Why do we fall in love?
With people, with places, with smells, with dishes, a dress.
The way we use the word “Love” is so complex.
Ask someone who’s just returned from an adventure or an incredible concert. “How was it?” you ask. “I loved it” comes the response.
That’s an adrenalin rush, a GREAT experience… but it fades and passes.
What is real love? What isn’t? How does it happen? How do we recognize it?
real Love, IMHO, is a slow evolving deep connection. It ignites slowly… but burns forever, day after day, week after week, year after year, getting brighter and stronger. Souls become one.
Places have souls too…
Today, March 12th, between Purim and Shabbat, we have the perfect moment to focus on our understanding of the difference between experience we love and real love.
Purim and all the Chagim are “moments” of huge anticipation and excitement. Luv ‘em!! Shabbat OTOH is a weekly gentle experience.
I used to tell the kids: on the chagim we have “simcha” – that’s the mitzva of the day – to be exuberant and ecstatically happy. Shabbat comes with “oneg”… the feeling one has coming home from shul on Friday night... seeing the family members aglow, the table, the candles, the wine and challot.
No phones, no computers… but also no props, no seder, no outhouse, no costumes… just an inner peace, a deep feeling that everything is alright in the world.
The feeling you have when you put on a pair of perfect fitting shoes, soft gloves, smell the coffee percolating in the kitchen or the roses in the garden. As Goldilocks said… Just right! That’s Oneg. Quiet, undemanding, Me’en Olam Haba…
How is all this relevant to Lucca?
Lucca, for us, and now, according to thousands of guests who have joined us for trips to Tuscany, is “just right”.
When you are in Tuscany, you have to visit the “must-sees”: Pisa – WOW – the leaning tower really leans. Florence – the Duomo, the Uffizi, statue of David, Ponte Vecchio are magnificent, incredible and a dozen other superlatives. Siena’s Piazza del Campo is breathtaking in its beauty, doubly so when the famous Palio horse race is about to take place. These are adrenalin-rush WOW moment highlights.
But Lucca is everyone’s favourite. Not a single known monument. It just feels… right. It has everything, it quietly and gently enters the soul. It becomes a part of you and you a part of it.
Not too big, not too small. The old city – “la citta vecchia” – is egg-shaped. It takes 15 minutes on foot to traverse from east to west and even less from north to south. It has 8 meter high and 8 meter wide walls which completely surround it. 99 churches, 99 piazzas. No traffic. No hustle, no bustle. No neon signs, no chain stores. People walking everywhere. Every corner a café or pastry-shop. Gorgeous boutiques. Clothes, ceramics, art, antiques, the “old world”.
How do we showcase Lucca to our guests? On most of our tours of Tuscany we reach Lucca a few hours before Shabbat. The luggage goes to our villa where Naomi and the team are busy preparing the gastronomic aspects of an unforgettable Shabbat.
But the guests, many jet-lagged and desperate for a shower, MUST go through the Naomi Boutique Kosher Tours Lucca Shabbat preparation procedure.
We let them off the bus at one of the magnificent gates to the city, walk 3 minutes and mount them on bicycles – Lucca’s main form of transport. A few moments of practice – some guests haven’t done this for DECADES – and we’re up the gentle slope onto the walls for a pre-Shabbat immersion and reconnection with a lifestyle past, cycling on top of the walls on a most inspirational circuit. As we pedal, on the left, we have a bird’s eye view of the city with its buildings and gardens dating back 400-1000 years; on the right the uninterrupted views at every point to the hills that surround Lucca. It’s soooo quiet, so beautiful, so peaceful. The sun is warm, the air is clean. It’s so…… erev Shabbat….
In front of us, and behind us, younger couples hold each other tight, older couples walk arm-in-arm for the famous early evening passeggiata stroll, joggers jog, and there are soooo many people riding bicycles, tandems, surreys.
Families out enjoying the last of the day’s sun, workers rushing home, serious cyclists practicing for the “Giro”. Just bicycles, no cars!! We love Lucca because of all the memories... Soooooo many!!
As the sun begins its descent, we too descend to visit the kosher gelateria!! Really?? you ask. A Kosher Gelateria in Lucca…
(FYI Nowadays there’s no Jewish population in Lucca, but about 1000 years ago Benjamin MiTudela found 40 families there. Google: Rabbi Meshulam "the Great" Kalonymos, of Lucca) “Kosher”, for those wondering, does not mean “bearing a logo from a kashrut agency”.
Kosher means fit for a Jew to eat ie not treif. When we first visited in 1980 we discovered the gelato law. By law, still today, every gelateria which produces its own gelato MUST display EVERY ingredient, down to the tiniest quantity of every flavor in a booklet which can be checked. And some gelaterie are “artigianale” – meaning they make the ice cream in the time-honoured technique used for hundreds of years with 100% natural ingredients. (Word of warning – many gelaterie use the word “artigianale” but aren’t: they cheat using industrial bases which are nearly all treif using a ma’amid stabilizer – no batel beshishim - from a treif animal so, you have been warned)
Coming from the UK where there were no kosher logos, just lists of permitted and forbidden ingredients and additives we all carried around when we shopped, we knew what to look for. Already in 1980 we found in the main square of Lucca a gelateria in which (as far as I could tell) the vast majority of the flavours were absolutely kosher (chalav stam). For 40 years we visited the store. For the first 25 years it was the ever returning Goldberg family who took vacations in villas throughout Tuscany. They appreciated my one and only ever psak: “Guys… this gelato is KOSHER!!!!”
Since 2006 we brought our groups there. My “psak” was no longer good enough. We had the Rav of Florence check the place. We had a Rav from the OU check the place. I was relieved to hear from everyone that their conclusions matched mine. Most guests ordered the gelati (LOTS of it!!); the chalav yisrael guests devoured the sorbetti and everyone LOVED sitting in the square to enjoy their treat with a piping hot cappuccino. There was always an open tab for any Naomi tour participant. We told the guests: “whenever you’re walking around in Lucca and want a gelato or a coffee, just say “Naomi group” and they’ll never ask you for money”.
How many people still remind us how they remember their time in that place!! How many parties, meals, and experiences did that place produce!
I haven’t told you where it is. Why not? We loved that gelateria, its owners, its printed list of kosher ices signed by the Rav of Florence. We became very friendly with the owners… over 3 generations … and we were b’nei bayit there. 40 years!!
Sadly, due to the heavy competition from the pseudo-artigianale gelaterie in Lucca, patronized by guests who are less finicky than kosher Jews, Leonardo could no longer compete. He wrote us: “I am heartbroken to tell you that after all these years we are selling the gelateria found by our nonna. The new owners will not be making the gelati the way we did, so “I... will no longer be kosher for your wonderful clients. It is a sad day”.
I wrote him back: “We too are truly sad. So many good times.” And, using negotiating techniques learned from Avraham Avinu added “But perhaps there are in the town other authentic gelato artigianale producers”. He responded: Yes there might be. Try…(Two weeks ago we were there. We believe we have a solution. Am Yisrael Chai!! And we were put in quarantine for our efforts!!)
If you keep reading the blog – we’ll tell you some stories about that gelateria. And stories create beautiful memories and memories are the nutrients of REAL love.