The more time I spend in Italy, the more I love it. Siena is a very unique and fascinating place to live, especially in the summer when everything is buzzing with anticipation and preparation for the upcoming Palio celebration. The Palio is an event held in Siena every July and August and engages the entire city. I should explain Il Palio by first explaining the contradas of Siena. A “contrada” is a district in Siena, and the city totals 17 different districts. Each contrada has a church, fountain, or stall and an animal — almost a mascot — which represents their area of the city. The animals include Oca (goose), Giraffa (giraffe), Tartuca (turtle), Lupa (she wolf), Drago (dragon) and so on. The contradas are fiercely patriotic, and the streets of each district bear the mark of their respective animal in plaques, statues, decorative lampposts and stained glass. This summer, my apartment is located in the Aquila contrada (eagle), and my colors are blue and yellow!
Each contrada is represented by a horse and jockey, which race around the Piazza del Campo during the Palio, and the winner’s horse is then honored, and paraded into a church, where it is blessed by a priest, giving bragging rights to the members of its proud contrada until the next Palio produces a new champion. I think the idea of a horse walking into a church is quite amusing, and apparently it is an amazing sight to behold!
The weeks leading up to the July 2nd Palio are filled with celebrations, parties, and parades. So far, I have not seen the outrageous costumes of the contrada parades, but I am told I will be soon woken up every Saturday and Sunday morning to the beating of parade drums through the streets. I, however, have gotten an opportunity to go to a contrada party! Last night I went with some other CET students to the Tortuca headquarters where there are bars, long tables set up for feasting prior to the party, a huge dancefloor and hundreds and hundreds of Italian (and foreign!) partygoers milling around, dancing, chatting, drinking and carrying on. This contrada party is only one of many parties, which will be taking place this summer. I received a blue rose from an admirer at the party (dyed to represent the colors of Tartuca of course!)
Part of CET’s orientation to Siena was a picnic in a more rural area of the city (there were picnic tables and a petting zoo) where we ate a lunch of salami sandwiches before being divided into teams and set on a scavenger hunt into Siena to find five different contradas per group. My group seemed to have a pretty impossible compilation of contrada headquarters to find, which led us attempting to navigate the tiny cross streets of Siena with a map in the pouring rain. We found and took pictures with the five contradas and essentially got lost in the northernmost, southernmost and westernmost areas of the city (I will admit I had a totally fun time in the process). It was a pretty unique chance to explore the entire city!
Other notable experiences:
-Watching the USA vs. Slovenia game in a bar in the Piazza. There was a huge group of Slovenians there (I’m still unsure of whether or not they were ACTUALLY Slovenian, or simply anti-American….) and a large group of Americans. Yelling ensued at times, but the game was all fun!
-Lunch at a little restaurant on a side street- I ordered ricotta, spinach ravioli with meat ragu sauce — Delicious!
- And finally, my first time walking around the city by myself! It seems strange that after three days I only just walked around the city by myself, but with constant companionship of my apartment mate and the other members of the group, I was rarely alone! ( I LOVED walking around the city alone, it was an awesome feeling of control and adventure, I look forward of exploring more of the city by myself, without constant presence of American people!)
Classes start tomorrow and I am literally brimming with excitement at the prospect of being able to speak to Italians in Italian (thus far I have relied more on my Spanish, and the English of people I have met than my actual Italian skills!)
All for now!
P.S. I have added two new dishes to my cooking repetoire!—Chicken Parmesan and Pasta with meat ragu sauce!
This is the second post from Elena Korn ’13, who is currently studying abroad with CET Academic Programs in Siena.