A Siena Journey
By Taylor Mangold
On my last night in Siena, I saw a shooting star instantaneously flash and disappear over the west side of the Piazza del Campo. Almost doubting that I saw it, I desperately made a wish. I kept it to myself.
There were times, and they were often, when I would find myself smiling widely all by myself in Italy. It would occur when I walked into the Piazza del Campo during the afternoon bustle. It happened when sea mist from the Mediterranean sprayed on my face on the Amalfi Coast. It happened yet again when I ordered my first meal completely in Italian.
We all know that traveling makes one stronger, more humble, and richer. I was afforded the opportunity to live in Siena during one of the most beautiful summers of my life. I lived in an apartment that still had the musty hints of medieval times swirling about. Every day, I dried my sundresses on a clothesline. I walked and walked along Siena’s twisting alleys, and even managed to get happily lost. I prayed in churches. I shopped and cooked and experimented with cuisine like a real Italian. I bought a beautiful leather knapsack in a Florentine market. I summoned the courage to cliff jump from 35 feet in Positano. I got sick and went to an Italian doctor. I waded ankle-deep in the sad, slowly sinking floor of Piazza San Marco. I accidentally walked through a contrada festivity during preparations for il Palio. I spent nights with friends sitting on the warm brick floor of the Campo, drinking Chianti wine and meeting other kind, outgoing Italians.
An Italian I know once told me that “nice things must come to an end.” And so my time in Siena did. But it was a departure that wasn’t too solemn because I knew, almost too confidently, I’d be back. More importantly, though, I wanted to leave a part of myself there. Sometimes photographs aren’t quite enough – I wanted to leave an impression, not just take them.
The news came to me in two different forms, almost a year later.
For the Christmas holiday of 2011, I sent one of my paintings to a Sienese woman, a professor at la Universita degli Studi di Siena. She taught us so much about culture, impressing on me essential knowledge on the ways of life and traditions and history of the Sienese. I thought a gift of this type would be appropriate, considering her appreciation for the arts. I was crestfallen when, three months later, the package was returned to me, damaged but in acceptable condition. It had been unclaimed.
Soon after, another person I had met in Siena reached out to me via e-mail and notified me of his arrival in the United States. Anxiously, yet excitedly, like Siena was fatefully acknowledging me, we arranged a meeting time and place. It was so happy to see a face out of context, and show him eagerly around my locality. He loved witnessing America unfold before him, but like it goes, all nice things must come to an end. We still keep in touch. From him, I have learned some of the most important lessons in learning Italian. The practice was of indispensable value to me. I am so grateful for the friendships that Siena has allowed me to cultivate.
In the meantime, I furiously repackaged my painting which was untouched, despite the so many miles it had flown on its journey. I sealed every corner, scribbled “FRAGILE” over its face, and with a desperate hopefulness, sent it again.
I try to live and express my life in ways Siena taught me. Once a picky eater, now I drizzle mozzarella and pesto and tomato over everything. I used to think luxury meant hotels and pools, but now I know all I need is a little bit of Tuscan earth and a good pair of shoes under my feet. Previously, I’d stare in confusion when someone spoke to me in Italian, but now when I hear the accent I crane my neck and listen intently. Formerly a cautious, somewhat uptight personality, Siena taught me to let go and relax.
About a month ago I received an e-mail from my professor. ‘Ciao carissima. ARRIVED!” Finally, the gift made it to Siena unscathed. The gift I had sent twice, my very own painting, is now is hanging in her apartment. It resides over the majestic Piazza del Campo. So, a part of me is there. My wish was granted. I am so happy. What a journey!