Synopses & Reviews
Jane Tylusandrsquo;s Siena
is a compelling and intimate portrait of this most secretive of cities, often overlooked by travelers to Italy. Cultural history, intellectual memoir, travelogue, and guidebook, it takes the reader on a quest of discovery through the well- and not-so-well-traveled roads and alleys of a town both medieval and modern.
As Tylus leads us through the city, she shares her passion for Siena in novelistic prose, while never losing sight of the historical complexities that have made Siena one of the most fascinating and beautiful towns in Europe. Today, Siena can appear on the surface standoffish and old-fashioned, especially when compared to its larger, flashier cousins Rome and Florence. But first impressions wear away as we learn from Tylus that Siena was an innovator among the cities of Italy: the first to legislate the building and maintenance of its streets, the first to publicly fund its university, the first to institute a municipal bank, and even the first to ban automobile traffic from its city center.
We learn about Sienaandrsquo;s great artistic and architectural past, hidden behind centuries of painting and rebuilding, and about the distinctive characters of its different neighborhoods, exemplified in the Palio, the highly competitive horserace that takes place twice a year in the cityandrsquo;s main piazza and that serves as both a dividing and a uniting force for the Sienese. Throughout we are guided by the assured voice of a seasoned scholar with a gift for spinning a good story and an eye for the telling detail, whether we are traveling Sienaandrsquo;s modern highways, exploring its underground tunnels, tracking the cityandrsquo;s financial history, or celebrating giants of painting like Simone Martini or giants of the arena, Sienaandrsquo;s former Serie A soccer team.
A practical and engaging guide for tourists and armchair travelers alike, Siena is a testament to the powers of community and resilience in a place that is not quite as timeless and serene as it may at first appear.
"Memoirist and prolific author Rodi (Fag Hag) is an enthusiast. While many people like Siena, he loves it. While many people wish for a reason to return to the Tuscan town famous for its traditional horse race, the Palio, Rodi made a reason to go. Watching the race surrounded by Sienese wearing the colors of their contrada, or neighborhood, Rodi became deeply intrigued with this unique culture. Despite limited Italian and a full life elsewhere, Rodi decided to return again and again seven times in all. This book is the story of how he parlayed his friendship with a local tour guide into a genuine connection with the members of the Caterpillar contrada. Rodi's enthusiasm and humility he loves a story where he looks bad are charming, and it's easy to share his interest in this town where teenagers and 90-year-olds are bound by a shared love for their contrada. While the rhythms of a year organized around the Palio can get a little repetitive, Rodi does a good job of keeping things fresh and introducing us to the people he meets, their rituals, and the world they inhabit. Throughout, he's unabashed about what's driving him: the desire to be recognized as more than a tourist, the dream of being received as a member of the tribe. His desire will surely resonate with anyone who has ever fallen in love with a far away place. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
andldquo;Siena is indeed a city of secrets; itandrsquo;s always been too secretive for me, despite (or because of) its breathtakingly beautiful surfaces.and#160;Tylus manages wonderfully to unfold mysteries while keeping the secrets alive and alluring.and#160;The book is a marvelous mixture of erudition and personal reminiscence.and#160;Her literary and historical mastery is absolute, but she is also a delightful companion enabling us to travel the city as it exists now and the city with centuries of its history as though intact before our gaze.and#160;Read Siena and see the city through the eyes of a particularly gifted observer who is also a gifted writer.andrdquo;
andquot;Quite a few scholars feel that they have a andquot;crossover book,andquot; maybe even a novel in them, but not many can bring it off with Tylusand#39;s literary flair. Tylusand#39;s dynamic city cuts across romantic and realist stereotypes that have oddly conspired to make Siena seem at once poignantly pretty, frozen in time, and insouciant, unable or unwilling to manage its affairs. Specialists may admire the work, quibble (which is what makes them specialists), or just be envious, but its true audience will be lay lovers of Italy, actual and armchair travelers, and Anglophone students who want a preview or a postlude to studying in Siena. I donand#39;t know of any book on Siena in any language better suited to such a readership or a reading.andquot;
andquot;By presenting Siena as a pilgrimand#39;s city, Jane Tylus has provided an essential key to its complicated beauty.and#160; Best of all, she provides every visitor with a genuine sense of belonging, for she shows, ranging across the centuries, that we wayfarers have been as essential a part of Sienaand#39;s timeless cityscape as our Tuscan hosts.and#160; A haunting, evocative book about one of the worldand#39;s most wondrous places.andquot;
Neither guidebook, nor memoir, nor academic text, but all of these, Tylusandrsquo;s Siena takes readers into the nooks and crannies of this splendid medieval city without ever losing sight of the larger cultural issues that define Sienese identity. Tylus has done a prodigious amount of research, but she wears her erudition lightly, and writes with a novelistandrsquo;s flair. She evinces a deep love for Siena, leavened by a wry sense of amusement at the quirks of the native Sienese, and a nuanced understanding of what can make them seem insular. What resides at the center of this book is the story of the author as veteran soujournerandmdash;more rooted than tourist or pilgrim, but never quite able to attain that sense of belonging that is the Sienese birthright.and#160; Herein lies the fascination and the challenge of Siena: City of Secrets.
Siena seems at first glance a typical Italian city: within its venerable medieval walls the citizens sport designer clothes, wield digital phones, and prize their dazzling local cuisine. But unlike neighboring Florence, Siena is still deeply rooted in ancient traditions—chiefly the spectacular Palio, in which seventeen independent societies known as contrade
vie for bragging rights in an annual bareback horse race around the central piazza.
Into this strange, closed world steps Robert Rodi. A Chicago writer with few friends in town and a shaky command of conversational Italian, he couldn’t be more out of place. Yet something about the sense of belonging radiating from the ritual-obsessed Sienese excites him, and draws him back to witness firsthand how their passionate brand of community extends beyond the Palio into the entire calendar year. Smitten, Rodi undertakes a plan to insinuate himself into this body politic, learn their ways, and win their acceptance.
Seven Seasons in Siena is the story of Rodi’s love affair with the people of Siena—and of his awkward, heartfelt, intermittently successful, occasionally disastrous attempts to become a naturalized member of the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. It won’t be easy. As one of the locals points out, someone who’s American, gay, and a writer is the equivalent of a triple unicorn in this corner of Tuscany. But like a jockey in the Palio outlasting the competition in the home stretch, Rodi is determined to wear down all resistance. By immersing himself in the life of the contrada over seven visits at different times of the year—working in their kitchens, competing in their athletic events, and mastering the tangled politics of their various feuds and alliances—the ultimate outsider slowly begins to find his way into the hearts of this proud and remarkable people.
By turns hilarious and heartwarming, and redolent with the flavor of the Tuscan countryside, Seven Seasons in Siena opens a window on daily life in one of the most magical regions in all of Italy—revealing the joys to be found when we stop being spectators and start taking an active part in life’s rich pageant.
About the Author
Robert Rodi was born in Chicago. After publishing seven novels, he published his first nonfiction book, Dogged Pursuit: My Year of Competing Dusty, the World’s Least Likely Agility Dog. He is also the creator of several comic-book series, including 4 Horsemen, Codename: Knockout, and The Crossovers. Rodi lives in Chicago with his partner, Jeffrey Smith, and a constantly shifting number of dogs.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Introduction / City of Secrets
1 Terra and Acqua