Monday, July 05, 2010

Siena and THE PALIO!!! :-P

I should probably write a little about what the Palio exactly is. It is a horse race that has been occurring since at least the 1700’s twice a year, the beginning of July and then again in August. The riders still ride without a saddle, and the race is held at Il Campo which I think might be the biggest piazza in Siena, but don’t quote me on that. Those that compete in the race are representing their Contrada (aka neighborhood or specific section of Siena) and the horses are just as important as the riders themselves. In past Palios, a rider-less horse has won the race. **do not take what I’ve written as complete fact as I just summed things up and simplified them to give an overall idea of what the Palio is**

So I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I went to Siena this past weekend. I just knew that I was told that since I was in Italy and not that far away from Siena that I shouldn’t miss seeing the Palio if I could help it. The tricky part was that it occurred on a Friday and that in order to actually see it you had to be at Il Campo multiple hours before the race as they close the doors in order to start with the pre-race events. Luckily I was able to work a half day (by working extra hrs last week and even this week to make up the time). Even with just working a half day I was going to be cutting it close…if I made all the bus and train transfers I needed to I would be getting into Siena a little before 5pm, which still left me with getting a bus to the center of the city and figuring out how to get to Il Campo itself. Since the Palio is a big event there were many people wearing bandanas and such to support which Contrada they were supporting, so I just kinda followed the crowd both getting on the bus, off the bus, and then to the Campo itself. I then ran into some American girls and asked them how to get into the piazza as it looked like they more or less knew what they were doing. Turned out one of them had a cousin that was Italian and was directing them on where to go, so I just followed them into the piazza and hung out with them until after the race. I tried to find my friend (who used to be my teacher that I’ll call KC) but gave up after a while as there were too many people. I was able to meet up with her later and spent the rest of the weekend hanging with her and a couple of other people she knew. I’ll also being seeing Modena with KC next weekend, but I’m digressing…

Once inside the piazza I couldn’t believe how different it looked from the pictures I saw of it when it is not the Palio. Bleachers had been set up all around the outside of the piazza and dirt had been put to cover the cobblestone road that the horses were going to be running on. Another interesting fact is that the dirt is the same dirt (adding more dirt when needed) from all the previous Palios. Anyways, I heard someone mention that to sit on the bleachers cost about 250 euros….which if that is true I don’t even want to know how much it cost to be in one of the buildings surrounding the piazza. I was quite glad that being on the inside of the track was free :-) I am also glad to point out that no alcohol was being sold in the area I was. I’m not even sure if it was being sold to those sitting in the bleachers. There was however tables where you could buy water and a few snacks, which definitely came in useful since I was in the piazza probably by 5:30 and the race itself didn’t start until I think after 8 (I stopped watching the clock as it didn’t do much good as I wasn’t going to be going anywhere until after the race got over anyways). If I had gotten there earlier (probably 3 at the latest) I probably could have had a spot right next to the fence, but the only way I could have been earlier was if I was able to not have to work Friday. Oh well though, I was happy I actually made it into the piazza as I wasn’t expecting to get there in time to even do that.

The pre-race events were entertaining as well, at least from what I could see which was pretty much only the flags with the symbols/colors of the various contradas flying into the air until they got a little closer to where I was standing. The only bad thing about the pre-race events was how long they took, but then again it did just add to the whole experience especially because they were all dressed up like they would have been a couple hundred years ago.

Getting the horses up to the starting line took quite a while as well….they tried 5 or 6 times I believe. There are no starting gates so the riders had to try to keep their horse at the starting line/rope until all the horses were equal. The only way I knew the race began from where I was standing was because all of a sudden there was a lot of screaming/cheering. Everybody then in about perfect sequence was turning clockwise to watch the horses as they raced around the track. The first time they went by (where I could see) each horse still had a rider. The second time there was a rider-less horse who was actually in 3rd place. The third and final time they went by the rider-less horse wasn’t there and not as many horses raced by either. Come to find out, at one of the turns the rider-less horse cut the turn too sharp running into the corner causing it to fall and in turn taking out several other horses in the process. One horse I believe had actually got knocked unconscious after sliding into the barrier and it looked like his rider was going to be hurting pretty bad as well (The next morning in the paper it said all horses were expected to recover and didn’t mention anything about the injuries of any riders, so assuming the rider didn’t get as hurt as it looked he did). Then the race was over with the contrada Selva winning the race. There were some people jumping up and down hugging others with excitement, but even more had their heads down, had taken their bandana/scarf off and were trying to leave the piazza quickly. There were even a few people crying from their contrada not winning.

Surprisingly from the number of people in Il Campo, it was able to empty out pretty quickly and there didn’t seem to be any fights or so breaking out. To me the fact that there was a strong police presence probably helped to keep things in control.

The following day Selva was all dressed up in their colors and outfits and were going from one contrada house to the next to basically rub it in that Selva won and they lost. I wasn’t sure what the words in the songs were but was told that the songs all of the same rhythm and such but the words vary a little. Some of the contradas are “friends” so maybe one version is a nicer version than one they would sing to their rivals or whatnot. I’m not really sure, but just know it was entertaining to watch as everybody also had either a pacifier or a baby bottle. The explanation for the pacifier and bottle were that whenever a contrada wins they are “born anew”.

It also surprised me that the dirt was basically cleared off of the track by Saturday afternoon as well. Other things I did on Saturday including climbing the stairs of the tower that you can look right down onto Il Campo and seeing Saint Catherine’s head. The tower warned that it wasn’t advised to climb it if you had giddiness, which I took a picture of the sign saying to because well, that’s what I do :-P When I say I saw Saint Catherine’s head, I mean exactly that, she was decapitated and her head is displayed for people to see. You can’t take pictures of it, but I did buy a couple of postcards of it :-P

Saturday night had gone out to dinner and had pasta that had a wild boar sauce which was quite tasty. I may try to bring some back to the states and make it. I did buy a jar of the sauce, but I think I will be using it for one of my own dinners while here.

Sunday was pretty uneventful as just got a train back to Bologna, but did notice that sales have started…time to do some shopping :-P lol


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