I can’t believe I have been gone from the States for a month now. Honestly, I didn’t think I would survive this excursion during those first few days in Madrid, and now here it is a month. I have to say that each day I enjoy it more and more than the last (I know what you are thinking… ”Bitch, stop rubbing it in,” but since we all know the shit storm I went through the past couple of years, to feel the clouds clearing truly is a blessing that I welcome with immense gratitude). To celebrate, I got up and had a big, juicy peach, a sugar-covered ciambella (known as a donut in American, but this sounds so much more decadent, doesn’t it?), and a nice helping of sweet cream latte, then jumped on a train to Lucca. I am not sure where Lucca is located exactly, but I think it is in the same direction as Pisa (at least I saw signs for Pisa when I arrived in Lucca, so that’s the story I am sticking with). I read about it online briefly the other night, probably on Google, so I thought, well, why not – it is only an hour train ride that costs 5-euros (cheaper than going to another museum or church), so I struck out on a little adventure for the day.
The train-ride crossed gorgeous countrysides plump with ruby and gold grapes, covered in powdered sugar so glittered just like Elizabeth Taylor sized jewelry in the sun, eager for harvest. The air was fresh and full of the smell of leaves changing color in the fall. It was so nice to leave the noise of a big city for a while and enjoy the quaint setting of a small town set inside one of the oldest city walls in Europe that are still intact. As I got off the train, I set out on my traditional search of a map of the area to determine the sites that I wanted to visit. After about 30 minutes, I finally located the tourist office, which happens to be the bike rental office, and, on a whim, decided to rent a bike. (Really, my ass has been walking up and down, back and forth for a month now, and it is one of the few modes of transport that I have not yet utilized in Europe, so I was excited to give it a go in a city that I didn’t think I would die on a bike in). The man warned me that they do not have any way of repairing the bikes, so I may have to try a couple before I found one that worked okay (again, I point out how lovely it is that Europeans do not try to coddle my adult ass).
I tried a few and decided on the one that listed a bit to the left – the others had bigger issues, so I kept it simple and just leaned to the right as I rode along, barely missing a car and three pedestrians within the first 50-feet of my maiden voyage. Not wanting to potentially maim anyone, I hopped off the bike and walked into the Puccini Museum. I got conned out of another 7-euros to tour what was one his house, correction flat, but to listen to his Operas as I walked around and perused the original drafts of La Boheme, Tosca, and costume designs of Turandot while listening to his beautiful work was relaxing. I then had a delicious lunch of penne and wine while I wrote. Oddly, I had an Algerian woman try to persuade me into buying some of her jewelry, which I refused, and she showed me her little boy strapped to her back. (Lady – I don’t really do the whole kid thing, so that guilt trip just isn’t effective for me). I went back to writing – and she handed me two bracelets, grabbed my wrist, and said, “for the baby you lost.” (Who was this Voodoo woman, and how did she know about Jack?) Of course, I lost my shit right there in the plaza and started bawling, so she went to sit down and yell at someone on her phone for the next hour while I collected myself.
When I couldn’t take listening to her yelling any longer (and I am not sure how her baby could sleep through it either), I decided to give the whole bike thing after a quart of wine a try, and guess what?! I didn’t kill anyone! In fact, I rode much better after the wine than before – so I am now reassessing and thinking maybe I am part Italian, despite what my family tree claims. I found my way to Cathedral di San Martino where “Il Volto Santo” (The Holy Face) is displayed. The story goes that this sculpture of the sacrifice of Jesus was carved by Nicodemus and arrived in the 13th century to Lucca in an unmanned boat. It also confirms the age-old debate – Jesus was indeed a black man – can I get an Amen?! (Can someone tell me why this wouldn’t be logically true, and if it is, WTF cares anyway? Jesus did some pretty cool shit while he was here, white, black, or blue – he is a much better person than I will ever hope to be, so why get caught up in the details anyway?)
I left the church with a sense of contentment that I didn’t need to see any other historical sites during my visit to Lucca. Instead, I decided to take the bike for a spin around the city walls (because they are big enough that they turned them into a bike path/pedestrian access only park area that Wash Park could never in its wildest dreams hope to be as awesome as). I enjoyed every second of it like I did when I was 10, towards the end of summer break, and the sun was beginning to set, but I didn’t want to stop riding around the creek by my parents’ house, so I would stay out past my curfew and get my ass kicked when I got home. I have learned a thing or two since I was 10 and opted to turn the bike in on time since the office closed at 6:30. In fact, I was early – I turned it in at 5:45 – mainly because I was motivated to grab a glass of wine before I got on a train back to Firenze.
The man I had rented the bike from was gone, but a lovely little German woman was there instead. I handed her my paperwork so that she could give me my rental total for the afternoon. As she reviewed my paperwork, she said, “Oh, you are American!” (“Oh Shit,” I thought) “I like Americans, they are my favorite people,” she went on to explain as I sighed a moment of relief and confusion (someone in Europe who likes Americans – you madam are an anomaly). I then had the honor of hearing her story of how she and her family hid in America during World War II, after her father had escaped from prison. Even though they were living in West Germany, and her father had served in the First World War, they were considered Pond Scum because they were Jewish. Once he escaped, she and her family had to make their way from Germany to a boat leaving for France, then disguise themselves to look like Americans. She said she has been to America three times since and is forever grateful and indebted to our country for saving her family during the war. I grabbed her hand in mine, kissed it, and thanked her for sharing her story as I wept. Then, she started crying too and came out from behind the desk to give me a hug.
I really have no words to express the immense amount of gratitude I have for being a witness to just a peek into the trauma this woman has experienced in life, and to see the beauty and humility that grew from it left me in awe. I walked back to the train station glowing with a feeling I can only describe as grace – this is grace – and in this woman, I saw what it truly, truly means to “get on with living, or get on with dying” (thank you Shawshank Redemption)
Like this beautiful woman who lit up my life today, I choose to get on with living…