates, but unlike the one at, say, San Frediano which I would walk through to the supermarket; San Martino’s isn’t just a tunnel through the walls, it goes via the underworks of the bastion, which form a network of high, vaulted rooms. Although made of brick and constructed in the decades around 1600, the chambers have a medieval ambience. They even reminded me of the Knights Templar underground “stables” in Jerusalem. There WAS a lot of graffiti and the sort of litter that suggests late night lowlife activities, but in the day the place was deserted.

Lucca is kept very tidy generally. Inevitably, given the number of transient tourists, there’s a certain amount of litter but the city’s workers do a good job of dealing with it. And as I eventually deduced, domestic rubbish is collected from the streets EVERY morning. Well, maybe not Sunday. One thing that I found particularly striking was that the old water channel on the East side of the city which opens up into a shallow canal about two metres wide near the botanic gardens has fish in it. The water is clear and healthy-looking and there are black fish about the size of Coke bottles or larger.

At the Porta dei Borghi (a gate in the medieval walls, now left stranded) I picked up one piece of litter. It was a bike lock. It had a combination lock and I assumed that it had been discarded because it was broken and wouldn’t lock any more. At home, I’m always fiddling and fixing stuff (even if it’s not broken) and I thought poking at the lock and probably failing to fix it would amuse me for a while. I put it in my bag and took a stroll down Via Fillungo with its expensive shops (shoe shops especially: a pair of men’s yachting moccasins? Certainly Sir, that will be €300.) And home for lunch.

I looked at the lock I’d wombled and found that since it was open, it was easy to set the three-pin combination, because you could see the locking mechanism working inside. It was 761. But then I noticed that the first pin on the other half of the mechanism was broken off, meaning that ?61 would work, with any number on the first setting. In theory, just one hundred trials would get the combination open; actually 61 if you started at 000 and went systematically to 061. So that did indeed keep me amused for a few minutes. I still didn’t know if it had been lost or thrown away because of its flaw.

In the later afternoon, I went out again and it was quite a lot cooler than previously, probably below 30 degrees. I think if it had been more like that, the earlier part of my holiday might have been very different with more excursions. I simply took in the ambience though and returned in a couple of hours to cook dinner. I wasn’t sure whether it was a risotto arrabbiato or a biryani, but it was very tasty with a good hot spice content. (“arrabbiato” for a hot sauce literally means “rabid”. I like that.)

Monday 26-Jul

Clock TowerDon’t you just hate Monday mornings? The weekend over, and five days of drudgery ahead. Well, mine was nothing like that. I did have a chore to do, which was to go to the supermarket. I’d run out of two essentials, croissants for breakfast and wine for dinner, and those were the only two things I could think of to put on my shopping list. Somehow, though, I managed to collect enough varied items to fill both of my canvas bags.

When I left the apartment, there was quite a lot of cloud in the sky — almost enough to call it “overcast” — and it was quite cool, relatively speaking. But on the way back the cloud was starting to clear away and the sun was shining through.

One of my impulse buys was a box of spiral incense sticks (only 94c), claiming to repel mosquitoes (even the zanzari tigri, the tiger mosquitoes which are moving North because of climate change). The incense spirals are made of a clay-like material and come in an interleaved pair about the size of a CD which you have to separate. There’s a little metal stand and you set the spiral horizontal on it and light one end.

So I had to try it. There was a serious intent. I’d initially been reluctant to leave the window open at night for fear of admitting biting insects, and thought I might sleep easier with some repellent going. I lit the incense and put it on a saucer on the window sill. A mosquito flew in almost immediately, right past the stream of smoke. Oh well. At least it was geranium-scented. (The smoke, not the mosquito.) It seemed to be burning very slowly too, causing me to go and get the box to see if there was a length of time given. Six hours.

And also, not in any way prominent, the advice not to burn the stuff indoors. Only OK in the garden, while camping, on a boat, during a picnic etc.

After lunch, I went out, leaving the satanic incense burning on the bedroom mezzanine, so that if there actually was any repellent effect, it might protect me in the night. I went up past the church of SM Corteorlandini, but both doors were firmly shut. I was still determined to get in, but it would have to be another time.

Tower interiorI wandered around at random, and found I was near the Torre Guiningi, the famous one with trees on the top. I’d been up it many years before, but that was no reason to miss out this time. The weather having moderated, it wouldn’t be uncomfortably hot climbing it either. There are great views in all directions, shaded by the trees (which I thought were supposed to be oaks, but the leaves were’t oak-shaped). There was a steady stream of tourists up and down, but with little to do at the top other than look out each side and take photographs, the quick throughput meant that it didn’t get crowded.

The first half of the tower features wide stone steps, perhaps original, but then a relatively modern set of steel scaffolding stairs takes over. That meant that there was a big void in the middle with the stairs going round the sides, strongly reminding me of the Escher engraving ‘Relativity’. I took some photos on the way down to try to capture the effect.

I came back via the Piazza Antefeatro, which can be made out from the top of the tower, although you don’t get to see the circular outline of it. When in Florence, I’d been struck by the huge amount of tourist tat on sale from stalls everywhere, and noticed that there was nothing comparable in Lucca. Two or three stalls in total, in different locations. But the Piazza Antefeatro is the place in Lucca to go if you want to buy your souveniers. There must be a half-dozen or more of that kind of shop: calendars, t-shirts, fridge-magnets, baseball caps, ceramics. A couple of them do feature some less generic, more crafted items that probably wweren’t made in China. I don’t usually bring back gifts from holiday (which is why you didn’t get anything) but I did have a quick browse, thinking that I might bring something back for my parents, to thank them for house and cat sitting. I didn’t buy anything though.

I’d decided that this was going to be the day I would cycle the walls, but I did have to go back to the apartment to change into less smart trousers which I didn’t mind getting bicycle chain grease on. Having done that, it was after six, in fact, it was almost half-past when I got to the bike rental desk and found that the latest return time was seven. Far earlier than I expected. It would have to be postponed. (I could easily have made it round in half-an-hour, but I didn’t want to be on a time budget.)

On the spur of the moment, I decided to walk it instead. It only took an hour, in a clockwise direction because I’d already walked one segment in that direction to get to the bike place. The temperature was comfortable. It was with a sense of achievement that I returned for dinner.

I was cooking at home again. The initial idea of eating out every other night hadn’t worked out because of the need to use up fresh food before it became suspect. But when you’re not in your own kitchen, you don’t have the large number of extra ingredients like spices or sauces, or that tin of canelli beans that you never used. That had meant that all the cooking was pretty basic, and not really recipe-driven, more “what have I got tonight?” Some meals, nevertheless, have been very tasty, and everything has been at least edible. Tuscan wine is a good accompaniment to all cooking.

Tuesday 27-Jul

Bikin'The postponed bike ride was set for after lunch. Morning was spent idling. The sky was intermittently overcast and it was relatively cool, probably under thirty degrees. That meant that I was prepared to try cycling as early as two-thirty in the afternoon. A few days previously and that would have been out of the question.

Off I went to the bike rental place. There are a number of them in town, of course, but I’d picked Cicli Bizzarri purely on the name. Well, also because it was quite close to home, at Piazza Santa Maria, about one o’clock on the Lucca clockface. The ramp up onto the wall-top road is quite gentle at that location. Its Westward direction suggested a counter-clockwise circumnavigation, and I went along.

I didn’t really count off the bastions or anything, just observed the townscapes as I gently rode round. With the sun still quite high, there were many stretches where the shadows of the trees didn’t shade the road, and it was hot, but on the South side of the city that was moderated by a nice breeze.

At my modest speed, it took about twenty minutes to get back round to Porta Santa Maria. The rental period was an hour (for €2.50) giving me more time to fill. I turned round and started circling the walls clockwise. Different views. Halfway round though, I had an idea. I’d seen an aqueduct marked on the map, South of town, on the far side of the railway tracks. There was a footbridge shown too.

Well, I’m simplifying. The aqueduct was shown on one map, which was at home, and the footbridge was shown on the map I had with me, but the aqueduct wasn’t. Anyway, I cycled out of town, became a pedestrian to get across the main road at the crossing, and then again to take the bike up the steps of the railway footbridge and down the other side.

At the other side, I tried to start riding again, but found that the bumping up and down steps had caused the chain to come off. It took several minutes to get it in place, but fortunately there wasn’t much black grease on it and my hands became only moderately dirty. I set off in what I thought might be the location of the aqueduct, but I didn’t find it. I did get to cycle round a bit of modern Lucca outside the walls though, and that was interesting in itself.

At a junction, I saw another cyclist turn into a road marked as a dead end, pointing towards the city centre. Guessing that he knew where he was going, I followed, and indeed, there was a bike and pedestrian underpass, under both the railway and the main road. That wasn’t on any of my maps.

Coming into the city through a pedestrian gate at about the seven o’clock position, I realised that I’d be cutting it fine to ride round the walls to return the bike in less than an hour. I elected to cycle through the old town alleys to go there directly instead. That West end of town isn’t really a tourist-infested zone, meaning that the trip was not complicated by having to avoid gormless pedestrians.

I handed back the bike and paid the very reasonable charge (they take your passport or driving licence as security, allowing the bill to be calculated and paid at the end). Then I took a stroll down the main high-class shopping street, Via Fillungi. Some people do cycle down it, probably locals, but idiot tourists are always stepping into their way.
Tower interiorAt the Piazza Napoleone, the roadies were setting up and sound-checking for Placebo. There was a ridiculous number of guitars and basses on the stage, about thirty in total. The use of multiple guitars during a show has always seemed to me to be pretentious bullshit (maybe two, or at most three, for different sounds or tunings) but that was really laughable. Or maybe there were eight support bands playing that I hadn’t heard about.

At that stage, (SWIDT?), several hours ahead of the gig, I only saw a few obvious Placebo fans in uniform. I thought I’d probably see more if I was around after the show. Obviously, during the show, they’d be inside and I wouldn’t. It became overcast again, and I heard the sound of thunder, and a few drops of rain fell, but rain didn’t get going. The forecast had been that the first rain might be on Friday, and I hoped it wouldn’t arrive in advance and spoil the gig for the fans.

I went out in the early evening, intending to have dinner out, but I went for a walk around the main areas of town first. At around eight-thirty I could hear that Placebo had already started. Loud.

I settled on an outdoor restaurant in Piazza Antefero. There are about six, all fairly touristy, and the one I picked had very slow service, but the food was good. As I sat there, facing the piazza, it gradually got dark, and lights came on in some of the buildings around the perimeter. It was the fist time that it had occurred to me that people might live in those medieval buildings. On the ground floor, facing the square, it’s all shops, bars and restaurants, but obviously some of the space above is residential.

Then I thought, “Where are their front doors?”, but realised immediately that they must be on the outer-facing walls. That’s where some of the Roman stonework and brickwork of the amphitheatre is still visible. I’d like to live in a house that was partly Roman.

I finished my meal and walked back down to towards the outdoor gig, to one of the alleys where you could get a glimpse of one of the big screens, although not the stage. Placebo were still playing and it was ten-thirty, so credit to them for giving their fans value for money. I stayed to listen to the last few songs, and then off they went, leaving a loop of Philip Glass playing (the piano intro from the duet in Satragrahiya). At that point, the barriers were opened, and people rushed in. I followed, hoping for an encore, but no,  that was it. I walked home with the sounds of Philip Glass in my ears.

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2 thoughts on “Lucca, I’m in Tuscany

  1. Hi, I’ve just discovered your article about Lucca and really enjoyed it. It was interesting to read your sensations as a tourist.
    I have been living here for over 20 years so risk loosing all the little differences that make Lucca so quaint and liveable.
    I loved the bit about the gentleman beautifully turned out in ironed socks!
    Not so sure that the lady was an upper classed tart though maybe she just fancied you a little.
    Glad you caught a bit of Lucca Summer Festival, I work for them and have some interesting stories to tell about the stars but maybe next time I write.

    If you are still in Lucca at the beginning of September, don’t miss Murabilia (link to http://tiny.cc/1wpl6), one of the most important garden shows in Italy in one of the most beautiful settings!

    Cheers,
    Sarah

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