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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

At 8:00 this morning (just thirty minutes ago from the time I began writing this post) I woke up to the sound of drums. I couldn’t tell how many were drumming; yesterday I heard what sounded like fifty drummers from down the street, but as I got closer and closer to the source of the sound it tightened to what sounded like twenty-five, then ten, then maybe just two, and I discovered at the end that it had actually been only one drummer practicing solo.

When I awoke the drum sound was fairly faint and I tried to roll over and fall back asleep, but the volume of the drums increased. I must have almost fallen asleep again, though, because I jumped at the sound of a loud church bell’s toll that pierced through the cadence. I rolled over again.

Stop being loud, Siena, I’m tired…

I had been woken up by these church bells before; usually it stops ringing after thirty seconds or so. Not this time—and the volume and intensity of the drums were increasing. Before I knew it the drums had almost begun to drown out the bell. It sounded as if they were just outside my window.

Actually, they were.

I got out of bed and peeked outside between louvers in the wooden shutters that keep much more light out of my room than sound. My fourth-floor window is aligned with a short street that ends at what I now know is a contrada church.

A contrada is a neighborhood, and in Siena it is something like your family. You cannot join one or marry into one, you can only be born into one. This is an exciting time in Siena because of the upcoming Palio, a horse race between all seventeen contrade (plural of contrada). The tradition of the Palio began during the Middle Ages as a celebration of Siena’s independence and is nearly three times as old as the United States. The race takes place around the perimeter of the Campo, which has already undergone some transformation from city square to horse track, including the installation of wooden fences around the herringbone brick paving and several wooden bleacher seats at major entry points to the square. The race is a week from tomorrow—a 90-second horse race for which the people of Siena prepare for an entire year.

When I peeked outside my window this morning there were all the drummers, standing outside the doorway into the church, dressed in blue medieval costume with highlights of maroon. I’m pretty sure they were wearing tights. The drummers formed a line outside the church that curved to direct the flag-bearers through the door, who were coming into my view from up the street behind buildings to the right. They, too, were in costume.

By now I was interested. I turned around, threw a shirt on, and threw the shutters open. After five minutes the flag bearers had entered and people dressed in everyday clothes followed. Then the drumming stopped and I could hear all the men in the entire church begin to sing a song in unison. More like yelling than singing, a little like the “olé, olé olé olé” chant you hear at soccer games.

After the song ended the drummers started up again and some of the flag bearers spilled out of the church. This time they spun their flags instead of waving them. At the end I saw two men throw their flags as high as they could into the air and catch each other’s flags, followed by the applause of people inside the church. Then the group proceeded down the street to the left.

Eventually everybody was out of the church and off to the left somewhere except for the six or seven drummers, who stood outside the door chatting. About a minute went by and one of them looked down the street toward my window. He shouted something I couldn’t understand, if I had to guess it would be something like “lorazzo,” but I don’t know enough Italian to recognize the word. I think he was shouting to someone on the ground in my direction. He shouted it again, “lorazzo!”

Now a few of the other drummers turned and looked down the street in my direction. Were they shouting to me?

“Lorazzo!”

Whoever they were calling to obviously hasn’t answered by now. Unsure, I raised a hand and waved to them. The entire group cheered and laughed and waved back to me! Their excitement attracted the attention of a few of the other costumed guys from around the corner, who peeked around and waved as well, as I smiled and waved back. This Palio thing is awesome!!!

Then it was time for them to begin drumming again and they proceeded back down the street to the right, and all of the people who had taken a left out of the church followed—I guess they had just lined up in the street out of my view. The sound of the drums faded again, and I could see them again up the street gather at a small piazza to wave flags. In fact, it’s now 9:30, and the drumming has commenced again and I still see them there. I can’t tell exactly what’s going on over there now, but it’s pretty exciting just knowing these are the kind of traditions that are going on around me in this city.

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