My First Palio


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"July 2, 2010.

Imagine the Piazza del Campo, majestic and beautiful, brimming with a crowd louder and more invested in what’s about to happen than any crowd you’ve ever seen. Tens of thousands strong, they’re singing, yelling, hoping and praying. They’re wearing their contrada’s fazzoletto tied in the front and hanging over their shoulders to show their allegiance. For the Senese, life revolves around the contrada and this event. Heck, even my life has been affected by the Palio.

So imagine standing in the middle of that crowd, willingly trapped in the centre of the piazza, in the late afternoon heat. You don’t quite understand all of what’s taking place, but you’re happy to just be part of all the Medieval pomp and circumstance.

The crowd.

The crowd.

That was me at my first Palio.

Flag-throwing alfieri

Flag-throwing alfieri

Wig-wearing, costumed tamburini (drummers) and alfieri (flag-throwers) promenade around the piazza for the Corteo Storico. The rat-a-tat-tatting of the drums and whooshing of the flags can be heard even above the excited chatter of the crowd. Then, before you know it, there are 10 horses, each bearing contrada colours, being ridden bareback by 10 brave jockeys out the large wooden doors of the Palazzo Pubblico (City Hall) to a thunderous applause. Numbers are drawn and announced over a loudspeaker. The starting positions are set.

Barbaresco

Barbaresco

Then, into the pen they go. The jockeys, atop their circling horses, whisper last-minute threats, pledges and bribes to one another, all in hopes of swaying the race’s outcome. Race? No, it’s not just a race. There’s blood, honour, tradition and a year’s worth of bragging rights on the line.

Finally, the jockeys allow their horses to line up calmly, and a hush comes over the crowd. And just when you’re least expecting it, the number 10 horse, from behind, charges ahead and starts them running.

The pack of horses sprints around the piazza, the thunder of their 40 hooves barely audible over the cheering and jeering of the crowd. I’m cheering for Drago, the dragon contrada. A few seconds after the start, it’s evident Drago is not doing well.

I turn my body to follow the pack of horses around the piazza, trying to my best to snap pictures all the way. With only one lap to go, it looks like the Selva (forest) contrada might win.

Palio

Palio

Selvaaaaaaaa!” Anyone wearing Selva colours is now yelling with every fiber of their being, imploring their expended energy to somehow make its way into the legs of their horse and propel it across the finish line. First.

As the pack passes for its third lap, I’m momentarily confused as crazed contradaioli start jumping into the track and chasing, yes chasing the pack of horses, one or two of which are now rider-less, after having lost their jockeys on one of the treacherous San Martino curves. Are they crazy?

When it’s Selva that crosses the finish line first, the whole scene degenerates into the most chaos I have ever witnessed.

People spill everywhere. There’s not a stitch of order to anything.

Horses are snorting and kicking and trying to evade being stopped. Grown men shed tears, both of happiness and anger. A couple ambitious Selva members climb through the crowds and retrieve their coveted Palio banner. The Selva jockey, I see through the throngs of people, is hoisted onto the shoulders of two Selva members and is paraded, with the winning horse, to the Duomo.

And as each contrada leads its horse out of the piazza, it’s all over.

all over

Why I’m “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"When I first started this blog, I wrote under the pseudonym “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. You couldn’t find my real name or my face anywhere. Over the past (nearly) 3 years of blogging, I’ve put my name and my face out there, yet every post I write still gets posted by this person called “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. Have you ever wondered why?

Coming in somewhere just north of 5’9″ (175 cm), or closer to 5’10″ depending on the type of hair day I’m having, there’s no mistaking that I’m tall.  But I’m not an amazon. Not by anyone’s standards.

Except for maybe Italy’s.

I’ll never forget the looks I would get from my coworkers who saw me standing up for the first time (I was usually sitting in front of a computer). “Sarah, you’re so tall for a girl!” “Sarah, amazza sei alta!” Yes, it’s true that I tower over many Italian women and men, but I couldn’t believe all the comments I got (and continue to get) regarding my height.

I know Italians are in tune with footwear, both women and men, but I feel as if I get a disproportionate amount of looks at my feet in Italy. Sure, people just might be checking out the shoes I’m wearing, but I think they’re also looking to see if I’m really as tall as I am, or if my height has been helped by heels.

But the best height-related anecdote happened in the Questura, when I was being fingerprinted for my Permesso di Soggiorno. (I recounted the whole experience here.) The guy asked me how tall I was, and not being used to telling my height in centimetres, I checked my driver’s license and said “centosettantacinque” (175) with gusto.

Non può esse! It can’t be!” the police officer who was helping me cried and bounded to his feet, where he came eye to eye with this Canadian girl who is surely Too Tall to be Tuscan.

tallsarah

Make Your Italian Sound More Italian


La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

After a delightful conversation with Cher Hale of The Iceberg Project last night, my mind got to thinking about how nonnative Italian speakers can make their speech sound, well, more Italian.

I’ve thought about this before; you can speak Italian very well, very accurately, and still not sound Italian. Why is that?

In my case, the reverse is true. The other day I was speaking to a group of Italians over Skype and I know I made a few little slip-up mistakes (mostri [monsters] instead of mostre [art exhibitions], how embarrassing!). Ciò nonostante, (nevertheless) at the end of it they were all like, “We can’t believe you’re Canadian. You sound so Italian!”

So after racking my cervello (brain), here are 5 tips I came up with to help your Italian sound more Italian:

1. Piantala (knock it off) with the personal pronouns.  Italian very rarely uses the personal pronouns io, tu, lui, lei, noi, voi, and loro, other than to reinforce a point. It is much more common to hear “sono andata al mercato ieri” (no pronoun) rather than “io sono andata al mercato ieri” (with pronoun), unless the person is trying to reinforce the point that they specifically were the one who went. None of this “io io io io” stuff at the beginning of every sentence. It sounds strange to Italian ears.

Then how do we know who we’re referring to? Well, Italian verbs carry with them the idea of who they refer to with their conjugation. “Parlo” can only refer to “io” because the other pronouns have their own conjugations: parli / parla / parliamo / parlate / parlano.  

Why is this hard for English speakers? Because we need our personal pronouns all the time to know who is doing what.

2. Learn Italian word-whiskers. What are word whiskers? They’re those little mean-nothing words that we all put into our speech when we’re trying to search for what we really want to say, or to get attention or to make a point. Why is this important? Well, um isn’t um in Italian.  It’s more like “ehhh“. So gets replaced by “allora” or “quindi” or “dunque” and I mean can be translated as, “cioè” . “Beh” is also a good one to use if you’re stalling for time and “ehhhhh” is also widely used. “Capito?”, “giusto?”  and “no?” are tacked onto the ends of sentences to make sure the listener understands, while “boh!” is what Italians say when anglophones say “dunno!”

Examples: “Beh, è proprio una bella giornata, no?” and “Voglio partire dopo il 15 aprile, capito?”

3. Talk fast. People can always tell when I’ve been in Italy, because I end up speaking English like a machine gun. I don’t know why, but Italians (in my experience) seem to be faster talkers and maybe leave less space between words. Everything gets run together.

4. Use all the suffixes you can. What? Well, whereas in English we’d describe something as a “little house“, Italians might say “una casa piccola” or they might break out the suffixes and call it “una casetta” or “una casina“. I would ask a little boy about his “amichetti” (little friends, amico + etti) at school, and describe someone as having a nasone (naso + one) if their face is unfortunately adorned with a big shnoz.

This type of talk might sound “cutesy” to we anglophones, but I can assure you that even grown Italian men go around exclaiming that things are “bellissima” (bella + issima, the most beautiful) and hope to introduce you to their “carissimo” (caro + issimo, dearest) friend.

When I asked a friend where he was spending Christmas he replied, “a casina.” At home.

5. Exclaim! Coo. Whiiiinnnneeee. YELL. and generally be theatrical in your speech. All the world’s a stage and Italians are some of its most enthusiastic players. That’s what Shakespeare said, right? Right. The Italian language is melodic in its own right, but Italian speakers are generally pretty theatrical. Don’t just say “ti prego” (I beg you), say, “ti preeeeeeeggggoooooooo” in a begging voice. And when you’ve had enough, it’s a strong “BASTA!” loud and clear. You’re trying to convince someone? Use the long, drawn-out “daaaaaaiiiiiii” (come on) and whine a bit.  Everybody’s doing it. I promise.

Have any of your own tips for sounding more Italian? Leave them in the comments section below and maybe we can compile another list.