Mamma Mia!This outburst came from the San Luca supporter sporting a green and red scarf standing beside me as he watch the team from San Giacomo throw their flags 20 feet in the air and flawless catch and move in a complex dance. He - and everyone in the San Luca section knew their contrade had just lost the ancient flag throwing competition of Ferrara's Palio.The San Giacomo team knew they had rocked it and jumped and did the equivalent of the superbowl football spike on the way out of the Piazza. The judges frowned ... they had already chastised a contrada cheering section for being too contentious in cheering on their house. The Ferrara Palio Ancient Flag Competition brought hundreds of young people together in their colorful medieval costumes to play music and compete - like they done for hundreds of years. I ended up standing among the red and green clad San Luca Contrada. They were gracious enough to tolerate the outsider, though I made sure to clap extra loud for their teams. All eight contrada's organized themselves into sections surrounding the piazza and cheered on their neighborhood and hung colorful banners and wore the colors of their house.And the competition is fierce. When a flag is dropped the whole crowd gasps. When a team does well, or when they falter, everyone cheers to acknowledge their good job or to support them for trying. And when a contrada's team enters the piazza to perform, their friends and neighbors cheer loudly and support their team.(The previous post "Serendipity" explains the Palio). Here are some photos from that night ... I have a new appreciate for sports photographers after trying to get some good photos at night, with fast movement while dodging the big hair of the woman in front
“Is this for the Palio?” The drums and trumpets blared a regimented urgent rhythm that was reminiscent of a military march. Earnest young men in street clothes held large silk flags with bright colors for each contrade (family house) in the city of Ferrara. Young men - and a few women – were lunging and marching and throwing these flags in intricately choreographed routines. This was practice night … tomorrow night the costumed competitions begin. They are putting their best in front of the crowd and dignitaries watching from the seats of honor – a little preliminary buzz and intimidation of the watching competition. One young man juggles five flags at once – the silk flying up against the lights from the palace courtyard. Tomorrow night these teams will be out of the sweat pants and shorts and into elaborate costumes for the real show … and I plan to be there early to get a good spot. The man next to me is excited and intent on the action. He says yes, this is the Palio, and a conversation ensues that is a friendly mix of his Italian/little English meets my Spanish/bad Italian/English. But it worked. I had stumbled upon the oldest Palio in the world and just happened to be here on one of the biggest weekends of the festival. And I did not even know it existed – much less that these competitions were happening – until I followed my ears into the square. Ferrara’s Palio started in the 1200’s and has been held every year since (barring a few interruptions for war and natural disaster in the 1800s). It’s an entire month of celebrations that pit the eight great houses and surrounding neighborhoods of Ferrara against each other in friendly competitions that end with a boy's foot race, a girls foot race, a
She was at least eighty. She was dressed in a coat and scarf even though it was over seventy degrees and the sun was out and glorious. And she was ringing her bike bell at me because I was clogging the bike lane.Old men bike to the main square of Ferrara for their nightly gatheringI was trying to figure out where I was – as usual. I was squinting down at my I-phone which I have mounted to my handlebars at the GPS app. I was looking for those blue dots or purple lines that show designated bike lanes … I was trying to get myself out of the city on onto a loop ride west of Ferrara along the Po River.But I got moving when she belled me, and headed across the intersection hoping it was the right direction.After a week of navigating in and out of cities and point to point rides, I've got a good system. Bless whoever invented GPS – it (and this app I’m using) have made a huge difference getting me in and out of these cities safely. I am a reluctant adopter of new technology. My theory is that I don't need to learn a new techie toy until I need to use it. My first attempt to navigate into a city using a paper map alone without using route-planning GPS had me doing an emergency U turn to avoid being sucked into a tunnel on the autostrada followed by multiple dead-ends trying to navigate around train lines. That motivated me to sufficiently to upgrade my technological expertise and master modern navigation.Ferrara is one of the most bike friendly cities I’ve ever visited. It’s one of the reasons I came – the more I read the more interested I became. Everyone here bikes. Young. Old.