Tuscany, Lucca, March, the sun, and the desire for spring. Another new season begins. And here I am, in the streets of my “old” city. Lucca is older than me, and yet, it is as if it were 54 years old like me. I feel that it is part of my being, having walked and explored every single inch of it. You could say that when a new tourist-guiding season rolls round, I feel as if I were a 54-year-old tree that discovers its new leaves, leaves that look the same but are not the same of years past. If the old trees planted on the ramparts of the walls around the city could speak, they might say I was right. New stimulation and knowledge to impart to my new friends visiting Lucca.
And this actually happens to almost everyone that lives in the historic centre.
Just a few days ago, with a small group of tourists, after having visited the Basilica of San Michele, I came across Mr Mei, the tireless baker of Ponte a Moriano (a pleasant town 15 km from Lucca).
He was delivering his spectacular homemade “Torte di verdura coi becchi” or Vegetable tarts with “beaks” to restaurants and grocery shops. What is a tart with beaks? It is an enticing combination of ancient flavours; a home-made sweet butter pastry base with scalloped edging in the form of beaks that can be filled with a mixture of Swiss chard (white-stalked), sugar, raisins, pine nuts, and spices, or with a chocolate or amaretto filling. The recipe is very old, I believe it dates from the Renaissance when flavours harmoniously fluctuated between savoury and sweet; it is “living” proof of an ancient time still part of today’s traditions. I think it should be listed as Slow Food. Many pastry shops and bakeries in Lucca produce these tarts with beaks, but none compare to the ones made by Mei.
I called out to him. He was walking quickly with a round packet in his hands. At the sound of his name, he turned toward us with a friendly smile and came closer and offered to show the group what was inside his small white delivery van. When he opened the back door, the most wonderful fragrance engulfed the entire group of curious tourists. The senses of the human race are powerful stimuli, and the sense of smell is one of the strongest.
Everyone wanted to purchase one of his tarts on the spot. With a kind smile, the amiable man explained that he was unable to sell them because they had been previously ordered. I explained to the group that during their free time, it would be possible to purchase the tarts in certain shops in town. And that is how I started off this year’s tourism season in Lucca.
In that moment, in the narrow streets of my city, a situation defined by theorists of tourism as “experiential”, was created. Something that only a local guide with first-rate experience can offer clients. A good reason, therefore, to take tours with guides that have lived all their lives or a good portion of them, in the places one chooses to visit. Avoid standard and conventional; feel like guests rather than simply tourists.
At the end of the tour, I went to eat one of Mei’s tarts. The “table” entices me much more than a seductively beautiful woman. And so with mouth-watering fragrances and delectable flavours, the tourism season of 2017 begins!