Sienese block parties >

Julia Szeto
October 13, 2015
If you didn’t already know, Siena is the home of the famous Palio race – a horse race dating back to medieval times, held in the large Piazza del Campo at the center of Siena. The historic center of Siena is split up into 17 contrades. Each contrada “owns” a part of the historic center, which may range from a street or two to several blocks. A contrada has its own fountain, flag, symbol, and colors. Contrada members are born into or adopted into their contrades. The Palio is held twice a year in July and again in August. Here’s how the lottery for the Palio works: ten contrades are drawn by lottery to compete in, say, the July Palio. The remaining seven contrades not competing have a guaranteed entry into the August Palio, which leaves three open spots to compete. These spots are given away by lottery. This continues for the next Palio, and so on and so forth. This way, a contrada could have the luck of competing in several Palios in a row, but unfortunate circumstances could also leave a contrada out of the running for years. This summer, the champions of the July and August Palios were the Torre and Selva contrades, respectively. All throughout September all 17 contrades have been taking turns hosting celebrations and parties in their streets, but just over a week ago, the Torre and Selva contrades had their final culminating celebrations (before the winter chill starts to kick in). My roommates and I knew something was up when we walked outside and found that the entire Piazza del Campo was empty, and workers had started setting up strange structures near the front of the Campo. A day later, the strange structures had transformed into a gigantic stage and screen, and plants were being placed on the perimeter of the Campo, forming a leafy fence. By the time the weekend came, the Piazza was full of tables fanning out into the Piazza. By this time, we had heard that Torre was hosting a huge dinner party that Saturday and that yes, it was possible to rent out the entire Piazza. The streets were filled with people on Saturday evening. I had never seen Siena so lively. Sienese, young and old alike, wore the flags of their contrades around their necks, wrists, and shoulders. My friends and I attended an Erasmus limoncello event (my roommate calls it “lemon poison”) and ended up walking through the streets of Selva, the contrada that won the August Palio. Selva’s streets were decked out in banners and décor. Their theme had something to do with countries, I’m sure, since streets were split into sections, which were then country-themed. I walked through Jamaica, Cuba, China, Mexico, Japan, Ireland, and more. The countries’ stands, which had once held many drinks, were abandoned. We followed the flow of the massive crowd into Piazzetta della Selva. In the piazzetta, the music was booming from a stage, where a monster sound system and a fog machine were used with great enthusiasm. The “country” Alaska in the piazzetta boasted children dressed as penguins. (Pretty sure Alaska was an excuse to get a snow machine.) The DJ played some great Italian music, as well as hits from Grease, Mamma Mia, Queen, and the year 2004. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy dancing to YMCA as snow floated down over the square. This party was different than any other I had ever been to. It felt like every single person in the city was rocking out. There were kids, teenagers, young people in their twenties and thirties, middle-aged parents, and some lively elderlies (the most fiercely loyal Selva members of them all). The best part? I managed to touch the jockey that won the August Palio. That means I have some good luck to ride on for a bit. And wow, does Siena know how to throw a good block party.

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Julia Szeto

<p>I am a junior at Bates College, where I study English, Creative Writing, and Chemistry. Though I left the beautiful forests of Portland, Oregon for snowier seasons in Maine, I&#39;ve discovered that there are valuable stories to be heard and told in ever corner, or coast, of the world. I am interested in people and the words they have to say, and I am thrilled to be in a city as rich with history as Siena. I hope to explore new perspectives of culture and life in Siena through words and photographs. Outside of story-telling, I am a varsity coxswain on the Bates rowing team, and I enjoy hiking, trail running, singing loudly in the car, and getting hopelessly lost in a good book.</p>

2015 Fall
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