Cecilia Rigacci: Passion and Palio


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Earlier this summer, I wrote a few posts about Il Palio di Siena: my first Palio experience and a bit of a history of the Palio. If you’ve read them (go read them!) you’ll know that the Palio happens twice a year: July 2nd and August 16th. I didn’t want to leave all the Palio blogging leading up to the one in July, so, through the lovely way that everyone knows everyone in Siena, I managed to wangle an insider Palio experience to share with you here. Pronti? Ready?

In a little bottega in a little corner of a winding street in Siena, chiocciolina (member of the Snail contrada) Cecilia Rigacci has her workshop. It’s there that she paints and restores the drums used in various contradas. She also makes barberi, Senese toys, and it’s where, last summer, Cecilia Rigacci masterfully designed and painted the Palio banner for the 2013 Palio d’Assunta (August).

While the Palio was back in her workshop for restoration, I had the chance to drop in one morning and see it up close. I also got to chat with the artist and learn what goes into making such a prized banner: passion, skill, love, history, respect, hope, tears, laughter, heart. And in Rigacci’s case, lots of rock music. (It helps her work).

But you don’t just volunteer to paint the Palio, turn up your Zeppelin and take up your paintbrush – on the contrary. An artist has to be selected by the city of Siena, then supplied with a piece of Florentine silk made especially for the Palio (80 cm x 250 cm), draw up a plan, gather materials, then put paintbrush to Palio and get working.

When she heard that she had been selected to be the artist for August 2013, Rigacci’s heart soared. “It was incredible,” she said.

It was the opportunity that every Senese artist dreamed of. It was her chance to do something for her city. “I wanted this Palio to give people a reason to love Siena,” she said. Plus, it’d give her the chance to give life to the Palio design she’d had tucked away in her mind forever.

Rigacci's Madonna (Virgin Mary)

Rigacci’s Madonna (Virgin Mary)

Rigacci’s Palio includes many elements starting with the Madonna, who has featured on every Palio for centuries, because Siena the city is dedicated to her. A young Page, which represents Siena, offering up the 17 contradas to the Virgin Mary. Trailing from the Page’s pillow is a green ribbon, with the words “O Maria la tua Siena difendi”, a popular Senese invocation to the Madonna to defend “her” Siena. “When a Senese hears this, it brings a shiver,” she says.

Rigacci's Page, offering all 17 of Siena's contradas to the Madonna.

Rigacci’s Page, offering all 17 of Siena’s contradas to the Madonna.

Rigacci explains further, “We’re [the Senesi] not asking…we ask only for that protection that she [the Virgin Mary] has always given us. We’re already aware [that she protects us].”

Other features of the Palio include, in the bottom left corner, two warriors holding Siena’s flag, the Balzana, and in the right corner, a small corner of a zebra striped building – the Duomo di Siena. When she told me this, I commented that it’s only fitting that for a city that lives for its history, the elements of the Palio would be all historical.

Warriors with the Balzana

Warriors with the Balzana

DSCN5387

Rigacci agreed, “We go forward but always passing the message [history] behind. It’s a sign of respect towards those who left us these messages. Memory adds on itself. When we don’t know how to go forward, we look backward.”

In addition to watercolour, Rigacci used a variety of types of embellishments: peridot, coral (at the urging of her son), gold and pearls – all natural materials. “I didn’t want the banner to be polluted with false things. Authentic from beginning to end,” she says.

Details

Details

But there’s more to this Palio than what meets the eye. With Siena, there always is.

“I wanted to give more value to what I was creating,” says Rigacci. So she asked that each of the 17 contrada send her a piece of one of their oldest contrada flags. “Flags count so much for we Senese,” she explains. The contradas responded very favourably to her request, and provided her with a piece of historic material to sew into the Palio, behind their contrada’s symbol.

The symbols and meanings that feature in this Palio are endless. Some are profoundly personal for Rigacci and her family, while others are recognizable and shared by all people of Siena.

Rigacci's Palio - August 2013

Rigacci’s Palio – August 2013

All in all, Rigacci spent two and a half months perfecting her Palio after the unadorned banner was delivered to her. When it finally came time to unveil it, days before the race, Siena was awed. Although her contrada didn’t win her Palio, Rigacci’s father’s contrada, the Onda (wave), did.

Listening and watching Rigacci speak about her Palio was a wonderful experience for me. I was enthralled by the passion with which Rigacci spoke of her city and her work, and I marveled at the tender way she regarded her Palio, not because she was proud of a job well done, but because she was so happy to have been able to give something to the city she loves so much.

Artist Cecilia Rigacci [From www.oksiena.it]

Artist Cecilia Rigacci
[From http://www.oksiena.it]

What does she say of the whole experience?

“It was unbelieveable,” she told me, smiling wide. Having finished her work as a Palio artist, I wondered if she was sad. It was obvious that she put her heart and soul into this Palio, and after the restoration it would be hung in the Onda’s museum of victories, where she probably wouldn’t see much of it. Her response?

“Realizing a dream isn’t extinguishing it, it’s living it fully […] I still haven’t stopped having those feelings.”

***

I was eager to share this with you, readers, not only to give you some more info on the Palio, but also to give you a bit of deeper insight into the people of Siena, to help Cecilia Rigacci on her quest to give people a reason to love Siena. It’s the passion of the people and the respect for history and tradition that draws me in and keeps me coming back.

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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. 

A Delightful Surprise – Italy Magazine Blogger Awards


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"

I enjoy surprises. Sorprese.  I know some people don’t, but I do. So imagine how delighted I was when I snuck a peek at the 2013 Italy Magazine Blogger Awards Shortlist and found that Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” was on there not once, but twice!

! This little blog has been shortlisted under the Best Overall Blog for Lovers of Italy category, and my post Why Study Italian? found a home for itself under the Best Single Arts and Culture Post category. Evvia!

What’s really lovely about this whole thing is that the Italy Magazine Blogger Awards recognize a whole host of really great blogs out there about Italy. Some of them I have read and checked out before, others I’ll be happy to take a look at for the first time. There’s a lot of great writing, great info, great humour and wonderful wisdom about Italy, and I encourage you, readers, to take a peek at all the shortlisted blogs. And, you know, if you want to vote for Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” while you’re there, I certainly wouldn’t mind!

blogger-awards

Click here to vote. Voting is open until February 8th and the winners will be announced on February 10th. Incrociamo le dita. Let’s cross our fingers!

As always, grazie readers, for your support of Not Just Another “Dolce Vita”. Grazie di cuore.