As we reach the middle of summer, I am reminiscing about the terrific year Casa La Pace has had so far. As in years past, our guest list includes a mix of old friends and new acquaintances. We have been thrilled to welcome so many people into our homes and hearts.
Here are some of the memorable moments of the first half of 2017
Our first guests, a mother and daughter, arrived very early in the year, when Carnevale was in full swing. I had gone with friends to Viareggio to watch the parade of fantastic floats. But with Rebecca and her daughter we had a more memorable moment of this year’s pre-Lent celebration. As we strolled through Castelnuovo on a cold but bright day, we entered a large piazza and watched a small performing group entertaining young children. It was wonderful to watch the little ones, dressed as fairies, action figures, and princesses and to note how hard the troupe worked to keep their attention amidst all of the colorful chaos. Later I took them to our favorite cioccolateria to warm up with cups of dense, delicious hot chocolate.
We have had a ‘full house’ a couple of times this year. One of these times was organized by a returning guest. Jana had been to Casa La Pace two times before. This time, she rounded her colleagues and friends: several independent businesswomen, plus one daughter – and a token male (one husband). They were a diverse group, some of whom were strangers to others when they arrived at our house. It is interesting and entertaining to see how these individuals reacted to each other and developed a common bond, where none existed before.
A couple from northern California were with us for several days. They have a ‘dry wit’ which kept me in stitches – perhaps because it is so close to my own. On the same morning that they departed to the Firenze airport, I was taking guests to Firenze. So we all rode the bus together. The journey was a non-stop conversation that ranged from family to the recent drought in California to reminiscences of the highlights of their trip.
Two guys who have been friends for several decades came to Casa La Pace for a few days. Steve is a friend from Arkansas, with whom we caught up on the latest political and cultural happenings. Neil, whom we had not met before, was a creature of the theater, travelling around the United States and Europe in the 1970s and 1980s with a famous Broadway show. His stories of life on the stage and on the road were fascinating, entertaining, and sprinkled with acting gossip.
Miriam is a widow from New York who is retired and spends most of her time nursing her elderly mother. She and her boyfriend came to Casa La Pace as a gift from her friends. Miriam and Tony are originally from Colombia and moved to the United States long ago. I was thrilled to hear their stories of Colombia and New York City. Miriam left with tears in her eyes, expressing her thanks for a wonderful vacation.
Before we left Little Rock in 2010, I gave a young guy we met at a pizzeria the business card for Casa La Pace. All these years later, Tyler brought his girlfriend to Casaa La Pace. He told us that he had retained the business card, pinning it to wall of his cubicle and promising himself to come “sooner or later”. How amazing that a chance meeting resulted in his stay with us!
Two ladies came for a short visit, popping over from Spain. We knew them both in Little Rock, though not well. Roisin now lives in southern Spain; Murry went to Spain to visit her. Pepper and I were happy that they decided to pop over to Italy for a brief visit to Ghivizzano. We reminisced about Little Rock and Pepper and I lamented that we didn’t know them better and spend more time together we lived in Arkansas.
An oldfriend of Pepper’s came for a short stay, part of her travels through Italy. Rena’s daughter studied in Firenze last year, and also came to Casa La Pace for a visit. Rena, Pepper, and I went to Firenze for the day. We had great fun wandering the streets with ‘Mom’, pointing out the school, the piazze, and the neighborhoods where her daughter had lived for 6 weeks.
As though living in Italy weren’t fulfilling enough, it is wonderful that many friends include Casa La Pace in their Italian travel plans. I met Desma in 1984 when we lived in the pensione and studied together at the FSU Firenze program. She and I have remained in touch through the years, exchanging letters, then emails, and now Facebook messages. She and her husband Joe came to Italy in May. During their vacation, I went to Firenze. We walked down the familiar streets together: past our school, our favorite piazza, and other heartwarming spots in this most beautiful city. A couple days later, Desma and Joe came to Ghivizzano for a (too-short) visit. By chance, Pepper was invited to a festa in a small village near Castelnuovo, so he set up his easel and spent the afternoon painting for the passersby. Desma, Joe, and I explored the Garfagnana. I was glad they could see more of the beauty of this rugged mountainous part of Toscana that we call home.
A family with 3 daughters stayed for a few days. One is working as a social worker at a hospital. The second is studying to be a speech pathologist. Though they grew up in privilege, they are pursuing careers to help others less fortunate. Our guests often provide inspiring stories like this, a wonderful antidote to the popular image of Millennials.
We have welcomed into our home a few Italian guests this summer. One set are friends of residents of Ghivizzano (friends of ours, too). We are honored that they stayed at Casa La Pace for the second year in a row. These guests came from various parts of Italy, north and south. Not surprisingly, they spent most of their time outside of our B & B, with their friends. But each morning’s breakfast provided a quiet moment for me to learn more about them, where they live and what their lives are like. To me, this is one of the great pleasures of welcoming people into our home.
A couple from rural Illinois are spending a year apart. Ian works for the U S State Department in Iraq. Courtney is in Illinois, raising the children and studying to be a nurse. They were travelling through Europe for a month during Ian’s vacation. Talking with them I noticed many the similarities between their part of Illinois and rural north Florida, where I grew up. In their few days with us, we had many wonderful conversations about the world and the United States, from the points of view of ex-patriots and citizens.
Two friends came to Italy to stay in the Cinque Terre, where daughter of one has a long-term connection. They ‘popped over’ to Casa La Pace for a couple of days. The two of them have been friends for more than 30 years, having met when they both worked at a ‘head shop’ in Hawaii. We were delighted that they appreciated the beauty and tranquility of the Serchio Valley and compared it favorably to the Italian Riviera!
Another couple from Little Rock came to stay for a few days. They loved Casa La Pace so much that they extended their stay with us for 3 more days – the highest compliment we can hope for! Back home, they have built a pizza oven. Pepper and I are invited to a backyard pizza party when we are next in Arkansas.
Our final guests were also those closest to ‘home’. They live in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, a short distance from the house we lived in. We reminisced with them about the neighborhood and lamented that we hadn’t met them when we lived there. Amazingly, they are close friends with a couple that lived around the corner from us and who we invited to dinner! Once again, we delighted in the companionship of people that we wish we had met when we lived in Arkansas. But we are happy to be their friends now, however delayed our acquaintance.
It has been a challenging year so far for the United States; political polarization seeps into many conversations and affects relationships with friends and family. During these first months of 2017, at Casa La Pace we have welcomed people with various political opinions. And I enjoyed our conversations thoroughly, even – and sometimes especially because – I knew the other person did not agree with me. I tried to focus on what we had in common or what values we share. We are all humans and hope for the best for our families and our community. When we listen to each other with respect and compassion, we can exchange ideas and learn more about others and ourselves.