How can I be homesick, desperately homesick, for Siena? I was only there three days.
But they were blithe and artful days in Italy, painted in ocher and umber and that earthy russet that was my favorite Crayola, the one called burnt sienna.
They were days of theater without a stage, except for the sweeping outdoor forum that is the Piazza del Campo, one of the most dramatic open spaces in any city in the world. The Campo is an enormous, fan-shaped piazza, with segments of herringbone brick that slope gently toward the base of the Palazzo Pubblico and the periscope spire of the Mangia tower.
Part of the Scene
It seems natural in Siena to go first to Il Campo, which you find by following the flow of pedestrians or even gravity itself. And then you sit at one of the cafes that ring this historic arena and sip an espresso doppio and become a part of the scene.
Siena is another world, another Italy. It is proud, self-reliant and elegantly preserved. Its special character has been ingrained on these hills in southern Tuscany for more than a thousand years.
But more than its purity of architecture, its discreet palaces, its bold zebra-like bell tower that juts above the marble cathedral, it is the gentle manner of the Sienese that lingers in my mind.
Too Far to Walk
Take the young policeman in car 113 who was parked outside the Pizzeria San Marco one night. It was after 10 o'clock and I had to admit that I was lost and too far from my hotel to walk. I spoke to him in plain Spanish. He responded in plain Italian. He said the proprietors of the pizzeria would be glad to call for a taxi because cabs do not cruise in Siena. He said he would offer a ride, but he had to wait for his partner, who emerged not long after with a large boxed pizza to go.
Take the workman who was marching uphill from the Campo when a camera lens cap came rolling toward him at high speed. He put out a shoe and stopped it as if it were a soccer ball. A grateful tourist huffed out " Grazie ." " Prego ," said the Sienese, with kind amusement.
Take the girls in pink uniforms who sold luscious ice cream in the parlor called Nannini at 99 Banchi di Sopra, and showed patience as I waffled among tartufo, cioccolata and nocciola . . . and then chose all three. They smiled the next day when I graduated from a small cup--or piccolo-- to a grande.
Take the attentive waiter at the Trattoria da Mugolone on Via Pelligrini who inquired if everything was all right, because I seemed to be eating very slowly. I nodded, but did not tell him that I had burned the roof of my mouth on the first splendid bite of ricotta and spinach cannelloni and had to wait for the tears to subside so I could see to go on.
Take the handsome pharmacist at the 18th-Century Antica Farmacia on Via San Pietro where I went the next morning to find something to numb the pain in my mouth. His dark eyes locked mine in concern; his words were sympathetic. He stood, a shock of blue-black hair falling over his patrician forehead, like a man of another time, a man who rode like the wind and did not give a fig for computers.
No, don't take any of these characters. I want them.
But, being Sienese, of course, they are not to be had.