I've poured over train schedules and feel at least mildly confident that I know how to get to Verona today. I am sad about leaving Cortona - it's become a peaceful haven of friendly faces. Last night I joined the large American tour group for one of their activities (GASP!) - their guide had arranged a time to interact with two Cortona residents and he was kind enough to let me sit in on the conversation. It wasn't anything overly exciting but it was interesting, and I was comforted to hear them say (to our faces, anyway) that no, of course they don't mind the tourists being here.
I had great intentions of spending yesterday in Assisi, but walked around Cortona instead. Some of you have said the blog helps you relax (YAY!) so yesterday I relaxed, too, and wrote all sorts of meaningless observations that will either relax you or bore you until you're asleep at your computer.
I did a lot of people-watching in very interesting places. In the piazza by my hotel, a small group of painters arrived mid-morning and set up camp for the day, painting the landscape below. I so envy their ability to set up an easel and capture, no matter how awkwardly, the stunning view. I can't even get my camera to capture it! They eagerly delved in, walking around the margins of the piazza to consult with their colleagues and collect the right variety of brushes and colors. I had hoped to return in the afternoon to find them frustrated and tired, with wadded up papers around them (hey, I'm relaxed but I'm not a saint!), but they seemed just as energetic hours later. It was amazing to see how they'd created such drastically different portrayals of the same viewpoint.
Their talent made me contemplate spending way too much money on a paint set at the local bookstore, but I don't have room to even bring it home with me so fortunately I found another souvenir: a really lovely handbag/briefcase. I decided it was the perfect way to blend the relaxation and beauty of Tuscany with the new job and pressures of reality that lurk at home. I looked at the bag repeatedly but didn't realize that anyone had noticed until the store owner said he was glad I'd finally decided to buy it (the bag was always located outside the store, so his people-watching skills are impressive!). In America, it would be obvious that the owner was just eager to make money, but in this magical place I have no problem believing his enthusiasm for my happiness was genuine. He spoke little English but somehow we had a lovely conversation about how perfect the bag was for me, dogs (his adorable dog was a small terrier named "Tita"), American music (he had a Rob Thomas CD playing - his American friends had sent it to him), and the loveliness of Cortona. And the fact that I smiled all the way back to my hotel, stopping to admire the bag in every store window, assures me that the purchase was worth the food I will give up in order to pay for it.
Another large portion of my day was spent on the steps overlooking Piazza della Reppublica, Cortona's hub of activity at every hour of the day or night. Armed with an ice cream cone or gelato (or both, in my case), you can people-watch for hours. I've learned that you can never tell a person's nationality at just a glance in Cortona. Countless times, people who have seemed Obviously American (yes, it's a look all it's own!) have ended up being from another part of the world without any ability to speak English. Every once in awhile a tourist can even manage to look like a Cortona resident - for a few moments, anyway. The individuals who are obviously Italian, however, are the old men. During the day, they gather in groups throughout the town to chat and smoke cigarettes; in the afternoon, they take up residence on the benches in Piazza della Reppublica; at night, they gather in the light of storefronts to catch up on all the activities they didn't cover the last time they chatted. My favorite is a stooped, short man who sits at Bar Signorelli every evening to eat an ice cream cone. He just seems to collect friends (sounds familiar!) as various people sit to chat, then resume their journeys. Almost all the non-tourists wave to him as they walk by; he acknowledges them graciously but never stops eating his ice cream cone. Last night I got a smile from him - it was a lovely gift on my last night in town.
Countless people wandered through "my" piazza while I sat there today: the young family who spent the day walking every street in town, but return to the piazza because their small child likes holding dad's hands and pretending she's walking while he swings her slowly up each step then back down again; the young thin man pushing the young thin woman (sister?) up and down the one flat, handicap-friendly street in town; the hip young couple who appar to be in the midst of a competition to see whose curly hair can stand up tallest; the young men in firemen's pants smoking in the street (those pants were everywhere in Rome, too - I still can't figure out why); the adorable curly-haired toddler with the red headband who smiled at me behind her pacifier as her grandfather carried herby; the tourists who wear baseball caps of American baseball teams and strut through town daring anyone to think they belong, and the tourists who buy scarves and espadrilles, daring anyone to think they don't belong (and yes, I'm probably in one of those categories - five scarves purchased on this trip so far!); the pigeon with black spots on his white head; the man on the balcony with his jacket slung over his shoulder, looking either sexy or pathetic, depending on whether the pose is pretentious or naturally Italian; the waiter who served me last night, wearing jeans instead of his sharp black pants uniform; the waiter who never is seen out of his suit because he is always at work (though I can't blame him - it's the best restaurant in town); the small white dog with big brown spots who has a collar but always runs through town alone - quickly, joyfully, never stopping to say hello or appreciate the attention he earns; the man who owns the ice cream shop, always dressed in pure white as if he's a chef or a butcher; the elderly Cortona woman whose practical, flat shoes are made out of beautiful marbled grey fabric. And then, without warning and without a specific time, the residents disappear and the square is filled once again with only tourists tripping over each other while balancing their guidebooks and multi-colored ice cream cones. It's time to return to the hotel balcony.
I've mentioned my hotel's balcony before but now have to emphasize how wonderful it really is. It has one of the best views in the city and is, at any given moment, as culturally diverse as the U.N. It is on the balcony that I met the British tour guide, the Thai scientist, and the Italian con man with the limp cigar permanently drooping from his mouth, and it is there that I've worked very hard NOT to spend too much time meeting Americans. Yesterday morning, I met two brothers from Serbia; one a thoughtful, cynical economics professor and the other a dramatic writer, poet and movie director. The artist didn't speak much English but that didn't stop him from being a lovely conversationalist and an even more enthusiastic flirt. As he waxed poetic, reading from a small notebook his thoughts on numerous Italian towns they'd visited, his older brother provided a very amusing running commentary that The Artist seemed not to even hear. The Professor had been to America, spending ten days driving from Denver to Phoenix. When I asked what inspired that particular destination, he shrugged and replied that he'd wanted to see the Colorado River. Inexplicable to me but then again, I have no better response when asked why I chose to visit Cortona. The brothers were on a wine tour of Tuscany and had plans to drive to more towns yesterday. When, I asked? Professor rolled his eyes at The Artist (who was still trying to say my name properly - "like Bette Davis?") and wryly but kindly said, "after breakfast, after coffee, after 'Bette.'" I excused myself after awhile so I could have peace and quiet, and The Professor could begin the journey to his wine.
Now it's time to get my bags and begin the multi-staged trek to the next destination...