It's market day in Siena every Wednesday and with each week the Fortezza Medicea transforms overnight into a sprawling conflation of a flea market, flower shop, and one of the most incredible lines of food trucks and produce you've ever seen. Coming into a place where the language is foreign and the roads tangle around each other in seemingly senseless knots can be rather intimidating at first. And I've had no shortage of language stalemates with locals already, shop owners and children, who despite our mutual efforts end up looking blankly at me as I look blankly at them, at a total loss for what the other is trying to communicate.
Upon arriving in Italy, I realized all too quickly how unfamiliar I truly was with the language. I joked that the only Italian words I knew were "ciao" and "grazie," but in all honesty that statement wasn't far from the truth. So, our decision to adventure out to the local market on our second day in the city was perhaps a little grandiose. Complete tourists, we made our way (the longest possible route, no doubt) to the Fortezza with a map in hand at every corner. Siena is a medieval city, a veritable labyrinth of stone and climbing walls that could be described as either intimate or claustrophobia-inducing depending on your level of lost at the time, and the market was no exception.
The food is all on the lower level of the Fortezza, a long procession of stalls and tables and glass counters layered high with everything you imagine Italians to eat: wedges of yellowed cheeses and hunks of cured meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a different type of bread everywhere you look. We approached the first stall and I managed to convey our choices to the woman behind the counter. Luckily "olive" translates fairly well into Italian and the burrata (a spreadably soft version of mozzarella) and the salami were labeled. The second stall we came to featured a table of dozens of cheeses. We were hoping to find a harder, sharper cheese to go with the mild burrata but pretty much clueless when it came to actually figuring out how to select one.
We tried our hand at an Itali-Span-glish request for "formaggio dura?" and gave her the best "help us please" smiles we could muster, to which the woman replied with nothing more than the most confused look I'd seen in a while. We did our best to apologize for our poor Italian and her face softened as she came from behind the counter to unwrap several wedges of the aged cheeses for us, cutting off and passing out slices of each one for us to try. (They were all amazing.) In the end we picked a couple of the aged white cheeses, including a mildly aged asiago (which was the only name I caught) and made our way through the rest of the place with just a little more confidence.
There's something to be said for pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, I think, especially when you're abroad or in any situation where you’re already a little ill at ease. It can be so easy to hang back and watch other people when you've already taken a big risk, whether it's traveling to a new country or taking a new job, navigating a breakup or starting a business, moving for university or anything else you might do. That first leap, no matter how hard it was, was the easy part. The hard part is pushing yourself a little farther outside every day. My freshman year of college, my professor had this quote up on the board by Jack Canfield:
"If we are not a little bit uncomfortable every day, we're not growing. All the good stuff is outside our comfort zone."
In the end, this little trip to the Siena market will likely seem like nothing to me in comparison to all of my time here, but on that second day in the city I was so overwhelmed by the thought alone. Being able to make dinner for our whole group, though, and share a meal was such an awesome experience, one that made this once so foreign place seem a little bit more like a home. So, now I challenge you, wherever you are, to go out and take a tiny risk today too and then another tomorrow and the day after that until you too realize that maybe you can do anything after all.
Until next time,