Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS: ANN RICKARD Read more at an­

Within min­utes of tick­ets go­ing on sale, they were gone. That’s the way it is when the Rolling Stones comes to town. The band was head­ing to the his­toric Ital­ian town of Lucca just as we were. We had no hope of se­cur­ing tick­ets but we were there in the lead up. We wit­nessed the prepa­ra­tion for the con­cert, a heck of a big deal. The Stones were to play be­neath the 500-year-old Re­nais­sance walls that sym­bol­ise Lucca. Ev­ery ho­tel had been over­booked, ev­ery bed and break­fast was sold out, ev­ery­one who had a room to let had al­ready let it. The ex­cite­ment was fever­ish and in­fec­tious. We were stay­ing with friends in a 500-year-old apart­ment wedged be­tween other 500-year-old apart­ments in­side the walls, just a few me­tres’ walk from Lucca’s lively main street, Via Fil­lungo. Ev­ery morn­ing we walked Via Fil­lungo, dodg­ing the tour groups, try­ing not to be drawn into the beau­ti­ful shops with their jew­els and shoes and de­signer clothes. Ev­ery af­ter­noon we went out­side the hand­some walls to an out-of-town restau­rant or to visit friends of our friends. We drove the busy road cir­cling the walls, des­per­ately try­ing not to hit one of the hun­dreds of hel­met-free cy­clists. We would weave through the hec­tic traf­fic, look up to the quiet and re­gal beauty of the walls and watch the prepa­ra­tion for the Rolling Stones’ con­cert. The green grass be­neath one sec­tion of the wall – the bas­tions of San Paolino and Santa Maria – was be­ing care­fully re­moved to be tem­po­rar­ily re­placed, we guessed, by some­thing hardy to with­stand the feet of the 55,000 peo­ple ex­pected for the con­cert. There were many work­men, a lot of flurry. Lucca’s walls, built in the 16th and 17th centuries, are in im­pec­ca­ble con­di­tion, and wide with a tree-lined sur­face. The lo­cals walk or cy­cle the top of the walls from morn­ing to dusk. At night many find a quiet spot to lie on top of the walls, to look up to the starry sky and, no doubt, to re­flect on their good for­tune to live in such an an­cient and el­e­gant town. The walls, as well as Lucca’s wide Pi­azza Napoleone, make mag­i­cal back­drops for con­certs. Many big names have per­formed: El­ton John, David Bowie and, this year, Rob­bie Williams and the Pet Shop Boys. The Lucca Sum­mer Fes­ti­val presents more events than con­cert-go­ers could pos­si­bly at­tend. Then there is the Fes­ti­val Puc­cini at Torre del Lago, half an hour’s drive away, to cel­e­brate the life and work of the ge­nius com­poser, born in Lucca, and who wrote some of the great op­eras of the world. Now as I write, Lucca is in the throes of hold­ing the Lucca Comics and Games Fes­ti­val, an event ded­i­cated to comics, video games, mu­sic, games and en­ter­tain­ment. Our friends in the 500-year-old Lucca apart­ment have watched as cranes and trucks have squeezed into the small square out­side their bed­room win­dow to erect large mar­quees. They email to tell us ev­ery pi­azza, nar­row street and tiny al­ley­way has been taken over with mar­quees to hold the one mil­lion peo­ple ex­pected to swell the town dur­ing the five-day event. Lucca is a small Tus­can town with big at­trac­tions. And that is with­out even talk­ing about its myr­iad charms and glo­ri­ous an­cient his­tory.

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