I realise it sounds horribly privileged and snotty to announce that I was in a bad mood while in Italy – and Tuscany at that, not one of those lesser Italy parts like Rome or Turin – but there you have it, everyone has off days. Yesterday I was in such a fouler we should just have embraced it and gone to Siena.
Siena, I should explain, is a most beautiful town and I’ve been there twice in my life, both times in rotten form for no apparent reason. (I recently had a conversation with Marian Keyes about this on Twitter, which will probably the claim to fame I’d like on my epitaph. She too had a bad day in Siena.) Possibly it’s that Siena occurs at exactly that midpoint in a holiday when everyone could really do with being magically transported home to their ordinary lives just for a few dull hours, free from the pressure of all the things they should be doing and seeing and admiring that begin to weigh you down when you admit that your time here will come to an end and you haven’t yet done any of them. The stress of the stunning, overwhelming beauty and history at every pace gets to you after a while. Maybe Siena is just too much of a good thing, or maybe it was always just doomed before we got there.
The first time, we even found ourselves serendipitously there on the one day of the year when the “Paleo” occurs, which is not a feast of non-feasting – that other sort of paleo hadn’t even been invented when I went to Siena first or second – but rather a huge special festival with re-creations of horse races with people in traditional garb toting actual enormous wooden lances and all sorts. I didn’t care. I didn’t like it. There were too many people, it was too hot, and I’d have been better off sulking on my bed for the afternoon.
Yesterday, we bucked the trend and did not go to Siena. We went instead to the more local lake, and the afternoon was redeemed by the perfectly timed catching of the ferry to the island where we had ice creams and wandered in the olive groves spotting pheasants in the undergrowth and watching the old ladies sitting out in the shaded streets doing their intricate lacework until it was time for the ferry back again.
Sometimes a dark room is balm for the soul, but sometimes you have to get up and take the kids somewhere anyway, and an overgrown island in the middle of Italy followed by some trampoline time does as well as anything else.