It’s February already and this blog entry has been rattling around in my mind since the end of last year. It’s time to stop procrastinating!
In a word, 2016 was wonderful! Casa La Pace welcomed more guests than any prior year. We made many new friends and welcomed into our home many old, gold ones. (“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”).
As I recall the second half of 2016, a series of images flash. Most of all, I remember the smiling faces. Pepper and I are extremely proud of the happy times we have created with our guests.
Here then are some of the memorable moments:
As often happens, old friends bring along their friends, who then become our friends. A couple from central Arkansas invited two of their friends to rendezvous with them at Casa La Pace. The new acquaintances were hysterically funny. Irreverent and brash, they remind me that the stereotype of Southerners is entirely unfair. We come in all colors of the rainbow and have more than our fair share of wit and wisdom.
In the newspaper I recently read of some new stage plays opening in London. I immediately thought of the guests who are university professors. In the past, they lived in London. Each morning in our breakfast room she recounted, to my envy, her passion for the London stage. It seemed she knew almost every theater in that wonderful city and had seen many, many productions while they lived there.
Three girlfriends who have known each other for more than 30 years came to stay with us for a week. They each now live in different parts of the world and hadn’t seen each other in many years. Casa La Pace was their chosen point of reunion. During the week we got to know each individually and also be included temporarily in their circle. An interesting coincidence provided the solution to a mystery. One evening as we strolled to dinner, I pointed out several “Liberty” houses along Via Nazionale. I pondered aloud why the Italians use the English word “Liberty” to describe this architectural style from the early 1900s. Jan quickly piped up with the answer: Liberty is an iconic department store in London. Even more astounding, she whipped out here cellphone and showed me several photos of the interior and exterior of the store!
A wonderful California couple came on the recommendation of a business acquaintance. As often happens, Pepper and I felt an immediate connection. He is a lobbyist and she is a scientific journalist and they were as engaging and fascinating as it sounds. They defyed appearances, too, as they are both motorcycle afficionados and she has won many competitions! They were with us only a few days, but our bond was so deep and quickly formed that we were thrilled to meet up with them again in Lucca at the end of their vacation.
A couple from Connecticut surprised me. Being from the South, I have an idea of what a Yankee is. Not surprisingly, my narrow definition did not do justice to these two people. He is buff and meaty, built like a former linebacker. She could be a former beauty queen. (In fact, I can easily picture them at their high school reunion, on the stage as the returning Homecoming King and Queen.) Unlike his tough exterior, he expressed great sensitivity and compassion. And she was astute and witty, the antithesis of a “dumb blonde”.
I am no longer star-struck, but I get weak in the knees in the presence of writers. Two brothers with relatives in Ghivizzano stayed with us. One is a Jesuit priest and the other a writer for the Associated Press. The latter spent several years in Russia and we had breakfast discussions on the state of journalism, the fall of the USSR, and the book that he is writing. After leaving Casa La Pace, the priest was headed to Assisi, where he would be guide to a pilgrimage group.
Because Pepper went shopping in Denver a family group stayed with us at Casa La Pace. Does it surprise you that he struck up a conversation with the sales clerk? And because of his enthusiasm for Ghivizzano and Casa La Pace, she came to visit – and brought her relatives All were delightful, coming from various points on the map and sharing their diverse lives – and love of family – with us.
November was a real surprise this year. We had only 1 day without guests during the whole month! All of the guests were friends (some because they stayed at Casa La Pace) and several were returning for another visit.
Two ladies, long-time friends, left behind their husbands and came to Casa La Pace for an extended visit. They seemed polar opposites – blond and brunette, thin and not-so-thin, corporate go-getter and office secretary, regular traveller and first-time voyager. But they had been friends for many years and shared their friendship with us. I recall that during our tour of Lucca, they paid close attention to the details and each asked perceptive questions that let me know they were really interested in the tour.
A family that we met when they lived in Italy returned for a too-short visit. During their sojourn in Italy, they regularly visited Lucca. So when they came to Casa La Pace, we didn’t need to introduce this exquisite walled city to them. Instead, we strolled around, visiting their cherished spots, chatting and laughing as we walked. To end the day, we rented bicycles and rode atop the walls of Lucca. It was a truly memorable day of golden autumn sunshine and friends.
The biggest group of the year arrived in November, members of a tango-dancing club. Pepper had arranged for them to perform an exhibition dance in Coreglia and so I have several images burned indelibly in my mind:
Sabrina, the liason for the commune, invited us all to her home for a delicious home-cooked meal. Afterwards, she recounted the history of the house, including the suffering and deprivations of her grandfather during WWII. It brought us all to tears to step into the shoes of the Italians in one of the dark moments in history.
As we were returning to town on the winding, narrow mountain road, I encountered an elderly woman driving a large (by Italian standards) SUV. As I squeezed between her car on the left and the precipice on our right, I breathed a sigh of relief – until a heard a quick screech and then a thump. I stepped out of the car and trudged to the back of my car the blinding rain. I looked down at my car bumper, rocking slowly on the asphalt, whole but desolate. I had no choice but to push it to the side of the road, carry my guests on to their destination, and return an hour later to load the bumper into the back.
Another returning couple brought along their newly-wed friends. The large majority of the guests of Casa La Pace are closer to retirement than to high school. So it was thrilling to be surrounded by the energy and excitement of young people starting their lives together.
Our final guests are a wonderful couple who wanted to share Italy and Casa La Pace with their nieces. Once again, it was delightful to see Italy through their eyes. The girls are still teenagers. So they sometimes acted as though they know everything already. And other times, they were sweetly naive. Both fell in love with Pepper, who carries the spirit of youth in him in spite of his age.
As I raked the garden in my mind trying to remember these things, I am sorry to say that names and faces get mixed up and fade quickly. In 2017, I promise to take notes along the way!
Pepper and I hope that you will come to Casa La Pace and make memories with us in 2017!