May 18th, Friday ~ Kathleen departs, old & new Siena, Santa Maria delle Scala, an evening walk, and soup
Kathleen and I both greeting the morning with more “I can’t believe a week has passed.” comments as the morning sky dawned cheery turquoise blue, a fitting arrivederci of a Tuscan cielo. We made time, but less than the past two days, for our new morning ritual of tea, a crostini or two, and lots of talk. Reminded me of the days of my girlhood when my mother had a friend or neighbor “for coffee”. Ashamed we don’t have more of that in our modern lives.
Cutting things short, we amazed ourselves that we were out the door at precisely our preplanned time. One last swing by the gas station for a Simone cappuccino, a small bite, and Kathleen’s farewell. I also noted with subtle joy that the somewhat friendly, but you’re not quite sure type about of affect silver haired gent who runs the station actually saw us walk up, acknowledged us as less than strangers, and smiled. Love the little things such as this that insert more of the daily rhythms here into my Castellina routine.
A little caffeine under our belts and still running on schedule, we made a quick stop by Ray’s office to print out Kat’s ticket and check-in info, as well as say good byes there.
The drive to the train station in Siena was with GPS steerage - of course - and true to form, the little satellite brain took us precisely there. What a stress reliever that thing is (most of the time!). Still scratching my head on why I didn’t insist on one for last May’s European adventure. Anyway… We found parking quite easily, then I accompanied Kat in to give here the Italian Trains - 101 primer course with ticket purchase, finding your platform, etc. We enjoyed the irony found in Kathleen’s mention of a few farfalle (butterflies) in her stomach, despite the fact she’s taken a bus to the depths of Mexico numerous times. Everything was set, so we sat at the platform and visited for a few more minutes before I departed. Warm hugs exchanged, safe travel declarations made, and final waves procured, Kat headed to her platform and I headed out of the station…not certain of my first stop on this new and final leg of the month of May in Italy.
I walked a bit around the artistic fountains that create demarcation between the bus and trains stations, watching people come and go, most dragging one kind of a bag or another, as well a their personal story for travel this day. Finding myself, unbeknownst earlier, at the “Galleria” of Siena…a mall!...I figured it was worth a gander. Although of a smaller version and less glitz, this place qualified for a mall. I strolled about, just taking it in. Other than a Game Stop, I didn’t recognize any store names; however, I could’ve taken place names of our retailers in the states and easily slapped one on most every store to fit its expectations. American pop was piped in on the sound system…common here, we found. I also noted one of those penny spin gravity things designed to lure coins from Mom’s purses world over, I would guess. Here, one of those devices is called a Imbuto Gravitatzionale. Say that fast three times! There was also a bigger grocery store called PAM (wonder if those are initials like our HEB?), along with a smaller version of a Best Buy. The grocery store was too dangerous (for my purse, that is), so I opted to slip into a little accessory store – after all, I really did need a belt for those jeans that sag a bit, non e’ vero (“it’s not true?” - vernacular for our “Right?”)? Found a great little leather belt, not very expensive, made in Italy…success! Oh, and um…a couple of pairs of earrings – but on the sale rack. Unlike that totally awesome bracelet that came out with me, too. But I digress…
Marty had suggested I check out the international language school supposedly right across from the train stazione while I was there, but my best intentions could not locate it within something walkable, so I opted to cut my losses and head towards il stadio to park for a jaunt into old town Siena. Ms. GPS guided me, sure enough, but coming from the reverse direction, I managed to make enough premature or late turns to get things “recalculated” numerous times. Turned out fine, though, as we ended up coming in on a nice glide path from the angle I was familiar with. If one has never driven these convoluted roads in ancient cities, it’s hard to describe how intersections randomly come together at the oddest angles, and ya better not make a mistake if you’re responsible for the yield. There’s been a time or two that I’ve just greased through one of these on a wing and a prayer!
Got myself parked without a hitch and began down the now familiar path on foot into Siena. It was another busy day here with the usual hustle and bustle this city has, but at a comfortable, exciting level. I noted several new shops I hadn’t even seen before, despite walking past them how many times? One is an incredible market, I later found out, that has been around since about 1901. It’s kind of a farmer’s market type place, and my stroll through it was amazing. I refrained from buying anything, but again…great damage could’ve easily been done to my pocketbook…and my weight.
My first goal was to make my way to Il Campo, easily done by either going downward on most any major street, or by following the mainstream of the crowd. Being a “local” (lest you forget, I am the one asked for directions by tourists, after all - ha!), I found my way just by knowing where I was going. Which was soooo cool!! A bee line for the tower, and I found myself at the door, once again, to that little trattoria with the bushy aquarium plant curtains…and this time aperto (open)! Announcing to the bushy eyebrow owner I was “Sono da sola” (I’m alone…just me), I took a seat at the same table Marty and I had dined at, and answered the first question one is always asked…water and wine? Si, va bene…del’aqua frizzante e vino rosso alla casa, per favore.” I watched as the wine was poured from a straw wrapped bottle by way of a funnel into a smaller decanter, then to my glass. I imagined it was from their family stock, but regardless…it was wonderful. And yes, it’s true…wine is cheaper than water in most places in Italy. My meal was that wonderfully thick pici (pee-chee) pasta in a Bolognese sauce…because they’d run out of the cinghiale (wild boar) sauce. With cheese. I added an insalata mista and commenced to enjoy a wonderful meal in this quaint place once again. Oh, and topped off by my newest bad habit that will be hard to replicate back home…caffe’ doppo pranza (coffee – the strong, 2 tablespoons worth Italian version that I now love – after lunch).
Face mostly wiped of the delicious sauce enjoyed for lunch, I made my way along Il Campo, then through the narrow, up and down streets to the Duomo piazza and found the entrance to the Santa Maria della Scala. This structure was the old hospital, and when I say old, I mean old. Beginning its life as a place of healing, this ospitale was built and began serving the Sienese in the 1300’s. It’s a huge place and the first few cavernous rooms, including a sanctuary bigger than most village churches, are neck-bending, mouth-gaping wonders of arched ceilings sporting that medieval art that never ceases to thrill. The main ward certainly provided its inhabitants a nice upward view. I found myself entirely alone in the sanctuary and took advantage of such a precious gift. A group of noisy school children were somewhere in the building, but their raucous chatter faded soon. I sat and let my mind clear as I gazed at all the wonders before me. The feeling of the presences of so many over ages past seemed to swirl about me as I allowed myself to marinate in this place so old. The quietness was grand -- such a switch from the hurriedness of the streets. I gazed at the glazed brick floors, so old and worn that the ages seemed to have melted them together in places. The feet that had trod on this very spot, just as mine, had stood and looked at what I was beholding. The shared vision, although we can’t speak together of it, was experienced. I thought on so many who’d undoubtedly been here seeking a miracle…or seeking comfort….or just seeking. We all walk such a similar path, no matter the millennia we happen to be present in. I sat for a period and allowed the spiritual presence found there to wrap itself around me in a sweet way. Getting up to continue on was hard to do. I gazed up close at one of the confessionals, not sure just how old it was, but knowing it had seated countless hundreds of years of those seeking to repent and be forgiven. The wood was worn where hands had gripped in kneeling prayer. I know many a tear had seasoned this wood, seeking to find rest within. The priest’s seat was worn, as well, from the years upon years of being seated here, listening and hopefully offering wisdom and encouragement, as well as their brand of forgiveness.
I wandered from area to area, certain I was nigh upon the uscita (exit), but no…a whole ‘nuther section to behold met me each time. My estimated hour or so visit accumulated to something more akin to 3 or 4 hours, all of it marvelous. I wandered down countless stairways, finding myself down under incredible labyrinth type rooms, nooks, crannies, and spaces only the ghosts know the original uses for. It was ingeniously done with wooden floors to somewhat guide your path, but the creative minds behind this allowed the ability to twist and wind and turn where you think maybe you shouldn’t, but yes…it’s okay. The lighting was just right, as well….dark enough to lend a spooky feel, yet remain safe. I have to admit – the museum was very sparsely visited this day, and many, if not most, moments I was totally alone. The creepy factor got especially high when I entered the small, dark, ominous St. Catherine of the Night chapel. Glad my rational adult speak gray matter took over and kept the shivers down to a minimum!
The Santa Maria della Scala currently houses two major and incredible permanent exhibits, all creatively and wonderfully presented in the hinterlands under the main building. One is a massive collection of Etruscan artifacts and other early period items, all found within a short radius of Siena. I especially enjoy looking into the eyes of the figures atop the funerary urns and wondering about who they were, what their stories were, and really, how common their lives were to ours. Looking at the everyday scenes depicted on the graciously designed earns and pottery also brings such enjoyment…it’s just like a postcard from the past. One in particular made me giggle out loud – it was a young man showing his bicep muscle to a halfway impressed girl. Some things never change!
The other collection is really amazing in the world of religious artifacts…well, okay – relics. Yes, the body parts thing once again. This collection was procured in the 1300’s from Constantinople and brought to Siena. I read a lengthy history on this, and it was fascinating but too long to include here. Basically, some really rich dude figured he’d garner Siena some power, as well as secure his afterlife (in his mind) by the purchase. This brought some serious high-fiving to Siena, and the popes used it to sway the populace in different ways until a more secular vibe took over the area. Interesting reading easily found on the internet, I’m sure. But on to the macabre…there were any number of bones, fingers, and things I couldn’t identify (probably for the best, although I swear one was someone’s thyroid) encased in the most amazing gold & jeweled jars and boxes. The artwork was splendid and almost allowed one to forget what they were encircling. I’m really kind of thankful the Methodists decided somewhere back when that this was a tradition best left behind. (see this link for the whole story)
At the end of my time in this incredible place, and still in the darkish vault-like hallways, I began to look for a way out. No luck. Try this way again. Hmmmm. Starting to feel like I was in some Hitchcock-ish novella, I retraced my tracks to an Uscita sign I’d seen, then towards some large old wooden doors…but no sign on them, no indication that one could indeed exit here. I noted a thread of daylight between the doors that sliced the dimness, and decided this would be my exit, official or not…and found my self in the back lot of the museum, but in daylight and ready to make my way in the vibrancy of the Sienese streets once again.
The drive back was sweet, as always, bringing a transition from the harried streets of the city to the curving, sensuous roads and views of Tuscan Chianti. It’s a wicked gentleness driving these roads, much like the land. Wild, rocky, steep, treacherous….but gently sloped and cultivated over the ages, offering the greatness of oil and wine and wheat. The roads are the same, offering a satisfaction found through their ability to challenge yet nurture, albeit with an investment great…as the people who’ve tamed this land know so well.
Back “home”, I quickly dropped my day’s accoutrements, changed shoes, and headed out to walk the entire length from the roadway to Tremonti, the farm adjacent to Casamonti. I have no idea if the road ends there, but it was calling me to walk at least that far. The sky had cleared to that Tuscan blue, and it was a glorious dusk. I walked past more olive groves, assured that they were of the oldest kind due to the thickness of the trunks. I observed the withering culled branches tossed aside after the spring pruning. A luscious spider web caught my eye, and I thought how wonderful a part of Creation that this small creature had found the useless and made it entirely useful and important in the system of life. The birdsong accompanying me was grand, as always. The cuckoo joined the chorus this night, as well.
The turn off to Casamonti and Tremonti also notes that this road/strada is part of the via Romea…the road to Rome. I want to know more on this!! I thought much on my walk this evening…my feet were treading the same dusty path that how many had trod before? The pilgrims that traversed this same spot – did they gaze upon these same olive trees? Did they hear the same birdsong? And I thought on the olive trees as they seemed to personify before me…I was just one of so many they’d watched pass by, a brief encounter in the extraordinarily short walk we humans are given on this terre firma.
An old rock wall borders parts of this road, veering off in directions on less traveled paths that wind into the olive groves. The old original roads, I presume? I’ve noted that some of the roads I’ve traveled…well, many, actually…are bordered this way. I’d imagine these denote the oldest roads, but I don’t know. I wandered off my gravel road walk to one of these and followed the crumbling wall a bit. Wouldn’t you?
At Tremonti, I reversed course and walked back to Casamonti and on down my familiar, tree lined, beautiful road to the highway. The sunset was again of the brand further up than spectacular as it eased beneath the higher hills and mountains to the west, cloaking itself with the precious hues of purples, pinks, and blues. This moves one, as most sunsets do, but how so more? I’m sure there’s a healthy dose of romanticism with this particular setting, but being alone here now twice, I am overcome with these moments of saturated emotion, sensory overload that is at once precious, overwhelming, joyful, and painful. On my way back, I noted that the same critter-startle sounds in the flora along the path I walk are all in the same spot, and that they no longer make me jump even if the little creature living there can’t say the same. Patterns. Predictability. It makes me smile.
Back to the cozy rabbit hole in this night that’s taken back its chill, I commence to prepare another soup to share with Anna Rita and Ray for the weekend. A nice bag of legumes, a jar of tomato sauce (Italian style, of course!), sautéed onions and garlic, some thin sliced ham, and freshly chopped carrots and zucchini meet up in the pot and begin to dance to the flame. I add fresh rosemary picked outside my door, along with some peperoncini, dried oregano, a few bay leaves that traveled with me from Rockport, sea salt, and pepper….and yeah, some more of the taco seasoning I brought! While it simmers, I tidy things up, do a little writing, and randomly try out some Italian radio stations on this great little 1980’s radio. The night is tidy and sweet.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?
All photos used in this blog were taken by the author, the author's husband or friends, or found by way of images.google.com. Photo credit is given when possible.