A dream of Siena
So I was talking to a friend today and she was telling me where in France she would like to visit. Which got me to thinking and sighing, because our family has always loved France, and it's a beautiful place. And it's hard to pick one particular part of France you would like to see, because it is full of great spots. I have only seen a fraction of it. It's often struck me that the pity of our lives is that we have to choose from a near infinity of wonderful things we could do and see; yet, as soon as I think that, I say to myself that that is rather the glory of it. We must try to choose well. We must have big dreams, of places, things and people that are meaningful for us, and we must strive to fulfil them.
This seems a thing that even a man who sees no real purpose to life can find purpose in.
So what big dream do I have? So far as places go, I have long had a dream that I will live in Siena. I do not mean that I will merely visit it; that is easy. I mean that I will live in it, be a part of it.
Siena is a beautiful town, well preserved and reeking with history. You miss that kind of thing when you live here in Australia. Brisbane is all about the new. It is not very lived in: indeed, when a building starts to look a bit pre-loved, it is ripped down and replaced. There is very little left of colonial Brisbane, which is a pity, because what there is is striking. We Brits knew how to make a place look good.
Its traditions run deep: the colourful pageantry of the Palio, the town's horse race, contested by teams representing the town's historic quarters, is a grand spectacle (James Bond buffs will recognise it as the event that frames the opening of Quantum of solace). I am ever impressed by people who bother. I remember when I was a child, how deeply I loved the carnival that livened up our town. I was once part of a float -- I think I was a vampire, which you may think apt -- and I adored the effort that I was part of, the joint work of putting yourself on show as part of something traditional.
It is also sited in an area of outstanding beauty, or so I'm told. I have never been to Tuscany, but of course I have seen pictures and television. Neither will do it justice. There is something about being in a place that is immune to being re-created, even in TV, which seems to flatten and de-spirit a place.
And when I have been in Italy, the people seemed to be enjoying it. They seem to have a lust for life that English people somewhat lack. They enjoy food, vino and company, and are focused on the family. (Perhaps too much so: we hear that young Italian men like to live with their mamma until they are in their 30s--I think that would have been too much even for parents as forebearing as mine!)
So I think it would be good to live among them. Perhaps my view is somewhat coloured by Tim Parks' book, A season with Verona, which did not pretend that Italians are unflawed, but leaves you feeling that they are lively characters, if nothing else. And that seems like something desirable to me.
I do not know what life holds in store for me, but I do believe that dreams are like stars that you can follow. Sometimes, you are lost in a storm, and the clouds obscure the stars and all you can do is work to stay afloat. But storms pass--or one can hope so--and the stars are still there, and dreams, if they are big enough and sweet enough, do not fade away just because the wind has been blowing some.