I wasn’t sure if the seat of my pants was slowly saturating or if the ground was just cold, but I was sure I wasn’t going to deal with it till I stood up. The Tuscan sun behind me and oversized panino in front of me made sure of that. We’d just biked from the streets of Prato to a public park, gliding past the small town’s modern farms and ancient churches before slipping through its archaic walls and bursting into Cascine di Tavola. It was here we finally rested from our cycling journey, shouldering off our bags and gathering with our friends and professors in a pseudo-circle of backpacks, baked goods, and hungry people from Cornell and the University of Florence alike.
These kinds of moments, pleasant and serene, surrounded and crisscrossed our weekend the way urban gardens do a well-planned city. I thought back through the previous few days while sitting there in the grass.
Friday, a drive through the countryside. We were introduced to food systems, agritourism, and agricultural planning in Tuscany by the rotating voices of Professors Chusid, Frantz, and Smith on the bus’ microphone. Our windows framed a vast green scene, all tampered with and touched by human hands over centuries of settlement but still dominated by the natural elements of hills and trees and sky.
Saturday, a day in Siena, which quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world. Most of the cities we’ve wandered in Italy are set on some semblance of a grid, with much of Rome being the obvious exception. But Siena also grew to buck an imposed street system and gives instead to the organic shape of the earth on which it lies, generating streets that sit like a small bowl of pici, curvy and altometrically varied but still mostly contained to its city walls. Walking presents constant surprises. Astonishingly, green space still rides right up to the walls of many parts of the city, a feat many planners can only dream of happening in modern metropolises. We explored one of these gardens, Orto de’ Pecci, following a guide as she had us sample little green pieces from their vegetable garden. It was another one of those moments. This time it was followed by a mind-boggling meal with some of the best pasta I’ve ever had, all made from ingredients grown right in the garden in which we sat. The sensation of being absolutely stuffed is becoming all too regular this semester.
Sunday, a tour of Florence. It was in Florence that it seemed our little pleasant moments were almost too good to be true—after ascending the deceptively tall tower of the Duomo, the light rain that’d been flirting with us for hours finally dissipated and a rainbow formed over the already astonishing view of the city below. The colors and textures of the scene didn’t even seem real.
And Monday, a day of cruising around on our rented bikes, learning about urban history and urban gardening in Prato. It will be tough to go back to our regular programming this week.