I arrived in Siena in late May. It was cold and drizzly that weekend, but as the taxi climbed the hill from the station towards the medieval town, the distinctive sight of the stripy black and white bell tower of the Duomo was so exhilarating nothing could dampen my spirits. I was there to spend a month studying Italian language.
The language school is based in a 17th century building, originally a school for deaf mute children (sordomuti). The walls are lined with beautiful black and white photographs of the children and their teachers. If you can learn a language by soaking up the environment, then I was in the right place. The renaissance building, the views out to the Tuscan countryside, the images of students conquering learning despite difficulties – what could be more inspiring.
For the next four weeks I immersed myself in Italian. I spent my mornings in class and the afternoons exploring Siena. Famous for its Duomo, the Palio horserace and the many delicious varieties of paneforte (Siena cake to the English). A whole month meant I could get under the skin of this place … and let it get under my skin.
During that month I was lucky enough to befriend an elderly couple – Angela and Viviano. We made a mutually beneficial arrangement where I would go there for dinner 2-3 nights a week and improve my language my chatting with them over dinner. Angela was a great cook and had the equivalent of a garden allotment in which she grew an almost commercial quantity of vegetables. My conversational Italian improved, I learned about Tuscan food and got a rare insiders view to Siena.