Tuesday, July 21, 2009


As you read in the last post, we were far from simply tourists on this leg of the trip. We were guests of a dear friend. Franco not only invited us into his home, but into his family -the Contrada of Civetta. There are not many tourists who have the opportunity to witness the true essence of the Palio as we did. As it was explained to us, the contrada can exist without the Palio but the Palio cannot exist without the contrada. The nights leading up to the Palio were legendary. Long tables filled with food stretched (what seemed) for miles down the narrow streets of Civetta. Flags with the "little owl" hung over head and swayed with the wind. Underneath the Tuscan night sky the sound of passionate singing echoed throughout all of Siena. The small but proud Civetta (and two lucky Americans) drank and sang and ate and drank and sang and ate and sang and drank and played soccer and laughed and hugged and drank and sang and kissed and drank and loved and loved and were proud until the sun began to peek from behind the darkness. This was the experience of a life time. All of this bonding and welcoming of us (the strangers) was not for show. It was an extension of what it means to be a part of the contrada...a member of the family...baptised into fold.

This was the week of the Palio and all that it means to be from Civetta or Tartuca or Drago would be on display for the world to see. The world again would know just as it has since 1656 (and before) that Siena was a distinct place -a place where history would not be lost...where identity would be paramount. This is what it is all about.

...and as the world watched and anticipated and prepared for what was to come tomorrow, tragedy struck. It was the day before the Palio -the Prova Generale. Again thousands of people packed into the Campo to get a glimpse of the horses and jockeys before tomorrow's Palio.

The canon fired and all hearts shuttered. The horses paraded out and shouts from all of the contrade merged to create the soundtrack of the day.

...and they were off. This was simply a display to familiarize the horses to the track and the world to the horses, but after the first big turn the horse of Civetta pulled up limping. Before the other horses could even finish their laps, the men of Civetta ran onto the dirt and sprinted to where the horse had exited. Silence.

Within a matter of time, their worst nightmare had been realized. The horse (Iesael) was injured and would not be able to run tomorrow.

Another night of festivities and drinking and laughing and drinking and loving and eating and hugging and singing and loving would be canceled.

This was supposed to be the year. This was supposed to be the chance to turn it all around. This year, the title of "La Nonna" (Grandmother) was supposed to be dropped from Civetta.

"Civetta in lacrime" was the headline of the morning's newspaper.

Wall Street Journal Photo of the Day for July 2, 2009...and this was only the general practice.

Horses and jockeys competed in a general practice of the Palio Di Siena horse race on the eve of the competition in Siena, Tuscany, Wednesday. The traditional horse race, which started in 1656, occurs twice a year. (Fabio Muzzi/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

TOMORROW: THE PALIO DI SIENA You've Never Seen Anything Like This Before


  1. This is insane and I want to be there all at the same time.

  2. What a fun event for the both of you. The Italians do everything in grand style!!! I loved it!!