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  • Writer's pictureThomas Lawrence Toscano

Siena - A Waking Dream

Good afternoon friends, I apologize for not writing sooner however, I've been involved in healing and dealing with daily life. The purpose of this blog in many respects is to give examples of how life can surprise you at any turn. And, just how much magic is involved in our lives. Here goes one of the many instances of this that I've had in my life.

In 1986, as a next step in my education, I decided to go to Siena to study with the great Sicilian born conducting teacher, Franco Ferrara. Unfortunately he died before the summer festival and as a replacement the official asked Carlo Maria Giulini to take his place. My dear friend Juan de Udaeta, my colleague in the Yale Conducting Program and I had signed up for the Chigiana were accepted and Juan invited me to stay at his home in Madrid. It was a dream come true. I was so excited to work with this great conductor not to mention to spend the summer, before and after our time studying in Siena at the Chigiana, in Spain.

My time in Madrid has many wonderful memories which I'll save for another time.

Juan and I left Madrid, and drove up to Barcelona, choosing a place on the coast to lay over. The Spanish Riviera is extremely beautiful and unfortunately we were there for one night. The next day we drove all the way through the south of France,

Our trip through southern France was a tableau of Van Gogh's scenes and deep inspirations. I will never forget the energy that hit me as we passed by such palpably vibrant fields. The flowers seemed to be talking to us.

We exited France through Ventimiglia of course and arrived in Chiavari. Got a hotel room overlooking the beach strip and went to get some pizza, of course. We had a fun night and the next day only had a short trip, just under 3 hours to arrive in Siena.

We arrived there Sunday sometime after lunch and off loaded our belongings into our pensione. Without delay we were out and walking the streets which were mostly deserted. It was summer, hot and Sunday afternoon. As we moved through the medieval streets we encountered a glimpse of a few young men with drums and flags dressed up in extremely colorful costumes.

We walked around a bit more and suddenly spied a set of stairs descending into the dark. And, of course, the brought us to the great piazza which is the center of Siena. As arrived at the bottom there we were in the Piazza del Campo directly across from the Palazzo Publico and the Torre del Mangia. The tower was built to be exactly the same height as the Siena Cathedral as a sign that the church and the state had equal amounts of power. The Tower of the Eater was named after the tower's first bell ringer, Giovanni di Balduccio, nicknamed Mangiaguadagni that is "Profit eater" either for his spendthrift tendency, laziness or gluttonous tendencies.

Believe it or not the Piazza was fairly quiet, and there weren't that many people which surprised me. As I looked around we were immediately in front of an outdoor cafe, the second or third one down from the one that is here at the edge of the photo. In fact we were basically directly across from the Palazzo.

We sat down and enjoyed the view after our long journey as the waiter arrived. We ordered coffee ( espresso - if you don't want espresso you have to order Cafe Americano) and got a number of other dishes to enjoy. We were in the shade, directly in the front row of tables and sat there as the most cinematic reality unfolded before us.

From the many stairs which descended into the piazza, people began to fill until it was completely filled up. It was as if some one had turned on the people faucet. It was overwhelming and Juan and I were right in the middle of it. And, surprisingly, we didn't know what in the world was going on.

Suddenly the windows in the Palazzo Publico swung open and 8 fool trumpets were thrust through them as they played a fanfare. That fanfare was followed by a flag which was placed on a holder below the window. As this all happened, the crowd let out a roar of approval and people basically went crazy until the next window opened and all was repeated with perfect precision. The sound of the trumpets as they played in harmony raised the hair on my neck as it evoked feelings of a far off time.

After the seven contrade were selected, as if someone gave a signal the crowd and ourselves was treated to the most amazing show I've ever encountered.

Here were the boys with drums that we had seen earlier.

Followed by floats, groups of women, groups of men, groups of children all singing their own particular songs. There was also a jeep with people hanging on with gas masks and a message about the dangers of nuclear waste. And, of course, floats celebrating the Virgin Mary. They circled and circled in this planned exuberant explosion of life which goes back to the 14th century. The original Palio took place in July and the August 16th Palio, was added in 1701. And lucky are you who are attending tomorrow!

This all went on and on and I can't exaggerate just how shocked and delighted Juan and I were as all of this presented itself to we two conductors about to take part in the week long workshop with Carlo Maria Giulini. For this incredibly magical 7 days Juan and I ate at a different restaurant each lunch and dinner. I continue to remember just how astounding each meal was and how each one was more delicious than the next. I have never had a week of culinary experiences such as those.

In future posts I'll talk to you about how this week effected me. It marked me and frankly helped change the course of my life. However, on this Sunday afternoon, I was once again treated to a most definite proof of just how magical life is. Just how powerful the connection between all of us is and how life is not something that happens in a vacuum but has in fact expanses that are far beyond our abilities to detect. That day - Juan and I were treated as kings as one of we were welcomed by over 600 years of tradition and one of the most wonderful demonstrations of joy imaginable. If anyone who reads this blog is in Siena, please do enjoy il Palio and all the festivities, the food and the infectious happiness for me.

Thank you all for being with me today. Thomas

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