Sunday, June 24, 2007

Squirrel Wars

I know there are a lot of animal lovers out there, so this is for all of you who are interested in the Hewlett squirrel saga. The original plaster squirrel came from my garden in Windsor, Ontario. When the previous owners left, they took their array of garden ornaments with them but left this rather chewed-up looking squirrel behind. Well, I thought he was rather pathetic. He was unwanted and abandoned by his owners and left all alone in the garden, so I didn't have the heart to throw him away. Then David came to stay and started to move the squirrel around as a joke--so the squirrel woud be peering at me from various unexpected locations. When David left, he instructed all visiting family members to move the squirrel around to tease me. Now he, the squirrel, not David, is quite sinister up close, as you may have seen from to have him peering out from the shower or through the kitchen window at you can give you quite a fright...thus began the squirrel wars. When I moved from Windsor to Lucca I really couldn't bring him with me, so I did the kind thing.....I took him to live with David and Jane. Big mistake! Every time I visit, I find the squirrel hidden somewhere in my room--usually in my bed...yes horrid! At least I thought I was safe in Lucca, but guess what present David and Jane brought me when they came to stay? Ok, not the original squirrel but a bolder, brighter Italian cousin....

Friday, June 15, 2007


Ciao and Wow! Thanks for a variety of comments. Some great questions from the history buffs among you. So FYI the materials from the old Roman and Medieval walls were recycled--some of the stones were pinched to build houses and some were incorporated into the new walls. What did the Medici have against Lucca? Well, in the 16th century, a young, ambitious and clever Cosimo de' Medici came to rule in Florence and set about strengthening his power base and dealing with his enemies. Many malcontents had fled from Florence and were hanging out in neighbouring states such as Siena and Lucca, so, in order to control the threat that they might cause him, Cosimo tried to find a way to take over Lucca--which, by the way was a ripe little plum of a place run by rich silk merchants. Well, Lucca was lucky and escaped his clutches, but Siena was not so fortunate and fell to Medici domination after a prolonged siege in 1555. Actually, I was in Siena yesterday; it is currently being besieged by thousands of tourists.
Now, I am sure you have realized that we are a family of animal lovers. My children spent most of their early summers in England with family who owned dogs, cats, horses and even parrots and all of them own pets--mostly cats--except David, who of course has Mars. I too have a dog. She is quite unique but I suppose all dog owners think that! She is called Chelsea, not after the ex-president's daughter or after the soccer team but Chelsea as in Chelsea BUN, a particularly gooey and sticky but sweet english sugary bun, for those of you who don't know. She was given up by her owners, a free dog to good home, and I happened to be there at the right time and adopted her without hesitation. I have never regretted it, despite some difficult re-structuring of my life round a dog with separation anxiety, which means she has often accompanied me to work, wherever that may have been. My kids say this dog has been more places with me than they have, as she has lived in Italy twice (of course she is bilingual), she has also lived in Toronto, Windsor, Washington State, Ohio and maybe England could be next. She is 14 and her birthday is Feb 14, St. Valentine's Day, and she is all about love. She is half Cocker and half whatever, with a bit of Afghan hound thrown in. Actually, that part of her is in her hair. She is very deaf now and now going blind but she still acts like a puppy. She is very greedy and is now on a vet-instigated diet. She is very happy with the life here, especially when people drop a lot of croissants and pizza crusts. She adores her walks on the wall where she socializes with (well, bosses) other dogs.
Lucca is doggie heaven and there are many dogs here. People ride their bikes with dogs sitting in the front basket; people run and cycle with their dogs round the wall. Every year there is a dog show on the wall and the proceeds go to the local dog shelter and last year Chelsea won the Super Nonna (super granny) category. I was very proud of the gold cup she won but she was only interested in the dog biscuit that came with it. There is a show on TV here with a wonderful police dog who carries out all sorts of amazing feats for his team in the cause of justice, and that is the only programme Chelsea lets me watch in peace, but she is really quite jealous of Rex, as he is called, because he is so talented and so we now have to do a lot of frisbee practice to rebuild her ego...brava Chelsea!

Friday, June 8, 2007

More about the Wall

Firstly, David and Kate fans: thanks for visiting my blog. Yes, I am very proud of my children (also the two who are not in show business), not just for their talents but also for their courage in following their chosen paths. Hmmm, you ask for embarassing moments, I will have to think about that one. I do owe Kate an embarassing moment for exposing my burst appendix to the world! That was an interesting experience: David INSISTED that I go into hospital that night and so actually I owe my life to him and to my Lucchese friend Nicola who arranged the ambulance very quickly. Kate came with me in the ambulance and stuck by me in emerg and made me laugh, which hurts a lot when you have a burst appendix!! Seriously, it was great from my point of view to have them there, but they were a bit traumatized by the experience! Worst holiday EVER, I think David said.

The purpose of this blog is to tell you a bit about the gigantic wall that surrounds Lucca. Lucca was originally an Etruscan settlement, then an important town in Roman times hosting figures such as Julius Caesar. In medieval times it became a city-state republic and with some brief exceptions, it remained independent until Napoleon invaded Italy. He gave Lucca to his sister and she and her husband ruled here in the early 19th century. After the fall of Napoleon in 1815, it became part of the Austrian Empire until the Unification of Italy in the 1860s when it became part of the province of Tuscany.
The city originally had a Roman wall and then as the city grew, a medieval wall confined its borders. In the 16th century Lucca faced a number of threats, especially from Medici Florence, and so the government gathered a number of architectual experts and an army of skilled workers and set about building a massive wall with bastions which could withstand attack from the increasing threat of gunpowder weaponry. It took 100 years to build, from the mid-sixteenth until the mid-seventeenth century. The city was never attacked after the wall was constructed, and remained intact. Today it serves as a wonderful 4.5 km tree-lined park, enjoyed by the Lucchese and tourists alike. It is a no-traffic zone where one can walk, run, cycle, rollerblade or just sit on one of the many park benches and read or chat.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blog beginner

I have hi-tech kids but I am a very low tech person, so I am not sure what "posting a blog" means--hmm, am I going "out there" or sending myself a message? Anyway, I was just in Canada to see my wonderful but very spread out family--and David and Kate both said I should write a blog --is that one or two ggs?-about my life here in Lucca. So here goes:
I am an historian. I first came to Lucca, a little walled-city in Tuscany, for a year in 1997 while I was researching my doctoral dissertation. It was a completely new experience. I had limited knowledge of Italian (I am a bit better now) and believe me, some of those 16th century hand-written documents are pretty difficult to decipher. Daily life consisted of long days in the state archive and long evenings sorting out the day's findings. The days in which the archive was closed I explored the city streets and walked the wonderful Renaissance wall that took 100 years to build. I bought an old Fiat Ritmo which had the engine with the power of a lawnmower in which I chugged about Tuscany with my dog Chelsea as my companion. She at least is bilingual. We made good friends in that year, some of whom I still see. The next few years were spent working first as a teaching assistant, then as a lecturer and then a professor in the States and Canada until in 2005. During that time I would come to my lovely Lucca during the holidays for a week or so for research into various projects--and to catch up on food, wine and fashion. Then in 2005 I decided that the time had come to fulfill the dream I have had for a long time, which was to live in Italy. My children were very supportive and really liked the idea of a parent with a place in Italy!! So here I am. watch this space! Mary