Day one in Europe had been a smashing success so I started our second day in Europe the way I always greet the morning in new and exciting places. I open my eyes and stare slack-jawed at the ceiling assessing the energy states of various portions of my body. After multiple systems tests (Toe wiggle, check! Eyes can blink independently, check! Nostrils flare…) I was ready to start the day.
Breakfast was indeed an international affair and the kids… whew. It’s hard to fathom just how MUCH energy small children can bring to the table. Any table. Breakfast table, dinner table, the periodic table of elements, a table of contents… it just doesn’t matter, they bring it full out. I love it as I’m little more than a large child myself, but I’m old. I participate until I don’t, then I just have fun watching.
Jo and I decide that we’ll head into town with Anastasia and the kids for the morning to get a closer look at the town by light of day and let Steve work. After that I wanted to try our Global Eurail Pass in controlled circumstances so we’d take a train ride to Florence to spend the afternoon. Before that, Steve and I headed to the grocery store across the street to pick up some staples.
It’s a grocery store and aside from the language, I figured it couldn’t be that different than home. I mean, aside from the product quality, prices, selection, range and variety of product, regulatory regime and storage methods… the procedure for self-service of produce and bulk items, method of payment, currency and local customs, it was exactly like home.
There was a hand held device with which you tracked your purchases and this was new to me. I draw the line at wearing electronic ankle bracelets. Italy must be two generations ahead of Nova Scotia in respect to grocery store technology. The deli case was particularly fascinating with an incredible assortment of meats and cheese. I helped Steve load up the cart with staples and then paid for the groceries when we went through the cash.
Later on Joanne and I would make the mistake of thinking we could just shop there which proved not to be the case. Had I understood Italian, I might have realized this was an Italian Co-op and we weren’t members. However this trip to the grocery proved a success. After we arrived back to the house, Steve the Translator retired to his office, to translate things. Anastasia and the kids piled into the car with Jo and I and we headed in to the walled town of Lucca.
Shop Til You Drop
After we parked, the girls decided to walk around and Joanne wanted to shop. Our shopping styles are vastly different. If shopping were athletics, I would be Usain Bolt. On your mark… get set… and I’m already back. I know what I want, I get it and I’m gone. Joanne is more like Rick Swenson, six time winner of the Iditarod, the two week or so dogsled race held in Alaska. If you lined that 1,000 mile course with shops, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could check out every store and snaffle up every rare bargain.
My feeble frontal lobes cannot wrap themselves around this phenomenon so I often tend not to go on safari with her when she’s shopping, at least when we’re at home. That being said, I have had a lot of fun shopping with Joanne when I pick the right moments, so I can appreciate why she enjoys it as a pastime and finds it relaxing. I fully endorse her shop till you drop philosophy! From the man cave easy chair mostly. In this instance she and Anastasia were comfortable so I begged off and broke off the group on a mission of my own.
Smoke Shop Culture Shock Therapy
Confession time for those who don’t know me personally, but I’m a smoker. This isn’t a monkey on my back, it’s Mighty Joe Young I’m carrying around. I’ve quit for varying amounts of time but at some point I end up going back and stress is the trigger. For Joanne’s part, she approaches this with equanimity so long as I don’t invade her space. I’d stopped smoking a few days before we’d headed to Europe and had been doing okay up to that point, however Mighty Joe began gently roaring into my ear. What now?
There are no 7-11’s or Needs in Lucca. In fact, there were no convenience stores of any kind, anywhere in Lucca.
For some odd reason, Italians don’t see value in a shop that’s open 24/7 and sells everything that’s bad for you and legal in one location. As it turns out, cigarettes are only sold at a tabaccheria, or a tobacco shop. It’s worth noting these shops are only open from 8-5 in Lucca. It struck me that pretty much everything was only open from 8-5 in Lucca with the exception of restaurants. I had no idea what to look for as the shop fronts all looked the same and I couldn’t read the signs. Fortunately, I was in the piazza in front of the San Michele cathedral and upon which operated numerous buskers. Hmmm….
Mission accomplished. I smoked two and dumped the pack. I’d only give in to the temptation once more in Berlin. That tally would be twice more but for the fact the only other time I was tempted was after our return from Rome. I went into deep search mode of the surrounding area of Steve’s house and found a shop which was closed. These shops have cigarette machines out front reminiscent of the cigarette machines of long ago in North America with the exception they don’t take coins or cash.
There’s nothing quite so pathetic as a Jonesing smoker trying desperately to read and comprehend the instructions on an Italian cigarette machine using the Google translate sign reader app thing as one’s only tool. Oh, how I tried to make it take a card, any card! Pleasepleaseplease… well. It wasn’t pretty and I lost in the end.
What made it all the more ridiculous was the fact I had an inkling from what I’d gleaned that an Italian government I.D. proclaiming your incorrigible nature was required but I was in deep, deep, denial and tried anyway. However, all of that was a trial yet to come and at the moment I had about an hour to kill before meeting up with the ladies.
San Michele from the Inside
I thought I’d check out the interior of the San Michele Basilica which we’d passed the evening before on our way to restaurant. It was a well lit interior, which wouldn’t prove always to be the case in other historic locations. I can also say it was a striking interior.
I have a passing knowledge of the Catholic church, but in my experience I do have a sense of its value on deep tradition and the importance of ritual and all of that was in evidence here. There’s something about polished marble and wood that resonates and is compelling not just aesthetically, but on a deeper emotional level. I have mixed feelings in respect to how religious organizations use their resources, but on any level I can appreciate the beauty in the moment.
I’m still kind of awestruck with the work that goes into these structures given when they were built. That sense of awe would become magnified as we visited more metropolitan areas where the sheer scale was seriously mind boggling. If you stacked four Costco’s and put a couple of spires on them, you’d get a sense of the size of the 337 foot tall St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
Even though San Michele was of a modest size, I still have difficulty wrapping my head around the comprehensive display of craftsmanship by medieval artists, artisans and masons. To essentially stack stone like this successfully and with such precision using 13th century technology is quite the accomplishment. I’d really appreciate this fact after visiting Florence and seeing what treasures 13th century medical technology held at the Da Vinci Museum. Yikes! Their priorities were sure messed up. Less church building, more R&D on medicine stuff that doesn’t involve leeches and the eye of a newt would have served them better. No matter, it was a beautiful church and after taking it all in, I was off to meet the girls. and from there to the train station to head to Florence.
Previously on TTWTH: Lucca Both Ways Before You Cross the Cobblestone Part I
Next Time on TTWTH: Florence and I are the Best of Firenze Part I