Friday, July 27, 2007

Wanted: A Palio Winner

In the continuing story of this year’s edition of La Quintana, we attended last week’s jousting match, called La Giostra. As I explained in my last entry, the match is held in a special stadium with a horse track that runs around the inside perimeter, then turns into a figure eight-shaped course in the middle. The rider must control the horse on the tight curves, hang onto a very long wooden lance which he uses to pummel the target, a human-shaped dummy with an extended arm onto which the jousting target-board is affixed. He gets three passes through the center of the figure 8, aiming at the target each time. He must then high-tail it out of the track at high speed to complete the course and gain points for speed, accuracy of his lance, and general horsemanship. It’s an adrenaline rush to watch.

This year’s July joust was rife with problems and controversy, though, making it more heated and exciting than usual. The evening started with the stadium being thrust into darkness just as the cavaliers were warming up. Some kids tried to scale the fence to enter without paying, tripping the circuit and cutting off electricity. Unfortunately, two of the cavaliers had been barreling around the track and the sudden darkness scared the horses, who managed to get themselves free from their riders and run off frightened while several figuranti gave chase. They were eventually corralled without harm to the horses or the humans.

Once the lights were finally restored the jousting match began. After the first round, however, the crowd around us started screaming at the groundskeepers, calling them over to fill the holes in the track. Each attempt to rake the course brought louder cries, “over here, this one is as deep as a well for crying out loud.” This would continue throughout the evening and play into the controversy later.

The first run for the Porta Maggiore rider didn’t go so well when he hit the target and promptly lost his lance, disqualifying him from that round. His second turn was more tragic, the horse lost his footing and careened down taking the rider with him. It looked like a hard fall and the horse was limping slightly, the rider holding his back in pain while he wept in frustration. We felt terrible for him. Another cavalier and his horse went down on a tight curve, thankfully neither was injured. The crowd began screaming about the too-wet track that was causing this to happen.

Then the real kicker – the cavalier from Porta Solesta started his tornata while one of the groundskeepers, who had been called back out onto the field by the fans of that very sestiere, was trying to placate them and fill the holes they were pointing out. The rider nearly mowed the guy down, having started too soon without the official signal. He was disqualified for the round. Disgruntled, the cavalier approached the mayor and council to protest. In what can only be described as stupid, the mayor ruled that the guy could re-run his round. Meanwhile, the other sestieri competed and our own Piazzarola garnered good points. When the announcement was made in favor of giving Porta Solesta another run the crowd, the figuranti, the neighborhood dogs all went wild, screaming “schifo” and calling out some choice epithets about the mayor. I’ve heard colorful cursing before but this episode brought out some real doozies. Things involveing pigs and the cavalier’s mother that made the poor guy next to us blush. He kept leaning over to tell us stranieri that “it’s not normally like this”. It’s alright, we assured him; it’s more exciting this way! He was embarrassed, though.

The other sestiere, particularly Piazzarola who would be the winner if the other guy hadn’t gotten a do-over, crowded the field to protest. Much discussion and gesticulating ensued. Our friend who accompanied us tired and went home. We were invested in the drama by now and waited to see the outcome. At one point an announcement was made that if the figuranti didn’t return to their seats the entire competition would be cancelled. Another tornata remained and no one wanted to be completely eliminated, so order was restored and the games continued more heatedly.

The remaining jousts were carried out without ordeal but the energy level in the stadium was peaking as the official winner was calculated and everyone awaited the announcement. Because of the second chance the cavalier had garnered high points and came out the winner, but because of the controversial nature, it was highly contested. Why shouldn’t the riders who fell also get to re-do their turns? The mayor is biased! He has money riding on that horse! So it went among the people around us. The final decision was that there would be no decision that night. A meeting would take place and an announcement made the following day.

Three days after, the city was still in uproar and still impatient to know who would get the beautiful Palio. The mayor and councilors had convened, met with the players, discussed it ad nauseum, reviewed the films. The other sestieri had their say, discussing the poor track conditions and that the two possible contenders should be punished for their actions by awarding to the Palio to the third-place jouster.

In the end? They ruled no one gets the Palio. The behavior of all involved meant no one merited the prize. In the midst of it all, the mayor says he’ll penalize Porta Solesta and Piazzarola in some manner (I’ve not heard what time of reprimand will be meted out) and the papers continue to carry news and editorials about the situation. Surprisingly to me, no one is really hurling accusations at the mayor himself; he seems to have successfully focused the arguments onto the sestieri by denouncing the bad behavior, while also deflecting attention from the fact that none of these actions would have occurred if he’d not ruled the silly do-over in the first place.

The colorful Palio will be interred in the Quintana office, a display of the debacle for generations to come. Naturally, no one is happy with the decision and the electricity is building intensely for the August joust, when the competitions will take on greater importance and rivalry. I can now see how city-state wars broke out so frequently in the Middle Ages.
2007 Valerie Schneider


chris & erin said...

I've been loving these super descriptive stories about the festivities!

I nominated you for a "Schmooze Award"!

jessica said...

wow, thanks for all the details. i hope you send this somewhere as an article~ !