“See you in Siena…”
I have been thinking about Siena lately—Alessandra’s brother Luca, who lives in Siena, has started writing to me, even though we never met while I lived in Viterbo with his mother and sister’s family in 2005, and the layout process for the book is beginning, so I am sifting through all of my Italy photos and Siena keeps appearing. Since it is one of my favorite places in all of Italy, Siena is going to be the subject of the next several postings.
There are so many things to tell you about in Siena—the Duomo, Il Campo (where the very famous horserace—Il Palio—takes place every June and August), Da Divo (the restaurant I mention in my Ultimate Meal video), the story of how we purchased “i pipistrelli” (mentioned in the February 2010 House Beautiful article of our house), the incredible lunch of ricotta-filled zucchini blossoms I ate while watching a street performing clown work his comedy on unsuspecting tourists, standing at the top of a section of the Duomo’s unfinished and abandoned 1348 renovation and waving to our mothers who rested on the steps of the Duomo hundreds of feet below us, and the list goes on and on. Oh…and there is the Duomo’s baptistry.
Baptisteries fascinate me in Italy. They are usually very ornate rooms containing a large font featuring various images of Jesus, St John, doves, sleeping lambs, plump cherubs (often in angelic, if not slightly mischievous, poses)—and skulls. Yes, an Italian baptistry often depicts the long time truth of the human condition—infant mortality. So without leading us down the road of the macabre, let’s just say that modern medicine has done wonders to remove what was once a very common fact of life.
Yet for all the reminders of death, the Italians are not without a sense of humor either. Here, in the grand baptistry of Siena’s Duomo, off to the right of the large baptismal font, is a guilded altarpiece and, if you look closely at it, you will see that something is not quite right.
At first I thought that maybe the piece was in the process of being restored or maybe it had been vandalized, but no—standing to the right side of the Madonna is a saint wearing MOUSE EARS! Yes Mickey…someone is stealing your gig.
You can see the instant the visitors recognize the Mouse next to the Madonna. Regardless of the nationality of the visitor, the ears are eventually noticed, giggled about, and photographed. I know there are Disney theme parks around the world, but I am still surprised to see all the “American” things around me while in Italy. The biggest surprise is hearing Italians do karaoke to American songs. It is shocking to experience a 60-year-old man singing, “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame…” in the middle of a 700-year-old piazza.
With mouse-eared saints and short, round Italian Bon Jovis singing about how “you give love a bad name,” Siena is a magical place. Hmmm, just how Mickey would want it to be!
1. Saint Mickey (Actually, St Stephen who was martyred by stones…not mouse ears. Ha!)
2. The Altarpiece
3. The baptismal font
4. The baptistry’s inlaid, marble floor design, including one of the skulls.