Archive for August, 2006

An Hour in Montepulciano

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

I’ve arrived in town an hour too early for the Internet joint to open. I came alone, so I have some time to kill. I’ve come to the top of Montepulciano to look west over some of the most pictuesque scenes in Tuscany. Wait a minute: I take that back. Pretty much everything in Tuscany is picturesque.

Still, many tourists and locals alike come to this spot to take a look and take a breather — the hike to this spot definitely gets ones heart pumping. As with Florence, the town itself is something to do; there’s no need to have a specific activity. I don’t shop unless there is something I need (note to self: don’t forget to get brown leather shoes). I don’t eat unless I am hungry, although since every third shop sells pasta, cheese and salami, it’s hard to avoid persistent hunger even when the stomach is left out of the conversation.

No, the city itself is a destination in itself. I could spend all day simply wandering its vicoli, smiling at whomever happens to look my way. Unfortunately, there are only two kinds of people that respond: shop keepers and old women. The shop keepers are, of course, trying to get you to come in. They usually speak in broken English because they can spot you by the look in your eye: il touristo americano. The old ladies smile the most, accompanied by the occational buona sera.

A group of four Germans has arrived and they are taking turns with the camera. My heart starts to beat faster as I consider asking them if they want a photo together. I get nervous when communicating with people that aren’t expecting it. I’m pretty comfortable at brutalizing the Italian language in front of shop keepers. Though it makes their hearts ache, I’m sure they are used to tourists speaking to them loudly in their native tongue, finally settling on poor English as the lingua franca.

I casually interrupt in my best German, which is ignored at first. After the next picture, the gentleman holding the camera looks deliberately in my direction, as if to say “yeah, what?” I freeze, forgetting the nouns for the sentence I had constructed in my head during my earlier internal monologue. I ask if they speak English. He indicates that they do, and I ask if they want me to take their picture all together. He declines immediately, apolgetically indicating that his camera is out of film. I know it is a lie, but I might not give my camera away as easily to some stranger typing on a huge laptop at the top of a hill, either. Oh, well. At least I offered.

Time to move to another location.

The main square in town is oddly calm. Most people are still eating or relazing after their meals. The square itself has undergone some construction over the last few days in preparation for an amateur dramatic production that will be hald this evening. Today’s additions include freshly cut tree limbs to act as trees for the set. There is still a pile of branches on the steps, awaiting their final placement. Nobody seems to be tending to them at the moment.

Throughout the streets today, I noticed flags that weren’t there before. There are at least 4 different flags, obviously demarking the various neighborhoods. Oddly, only two are visible from the piazza grande. I would have expected to see all of them converge on this central square. Perhaps neighborhood warfare has resulted in several takeovers over the years leading to the current situation. Perhaps not.

Piazza Grande in Montepulciano is dominated by two structures: the town hall, complete with clock, and the obligatory cathedral, complete with bell tower. Actually, both the tower and the clock have bells. In 20 minutes, I’ll find out if they are on the same schedule. The cathedral is similar to many Catholic cathedrals in Italy, except that it is one of the unfortunates that does not have a marble facade. Yesterday’s trip to Arezzo gave me the opportunity to see a very attractive cathedral that was not intended to have a marble facade. Instead, it had light brown, slightly reddish bricks, smooth all around (aside from the few that had cracked and had their street-facing portions fall off). The tower here was built as a masonry structure, and looks like it is finished. The naked cathedral — one that was intended to have a facade, but never got one (or sometimes had it reposessed for a more important church) — is unfortunately very ugly. The bricks are left intentionally ragged, a smattering of mortar on the outside to hold it all together. It almost looks forgotton, except for the obvious significance it has at the center of town.

A group of Americans was trying to figure out how to get up higher for a better view. My heart doesn’t beat so fast when considering whether or not to help Americans; I can judge their interest much more successfully given my relative mastery of the language. I tell them that it’s a pretty good view to walk up the clock tower, although they won’t let you go up to the top of the clock (it’s pretty small). You get a pretty good view from up there. (I’m waiting to go to the Internet place to download the software to create panoramas from my individual shots.) They thank me and head into the town hall. I leave to get online.