Wednesday 3 June 2020

1995 Siena, Bagno Vignoni, Pienza

31.1.95 Siena

Sitting in "Il Palio" café – probably where I sat some 16 or so years ago.  Glorious view – clear blue sky, sun low with shadows long.  The harmony of this space: the buildings in all their disproportionateness, flow and rumple together.  Sitting by the fountain, children throw coriandoli (confetti).  One boy, typically Italian, with hard grey eyes, laughing.  Even the shop signs harmonious in their white on ochre.

Back in the Hotel Palazzo Ravizza (near Porta San Marco).  Lovely, old 18th-century palazzo – we have fine view south-west.  Tall room, narrow staircases, fading frescoes on the ceiling.  Outside, a grand piano in the library (hi, Venezia…).  Double doors – sporting the oak…

Wandering around the city.  Two things I remember: the main square (of course), climbing the tower and seeing its long shadow in the piazza below, and – crazily enough – memories of the square where the buses leave (I think – I also have a slight feeling that this was in Nerja…).  The Duomo I remember not at all; San Domenico, I recall better (but hideous).  The streets remind me of Bergamo (Alta), Urbino – and San Gimignano.  Especially the great high walls of the streets as they follow the roads.  And something I realised for the first time today – why these streets are so different: they are clothed entirely in stone, stone walls and stone pavements, and that there are no levels in the street -  which means that you walk along stone channels.

As dusk fell, so the Senesi appeared.  Few tourists in evidence here – why I love travelling at this time.

1.2.95 Siena

I lied: one other thing I remember from here: the entrance to the Pinacoteca, where we now are.  Bigger even than I remembered – nice to find the work of Sofonisba Anguissola.  The Domenico Beccafummi cartoons good.

In the piazza again: sun strong, air cool, happy buzz of people just sitting, talking.  A plane passes high overhead, a single prop swooping low round the space.  The reflected light of the Fonte Gaia shimmers on the marble (copies, but good enough).  The huge finger of the tower's shadow passes round the walls.  To the Café Victoria (tea room/American bar) for an overpriced cappuccino – but civilised surroundings – a bit like a café I recall in Bergamo (Città Alta).  Classic 12-bar blues in the background.

We finally find the Loggia del Papa – covered in scaffolding.  To the Campo, where the most delicate violet suffuses the western sky, and a sliver of moon hangs almost horizontally.  The ridiculous striped tower of the Duomo peeps over the girdling houses.  The sodium lamps look beautiful (or rather what their otherwise prosaic lights illuminate does).  Completely clear sky.  Magic.  One thing I can say: things here look different from what they were 16 years ago.  Then, everything was beautiful and strange; now they are beautiful and familiar.

To Osteria Le Logge.  Fine interior – one book on Primo Conti in the bookcase.  We have just moved – smokers joined us on our (big) table.  Wonderful making smokers unhappy…

2.2.95 Siena

To the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, with Signorelli and Sodoma.  Glorious countryside – hilltop houses, lines of trees – art in nature.  "Come benedetto riceve li due giovanetti romani mauro e placido" – a riot of colours and faces and forms – the distant landscape.  Church rather dull.

Bagno VignoniTarkovsky's Nostalghia (the church at the end is San Galgano).  Tiny village (no cars in centre).  There is almost nothing here: the baths, a square around them, hills, sun, sky, peace – my god, è bello qui… Down to the hot steam.  Greenish, with deposits everywhere.  Slight whiff of sulphur.  Glorious views – a handful of hilltop towns in the hazy distance.  A tower to the south, rolling bumpy hills everywhere.

To Pienza, rising through the perfect Tuscan landscape.  Sette Di Vino osteria – eating local pecorino et al.  Small, friendly.  The sun shining through the window.  Amazing, small, perfectly-formed classical town – that never grew.  Inside the Duomo – very sober, but very light (jet fighters screech overhead like devils).  Not very Italian, but nice – facade especially.  

To San Biagio – surely the most perfect church ever created.  The stone, living almost, bubbling in its stillness, that off-white/yellow/grey, the flecks and pocks like lived-in flesh.  The curves of the vault touch like figures in a geometric image.  Outside, in the sun, huge triglyphs, everything writ large and simple.  That stone.  Viva Sangallo.  The tiny rosettes on the external pilasters – that small, allowed vanity.  The balustrade – god's balcony over the altar…

In Al Marsili restaurant – couldn't eat – left rapidly – ill...

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