The Vatican Trail

Walk from the Via del Corso
past Saint Peter’s
enter the Vatican
and the crowd surges like thick water
along the long, long corridors
and then eddies in the Sistine Chapel.
When the murmur swells to a babble
the crowd is shushed by sombre men
who direct the stream out of the chapel
and down the spiral stairs.

Copyright Sandra Roe

Pope Pius and Pienza

Romeo and Juliet
were in Pienza
with Franco Zeffirelli
so I went there.

A tiny town in Tuscany
it’s Corsignano rebuilt
by Pope Pius the Second
as the Renaissance ideal.

I approached past vineyards
olive groves, honey stone villas
fields of wheat
and pastoral hills
crowned with cypress.

I entered the Porta al Preto
turned immediately right
and down the Via Gozzante
gazed from the belvedere
upon the Val d’Orcia
and its winding roads.

Back in Corso Rosselino
is a cathedral, a papal palace
a town hall and a well.
This is Pius’ perfect city
his ideal Renaissance design
the new vision of urban space.

Transforming his boyhood town
for his summer court
the Pope invented the piazza.
It is defined by four buildings.
Palazzo Piccolomini is on the west side
with an inner court
and loggia on all floors.

The Duomo
the cathedral
dominates the piazza.
Pilasters and columns
on its façade
standing on high dados
and linked by arches
was a novel idea.
Light is heightened
in the Duomo
no coloured glass
or paintings on the walls.

Instead Pope Pius ordered
five altarpieces
by four Sienese artists
to follow the new architectural style.

Across from the church
is the town hall
the Palazzo Communale.
Its three arched loggia
face the Duomo.

On the third side
of the piazza
is the Palazzo Vescovile
which housed the bishops
who travelled to Pienza
to attend the Pope.
It is now the Diocesan Museum
and the Museo della Cattedrale.

The travertine well
in the piazza
was widely copied in Tuscany
for one hundred years.


Apollo and Daphne

From the Hotel del Corso
through the Piazza del Poppolo
up into the Villa Borghese
with its umbrella pines and squirrels
and then the Galleria Borghese
each step brings me closer
to an astonishment of the ages.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
has carved Daphne’s alarm
into marble.
Pursued by Apollo
stretching out
she is trying to flee
becoming a tree
hands fingers are leafy
bark is creeping up
and around.
A swirling encounter
flying bodies
struck still in marble
together forever apart.
It’s distant, it’s a myth
Cupid’s mischief
not possible
and yet
Daphne’s alarm
is alive and
I stand gripped for a long age

Copyright Sandra Roe

Elephants in Tuscany

I bought an elephant
in Pienza
a ceramic
made in Orvieto
yellow face
indigo ears
light blue body and
orange legs

I bought an elephant
in Orvieto
a ceramic with
blue face
blue ears
light blue body and
yellow legs

I bought an elephant
in Chianciano Terme
after drinking a Black Russian
with Elana
a ceramic
white body with
pink flowers
on its back

I bought two elephants
in Montalcino
blue glass
they are waving their tiny trunks

I bought three elephants
in Chiusi
the old town
mock silver bodies
and brown faces
they are running along the shelf

I bought an elephant
in Florence
in a paper specialty shop
tiny size
large price
too round a body
for an elephant
but it is an elephant
no mistaking it
the most elegant of them all

Elana bought an elephant
in Chiusi
the old town
cream face
golden ears
and green pants
she gave it to me
it’s sitting in the middle of them all


Copyright Sandra Roe

Flaminia’s Villa

We’re back in Chiusi, you and me, Chiusi Scalo
leaving the railway station
passing under the umbrella pines
and up the winding road scarped through the rise
lined with green trees and creepers
towards Querce Al Pino (Forest of Pines)
that confluence of roads leading to more towns in Siena.
There’s the Etrusco Chiusi Supermercato
where no one speaks English
but we came away laden with wine and food
prosecco and moscato and brunello
fresh basil pesto, crostini and bistecca alla fiorentina
and double zero flour to make focaccia.

There’s the Hotel del Sole
and La Taverna del Patriarca
where we had our first dinner
and there’s the bus stop.
That quiet turn off to the right
leads past the barnyard geese, turkeys and cats
some villas and vineyards
and another large villa
by the long and dusty road.
David’s villa is up ahead
and there’s the castle to the east
but we turn left and
pass down the hill through the gates
to Flaminia’s villa.

Flaminia’s villa looks west
through trees and down a steep slope.
It’s a golden and light green vista
of fallow fields and chestnut trees
and large villas over there and there.
The porch has a long table and chairs
for drinks tea coffee and dinners
and good arguments
late morning and long into the night
until autumn ends
the nights are cooler
and we have to leave.

We strike out for the day to discover
Etruscan tombs in old Chiusi
ceramics in Orvieto
antiques in Arezzo
sweets in Perugia
meringues in Castiglione del Lago
cakes in Siena
ramparts in Lucca and
art and gelato everywhere.
Pienza has funghi soup and Romeo and Juliet
and The English Patient with frescoes in the monastery.
In Montalcino we buy brunello
and drink sparkling rose
eat honey and cheese while
looking on the old fort.
Montepulciano has music and
that little yellow bus
that goes from the station
right up the old narrow street.
And it’s there, there in Montepulciano
in a little shop on the old street
I find my blue woolen hat and
bring it home to Flaminia’s villa.

Copyright Sandra Roe