Beneath the Walls of Lucca

When describing Lucca to people who have not yet had the good fortune to visit the city, le mura (the walls) are the first feature I mention. But underneath the walls is a whole other world.

Underneath the walls of Lucca.

Underneath the walls of Lucca.

The walls hold important historical significance, having originally been built as a defensive structure during the Renaissance (replacing the earlier Roman and Medieval walls). Today, they serve as a park and gathering spot for city dwellers and visitors and as a symbol of the city. They are also strikingly beautiful. Embracing the centro storico (historic old center), the walls were built with three portas or large entryways into the city (today there are six) and with 11 baluardi (baluardo in the singular, meaning a rampart or bastion). Each baluardo juts out from the narrower section of the wall and provides a direct line of sight from one to the next - a tactical advantage when defending against invaders. Today, the baluardi provide extended green spaces, filled with playgrounds, benches, and statues. At least, that's how it appears from the top of the walls. Underneath, however, is a  much more mysterious place.

Beneath Baluardo Santa Croce, an exit through the walls.

Beneath Baluardo Santa Croce, an exit through the walls.

In Renaissance times, the portions of the bastions lying under the walls, cavernous spaces with vaulted ceilings, would have held soldiers, horses, and the materials needed to wage battle against an invading army. The soldiers needed a way into these spaces from the city as well as a way out on the far side of the wall - such a passageway through a bastion is called a sortita ( like the French word "sortie" or exit).  To prevent the invaders from using the sortita as a route into the city, they were designed as narrow, twisting passageways that could be easily defended. The passages were at one time mostly abandoned, but one by one, each sortita has been restored, and the result is breathtaking. 

The gate at this sortita leads to the spalti (green spaces) outside the walls.

The gate at this sortita leads to the spalti (green spaces) outside the walls.

In contrast to bright Tuscan vistas, fellow walkers, trees, statues and bicyclists - the typical sights when atop the walls - I am often alone when in a sortita or with only a few other people around. In the sortita it is quiet, cool, and dimly lit. The views are of intricate brick and stonework, arched passageways, massive wooden doors and iron gates and - sometimes - art. Yes, art. 

While these underground rooms and passageways are beautiful in their own right, the restored areas are now also used as spaces for exhibitions and events. On my most recent visit, tucked inside several of the sortite, I found paper sculptures from the Cartasia Biennale d’Arte 2016 exhibit. A pair of giant apes, multicolored spheres, head-in-the-sand ostriches, and the hoodie-covered head of a young man were among the paper art on display.

Yes, these colorful spheres are made of paper. According to one guide, they represent the cannon balls that were once stored here.

Yes, these colorful spheres are made of paper. According to one guide, they represent the cannon balls that were once stored here.

Cartasia Biennale d’Arte is a biennial exhibit of paper as an art form (paper production is a leading industry in the area around Lucca). The artists represent countries from around the world and their work is beautiful and infused with social and political meaning. During the exhibition, the paper pieces are displayed above ground throughout Lucca for two months. Afterward, the artwork is moved to the spaces under the walls, in part to protect the fragile paper construction from the elements. This unique “museum” is free and always open. The next exhibition will be held from July to September 2018, at which time the theme will be “Chaos and Silence.”  

The curves and stonework, shadows and light, all add to the beauty of the underground passageways.

The curves and stonework, shadows and light, all add to the beauty of the underground passageways.

Silence is the music of the sortita. The restoration work included adding lighting, which shows off the beauty of the inner walls, illuminates the way through the passages and casts shadows that add to the atmosphere of the underground space. Aside from viewing the artwork and coming across an occasional other visitor, I spent my time simply wandering the halls. Of course, just like the aboveground walls, a sortita has a utilitarian function: It provides another way for pedestrians to enter and exit the historical center of Lucca.

For me, the wall above and the sortita below are examples of something I appreciate about Italy: preservation of the past in a way that enhances the present.

-post by JG (with an assist from JB)

At the end of a passageway is a beautiful wooden door.

At the end of a passageway is a beautiful wooden door.

Merry Christmas to All

We here at Two Parts Italy want to wish all of our readers a wonderful holiday season!

This Christmas, Joanne and I both are staying in New Mexico, which has a holiday spirit all its own. Here is a bit of what Christmas here looks like:

Luminarias, which are called farolitos in northern New Mexico, adorn an adobe building in New Mexico. These simple paper bags are filled with sand and also contain a votive candle, providing a magical glow on Christmas Eve. 

Luminarias, which are called farolitos in northern New Mexico, adorn an adobe building in New Mexico. These simple paper bags are filled with sand and also contain a votive candle, providing a magical glow on Christmas Eve. 

Here's a closer look at luminarias - these light a walkway.

Here's a closer look at luminarias - these light a walkway.

A Western style Christmas tree at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Mini cowboy hats, lariats and handkerchiefs decorate the tree. The lodge is owned by Ted Turner Expeditions.

A Western style Christmas tree at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Mini cowboy hats, lariats and handkerchiefs decorate the tree. The lodge is owned by Ted Turner Expeditions.

A nativity scene, made by a local Native American artist, is a traditional Christmas decoration in New Mexico. 

A nativity scene, made by a local Native American artist, is a traditional Christmas decoration in New Mexico. 

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!  

           -post by JG

 

Keeping Italy Close During the Holidays

Every December, I feel a renewed connection to Italy and other places I’ve visited. The reason for this is that whenever I travel, I try to pick up a Christmas ornament or decoration to bring home with me. This tradition puts a big smile on my face as I decorate my house for the season. I love rediscovering ornaments, hanging some on the tree and placing other decorations on the mantel or on a shelf and thinking of where I found each small treasure.

If you have ever been to Florence, Italy, you know the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the city. This beautiful ornament was purchased at the museum dedicated to Dante in Florence.

If you have ever been to Florence, Italy, you know the fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the city. This beautiful ornament was purchased at the museum dedicated to Dante in Florence.

For a traveler like me, committed to packing light when I travel, tucking a small ornament in my suitcase for the trip home is easy. Even the glass ornaments I have brought back to the States, carried in my suitcase and cradled in clothing for protection, have arrived safely.

This hand-blown glass angel is from Bellagio on lovely Lake Como in northern Italy.

This hand-blown glass angel is from Bellagio on lovely Lake Como in northern Italy.

Another reason for my ornament-collecting tradition is that I have been a fan of minimalism since well before it became trendy. I don’t like a lot of clutter, so I tend to confine mementos from my trips to photos and holiday decorations that are displayed only once a year. For me, that makes my souvenirs a bit more special. They don’t fade into the background of daily life. Instead, for the month I have my Christmas tree up, I look at them and fondly recall the beautiful places I’ve seen and the wonderful people I’ve traveled with and met along the way.

The red star above is a cloisonné ornament I got in China; the gold leaf is from Durango, Colo.;  the silver stocking is from London. For some reason, it reminds me of Princess Di. On the far right is a hand-blown glass hot-air balloon ornament from, where else?, the hot-air balloon capital of the world!

This delicate paper ornament with musical markings is from Lucca, a present from the co-author of this blog. It's new to my tree this year!

This delicate paper ornament with musical markings is from Lucca, a present from the co-author of this blog. It's new to my tree this year!

I've collected so many travel ornaments that I don’t display all of them each year. I pick them up even in my home state, when I visit a place I haven’t been to in a while or when I journey to a landmark event, such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The ornaments I've collected are displayed alongside another irreplaceable holiday memento: a handcrafted reindeer made by my father, who died three years ago. From him, I inherited my love for language(s) and writing, and from my mother (who died a year after my dad), I inherited my love for traveling. Those are gifts I carry with me wherever my travels take me.

Happy holidays and may 2018 include people and places you love!   -post by JG

My father crafted this Rudolph.

My father crafted this Rudolph.

Shakespeare's Verona

Many people who visit Verona want to see sites tied to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” I, on the other hand, wanted to find the two gentlemen of Verona. (Can you blame me for opting for Italian men over star-crossed teenagers?)

References to "Romeo and Juliet" abound in Verona; this is a contemporary sculpture of the couple by Nag Arnoldi.

References to "Romeo and Juliet" abound in Verona; this is a contemporary sculpture of the couple by Nag Arnoldi.

Even though Shakespeare set more than just one play in the pretty northern Italian city of Verona, that ill-fated couple, Romeo and Juliet, seem to get the most attention. You can visit Romeo’s house, Juliet’s house, Juliet’s (spoiler alert!) tomb, hotels named after the pair, stores named after the girl, restaurants named after the boy. You get the idea. This is a city devoted to romance (even if it is tragic romance).

When I visited the courtyard with the balcony immortalized as the place where Juliet stood while Romeo serenaded her, so many people were crowded into that tiny square that I had to wonder how many understood that Juliet was actually a fictional character.

Juliet's balcony in Verona draws crowds of tourists. Many touch the left breast of her statue in the belief that it will make them lucky in love!

Juliet's balcony in Verona draws crowds of tourists. Many touch the left breast of her statue in the belief that it will make them lucky in love!

The Juliet house belonged to a family with a name similar to Capulet, which was Juliet’s cognome (surname) in the play. Now the house is where throngs of tourists go to snap photos and leave love notes on the walls.

One of many notes left on the wall of Juliet's courtyard. 

One of many notes left on the wall of Juliet's courtyard. 

There are other nods to Shakespeare in Verona. A bust of the playwright adorns a wall near Piazza Bra, along with a plaque that reads (in English and Italian): “There is no world without Verona walls, but Purgatory, torture, Hell itself. Hence banished is banish’d from the world, and world’s exile is death.” That line is from Act III, Scene III of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Shakespeare's likeness and words on a wall in Verona

Shakespeare's likeness and words on a wall in Verona

As for the two gentlemen, they are harder to find. Believe me, I searched for them. I even researched the play for clues but I never found the two men. A friend of mine did stumble on one near the end of our recent visit: A hotel in the historic center is dubbed The Gentleman of Verona. It seems Shakespeare was prophetic about how his play would be remembered when he wrote in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “They do not love, that do not show their love.”

Finalmente (finally), a Shakespearean reference unrelated to "Romeo and Juliet"

Finalmente (finally), a Shakespearean reference unrelated to "Romeo and Juliet"

Nevertheless, exploring Verona with Shakespeare as the guide was a fun way to spend part of a day in a city brimming with sites to see and beauty to breathe in.

-post by JG

Intimissimi on Ice

In a country where it’s hard to get ice with your drink, I recently witnessed great Italian appreciation for ice at a performance of "Intimissimi on Ice” in Verona. It was a wonderful show of ice skating, ice dancing, vocal performances and technological wizardry. But for me, there were two especially cool (pun intended, sorry) aspects to the evening: 1) it was held in the Arena di Verona and 2) the guest singer was Andrea Bocelli.

A large replica of a female's face graced one end of the arena for the ice show (seats there are empty because they are behind the stage).

A large replica of a female's face graced one end of the arena for the ice show (seats there are empty because they are behind the stage).

The Verona arena is a Roman amphitheater built in the 1st century. It is known worldwide for the opera performances held there. And, for the past four years, it has hosted the ice show. The arena seats about 15,000 people today but is said to have held twice that many in ancient times. It was great fun to sit on the stone seats (my companions and I were in what would be called the bleacher section in the States) and think about who might have sat there nearly 2,000 years ago.

The Verona arena was built in the 1st Century. Only this wing of the outer ring (on the left) remains - the rest was destroyed in an earthquake. Most of what is visible today would have been the inner ring of the original amphitheater.

The Verona arena was built in the 1st Century. Only this wing of the outer ring (on the left) remains - the rest was destroyed in an earthquake. Most of what is visible today would have been the inner ring of the original amphitheater.

The structure is considered one of the best preserved of its kind. I could see why as we made our way into the arena, passing through massive stone arches and climbing steep, uneven stairways. As I always am when I see the Colosseum in Rome, I was awed by the arena’s architecture, design and sheer size.

Images were projected onto the ice for each performance/song. To the right is the choir.

Images were projected onto the ice for each performance/song. To the right is the choir.

The show itself, “A Legend of Beauty,” featured such Olympic greats as Charlie White and Meryl Davis, the American ice dancing pair who won the gold medal in 2014, and Evengi Plushenko, the world-renown figure skater from Russia. Elaborate images were projected onto the ice during each performance while an orchestra and choir provided music. It was engaging and entertaining.

Andrea Bocelli was the special guest for the show (he can be seen at the top of the photo in the black suit).

Andrea Bocelli was the special guest for the show (he can be seen at the top of the photo in the black suit).

And then there was Bocelli. He only sang four songs but he wowed the crowd and brought tears to my eyes with the power and tenor of his voice. He ended with “Nessun Dorma” while Plushenko skated. Magical, simply magical.

-post by JG