The Heartbeat of a CitySiena, Summer 2012

When I think about traveling, when I think about my last year through eight countries and two continents,  a particular podcast from RadioLab comes to mind. It was entitled “Cities”, and it tried to explore less of what a city was – not in statistical percentages or physical characteristics – but more so why it was, what about City X made it so unique and distinctive from any other on this earth. Cities may vary in size, climate, and specialties, but in the end they are all aggregates of individuals working together to sustain the clockwork of life. So how is it that New York and Atlanta, Toyko and Sydney can feel so completely alien from one another? One answer posed the concept of a ‘heartbeat’ – that each city has some underlying drum coordinating and organizing the speed of its walkers and talkers. It’s an interesting concept, and I’ve repeatedly turned back to it as I transitioned from London to New Haven to Siena, Italy.

I had never been in a place like Siena before – a medieval town of arching facades and winding cobblestone streets, of simple walks punctuated with picturesque panoramas, of storefronts labeled “Gelateria” or “Osteria” instead of some discernable commercialized company. I developed this sense very soon upon my arrival – Siena is proud to be Siena, it is proud to be Tuscan, and it is proud to be Italian. Sienese life, like its food, is meant to be savored, to be enjoyed.

I think about Siena’s heartbeat when I walk through the streets, my urban city upbringing unconsciously making me skirt through local citizens enjoying the simple task of self-transportation. I think about it when I see unnamed stores that at best could fit five or six individuals through their doors. I think about it when I see the same two street vendors chatting side-by-side near their stands, unconcerned of their nearby wares or those zipping past, but laughing and lounging in the shadow of the Medici Fortress.

I did not feel this way in London. London has a very different heartbeat from Siena (London’s heartbeat probably requires medical attention). London was expansive, it was autonomous, and it was non-stop. One could go anywhere at anytime – shops did not take afternoon breaks or allow restaurant loungers; you could get lost in the sea of stimuli if you were not careful. London had an equally strong hold on the appreciation for its past as much as its existence as a world-wide platform, never more so than in the shadow of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

So if I’ve gotten anything out of my first week in Siena, it’s that there is a very real implication to studying abroad that exists beyond the classroom – it just takes some reminiscence to fully recognize.



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1 Comment

  1. Erika,

    You’re a great writer, and I’ve been enjoying your blog posts. I’m glad you’re getting lost and having fun! Miss you tons, and can’t wait to see you next year, but I’m thrilled you’re having so many adventures and I’m envious that you’re documenting them on the blog-o-sphere. Much love,


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