From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 71
Festival Time in Borgo
Gioviano is one of the seventeen frazioni, or districts, that comprise the Commune of Borgo a Mozzano, so when Borgo is in festa, Gioviano participates. Tonight’s festival (24 Giugno 2006) was called “Notte Bianca nel solstizio d’estate -- Palio del Maccione.” When I saw the brochures announcing a palio in the equivalent of Gioviano’s County Seat, I had visions of more horses and more races and more pretty young women in cowboy boots.

For some reason, Texas-style cowboy boots are all the rage in Italy this year, and there were plenty of pretty women sporting them, which to me is far more interesting than trying to not get stepped on by nervous, prancing horses or dodging their aromatic deposits on the cobblestones.

Americans have a tendency to get antsy and complain if events don’t start on time, aren’t even the events advertised, or don’t occur in the order outlined on the printed program. However, for me, part of the fun revolves watching the almost total chaos while various groups begin forming up to sing, dance, recite, play music, display the latest fashions or any number of things both planned and impromptu. If you have ever spent very much time in Italy or attended many festivals, then you know not to worry about arriving late because you will still be early. The audience is having a good time talking, drinking a little wine, showing off the latest fashions, courting, flirting, and generally not the least bit concerned that this or that is not happening as scheduled. Now, chaos reigns even if there is only one event scheduled with a little music and a dance afterwards.

Tonight’s festival was designed to have events occurring at seven different locations at the same time. At Piazza Pascoli, there would be (so the brochure stated) Teatro Scuola, Notte Musical, and Notte Pop in that order. At the Giardino Circolo L’Union, the action would be called Notte Cubana. At Piazza S. Rocco, there was to be the Gruppo Vocale il Baluardo and the Cantastorie Pietrolino Grandi. At the Cappella Ex Convento Delle Oblate, the Notte Classica performed by the Scuola di Musica would be followed by Sacrarmonia. At the Angolo Communita Montana, the event would be Notte Celtica followed by Notte Prosa & Poesia. At the Piazza XX Settembre, the night would jump to Notte Rock followed by Notte Cabaret and finally Notte Blues. At the Nuovo Centro Commerciale, the crowd was to see the Notte Fitness & Fashion, followed by Notte Concert, then Notte Danza and finally Disco Music. By 21:30, or 9:30 p.m., events were to be taking place in all seven venues.

We found a parking place at the Nuovo Centro Commerciale when the Fashion Show was supposed to be in full swing. However, there was no fashion show. Instead, there was a man adjusting lights and a microphone and a crowd waiting for something to happen. Back to the side of the building and in the hall were a half dozen groups of little girls dressed in leotards and tutus. After another fifteen minutes out they came group after group to put on their performances.

We left half way through the dance routines and headed for the next stage where essentially the same chaos reigned. This time teenagers were practicing various routines off stage and so far nothing had happened yet, but their parents and friends sat patiently in the chairs set up in front of the stage watching the preparations.

The Palio was supposed to begin at 22:00 or 10 p.m. It was about fifteen minutes after 10 when I asked a policeman where the race would begin. I asked, “Quando?” (“When?”). He just grinned from ear to ear and shrugged his shoulders. I responded to the shrug with “Mi scusi. Ho dimenticato. Siamo in Italia.” (“Excuse me. I forgot. We are in Italy.”) His grin got so wide I thought his teeth would pop out.

I started walking down the main drag, a narrow one-way street with nonstop Renaissance palazzi on either side. There was an opening to the left that led to the Piazza San Rocco. Instead of a Gruppo Vocale, the Parish was holding a feast commemorating the 25th anniversary of a priest having completed his seminary training. A long groaning table was being emptied of food, and dozens of empty wine bottles already graced the diners’ tables. If a vocal group had started singing no one would have heard above the chiacchiera of the crowd. I didn’t see the priest. He probably wasn’t aware that the activity had changed from singing at a palio to one honoring him. The crowd didn’t seem to care if he was there or not. His anniversary was just an excuse to party down.

Returning to the main artery I could hear the medieval sounding rhythmic beating of war drums. It was the Banda di Valdottavo marching my way. They were supposed to have long before been putting on a concert at the Centro Commerciale but instead were marching up and down the street, mostly beating drums but occasionally playing a tune. They marched on to the Centro Commerciale, turned around, and headed back to Piazza XX Settembre where the palio was to begin at precisely 10 p.m.

Gabriele Brunini ran up to me followed by his lovely wife. Brunini was the mayor who had presented my parents with the 25th anniversary plaque that hangs in the front entrance hall of the Palazzo. He was also mayor when the remains of Pietro Barsanti were returned to Gioviano to be placed in the wall of the Canonica (parsonage). My parents allowed the ceremonies to be conducted in the magnificent sala grande of Palazzo Margherita. In gratitude, Brunini presented my parents with a beautiful souvenir book illustrated with photographs of the event. I told the Bruninis about the book I was working on and about my horror movie. When I told his wife that she looked good enough to eat, she looked a little nervous.

Not even one horse had arrived by 10:30 p.m.. Eventually a group of young men and women, each sporting a T-shirt with the name of their village, gathered at the starting place for the palio. Each one then stepped into what we call a “tow sack” in Texas, and the race was on. Borgo’s palio was a sack race-- not a horse race! Sue and I went back to the car to drive to the other side of town hopefully to see the finish line and check on the activities taking place down by the city hall.

When we got back to our car at the Centro Commerciale, three hairdressers and make-up artists were showing off their skills on the same stage that the little children had been dancing on before. Neither event was listed on the program, but the crowd didn’t care. We got in the car and drove to the other side of town saving ourselves a two-kilometer hike. When we arrived at the city hall, all sorts of chaos reigned. Music from three different groups was competing with each other. The band was back, the Notte Cubana just down the street had morphed into the Notte Latino, and the sacred music was about to finish up in the ex-convent next door.

It was 11:15 p.m., and the parties were just getting started. The Notte Dance at the Sala delle Feste wasn’t even scheduled to begin until midnight, and the palio prizes were scheduled to be handed out beginning at 1 a.m. I looked at Sue, and began singing, “I wanna go home, I wanna go home, Oh, Lord, I wanna go home.” So home we went. It is now 1:30 a.m., and I am about to finish up writing about Borgo in Festa and go to bed. But, you better believe that the night is just actually beginning, especially for the young folk of Borgo and the town's 17 frazioni.

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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