I spy.

My sister Jackie taught me this during our Cinque Terre trip: pay attention to the people who live in a place and as often as possible, sneak photographs of them. In Siena, I fell briefly in love with the white-haired woman overlooking the street from her wide balcony. She simply looked down to see what was going on and I saw her, giving her a gentle Buena Sera. Her smile was huge as she Sera’d me back. I gave her a wave, which she returned, and further down the street, I turned to wave again and snuck a photo of her.

Sienese Woman on a balcony

Sienese Woman on a balcony

 

Men with canes or with their hands clasped behind their backs, capture my heart with their soft smiles in response to my Buon Giorna or Buena Sera—hoping I have marked the passing of day to afternoon correctly. Wisely they seem to mostly ignore the tourist throngs until someone actually looks at them, sees them, speaks to them. I love looking at people—having learned that eons ago on a trip to Germany. He was dressed as dapper as an elderly gent could be. As he passed my table to take his seat, he looked at me and I at him and for one brief moment, we connected.

I love that about traveling.

I love seeing.

Our first day in Siena, we went into an Entocea—a store—owned by Frederico and bought aged Grappa. This is the only Grappa worth drinking. Where I can drink wine decanted in the same year it was bottled, grappa is an entirely different beast. Much like young blended scotch versus aged single malt, you do not want to drink young grappa.

The proprietor was so nice we went back to get an inexpensive Chianti and a Brunello that we could never afford at home. Where the wine is made, it ranges from E30 to well over E500. Well above our taste range! This is the vintage of wine first brought to my attention by, Under the Tuscan Sun. The book, not the movie. Brunello is one of the premier wines of the area. Better than the wine was getting to purchase it from Frederico’s father. What a delight! He spoke little English and our Italian is limited to greetings and food. Yet, with facial expressions, up and down, he conveyed to us which wines he would purchase and why.

He saw me eyeing the entrance to the wine cellar. Switches were flipped, lighting the way, and he went before me. Thank God—literally I thanked God—he held onto the handrail because he missed a step and nearly fell onto the stone surface. I think my heart actually stopped for a moment until I knew he was safe.

He explained with motions and Italian that I understood, that the room was carved by the Etruscans, by hand, many, many centuries ago. It maintains, year around, the perfect temperature for his son, the Sommelier, to keep his wine. Like being in all of Italy, standing there was standing in history.

The movie

Also from Under the Tuscan Sun—this time the movie—I understood the repetitious beating of the drums and the flag tossing taking place in the schoolyard across the way from The Athena (our hotel). One night it was adolescents, practicing and perhaps in great need of it. Another evening it was older, more experienced flag throwers and although in the distance, I enjoyed our free show.

You can treat wait staff like servers, or you can ask them questions and get a glimpse into the fullness of their lives. Christian, bartender at the Athena, shone when he spoke of how much he loves living in Siena, his city. These historical places we visit do not equate to Disneyworld’s Epcot center where everyone is a performer. The people who live in the cities and towns I tour are part of the very fabric of the ambiance, of what makes it the place I want to be.

You can let people serve your wine and food, you can pass them by with barely a glance and be nothing but a transaction in their day or you can create mini, momentary friendships with people, truly seeing the uniqueness of them.

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Read: Places for your soul