So I had an intentionally lazy weekend because I feel like I have been going, going, going since I got here. I woke up to the most amazing croissant (they are called cornetti in Italy) because I told Delores that I wouldn’t eat breakfast at home. I wanted to leave early and didn’t want to feel like I had to linger at the breakfast table like I normally do. Of course this was an unacceptable explanation, so I told her that I wanted to have a cornetto in a café instead so she wouldn’t bother me with breakfast. Lo! and behold! I woke up, about to hurry out the door to catch my 9:00am bus to Siena, and there was a cornetto waiting for me at the table! She had driven to the best bakery in Florence just to get me this pastry… and I tell you, it was incredible. Big and fluffy and perfect in every way, it was glazed with something delicious—was it honey? Sugar? Anyway, I think she really likes me in spite of the phone incident, so it made me happy. I hurried out the door to catch my bus and expected to arrive in a city full of other tourists. An hour later, I got out of the bus to a nearly empty city. There were times when I would look around and see that I was the only person on that street, in that church, or in that square. It was absolutely delightful, especially because the weather was so amazing. I climbed the Torre del Mangia in Il Campo (the huge square in the middle of the city, which they fill with dirt twice a year for a wild horse race…) and got the most incredible view of Siena and Tuscany (see trishinflorence.shutterfly.com for pictures). After that, I wandered around, peeked into a few quiet, cold, sweet churches, and then went on to the main cathedral. I have said before that oftentimes I do not like bigger cathedrals because to me they can feel cold and absent of any spirituality. I did not have very high expectations, but this one was different. The façade was gorgeous—white, red, and green marble (the colors of the Italian flag, interestingly enough), but the inside was spectacular. The columns were composed of black and white striped marble, so that it resembled an enormous zebra at times. Sounds strange, but it was actually quite nice. The marble floors were decorated with mosaics and carvings, which were beautiful too. The pulpit really stands out in my mind, an enormous marble structure intricately carved with scenes from the life of Christ and the fates of humanity. It was done by Nicola Pisano with some of his apprentices, and was influential in its time for its intense realistic portrayals of joy and grief. The real highlight, however, was the Library of Piccolomini. Created for Piccolomini’s uncle Pope Pius II, this small room branching off the apse of the church was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I took a video of it, which I hoped would capture its beauty more than photographs, but I am sad to say that it does not do it justice. Still, I will try to figure out how to post it so you might have some idea. I also visited the museum of the Duomo, which was full of treasures including the original statues that stood on the façade, but were removed to the museum to prevent further damage from the weather. They were badly damaged, but still wonderful. The highlight of the museum was definitely the original stained glass window that stood in the nave of the church. It is the first thing you see when you walk into the museum. The room is dark but there is light coming through this amazing window and you feel like you are completely surrounded by rubies and emeralds for how it sparkles and the rich warmth it gives. Also memorable were the needlepoints from the 12th century, the Madonna Con Grosse Occhi—Madonna With The Big Eyes (because her eyes are huge), and the original wooden crucifix that hung in the Duomo. After the museum, I scavenged for food, came up with some roasted eggplant, fresh clementines and strawberries, foccacia, and a tiny bottle of Chianti Classico (wine). I walked around for about an hour after that, just seeing the city. I was about to leave when I decided last-minute to visit the hospital there, which is now a museum. It is the oldest hospital in Italy and supposedly stunning. I went in to buy a ticket and didn’t realize that I had gone into the wrong room, because I entered instead into an exhibition called “Arte, Genio, Follia”—Art, Genius, Madness. How lucky, because it was the most fascinating exhibition! They really did a wonderful job choosing the pieces, all of which conveyed both genius and insanity at the same time. Many of the works were completed by patients of mental institutions or people who simply went a little (or a lot) crazy. A few of Van Gogh’s paintings were on loan from Musee d’Orsay, including his painting of the hospital in which he stayed after he cut off his ear. Most memorable, however, were the metal sculptures called “Koepfe,” German for “Heads,” by a man called Messerschmidt. I cannot recall his first name. They were incredible representations of intense emotion—anguish, fear, disgust, paranoia. I intensely regret not buying the catalogue, and may have to return to Siena just for that!
Today I slept late, got up around 10:00am, had another delicious cornetto/croissant, and then called my host counselor, a man named Nicola Rabaglietti (Rah-by-etee). I was actually really nervous about trying to speak on the phone in Italian, scared that I wouldn’t be able to communicate, that they wouldn’t understand me, or that I wouldn’t understand them. I called his house number and got his daughter, Jennifer. She seemed extremely nice and gave me his cell number because he was out of town today. So I called his cell phone and he asked if we can meet tomorrow. He was overwhelmingly friendly and I am so excited to have that connection with an Italian family. I am also excited to meet the members of his Rotary club and find a place to start volunteering. I did a few other things, left the house around 1:00pm, and was graced with the most beautiful day I’ve seen since I have been here. The sun was shining and it was about 75 degrees… the perfect day for a walk along the river. I ended up in this big park which just so happened to have a fair today, so I ate tons of junk food, including pistachios, candied almonds, Sicilian olives, and my very first cannoli. It was… really intense. Not my favorite thing in the world, but a good experience nonetheless. Tonight I had dinner with Sophie (Greece), her parents, Connie (Los Angeles), Andre (Brazil), and Andre’s roommate Jacob (Italy). It was great fun having such a big group, especially because the wine was flowing, the food was great, and we got a complementary bottle of Moscato (sweet sparkling wine) and cantucci (biscotti) with Vin Santo (sweet dessert wine). That is one thing that I absolutely love about Italy: if you please your waiter, you always get free drinks or treats at the end of dinner. And now, here I am, warm and cozy in bed and ready to start a new week tomorrow!