I was trimming my geraniums the other day, preparing to bring them inside for the winter. As I worked on my plants out in the garden, I appreciated the warmth of the sun on that beautiful fall day and thought of a woman I encountered once in Siena, Italy, on another sunny fall day.
My husband and I were on our honeymoon, a five-week tour through Italy. We arrived in Siena by train and found our way to the plaza where the famous Palio horse race is held twice a year. We ordered lunch at an outdoor café and my husband went to look for lodging while I guarded the suitcases (I loved that job).
All of a sudden, an elderly woman with white hair and crinkled skin sat down in my husband’s chair. I tried to explain to her that that was my husband’s chair and could she please move. The woman just said, “sole.” My Italian isn’t very deep, but I gathered she was enjoying the sun. I didn’t know what to do, but I again told her that that chair was for my husband and we were having lunch. She said to me, “He can sit over there,” in English and kept sitting next to me with her face held up to the sun.
I am usually a peaceful person but I felt so upset with this woman that I actually felt like pushing her out of the chair. What kind of manners were these? We were customers at the café and she was intruding on our romantic fantasy. After indignantly repeating that that was my husband’s chair, I gave up and the two of us sat next to each other quietly taking in the sun.
Our waitress brought our lunch and looked at me quizzically. I told her the woman refused to move. The waitress said something to the woman, who kept repeating, “sole, sole.” After some discussion between them, the old woman got up and went off across the plaza, back to the shadows. My husband arrived with our room reservation and I told him of my encounter with the sun-seeking elder. We had a good laugh and enjoyed our lunch in the café with the panoramic view and good sunshine.
Now, eight years later, my husband and I have been separated for a year and I’m not so caught up in romantic fantasies. I relish small joys, like the warmth of the sun on a glorious day. The old woman from Siena made a big impression on me and I wish I could go back in time and tell her that she was welcome to sit at our table and take in the sun and let my husband sit across from me where she suggested. Since she seemed to know some English, maybe we could have talked with her and learned about her and had a memorable adventure. Time and circumstance change perspective and if I had it to do all over, I’d buy her a glass of wine to boot.
Jean Kepler Ross is an award winning freelance writer/photographer based in Santa Fe, NM. She was editor of GuestLife New Mexico for four years and her work has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Glamour, Home & Away, Los Angeles Times, Santa Fe Visitors Guide, San Francisco Examiner, ASU Travel Guide, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.