Sunday, April 24, 2005

4/24/05 Tuscany: Day 3

Destination for today was Siena.
First stop in the old city was San Domenico church of St. Catherine. Big old thing, with neat paintings and all, but the real draw was probably the relic- St. Catherine’s face. Supposedly undecayed, and on display. She looks good for a woman of her age, but her face seems very small. This is what you have to love about Catholicism.

And the onward into the city. If San Gimignano was the perfect medieval village, Siena is the perfect medieval city. And now a lot of shops have moved in… Benetton, lingerie shops, expensive tacky eye-talian fashion boutiques… Little piazzas here and there and the Il Campo, which is really impressive. Described over and over as shell-shaped, with the plaza in the middle full of people, family and friends, dogs, children, lovers,… It’s a really wonderful civic space, lined with cafes and bars on one side (the curved edge, and bars doesn’t mean bars like it does in the USA. Bars in Italy are sort of a step down from a restaurant or café), facing the imposing Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia on the other. We stopped and had lunch, then went to the tourist office where we were told that the steam train "nature train" was booked. So we went over to the Duomo. From where we’d parked, we could see the Duomo standing out in contrast to the red-brown medieval skyline. Its black and white marble striped shape seemed so out of place and commanding.

We skipped the museums because we were enjoying the city itself so much (and we’ll spend plenty of time looking at paintings in museums over the next two weeks) and wandered over to the line to enter the church. Almost didn’t, but thought, "hell, when will we be here again?" and lined up. Even waiting in line was nice because the façade of the church is so detailed. But really it can’t prepare you for what is inside. Words can’t describe the effect of the interior, but to begin with, the floor was one of the most beautiful works I’ve ever seen. Scenes and figures on the floor showed great detail, movement, depth, color, and emotion. And were made in marble! The detail was incredible. There were a few statues from Michelangelo, apparently, but those paled in comparison to Mary by Bernini. A library covered in brilliant frescoes housed illuminated manuscripts which were at eye level and six inches away for once (unlike in Dublin!) and the Three Muses stood in the center, soft and supple. In this church, like others we’d seen, hung on the wall silver hearts and things that looked like medals. But in this church, one wall that was covered with such medals also displayed a couple of pairs of baby shoes and a dozen or so motorcycle helmets (including old shorties and one modern dirt helmet!)

Back to the Campo for gelato and to write on the postcards we’d purchased at the Duomo. Then walked up to the Basilica de Provenzano, where a bust of Mary hangs which is some sort of miracle or something. It was a smallish church with a priest praying in the front pew so we didn’t venture too far in. Up the hill to the convent San Francesco, with much construction going on in the courtyard. The church was massive and dark, bare in the main chamber with huge paintings displayed hung away from the walls. This church houses the miraculous Sacred Host, (see: Eucharistic Miracle of Siena)"which have never decayed, but remain the same after three centuries." There’s a special chapel for these, which are in a fancy little reliquary-thingy. There are 200-some-odd host in the container. For whatever reason, this chapel was FULL of praying people. Alright, dead saints’ undecayed heads? Neat. Wafers wot ain’t gone green? That’s just crap. I do not remember anything about Christ asking anyone to worship wafers. And anyway I can get plastic food at Denny’s. This reeked of idolatry and misplaced religiosity to me. And it was dark in there, and I had to pee. So out of the convent church we went after glossing over the second half. Because we’d have to hike through the hordes of tourists all the way down to Il Campo, where there’s a for-real toilet that I KNEW wouldn’t be just one of those squatty affairs. Except, I had to stop long enough to snap a picture of an Aprilia dirtbike.

And then out of Siena, and back into our freezing cold apartment. The "scenic route" because we got a little lost and I insist on charging ahead on the backroads instead of backtracking. It worked, sort of, and we finally found our way back to San Gimignano for a delightful dinner, and then to our apartment. Tomorrow we plan to blow through Pisa just long enough to see the leaning tower (my mother’s request) and then to Lucca for our last day in the Tuscany countryside.

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