Before starting work yesterday, I met up with, Tania, a former colleague I’d collaborated with in language teaching. Her husband, Mirco, is a brilliant pastry cook and a socio (partner) of the Pasticceria Caffetteria Dulcinea 2/A, Via Pesciatina at Lunata near Lucca. As you can see from the photos Dulcinea (clearly a play of words on Don Quixote’s sweetheart and the Italian “dolce”) has a truly excellent range of delicious pastries, drinks, great location on the main road from Pescia to Lucca, good parking facilities and a nice exterior seating area as well (good when it’s finally sunny!) It’s also pretty hot on ice-cream.
My friend, originally from Canada, runs a very successful summer camp at her nearby home in Tassignano. Activities provided at the camp are varied and exciting – both educational and recreational and artistic. Already several of my students with younger children are considering joining the first of their colleagues who has enrolled her twins there: mums and dads wondering what to do with their young offspring are very welcome to contact Tania – details here: The heroes of our time are owners of, or partners in, small businesses, whether they be shopkeepers, service providers, bar-tenders, restaurateurs or hoteliers. They have to be in order to survive in a Europe besieged by spiralling costs, continuing economic crisis, recession, increasing inflation and reduction of the person-in-the-street’s spending capacity.
In Bagni di Lucca I have seen too many small businesses fold up – places that I thought had been solidly assured to last: the Borghesi bar and restaurant, Tuija’s Silver shop, garden shops and so on. Clearly there may have been other factors apart from the financial ones playing their part in their closure – small businesses are notoriously dependent on family dynamics! But, at the same time gross shopping centres (centri commerciali) have been given permits to go ahead where they are not required and where they suck away many potential local shop clients.
OK, one might say it’s the dynamics of the market but the fact remains that many of these centri commerciali have been discovered to have less than healthy financial backgrounds (phrases like money laundering etc. are not inappropriate here). Around the Rome environs, for example, thirty-four totally superfluous new centri commerciali have been approved for this year alone!
Here is a picture of yet another centro commerciale sprouting up on the Viale Europa on a formerly delightful green-field site near Lunata – quite unnecessary since there is a big one less than a mile away.
I am reminded of all this because the recent and continuing Turkish protests around Istanbul’s Tacsim square and beyond originally stem from a proposal to redevelop the historic square as a shopping centre! People today are returning to a day-by-day shopping experience. They are increasingly buying what serves them for the next day or two and not stuffing their deep-freezers with rations more suitable for a regiment. Mass buying (and probably, eventual throwing away of surplus requirements) is not as big as it used to be – partly, of course, because there just isn’t the money there once was in people’s pockets.
People might say that you save money in mammoth stores – but not if you find you have to throw half the stuff away later on and that you have to spend more than you thought on fuel, time and parking fees to get there in the first place. Do you really want the desertification of your local town centre with boarded up shops and hoards of bored semi-drunks roaming along the featureless ex-shopping streets?
(Pic below – a great place to shop? Tricorn shopping centre in Portsmouth, UK)
Why do I love Italian towns? It’s not just because of their historic centres, lively street life, nice weather (usually) and often amazing locations but because the individual character of each one is ensured by their own particularly unique mix of shops – the triumph of the small business, in fact. Italy is the EU country with the greatest number of “piccole aziende”, well over half the economy. (In the UK it is well under half.Someone told me once that the difference between Altrincham and Stoke (UK cities) is that in Altrincham the Boots is to the left of Marks and Spencer while in Stoke the Boots is to the right of Marks and Spencer).
I try, as far as possible, to shop locally, not just for food but for household items. I can think of many smaller shops in my area where the prices are truly competitive, the service is brilliant and if anything goes wrong you don’t have to travel to a warehouse miles away and be met by unhelpful faces.
I hope this goes for most of you reading this post and – if you do find yourself near Via Pesciatina 2a do drop on for a cappuccino at Dulcinea and a pastry as well – you won’t be disappointed!