Getting Drunk in Siena

30 Aug
Piazza del Campo - Siena Italy

Piazza del Campo - Siena Italy. Source: Massimo Catarinella (www.wikipedia.com)

“Are you serious? Public drinking is allowed in ‘all’ of Italy!”

“Si, signore.”

The charming young Italian girl at the Sienese Ufficio Turistico looked at me like I was crazy for even questioning this.

“You know, there are only two places in all of America that I know of where you can drink in public: Las Vegas and New Orleans (but only during Mardi Gras).”

At this point my wife, Stacey, was also looking at me the same way.

“Interessante. May I help you with anything else?” she asked.

“No, I think we’re all set,” Stace answered.

“Gratzie,” I added.

“Prego, ciao caio.” The girl said as we were leaving the tourist office.

Though my wife was a little miffed, my interest in this whole “Italian public drinking” thing was now piqued. Most of the time back home in the States, I’ll enjoy a few beers a week, my favorite being Samuel Adams Octoberfest (which only comes around in the Fall), and perhaps a few glasses of wine now and then. Of course when my friends are in town, then it’s a night of cheap beer, shots of tequila or the worst whiskey we can find, and the obligatory margarita or three—followed by the obligatory getting sick and hung over the next day! But that’s only once or twice a year so that ain’t too bad.

But here was a special, special occasion! We were in Italy for a two-and-a-half week whirlwind tour of as much of the country as we could see, and it was already half over before I discovered this little chestnut of Italian culture. Well, well, well, I wasn’t going to waste anymore time; I wanted to experience something that I haven’t since my bachelor party in Las Vegas the year before: I wanted to drink in public!

Especially on the Piazza del Campo [pictured above].

What a marvelous place this is. The beating-heart of Siena! An oval-shaped bowl of: fontani, negozi, ristoranti and trattorie, musei, and of course the signature Torre de Mangia rising up above the entire medieval town like a sentinel of the past protecting the city from the Florentine invaders.

Torre de Mangia - Siena Italy

Torre de Mangia - Siena Italy. Source: Nicholas Iandolo

Oh I love Siena. We had only been here a night and a day, and already I was smitten by this mystical ancient kingdom even more than Venice or Florence. The brick and stone buildings, the columns, the wrought-iron gates, the glimpses of the majestic country side through the narrows of the buildings, and the people—wonderful people from all over the world. This was my favorite place in all of Italy so far.

And now I needed to have a drink on the piazza just for the sake of doing so. Stace and I immediately proceeded to the nearest café (most of them serve alcohol) where I purchased a Heineken. Trite I know, but I wasn’t being choosey just then.

Sitting on the brick-laden ground of the bowl sipping my beer, looking out at the people, hearing the dolce sweet music coming from the eateries, and smelling the aromas of the fine cuisines that seem to permeate the entire Italian peninsula; I felt like we could stay here forever. But something was missing.

Piazza del Campo - daytime life

Piazza del Campo - daytime life. Source: Nicholas Iandolo

That’s when we realized that we were in Tuscany, home of Chianti Wine Country, and I knew what we had to do next…

Stace once told me that on a previous trip to Siena she accidentally stumbled upon a place where she was able to taste fine wines from the local vineyards. I originally wanted to do a real wine tour, but given our rapid sightseeing itinerary, we decided to nix that idea (or save it for another time). Plus, I had already done something similar in California recently. So we figured the next best thing would be to find a wine tasting establishment and imbibe—in fine Tuscan fashion.

Since the one beer wasn’t enough to impair my judgment (nor my motor skills), we got up and left the piazza on our little quest. Well, we didn’t have far to go when we happened upon a little hole-in-the-wall place off of one of the main thoroughfares surrounding the sublime Piazza del Campo called, Antica Pizzicheria. [Via di Citta 93-95, Siena, Italy] What caught our eye was the stuffed boar’s head proudly hanging from just above the alcove (no door for that matter, just a curtain of thick red braided ropes) leading into this mysterious place.

Antica Pizzicheria - Via di Citta 93-95, Siena, Italy

Antica Pizzicheria - Incredible Negozio! Source: Nicholas Iandolo

How could we resist? We walked right in and to our amazement the store was filled top to bottom with shelves of wine bottles, cured meat hanging from the ceiling, racks of breads, displays of cold cheeses, and jars full of biscotti (among other such edibles); all tucked away in this little nook in the heart of Siena. We had hit the jackpot!

And what an aroma! The place had a panoply of scents that clearly rose above any market we knew of back home—not even in Boston’s North End.

Stacey wanted me to take some digital stills, but I decided that probably would not have been a good idea. And I was right. For the proprietor of the place did not take kindly to any touristi coming into his place to take pictures. Now here was a guy who was by far one of the most unique individuals Stace and I met on our trip up to this point (save the Roman Centurions outside of the Colosseum, but they were more for the sake of the tourists than anything else). This guy looked like a character right out of Rossini’s, The Barber of Seville. He doned the tall mushroomed shaped chef’s hat, the white baker’s apron, the red kerchief tied around his neck, and last but not least the handlebar moustache.

And he was temperamental!

As evidenced by the spotlight he blasted on the other less conscientious tourists who attempted to take photographs of the inside of his establishment. “Illegal, uscire! Leave!” he chortled at the rabble.

But not to us, in fact, for some reason (probably because he heard me saying to my wife that we shouldn’t take any pictures here out of respect for his store) he was happy to help us.

“Yes, signore e signora. What can I do for you?” he asked.

“We’d like to try some wine if that’s okay?” I said.

“Eccellente! Certainly.”

He then proceeded to not only to pour us two of the biggest glasses (filled to the brim) of vino locale we’ve ever had; he brought out a cutting board with meats, breads and cheeses on it for us to sample as well.

This was a far cry from California where all we got was a skimpy glass (sparsely filled) and some crackers for our money. Here this classic Italian proprietario, was providing for us a veritable feast for a measly few Euro! We ended up drinking several glasses each of different wines (reds mostly) from all over Toscana, and dined on equally intoxicating antipasti.

During this whole time we spoke at length with the gentleman about wine, America, Italy, and Siena. He was a most agreeable fellow underneath the boisterous veneer—but he never missed a beat in shooing away would be paparazzi. He obviously liked Americans; he just disliked foolish people who would treat his business like a carnival sideshow.

And when we thought we were finished, he brought out a plate full of biscotti and these two small dipping glasses filled with this golden liqueur called, grappa. The tasty pastry coated in this silky beverage was a fine and a fitting conclusion to our wondrous Chianti experience. We purchased that same biscotti to take with us on the rest of our odyssey Italiano, and left his store with some happy memories of the place, the wines, the various hors d’oeuvres, and the gentiluomo.

Then it hit me. I was drunk! And so was my wife…

We staggered around the close-cropped crowded streets of the city wondering how so much time had past and acting giddy like a couple of teenagers. Over time we began to sober up and took in more of the sights. The most majestic was a beautiful golden sunset drawing down upon the rustic Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi, the open landscape, and the beautiful Sienese skyline seen from atop one of the hills that we leisurely walked up (leaving the enclave part of the città behind us for a while). How so very enchanting it was.

Later in the evening, sitting outside at a trattoria back at Piazza del Campo in the cool Tuscany spring, enjoying yet another glass of wine, dining on primo bistecca e risotto and quattro formaggio ravioli, and sharing some gelato for dessert with my beautiful wife, I came to realize that it wasn’t the wine that made us drunk in Siena: it was Siena itself! What a magical place we would have to visit again someday… now if only we could ever soberly find our way back to that little negozio!

My beautiful wife and I in front of The Fonte Gaia.

My beautiful wife and I in front of The Fonte Gaia. Souce: Nicholas Iandolo


Nicholas Iandolo is a screenwriter and author. His recently published book Cut The Crap and WRITE THAT DAMN SCREENPLAY! is available on Amazon.com and for Apple’s iPad/iPhone. He can be reached at nick@tenthsphere.com. Visit www.tenthsphere.com to learn more about Nick and his writing.

2 Responses to “Getting Drunk in Siena”

  1. Emerson Starr February 1, 2011 at 5:47 AM #

    Devin rocks..

    Kind regards,
    Elvis

    ansambel

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  1. Getting Drunk in Siena Get out tonight. | Adventure Glasses - December 30, 2010

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