Thursday, February 07, 2008

Running With The Bulls and Dancing With the Pope

We meandered into the unique triangular-shaped piazza in the pretty hill-top town of Offida and found it deceptively uncrowded. Being a rather sleepy place normally, we thought maybe the advertised Carnevale events would end up being more hoopla than heighten exhilaration. We milled around until suddenly, from up the street we heard the shrill of whistles blowing. Lots of them. We looked up the lane to see hoards of people all dressed in white shirts with red trim running wildly while snorting air into the little mouth instruments. Observers were scattering; we threw ourselves flush against a wall to avoid being trampled. A huge bull was loose and bucking about violently, sometimes turning and retreating a little ways uphill, causing shouts and more whistle-blowing. I noticed that many of the white shirts bore red stains, as if battle wounds had been inflicted. The bull charged past and we craned our heads to see a river of humanity flowing down after it. Thousands of Offidani were running and screaming and lifting liter-sized plastic bottles filled with local red wine as they dashed after the runaway bull. We waited several minutes before daring to step away from the wall. Hearts pounding, we laughed out loud and picked through the crowd toward the piazza, just in time to see that the bull was still on the loose and the hunters were still chasing him down. Back uphill they went, followed by about half the crowd. The rest remained in the piazza swigging their vino and trying to catch their breath.

That the bull wasn’t real didn’t lessen the excitement a whit. Offida’s annual version of “running of the bulls” is called Il Bove Finto, the fake bull. It’s constructed of wood and carried on the shoulders of designated men who bounce it about and make it come alive. The red stains mimicked blood, making them look like they’d been gored, but were instead from spilled wine which, from the looks of it, they started consuming with breakfast. So much for sleepy hamlet. Once the bull is captured it is symbolically killed and the horns lifted to touch a column on the city hall, just like in days gone by when a real bull was chased and slaughtered. The meat was distributed to the poor so they would have a rich meal of carne before lent began.

Okay, so I didn’t technically do any of the running, but my heart was pounding as if I had, just from the sheer adrenaline of thousands of drunken,merry people stampeding after a fake animal. Next year I need to get me a whistle and find myself a nice perch from which to watch the full run (and get better photos; these were taken by Bryan as he simultaneously tried to keep out of harm’s way and reach his arm up to snap pictures while being jostled from all sides).

But our Carnevale festivities didn’t end there. You remember Giorgio Tomassetti, who was recently a guest blogger? His family invited us to a cenone and party in a teensy hill town north of here. I adore Giorgio's mom, Cinzia; she is bubbly, sweet and eminently likeable. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone not liking her. So when an activity is proposed in her company I always say yes. We all assembled at Cinzia’s parents’ home. About half had opted to go in maschera. Clerical garb was popular this year; we had among our party a nun, a Franciscan monk, and the Pope himself. We departed as a caravan in three cars winding our way up the very curvy road – which Giorgio informed me is one of the most dangerous in the province – to a bright restaurant banquet room full of Italians chattering noisily (which is always such a welcoming sound to us) and tables prepared for a feast. I noted a lot more nuns, most of whom were men beneath the habits. Cenone, indeed. Large meal which had us groaning. Between courses the music would start up for a little dancing while the next round of plates were being prepared (and to expend some calories for the next round, too).

“Pope” Giovanni, Giorgio’s uncle, loves to dance. Once the music started he was lost to us all, unless he came to request a partner. The guy knows how to cut a rug, I tell you. He is very charming, so when he came to ask me to dance with him, he first requested my hand from Bryan very formally, then escorted me to the dance floor. He led marvelously and even twirled me a couple of times…who knew the Pope was such a good dancer?

We had a ball at the…uh, ball. The three-hour meal was fantastic and the company even better. We love being included in parties like this where we’re the only Americans; it’s always a convenient conversational topic when I start talking to people and they notice my accent.

Despite a caffĂ© at midnight when dinner ended, we found ourselves sleepy from the huge meal; we were the first of our group to depart at about 1:30 a.m. From the photos posted on Giorgio’s blog, though, we missed the real fun…the Pope took to dancing on the tables!

I’m still a bit tired; Carnevale week was pretty full. Running with bulls and dancing with popes kinda takes it out of you.

2008 Valerie Schneider


amanda said...

Wow, they really know how to celebrate Carnevale in Ascoli Piceno, a live bull! I love the photo of the guys in their fake blood splattered shirts. Looks like you had a great time. Good to see you back.

erin said...

this sounds like such fun times! i never knew there was a bull run here in Italy :) The best times ever are those long meals with friends - and dancing with the pope must top it off!

Anonymous said...

What fun! Wish I were there!

andasamo said...

Sounds like so much fun. And how often does one get to dance with the Pope! lol

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a new tv show...

Ballando con il Papa!

What fun!!

Valerie said...

Amanda, it was a lot of fun, but while the bull seemed very real, was not actually live (thankfully!)

Erin, you'll have to plan on coming next year! ;)

La Casalinga, maybe we should try to pitch that for the new TV season! Great idea!