Date: Tuesday, August 17, 1999 12:00 PMDoug McLean World Tour 1999-2000Back Home Next
Subject: Il Palio - Aug 16, 1999
August 16, 1999: Il Palio!!!!!!!!
The day started late...slept in...knew it would be a long day...then walked around the city...it is just beautiful...Siena has the scenic Tuscan countryside in all directions...hard to take a bad picture...and the entire city was adorned with flags of the different contradas (regions)...the flags are sooooo colorful and have the logo of the contrada...our home (the convent) is in the Oca contrada...so we were rooting for the mighty Goose to win! Note: Oca won the July 2 race...and was racing again...if they won twice it would be awesome! Go Oca!
Then we went around noon to the Campo Plaza...it was already starting to get packed...and all around the edges on the fence were bandannas...tied and taped...this signifies that those people would return to stand at that position during the race...a Sienese tradition...but it didn't make us feel any better as we waited holding our space since noon...we had decided to setup camp on the highest spot in the plaza which was at the end of the straightish part of the course (not the crashing corner...the other one)...we once again hung out with the group of students...it was hot..very hot...but sunscreen, gellato, water, pizza, cookies, sunglasses, and my ultra cool high tech hat fortified us/me against the conditions and we preservered...
About 4ish they started to really start pushing people into the already packed center of the Plaza and closed all but one entrance. About 5ish the parade started...it was simply one of the most colorful spectacles I have ever witnessed...truly a Kodak moment...no kidding. The parade happens in almost slow motion...the people would enter at our corner...go around the arc...down half of the straightaway and into the grandstand...in slow motion! The costumes were stunning...Medevil garb everywhere...guys in full armor carrying crossbows, pikes, axes, etc...banner carriers... trumpeters...drummers...and the FLAG CARRIERS!
Let me explain...one of the spectacles is the flag carriers...each contrada has 2 flag carriers...they come in waving their flags...then they coordinate throwing the flags about 40 feet in the air to the other carrier at the same time...I never saw a dropped flag! They also spin the flags around and jump over them...very impressive to watch.
Also...the outfits had fake hair...it was funny to see old greying men wearing colorful tights, tunics, and hats with fake brown pageboy haircuts...but as a whole the procession was super impressive...then the Il Palio banner arrived! The banner is held on a large wooden cart with trumpeters and is drawn by 4 HUGE white oxen...no kidding...I didn't think anyone used oxen anymore...but there they were...about the biggest darned things I have ever seen...and I was raised on a ranch and saw the Changer Bull while he was still alive...these Oxen were AWESOME! The banner was a very impressive design, and is the award for the winning horse/contrada...it is newly designed for each race and is different from the last one...the banner was tall and kinda looked like Van Gogh's "The Scream"...but
different...I'll show you the pictures...you'll understand.
The parade continued in slow motion through all 10 contradas, their flag throwers, and the Il Palio banner and the oxes until about 7pm...then the horses and jockey's arrived about 7:10...the crowd goes wild...and did I mention that this place is beyond packed...there are people in every window, on every balcony, in every seat, and in all the space in the center of the plaza...infact, the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, was in a window not 50 yards from where we were....and Sting was also on another balcony...everyone who was ANYBODY was there (where were ya'll?).
The horses come in, the order is drawn to the screams and moans of the audience...(NOTE: The horses and riders had already been to the Duomo (church) in town to be blessed...yes, the horses are led into the center of this immense church and blessed...and did I mention that it is considered a good sign if the horse leaves a sign of it's appreciation in the middle of the church...yes...no kidding) ...everyone wanted a different position than they got...oh well...the jockey's wait and wait and wait at the starting line for the last guy to pass the line to start the race (see explanation of start in previous e-mail)...and when he finally does, the place goes beserk!
The horses are screaming around the arc...the riders are whipping the horses and eachother (remember, anything goes...whipping the opposition is not a figurative term in this race)...and then they go around the first hard right
turn onto the straightaway...this is when the mayhem and carnage ensued...about 6 horses piled into the wall...both men and horses are flying ass over teakettle at this point (note...the men are riding bareback...so them staying on in a crash is almost impossible...infact...if any of you have ever tried to ride a horse bareback at anything above a trot you may know how awesome these riders are to ride these horses at literally breakneck speed)...about 4 horses and riders avoid the mayhem...about 2 horses and riders are basically able to continue...and the rest are in varying states of disarray! Literally, at this point, horses and riders are pounced upon by helpers/people in the stands who come out and quickly grab them and get them the &#&^%!@ out of the way before the remaining horses and riders come back...note...about 2 horses continue running...and for those of you who don't know...yes, this race can be won by the horse finishing first without a rider...cool, eh?
The remaining participants continue racing around the track as the throngs of people implore them to go faster and for their jockey to do just a little more...the next time around the bad corner I think about 1 horse and rider
went down...but I must admit...my memory is hazy on this...there was just so much action and adrenaline in the area that most conscious thoughts were lost in the moment...and on the final lap it was a race between a couple of horses...and guess who won? ...yes, E' Chiocciola!
What? You don't know Italian? What the heck is a ^%&*&%$ E'
It is a Snail.
Yes, the horse for the Snail contrada won the race...now I wasn't particularly happy about the result...I figured that at the very minimum my team of the mighty Oca (Goose) could outrun the Snail...or at a bare minimum eat the little bastard. But alas, it was not meant to be, my mighty Oca rider was one of the first to go flying head over heels in the first turn...c'est la vie!
It had been an amazing time...and needless to say, anyone wearing anything resembling a Snail or their colors were running around screaming and waving their banners...in this race...truly 2nd place is the first loser...there is only one winner....everyone else lost...end of discussion.
Our group then went to have dinner...we waited forever...but finally we sat down and had an awesome meal...mine consisted of: Garlic bread with olive oil, salt and pepper Pasta with red sauce and wild boar meat
Wild Boar Ribs
All for just L30,000...at 1770Lira to the Dollar the meal cost around 17 or 18 dollars...not bad! And I tried Ronnie's grilled rabbit...molto buono!
After dinner, we returned to the Il Campo...and the entire square was framed with candles on all of the rooftops...it was fantastic...note, it is hard to look for more superlatives...and I am not trying to sound trite...but it was simply amazing, incredible, awesome...and whateverelse you want to say...and it was only a 75 second race...go figure!
We returned late to our convent (oops...probably the direct ticket to hell) and rang the bell...and the evening guy let us in with a stern comment and frown...we had partied hard at the Il Palio and the slap on the hand was worth it!
Note: Today we met a guy, Michael, who had partied in the Snail part of town after the victory...he said their fountain had been drained of water and then refilled...it flowed with WINE! Guess those Snails DO know how to party!