The End of Everything Part 2:
Giovedi, November 20
Sitting opposite Joelle a woman has the face of the chubby cherubim of Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno. Her right shoulder bounces up and down as she chats, as if cradling a tennis ball under her right jaw. Her plump exposed hip, threatens to roll over a wide black leather belt studded with coins. Flat, cleared farmland, interrupted by wooded hills, is framed by the train window. A flock of Burne-Jones, Saint Paul’s between the walls sheep pass by. Now a forest brushed with earth brown, khaki greens and apple yellows. Winter is coming. Heading north it will get colder. The colours blend together like watercolour. The skies are soft and the clouds have no edges. I want to jump off the train and stay here. Passing through tunnels ears start popping, we must be climbing.
A change of trains at Florence. Siena is only 40 kilometres but the train will travel via Empoli and take 1 hour and 40 minutes. However the gentle pace proves restful and suits the countryside. Locals alight and board here and there, none in much of a hurry. An affectionate couple sit opposite. “How long will the train take?” They are surprised. They have no luggage.
Siena’s store windows are stacked with panforte. Christmas is coming.
Sitting on the terrace of Bar Il Palio, the tension leaves our bodies and rolls down the slope of Piazza Del Campo towards Palazzo Publicca. Rome was a big town and not easy to get around. Some churches were so difficult to find and we walked and walked and walked. Here in Siena, our hotel is just 50 metres away in Piazza Indipendenza. A pigeon lands on a nearby table. It has no feet. Bar Il Palio plays early Beatles.
We arrived early taking a place on the barricade closest to the entrance of Palazzo Pubblico. We witnessed the moment following the blessing as the horses clattered and clopped through the Town Hall’s doors. A young rider had the face of a Paul Strand portrait. It was the last day of the Palio and the contrada of Istrice would soon have victory. The prize, a Madonna adorned banner. What an afternoon it was Il Palio Brezano of July 2,1975.
I’ve been to Siena three times now. That first time without a camera. The second time in 1984 with a camera that square pictured a man in a suit, leaning on a bollard in the middle of a nearby street and now this third time. I would be happy with a good suit photograph. Dorothea Lange and August Sander both made wonderful suit photographs. Imagine a room with a view of Piazza Del Campo. Siena is so beautiful. Rust brown stone, flashes of light and glimpses of the eternal. In 1348 The Black Death took half of Siena’s people. Ghosts are everywhere.
Ristorante Spaghetteria da Renzo’s (14, via Delle Terme) minestrone soup is delicious. The cook’s face testifies to a life in the fields.