Roll out the Barrels…

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This is a big week for Montepulciano.  The streets are crowded with tourists and most are here for one reason: the Bravio delle Botti.   This is a week long festival where the eight districts of the city, Le Contrade, compete against one another with the culminating event being the barrel rolling up the main street today.  My contrada is called Gracciano and apparently we’ve won the barrel rolling 5 times in the past.  This is not a good record, but it means I get to cheer for the underdog.  Bonnie’s contrada Poggiolo hasn’t fared well either; they’ve only won twice.  Why barrel rolling?  Well if you’ve ever seen the Palio in Siena you know that they have a little more room and so are able to have their big event as a horse race.  Apparently this used to be the case here too, but as  matter of public safety it was stopped in the 1600s.  I’m guessing someone got trampled in the narrow streets.  My friend Louise found a youtube recording of the race from 3 years ago so if you want to take a look at my town or our annual race…please do.  It covers the whole length of the town as the “pushers” make their way up the steep climb to Piazza Grande.  The barrels are not light, weighing in at 80 kilos.  I’ve been watching the practice rounds all week at night, and it’s pretty impressive.   In the video during the first minute of the race, you can see the section of town where me and my friends hang out on the “stoop.”  (There is little yellow Singer Sewing Machine sign that’s above Gabriella’s bookbinding shop.  Caterina and Antonella’s shops are here too!)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VP6IOOj1TqA

The highlights of the pre-party events are dinners every night at the different contrade and a candlelit parade that I went to on Thursday night.  All the contrade were represented in period costume.  The dinners are less formal and are basically big barbecues with live music.   Gracciano‘s dining area is REALLY close to my house so I’ve been serenaded each evening.  We have a Queen cover band here in town that is pretty good so I’m guessing if Gracciano wins, we will be sure to hear “We are the Champions” for the thousandth time.

Thursday night after the parade, and after Henry had a bit of a scare as he stepped in one of the candles on the parade route, Bonnie and I had a girls night.  We walked all over town and attempted to see some of the ceremony at the Piazza but apparently you need to get there really early.  We settled on having wine outside and people watching.  Antonella had her husband take over the grocery store for a while so she could join us.

On Friday night, Antonella and Caterina invited me to join them for dinner at a contrade called Le Coste.  Apparently Gracciano is not known for having the best food so it’s perfectly acceptable to choose another one when it comes time for dinner.  I did feel a bit guilty when I saw my other American friend Robert setting up tables and wearing his Gracciano scarf and had to pass by on my way to meet the girls.  We sat in a little garden under olive trees feasting on local specialties.  I tried the spareribs, or costole, while Antonella went for the liver, and Caterina had gnocchi.  The food was delicious.  It was a lovely relaxed evening and I saw pretty much everyone that I know in town.

Today’s events included a big parade to kick off the barrel racing and a ceremony in Piazza Grande.  I met Bonnie and Mark in front of their building and we took in the medieval procession that heralded the barrel racing this evening.  The participants took it quite seriously and despite the high temps didn’t seem to be suffering much in their heavy costumes.  The barrel racing this evening was quite exciting.  Everyone was pushed onto stoops or steps so that no one got run over by the humongous barrels careening up the street.  I did step into the street for a few pictures.  I watched it with Antonella and of course rooted for my contrada, Gracciano.  After the barrels past us, we raced into Antonella’s store and everyone crowded into her back room to watch the rest of the race on tv.  Gracciano came in second!  I was the only one cheering for them in the room full of Pogggiolo fans! (they came in 6th)

It was a great end to a very fun and festive week.

The boys huddle around the candles set for the evening parade

The boys huddle around the candles set for the evening parade

Nighttime barrel practice

Night time barrel practice

The parade commences

The parade commences

My student Michele got a haircut for today's drumming extravaganza!

My student Michele got a haircut for today's drumming extravaganza!

This is the contrada that won the race

This is the contrada that won the race

My contrada, Gracciano...Note Antonella across the street wearing her Poggiolo colors and holding Natalie on her lap

My contrada, Gracciano...note Antonella across the street wearing her Poggiolo colors and holding Natalie on her lap

the race begins

the race begins

Go Gracciano!

Go Gracciano!

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