This month, my wife and I have been married for twenty-three years. We were together for twelve years before we married. We have been a couple for my entire adult life.
I suppose I should say that I can’t imagine my life without her. Sadly, I can imagine it all too easily; my world would shrink, I would be a lesser man, the colour would leach from my life and I would pass my days in black and white.
I am by nature a solitary person, given more easily to anger than to kindness, and with a tendency to think rather than do. My wife gives me a reason every day to try to be a better person than the cranky, isolated, unloving man I know I could become.
But I have not been seeing enough of my wife recently. I’ve been spending too many nights in hotels and too many waking hours wrapped up in work. At the weekend, I leave for a work assignment in New Zealand and I shan’t see my wife at all for weeks.
We took the train down to Florence and stayed overnight at a hotel in the centre with a rooftop swimming pool and a view out over the Duomo.
We’ve grown to know Florence a little in the past few years. When we first visited it, back in the 1990s, it struck me as a tough town: noisy, infested with traffic and moped-riding bag-snatchers, dominated by gloomy violent statues in the main square that depict beheadings and rapes as if they were a perfectly normal focus for civic art. It seemed to me back then that the spirit of the Medici still ruled over the city and I was glad to leave it and move on to Sienna.
Since then, the streets of the old city have been largely pedestrianized and now Florence puts on a festive face for the tourists throngs. At night the ancient buildings are beautifully lit and the gelateria, which sell some of the best ice-cream in the world, compete with street hawkers, buskers, and restauranteurs, trying to catch some of the cash from the shoals of tourists that flow through the streets.
The next day, we rented a car and drove to Lucca, a medieval walled city that has amazingly avoided being modernized. Lucca is a maze of narrow streets where the buildings crowd in upon each other and then open out into broad squares where everyone assembles in order to be seen by everyone-else. Most of the streets are pedestrianized, unless you count the large number of cyclists that weave their way through the slow-moving crowds.
Lucca is quiet and slow and there is nothing to do but walk, shop, eat and drink. The people are friendly, the food is excellent and some of the wine, especially the local whites, is very good. This is exactly what we needed; the opportunity to see something new and stimulating together, the time to talk to each other and to rediscover some of the things that make us happy as a couple. We both love the feel of streets that have been used for hundreds of years. We both enjoy watching the sometimes startling diversity of styles worn by locals and tourists and we both love taking in the fashions in the shops, looking at the leather and the jewelry and browsing the book stores.
The City Walls that surround Lucca turned out to be a pleasant surprise. They are wide enough to walk along and high enough to get a good view both of the city and the surrounding hills. In the evenings, everyone finds their way to the walls, to jog, cycle or just walk hand in hand. One of my favourite moments was taking an improvised picnic up to the walls and watching the sunset behind the hills.
Perhaps it’s because I’m an atheist, but I never understood the “Pray” part of “Eat, Pray, Love”, so I’ve created my own version, “Eat, Play, Love.” In Lucca we did all three and I feel stronger and happier for it.
Now I have to return to work but I will not be leaving Lucca behind. I will carry with me the knowledge that, after thirty-five years together, the thing that makes me happiest is still the opportunity to share the good things in the world with my wife.