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2015 Grateful 30

Are tattoos to bodies what graffiti is to walls and buildings? I’m not sure. There’s been a lot in the press lately about tattoos and how they colour our judgement of a person who sports them. I’m not sure how I swing on that one, so perhaps this is why I found myself more attentive than usual this week to the tattoos worn in Budapest. For the most part, I don’t give it much thought, except to wonder why anyone would tattoo their face – that’s beyond me. But a couple I came across were particularly fascinating [and this doesn’t count yer man who had Ferencváros italicised across his chest…].

The first was on the décolletage of a young girl of about 18: a blue owl about 6 inches high, with its wings extended to her shoulder blades. It was beautiful, but I wondered how cool it would be when fashion became an issue. A statement that blue would certainly limit your colour pallette although, on reflection, a blue sky goes with everything. But how does she cope with the world staring at her chest all the time? That would freak me out.

The second was a gym-body in his mid-thirties. On the front of his left shin, he had a knee-high pair of hands clasped in prayer. On the calf, he had the beatitudes, in English, although he wasn’t speaking English. I’ve seen crosses and all sorts of religious emblems before, but never a full transcript of the beatitudes. And were I to stereotype him, it wouldn’t have been as a churchgoer but then you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beatitudes.

But each to their own. I flirted briefly with the idea of getting a tatt when I was in Hawaii one year, but I didn’t. There was nothing original in book I leafed through. And if I was going to mark myself indelibly for life, I wanted it to be with something that no one else had. And that would require more thought than I’m prepared to give it.

In TIMG_0315 (600x800)uscany recently, the graffiti was just as strange, ranging from clever witticisms to painted anguish. For a while it was as if I was reading instructions on how to live my life. I should have come to Tuscany years ago.IMG_0233 (800x600)

I’ve often wondered what goes through a  mind before the spray can or the paint brush or the stencil is lifted? Do they have a design, a plan, a burning need to share? Do they know how a few random words on a wall might impact a life?

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This one in Palma had me thinking for quite a while. I actually went back a second time and a third time to see if I could decide if it was the work of one person or two. It took me back in time to my trip to the Holy Land and the graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem. The sense of hopelessness jumped off cement and stopped a few others in their tracks, too.

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This one, in the walled city of Lucca, the furthest place from Planet Shit you could imagine, had me laugh out loud at first. And then, later, as the heat got to me and I passed it a second time, I had visions of a collective suicide and that sobered me up. Goes to show though, that even in paradise people are miserable.

This week has been a different one. I’ve been (and am) in a strange mood, not sure which end is up. I’m not depressed, down, or dispirited in any way – and for that I’m grateful – really grateful. I’m actually fine. It’s just as if my people plug has been pulled and while I can happily relate to one or two, anything more leaves me completely blahed. I’ve been crowded out. It’s taking way too much effort to be sociable. It’ll take another week of this horrible 32-degree weather before I can blame it on the heat (and don’t you dare tell me to be grateful it’s not minus 32 – that I could live with). Perhaps in this heat-induced lethargy,  I’ll start thinking about my tattoo.

A world behind walls

Other people’s opinions and impressions can have a marked effect on me. It depends, of course, the weight I give them and how they’ve done in the past. Not having the luxury of travelling for long periods of time, instead snatching a few days here and there, time is always at a premium. So how to spend that time requires thinking about.

When I said I was going to Tuscany, the one place that was repeatedly recommended by friends and acquaintances was Lucca. Way back in 1902, Hilaire Belloc, a writer, had this to say:  ‘The neatest, the regularest, the exactest, the most fly-in-amber town in the world, with its uncrowded streets, its absurd fortifications… everything in Lucca is good.’ And most of that still holds true – apart from the uncrowded streets, one of the side-effects 0f cheap and easy travel. It was busy. Very busy. And again, I found myself giving thanks that we’d come off season – not that there is an ‘off season’ in Italy. I can’t imagine the hell it would be at the height of the summer.

The tall Renaissance walls (all 4200 metres of them) that surround the medieval city hold all expectations at bay. If you hadn’t done your homework and realised that the town was really inside the walls, you could lawfully pass it by. Needless to say, I hadn’t done my homework, but the intrepid MI had.

IMG_0102 (800x600)The narrow, cobblestoned streets, soaring church spires, and buildings dating back centuries are all so well preserved that it’s like stepping back in time. Probably the most impressive piazza is Piazza dell´Anfiteatro, which sits on the site of an old Roman amphitheatre, accessible by four arched entrances. It’s a hive of activity with numerous bars, cafés, and restaurants making it an ideal spot for people watching.

IMG_0107 (800x600)IMG_0097 (588x800)The city’s understated elegance is mirrored in the brass mail boxes and ancient intercoms. With about 90 000 residents, it’s somewhere I wouldn’t mind living for a while, if they could fit me in. Most of the locals travel by bike and I’m sure they get royally pissed off at having to navigate the hoards of tourists that descend on the city every day. Mind you, though, if ever a nation was predisposed to patience, it has to be the Italians. They seem to take everything in their stride, no one in a rush to go anywhere. The narrow streets give way to even narrower alleyways with the view skywards impressive enough to cause a few run-ins and stubbed toes, as tourists stumble into each other and over each other trying to take it all in.  I’ve never fully appreciated the Tuscan colour palette before and how the sun bounces off the golds and yellows and oranges that make up the mix. What artistic talent I have wouldn’t fill the smallest of canvasses but had I any, I’d have been in heaven.

IMG_0124 (800x600)IMG_0166 (600x800)IMG_0140 (800x600)Trees pop up in the most unlikeliest of places and after an hour or so you realise the truth of the old adage – in Lucca, you really never know what’s around the next corner. Narrow alleys open on to wide expanses, the courtyards of which are crisscrossed with shadows of church towers and steeples. Its history was a tumultuous one. Once a centre for textiles, silk, and banking,  Lucca managed to stay independent of Florence and even had its own currency. The kings of Bavaria and Bohemia seized it at various stages, and the Noblese from the nearby cities of Genoa, Verona, and Parma traded it back and forth over the centuries. In the early 1600s, it was taken over by an oligarchy and managed to steer clear of trouble until Napoleon captured it in three centuries later. It had a good run.

IMG_0135 (800x600)IMG_0142 (800x600)IMG_0122 (800x600)What stuck me most, though, was how laid back it all is, despite the crowds. You can move from a bustling street to an empty square in minutes. The hundreds, if not thousands, of steps make perfect perches for those who want to spend some time enjoying the sun. When it all gets too much, take a break. Or even when it hasn’t gotten too much, take a break anyway. There’s very little that can’t wait.
IMG_0130 (800x283)In July, there’s a massive music festival and the line-up this year is impressive. I’d travel back to see the Dublin lads from The Script, and maybe take in Paolo Nutini the night before and Billy Idol the night after. What a few days that would be. Spoiled for choice. No matter when you go, if you’re in that part of the world, it’s a city not to be missed.
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