Last night the children had an awful time trying to get to sleep, and I ended up just lying down next to a wakeful, wiggly Sadie and falling asleep myself. I think she was reading Golden Books on the Nook when I finally conked out, and Benny was still reading Ranger’s Apprentice volume whatever. For their little bodies it was only dinner time, not bedtime at all, and I decided to just let go of trying to make them sleep. They slept in this morning, and Dan went out on a bike ride to Florence and back. I made lunch: salad with fresh mozzarella, garden carrots and tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and oregano, and crostini with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and olives. I must say this fresh mozzarella is pretty tolerable.
We left for the medieval city of Siena with no problems in this world, but by the time we got there we had many, many problems.
Problem #1: I forgot the Dramamine.
Problem #2: Dan lost his glasses.
Problem #3: GPS was convinced there were no one-way streets in Siena.
We determined that on any road that inspired Dan to make whooshing sound effects as he was driving around corners, one of the children would be guaranteed to puke. Today it was Sadie’s turn, and she sprayed eggy puke not once but twice during our trek through Chianti country, completely destroying her outfit. (I must interrupt this daily report to tell you there’s something on Italian TV that seems to be American Idol with accordions players. It’s called Cantando Ballando, and I must Google it at my earliest convenience. There is a virtual forest of grinning, dancing accordion players, all glittery and ingratiating. Don’t let me forget.) Anyway, by the time we were in downtown Siena, Sadie was stripped to her underwear, Dan was violently angry at the GPS, and I was doubtful we’d achieve anything much apart from killing each other. Yet somehow within an hour of being in Siena, we had a sack full of Italian Dramamine, Sadie was wearing a new dress, and Dan was wearing his glasses to see sparkling vistas from the Torre del Mangia with the children. (Now on Cantando Ballando, there’s a woman singing some kind of ballad. Behind her on the LCD video wall is a collage of random kitten pictures. One of the kittens has a shmush face, one has a toy, and one of the kittens is wearing a green hat. Everyone in the studio audience is a senior citizen, and now there are half-naked dancers all over the stage. Half-naked dancers, giant adorable kittens, and accordions. That’s entertainment on Cantando Ballando.)
Anyway, Siena turned out to be the city of our dreams, with a convenient and open pharmacie, a clothing store that had a woman’s top we could pretend fit Sadie, a horrifyingly tall tower to climb, a glittering marble cathedral and pretty soon: gelato. We tried very hard to get lost in the medieval byways again, but with such unmistakable landmarks as the tower and the cathedral it was impossible to not maintain our equilibrium. But you don’t really care about that. You want to know what’s going on with Cantando Ballando, and I’m going to tell you that Italian Taylor Hicks is now on the show, and *his* video wall background is concert footage of HIMSELF at a much younger age singing an entirely different song.
After shoving some Dramamine down the children we headed back out to the crazy mountain roads to zip around corners, zoom down steep hills, and also look at the Tuscan countryside in the province of Siena. Siena and Florence used to be at each other’s throats, each an independent principality, until Florence beat down Siena, stalled its art and architecture in the middle ages, and sent a Medici governor to lord it over them and live in their palace. Siena managed to hang onto some dignity with its local horse race, celebrating the founding of the city by Remus’ two sons who raced up the hill on two horses, one black and one white. This explains the black and white theme of everything from the cathedral marble to the ducal coat of arms.
On Cantando Ballando, there’s another old man singing, and HIS video wall background is himself playing the piano on ice while people in harlequin costumes skate around it in concentric rings. And the accordion players are all back, dressed in burgundy, and are swaying back and forth in unison, waving their hands like “here’s the flowing wheat, there’s the flowing wheat.” Dan thinks this is a variety show, not a competition. I don’t know what variety show actually means, but someone in the audience has fallen backward out of his chair, dead of old age or in a spasm of appreciation. Seriously, the audience is a sea of white hair.
Sitting in the piazza at Siena in front of the old palace, you can really sense the specificity of this Italian town. I was reminded of the fact that Italy has only been a unified country for a short time, relatively speaking. There is a strong sense of identity in each town we have visited. I don’t know why this surprises me in Europe, when each of our states has a claim on its own uniqueness. Maybe it’s because Italy is physically so small, and these little city-states so close, to be maintaining their own flavor. But distances mean more here. You just don’t have the same network of speedy freeways. It’s mostly creaky little country roads. So each urban center really feels like an island, surrounded by a sea of olive groves and vineyards and long mountain ranges. It amazes me how unpopulated it is here. Here we are in a countryside that has been civilized and populated for thousands of years, and you look around and see mostly nature. Makes Virginia seem so crowded, long strings of habitations stretching out along every road.