Closer to Life – Zona a Traffico Limitato

Once again I find my mind wandering to the many ways in which my life in Italy makes me feel as if I live more in tune with life, more in harmony with life, closer to life.  In my first post on this subject, I used the example of finestre aperte – open windows – and how my open, screenless Italian windows helped me live closer to life. Now I’d like to share with you how the Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL, pronounced “zehdda-tee-ehllay”) doesn’t limit me, as its name may suggest, but invites me to get out into the world.

In my Italian home, the charming, medieval city of Siena, the historic town centre is almost entirely free of cars due to the ZTL that encompasses most of the centro storico (old town centre). Siena was the first city in Europe to outlaw cars from its centre, allowing only some taxis, few buses and a minimal number of motorini to wind their way through the labyrinthine streets. For most people, the main mezzo di trasporto (method of transportation) is the heel-toe express.

ZTL at Porta Pispini – Siena

How annoying, people lament when I tell them this. You mean you have to walk everywhere? They actually feel sorry for me. What do people with cars do? They park them ouside the city walls (like in the photo), or get a special permit if they live inside the walls. But isn’t it inconvenient? Not really. I actually quite enjoy it. Oh, I could never do that much walking.  You could if you had to. Well, we’ll just not visit Siena then. It sounds like too much trouble. You’re the ones missing out!

In Canada, I live in a lovely suburban neighbourhood. I go for walks to get my exercise, but I can’t actually really go too many places of interest on foot. In Siena, I find that all the walking makes me feel like the city is my home in Italy, where I belong in Italy. My feet are stepping on the same stones that the Senese people – nobles and peasants alike – have been treading on for hundreds of years. It’s a connection to the past. With every step I take I’m making the city my own. I’m becoming familiar with it. It’s becoming familiar with me. I feel the breeze (or lack of one) come from the countryside. I feel my legs working to climb the many hills that adorn the city. In my sandals, my feet sometimes touch the cobblestones that they’re attempting to navigate.

I also notice that when I’m camminando (walkingand not preoccupied dealing with the gas-brake-horn-horn-HORN-blinker-gas-gasssss-brake-horn-horn-horn cycle of driving, I’m able to pay more attention to my surroundings. As I walk (or sometimes stumble embarassingly) over the uneven cobblestones, I find myself thinking not so much about my destination, but about the people and places I pass on my way.

I might notice a shop, bar or restaurant that I haven’t seen before, then duck inside to check it out. I might pass a friend in the street and stop to chat. I’m more inclined to follow where my curiousity may lead, to explore, to discover. As I look, I appreciate.

Exploring the alleyways of Siena

And funnily enough, in Siena, I don’t use music to block out the world around me. When I drive, the radio is on. Always. When I go for a walk to get some exercise, the iPod is on. Always. When I walk in Siena, you’ll never see me with my earbuds in. Never. I welcome the sounds of Siena.  All the walking and being in the street amongst the other pedestrians, with the odd vehicle slowly cruising by, the odd horse being led around – it’s nice. It makes me feel as if I’m a part of something bigger – a feeling I wouldn’t necessarily get from driving around cooped up in a car.

ZTL, you don’t limit me. You help me live closer to life.