Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Mauro Civai + Enrico Toti's "Siena: the Gothic Dream": Book Review
This "new guide to the city" that dramatically occupies a Tuscan hilltop is neither a coffee-table heirloom nor a conventional guidebook. While small in size, its scope ranges over the highlights. In Christopher McConnell's extremely faithful (I reckon as it repeats the sometimes awkward diction of what I suppose is the Italian) translation, this 1992 authorized and city-sponsored guide encourages us to regard the fortified vista as pilgrims. We seek the monuments, rather than restaurants or lodging.
For this aims at erudition and elegance. It opens with a survey of the town and its medieval planning. Three sections, one for the City, one for Camollia, one for San Martino, divide the center into its thirds. Each can be studied and itineraries followed by hand drawn maps on the pages. Illustrated richly, a glimpse of the paintings, architecture, history, and panoramas of Siena open up for a viewer.
Despite the slightly stilted tone that Civai and Toti take, it conveys therefore the Italian insider's style, rather than a tourist's perspective. This can seem disorienting, for much still evades translation. But for an armchair or a real traveler, this remains an intelligent if eccentric introduction to Siena, when few such books going deeper than a few photos and text are available to English-language readers.
(Amazon US 12-9-15)