Tales of a wandering lesbian

Molto Gentile

I just got back from dinner with two of the nicest people I think I’ve ever met. We met two weeks ago on my first night here. Giovanna and Franca live in the city of Lucca, a wonderfully beautiful city that lies within an ancient wall. They live near the base of the Guinigi tower in a beautiful flat that overlooks a giant clock-tower and piazza.

I am spending the weekend in their home – an extra adventure from my day-to-day in Barga and Fornaci.

The day started with my figuring out the train schedule from Fornaci to Lucca, packing for the weekend, and seeing Sandra and Deb off for their own adventure on a family cruise. Sandra’s mom, Albertina, and I waved goodbye as the van pulled away, and then headed back into the house, as she mumbled about how I don’t speak; shaking her head and looking concernedly at me.


I pulled out a couple of words of Italian, and it seemed to make her feel a little better about me. I went upstairs with the dogs and she went downstairs to bustle around the garden.

As I finished up packing, Berti came by to say “ciao.” In Italy, you don’t just say goodbye. You say ciao, and then you talk for a while. Then you say ciao and talk for a bit longer. When you finally say ciao, it’s more like “cia-ciao,” or as Deb says on the phone “cia-cia-ci-ci-ci-ci-ciao”. The problem is that Berti and I can’t chat so much, so she came in, kissed me on both cheeks and then said ciao, looked at me, shrugged, said ciao, shook her haid, said ciao, smiled and said ciao, and then left. I took that as a good sign. I think it was a breakthrough for us.

As I went to grab my gear, and get ready to leave, I noticed it had gotten substantially darker in the house. The dogs were both firmly inside, as well. About 10 minutes before I was set to walk to the train station, the rain came. Cazzo!

Not to be daunted, I grabbed my rain pants and pulled out the rain cover I bought for my backpack. Why not test everything to its fullest on its maiden voyage? I mean seriously, why not. Everything fit beautifully.

Rain Gear

I rounded up the dogs, picked up the keys, locked the door and headed out. The first stop was the “New York Cafe,” a nice little shop around the corner from Deb and Sandra’s that serves all manner of pannini, pizza and paste (pastry). (Update:  evidently the name of the shop is actually “Pasticceria De Servi”. “New York Cafe” is the brand of coffee they serve.  Of course.) I had been instructed in my first days in Italy that you can never go to someone’s house without bringing something. So I stopped for a bite of lunch and paste. After picking out a fantastic egg sandwich and a plate of paste, I gently packed the lovely pastries in the place I’d saved in the top of my pack just for them, and struck out to find the station, egg sandwich in hand.

Paste PackEgg Pannini

Sandra and Deb had told me that the station was at a “T” in the road with big trees lining the street, and pointed in the general direction . There are a lot of big trees in Italy, and a lot of forking roads. So, after a short, slippery walk on not so wide shoulders of the wrong road, I made my way to the stazione, figured out the ticket machine (I even managed before a local could work it out), remembered to validate my ticket, and even got on the correct train (with the help of the same local who couldn’t work the ticket machine).

After a beautiful and thought-filled train ride with a load of apparently commuting high-school students, I reached Lucca, where Franca and Giovanna picked me up. Two hours and two cappuccini later (neither of which I was allowed to buy), we had attended a conference on prostitution (as in violence against women, not a how-to course), gone shopping with another friend, Vittoria; and I finally had my first Italian copy of Harry Potter e la pietra filosofale. (I am 100 percent – cento per cento – convinced that this is how I will become fluent in Italian.)

Harry Italian

Then it was off to dinner at the house of yet another friend. It is amazing to me how open people have been with me. Not only do they open their homes for dinner, preparing vegetarian meals for a stranger, but they open the houses of their friends and families as well. A woman I met for the first time tonight asked me if I’d like to spend a few days with her daughter. Then she bought me a macchiato. Seriously, she asked Giovanna to send my phone number so we could plan the trip. Amazing.

Dinner was lovely. We spent an hour in an extended vocab lesson. I find fascinating the usage of words that sound similar – probably because I’m listening all day, trying to identify words, and noting the sounds that I hear repeated most often. This seems to be very endearing, because every time I ask a question like “is ‘fiore’ ‘outside’ or ‘flower’” I find a new person who is willing to spend a ridiculous amount of time talking with me about the language. (By the way, fiore is flower and fuori is outside or out.” They sound super similar when spoken by the people around me.)

Then we spent another hour or so eating – eggplant, zucchini, peppers, garbanzos, bread, rice, and a fabulous pair of torte, one made of apples and one made of vegetables. Eight of us sat around the table by the end of the meal. We had decided that, even though most spoke better English than I spoke Italian, it was important for me to learn. So the talk was almost exclusively in Italian. I don’t have my verb tenses sorted out yet, but everyone was super kind and super helpful as I muddled along. We shared vocab words for each and every item on the table (and some on the floor, including a fabulous doormat that had a 3-D Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

Snow White et al

We left with hugs, kisses and more vocab words hurled back and forth on our way out the door.

Back in Lucca, Giovanna and Franca showed me to my private suite complete with an amazing Italian bathtub (very deep and luxurious). Then, with sly grins, they pulled out a bag of clothes. O dio! Time for a dress up party. Evidently, after my last visit to Lucca – one week ago – they put aside some clothes that they thought would fit me and suit me. I was more than a little skeptical, but after Franca put the first jacket on my shoulders, all doubt went out the window – into the beautiful piazza below.

Tomorrow when I go to Viareggio – a city on the Mediterranean sea – with Franca, Giovanna and Vittoria, I’ll look less like the American visitor in my fabulous long wool coat. And the white and navy jacket that Franca says is for summer is going to be worn long before it’s warm out. Maybe just around the house – when I’m practicing my Italian vocabulary.

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November 8, 2009   5 Comments