I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of spending a lot of time in Siena, Italy in the past year, as you’ve seen from these blog posts and from a “few” posts on Facebook. This Medieval city in Tuscany is beautiful, of course, but it really won me over with its history and the tradition of the Palio and life in the contrade. Plus, the city’s steep streets and gazillion steps that take you everywhere give you a daily leg workout that rival any cycling or boot camp class.
And I’ve met a lot of people in my time here and made wonderful friends. They always made time for me to chat, share a Prosecco, teach me about the Palio or school me on Tuscan wines. And so I present my friends in Siena, to whom I say “GRAZIE MILLE” for always making me feel welcome in your wonderful city. I’ll be back soon, since I do believe I belong in Italy.
NICOLA. Nicola and girlfriend Sabrina own and operate a Tabaccheria, a small sundry store. I met Nicola my first day of vacation when I walked into the store and asked to buy a map of Siena that shows the divisions of the contrade. Every day I’d stop in, say hello and chat about the goings-on in the city. “I want to go coast-to-coast in the U.S. on a motorcycle, on Route 66,” Nicola said. “I want to eat American food, drink American drinks. Americans, in my opinion, are Italians. They’re very open, sincere and they always want to do new things. They read about it, decide and go. And Las Vegas. I want to see Las Vegas.”
SABRINA, co-owner of the Tabaccheria with Nicola. Originally from Bologna, she offered a lesson on her city’s famous meat sauce. “I want to tell the Americans that ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ doesn’t exist. You can have tortellini ragu’, lasagna with ragu’, rigatoni and tagliatelle. But (with) spaghetti, it doesn’t exist.” She applauded Americans’ spirit of adventure. “It’s wonderful that Americans like to try everything. They appreciate everything.”
GABRIELA, who owns her own hair salon, Tentazioni, and who cut my hair twice in July. I wish I could keep a recurring appointment and come back every five weeks. “I’d like to see New York City. And the Grand Canyon. I like to go hiking. I like the workout.” Gabriela is originally from Argentina and has been in Siena since 2001.
Paula and I, in the Piazza del Campo on the day of the July 2 Palio. Gorgeous day. I met Paula when I attended the Saena Iulia Language School last year. She and her husband Aldo worked there.
Sitting in Piazza del Campo, around 11p, with Paula and Aldo. They now live in Rome and came up for the Palio.
CLAUDIO, Bartender, Hotel Palazzetto Rosso, Via dei Rossi. It’s a beautiful hotel in a renovated historic palace. “Americans love the historic cities. They love our history. They appreciate the medieval structures. Everything.” Claudio is a member of the Unicorn contrada. A misconception about contrade he’d like to clear up: “We are not fans of a sport. The contrada isn’t a team. It has nothing to do with sports.” He said he’d like to come to the U.S. and go to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
ELETTRA, an instructor at the Saena Iulia Language School. “All the world loves Italian cuisine. The cuisine is the beauty of Italy. The ingredients are different from city to city, region to region. You can eat a plate from the north, in the middle and then go to the south and it will seem like plates from three different countries. The variety of the cuisine is enough to satisfy every taste.”
DARIO CASTAGNO, Author, Tuscany/Chianti/Siena tour guide extraordinare, member of Il Nobile Contrada del Bruco. This was at the dinner on July 1, the night before the Palio, held in the garden of the contrada. Good food, good wine, great friends. We had a ball.
MARCO, reception, Hotel Palazzetto Rosso, is a member of the Bruco contrada. “Americans are enthusiastic about everything that we are used to: the food, the history.” I asked about any misunderstandings people may have about the Palio and the contrada: “People say, ‘Well, you came in second. You’re happy, no?’ No, we are not happy. Not at all. There is no prize for second or third.” He said it’s almost better to come in last than in second.
LORENZO, a driver who took me to the Caparzo Winery in Montalcino. He speaks six languages. “I would like to really visit the U.S. for two or three months. I like the Americans very much. It’s easy to make them happy when you understand what they want to see and do. If you make them happy, they will send an email and say ‘thank you very much’.”
ANGELA -my AIRBnB host. She works at the restaurant next door to the apartment building, Ristorante Vivace. It has a patio out back with a great view. “We rented the apartment for people who want to stay for a few days and don’t want to pay for a hotel. It’s also a way to meet people and maybe when we go to other places, we have a point of reference. Maybe we do an exchange with our guests.”
AIMONE – the owner of the enoteca “Cantina in Piazza” on Via Stalloreggi, a five-minute walk from my apartment. About Italian wine: “It’s a wine that has heart and soul. It’s hand-made, hand-crafted.” He said before he dies, “I’d like to visit California wine country, Napa and Sonoma.
SIMONE, owner of the Bar Tre Rane, a popular spot for we students at Saena Iulia. Simone liked to play jazz music in the bar. “Many Americans come here. I am a fan of the Americans. They like to have fun.” Simone has visited Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego. He liked San Diego the best and even attended a football game. “They were barbecuing before… it was ‘bellissimo’,” he said, about the tailgating
ANGELA, who works reception at Hotel Palazzetto Rosso. “Americans are so passionate about good food and good wine. They appreciate eating and drinking well. I want to see the nature in the U.S. I’d like to see the Grand Canyon. Everything I want to see is natural, more than the cities.” Angela holds a communications position in her contrada, the Giraffe. “If I can offer a suggestion to someone visiting Siena and the Palio for the first time. You should observe . . . and wait. You will not understand immediately what just happened.”
MAURO, the director of the Saena Iulia Language School. When Mauro was 19, he and a buddy came to the U.S. They ate nothing but hamburgers and drank Coca-Cola for 20 days. When they were in San Diego, “we walked toward a McDonald’s and our stomachs exploded.” So they ate fresh Tex-Mex, “good fresh Mexican food,” he says, and “we felt full.”
Elettra, me and Mauro on my last night in Siena. For the occasion, we ate a dinner of steak Fiorentina at a wonderful place on the Piazza. Good limoncello too!