Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lucca, Viareggio, Colonnata

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2-IMG_0873Three hours to explore Lucca, a walled city not far north of Pisa. Puccini was born here in 1858, just off the Piazza San Michele, into a line of church organists. With little vehicle traffic, it's easy to wander through the town with little to interrupt your thoughts. Highlights were the Piazza Anfiteatro, a ring of medieval buildings built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre and the tree-topped Torre Guinigi. I climbed this tower; Bondi came up halfway to where stone steps gave way to steel ladders. As one mounts the final steps, it feels like emerging from a deep well in the ground as the oak trees above form a canopy over the tower-top.

Lucca - Piazza Amphitheatre

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1-View from Tower Giuligni

PucciniOver lunch I continued my reading of "The Empress of Ireland", Christopher Robbins' account of his friendship with the prolific Irish film director Brian Desmond Hurst. The first half of the book had recounted many humorous aspects of larger-than-life Hurst, born into Belfast poverty in 1895. As I took up my reading again, Hurst is relating to Robbins his experience in the field of war at Gallipoli, a battlefield tragedy familiar to all Australians. Quite unexpectedly this witty memoir pushed out an intensely moving and intimate picture of life and death for these young men, a single white lily weeping in a meadow of daisies. I also began to weep, holding the book over my face as its contents took hold.
8th floor - gardening supplies  Piazza Napoleon4-IMG_0887  1-IMG_08812-IMG_0885  O sole mute
Lucca cathedral

Viareggio beach 1Viareggio, resort town, but judging from its seaside street, determined to hide any evidence of the beach behind it. When I did find my way through to the beach - a gap in the wall of fun parlours and hotels - it was swarming with teenagers, perhaps just finished exams. The place reminded me of Australia's Gold Coast during "schoolies' week".

Viareggio beach
From the beach I could see the appearance of snow cover on the Alpi Apuane mountains behind Carrara to the north. This is actually the marble quarries that have been running for most of the period AD, and are still the world's largest.
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Colonnata: where Italy loses its marbles

I took it into my head to drive up to Colonnata for a closer look. As we quickly ascended on the mountain roads, marble souvenir shops abounded. It was like visiting all the world's bathrooms in one go. Beside roadside shacks or in the backyards of little houses in Colonnata there was evidence of weekend sculpting projects. Everywhere there were discarded marble fragments, ashtrays in embryo. No place was too ordinary to have a marble staircase, or at least marble lintels.

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I saw that Colonnata had a Lardorium and some other delicatessen-like stores, and assumed that the title referred to "larder". Back in Vicopisano, Jon said that Colonnata was actually the local "lard" capital, the fat being prepared in marble containers, if not actually sculpted into the form of Michelangelo's David.
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My head nearly exploded with road rage on the way back. On my 3 hour drive from Turin to Venice last week I had rarely seen anyone use an indicator to change lanes, except the occasional truck, pulling out immediately in front of you and then signalling "look what I just did! I changed lanes but you may not have noticed if your face has been pulped against my rear end." On the shorter drive from Colonnata back to Vicopisano, the road behaviour seemed even worse. The disregard shown for other road users, pedestrians, anything between an Italian driver and their destination borders on the criminal. After witnessing similar derilection in Spain (and a slower but sometimes as dangerous disregard in Ireland), I wondered if there was a particular mindset at work in Catholic countries: overwhelm God with thousands of misdemeanours and traffic infractions, and maybe he'll overlook the big stuff...
 

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