It is late afternoon on a workday in Lucca, Italy. I’m wandering the narrow city streets after leading a bike tour up into the mountains outside of town. The buildings, crafted from stone stand 10, maybe 15 meters high. And stand they do. They’ve been here hundreds of years, will be here hundreds of years more. I look at the wires for electricity, cable television, the Internet that thread into building through holes drilled with quickly dulled bits and I see the cultural effect of modernity, the weed that splits the stone.
In the river valley outside the walled community the heat blooms crops, flowers and a desire to escape the sun. The lanes that connect the shops and markets run so narrow as to render cars an absurdity. I realize that the geometry of lean, cobbled passages beset by multi-story buildings shields the inhabitants from the burning rays, creating a kind of air conditioning.
Upon emerging from a shop I encounter the townsfolk returning home from a day of labor, be it bank or quarry. The mass of people moves and swirls, not with the internal logic of a murmuration of starlings, but with the currents and eddies of a river. Through the middle of it all a woman passes on a bike.
The bike catches my eye first. It is an old three-speed, clad in the patina that suggests it may have been her mother’s or that it is the one and only bike she has purchased since childhood. From a basket a baguette rises, like a flower from a vase. I see the cord handle of her purse draped over the side of the basket bounce slightly as she rolls over the cobblestones.
She passes me, calm and unselfconscious, eyes fixed on the distance ahead. A moment later her pedal stroke pauses for just a moment and she drops one high heel and tilts into a turn. It is the practiced move of someone who uses a tool every day, the way she will slice that baguette at her counter, the way she will tuck the blankets as she puts her children to bed.