Eyes of Siena

Siena, Italy, 2011

Material: silver cardboard

A day after moving to Siena, I noticed the rectangular drainage holes along the long curved, slightly angled travertine wall on Via Bruno Bonci at the end of Via Martiri di Scalvaia, the street where our apartment was located. For the next few months, I thought about what type of material I could place in the holes. My desire was to place small rectangular mirrors in each of the drainage holes so that the blue of the sky could be reflected. One day, my wife brought home a plum crostata, and after eating it, I saved the circular silver cardboard platter. I now had the material: the platter reflected like a mirror. I experimented with my cardboard "mirror," cutting out and placing six rectangular shapes in the holes to see what the wall would look like.  It was just as I had imagined, startling and beautiful. The blue shapes jumped out of the wall. I immediately decided that I had to finish the project before leaving Italy in ten days.

I needed 75 pieces of silver cardboard to cover the drainage holes and spent several days trying to find enough of the material in the city, asking everyone I met where I might locate some. Every suggestion resulted in a dead end--the shops only carried gold platters. Then, on a cold crisp clear morning, seven days before we were to leave Siena, my son Adrian and I headed out on another search. We walked from shop to shop, walking the medieval cobblestone streets trying to find silver cardboard. After going through Porta Ovile, we passed a furniture store on Via Simone Martini, which had dozens of silver boxes scattered on the floor as part of their holiday window display. Without any hesitation, we walked in. A young man came forward to help us. He spoke a little English. I spoke no Italian. I asked him if it would be possible for me to purchase a dozen of the boxes. No, was his response. He would allow me to take a couple of them for free, but not a dozen. As we bartered back and forth, I noticed a lady outside walking by the store front. I recognized her. She came into the store. Then, the young man told me that he would ask the store owner if she would be willing to give me a dozen boxes. 

The woman and the store owner then walked up. The woman asked me who I was and what I was doing. She spoke perfect English and I recognized her voice.  Where had I met her?  I told her who I was and about the sculpture I was trying to create. She told us that she use to live in our neighborhood, San Prospero, in the apartment directly across the street from ours. She convinced her friend that she would be able to give up a few of her boxes without ruining her display. I thanked them. I was elated. I could create my sculpture! As Adrian and I walked home, we talked about what had just happened. I mentioned how it was pretty cool that the woman use to live right across the street from us.  Adrian thought it was neat that she had been a tour guide. As soon as he said this, I instantly remembered where I knew her from: she had been our tour guide three years earlier when we had visited Siena for a day during our Spring break to Florence.   

On Christmas morning, I set the silver rectangles into the wall. When I was done, the cobalt blue sky reflected out of the drainage holes, transforming the wall. The next day as we drove past the wall to catch our flight home, the eyes had changed color, reflecting the silver gray light of the snowy days to come.