Siena is a lovely city. Sitting on a hill above its modern industrial outskirts, it retains its medieval and Renaissance heart in spite of the tourists thronging the sloping, shell-shaped, glorious Campo and its incomparable Duomo. Away from these centers the city feels nearly deserted, rather somber, and not particularly welcoming. It keeps itself to itself, but you sense that if you belonged, if you were a member of one of the contrade, the neighborhood organizations that for centuries have competed in the twice-yearly Palio, you would live proudly and happily in Siena.
Florence on the other hand is a slut of a city. Dirty, crowded, graffiti-plagued, the quiet Renaissance gem we loved years ago has become blowsy and dissipated, her museums jammed, her streets filled shoulder to shoulder with tour groups from Germany, Poland, other parts of Italy and a few dollar-watching Americans.
But still, it's stunning. Get up above the rooftops and look down, turn a corner and catch a breathtaking view, and you remember where you are and what Florence is.
Today we saw this elegant, carefully made-up woman being escorted to her weekly Sunday lunch at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. We happened to be standing near the door when the restaurant's host welcomed her and then turned to us to explain that she is 100 years and two months old and a contessa from a Venetian family. That was good enough for us. We had dinner there this evening. Maybe we'll live to be a healthy high-heeled 100 too.