Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Festa di Santa Croce, Lucca

September is a good month to be in Lucca and many people know it.  Classes have literally tripled in size.  I learned that people often choose to come to Lucca in Sept. to learn italian because of the September events.  Currently, there's a film festival occurring and every Italian I've met thus far has used "film festival" interchangeably with "David Lynch."  Apparently he's a kind of a big deal here.   He may actually be a big deal back home but I did have to google him. I'll admit that I'm embarrassingly lacking in film knowledge and I think Top Gun is a fantastic cultural film.  Shame on me right?

The biggest of the big festivals in Lucca is the Festa di Santa Croce, and what a town party it was.  During Santa Croce, the city is lit up........in candles.  When we first walked around the corner it looked like Christmas lights (oh happy me).  A slightly closer inspection and you see that this city actually put up and lit thousands, upon thousands of candles.  Sister cities from around the world visit and participate in the processional of Volto Santo or Holy Face.  David Lynch may have to share his title because Volto Santo is definitely a big deal here.  It's a wooden carving attributed back to contemporaries of Joseph Arimathea and is referenced in Dante's Inferno.  Lucca is believed to have had possession of this relic since the 700s.   While I'm familiar with Holy Grail stories as they pertain to medieval literature and Arthurian legend, it was pretty fascinating to learn about these Holy Grail type legends within Italian culture.

I couldn't even begin to capture the number of candles that were put up in the city.  We watched men in ladder trucks still taking down lights weeks after the event ended.  

Piazza San Michele, barely standing room only.

What's an Italian festa without an Italian aperitivo?  The aperol spritz has become a wonderful, warm weather friend.  It's a bit on the sweet side but when in Italy....

The processional ends inside of the church of San Martino.  The young and more ambitious than me crowd stays (or comes) for the midnight fireworks show.  It sounded like quite the show as I listened to it from the welcoming comfort of my bed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Happy 1st birthday to this sweet little man, my favoritest nephew in the whole world.  I was lucky enough to see him dumping oatmeal on his head on this very special 1st birthday.  

Where does time go?  My dad FaceTimed (new verb) me today to let me know it's been 9 days since I last posted and to ensure I was still alive.  Thanks Dad.  Who knows where time goes?   I skipped out on class (which still feels both good and wrong after all these years) and headed out for a long weekend in Venice.  You know normal stuff.  How will I cope with life when I go back to saying real  things like "This weekend?  I'm going to Target and then Home Depot."?

I love Venice.  I think it's quite magical despite the crowds.  I am convinced however, that Venice does not return my affection, either that or she's just a little bitchy and temperamental.  Perhaps that's part of her mysterious charm.

Both times I've been to Venice, she's rained.  I know, water, canals, rain--probably normal.  I've been watching the weather though and she's been pretty sunny until I arrived.  She was forecasted to be sunny this past weekend but decided instead to be a wet, rainy, cold mess.  

And both times I've been to Venice, I've run into the infamous train strike and had to scramble to get back. This time it was 5 train changes, and hours of waiting on different trains to see if it would go, or if it would be cancelled as part of the strike.  I've never been so glad to have spent the time learning some Italian.  

Despite all this, Venice is forgiven, because, well, look at her. I love the colors of this building but I really loved listening the little girl in the upper balcony instruct her friend/brother below how and where to scooter. 

And oh yes, the vaparetto.  I think I've learned some of the art of maneuvering for a somewhat decent seat on the crazy, overcrowded, who-is-that-touching-my-ass-and-I-really-don't-want-to-be-touching-this-man's-ass-with-my-face-in-this-person's-armpit, water bus system in Venice.   I actually really like the vaporetto if you can get a seat or a view and I figured out that it just takes a little more walking to the right stop and a little bit of patience. 

Most tourists will jump on the Line 1 or 2 down to St. Mark's square because Rick Steves and all the of the guide books say to.    If you are jumping on 1 or 2 from near the train station, walk up to Piazzale Roma which is just one stop up from Ferrovia (train station)--this will allow you to get on before the large masses that are lined up at Ferrovia.   I actually preferred riding any line that went out to Lido which is an island about 10 minutes past the St. Mark's stop. Some of the vaporettos that go out to Lido will go around the outside of Venice which is a great way to see Venice from the open waters, minus any crowds.  Once at Lido, getting a seat on Line 1 back up the Grand Canal was pretty easy--I was able to get a front seat with a wonderful open-air view each time.  Once that vaporetto makes it back up to St. Mark's, it's standing room only again.   You can of course also just jump on Line 1 and ride it out to Lido and then snag a seat up front for the ride back as the masses disembark at St. Mark's or Lido.  

I'm guessing that in Venice, children learn pretty quickly that having a fit and throwing your toys doesn't work out well. 

True to form, I was in St. Mark's at 7:00am before the crowds to grab a few photos.  Can you believe this is the same place that will be a mob scene in just a few hours?

While the rain isn't that fun for siteseeing, it does look quite peaceful here doesn't it? 

I don't remember where this was taken but there was not a person to be seen.  Definitely wander off the crowded paths.

It goes without saying that there are some pretty good eats in Venice.  L'Osteria di S. Marina was a recommendation from a friend and it didn't disappoint.  I did spend a good 1.5 hours of vaporetto rides and leisurely meandering with a map to find this restaurant.  On my last day in Venice, after checking out, I wandered to the left from the hotel since I had a few hours before my train.  I ran into the restaurant 7 minutes later.  Seriously, Venice defies all logic.  

Yes, little cutie stuffed calamari.  

How cool is she?  Next time I go to Venice I want to stay on the grand canal and sit in the window and read like her.  She is my hero.

I vaporetto stalked this man because he had a plaid umbrella and kept walking by such lovely backgrounds.  Line 1 is a definitely a great siteseeing vaporetto to take--it is slow because it stops at every stop.  It's perfect for vaporetto stalking people. 

Here we are a few stops up the line.

And of course, Venice at night--I think this is where she really shines.  When you see her lights twinkling and reflecting off the canals, you know that in the end, she can do no real wrong.  Did I mention that I love this city?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pisa at Sunset

I almost didn't go to Pisa because if you've seen the tower once, you are set right?  Others tried to convince me though, that there was much more to the town than the tower AND it is only a 25 minute train ride from here.  People fly around the world to see the tower and I can't ride a train 25 minutes to see if the tower is worth a second look?

I also remembered that the last time I was in Pisa I was using disposable film cameras because I'd dropped my camera two stories onto concrete on the Italian Riviera.  See, the Riveria is not all fun and games and romance. 

With a fully functioning camera, I headed off after class one day to catch a bit of the golden hour in Pisa.  A lot of people comment on how far Pisa Centrale is from the tower (just about a 20-30 minute walk). If you are coming from Lucca, that train will often stop at Pisa S. Rossore station which is just a couple of blocks from the Field of Miracles where the tower stands. 

I tried walking around the city, I really did, but I just wasn't getting the "I love this place" vibe.  Sorry Pisa. 

I admit the tower itself is a pretty phenomenal site--you can't help but wonder how this thing hasn't fallen over.  I didn't climb it again but it's a nice little climb if you haven't done it.  The steps are grooved and worn from hundreds of thousands of visitors climbing up.  

I'm actually growing to like the electronic view finder in the Fuji X-E2 that I hated, hated, hated at first.  Technology evolution right?

I've heard many a photographer rave about Fuji's black and white settings.  True enough that you can change any photo into black and white in post processing, but black and white is more than desaturation of a photo.  In camera, it was pretty interesting to see shadows, darks and lights that are not always as obvious in color. I found I did adjust the settings differently in B&W.  Funny how I type that and then lead with a B&W that is mostly grey and sadly missing some whites.

Side story--I had an Italian cut and color this week...what an experience.  Eight weeks is a long time without any hair lovin and so I asked for a recommendation from my teacher and headed off to make an appt.

Filippo spoke minimal english and started out the appt asking in broken english if I was ready "for a really big change" and motioned an above the ear cut.  That was almost the end of the Italian hair adventure there.  After he reassured me that he would only cut off the dry ends, we were good to go.  I walked away with great color but sadly minus 5 inches of hair.  It was relatively painless except for when Filippo pointed to the hair graveyard on the floor and asked quite pointedly, "Why?!"   I had managed to to surprise a veteran hair guy with my over-the-top, dry-as-the-sahara, feels-like-straw-and-twigs hair and you know he's seen some pretty bad hair.  After explaining to him in caveman Italian something about Beyonce caramel highlights and blondish ends, getting a bit of ombre on last year, and all the other words that sounded pretty stupid as I said them out loud, I hung my head in shame as he told me "No, only natural color for you."  Ouch, but I have to admit I love having healthy shiny ends again.

If I tilt my head to the side, my hair looks longer. 

The crowds thin out around 6ish as the last tour buses pull out.  It's a bit of a shame really because Pisa at sunset and at night is definitely worth a visit.