The Morning After: All’s Quiet in Montone

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The flags are still flying, and everyone may have slept a few extra minutes this morning, but town is returning to its normal rhythm: the street sweeper whisks by with his straw broom at 7:00, wisps of coffee scented breeze come in through our shuttered window, a Vespa starts its engine and the bells begin ringing at 8:00. After a week of nonstop activity, these soothing morning sounds are very welcome.  It’s been a week of blasting trumpets, beating drums, crowds of people, shouts from Roderigo as he opens up the taverna, phone calls from Luca asking for help with the lighting cables, late night drinking songs followed by wee hour of the morning wine infused shouting. 

Each year, as we become more involved with the festa, I become more amazed at how hard everyone works.  The plays or ‘spettacolos’ are lavish productions with intricate costumes and scenery, the three tavernas in town are easily feeding a thousand people a night, and the two bars in the piazza are full from early morning to the wee hours of the next day.

Our spettaccolo was presented on Wednesday night, 5 performances, the first starting at 9:00 pm and the last performance at midnight. It’s a physical marathon for everyone, but even the little children in the cast were good sports and managed not to yawn too much between shows.

We missed Thursday night’s spettacolo, but caught Friday’s event, which included a terrific swordfight and a poignant final scene at the steps of the church with a rain and fog storm.

Finally on Saturday night the winner of the Palio is announced.  The Palio is the name for the overall competition between the riones and I was working in our taverna that night. The proclamation ceremony was scheduled to start at around 9:30, so by 9:15 all the young girls who were working as the wench waitresses started to drift down to the piazza, leaving the rest of us to depend on either a medieval dressed foot messenger or his cell phone to bring us news of the winner.  The kitchen noise dwindled from noisy banter to a tense silence as we heard the drums beating in the piazza presaging the announcement of the winner. Finally the victor was announced and the news traveled to us in a nanosecond: not only had we lost, but we had lost by a huge margin! Cries of disbelief mingled with cries of grief and shouts of anger. Small groups huddled together to comfort each other and to discuss the confounding news. The jury’s findings were handed out and dissected and the overall consensus seems to be that we have been robbed and very badly treated. Such is the drama of the Palio. I don’t understand enough of the local politics to form my own opinion, but it was a heart breaking evening nonetheless.   

Sunday was the final Gran Corteo, where each rione participates in a procession through town dressed in medieval garb and the Holy Thorn from the Crown of Jesus is presented to the onlookers.  The mood was noticeably subdued in our Del Verziere dressing room as we put on our costumes and headed out for the closing ceremonies. Jeff and I were dressed as peasant millers, carrying the raw wheat that is a symbol of season’s changing and the bread and pasta that everyone will be eating.   As soon as our final march was finished, Jeff and I headed back to the taverna for what we hoped would be a quiet evening. Hadn’t EVERYONE in Umbria already eaten at our tavernas? Could anyone still be hungry for crostini and pasta with tartufo?  Turns out that I badly miscalculated and last night was as busy as any other night. I wonder if anyone has kept count of the number of turcolos (a type of cake) were consumed, or kilos of sausage or sacks of bread.  I thoroughly enjoyed working in the kitchen with my Del Verziere people, where there was drama and laughter and tears and a whole lot of roasted meat and by next August I’ll be ready to do it all over again.

P.S. And a special thanks to John and Libby for the Corteo pictures!

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