Archive for March 21st, 2004

Pecorino e Miele… At “Home” in Siena

Saturday morning I wake up in Florence, not sure what to do with my weekend.

I stare at a map of Tuscany. I decide upon Arezzo and pack my things. I leave Florence, happy that I was able to say hi to my old friend ‘David’ once again, and find my way to Roberto Benigni’s hometown. I arrive in Arezzo midday, during ‘siesta’… the town is quiet and relaxed but the air isn’t very welcoming to me. I sense an energy of animosity, towards what, I don’t know.  Still I figure I can at least spend a day here. I meander through random streets and alleys of this former Etruscan town in my typical curious fashion, and simply don’t “feel” it. I realize that I’m hungry and I stop at the first trattoria I see. I walk in and it’s busy inside. I stand there for 5 minutes and nobody seems to want to help me. One waitress sees me, waves me off and keeps working. Disgusted and missing the kindness of Siena, I slink out the door and head next door. I step inside and the waitress looks at me and says ‘si?’ as if to say ‘what do you want?!’.  I’m worried that her crankiness will rub off on me. I’ve lost my appetite and decide to leave. I’m really beginning to miss Siena.

I make my way to the Piazza Grande, expecting to be taken aback but in reality it just makes me want to be in Siena all the more. I sit on the steps of a church and breathe, looking around me at the architecture and at students looking at the architecture. I’m surprised that I’m not moved by Arezzo, especially after all the things I have heard about it. I wander a bit more through the town to make sure I haven’t missed something, and decide I really ought to be in Siena. I go to the bus station, and by myself a bus ticket to Siena. The young woman who sells it to me seems very angry with me for wanting to buy a bus ticket. Boy am I glad to be getting out of here.

I have 2 hours before I need to catch my bus so I go into a bar and decide to have coffee and a snack. At this bar I discover Arezzo’s 3 friendly individuals. The two baristi and a gal who seems to be a friend of theirs. I wonder if they are even from Arezzo, and how they can be so cheerful and kind in spite of this grouchy, foreboding town. After paying for my coffee and reveling in the fact that 3 people in Arezzo are actually happy to have me there, I go to the bus station where I run into some friends from school. Hurrah, I think, now the bus ride will go by quicker! I am hoping to have some good fun chit-chat but instead I fall asleep on the bus.

An hour and 15 minutes later, I start to recognize my surroundings and realize I’m finally in Siena. The bus passes my quarter of Siena and makes its way into Piazza Gramsci. “Home,” I catch myself thinking as I sigh with contentment. Home?!  I’m surprised at this thought. As I walk to my apartment, noticing the pleasant, welcoming feeling in the air, I realize how truly happy I am to be here. I reflect on the two cities and I realize that the thing about Florence, as much as I love it and as whole as I feel there, is that everybody is out to make a buck…or should I say euro. in Siena I don’t feel that air of ‘come on, let’s make a deal!!’… More like an air of ‘gee, it’s great that you decided to come here!’…  Don’t get me wrong, I love Florence truly madly and deeply, but Siena has really introduced herself to me and I’m quite happy to meet her.

After changing my clothes and picking a warmer jacket, I meet Silvio in Piazza Matteotti. He wants to cook dinner for me so we walk for about 15 minutes until we reach the apartment he shares with 2 other Italians and a Palestinian. We listen to The Cardigans while he prepares dinner, and in comes the Palestinian with his Italian girlfriend and they are speaking so fast I don’t know which angle from which I should listen. They thankfully slow down whenever addressing me, because they know I’m kind of new at Italian.

Silvio cooks fusilli pasta tossed with cream and bits of salmon and asparagus and it’s quite good with parmigiano cheese. We sip Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Next, he introduces me to another Tuscan pleasure of which I was never aware. Pecorino cheese with honey. Oh my goodness.  The combination sounds mighty strange, but it truly is perfect.  We end our feast with ice cream and coffee, at which point one of his Italian roommates comes home. He is from the south, from Basilicata. He teases me at first by speaking to me in French and other languages but then we settle into Italian. I decide immediately that he is weird. His hair is a bit unkept and he speaks softly and slowly in an accent I can’t quite understand. Silvio says he has trouble understanding him too, so I know not to question my linguistic ability. In the background there is a show on called ‘Sogni’, dreams. the host is this charismatic blonde in her 60′s, and the basis of the show is that people write to her with their dreams, such as dancing in the ballet in Russia, or having a makeover, or being reunited with someone. It’s truly Italy’s answer to Oprah Winfrey.

Silvio and I make our way to a bar in the center of town, and settle in with some of his friends over beer (me with cider)… one of them, Francesco, has just returned from a vacation in St Moritz. He speaks quickly with a heavy Tuscan accent that I just love.  He also smokes very heavily which makes it difficult to breathe.  I am happy to eventually leave the bar and get some fresh (and might I add, sweet) air.

Silvio, who is allergic to nuts, cypresses and mushrooms but still manages to live in Tuscany, walks me home to my sweet apartment, and as soon I approach the door and prepare to unlock it, I think, ‘ah, home sweet home…’ In my pajamas I stare across the valley at the Duomo and feel very lucky to be here right now. Settling into bed for the night, visions of pecorino cheese, coffee and gelato dance in my head.

I wake up to the same familiar view of the same familiar Duomo and head out for a Sunday of touristic wandering. I find myself at the house where St. Catherine, Siena’s patron saint was born. Each room has been turned into a beautiful chapel, and there are frescos all over, depicting the story of her life. I am particularly touched by this saint today, so I buy a small icon for 3 euros to keep beside my bed.
I happily continue my day in search for treasures in Siena…

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