Hello Suitcase/Goodbye Siena

My suitcase’s fan club can be reassured that we have been reunited. It was delivered late last night–after 11:30 p.m., I just found out, so I didn’t see it till this morning or open it until this afternoon. Wearing fresh clothes to dinner tonight was pretty exciting. But this experience could open a new frontier in the art of packing light: bring only 2 outfits, wash one every night. (Probably not.)

Today was our last day in Siena; tomorrow we go to Florence where I will spend the weekend and Dorothée will go on to France to spend the weekend with her family. We spent the morning working on the program: sat in on an excellent class called “Reading the City as a Textbook” and then met with Luca and Sonia to continue refining the structure of next year’s offerings. After today I am even more confident that we will be able to offer a good variety of classes that will help students progress toward their degrees while making the most of the study abroad experience itself. We had a quick lunch at Osteria del Gatto (same place we ate Tuesday) where I had grilled radicchio, delicious bruschetta, and a bread and tomato stew that Luca described as “very poor food”–as in it was traditionally what poor people ate–but that I am going to be nostalgic for the next time it’s cold and drizzly like it was today. After lunch we went back to the Institute to sit in on part of an Italian language class. My Italian has a looooong way to go, though I’ve found that I can understand basic things, order in restaurants, and sometimes follow conversations. The students were doing very well learning the present progressive tense and vocabulary for family relationships. I am not quite there yet!

“Reading the City as a Textbook”

Later in the afternoon, Luca took us to the Duomo, which is the main cathedral in Siena and properly called the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. It is so unlike other cathedrals I’ve seen. The Gothic style is familiar but the marble is striped, the ceiling is dark blue with gold stars, and the floor is a series of marble mosaics depicting the path to wisdom through classical allegories and figures that lead the viewer to the Christian message of the main altar. It is elaborate, overwhelming, and extraordinary. Luca knows it very well and during our short visit told us more details than I can remember. Cathedrals are such a synthesis of art, philosophy, symbolism, and religion that I think students should see them simply as an exercise in critical thinking. We don’t get as much practice as we should at combining ideas in this way, but seeing a cathedral–if you take the time to really learn about it–requires it.

The exterior of the Duomo

Looking toward the cathedral entrance

The dome of the cathedral–looking up is a little dizzying!

The Virgin Mary is the “queen” of Siena.

We left the Duomo around 4:30 and I walked back to the hotel in the rain for a much-needed nap. Dinner was not until 8:00 tonight and I wasn’t going to survive without some extra sleep! Sonia came to the hotel to collect Dorothée and me, and we met Jim and his wife Carol on the way. The young secretaries at the Institute had picked out a restaurant for us called Osteria Babazuf. It was sort of high-concept–the front page of the menu actually made reference to semiotics, and I got a little nervous when I ordered something called an “eggplant tower,” but the food was excellent and the atmosphere was comfortable. After the eggplant tower I had pasta with butter and truffles and that was so delicious! Somehow I still found room for a salted caramel mousse for dessert. But the highlight of the meal was a celebratory toast to the fact that I had a different outfit on!

Truffle pasta: YES PLZ

So tonight we said goodbye to Jim, Carol, and Sonia; tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to Luca. Everyone has been so generous and welcoming. The students that are here this year are clearly having a great experience and I am eager to see some MGA students make the trip in 2019.

Luca, Sonia, Dorothée, me, and Jim

More tomorrow from Florence . . .

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