Written by Benjamin Trombetta (University of Virginia), Student correspondent for CET Siena, Spring 2020
In Siena, you’re never really lost; all you have to do is look up. Nestled within the city walls are a range of towers, including the Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo, the central square of the city and location of the biannual Palio horse races, and the bell tower of the iconic Duomo, a magnificent 13th century cathedral and lasting place of worship for Sienese residents and tourists alike. Every half an hour or so, a chorus of bells sings proudly from the top of the tower, sending a wave of constancy over all of Siena.
I like to think of these bell towers as my first tour guides in Siena; whenever I find myself lost at the bottom of a hill in a new neighborhood, I look up and see one of the soaring towers, quickly reorient myself, and proceed to walk back to familiar territory. (On second thought, “walk” may be too kind of a word; Siena is essentially one big hill, and as soon as you climb to the top of one mountain there is another one waiting to be hiked!) My host mom lovingly refers to the calves as the “Sienese muscles,” and after just three weeks of trekking uphill, mine feel quite toned. Who knew that going abroad was a better deal than any gym membership back home?
Jokes aside, it’s about time I properly introduced myself. I’m Ben Trombetta, a second-year student at the University of Virginia, and I love getting lost. A tad strange, I know, but hear me out – getting lost, especially in a place like Siena, isn’t inherently a bad thing. The term lost often signifies “not being able to find your way;” I prefer to think of it as the start of a grand adventure. In a similar way, moving to Siena signifies the start of a new chapter in my life, a time to explore new interests, immerse myself in a vastly different culture than my own, and practice speaking the language I’ve been studying since middle school. While the first few days in Siena felt tumultuous, I quickly learned to embrace this sense of uncertainty; at home, I am able to control many aspects of my life, but here, I am at the will of an entirely new culture, a beautiful one that places emphasis on getting to know the people around you. Although I try my best to fit in and “act like an Italian” while exploring the city, sometimes getting lost can lead to hilarious situations that reveal my true identity; an unknowing American student in Siena.
A prime example: whenever I have a break from classes, I like to find a new spot for lunch. For many of the students in our program, a casual midday meal typically varies from a delicious salami and pecorino sandwich from the nearby Consorzio Agrario di Siena to a piece of margherita pizza from a local shop. One day, a friend and I decided to try Siena’s answer to a “fast casual” restaurant, a place with indoor seating and a walk-up counter for ordering. Excited to try something new, I ordered un panino con mozzarella, zucchine, e salsiccia cruda. Upon taking a bite, I felt an overwhelming sense of confusion; the warm sausage I was expecting to bite into was actually raw, thinly spread across the focaccia bread. Although I’ve studied the Italian language throughout high school and college, there are certain words that always slip my mind – crudo, meaning raw, is one of these words. It turns out raw sausage sandwiches are quite common in Siena, and although some Americans may think of them as heinous, they’re actually not half bad!
Being in a foreign country, I learn something new every day; language, cultural, and gastronomic barriers provide for funny, somewhat uncomfortable moments that quickly turn into fond memories. Amidst all the confusion of adjusting to life in Siena, I feel an overwhelming sense of constancy: the bell towers are always there to guide me home at the end of the day. Here’s to getting lost, trying new things, and embracing every minute of the uphill journey.