Notes From Abroad:
her Italian language instructor, Luisa Gregori, during her
senior year, Laura Itzkowitz ’09, who , recently returned to Italy.
After meeting up with Gregori, who is from Italy, the two
traveled through Tuscany together in a day Itzkowitz will not
likely soon forget.
By Laura Itzkowitz ’09
The sky threatens rain as my
guide, Luisa, drives along the winding, heavily wooded road
to Lucca. This is not the highway—the
autostrada, as natives refer to it—but a two-lane street that
cuts through a meadow flanked by trees, and extends higher
and further into the Tuscan hills. Finally we reach a tunnel
cut through the mountains. When we emerge on the other side,
it is only a short time before we reach the old walls of Lucca,
a city dating back to the Medieval Era, as Luisa explains.
A happy Laura Itzkowitz
’09 (on right) poses with Italian instructor Luisa
Gregori during commencement 2009.
An ancient stone archway leads to a piazza in Lucca.
During my last year at Smith,
Luisa taught my Italian 110 class while the department searched
for a permanent professor. During Senior Week at the end
of the semester, we started meeting at cafés
in Northampton, to get to know each other more informally.
We stayed in touch after I graduated and have once again found
ourselves in the same country—this time in her native Italy.
Earlier in the day, when I first
arrive in Pisa, Luisa’s hometown,
via train from Rome, we dine on homemade ravioli at her house
and she gives me a tour of the town, home to the University
of Pisa. She leads me through the centro
storico, showing me
the university buildings, including the Scuola
and the grandiose university library.
Later, as we stroll through
the city, Luisa recalls how exciting it was to first leave
her parents’ house in rural Tuscany and come to Pisa to study.
She compares it to a college town, bustling with students—like
Northampton except much older.
We walk through a charming
outdoor market, full of antiques and trinkets, to the Piazza
dei Miracoli in the center of the city. There, the Leaning
Tower of Pisa stretches awkwardly upward, foreboding against
the gray, overcast sky. Buses shepherd tourists into the
piazza to see the famous tower in droves, and purchase cheesy
souvenirs at the little tourist shops outlining the perimeter.
The buses whisk the tourists away just as quickly.
is disenchanted. The rest of the city is quiet and tourist-free,
she assures. But she wants to show me more of Tuscany, so
we head back to her car and set out for ancient Lucca.
we get as close as we can by car, we head into the historic
center of the city on foot. The cobblestoned streets are
so narrow and the buildings so close together that I imagine
they must have seemed like skyscrapers to the medieval inhabitants.
To walk down these narrow lanes gives the feeling of being
closed in until they open into wide, sprawling squares, the
buildings relegated to the periphery.
Luisa leads me under
a brick, tunnel-like archway into Piazza Anfiteatro, a vast
open space in the shape of an amphitheater. Charming cafés
and shops line the piazza border. We go into a typical Tuscan
shop stocked with linens and perfumed lotions. We take our
time looking around, smelling everything. When we come out,
clutching our new purchases of handmade soaps and cards featuring
woodcuts of Pinocchio, it has started to rain. We re-enter
the maze of narrow, antiquated streets and duck into a bar
with dark, Medieval-looking tables and a buffet-style spread
of finger foods on the counter—perfect
for an aperitivo. We relax and chat over a glass of wine.
It is here, speaking Italian
with ease in a beautiful bar in Tuscany, that I can explain
to Luisa why I decided to start studying Italian from scratch
during my last year at Smith—why starting
a new language was more important than finishing my second
major, psychology, which I dropped in order to make room
in my schedule for her class. Though I couldn’t have foreseen
this exact day, this exact bar tucked into a little street
in Lucca, I knew I wanted to be here.
It was determination
that brought me to Italy, but it was luck that brought me
together with a teacher who ended up being more like a big
sister than a professor.