Saturday, June 13, 2009

Labor Day at the Beginning of the Summer?

Trofie Wife has a vague memory of dancing around a May Day pole at her fancy suburban nursery school, yet said nursery school did not go forth to inculcate other important information about May 1 pertaining to worker’s rights, Marx, or the Communist Party (that’s what the Columbia education was for). So it was a long time coming to be in a country where they actually celebrate this holiday by having tens of thousands of union members marching in the streets, with nary a festive pole in sight. Of course, May 1, being the rest of the world’s Labor Day, has also devolved into the usual three-day weekend replete with packed beaches, trains, and likely a white sale here or there. So with the plight of the noble worker (as well as a respite from the dour Genoa skies) in mind, Martello and Trofie Wife decamped further south, landing in Tuscany.

When we arrived at the Genoa station, we noticed a fairly large uptick in the number of English speakers, which we attributed to study abroad programs getting out of session and young backpackers thus making their way through multiple European countries. Not long after we took our seats, we were joined by another American couple, roughly our age (perhaps a bit younger), and enjoyed chatting with them all the way to Pisa (we had hoped to make it to Siena, but since we made our plans last minute, every room in the city was booked). Our amazing moment with these New Hampshire natives was when, after two hours of talking and learning that the female was a professional cheesemaker and they were traveling through France and Italy prior to interning at a dairy just outside of Zurich, we finally introduced ourselves. The cheesemaker’s name? Bessie. Yup. Bessie. Now, that’s kind of funny, but it’s not really something on which you comment. Well, unless you’re Martello. After she finished, dear, dear Martello said something like, “Are you kidding? You make cheese and your name is Bessie? Like a cow?” Although Trofie Wife was embarrassed beyond all measure and apologized for his tactlessness (honesty?), Bessie proclaimed that she got that all the time (so now not only was he tactless but clich├ęd…). In the end, no harm was done, and we learned a lot about enzymes and Camembert and then went our separate ways into the Tuscan sun upon reaching the Pisa station.

Martello sourced a delightful old hotel, the Royal Victoria, which is located across from the smelly, mosquito-infested Arno River and has neverthless welcomed guests for over 150 years. The rooms hearken back to the first great era of transcontinental travel; Eloise would have found numerous fantastic hiding places amongst the marble lobbies and heavy wooden doors. Incidentally, there was a cool pan-European marketplace set up across the river. We snagged some really yummy gigantic Hungarian donut; it was nice getting back to a portion of my roots via piping hot fried dough covered in coconut!

We spent that Friday afternoon walking around the university quarter, Piazza dei Cavalieri, and Piazza dei Miracoli (otherwise known as Piazza del Duomo, where that sorta famous tower rests). The area around the Duomo was packed with tourists, and the tower looked much cleaner than I remembered it being when I first visited almost 11 years ago to the day. Near nightfall we walked through what must have once been the Jewish quarter and were saddened to see red paint splattered on the synagogue, although, thankfully, the signs in memory of victims of the Holocaust that were scattered on various buildings remained free from desecration.

We spent Saturday in the famed walled city of Lucca, best known on this blog for its ban inside the city walls on any new restaurants serving inauthentic cuisine (more on that in a bit). Bicycles are a big thing in Lucca. Tourists rent them so they can circle the city walls (turned into a cool park—perhaps a precursor of the High Line?) and aggravate the locals in town. For those of you who haven’t been privy to this information before, Trofie Wife holds the distinction of being one of the few individuals on the planet who forgot how to ride a bike. I promise, it can happen (and if you were on KTJ’s Midnight Bike Ride in Fall 2001, you know all too well). Martello, an on-again, off-again avid biker, has successfully coaxed me on to said contraption one or two other times on various vacations over the years, but basically, I’m just not interested in falling. Well, I’m happy to report that I successfully biked around Lucca and even enjoyed it! So much so that I might actually get on a bike again…maybe…we’ll see... .


I’m on a bike!

After returning our bikes, we headed to Duomo San Michele, which we followed up with a visit to San Martino, which features a Last Supper by Tintoretto that depicts a woman nursing a baby (I’m sure Dan Brown would have something to say about that; I couldn’t find anything via Google) as well as an important sculpture of the Holy Face (Volto Santo), which was carried back from the Middle East many centuries ago (sadly, no picture-taking allowed). We missed the last entrance for the Torre Guinigi and Torre delle Ore, but I feel like we’ve climbed enough towers in this country and Switzerland to last us for quite a while.

Now about that foreign-food ban. Trofie Wife had desperately wanted to chow down on some falafel within the historic walls of Lucca. But sadly, we could not find a sit-down falafel restaurant con un bagno when we finally grabbed our late lunch. So we had authentic soups (which were pretty good). I tried to purchase a falafel outside the walls prior to boarding the return train, but unfortunately, the place only had shawarma (I’m not a fan). We’ll just have to return to Lucca so we can protest this ridiculous ban.

Sunday was devoted to the many sights in the Piazza dei Miracoli. We toured the duomo, baptistery, and hallowed Camposanto (the cemetery). Aided by our Jewish guide to Italy, we thought we had located Jewish graves within the Camposanto. However, we were mistaken. We had actually seen the gates to the Jewish cemetery (that was where the guidebook was directing us) on Friday and hadn't realized it. Oh well. Apparently it opened in the 13th century.

Pisa Duomo


Some sort of structural deficiency...

Martello filmed an awesome video of the acoustic effects in the baptistery, which allow for the appearance of an entire choir singing multiple notes, when in fact just one person is carrying a tune. Listen for yourselves (the video is at the bottom of the page).

Until it was time to head back (on three separate trains), I napped while Martello enjoyed sketching in the grassy piazza, grass in a piazza being a rare thing for Italy, which helps to explain why it is such a popular spot for lounging (with university students all around, playing ball and Frisbee, although signs clearly state that it is forbidden... ah Italy and unheeded rules…). It is reminiscent of the Steps and Quad on a gorgeous late spring or early fall day. On the way home, possibly near the train station labeled “Forte dei Marmi,” we passed revelers dressed in medieval garb carrying blue and white flags and cross bows and arrows. I never did find out what was going on there...

All in all it was a relaxing weekend for a very hard worker (or two).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

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