yesterday was a big day. we decided to rent a car and drive to carrera to see a marble quarry. seemed like a good idea and so we got dressed, walked the mile to avis, and got a brand new volkswagon golf. now that howard knows lucca like the back of his hand, getting on the autostrada was a snap and in less then forty minutes we were in carrera. getting out of carrera, and to the marble quarry, was a whole other matter that required three or four drives around the city until we got on the right road. the right road was tiny and very, very winding and at one point takes you through deep, dark tunnels that are so narrow, if you had to stop and open your car door you would be out of luck.
we finally reached a wide open area with two booths advertising tours of the marble “caves”. just seeing the word “cave” stirred up my claustrophobia, but i figured i’d come this far, i could handle it. we paid for our tickets and they handed us yellow slickers and royal blue hard hats – a good omen. those were my high school colors. a two hundred year old land rover pulled up and we, and three other people, climbed aboard. i don’t know what i expected but, aside from the sheer terror of climbing thousands of meters (whatever a meter is, it is very, very high) up roads so narrow it made the first road look like the san diego freeway, and so winding, and with no guard rails, it took me a few minutes to stop being terrified long enough to take in what i was seeing. we were on top of a mountain made entirely of white marble. with marble dust everywhere, at first it is hard to absorb that everywhere, as far as the eye can see, is pure white carrera marble. the workers cut into the mountain with giant machines that create huge blocks of marble that are then transported into the town of carrera to be shipped all over the world. it was really extraordinary. as it turned out, our tour did not included a visit to a cave so the slickers and hard hats were just for show. howard was disappointed. i pretended to be disappointed but was secretly thrilled. traveling scary, winding roads was enough adventure for me for one day. i could skip the caves.
after we got down from the mountain, we were starving. nothing works up an appetite like sheer terror, so we ventured back into carrera in search of a trattoria. we were out of luck. carrera is a blue collar town with only, as far as we could see, cafes. we parked the car and settled on the least depressing looking cafe and ordered two ham and cheese panini’s. they were edible.
the day was still young and gorgeous and so we decided to go explore forte dei marme. what a great choice. forte dei marme is an upscale seaside resort. picture a stretch of beach from say, malibu to the venice pier. now picture that stretch with beach clubs, lined up next to each other, every 400 feet or so. in order to go to the beach you must first join a club for the day, week or month. your entry fee includes a chair, a “sun bed” (a canvas lounge on which you can lie entirely flat) an umbrella or, if you wish, a tent with no sides, to keep you entirely out of the sun. each couple also gets a small table and two chairs. all the clubs have changing rooms, showers and restaurants. when you walk onto the beach, on long wooden paths that extend almost to the water, all you can see to the right and the left of you are miles and miles of beach chairs and umbrellas, lined up in strict order. each club has a different color scheme so the sight is quite surreal.
two blocks from the beach is the town of forte dei marme and let me just say that the only way to describe it is to say it is an upscale beverly hills. the wealthiest of the wealthy summer here. most recently, the russians have arrived, with reportedly, suitcases full of money. the sidewalks are filled with flowers, and many streets are closed to traffic, so just he act of window shopping, passing every designer store in the world, is a pure pleasure. even for a non-shopper like howard, is was a delightful experience. because the high season had not yet begun, the streets were fairly empty and every shop we went into, the salespeople were thrilled just to have someone to talk to, whether we bought anything or not.
it was around five o’clock when we stopped at a cafe for coffee. we had decided to stay for dinner and had been told by our swiss friend in lucca, who summers every year in forte dei marme, that we had to eat at at a restaurant called buccaencino. they took no reservations and you had to get there by seven-thirty or you would end up waiting an hour for a table. since we had two and a half hours to kill, we continued walking the town, stopping here and there to sit in the sun and watch the passing parade of gorgeous, well dressed women ride by on bicycles in short skirts, shorts and bikini tops or less. this part of the day, i must admit, was a bit more exciting for howard.
finally, at seven-twenty, i insisted that we head for the restaurant. howard was convinced that the place would be half empty since it was not yet high season. howard was wrong. we got the last available table and what a treat it was. the food was terrific, but it was the setting and the scene that was worth the cost of the meal. we were sitting out in what felt like a large park under a huge tent. everywhere you looked were flowers and trees and beautiful people. i must admit i did, for a few minutes, feel old and ugly, but i got over it in time to just sit back, drink some very good wine, and enjoy the show. it was nine-thirty when we finished, and still light outside. we were both exhausted from the long day and decided to head home.
howard, being the good guy he is, told me he would drop me at the piazza next to ours (since you are not allowed to drive into lucca without a special permit) and he would go return the car. i was so grateful. he dropped me off and as i turned to head toward our apartment, i saw hundreds of people, slowly walking, four abreast, across the piazza. they were all carrying candles and being led by priests, chanting and singing in latin. i had to wait until they had all passed in order to get into the little street that leads to our piazza. it was an unreal sight. after the glitz and glamour of forte dei marme, it took a moment to adjust to lucca and a scene from the fifteenth century.