from honky tonk woman to kol nidre all in one week

friday morning we packed an overnight bag and took off for florence. it is just a short fifteen minute walk to the train station, and then an hour and twenty minute ride into florence. from the station we took a short cab ride to the lungarno hotel. each time we have been in florence before, we have stayed at the excelsior, but on the recommendation of a friend we tried the lungarno. what a wonderful surprise. the hotel sits directly on the arno, just across the river from the excelsior. it is a small, eighty room hotel, recently renovated and is beyond luxurious. we were greeted as if we were long time customers and were told immediately, on checking in, that we were being upgraded to a room with a river view. heaven!

since it was lunch time, we did what we do best (or i should say what oward does best) and ferreted out the best restaurant to go for lunch. Cammillo’s. just a short stroll from our hotel. we shared a porcini and parmesan salad and then each had our own pasta and a glass or two of proseco. then, back to our glorious room for a tiny nap. after an hour’s sleep we woke up to prepare for our true reason for being in florence. we were going to the Grand Synagogue for kol nidre services.

armed with his trusty map, oward set off to lead us to the temple. “shouldn’t we take a cab?” i asked as i eyed the route he had pointed out on the map. “no way. it’s just a short walk. we go up here, then turn left for a bit, and then turn right and then left and then right. it shouldn’t take any time at all”. of course oward was not wearing heels, and no time at all turned into a thirty-five minute walk. we knew we were close when we saw Italian soldiers armed with uzzi’s. when we asked for the synagogue, the soldier pointed around the corner. as we turned the corner we saw a long line which we joined. we met some people who had come from melbourne and chicago. the line was only for visitors, not temple members. when we finally reached the head of the line we were taken into a small room where our passports were checked, we were wanded, and required to leave our cell phones with them. after we exited the room we were on the grounds of the synagogue. it is a magnificent building. built in 1876 it is done entirely in a moorish style, reflecting the roots of the sephardic community that had first settled in florence. during the war the nazi’s had used the temple as a stable for their horses. before they departed florence, they booby trapped the building with the intent to blow it up after they left. fortunately, the italian resistance got wind of their plans and were able to disable almost all the explosives, with only a little damage occurring.

when we entered the synagogue oward immediately donned a yarmulke and tallis and disappeared into the sanctuary. i was given the choice of sitting in a side gallery or up three flights of stairs to the other section reserved for women. i chose the side gallery. this section was separated from the men by a chest high wall and above the wall was affixed a lattice like fence. you could see through it but not very clearly. since the women were so excluded, very few of them prayed, they just sat and talked. i met two very nice sisters, russians, who were living in chicago and were traveling together to celebrate a special birthday. the sister sitting closest to me was very chatty, and by the end of the service i swear i knew more about her than i do my own sister.

one of the many interesting things about this synagogue is that it was built in such a way that the rabbi, just praying in a normal voice, without a microphone, could be heard anywhere in the enormous building. it truly was a lovely service and when it ended a nice young woman in the office called a taxi for us. i would like to lie and say that we were fasting, but hey, we were in florence and there were too many great restaurants yet to be tried. i hope god understands.

we had a reservation at a restaurant called 13 gobbi. when we arrived, there was a crowd standing outside. mostly young and very beautiful people. the woman at the door told us there would be a ten minute wait. we were fine with that, happy to be standing among the gorgeous people and just watching. suddenly, out of nowhere, an extremely handsome young man came up to me and said, in excellent english, “Please, madame, sit here” and he gestured to the one available chair outside the restaurant. the chair was, at that moment, being occupied by his very beautiful young wife who immediately stood as we approached. i told him it was not necessary, but he insisted. two minutes later we were seated. after our first glass of wine, i said to oward that, in spite of the fact that we walk between five and seven miles a day, and run up and down the forty steps to our apartment at least three times a day, we are still old. it suddenly dawned on me that the thing i objected to in every photograph that oward took of me was not that it didn’t look like me, as i thought, it was that the photo looked exactly like me, an old me! that was quite a shock. after a yummy dinner of steak florentine it was back to our hotel for the best night’s sleep since we have arrived in italy.

the next morning, after a croissant and juice in the room, we took off to explore. we found a small shop selling beautiful, hand carved wooden objects and ended up buying two lovely items which we shipped home. next to angela caputi for a little piece of beautiful jewelry that she is so famous for and then of course lunch. if it seems like we are eating a lot, you are right. and when we are not eating, we are talking about food. at least mr. oward is talking about food. i am mainly listening. the good news is that, since we walk so many miles a day, so far the jeans still fit. we always say that in lucca, if you want to eat, you have to walk. even in the pouring rain. and, for some reason, here that rain doesn’t feel like a problem.

after lunch, we decided it was time to head back to lucca. as much as we love florence, the crowds and heat got to be too much. living in lucca qualifies us as small town people and we were happy to leave the big city and return home.

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a very special day

yesterday morning at eleven a.m. our friend regula and her friend, eva, a neurologist from munich, picked us up for an all day adventure. after we buckled in to eva’s bmw suv, we took off, at break neck speed, which is the only way europeans drive. first stop forte dei was a beautiful, seventy-five degree day with bright blue skies and a wonderful breeze. though it was perfect beach weather, the season was over so, when we pulled into regula’s beach club, we were the only car in the lot. with a huge hug, and a smile, regula convinced the manager to put out some chairs, lounges and umbrellas for us on the sand. shoes off, we kicked back and relaxed into the moment. the sea was calm, and bright blue, and far off in the distance we could see the sharp white hills of carrera marble. the first time we experienced that sight we were sure we were looking at snow capped mountains.

within minutes of relaxing, the first of the hundreds of salespeople began coming over to show us their wares. regula, being a regular of the beach club for the past twenty-five years, knew many of the vendors and who sold good merchandise and who were peddling junk. the men were from ethiopia, sri lanka, pakistan and morocco. they were selling everything from watches to cashmere scarves, handbags and blouses. one by one they came by. each waiting until the other was done with us before moving in. i looked at a couple of things and let regula guide me as to what was a good buy and what to pass on. after making a few purchases i was pretty proud of myself until i realized i was in the company of two world class shoppers. while they beautifully represented both switzerland and germany in the shopping marathon, i am afraid i let the good old u.s.a. down. i just could not keep up. it didn’t help that howard was observing the shopping frenzy with a curious look of both amusement and horror.

after all the shopping we had worked up a hearty appetite so we took off, on foot, to everyone’s favorite restaurant, boccacino, for lunch. a long lunch, filled with great food and a couple of pitchers of proseco, it was back to the beach for a bit more r and r and just a bit more shopping. i was exhausted but the day was barely over. next stop, after loading all our purchases in the back of the suv, was pietrasante. the beautiful artist town was just the place to settle down into a sidewalk cafe for a coffee and enjoy the piazza filled with beautiful contemporary sculpture. after an hour or so, energy restored, we took off to explore the town. howard took off in one direction, with his camera while the girls and i took off the opposite way, promising to meet at eight o’clock at a designated restaurant. i was all set to do some serious browsing in the many galleries that line the streets of this charming town, but regula and eva had another idea – SHOPPING! now i have shopped with the best of the bunch, and you know who you are, girls, but i am telling you, these two ladies were pros.

by dinner time, i was ready to drop. after a yummy dinner and, of course, some more wine, we fell into the car for the ride back to lucca. by the time they dropped us off, at 11 p.m. howard and i were exhausted, but not too tired to stay up for another hour recounting our day’s adventure and laughing over the fact that i was going to have to go into serious training to keep up with next years shopping.

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magic and insomnia in lucca

until last night, i have not slept more than four hours since i arrived in lucca so anything that might have happened could be colored by the fact that i was deeply sleep deprived. it is also the excuse as to why i have not posted recently. i was just too damn tired, but now, all that has changed.

just to catch up. friday was a magical day in our adopted city. as we ventured forth in the morning to take care of our various errands, an amazing thing happened, but before i get to the amazing, i just have to share with you the fact that running errands in lucca is not at all like running errands in los angeles. if i told you that howard and i went to the dry cleaners and the market at home, nobody would think of that as an amazing time. in lucca, going to the dry cleaners and the market turned into a wonderful experience.

when we stopped into the dry cleaners to pick up howard’s shirts, the errand turned into a twenty minute conversation with the cleaner and his beautiful wife about their brand new grand baby, culminating with an invitation to join them for dinner. after we left there, every corner we turned and every piazza we entered, we ran into friends, so happy to see us. i felt like we were wearing a sign that said “please be nice to us”. as we passed one of our regular restaurants, the owner’s daughter came running out with hugs and kisses and then said “wait, i have a surprise”. she ran back into the restaurant and returned a minute later with her three month old son giorgio. she wasn’t even pregnant when we left here last year, and here she was with a brand new baby. after much oohing and aahing, she wouldn’t let us leave before she ran back into the restaurant to give us a pot of home grown honey. a few blocks later we ran into our former landlord duccio. after a long discussion about his bad back, and how happy he was to see us, he too extended the wish to have dinner with us. but we weren’t done yet. we stopped by our favorite restaurant, giglio, to make a reservation. there we ran into the owner, paula. she too greeted us with hugs and kisses and then told us she would save our favorite table for us. she REMEMBERED our favorite table!!! as we were leaving the market, we ran into rafaello, our first landlord from four years ago. he is old and sick and kept acting as though he didn’t remember us. howard kept trying to remind him who we were and he kept looking at us quizzica howardlly. a few hours later, when we ran into benedetta, his daughter and her husband, the first thing she said was “Oh, my father told me he ran into you today”.

after we dropped off our groceries and cleaning, we went back out to stroll the city. lucca was preparing for the rolling stones concert the next day and the sleepy little town of eight thousand had been completely transformed by the arrival of fifty-five thousand concert goers. every piazza had a cover band from pisa or florence or milano playing rolling stone hits. we grabbed a table at one of the outdoor cafes to have an aperol spritz, watch the scene, and sing along. we sat next to a lovely couple, paolo and elena, who had driven here from milan to take their daughters to the concert. they were so charming. when we finally got up to leave, paolo turned to us and said “I have taken care of your bill. hope we meet again”. the magic continued.

as we were leaving, to return home, we passed a tiny little street down which is another one of our favorite hangouts. “Let’s stop by and say hello to stefano (the owner)” howard said. as we approached the restaurant, stefano looked up and shouted “Oward! welcome home”. (by the way, most people remember oward and i am oward’s wife). as we were greeting each other, the only couple still remaining in the restaurant, looked up, and the wife said “oh my God, it’s you”! howard and i both turned around to see who she was talking about. “No, no,you. judi and howard. it’s us. jeanette and russell”. howard and i smiled. neither one of us having the faintest idea who jeanette and russell were. and then they explained. we had met them at lunch four years before, just after we had moved to lucca for three months. we ended up spending the day together and, according to jeanette, howard and russell got drunk on grappa. it seems that after spending the day with us and hearing that we had sold our home and went to live in italy for three months, they were inspired by our story. it seems they talked about it for quite a while and decided to sell their home in manchester, england and travel the world. then jeanette said “every time our friends and family asked us why we would do such a thing we told them about this couple, judi and howard, in lucca and how they had inspired us. we have been trying to find you ever since and here you are”. we are having dinner with them next week. and so the story of lucca goes on.

that night, i couldn’t, once again, sleep. i tossed and turned all night and was so worried about being up for the concert that night. i took a nap and then around six o’clock we started to make our way to the venue. the concert didn’t actually start until nine o’clock that evening, but people were arriving as early as 1:00 p.m.. the way the venue was set up, there was an enormous open field where fifty-two thousand people stood, some for as much as eight hours. then around one side was a four tiered platform, where we were, for about two thousand people. that platform was quite near the stage and while there were no seats, the platform was stepped so there was a place to perch for the two and a half hours we had to wait until the concert began. of course, having two and a half hours to kill, we made dear friends with the two young couple on either side of us. with the exception of mick and the band i guarantee you that we were the oldest people in the place.

let me just say that the concert was incredible!!!! mick jagger is a super man. he was running and dancing and singing for two and a half hours, without a break. i was standing for two and a half hours and was ready to die. we were so exhausted, by the end of the evening, we barely made it home. yesterday, according to my mileage tracker, we logged seven miles. between that and the five hours we spent at the concert venue, i slept like a baby. all’s well that ends well and the odds are good that we will probably never see the stones again.

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head colds in lucca

after settling into our beautiful flat, we discovered that our wifi was less than we had hoped. when we spoke with our rental lady, sonia, she said we had to speak with briana. we didn’t know who briana was, but apparently she held the key to not only our internet connection, but our television, cd and dvd player. we have a wide screen tv, about four hundred videos and an equal number of cds. we also have six remotes and a hand written guide on how to turn everything on. while the instructions are written in english, they might as well have been written in swahili. we have pushed every button one could push, but still nothing. so, we were basically stuck with no real communication abilities. then the head colds hit and soon after, the pouring rain. oward got sick first so it fell to the contessa to brave the storm and forage for supplies. fortunately, the little restaurant on our corner, noona clara, has a waitress christina, who has befriended us over the years. when i told her oward was sick, she sprang into action putting together a meal of pasta, salad and dessert, all packaged up to go. i was very grateful even more grateful that she gave us so much food, that it lasted for two days. kind of like the first menorah.

we slept on and off the rest of the next day and then, on the third day we ventured out. it was gray and overcast, but no rain, so we made our way to the market to stock up on supplies. as we were leaving, the heavens opened. we ducked into our favorite cafe. oward ordered a cappuccino and i a hot chocolate. it was the most amazing thing i have ever had. it was like a cup of hot pudding but not too sweet. the best. after we had killed as much time as possible in the tiny cafe, we left, stopping about ten steps later to buy yet another large umbrella. now we each had two arms full of groceries, plus each of us carrying an umbrella, walking home. we made it home, soaking wet and climbed the forty steps to our apartment. the building actually has an elevator, but it is a claustrophobic’s nightmare. it is the size of a small coffin and trust me you can walk the forty steps in far less time than the elevator can get you to the top. it was , however, handy, when we arrived to send our luggage up.

after we arrived home, there was a knock on the door and the mysterious briana , materialized. it turns out that she is the american daugher of the owner of our flat. adorable and very knowledgeable. in about twenty minutes she had us on line and was able to explaing the tv. we even have netflix. we may never leave home again. the only down side is that now that we have cnn, the awful trumpster is back in our lives. it was really pleasure to go almost a week without his orange presence.

yesterday, finally feeling better, with the sun shining, we ventured out and started to make the rounds of lucca, stopping in to say hi to so many of our friends. it never ceases to amaze me that, every year, year after year, as soon as we walk into our favorite restaurants, the dry cleaner or the barber shop or my manicurist, we are greeted by name and with much hugging and hand shaking.

last night we had dinner with our dear friend regula. she was one of the first people we met here, four years ago. regula has an incredible apartment in the wall, straight out of the pages of architectural digest. she is an interior designer with a great flair. two years ago, she insisted on giving us her apartment for four weeks. since that time, she has purchased a magnificent villa, just outside the walls of lucca and turned it into a beautiful five bedroom rental property, complete with gardens and a swimming pool. maid service and chefs available. it is a perfect getaway for a couple or for a group of friends. this month she is renting it to a man who is celebrating his fiftieth birthday. he has rented the villa for a month, and every week he has invited a different group of friends to join him. life is good.

today we went to scope out the venue for the rolling stones. it is unbelievable. they are expecting fifty-five thousand people. there are only about one thousand seats. the rest of the venue is standing room only. we paid a lot of money for a very special location only to discover, today, that while we are in a very special, and close to the stage, section, we will still be standing. i told oward i was too old to stand for a whole concert. he reminded me that mick jagger is older then i am and he is not going to be sitting down at all that evening. i reminded him that mick jagger was getting paid millions of dollars to do what he does and as far as i could tell, no one was paying me a red cent to stand, for hours, surrounded by screaming teen agers, but, the contessa, ever a good sport, is going to go along with this insane plan. at least it will make for a good story.

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We’ve Arrived!!!

After a long, sleepless (even with virgin atlantic’s finest flatbeds and an ambien) day, we arrived in london. took a four-hour nap, showered, dressed and made our way to the great, new london restaurant, spring. one of those places that is impossible to get in. Fortunately, (please try to follow along on this) my cousin ellen’s son willie’s girlfriend holly’s mother sky is the chef/owner, so strings were pulled and there we sat, in a magnificent five hundred-year-old building – somerset house- eating the most amazing food.

after dinner, we took a short walk around the strand and then back to our hotel, exhausted and sure we would sleep the night away until our 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. alas, sleep, once again, eluded us. at around four a.m., after trying in vain to sleep, we sat up in bed and ate a bag of raw cashews that i threw into my carry-on at the last minute, heeding my friend judy’s advice to always carry snacks – “just in case”. if ever there was a “just in case” moment, 4:00 london was it.

we were dressed and ready to go long before our car arrived. “let’s get something to eat” i said. “No, we can eat at the airport. we will have plenty of time” the husband answered. Ha! he was right. we got to the airport in plenty of time. what we did not know, at the time, was that a bomb had gone off in london center and the security at the airport was unbelievable. we stood in line for over an hour and then, they went through our carry-ons with a fine tooth comb. i was willing to throw out my hand lotion and maybe my shampoo, but i was going to fight over my brand new, almost gel-like essy nail polish (three bottles two different colors and top coat) at this point, exhausted and starving howard said “give them the fucking nail polish” “no!” and then i appealed to the feminine nature of our security guard. she relented and i got to keep my polish, but the adventure continued. now, seriously late for our plane we proceeded to our gate. for those of you familiar with heathrow, you can walk a good mile before taking a few escalators, both up and down (still can’t figure out how that makes any sense) then a train and then a few more escalators, finally arriving at our gate only to be told that we would have to check our carry-on luggage. there was not enough room on board for it. why we were singled out is beyond me. everyone else was taking their’s but perhaps the gate agent had been notified about my previous nail polish meltdown and they were punishing me.

the flight to pisa was short and uneventful. i sat next to an eight-month-old named daisy and by the time we landed she and i had bonded. i taught her how to wave bye-bye and her mother, so grateful, convinced me to try a bacon budgey. at this point, seriously starving, i would have eaten daisy. we were only in the tenth row of the plane, but by the time the flight attendant got to us the only thing left to eat was a bacon budgey. what is a bacon budgey you ask? it is disgusting. it is half raw, fatty ham and a bun that is spread with what is called streaky. streaky is basically bacon fat. inedible. teaching daisy bye bye deserved better than a bacon budgey, but that is what i got. still starving, we landed safely in pisa, got to our flat and finally made it to one of our favorite hangouts for a pizza and salad. heaven!

now, a word about our flat. it is magnificent. hopefully, howard will figure out how to add his photos, but until then, let me just say that this is even too beautiful for a contessa. i think a pricipesa should be living here. i was embarrassed for the closets that they had to house my meager wardrobe of j. crew and banana. these are closets that deserved dior and dolce and gabbana.

after just a mere few minutes in lucca, we ran into our friend, and former landlord, dulce. not only did he help us in with our luggage, but hours later, when running into howard again in a cafe, struggling with his wifi (more on our gorgeous flat and how nothing, related to the twenty-first-century works)he enlisted his friend, the cafe owner to help. in four years of visiting lucca, we have never once met a single person who wasn’t kind and generous. it truly is a special place and every time we return, we are reminded, in just a few minutes, why we keep coming back.

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once again in packing hell

it’s that time again. we are off for our yearly trip to lucca in just three days and, as always, i am in packing hell. this year i was determined to pack only black pants, just a few tee-shirts, long and short sleeves, a couple of blouses and a couple of sweaters. alas, the best-laid plans. so, for the past hour i have stood in my closet and tried to make a decision. i am like a mother who is forced to chose her favorite child. each of my pants has it’s own personality, it’s own uses and requires it’s own heel height. and then there are the shoes. don’t get me started on shoes. i have a faint memory of a time, long ago, when i could throw in a pair of sandals, and a pair of tennies, and travel the world. that time is long gone. my feet now demand new and different shoes, all of them that hurt in their own special way. and when did i suddenly need so many products? hair products, and skin products, and creams and lotions and conditioners? and the drugs? where did all the drug needs come from? back in the day i could get by with a bottle of aspirin and call it a day. now i have so many bottles and vials and packets; not that i take all that medication, but i now have a whole plastic bag filled with “just in case”.

and so i am packing. howard would like me travel with carry on, for six weeks. the man is delusional. I wish i could be one of those women who throw two pairs of jeans and a scarf in a carry on and travel the world, but i am not. i like to think that i travel like the Queen. unfortunately, for the husband, we do not have servants to do the schlepping. so i am packing. i am only taking one suitcase and a carry on. i don’t think that is so terrible. i just hope the damn thing will zip, and hope even more fervently that when the time comes for the contessa to return home, all this stuff will fit back in the suitcase.

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living and laughing and loving in lucca!

living and laughing and loving in lucca!

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