Village Italy Tour

Day 10 Monday May 23, 2005
Castello di Modanello, Siena

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I heard one little bird at about 5:15. I dragged my lazy ass out of bed, donned my running gear, performed my warm-up exercises, and hit the road for a little run at 5:50. It seemed pretty nice out, but the clouds looked a little ominous. I took the road downhill – there was no choice – and made a right turn at the first intersection, which meant that I would be going away from the castle.

The highlight of the run happened almost immediately. A male pheasant flew out of the brush about five feet from where I was running. It seemed to me that I must have awakened him.

There was nothing too eventful about the rest of the jog, just the usual monotonous Tuscan countryside at daybreak with the birds lazily announcing the return of the Sun, or, since it was quite cloudy, at least a little light. After 30 minutes I found myself down at a zona industriale a couple of miles from the Castello. I was about to turn around and return back the way that I had come when I noticed a sign that said that the road to the Castello was at the left. I decided to try this road, and sure enough it led up to the castle.

The first rule of running in a strange place is to make darned certain that you know the way back. I was pretty sure that once I got to the castle that I could easily get to our building even though I had paid no particular attention during the car rides the previous day. The most reassuring part was that after a few minutes I could see Mario’s bus even though it was a good distance away, maybe even a mile. I didn’t remember seeing it parked there when I left, but it seemed to be near where I would mentally place our building. So I was reasonably confident shortly after I made the turn to the left that I would easily be able to reach the house in which the group was staying. Near the end of the run was when I first spotted the field of poppies below our building.

As usual, I found the run was quite energizing. After my shower I felt great.

Ruth and Dorothy near a statue in Siena.

Breakfast was in a room near Nina’s. It was pretty good – plenty of bread, cereal, and juice.

St. Catherine’s head is in this church.

After breakfast I pointed out the field of poppies to Ruth Mazur, who had previously petitioned Nina to ask Mario to stop so that she could take a photo of such a field. She later told me that she had been too lazy to go down and take a photo of them.

Today’s agenda included a trip to one of my favorite cities, Siena. Sue and I were the last ones to board the bus. We might have been a couple of minutes late. Sue didn’t decide until the last minute whether she was going to go to Siena or to stay at the Castello.

I worked on my journal on the road to Siena. I made a little progress, but it was becoming apparent that the best that I could hope to accomplish was to stay within one day of being caught up. I also noticed that I was getting a little sloppier with my entries. Maybe it was just because I was starting to relax a little more.

Romulus and Remus supposedly founded Siena, too.

We reached Siena in less than an hour. Unless I misread the sign, they charged Mario 100€ to park the bus for the day.

The Roman forum on the Banchi di Sopra.

After breakfast there had been a pretty significant rainstorm, but by the time that we got to Siena the sun had come out, and it was warming up quite rapidly.

I had downloaded all of the pictures from my camera before we left. I then tried to delete all the files from my camera. It started acting up again. I turned it off and removed the disk. In fact, I did this quite a few times before I managed to reformat the disk. I began to wonder if I ever would be able to figure out how the thing worked. I have been averaging one hundred photos per day, but it has been a struggle for the last few days.

This is Piazza Del Campo, where they run the Palio twice a year.

In 2003 we sat right next to the fountain to listen to the Andrea Bocelli concert.

Nina took us on an orientation walk of Siena. She warned us about how hilly Siena was. This did not square with my recollection of the city. I certainly did not think that it was as hilly as Assisi, for example.

We walked from the parking lot to the church of Saint Dominic, in which had been placed the head of St. Catherine. No thanks. It was then a straight shot to the Banchi di Sopra, one of the main streets of Siena. From there we went to the Piazza Del Campo, which brought back a lot of pleasant memories from 2003 including the Andrea Bocelli concert and the mad celebration after A.C. Siena had clinched the promotion to Serie A. Nina established the fountain in the piazza as our meeting place. We ended the orientation walk by climbing up to the Duomo. This part of the walk was indeed fairly steep. I had forgotten about the steps. Sue had a difficult time making this trek. I had to carry her green bag for her.

The bell tower of the Duomo.

You can just about get the entire facade of the Duomo in one picture.

I was surprised at the striping of the external surface of the Duomo. I did not remember that the black stripes were much thinner than the white ones. On the bell tower and on the inside of the church black and white stripes are the same size, like the stripes at Orvieto.

Nina said that the façade of this Duomo was similar to the façade of the Duomo in Orvieto because they were done by many of the same people. I loved the Duomo in Siena, but the façade in Orvieto was far nicer in my opinion. Nevertheless I took plenty of photos.

Nina told us that before the battle of Montalperti, the people of Siena were facing an army of forty thousand Florentines. The senesi poured into the Duomo, threw the keys of the city on the altar, and prayed for God or the Virgin or somebody to massacre the hated Florentines on their behalf. Evidently it worked; Siena won the battle. I suggested that they might need to do the same thing this weekend. If A.C. Siena wasn’t able to defeat Atalanta on Sunday, they will be demoted back down to Serie B.

The rose window is even more striking on the inside, but I could not figure out how to suppress the flash on my camera.

A detail of the right side of the facade.

Sue decided not to visit the Duomo. Instead she accepted the assignment of scoping out the internet spot and maybe find a place to eat lunch. Her own not-so-hidden agenda was to find ingredients for something to add to the home-cooked supper scheduled for the evening. Tom, Patti, Sue, and I agreed to meet in forty-five minutes outside the church.

I went into the church. Patti and Tom went in the same direction as Sue. If my memory served me correctly, they had changed the policy for admission to the Duomo since we were in Siena in 2003. My recollection was that two years ago there had been no charge for entry, but they had charged for the Piccolomini Library and for the chapel that contained the two Bernini statues. This time they charged €3 to get into the church, but the admission included all of the chapels and the library. Much more of the floor was visible than the last time that we were here, but at least half of floor was still covered with cardboard. All areas of the floor that contain mosaics that were on display were cordoned off by ropes. This church must really be impressive on the rare occasions when the entire marble floor is uncovered. In addition, I also had the impression that in 2005 they allowed more light into the church. I seemed to recall that previously if you wanted to see something, you had to pay €,50 into a little box. I had a pretty vivid memory of poaching on the coins of various tour groups. Now all of the church was easy to see. Finally, this time you could walk much closer to the apse. This meant that you could easily see the busts at the far end, including that of the first pope, Peter, and the last one, Lucius III, who was in the twelfth century. It might be time for them to think about starting a second row.

Sue tempts fate by putting her hand in an arcade game modeled after the device in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice for ratting on fellow citizens.

I wandered around looking at the art work in the church for a few minutes. Then I spent some time looking for some of my favorite popes among the busts that encircle the church. I easily found poor Formosus and his nemesis, Stephen IV. John XII, one of the teen-aged popes was also lurking nearby. It took me a minute or two to find Benedict IX, the guy who became pope three times. I had the impression that the faces depicted might not be too accurate. John XII and Benedict IX did not look any younger than the average.

A fountain in the Pantera (panther) contrada.

I thought that I saw a sign proscribing the use of cameras inside the church. Several people were taking photos, but I didn’t. I was almost finished touring the church when I realized that photography was OK, but flashes were prohibited. I could have kicked myself. As I exited I hoped that I would have time to come back to take some photos.

I sat on the steps of the Duomo waiting for the other three. Patti and Tom sauntered into view, made a loop of the piazza, and then headed back toward where Sue had said that she was going. They evidently did not notice me. I arose and jogged over to head them off. Shortly after I reached them Sue materialized out of nowhere. She said that she had bought some food, but she hadn’t picked it up yet.

A plaque that we discovered a short distance from the fountain.

The four of us went to the Internet Train together. Not Treno, Train. Patti was thrilled that they would make a CD for her from the memory “stick” that held the images in her camera. This would allow her to reuse some of the sticks. She had already dropped a wad buying additional sticks. Sue and I bought some Internet time. Sue had trouble because the AOL website came up in Italian. I struggled because my machine was painfully slow, and I had stupidly selected a PC with a European keyboard, which meant, for example, that I had to use Ctrl and Alt in order to produce an @ sign. This seemed weird to me. The Europeans need that key as much as we Yankees do.

I signed on to AT&T Global and found that I had received 159 e-mails. I deleted a good number of the junky ones. The machine was so slow that it took a long time just to clear out the list a little. I sent a short message to my dad and Denise. I responded to an e-mail from Stephanie at Gottschalks. I ran out of time just before I read my dad’s latest e-mail.

Yes, that’s an egg on the pizza.

We had trouble finding a good place for lunch. Patti and especially Tom did not seem to be in a very good mood. We decided on a pizza place on the street that connects the Piazza Del Campo and the Duomo, the precise center of tourist area. The Corcorans tried to split a small cheese pizza, but the waiter wouldn’t let them. I just sat there while they talked about what they might do. They both were obviously upset about this development. Fortunately the waiter was too busy to object when Patti ate a piece or two of the pizza, so there was no scene. I ordered Pizza Napoli, which had anchovies. Patti had coffee; the rest of us had beer. Sue had Pizza 4 Cantoni, which had four different toppings and an egg in the middle. I thought that the pizza was mediocre at best. Tom and Patti soon left to go somewhere. Sue and I sat and chatted over the remains of our pizzas. We reminisced about our previous spectacular visit to Siena. The waiter wrapped up half of Sue’s pizza to take away. Just what we needed: more food.

I went back to the Duomo by myself, primarily to take pictures. I also wanted to see the Piccolomini Library. The frescoes were done by Pinturicchio, who, as I had learned from my Acquerello Italiano tapes, was the favorite painter of Alexander VI, the notorious Borgia pope. The paintings in the “library” were really quite stunning. Unfortunately I could not figure out how to suppress the flash. How exasperating! I know one thing. The menu option that turns flash on and off doesn’t do it.

Sue bought her fixins in this market.

I left the Duomo in frustration and met up with Sue. We stopped and picked up the food that she had purchased. We needed to get some cash at the Bancomat. Sue wanted to stop at the fish market, which someone had told her was down the street. We eventually found a Bancomat, but we never did find the fish market. I continued on down to the Piazza Del Campo, our designated meeting place. Sue went back to the place in which she bought the other stuff to get some fish. My prayer to St. Anthony was answered again. She decided not to buy any. So she made it back to the bus on time, and we did not have to port any dead fish on the bus.

On the bus Nina showed the same – or at least very similar – film of Il Palio that Kat had showed us two years ago. The announcer managed to work in not just one but two completely gratuitous references to the victory at Montalperti.

On the bus ride from Siena back to the Castello, I asked Tom Baggett if he would look at my camera to see if he could figure out how to suppress the flash. The only thing that he came up with was to put my finger over the bulb. I later discovered that if I used the night setting, it did not flash. (When I finally got time to study the camera, I found out that neither the delete of individual files nor the disabling of the flash can be done with the menu. You have to press the down arrow in the Play mode and Record mode respectively.)

When we got back to the Castello, the sun was out. I therefore decided to change into my shorts to try to work on my computer outside. As usual the problem was seeing the screen in the daylight. I placed the computer on the ground in the shade of one of the white plastic tables. I stretched out on my belly on the ground with my legs sticking out into the sun. It was difficult to find a comfortable position. I doubt that my effort impressed anyone.

The Italian word for this is pappatoria.

After a while I got bored and went exploring. I tried to get over to the embankment next to the pond, but it was not possible. Then Sue got the idea to stage a wild fennel hunt. Tom and I joined her. We were armed with a big spoon from the kitchen, a pocket knife, and a poker from the fireplace. We found the so-called wild fennel without any problem. The objective was to get a root. However, the roots on this fennel (or whatever it was) were straight and long. Sue expected them to be ball-shaped. So we returned with nothing more to show for our effort than some extremely nasty mud on our shoes.

Everyone except Sue thought that it was chilly in the evening.

A bunch of people in the group worked on the fire for the evening’s barbecue. Sue toiled away in our kitchen on a salad and a pasta with asparagus and fennel. She had a lot of trouble with the burners in our unit. She could only get one to light and stay lit. Consequently, she wasn’t ready at 8:00, the appointed time for dinner. Patti went to Sue’s rescue. I never did find out exactly what she did, but the two of them arrived a few minutes after eight with two dishes to add to the already bountiful table.

No lycanthropes in this group.

The meal was fantastic. It included sausage, chicken, a pasta with beans, Sue’s pasta, a salad with tomatoes and arugula, cherry tomatoes, Sue’s berry salad, and some other stuff which I don’t remember. Torts and a chocolate something were the dessert. I sat with Mario, Bob, both Toms and their wives. All told, the group consumed one bottle of Prosecco, 12 bottles of red wine, and one bottle of a digestive named Verna, that Nina said was a specific example of the more generic group called Amaro. Italians insisted that strong beverages like this one helped with digestion.

Everyone seemed to have a great time. After supper many people stayed around to make sure that there was nothing left of the wine. The moon was full. Almost no one else was left when I departed at 10 p.m. I felt a little tipsy. Someone must have forced me to drink some wine.