By: Catherine Lynch
It was so unbearably hot in the city of stone and crenelated walls that I was convinced we had traveled through a time loop and actually arrived in medieval time. The only indications that we were still in 2018, were the Gucci bags and Jimmy Choo shoes that every Italian seemed to be able to afford.
We’d spent most of the day in a coffee and gelato shop, exhausted from our earlier trip to Siena. If the blistering sun wasn’t enough to make us want to go back to the Palazzo in Florence, then the giant hills that lead to San Gimignano that we had to walk up did.
I wanted air-conditioning, water, and not to pay to use the bathroom.
My friend, Kelly, sighed pulling on one of her light brown curls. “We should really try to enjoy our time in San Gimignano, even if we are exhausted.”
I looked down at my half-eaten gelato. Even that hadn’t helped. I huffed. “I agree, but the only things to do here is climb to the top of the highest tower or go into the Duomo.” I wiped sweat from my forehead, “and all we’ve done today is tour churches.”
I could practically hear God “tsk” from Heaven. No strict Catholic girl should be talking anyone down from visiting a cathedral. I could almost see him shake his head as if he thought I had more faith than that.
Trying to waste time in Italy was surprisingly hard. We had walked into countless stores, but nothing was catching our attention.
Kelly and I had just arrived in a giftshop and were laughing at frog-shaped mugs when a picture caught my eye out of the store window.
An elderly local street artist was selling his paintings across the street. A dark purple cypress tree caught my eye, causing me to do a double-take. Although I tried to tear my eyes away from it, I had learned a long time ago that I only really wanted something when my gaze kept falling back on it. After quickly mentioning that I’d be right outside while Kelly bought an item, I slipped out of the store and walked across the tiny cobblestone street to where the old, silver-haired vender was.
I searched through his paintings that were in an accordion folder as he regarded me silently with calm brown eyes. “These paintings, molto bene,” I said in broken Italian.
He smiled his thanks. Then asked, “Which one do you want?”
I pointed to the painting of a cypress tree. It was nothing more than a single cypress tree painted in dark purple and black. The tree stood alone in the painting with the only other color on the canvas being its black shadow.
“That’s one of my favorites, too. I was driving home when I saw the cypress tree standing alone beneath the stars. So, I pulled over and painted it.” He reverently touched the bottom of the paper. “Normally, I’d sell this painting for eighty euros, but if you tell me the reason you want the painting, then maybe I will give it to you for less.”
I looked at the painting, and then back at the seated man and said, “It reminded me of a Christina Rossetti poem called Song which mentions a cypress tree. The poem is one of my favorites,” I hastily explained.
I thought that would be the end of our conversation when he asked, “Why?”
I debated whether to tell the man, but I reasoned that our paths would most likely never cross in the future. So, I answered, “When one of my English teachers explained the poem to me, she said that Rossetti was struggling with religion when she wrote it. Rossetti was debating whether her religious upbringing was true or not.” I paused for a moment. “But I never read the poem the same way my teacher did no matter how many times I re-read it. I heard no struggling in the words… just peace and acceptance. Ever since then, I’ve loved it.”
I unclicked the back of my phone case, deciding I would regret it more if I left the piece in the Medieval city than spending the money to buy it.
I gave him the money, surprised to find that he didn’t look at it. He just slid it into his pocket, pulled out brown packaging, and wrapped my painting up before handing it to me.
Kelly and I walked around San Gimignano for a little longer, waited at our meeting spot beside an immortalized soldier, then began our descent with the rest of our class to the buses at the bottom of the hill. Halfway down the hill, I spotted the artist stand where I had bought the painting that I was too scared to even place under my arm.
I decided to thank him again for the piece that would travel with me all the way back to America. Taking longer strides, I hurried towards the stand.
But as I got closer to the stand, I saw that the display piece hadn’t been replaced by another, and the seat the man had been sitting in was empty.
The painter had disappeared.
Edited by: Emily Chance