MOURNING BEFORE SIENA

Thursday evening, May 13

When we returned from our last dinner in Firenze, the desk host, Pamela, asked whether I had seen the message she had written and placed on the pillow in my room. I had not. She said that a man had called and wanted me to call home. Odd . . . I have a phone with me all the time, and I had sent the number to Neil, my sisters and my children, in case they needed or wanted to talk with me while I’m here.

I went into my room and called Neil. He said, “I have some very bad news for you. Are you sitting?” My heart sank. My mother, I thought. The most logical death, one I’ve been dreading and anticipating for years. I spoke my thought and Neil said, “No, not your mother. It’s Marcia. She died sometime in her sleep Tuesday night.”

I am stunned. Marcia . . . my friend of 35 years, my beloved “sister”. Marcia who eight years ago, while I was on this very trip, in this exact same spot, on the same day of the trip, underwent a kidney transplant which continued to function perfectly all these years. Marcia, who was hosting book group Wednesday night, one which Cyndy and I would miss since we’d be over here, thinking about the rest of our women discussing The Help.

The women began to gather and no one came to Marcia’s door. It was clear, peeking through the windows, that nothing had been prepared for hosting this event, but for five bottles of wine chilling on the back porch. One friend called the police, they all huddled in the cold and fear, shivering against the possibilities, until the worst was confirmed.

Since this is meant to be my travel blog, with delightful tales daily, I won’t venture into all the details here, but will put more thoughts in my “Checking-In” page on my website, http://www.lifeprintsjournal.com Suffice it to say that we are all shocked. And that I will not be there for the memorial service. And that I will light a candle in every church I enter here in my bella Italia as I have always done for my mother, and now for Marcia.

I walked down the hall of the Hotel Pendini to Cyndy’s room and told her the news. We sat on the beds and tried to get our brains around this unexpected death. Finally I went back to my room, packing for the morning’s departure, grabbing perhaps two or three hours of sleep in the early morning.

Friday morning we all met in the dining room of the Pendini for breakfast, did the ritual check-out at the desk, Lando took our bags down to the street while Pamela called our taxi. On to the rental car place, where there was an hour’s worth of difficulties (surprise surprise), and then we were on our way to Siena, our next stop. That trip, thankfully, was uneventful. We dropped our bags at the Palazzo di Valli, bought shuttle tickets for the old city (a ten-minute shuttle drive), waited at the shuttle stop, disembarked at the Piazza de Mercato and walked to Il Campo, where we met my guide and friend, Viviana, for our three hour private walking tour around Old Siena. A candle now stands in the tray at the Duomo, lit brightly for Marcia.

After our tour, we found a table on the Campo to sit, have a drink of coffee, hot chocolate, spremuta (fresh squeezed) of orange juice, etc. We taught the waiter a new word . . . “grapefruit” and he taught us one . . . “pompelmo”. Grapefruit. I watched his face while he tried to picture “grape” and “fruit”, but we explained that a grapefruit is like a very large orange, but not sweet. He understood. Pompelmo. Grapefruit.

A walk back to the shuttle piazza and then to the hotel, a quick change of clothes, checking e-mail for more news about Marcia, and we headed out again, shuttle shuttle shuttle, walk walk walk to Antica Osteria da Divo, the restaurant built into a cave, where we had a predictably fabulously tasty meal. Canneloni stuffed with vegetables and melted pecorino cheese, a variety of bruschette topped with oil, tomatoes, and pate, a leek and potato tart atop a creamed broccoli sauce, with scallops over the whole thing. And that was just the first part of the meal. Sea bass, a “wreath of sole” with minced vegetables, rolled pork with a delicious filling, followed by more desserts. My, my. Though this group is not a wine-drinking one, Paula and I did have a half bottle of Chianti Reserva Mona Lisa, and we all toasted to Marcia at the beginning and the end of the meal. A taxi back to the hotel was in order, rather than the schlep to the shuttle.

It is raining, and that’s been a part of each of our days in Italy so far, the wettest I have ever experienced. But we do have umbrellas and at least they’re being put to use. Before I put my exhausted body down on the bed for the night, perhaps to get a better stretch of sleep, I called Ryan, Marcia’s son, and talked with him for quite awhile. I met Marcia just as she learned she was pregnant with Ryan, so I have literally known him all his life. When he was little, he called my daughter “Ashala” instead of Ashley. I will try to be a second mom to him and his sister Lara, because Marcia IS like my sister, and the kids have known one another forever. I felt better having talked with him.

Saturday morning, May 15

I am in the sitting room at Palazzo di Valli, writing this before we head out to our villa later today. I doubt very much whether the villa has internet, and I’m not sure I want to carry my computer into each town we visit, hoping I can use it. But I will check e-mail and post to this blog from the many internet cafes we will encounter along the way, and keep a good record of our group adventures. From the villa, one of the many named Podere Camere in this country, we will do day trips to Chianti, to Montepulciano and Pienza, to Cortona and Lake Trasiemeno, to Porto San Stefano and the Tarot Gardens in Capalbio, to San Gimignano, and perhaps explore a bit of Montalcino, only 12 km from the villa.

It will be a diverse week but we won’t have to pack up our suitcases every day or two, and that is always a relief. More later . . .

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