Siena, Italy

August 26-28, 2000

Getting to Siena from Rome requires changing trains half way through. While waiting for the next train at Chiusi-Chianciano, a guy was laying on the tracks. An approaching train on the next track blew his horn and the guy jumped up and lay down between the rails of the oncoming train. He didn't get completely squished, I could see his leg moving calmly underneath the train (it stopped right on top of him), but when they got him out he had some blood on his leg and wasn't moving. The train horn was loud, but what was most memorable was the "ahhhh" sound that everyone in the station simultaneously made as he slipped away from view.

Once on the next train and out of sight, everyone seemed to have forgotten about the whole thing.

Now I'm in Siena. Remember 'burnt sienna,' the orange-brown crayon you never knew what to use for? It was for coloring in roofs of this area of Italy, Tuscany.

Part of the history reminds me of another Monty Python script. The Florentines (the capital city of the Tuscan region) became jealous with Siena's increasing wealth and flung dead donkeys and faeces over the city walls hoping to start a plague. It didn't work, but I was reminded of this by a pigeon that bombed my head while strolling down a side street.

Siena has two trademarks. The town center is shaped like a shell that funnels towards the towers which is where bi-annual wild horse races are held and (I think) nightly parades (there was on Sunday when I was there and are rather common). It started with Prum, Prum-prum, rum, rum drumming that must have driven the church goes mad (or called them out to join) and continued for six hours of old Siena dressed drummers through all the streets and then ending up in the town center to be followed by home made parade floats, mock nuns, knights, hippies, a horse, a donkey and free flowing wine. Just before (and for some during and after) all this, there are people basking in the last hours of sunlight on the brick burnt sienna center like sunbathers on the beach. Everyone is having a good time in one way or another.

The other landmark is the zebra cathedral that for this reason looks like a giant Lego building, planned to be the largest in all Christianity. This was humbled by a plague (not started by the Florentines) that took half the population.

Only the city locals are allowed to drive within the city walls, which gives the town a distinctive feeling apart from the buzzing motorcycles of most of Italy.

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