Hot, Hot Siena

Hot. Scorching. Blazing. Sizzling. Sweltering. Boiling.

Realizing you’re drenched in sweat. Your hair, every strand, completely soaked under your hat. Trickles of sweat rolling from your neck, down your back, into your waistband. Sunglasses slowly sliding down the bridge of your nose. Sitting in the shade for relief, crossing your legs, and having them slip off of each other.

I know that this is normal for many people. It was normal for me growing up. One hundred degree days, with humidity so high you wilted when you walked outside, were the norm during summers in North Carolina. But that hasn’t been the norm for the twenty or so summers I’ve lived in San Francisco. Summer to me means boots, a light jacket, and a scarf on particularly cool nights.

We duck into stores that have air conditioning. We plan our route to our next destination based on which streets and alleys have shade. We relish the first moments of returning home, the discrepancy between the outdoor heat and the indoor air conditioning so welcome. In the afternoon we nap, exhausted from the heat. We drink bottles and bottles of water. We shower, and shower again.

And in and amongst the heat, the sweat, and the consumption of water, we explore Siena. We marvel at the Cathedral of Siena, its black and white stripes standing out against the pale blue sky. We enter its cool sanctuary and marvel anew at the mosaics on the floor, the endless columns, and the stunning stained glass windows. The interior of the dome, with hundreds of gold stars, each in its own square of perfectly blue background, is my favorite. I stare upwards until my neck cricks and I start to lose my balance.

The library astounds us with its vibrant jewel colors, still intact after hundreds of years. It’s a small room, but everything about it is marvelous. The ceiling is awash in bright reds, golds, blues, violets, and greens. The walls greet us with frescoes of Pope Pius II, and along the walls we see manuscripts with fancy script and intricate drawings. I gently tread over the crescent moons on the floor that form stars and wonder who created such a masterpiece.

We visit churches and museums til the heat beats us down, then we retreat home, not venturing out again until evening, when there is some relief from the heat. We dine al fresco, eating caprese salads and pici with wild boar, grateful when a breeze blows through. And then, gelato. The icy sweetness makes the heat almost bearable. Almost.

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