“When I was growing up, we always traveled to a rambling farmhouse in Tuscany. My dad [John Mortimer] was obsessed with Italy—in fact, he wrote a book called Summer’s Lease inspired by renting the house all those years. But within a few days of being there, we’d all be going a little stir-crazy, and we’d need to make an excursion to Siena, about 20 minutes away. Everyone would go, and we’d park in the nearby football stadium since driving is not allowed in the city center. In more recent years, even when my dad was in a wheelchair, he always insisted on a pilgrimage to see the Renaissance fresco of an equestrian painted by Simone Martini in the town hall, or Palazzo Pubblico, in Siena’s main square.
“Off we’d go, walking down quiet narrow streets with tall buildings on either side, until suddenly we were in this incredible setting—not a square, exactly, but a large, sloping, asymmetrical expanse with the Palazzo Pubblico on one side and a row of cafés on the other, where you can have an exorbitantly expensive Campari and orange juice. My family has visited the Piazza del Campo for generations, and I have such strong memories of my father there. The place remains beautiful and unchanged; it’s always filled with hundreds of pigeons. I have photographs of myself as a child feeding those pigeons, and now I also have photos of my young son, Sam, feeding them. The piazza has been meaningful to me all through my life.”
Emily Mortimer stars in Martin Scorsese’s new film, Shutter Island, set in New England and opening in theaters February 19.