It’s that time again! Donazione della Spina in Montone!
A full week in August where the town of Montone remembers Braccio Fortebraccio, our illustrious mercenary ancestor who survived many a battle against the Pope. His equally illustrious son, Carlo, as a reward for his heroic efforts, was given a precious thorn from the crown of Christ. As he rode into town with his prize, bells miraculously rang without someone yanking their chain, flowers sprang into blossom, horses genuflected as he passed and …. there was unbridled partying for seven days.
We are on the eve of unbridled partying.
Tension mounts and drums beat. Trumpets bleat. (If the trumpeters practiced more, I might be able to say they blared, but as it stands….they bleat.)
Tomorrow, the smell of grilled meat from the tavernas will fill the air. I take that back, the meat grilling started last night. There was free sausage and pork sandwiches for all, compliments of the soccer team. Followed by a live DJ and wild dancing in the piazza. I’m betting some folks are hoping no one remembers much of what went on last night.
Today the roaming archers will make life interesting; but a bit more hazardous than usual.
What you need to know: Montone is divided into three riones or sections; think color war. We compete against each other with archery and pageantry for the honor of winning the Palio. Outdoor play rehearsals are conducted ‘sotto voce’, in whispers, lest any of the other riones overhear. Small children dress in appropriate rione colors and run screaming up and down the streets chanting, “Borgo! Borgo!” and they are met with louder chants by the opposition “Del Verziere!! Del Verziere!!” Cute the first night…but it goes on for a week.
Here’s the ‘programma’:
Sunday is an archery competition/demonstration in town, where the archers shoot at targets set up throughout town. Good idea! Lots of gawking tourists and men in tights with sharp arrows. Yes, there are also women in tights with sharp arrows. And the occasional lace up leather bustier.
Monday is “I Bandi”. The ‘bando’ is a short play where we make fun of the other riones. Everyone gathers around sunset, there are a series of long speeches introducing the judges (we’re talking L O N G speeches) and then the fun begins.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night, each rione presents their long play. These are historical reenactments of Fortebraccio’s life usually involving war, famine, plague, rape, abandonment and death. (Note to self: don’t time travel to medieval times…not so much fun, bad cell phone reception.)
Saturday night, the winner of the Palio is announced. This is followed by intense celebration if you win, and immense sadness if you lose.
Sunday is the corteo; a parade by each of the three riones in period costume. The first time we participated in the corteo we were honored to be nobilita`. Noble people apparently dress in multi-layers of heavy velvet even in August. In following years, we volunteered to be peasants. They dress much more sensibly in light layers of hopsack that billow sweetly in summer breezes.