A tale of one city: Siena

I hadn’t approached the subject of Siena, even though it has always been at the back of mind ever since I came back from there a few months ago. I have since been reeling after the abundantly independent life I had led in a beautiful town, with a medieval past. It can hardly be put into words, but it was a sort of nostalgic stay, in that I knew my time to go would arrive soon enough, and I was trying to make the most of everything. In the short space of five months I made Siena my home; lived in a part of the town buzzing with life and energy, made some life time friends I can never seize to forget, immersed myself in language and culture, and last and most important, ate the most splendidly exquisite Italian food.

As I packed my bags to go I continually had bouts of nervousness of not knowing what to expect. I was going to a country where English was hardly a spoken language, and though I had knowledge of the Italian language, I was terrified of facing some very angry Italians, at failing in their beloved language! I arrived in a city, decorated by a stream of lights and on a mountain hill, from where you could exploit a beautiful panoramic view. It was gorgeous! Central Siena is a walled city, much like many of the Italian cities, thus I felt the sense of a majestic past, and I felt a whiff of history surrounding me.

At first, living was a tad bit strange. Where I stayed, there was no concept of a microwave, there was no toaster and there was no boiling kettle. I wondered how I would cope, having left behind a fairly modernized lifestyle, where I was dependent on these types of appliances. I hovered the cobbly streets of the ancient town to somehow purchase a kettle if anything, but with no avail. That is when I realised I was at the heart of a place in the world, that not only valued, but proudly advertised their idea of a simple life, and this organic way of living is deeply wedged in their being. I was forced to buy fresh ingredients for the day, to cook and consume. As much as I had found it an annoyance at the beginning, it converted to an extreme pride, of leading the most healthy lifestyle. And it didn’t just stop there, I noticed myself changing. I noticed myself happier, I noticed how I developed a very fresh face. It was only one of the factors of making my stay so incredible.

I think I can never forget Siena visually. It was the most extraordinary place I have ever lived in. The structure and design of the walled city is indescribable unless you go visit it and witness it yourself. I was living in an apartment where the entrance was on ground level, yet most remarkably, the view from the window went up three floors! So whenever I’d stand at the window to observe I was very far up from the ground! This meant that the buildings were designed in such a way, to fit the the slanted and steep streets. It was indeed very clever and one of a kind I have seen any where in the world! I could stand at the window for hours, because the ambience was terrifically soothing. I could never feel scared, even if I would come back late at night.

Some people may describe it to be an Italian Oxford street because of the buzz of shops and shop goers, however I never agreed to that. It is a little different from Oxford street because there was an extreme culture embedded in all the avenues of the city. By culture I mean that Siena could never be like Oxford street because it can never yield to the present-day element of the chaotic London town. It has too much of the historic Palio and its Contrade to allow that to happen!

This aspect of the city, single handedly distinguished it from most other cities in the world. Even before the Palio game was introduced, the Contrade had made their mark in the city dating back to as far as the Middle Ages. I was immensely intrigued to learn the history of the Contrade, and set about doing so. These Contrade in English are tribes, or clans. Initially they were set up as a defense mechanism from war against Florence and other neighboring cities. Today, they don’t operate in a physical way, but the emotional impact they have made on all Sienese people is stupefying. These are people who have followed the legacy with ardent passion, and are as patriotic as you can get about their particular Contrade. There are seventeen Contrade within Siena itself, and each has its own symbolic value, their own fountains and baptismal font. Such is the dedication towards these Contrade, that every aspect of Sienese life is determined within ones Contrada. For example if a baby is born, it will be baptised in its own Contrada and by the very own Priest of the Contrada. Or if someone dies, it will be revered by its own Contrada, in that there will be a list of all the people that have passed away from a specific Contrada, to be remembered. It is truly fascinating. It is a life separate from all worldly things. It is unique and what makes it even more so is how willingly Sienese people submit to this kind of devotion. It is as if its a religion of their own, being practiced for decades, and which gives them a purpose of life. This fervour that I saw in people was truly enchanting. It was a complete honour to be in a city, at a time where I could see all this hustle of a Sienese life, revolving around their Contrade, and the Palio.

Of course the Palio was another reason to get tongues wagging. It is a horse race, that is held twice a year in the magnificent Piazza del Campo bang at the centre of Siena,  where I was able to gawk at the stifling preparation Sienese people take into getting ready for the game! It was marvelous! The Contrade were to battle it out in this horse race to achieve a winner in the form of a horse. This was no ordinary horse. The members of each Contrada considered their horse to be an absolute sacred entity. It was regarded with utmost respect. I can safely say the game was rather about the horse than anything. It was this horse that was to bring them victory, so in essence they worshipped it. I remember the day each Contrada was to get appointed their horse, there was an air of madness within the walls of Siena! People were going ballistic at the thought of finally receiving their prized possession! There was an eruption of emotions and a celebration was underway. This was not uncommon in Siena as they always needed a reason to celebrate, resulting in numerous street parties. Days before the Palio each Contrada celebrated with parties being held at the street where they were situated. During the time of the initial Contrade formation each tribe was given a street to own, for defense purposes, and today these streets are used for celebratory reasons, in memory of earlier chivalry. When the Palio games start, it as if you are transported to the past, where it is not simply a horse race, like polo, or a sport like football. It is a battle, almost like the afore days, of ongoing rivalry and competition between the Contrade. It is oozing with passion and pride. And the end result is an outpouring of emotion, larger than when the horse is appointed. There are people on the floor crying, embracing each other and their horse with an aggressive zeal. It is an atmosphere to observe, and I consider myself lucky to have been there to witness everything.

Aside from the very aspect of a ‘Palio Siena’, I had immense joy in being in a city I adore, and learning a language which I have given my all to. I studied at the Universita per Stranieri di Siena, a University designed for foreigners but having the best of both worlds, where there were also Italian nationals studying there. Thus I managed to intermingle with everyone and really plunge myself into the language. What helped was having a mix of friends from different parts of the world, and a lot of them did not know English, so the only mode of communication for us was Italian. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and really had to make an effort in speaking Italian as I had no other choice! And while I’m on the subject of friends, I will have to pay a special tribute to them, since they turned out to be friends I have now made for life. When I had first arrived in Siena I felt daunted at the thought of blundering and alienating myself completely. I was foolishly wrong. These friends were my support system. I got to know them on personal level, more than I’d ever know someone here in my own country. It was a pleasure getting to spend some quality time with them. I miss them dearly and I wish some day we have a massive reunion where we can brush up on our Italian as well.

I would call my stay in Italy an achievement because I honestly felt myself progressing. I have to give it to the poor Vodafone people that I would harass every day as my phone or internet would have some problem or the other. So I began with demanding an English speaking person to come and help me at the Vodafone store in a quant alley of Siena, to confidently strutting to the top of the counter and jabbering in Italian which I thought was near perfect! Needless to say it was no where near perfect, but the kind ladies working at the store boosted my confidence by announcing I was brilliant. In effect they saw me growing!

I have loved every bit of Italy, from studying, to eating, especially the gelato, to meeting friends where we’d walk around the lovely streets till the early hours of the morning just chatting and having no fear, to witnessing the most legendary game in the world. It was simply outstanding. I will never forget it. And I sincerely wish that you can go out there and visit the place just once, because it is amazing! As far as I am concerned, I have promised myself a trip to Siena every year to continue perfecting my language skills.

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Liebster Award Nomination

I would just like to convey a big big thank you to fellow blogger ‘Chaoscream’ for nominating me for the Liebster Bloggers Award for newcomer bloggers. It is a complete honour to be recognised at such an early stage of my blogging progress. I am humbled by the kind gesture of Chaoscream and will be getting round to answering all the questions. and posting it up soon.

I am yet to fully understand the award nominees selection as I have had a busy few weeks getting ready to be off to another city, and over the next couple of days I should familiarise myself with it.  Please do check out his blog because there is true vitality in his blogs as well as a sort of eloquence, and a ‘never stop reading’ quality to the blog posts.

This is just a quick post to thank Chaoscream, i.e Milton for selecting me. I am much obliged, and will hopefully not let my readers down in giving my service to the blogging community.

Wannabe techno geek’s (but really clueless) guide to the new bitesize Apple Nano.

I was kindly gifted the new Apple iPod, 7th generation of the Nano series, as I received a surprise through the post the other day. Would I say that is what I had been wanting? Definitely yes! I was given the lilac colour, out of the hefty range in colours, which was adequate enough to get my girly excitement going. And let me just be honest, before having received the iPod it had been thoroughly discussed as to what I would like as a present for my birthday, and we settled on this mp3 player. So it was not entirely a surprise, although I had little knowledge as to when I would actually receive it.

Looking back I do not know what made me want this music player, but a lot of it was down to the actual name of Apple, and their reputation of producing sleek and simplistic products that are smooth to the touch and make you feel like you are a proud owner of a modernistic gadget. After all, aren’t we all suckers for being cool? Then again, I felt a little common, in having given in to the idea of having an item, shrouded by its brand name, and famous for its sensational touch features.

What more could this nifty little iPod offer, apart from its looks, and its user experience of advancing from scrolling up and down with buttons, to actually having touch features? It is essentially a music player, and plentiful in the market. Are we paying for the progress of Apple as a brand? As far as I see it the price is unjustifiable. It was a spur of the moment want, and I feel quite brattish to have got what I wanted so easily. In hindsight I should have gone for the fit bit!

In some ways I cannot even blame myself, because I do not know if you have seen the new advertising video of the Apple iPhone, but that guy’s voice is hypnotising! I remember when I worked as a shop assistant in my teens, I was always advised to try to make the customer feel absolutely loved by whatever he or she was buying. I can only think of how astonishingly Apple has nailed this element of customer service! In fact Apple knows its customer, and credit has to go to them for really taking this into account, as it is vital for consumerism. They put the customer first, and that is why we buy their products, it is plain, simple and sophisticated, just like their products!

I am starting to sound like a fan girl now, but hey, I love Apple products. I like plain and simple. Why shouldn’t we have a comfortable product experience, rather than having to understand the complications, which may result in giving up as well. I love the warm colours this new iPod has to offer. I love its miniature size and how it fits so easily in my palm that I sometimes forget I’m holding it. I love how its wonderful for exercising and has a fairly large touch screen that you can browse whilst jogging, rather than having to click through each song one by one in order to get to your desired song. I love it for allowing me to use iTunes as it has been the only music library that I have managed to suss out. Lastly, I love it for coming with some amazing pair of headphones, where the new design fit better in the ear, and the song quality is, as always, a delight.

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I am not yet such a heightened fan girl that I succumb to buying the iPhone. I do feel that for a phone, iPhone is not sufficient enough for me. But that will be discussed another day. I am satisfied with using an Apple mp3 player as there is not too much brain needed for it, but it is a useful item to have as it does the job very well. The only complaint I have is the price, and sadly for Apple, this complaint of mine will continue. As of now, I am just as much thrilled about my iPod Nano as I was when I had just got it through the post!

Pining for Attention

What makes a person content in life? I feel human contact is far more important than anything else material in this world. Of course opinions may differ on this. I don’t just mean the companionship of a partner, a mother or a friend. I essentially mean that human existence is important in ones life. Even if it is just a conversation you strike up with the owner of a newsagents when you’re out in the morning to buy your daily newspaper.

Whilst working at a charity for the elderly I realised how lonely these elderly males and females were. There was one lovely lady who had been isolated from the world. She had quite shockingly not left her house for seventeen years! And the bulk of these people had seemingly led independent lives, throughout their active life, to then have a complete shut down. I used to frequently go to her house to aid her with shopping. Initially I imagined myself to be extremely professional in getting the job done, however what I hadn’t realised was how desperately this charming lady needed conversation. She looked forward to me coming over so that she would have someone to talk to. Inasmuch that she would talk about how the nurse came to visit her, or how she was trying to get hold of someone at customer service in order to buy a certain article she had wanted. Principally she described her day surrounding the contact she had had with other human beings.

Driving past a doctor’s surgery, I often see a number of elderly, smartly dressed and excitedly awaiting their meeting with the doctor. It is probably their best moment, where they actually have a person who can attentively listen to them, know what troubles them, and who they can sometimes have a joke or two with. It is not many a times they get to express themselves so much. They are thought of as a nuisance, or too eccentric to talk to. We forget they too need attention, and more importantly, we will also go through these processes at some stage in our lives.

As a child we are encompassed by people who dote on us and diligently take care of us, thus this beginning of human love is what spoils us. Our human make up is such that we need love. At the same time we need to give love as well. And this exchange of love is what makes life so beautiful. This does not mean that you become too expectant, but as a person, knowing the value of another person is very important. Simple good behaviour will produce positivity. So here is to all those elder people in our lives that are quite regularly ignored. Let us not forget they were once us as adults, and we should most certainly value their life experiences, wisdom, warmth, and particularly, their presence.