Last month Theresa and I moved to a new apartment in Lucca’s Centro Storico and over the last weeks we’ve slowly been getting to know our neighbors. As a cat lover, my first goal was to become friends with the neighbor feline community, and the most neighborly is a black-and-white birdwatcher at our little Corte. Turns out she belongs to a neighbor two floors down who introduced himself to me.
“Hi, I’m Luca,” he said, in a warm, Italian accent.
“That will be an easy name to remember in our town,” I replied.
We continued in a 90% English/10% Italian conversation where I learned his cat’s name (Lulu) and that Giacomo Puccini had taken classes in his apartment as a child. Luca is a banker here in town and has lived here most of his life. He mentioned music and I inquired about church services, choirs, organs, and such.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and there’s Luca on his bike as I’m also riding near home and he extends an invitation: would I like to attend Sunday afternoon’s “Elogio della Follia ‘In Musica'” at Teatro Giglio? He’d leave a free ticket for me at the box office.
Sadly, my A2 level Italian allowed me to say “yes” to the invitation, but didn’t afford me any clarity on what the event would be about, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to see an opera, a theater production, or just what. I knew there would be singing involved, though Luca did mention it would be taped because of Covid requirements.
When Sunday afternoon came, in the spirit of Italian dress codes I put on my non-jeans pants, my non-tennis shoe shoes, my non-sweatshirt sweater, and my non-outdoorsy jacket and, feeling like an Italian dressed for the passeggiata, I strolled to Teatro Giglio and waited in line to enter the theater’s egg-shaped auditorium.
“What a beautiful building,” I said as I squeezed into the tightly cramped seats that would make an economy airline blush. Then the show began. As I looked at the program cover, I realized my neighbor was not just a participant, he was one of the composers and singers. The songs, dance, and video projection proceeded and I realized what I was watching – a community production that showcased some of Lucca’s local talent.
Years ago I lived in a town of 45,000 in rural Washington State, and our annual “Follies” were a spectacle that brought diverse people together for an organized talent show, providing a window into community life unlike anything I’d seen in my large-town experiences before. Gathered around me that night in the packed Teatro were Lucchese neighbors, enjoying a night of local talent. This was Lucca. Gathered for fun, charity, and community.
And my neighbor, Luca, Lulu’s dad, was a star in it.
As an expat with flimsy Italian language skills I realize I see Lucca’s community life through a pinhole. I can walk through town, shop in the stores, hang out at the cafes, eat at the restaurant, but I’m only scratching the surface of this community. My neighbor’s invitation opened my pinhole into a porthole, and I can hardly wait to see more. I saw Lucchese laughing and enjoying each other, having fun, sharing talent, risking themselves, and letting some of their beauty and talent out for others to see.
Next step: sit down with the printed program, type it into Google Translate, and figure out what the whole evening was about.