August 28, 2000
Before leaving the town of Siena, I almost forgot to tell you of Donato. My Siena nights were spent talking late into the night with this vibrant Italian, from a city near the French border. He realized he had to escape his Italian and French influences later in life, left college, and went to Iceland. Worked in various temporary jobs, learned the language and enmeshed himself into the culture.
His goal in life: to read every book. And every interpretation of each classic as well. "I know it is impossible to accomplish, yet I believe I can do it." This is where the philosophical and literary intellect begins to bubble. From that statement, I felt the contradictions of knowledge, belief, learning, and experience were understood by this mortal before me.
"I believe in many things. I know some of them are true." I quoted back.
A memorable stage was, "To tell the truth, you must lie." To describe things exactly, does not give the person you are talking to the image of what you are recalling. I thought this was unique wisdom, but as I write this, I know remember others who had the same ideas. "I deliberately choose to speak strongly, not because I feel so strongly, but because it gets the message across." A co-worker once said and, a high school teacher who I can best describe as a former member of 'the Dead Poet's Society' simply said, "Don't tell me. Show me." Not unique, to my ears, perhaps, but still wisdom and what made it sound so new and wise again was the passion that delivered it. Perhaps proving the point!
Donato's plans in Siena? Find a university for literature to continue his left off studies and someday start up a pizza place. "Italy has forgotten how to make a good pizza!" He told me and this is something he knew he could rectify.
We rambled on about love, sleeping in the bushes, cultural attitudes on regulations and I forgot whatever else, but came to the next day's plan. "I'm leaving tomorrow for Florence. I am not sure if San Gimignano is the same as Siena."
"San Gimignano? I was there two days ago. You should go there."
And by the morning, I decided I would take the first bus to the hill top medieval town.
Fields of brown sunflowers look downward like pilgrimages of monks on their way to the next life. Their yellow arms dropped and their faces, unseen, are uniformly looking in the direction of the sunlight before the season ended. This is surprise image was what I was expecting more of in Italy, unfortunately, the heat keeps me moving and not able to properly saunter for hours and discover the European treasures I am so fond of, yet have almost come to expect. I have heard comments about how some of have been disappointed that Italy has not swept me off my feet yet.
San Gimignano comes close to that. A harpsichord rips through melodies as the air invites a dance through the rampart walls in the castle gardens around the remaining towers and into the open arms of the Tuscan countryside. Donato would exaggerate here that peering into wide deep wells reveals not the traditional muck, but reflections of a prefect blue sky, clouds billowing across whispering, "Boungiorno Italia." Well, the old wells did have some of that typical dead well sludge topped with candy wrappers, but it was a perfect sky, with billowing clouds that were whispering as clouds often do when observed from a peak.
I ended up staying in the hostel with a pleasant group in a huge room: two teachers from Australia on their yearly walk-about and an older couple from England cycling across Italy. Footpaths outside the city walls meander through the olive groves and gentle hills, with the way back easily to find: the 14 standing towers (of originally 72 built as the wealthy family's feuded and displayed their wealth to each other).
My advice, skip Siena for San Gimignano if your states are in alignment with mine. However, then you might not stumble upon Donato's pizza in the Sienian suburbs.