Siena is The Quintessential Medieval City. Shouldered between Florence and Rome, she is the quiet, elegant sister who needs no introduction. Each year, thousands of people shimmy themselves into her walls to get a glimpse at the famous horse race, Il Palio. Two days a year, July 2nd and August 16th, she is like a rock star, and then the rest of the year, she is a monarch, perched upon her hilly throne, regal and beautiful. She beckons you to discover her secrets, because once you think you have discovered her, there is something else that you never knew. Each alleyway brings you to an entirely new section of the town. At once, it is crowded and deserted. There are times when you literally will not see another soul.
It’s true. You would never expect to see this, but there it is. The jerseys have the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) on them, indicating a true Chianti.
If you are a cycling fan, then Italy is your long lost home. If you are a wine lover, well, Italy is your long lost home, too. So there we were, a cyclist and a wine lover. We had to go in. The most adorable, quintessential little old Italian man was at the register. We greeted him, (remember what I said about shopping in Italy.) He was about 5 feet even. My husband is 6’3″. As this beautiful man flitted about him like a tiny bird trying to find the correct size jersey, my husband begged me not to take his picture. I obliged him out of love, but can I tell you, it was a spectacular moment. We had found The Most Beautiful Cycling Jersey….in a wine shop!
The man spoke very little English, but we knew from his mumbling that he could not find an XL. His face lit up as he lifted his finger to us, and took the jersey right off the mannequin. We purchased the jersey, of course, but honestly, I can’t remember if we even bought any wine. He was so gracious and kind to this oversized giant American with a heart for cycling as big as his own. He smiled and smiled and took both of my hands. Then he offered us some olive oil in tiny precious bottles. “Un assaggio” he advised me. (A taste.) We took the tiny bottle with us and savored it with some bread after we had returned home to the States. Long after the olive oil was gone, the memory is still so rich.
That’s the way it is window shopping in Siena. You feel as if you are browsing for a new long lost friend. They are so gracious, and they are thrilled when you try to speak a bit of Italian to them. You feel comfortable trying because they are so encouraging and delighted. It’s like taking your first steps or something the way they cheer you on with each phrase. Of course, some things cross language barriers; handshakes and smiles, of course, but eye contact, and knowing that “Il Campionissimo” was Fausto Coppi. If you are a cycling lover, you know what I’m talking about.