A Sunday Afternoon Party In Lucca

lucca festival warriorAs we walked down a quiet street in Lucca, a celebrated medieval town in Tuscany, on Sunday afternoon, we heard drums beating in the distance. Like bloodhounds picking up on a pungent odor, we followed the beat, twisting and turning through the city’s narrow, ancient streets as the tribal drumming grew louder and more insistent. Before long, we were sitting in the town’s atmospheric Piazza San Michele watching a group of young musicians in medieval costumes playing trumpets, beating drums and tossing colorful flags across the piazza.

A few minutes into a spectacular free show, the music stopped for a moment and then we heard ominous drumming coming our way. Another band was marching towards the square and their drum rhythm had a military-style beat to it. The second band made its way into the piazza and several members were wearing suits of armor and carrying ancient-looking weapons, including scary-looking daggers and heavy, bows and arrows.

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On the road, a traveler’s fortunes can change in a heartbeat. Last Saturday, my wife and I were cooped up in our hotel room, seeking refuge from a persistent rain. We encouraged our children, ages 2 and 4, to watch a movie in order to give us a break but they wanted to wrestle and jump on the beds and were driving us mad in the process. Few people enjoy rainy vacation days but trying to amuse toddlers in a hotel room in inclement weather without the benefit of their normal complement of toys can be a sanity-challenging exercise.Long before I go on a trip, I enter the destinations onto the saved weather page on my iPod. I’m not quite sure why, but I check the forecast for these places obsessively in the weeks before my departure. There’s nothing you can do about the weather but somehow it’s fun to imagine what a place is going to be like before you get there.

Lucca and all the other Italian cities I placed on my iPod have enjoyed mostly sunny weather for several weeks prior to our arrival, so when I noticed a six-day forecast that showed nothing but rain the day before our arrival, I felt aggrieved. I called my mom, who spent the entire month of April in Lucca last year.

“We didn’t have a single day of rain all month,” she crowed, making me feel even worse.

Any time you encounter inclement weather while on vacation, you can be certain that people will assure you that the weather was terrific just before you arrived and that it will surely clear up as soon as you skip town. After our first day in Lucca was a washout and the icons on my iPod looked ominous for the next two days, I had very low expectations for our Sunday in town. I simply hoped the rain would be light and intermittent, rather than heavy and steady.

A Swiss couple we met in our hotel told us that they were planning to cut their trip short due to the brutal forecast, but thankfully, my iPod had it all wrong. The morning started cloudy, but right before noon the sun’s rays broke through the clouds and the warmth and light felt like an embrace from the gods. Shortly thereafter, the serendipitous battle of the bands played out right in front of us and the day just kept getting better.

After the show was over, the bands marched back out of the piazza and I spoke to a few members of the first band. A young woman who served as one of the band’s drummers said that it was Lucca’s “Liberty Day” commemorating a 14th century victory over Pisa, the city’s rival.

“At that time, they were our bosses,” she said. “But we kicked them out.”

Her band represented the district of St. Anne, located just outside the town’s ancient walls. The other band was from San Paolino – inside the town walls. No one could recall the year the battle occurred but it didn’t matter.

“The important thing to remember is that we beat Pisa,” she said.

[All photos by Dave Seminara]