Monday morning dawns beautiful in Chianti….and pretty darn cold…and windier than my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas on one of its best “windy city” days. This most unusual for May cold front had certainly announced itself loudly here in Tuscany, as well as Lombardy (the region that Piacenza is in). However, as long as a warm sun is shining, all is well.
Kathleen and I convinced ourselves that an early-ish rise was the best plan, so up by around 8:00, we prepped for the day’s adventures. First stop was for cappuccino and Simone’s art work. We were gifted with a swan and a turkey (or is that a peacock??), both as lovely as ever. And so temporal…always a little painful to have to stir away the beautiful little creatures he creates. A breakfast panino, some friendly chat, and onward southerly towards Siena!
Ah, but I forget…we first made a stop at Ray’s office to introduce Kathleen, say hello, make a call to Wells Fargo to find out why a withdrawal wouldn’t work (easily solved, thank goodness), chat a bit, solve a few world problems, then…adiamo a Siena!
Having “ been there, done that” last week with Marty, following the GPS’s convoluted instructions into the town center to the stadio parking wasn’t near the challenge it was the first time. Yay! Like a soccer fan pro who’d done it a million times, I wound around each curve, coursed through each intersection, and whipped the little Punto into the parking area without a hitch. But lest I brag too brashly, I willingly admit having that satellite driven lighthouse of a GPS did make a big difference!
We entered the wondrous town of terra cotta tile hues and made our way to….a shop! Yes, it’s a little different traveling with a girlfriend. A few souvenirs were procured and tucked away, then it was off to San Dominica, the church I wrote of earlier that is dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena. Kathleen was extra thrilled about this visit due to the fact that she has used St. Catherine as a focus in her Mythology class, but didn't realize the connection to Siena! We also found our way to St. Catherine's home in Siena, not far from San Dominica, and visited it. One little side note that gave this Texas gal a thrill – I was waiting outside a shop for Kathleen, standing in the warm sun and passing a few minutes time. A foursome of tourists approached me, and in their best attempts at Rick Steve guidebook English asked, “Scuzi…dove’ e’ il San Dominica?” I smiled, and promptly said, “Oh…I speak English quite well!” And the neat part was, I could actually give them a little guidance! Funny thing, this same scenario had also happened as we were leaving the parking lot, and once more further into town. I must make a mental note of what my attire was that day because it obviously communicated la donna italiana. Hmmm….maybe, just maybe, a little of that so coveted way that Italians have with style is rubbing off just a teeny weeny itty bitty bit??
The beautiful Torre di Mangia watching over Il Campo in Siena
We made our way to the glorious Il Campo (the unusual triangular shaped center area or piazza), took in the views, marveled at the large number of visitors, and finally found our way for a revisit for me and a first time visit for Kathleen to the jovial (and delicious) Trattoria di Torre that Marty and I had dined at. We checked out the hanging menu at the entrance, made our decisions, then popped through the hanging greenish curtain things that remind me of those brushy, cylindrical aquarium plants. I noticed there were only a couple of tables inhabited, made eye contact with the cute waiter, and asked “Chiuso (closed)?” “Si…chiuso.” I let out an exaggerated gasp, put a hand to my forehead, and replied, “Noooo….sono Trieste! (I am sad), then rubbed my eyes to mimic crying. It actually created a smile on the otherwise stoic face of this fellow we’d encountered last week when there, but alas…it did not garner us any food.
Deciding to cut our losses, we walked a shop or two further away from Il Campo, and came upon a little bar…only a few locals inside with a not so friendly looking gal behind the counter. I used my basic Italian, ordered, and we sat to enjoy Panini, una biera, and a little local atmosphere. An older gent had assessed us, and invited us to sit with him, Kathleen told me…somehow I missed it as we made our way outdoors to a table there. The gent came up to us as he was leaving, though, and we had a brief, friendly little conversation in my limited Italian. Fun! The outside endeavor didn’t last long, however, due to the cold wind, so we retreated rather quickly, finished our meal, downed a “doppo pranzo” (after lunch) caffé, then took advantage of the place for a bathroom break. You’ve heard of those “European toilets” (wow…I could take advantage of that phrase for a really bad pun, but I shall resist…with great effort), the kind that are basically a porcelain hole in the ground with nifty little places for your feet? I’d met one of these before, a few years back, and I had the pleasure of introducing Kathleen to her first one here! Oh, and the not so friendly counter gal lightened up nicely as it became apparent, I think, that we maybe weren’t going to pull any snooty tourist acts for her. Attitude during travel can be the deal breaker or maker, no doubt.
Without an itinerary of any particular sort, I convinced Kathleen (“I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals and the likes; I really don’t have any burning desire to see more”) that a visit to Siena’s duomo was a must. Tickets procured, we entered the duomo…it wasn’t more than a mere minute or two that the “I’ve seen…” was replaced with ongoing remarks of wonder, awe, and marvel at this grand structure and it’s treasures! Being able to revisit and share these kinds of things is a joy, and I’m really hopeful my little group of girlfriends who are working towards a spring trip all together (you know who you are!) are able to make it happen and allow me the chance to share this again!
photo courtesy secretplacesitaly.net
Not to be missed while in Siena, we found a gelatria/pastacieria and bought two slices of the Siense treat, pan forte – one hunk of the lighter version called margherita, another hunk of the darker version called nero. I do believe I’ve eaten enough of this now to quantifiably state that I prefer the nero. It’s infused with rich, heavy spices I’ve probably only just heard of before…and it is heavenly--a chewy, decadent concoction of nuts, candied fruits, and other things mysterious and medieval. We took an ancient seat on the marble benches so often incorporated into these old, old cities…wonderful spots for the populace to sit and gather, watch, be seen, contemplate – or eat pan forte. The grand duomo façade was our fore view, along with the people watching.
photo courtesy of flickr.com
Now at the risk of being hated just for a brief moment or two, I must tell what happened to Kathleen. We were sitting, chewing on the delights aforementioned, and when Kathleen picked up the small bag the pan forte had been in, she realized it’d been placed on a “present” some pesky pigeon left. We kept the bag there, figuring it’d be a good defense until we left. I made a casual comment or two, and then noticed that Kathleen popped up rather quickly from her seat and made a bee line to the trash can. Only slightly curious, I waited, then asked what was up. She gave one of those “You’ve never going to believe this.” looks, and proceeded to tell me she’d thought there was some of the pan forte stuck on her hand, and she’d, naturally, just licked it off. <<pregnant pause>> Nope, it wasn’t pan forte. She smiled and stoically stated that she was in this beautiful place, life was good, and she was not going to get sick, nor let this freak her out…too much. Being the kind, comforting friend that I am, I burst in to shrieks of laughter, offering sympathy between gasps. Needless to say, we had any number of laughs over this as the day wore down.
Kathleen at the door of "The Rabbit Hole" at Casamonti
Back in Castellina and into the wonderful little COOP grocery store for some goods! Just like at home, I always manage to come out with a lot more than I went in for. It was a little too late to head home to cook, so we secured the goods in the car and headed down the quaint little main street to the little café that does a pretty mean pizza. Throw in a little wine, a warm building (sun down = coooold!), and some good conversation, and thus makes a great close to a wonderful day.
Back home, we found a few more things in need of discussion before completely calling it a night, then Kathleen retired upstairs. Since I sleep better “da sola”, I’ve made me a little cocoon in the lower level with the love seat cushions, and it’s worked out quite nicely…comfy, cozy, and warm! With the ability to exercise my night owl bio-rhythms, I stayed up prepping a fragoli zuppa (bean soup) with a package of mixed beans, a can of tomatoes, onion, garlic, a little salume, Tuscan seasoning that Guila gave us, and salt and pepper. While this simmered into the late night, I found the chance to pour a little Chianti and write…and write….as I did catch up on about 3 days of blogging. It was a joyful experience…late night in the Tuscan “rabbit hole” - cooking and writing. I let the zuppa cool as I prepared for bed, then secreted myself into my cocoon and wandered into sleep under a Tuscan roof, under a Tuscan starry night.
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.