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   Date: 8/2/10 Bookmark and Share

Notes From Abroad

Read other Notes From Abroad:

Emily Brown ’11 in England

Britni Steingard ’09 in Geneva


After befriending her Italian language instructor, Luisa Gregori, during her senior year, Laura Itzkowitz ’09, who spent time in Rome her year after graduation, 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.

A Day in Tuscany

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 Normale Superiore, 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.

Luisa 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.

When 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.

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