January in Lucca, 2022
Post #5 of 6
Ursula and I have gotten off to a bad start.
Despite our love of the continuous show of humanity while looking down into the Anfiteatro, a well-known piazza here in Lucca, Sandy and I have moved into a new apartment. More and more I regarded the pied-à-terre as a Charming Boyfriend who was actually kind of a dick. He looked great and could be a lot of fun, but when he was in a mood, which was often enough, he smelled like methane gas in the bathroom. Somehow the pipes in the shower allowed the smell of sewage to waft its way upward. Add to that a bunch of rowdy friends who liked to show up nightly to party at a bar below our bedroom window until 2:00am. Then there were the stairs. We didn’t mind the 37 stairs needed to get to the apartment, but the last irregular 12, with no handrails, felt like a matter of not ‘if’ but ‘when.’ Every time we went up and down seemed to bring us closer to that eventuality.
Sandy cracked as we walked along, ‘ya, we turned in the Charming Boyfriend for an old lady; no facelift, no fillers, but lots of faded elegance.’ And so the new apartment has become Casa Ursula, or simply Ursula, based on the oil painting in the dining area.
I fell in love with Ursula when I first walked in. Our apartment in the Anfiteatro was on a soon-to-be-over short term lease and I had seen photos of this new possibility. It had loads of potential and I was not disappointed. ‘This is it’ I said about two minutes into the viewing with our realtor, ‘let’s do it.’
Five days later we made the schlep across town. I find moving distressing, and it appeared this was going to be no different as we turned the door handle and walked in. Instead of being excited, I was vaguely disappointed. The feeling permeated me as we went through the day and I could not figure out why. Seems a few lamps were gone, meaning less light, but that didn’t account for my unease.
We were very grateful to our Lucca expat friends, Bill and Jane, who helped us move. Afterwards we had them up to give them a fuller introduction to Ursula, and it was our first time entertaining here in Lucca because the Charming Boyfriend was too small. Despite a great night of Prosecco and conversation, my discomfort grew. Our guests left and we went to bed.
Why is it things come to us in the middle of the night? I suppose in the quiet the dross of the day settles, it’s easier to see the world, our place in it, and assess our predicaments. Or in my case, at o‘dark thirty it’s easier to smell without the visual disruption of old Italian splendor:
OMG WHAT IS THAT SMELL?
I roll out of bed the next morning in a kind of olfactory induced haze. The smell is now the only thing my sensory system can take in. Is it patchouli? Is it sandalwood? Is it bergamot? Is it seasonal candle Pumpkin Spice?
OMG, IT’S ALL OF THEM. IT’S MY WORST NIGHTMARE. THE HIPPIES OF EUGENE OREGON HAVE HAD A BABY WITH A YANKEE CANDLE HOLIDAY GIFT STORE AND I’M ABSOLUTELY LOOSING MY COOKIES. WHERE IS IT???
There was no choice but to immediately eliminate whatever was making this smell, and a quick survey of the candles here at Casa Ursula produced nothing. It’s clear the stench was stronger in some places than others, and I became Super Man hunting down kryptonite. The closer I got to the source the more my head swam and the more my stomach protested. At last, in the bathroom, I found it:
OMG ITS A FLIPPIN’ POTPOURRI???
I pick up an antique wooden bowl and sacrifice my reptilian brain to bring it to my nose for verification. I have to subvert the primal instinct to wretch and run because here’s the deal; It’s either it, or me. We cannot coexist in this apartment.
Buoyed by the relief there is an easy way to remedy my full-on PTSD reaction to a sandalwood based potpourri with highlights of pumpkin spice latte and medium notes of bergamot and patchouli, I dump the obviously fresh batch of potpourri nuggets into a plastic bag, and then look for more. When I find it, I am flummoxed:
OMG THERE IS A WHOLE PILE OF IT IN A BOWL BY THE BED! WHHHHHHHY?
My stomach is letting me know it’s about done, but I have to take the next step with the dishes. Has the smell permeated them? Unfortunately yes. I stick them in the sink to wash them.
Now anyone who has ever worked with garlic or hot peppers can attest, if you touch those things the smell infuses into your skin and it’s not a simple matter getting it off. I know this, and the same is true for essential oils, which this potpourri is clearly saturated with. And yet there I was, without gloves, washing the tainted vessels. I brought the soapy bowls out of the sink, along with my hands and:
OMG, MY HANDS SMELL LIKE KRYPTONITE!
I feel like I am in a remake of Dr Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ where the spots keep getting on the next thing and then the next thing. I am careful to dry my hands using paper towels and put them in the same plastic bag as the potpourri kryptonite. It is not enough everything is double bagged and tied off. It all must go to the garbage can that lives outside.
And yet, the smell persists.
Parfumeries offer coffee beans to sniff between rounds of perfumes. It’s a reset of sorts. Smelling something very strong and very different helps the mind perceive the next scent anew. It’s always seemed to me particles of smell literally get stuck in your nose so no surprise, I reasoned, that the noxious potpourri was stuck in mine. I briefly considered going back to the Charming Boyfriend and taking a whiff of the methane gas. That would surely obliterate what’s in my snout now and would actually be preferable. But when we were moving I noticed a jar of ground coffee, an odd thing to have in Italy. I rummaged around in the cupboard and found it. It was unopened and therefore fresh and quite aromatic. I stuck my nose in and breathed deeply. The queasy in my stomach began to subside, my head began to clear.
‘We’re going to be all right Ursula’, I thought to myself, setting the Italian Folgers on the table within easy reach. ‘A few days of airing out and we’ll be best of friends.’
See below for a pic or two of our new digs and neighborhood.
©️Copyright Theresa Elliott. All rights reserved.