Sunday, October 31, 2010

Night Scenes of Siena

Above, the church of San Francesco
(very spacious and impressive).
Below, the main Sienese bank
(formerly a Renaissance palace):

And then there's me, on the Campo,
with the Palazzo Pubblico behind me.
The Campo slants, which is why I look so small in comparison.
It was a rainy Sunday, not very pleasant to be out,
but by about 6 pm the rain had mostly trickled off,
and lots of people were out and about for their Sunday 'passegiata' or stroll.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tuscan Countryside

These are not the best pictures,
taken from a moving bus
with cloudy light,
but you can get a sense of the quality of the countryside.
It is very hilly, of course,
but I had envisioned vines everywhere.
Not so: mostly cereals are grown
(our guide said maize corn, primarily)
and the fields have been plowed for winter,
giving them a very stark look.
The roads wind across the tops of the hills,
following the old Etruscan road systems
(the Romans built in straight lines, up and over hills regardless).
Along the way there are many former farm houses
with long driveways lined by tall cypresses.
Apparently the more cypresses one has,
the greater prestige of the property:

This last picture was taken near the restaurant where we stopped for lunch,
so it is of somewhat better quality.
It shows the "crete", the dry rough terrain around Siena,
that is very hard to farm.
There are ravines and ruggednesses
that remind me of the South Dakota badlands.
Apparently the "crete" shows up a lot in art landscapes.
You can see it beneath the little town crowning the hillside.


So, why were we in the countryside?
We went to visit Pienza,
a charming little town that was the birthplace of Pope Pius II,
and thus redesigned by him in the mid 15th century
to have an ideal Renaissance city layout.
Behind me is the spire of the converted Gothic church.
But there's another reason to go to Pienza.
Pienza is the birthplace also of Peccorino.
And there are a lot of cheese shops there.

A lot of them were giving samples, too!
I bought some at this very charming shop above,
a fresh peccorino flavored with truffle bits.
It was amazing.
(In fact it was so amazing I bought a loaf of bread
and some apples and just had that for dinner.
Especially after a big lunch out.)

A Lunch in the Countryside

Italian four course lunch!
We started with pici,
a thick, chewy pasta rather like extremely ropy spaghetti.
The sauce was divine.

Next we had some kind of grain (barley?)
It was very chewy and cooked in a savory broth,
including chicken and saffron.
It was actually pretty good.

Our main course was turkey.
The cutlets had been cooked in tomatoes and other stuff
and garnished with olives.
(We also had a side green salad that I didn't take a picture of.)

Then for dessert we had arranged to have a kind of local biscotti,
which are very good,
but traditionally they are dipped in wine.
No one had thought to warn the restaurant against this particular BYU requirement,
so the wine came out with the first couple of plates,
but we told them we couldn't drink it,
and they collected all the wine glasses and took them away.
Most people ate their biscotti dry, :(
but I dipped mine in the last of my San Pellegrino,
and it actually wasn't too bad that way.

All in all, it was a really nice and relaxing lunch out.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Siena takes great pride in its fountains.
The city has no river through way (unlike Florence or Rome)
and providing reliable fresh water was always a challenge throughout its history.
These are contrada fountains-- eagle and tortoise.
They are perfectly safe to drink.
I am delighted, as I usually carry a water bottle with me,
and was imagining I would have to fill it up at the hotel tap
(safe though usually not marvelous in flavor)
and this is much better.

Local Specialties 2

Siena is a city of very distinct neighborhoods,
known as contradas.
Each contrada has a mascot,
and it adorns the walls of the contrada from time to time,
often marking the boundary lines from contrada to contrada.
I quite like the chiocciola:

This corner shows the transition from
tartuca (tortoise)
to aquila (eagle):

And this one is an unofficial sign,
(a graffito, the best Italian tradition)
for Selva ('tree', but with accompanying rhinoceros).

If you look closely you will see that Tartuca (tartucca?),
the neighbor of Selva,
is depicted in a subordinate position by the tortoise beneath the tree and rhinoceros.
Each contrada has a headquarters, a church, and a fountain.
And VERY partisan residents.

Local Specialties 1

Here in Siena there is terrific Tuscan food
(of which I have already had some!)
and then some local specialties.
The top photo is of ricciarelli,
which is crispy just on the outside and covered with powdered sugar
but then soft on the inside like marzipan
(and indeed almonds are a principal ingredient).
It is also lightly flavored with citron
and I'm not sure what else, but they are DIVINE.
Already I am addicted!

The bottom photo is a chestnut cake.
I have already forgotten the Italian name of it,
but it is made of ground chestnut flour
and decorated with raisins, rosemary sprigs and pine nuts.
It is more savory than sweet,
though if you think of a semi-chewy thick fruit leather
you will have the texture down pretty well.
I had this at a restaurant today
(along with pasta and bruschetta to die for!)

First Day in Siena

Pretty terrific place to be.
I'll post more later when I have less jet lag.


Two days ago...

and yesterday!

I feel pretty lucky!
(Posts on "today" are forthcoming...
Paris was just a stop-through.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trees and Mist

Autumn River

What a gorgeous overcast day-
and beautiful leaves.

Three Reasons to Be Happy

I went to a hair stylist and had my ends trimmed.
But even so, my hair is longer than it has ever been.
I am very happy with the way it looks.
Also, this week two new books came out:
Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn
and Connie Willis' All Clear.
I have now finished them and lent them to my sister.
The best part is hearing her laugh over bits that I liked too.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh the frustration

I have a pair of jeans that I bought in a second hand store.
I generally hate buying/ wearing jeans, especially now that they are all these low-rise skinny-leg part-of-the-conspiracy-to-make-women-hate-their-natural-figures type clothes.
But THESE jeans, oh my, they fit perfectly, they even make me look pretty good.
The label is very worn, so worn I can't read the size (another reason I love them, right?) but they are Route 66 brand.
My pair are practically falling to pieces and Mom swears she won't patch them any more (she said that the last 3 times she patched them, but really, they are getting beyond wearable). So I went online to google and typed in Route 66 women's plus size jeans, expecting that I would find them rather quickly.
Instead I have wasted 2 hours of beautiful October sunshine stuck here on the computer, and on the phone, trying to find a store that still sells them.
I have found lots of rave reviews from other plus size women who love these jeans, but I can't find anywhere that actually sells them still. I even called up several stores and asked, but no, I can't find them. And the brand Route 66 apparently does not have a home web site. (I've found lots of stores of that name, but not the brand.)
Why does finding decent clothes in this day and age have to be so darn hard???

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Hike Views

Autumn Morning

I went hiking today-- and I am so glad I did!
My sister and I went up to Stewart Falls.
The leaves were just gorgeous.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chipmunks Amok

The groom is the second oldest of 7 children,
and the bride the youngest of 11 children.
So there were a LOT of relatives waiting at the temple doors
(and these are just the ones who could come.)
Many of these were, as you can see, young children.
Now, I no longer feel about young children as I used to
(in my teens I found them about as charming as tarantulas)
but speaking as a photographer,
they are very hard to gather for group photos.
You can see one of the flower girls wanted her mom
and just would not be persuaded to pose.
They also tended to forget that we were on the temple grounds,
and would climb and slide and play around a lot,
and the adults were often too distracted or busy to stop them.
It is hard to wrangle a group that large,
but I did get one good photo with ALMOST everybody's face showing.

The Usual Poses

I mentioned "the usual poses"
in my last blog,
so here are a few samples.

This was my late-afternoon pick for temple views.
As you can see, the light is extremely nice,
and thanks to my dad's lovely Nikon,
the distortion on the spires is not too great.
But apparently One is No Longer Allowed
to photograph wedding parties on Temple Square itself.
A moment or so after we took this,
a security guard came along and asked us
(in the nicest possible way, of course)
to go take them elsewhere on the plaza.
So we went to the Bride Spot.

Not ideal for lighting, but still nice.
And then there were a few on the temple steps.
In the niches,

And then the steps proper.