Il Palio E Vita (#3)

Ten years ago, we lived in the contrada of Leocorno, the Unicorn and attended our Dante seminar in the contrada of Torre, the Tower. Some of our program professors/administrators had been baptized into Onda, the Wave. We thought our loyalties were divided for Palio back then.

And now? We’ve lived for 3 months in the contrada of Selva!

Like everybody else in the city last night, members of the Contrada of Selva seemed pleased as they marched “Indianos” back to his stall after the Prova. The trainer will sleep in the stall, with youngsters from the contrada, the self-appointed guards just outside.

Afterwards, for old times’ sake, we decided on dinner in Leocorno. As in every other contrade’s streets, and as for every other important occasion, the lights and flags have mysteriously appeared – literally, overnight. It feels like a long time ago since we first saw this happen this year — for St. Catherine, in April.

Since we lived there in ’02, Via Pantanetto has, much to the amazement of the rest of Siena,transformed itself. One of two Chinese restaurants in the city is here; numerous Kabob cafés have sprung up; I picked up some brilliantly colored Tamil Nadu bracelets at the street’s Festa last week. The stores run by lovely Asian women have provided us with everything from blouses and hot-weather skirts, to our trusty shopping cart.

And dinner?El Gringo


In their aqua suits,Volunteer Vets and Vet Techs (I THINK that’s what their badges said) are a colorful group, and watchful. I saw one injury, and it wasn’t to a horse: because the Mossiere (Starter) hesitated for a second when he dropped the <canape, to signal the start of the race, 2 of the jockeys flew over the heads of their horses. A minute later, several Misericordia (EMT) pushed passed me with one of the jockeys: a broken finger! These professional bareback-riders are slight, steely-eyed men, and while the broken finger kept out the contrade of Chiocciola’s rider this morning, everybody expects him back for tonight’s Prova.

The Mossiere (Starter):
√ He will be the only person in the Campo not to watch the race. As soon as he drops the canape – it could take several minutes or an hour to get a “Fair Start” – he will be immediately escorted out of the Campo by Polizei, then driven from the city. As people here say, “He’ll be at the city walls by the time the race ends!”

Although still something of an exercise in futility, the occasional video is the best way share Palio. CONTEXT:
The canon goes off 4 times:
√ to call the horses from their contrada stall (17 contrade, 17 stalls…also 17 churches, 17 museums, 17 fountains, but I digress).
√ to signal the clearing of the track: hawk-eyed polizei and tireless track-sweepers (mostly women, this year) stride onto and around the racecourse; once the track is cleared of people and debris, the contrade capitani and the mossiere walk to the starting line.
√to call the horses and jockeys from the inner courtyard of the Palazzo Pubblico.
√ to announce the end of the race: a winner has been declared.
Having heard the first canon, we ran to the Campo and arrived with the horses (and their jockeys and trainers); I was standing idly by, when the next signal boomed.
(this one’s really more for listening than viewing!)

These moms and kids from the contrada of Tortuga have some the best seats in the house!

After the Prova, sprayers and tampers go to work, preparing for the next one.


“PALIO” refers, first of all, to the banner which the winning contrada will claim after the race on Monday. This year’s palio is an homage to St Francis of Assisi, with a realistic image of his much-mended habit. The palio must always include a portrait of the Virgin (top-left corner, this year), as the race is run in her honor – July for the Visitation, August for the Assumption. In addition, it must present the black and white insignia of the city, as well as the symbols plus colors of the 10 contrade (of the city’s 17) racing.
This year, the 10 symbols are sewn into an olive tree (top, just under the black and white colors of Siena): Tartuca, Selva, Onda, Aquila, Chiocciola, Bruco, Drago, Nicchio, Giraffa, and Leocorno.
I snapped this photo last week, during the palio’s unveiling at the press conference in the courtyard of the Palazzo Pubblico.