Italian Life Olympics – Event #2


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"If you missed my first post on Italian Life Olympics, click here to catch up.

So, back to event #2: crossing the street in Italy.

No, no! It’s no joke. In order to correctly perform this task in busy, crowded, car-congested cities like Roma or Napoli, there’s a certain level of skill required or else –

POM!

Some Mario Andretti wannabe will remorselessly metterti sotto (run you over) in their little Fiat 500 without a backward glance while you’re left, stuck to the pavement, newly resembling a human pizza. Fiat 500

Wishing earnestly to avoid this fate, you keep your wits about you and gear up for the event. (Some people choose to say a hearty goodbye to their loved ones beforehand – you never know!).

siamo_tutti_pedoni

“Today I’m crossing the street.” “Call when you get to the other side.”

You walk to the curb of the street you wish to cross and size up the amount of traffic (probably molto) that’s crossing your path. You pay no attention (this is important) to what’s going on with the semafori (traffic lights) or the strisce (crosswalks), because the drivers don’t either. You take in the speed, the size of the vehicles and any other obstructions in the area. You toe up to the edge.

Then you turn your head towards oncoming traffic and catch the eye of a driver in the lane closest to you. Now, they’re not really slowing down yet, but you know this is your chance. You maintain eye contact with the driver, steel yourself for the exertion ahead, step off the curb and you…

Walk into traffic.

Chin up, head high, like you own the street. And you keep walking.

You catch the eye of other  drivers as they approach you, and something miraculous happens. Sensing that you’re actually serious about traversing their path, and that their sewing-machine engines are no match for you, they’ll take in your confident stride and acquiesce. Momentarily.

And like Moses parted the Red Sea, the traffic will part, if only briefly, to allow your safe passage to the other side.

But don’t dawdle, and per l‘amor del cielo (for goodness’ sake), don’t run. You’ve gotta look like you’re in control or else someone’s foot might get a little heavy at your display of weakness and – POM! The human pizza fate is once again yours.

However…

All of this fuss can be avoided if you can cross in the company of a nun or priest. Italian drivers will sooner crash than harm someone in a habit!

Nuns.

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