The medieval Manhattan

Wednesday, 18 ottobre 2006

San Gimignano is called the “medieval Manhattan” because of its many towers. It is one of the most beautiful Tuscan hill towns, making it a mecca for tourists. The city itself was lovely, but the views from it were absolutely stunning.

Our bus parked near the bottom of the hill and we walked up to the center of this pedestrian-friendly town. I immediately made a beeline to the farmacia, which was in the center piazza, marked, as all pharmacies are, by a green cross. Italian towns don’t have the big stores that offer everything – each little store has its niche. When I got there, the farmacia had just closed at 2 for an afternoon break until 4:30. Knowing that pharmacies stagger their hours in Firenze, I stepped into the tourist information station next door.

I stood at the counter until it was obvious the person behind the counter was not going to acknowledge my presence, then said, “Scuse…”

She looked up at me with irritation. “Is there another farmacia in town?” I asked meekly.

“It opens at four!” she snapped and looked back down at her magazine.

“But,” I tried again, “is there another farmacia in town?”

“NO!” she barked, not bothering to look up this time.

I have to admit that when I was told to go to these tourist information stations for the best information, no one said that they had to be polite about it. But my irritation at her rudeness got my mind off my queasy stomach long enough that I realized that I’d be okay until 4:30. Although, by God, that pharmacy had BETTER open back up. I had little trust in my luck in this matter by now.

By this time I had totally lost Sandino, so I wandered around the little shops and galleries in town. This was the first length of time I spent on the trip when I was not compulsively snapping photos, because Sandino had the camera. I felt the pangs of addiction, and then I enjoyed my solitude. I talked to a tapestry weaver who incorporated his tapestries into sweaters and shawls. I watched a potter turn tall bottles in his studio shop. I climbed up to the highest level and sat, looking out over the landscape.

There was one disjointed moment in a gift shop when “Stuck in the Middle with You” was playing over the sound system.

I went into an art supply shop to buy a sketchbook, and the proprietor, an older man, did not switch to English when I attempted to speak Italian. We spoke at length about colors, etc. and I was delighted every time I made sense! He was quite friendly and patient and addressed me formally, using Lei, which impressed me. I selected several small items and totaled it up as costing 25 euros, handing him the money. He asked me if I had one euro, and I assumed that I had miscalculated the price and it was 26. Then he handed me five euros back. He had given me a discount without me asking for it. This was the only time I experienced such Italian charm (other than Spannocchia), and I appreciated the encounter.

Finally, the farmacia opened and I bought 10 pieces of Dramamine gum for 10 euros. That came to about $1.30 a piece, and they were worth every penny. Even though San Gimignano was a tourist town, I noticed that the prices still seemed lower than Firenze. I bought a cheese grater in a olive wood box, a purchase I would later find to be unusable, but it’s pretty.

I kept running into classmates (this was a really small town) who told me that Sandino was looking for me. We finally found each other and treated ourselves to gelati. I recovered my precious camera and snapped a photo, looked at it, and told him he would hate it because he was eating ice cream with his stomach poked out. So he posed for another one sucking it in.

At the bottom of the hill, before getting on the bus, I finally had my first European squat and pee experience in a public bathroom. I had wondered what the heck everyone had been talking about – except for some differences in how to flush them, the toilets so far had all been familiar sit-down versions. It’s not so bad, there are ridged tiles that you put your feet on and a handrail for balance. And no, the toilet paper was not like wax paper, or craft paper. It was regular toilet paper. It was given to you by an attendant as you walked in, who you tipped.

Sandino is responsible for the other photos in this post.

To be continued…

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