Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Siena, Italy

Letter to Siena, Italy

Ah, Siena…I wish I could say that we were blown away by the stunning beauty and charm of your fortressed hilltop town. I really wanted to be, and don’t get me wrong, you were beautiful and you did have your charms. I think had you been our first Italian experience, before Florence and Venice, maybe we would have been taken in more by your hilly maze-like streets, your impressive churches and your Tuscan country surroundings. Maybe then, we could have forgotten about all the wandering people who kept constantly bumping into us. I think that, by the time we reached you, our tolerance had diminished a bit, seeing as we had been battling the crowds, also, in both cities prior. And, we came to you expecting something more, a little peace. Siena, I am not saying that you let us down..and yes, I know it is not your fault….and yes, I do remember that line from the Pantene Shampoo commercial… “don’t hate me because I am beautiful..” I don’t hate you because YOU are beautiful, Siena, I just hate that EVERYONE else thinks so too… It would be a shame though, to see your beauty go unseen, so I will let it slide, this time..

Ok, so maybe I exaggerated, a tad. There may have been fewer tourists in Siena, maybe…but, in a town of 60,000, supposedly 20,000 are students; and I think most of which were out of class when we were making our way through town to the Campo and the other main areas of town.

I have nothing against students, really.. I actually enjoyed being in Bologna, another college town, where I thought that the students gave the town a nice, yet quiet, scholarly vibe. But, here, it just felt like the town was mobbed with young adults.

Loud, young adults.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was that young adult. So, I understand what it is like to be that age and want to impress and be seen. But, I had to laugh at some of the behavior and the styles. First of all, the guys seem to travel in large groups, many wearing their 80’s zippered sweat tops, their big wrap-around “Gucci” shades, their hair thoroughly gelled and jeans with a jeweled belt buckle, announcing the word, “RICH.” They walk with adolescent purpose and announce their arrival, quite loudly, everywhere and anywhere.
The girls are a little less boisterous, but they seem to emanate the same types of styles..the Gucci shades, the stiletto heels …the jeans advertising, with the same Jeweled embroidery on their booty’s… “RICH”..

T and I thought for a moment, that it would be funny to come up with some jeans with a word written in big letters with a black felt tip pen….or, in mockery, we could use 1 or 2karot jewels to spell it out.. “POOR”

Seeing this made me realize just how much of what is stylish has to do with the advertising of money and labels. I guess that I’d have to live under a rock not to know this. I even recall being a victim of it as well, in grade school, when I had to have Guess? Jeans, not the ‘so-uncool’ Palmetto Jeans with the similar triangle logo. I remember some kids used to rip the Palmetto label off their jeans, so all that was left was the mark of the triangle, and a new pair of “Guess?” jeans was born. I guess adults fall victim to this too. You see it everywhere, the flashy logos that spell money and status.. Gucci, Channel, Versace.. and you see the African’s everywhere here, selling the knockoffs. I sometimes wonder if there is any other reason for knockoffs than a way for adults to fall prey to the power of a label? Don’t get me wrong, I love bargain hunting as much as the next gal, but my choice, in case anyone is wondering, would be a understated, Kate Spade.

Anyway, back to Siena. I guess that the charm of the city was somewhat masked by the number of young and loud people filling the streets. Unfortunately, I think that we reached our limit here, and in a way, I feel sad, as if I couldn’t give this town a chance. Siena is really a beautiful place, in beautiful surroundings, with a rich history to boot. I tried desperately to get off the beaten path, to see the local fabric of the town, the locals behind the students…behind the storefronts.. what I was able to learn was that Siena seems like a tight knit community. Not a large town, it is split up into 17 ‘contrade’, each self governed, with its own church and museum. Each contrada has their own flag with different animal motif and is represented by a horse and jockey at the Palio, a raucous bareback race that takes place twice a year. The whole town essentially squeezes into the Campo in support of their horse, their rider, their contrada. I imagine that there are some tense rivalries, as some are known to play dirty and poison the competition’s horses and ambush the riders before the big event. Within each contrada, tight bonds and a sense of community is formed. This is then radiated throughout the whole of Siena, making for a comfortable feel. Despite all the outsiders in town, I could still sense this. Another redeeming quality about Siena is that the city tries to regulate air pollution by cutting the number of cars allowed within the fortress walls. Supposedly, you need some sort of permit to even drive within the city walls, and if you don’t, video cameras will find you and, well, fine you. According to one map I used, I noticed too that there are air pollution sensors throughout the city as well. When the light is green, the pollution is at a minimum…when red, you are in a polluted area. Interesting thing, the sensors also take into consideration noise pollution as well, of which there was plenty.

I imagine that Siena could be a good place to visit in the off season..but, I am still trying to figure out when that might be. The students are off during the summer, but that is when the tourists come, so maybe an ideal time would be in December or January, when the weather is at its worst and the students are away on holiday. Who knows, it could be that the Florence weekenders head to Siena at all times of the year, so maybe it is safe to say that Siena has been discovered, and for it, there is no turning back the clock.

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