You who after a few days here have called Siena "beautiful but rather dull", have you not noticed a sudden change in the city? It seems to have come in a single night, and shows itself in a general air of agitation and excitement.
The groups of men who stop now in the streets to talk together, have none of that easy loitering air of Saturday mornings, when they block the Via Cavour outside the Uniti, or at the Croce del Travaglio; this is not question of mere every day bargain and traffic, - the Palio is at hand, the first of the two great races of the year is to be run on the second of July, the Feast of the Visitation, grand festa in the church of the Provenzano, as you should know. If you wish any work done this week, banish the thought! Nothing can be accomplished now until "after the Palio", no one has time to think of anything else.
The names of the contrade are on everyone's lips, in the streets, in the piazzas, in the shops; the boys are whistling the Palio march; furled banners are being carried to and fro; the final stitches of gold or silver thread are being put in magnificently embroidered silk standards, and the appropriate contrade colours fitted over the caps that the fantini - the jockey - are to wear in the race, - white and black, with a touch of orange for the Lupa, the Wolf, red white and black for the Civetta, the little Owl, brilliant green blue and yellow for the Bruco, the Caterpillar, and so on.
History tells us that originally there were fifty-nine contrade or divisions of the city, but today there are only seventeen; So' diciasette, e le so tutte a mente, "There are seventeen, and I know them all by heart", says Giovannelli as he introduces a delightful catalogue of them in the first of this sonnets on Le 'Ontrade. Each has its name and symbol, its special feast day - that of its patron saint - and its own little church with a sala where meetings are held to discuss affairs of state, for the organisation at the head of a contrada is most formal and complicated, with all its offices and dignities. Whatever the origin of these divisions, whether military, as some writers suggest, or purely social, - for whatever purpose they sprang into being, they came to look upon one another with a feeling that we are told amounted to envy and hatred, there was even no intermarrying among rival contrade.
Such extreme feeling has of course passed today, and husband and wife, or sisters and brothers, often belong to rival contrade, for change of residence does not mean renunciation of contrada: Your contrada is that in which you are born; if you live outside the city-walls, it is that belonging to the city gate nearest your home in the country, I am told, the gate through which you necessarily pass to come into Siena.
Rivals of one another the contrade still are, and allies, with a certain intensity of feeling too, especially in July and August; but with a certain delicious humour in it all. Which are naturally rivals and which allies it takes time to learn; I have never fully mastered this page of political geography, which every small boy of Siena knows without ever having studied it, and even if I had, what should I have gained? The unexpected is always happening, to my confusion! If there was one point in regard to which I had absolutely no doubt, it was that the Oca, the Goose, and the Nicchio, the Sea-Shell, were sworn foes, - and so they were.
Then suddenly what must they do but form a great friendship, and have a wonderful ceremony to celebrate it on the eve of the Nicchio feast day on August, when a glorious blue canopy was set up over the entrance to the church, as an additional decoration, and a chandelier with sparkling pendants hung there for the special illumination, and the hangings at the windows of the houses were most gorgeous, for the contradaioli, or members of the contrada had all been requested this time in printed placards pasted on the walls, to decorate with unusual magnificence.
It was said that this remarkable union grew out of the antipathy of the Oca for the Torre, the Tower, and the Bruco, who had formed an alliance in July, on which "most joyful occasion" the "Council and Contrada" of the Torre testified to feelings of the "liveliest satisfaction", and of the "frankest and most sympathetic concord". So the Oca felt the need of special support for its defence.
Love of the contrada and loyalty to it are bred in the bone, I knew a baby boy who had been taught as a jest that he belonged to the Pantera, the Panther, and so he believed until he grew quite old, old enough to have his curls cut off, and to go to the Giardino d'Infazia; then suddenly one day he found out in which contrada he had been born, - he was of the Selva, the Wood, and no words could longer deceive him! In my first days at Siena two charming little girls, who had not yet come to know me, were still too shy to talk to a forestiera who could barely make herself understood; so they would sit in silence beside their grandmother, while I longed to hear their pretty Sienese chatter.
At length I found a way; all that was needed was for me to discuss the contrada colours, confusing them purposefully in my conversation. The dear grandmother knew better than to correct my mistakes, and I would continue until the children could stand it no longer. "But nonna", they would cry, jumping up and down with excitement, "but nonnina, she gives the colours of the Onda to the Civetta, and those of the Aquila to the Tartuca! Tell her, nonnina, pray tell her, that she says them all al contrario!"
One day I rebuked a tiny girl who ran after me in a street of the Fontebranda district, - the contrada of the Oca, - and asked for a soldino. "Little girls of Siena must not beg pennies", I said severely, trying not to smile at the diminutive culprit.
She looked at me in surprise. "I am not of Siena", she said; and to my equally surprised: "And where then do you belong?" she answered naturally: "I belong to the Oca, " or to be more accurate, she pronounced the word Oha.
I never met a baby old enough to talk who could not tell me to which contrada he or she belonged, unless I except my little friend of the Selva, who was tricked; but I never found anyone who could, or would, tell exactly the limits of a contrada, - how they all know precisely where one ends and another begins is a delightful mystery to me.
"A DECLARATION OF FRIENDSHIP"
XXVIII Luglio MCMXII
Nell'annua festivitą DI SAN GIACOMO MAGGIORE
APPOSTOLO DELLE SPAGNE
E nell'occasione lietissima della novella alleanza stretta
colla Nobil Contrada del BRUCO
alla consorella carissima
il Consiglio e la Contrada della TORRE
in pegno dell'ambita unione
offre il fraterno omaggio
della soddisfazione pił viva
e della pił schietta e concorde simpatia
As for the origin of the Palio much that is interesting has been written about it by students of the Middle Ages, and about the curious old games that it has replaced, pictured, some of them, in very old paintings that hang in the Palazzo Pubblico.
All this you must read; for the moment it is enough to know that of the two corse, or races, run every year in Siena, the one on August sixteenth celebrated, as it has celebrated since 1260, the dedication of the city then to the Blessed Virgin on the fifteenth of August, the Feast of the Assumption, while the other, on July second, was "inaugurated" to be run annually in honour of the building of the Church of the Provenzano. And both these races are run today, as they have been run for more than two hundred and fifty years, in the Piazza del Campo, the magnificent oval piazza in which stands the Palazzo Pubblico with its exquisite tower, the Torre del Mangia, so dear to the hearts of the true Sienese that they say they can never live happily where they do not see it; the same piazza in which five hundred years ago their forefathers knelt in crowds at the feet of San Bernardino, their illustrious fellow-citizen, and listened to his wonderful sermons, as you may see them kneeling before him in the paintings by Sano di Pietro in the Chapter-Room of the Duomo.
An element of marvellous beauty in addition to the corsa, the race itself, is the Corteo, or pageant, which precedes it and which keeps alive the memory of the battle of Monte Aperti on the fourth of September, 1260, when the Sienese gloriously defeated their long time enemies the Florentines.
Meanwhile we are waiting, all impatient! The past week has been full of preparations.
Cartload upon cartload of earth has been brought in and emptied in the Piazza del Campo so that a solid earth track has been made around it; stands for seats have been built outside and high above the shop doors, and balconies and windows are ready for occupants; the centre of the piazza has been fenced in for those who must stand to watch the race.
Already we have some ideas of our own as to the possible winner, for we were in the Piazza the morning the horses were assigned by lot in the Palazzo Pubblico, and we awaited the results standing in the strip of shade cast by the Torre del Mangia.
We have seen three at least of the six prove or trial races run one each morning and afternoon of the three preceding days, so we know, for example, that only ten contrade at a time run a Palio, the track is not wide enough for more; three times we have watched the fantini mounted on their horses without saddles or stirrups ride out from the great entrance to the courtyard of the Palazzo as the drum rolls, and ride half-way round the track to the mossa, the starting-point, where two ropes are drawn across, and where the Mossiere, who directs the start, calls the horses by the names of the contrade between the ropes, and gives the signal.
So much we know, and feel ourselves very wise. But even yet we have no conception of what really awaits us.
The great date has come at last. The palaces and houses are bright and coloured hangings, the streets are crowded, the little boys are everywhere, mad with excitement.
We are fully roused now. We have heard at eight o'clock the deep glorious sound of the Mangia Tower bell, to be heard only on great occasions such as the Feast of the Assumption or the day of the Palio; the Campanone, known to the Sienese as Sor Assunto, which Giovannelli so wittily represents as looking down in amusement upon the crowded Piazza and saying in that great beautiful voice: - Mira, I Senesi, quanto so' piccini! "Look at the Sienese, what little men they are!"
We have stood in the exact spot in the Piazza from which one can clearly see the man who strikes the bell, it is far too heavy to pull by a rope in regulation fashion; we have looked up at the weather vane of the tower, and have tried to find out from it, as the little old women are said to do, the winner of the race, by determining towards which contrada it is pointing; we have been for a morning walk in the sunshine of a real Siena day, and have seen the banners of the Terzi, the Thirds, hung out on the wolf - surmounted old stone columns that stand one to mark each of the three main divisions of Siena, - the City, Camollia, and San Martino, - one in the Via di Cittą, one in the Piazza Tolomei, and one at the entrance to the Via Romana. We have been to the church of the Provenzano to see the Palio, the silken banner given as prize from which the race takes its name, hanging there as it hangs during all the masses of this festival morning. There is a painting of the Madonna di Provenzano on it, of that very old curious little head of the Madonna kept in the shrine over the altar, just as there will be a picture of the Madonna Assunta on the August banner, which will hang through all the morning of the preceding feast day in the Duomo.
As early in the afternoon as possible we have set out again, and in a moment we are in the Middle Ages! At the three o'clock summons of the Campanone the comparse, the groups of those members who represent a contrada in public on such a festival occasion, begin to assemble to dress at the contrada church where their costumes are kept; here too the horse will be adorned with handsome trappings, and, his fantino holding him by the bridle, will be blessed before he runs; for although the race has entirely changed in character the Sienese can not bring themselves to omit the blessing, so old a custom, as old as the very old books from which the words of the ceremony are read.
Now all are decked in mediaeval splendour, and against the fitting background of grim old palaces, like so many graceful figures from the frescoes, they shine out in the glory of brilliant silk and velvet, completed by curled wigs, and caps with quills or plumes.
There is the sound of music throughout the city, and the continual beating of drums; pages pass carrying gorgeously painted and embroidered standards; beautifully costumed men follow with silken banners, - one man has by chance a flower in his mouth, another has one stuck behind his ear. And what gives it all an air of reality is their unconsciousness of its being anything but real, - it is evidently as natural to them as their daily work the rest of the year. But to us! Out through a pointed archway rides a magnificent creature in armour, his brazen helmet glittering and flashing in the sun; you may recognise him as the falegname, the carpenter, or some other workman who was at the house only yesterday, but he looks every inch a proud knight as he passes us and follows the drummers along the narrow street whose curves soon shut out the picture.
He is followed by another and then another as the comparse form and march to the Piazza del Duomo to throw their banners outside the Cathedral, before the palace of the Archbishop, who will applaud them from his window, adding to the picture by his handsome presence. We follow them, and stand for how long we do not know watching the wonder and the beauty of a sbandierata, a "banner-play". A skilful Alfiere or "banner-player", is indescribably graceful.
He takes his stand erect, one foot slightly forward, unfurls the huge silken banner he carries, and "plays" with it to the sound of the drums, passing it round his neck, over one shoulder, round his waist, under one leg, - bending, swaying, running with it, jumping over it, but keeping it always outspread; - then suddenly he deftly furls it and throws it high in the air. The end of the staff is leaded, so the banner must fall "right side up", - the Alfiere catches it with one hand, the other on his hip, readjusts his cap with a graceful gesture, bows, and passes on with his companion to make room for the two from the next contrada. And in all his motions there has been not a sign of effort; yet no one has ever taught him professionally, for there is no "school of banner-playing" in Siena, the graceful art has come down from years past, and from generation to generation the Sienese have preserved it in all its charm.
We would stay still longer watching with the crowd in the Piazza, while the Sisters of Charity and the convalescents among the patients look on from the upper windows, of the hospital, the old hospital full of memories of St. Catherine.
But it is growing late; the comparse have almost all passed, and then re-passed to form in procession in the courtyard of the Prefect's palace. It is time to go down and take our places, and we make our way slowly through the sauntering cheerful crowd. We wonder how there can be so many people in the street when the Piazza is already crowded; the seats in stand and balconies are packed, there are people at every window, on the housetops, even peeping from the battlements of the palaces. Round and round the track walk groups of men, women and children in holiday dress, priests among them, and monks who have come in from the convent of the Cappuccini, or from the Observanze, the monastery of San Bernardino outside the city. In and out among them all the vendors of ices and of cooling drinks push their carts, the balloon merchant makes room for himself and the great mass of his brilliant floating wares, and boys selling dolci and confetti of every kind keep up a continual traffic.
One Italian writer estimates the number of people in the Piazza then at from twenty to twenty-five thousand. Imagine the hubbub of so many voices, and mingled with it the cries of the vendors, and the shouts of the myriads of small boy, increasing in shrillness every time a balloon is set free, and floats up, up, over the tower, and out of sight. Will there ever be quiet again? Can order ever come out of such confusion? We start at a sudden sound like the shot from a cannon, the mortaretto, the warning that the track must be cleared, and slowly, very slowly, the Carabinieri ride out from the Palazzo Pubblico in a line that reaches across the track, and begin their round of the course; slowly, very slowly, the people take their places in the stands, or slip into the concave central enclosure, the huge "conch-shell" as it is called.
This clearing, or "cleaning", of the track is beautiful to see, all is done so gently, so courteously; there is no hurry, no rude jostling, there are no rough excited orders.
The people seem to melt away gradually, and gradually you realise that the track is quite clear except for a few stragglers who cross from the enclosure to the seats, the inevitable small boy who runs out and back again for the fun of it, or perhaps a little dog, who darts suddenly into the track and rushes round and round, excited by the shouts of laughter from men and boys, who cheer him on in his confusion.
The course is clear now, and the centre of the Piazza is so tightly packed that we smile incredulously when an Italian friend tells us that the crowd is nothing to what it will be in August. To be sure in August is the greater fest, and moreover, in July harvesting keeps the contadini at work in the fields, but even so many come in then for the Palio, and corresponding to the constant flutter of fans in the stands and balconies that encircle the Piazza, is the constant flapping and waving of the large Tuscan hats on the heads of the hundreds of women standing in the centre. The older the Contadina the more gaily her large white straw hat is trimmed, with feathers and ribbons and artificial flowers, and she never fails to wear it on a fest, as well as her inevitable string of pearls, and heirloom.
I never see that closely packed Piazza now and hear the noise of it that I do not recall the account a dear Sienese friend gave me of Pope Pius the Ninth's visit to the Palio when she was a child. He was seated in the post of honour beside the Grand Duke of Tuscany, on a magnificently decorated balcony, a balcony that in recent years has been removed from the front of the Palazzo Pubblico. Just before the procession entered, when the noise was at its height, he rose, an impressive figure in the simplicity of his white robe amid the riot of brilliant colour. In an instant, - it seems incredible, - there was quiet, the people fel on their knees in solemn silence; then out of the stillness came the sound of a single voice, clear and beautiful and the little girl knelling in her place far across the Piazza, heard every word of the Holy Father's blessing.
It is seven o'clock. The excitement is intense, we are all listening for something, and suddenly it comes, - the sound of the Mangia Tower bell, and immediately upon its first stroke, the music of the Commune trumpets, a flash of colour at the Via del Casato, and the procession enters the Piazza to the sound of the Palio march.
At the head rides the Standard Bearer of the Commune, carrying the white and black standard of Siena, behind him walk the trumpeters, flowed by musicians; next march the representatives of the territorial possessions of Siena in ancient days, bearing standards decorated with brilliantly coloured coats of arms; and then, one after another come the comparse.
First, the contrade that "run": in each of these ten groups, drummers and banner-players, the "Captain", all in armour, with four pages carrying his arms - curious mediaeval weapons - and his shield; the Paggio Maggiore of Chief Page, marching alone and carrying the contrada ensign with the symbol painted on it; the horse for the race led by his barbaresco, the groom, and finally the fantino magnificently equipped, riding another horse in gorgeous trappings. After these come the representatives of the "Thirds", and then the remaining seven contrade groups, these of course without race horses. Finally, behind two lines of little boys carrying great garlands on their shoulders, the Carroccio enters the Piazza, the famous battle-car captured from the Florentines in the battle of Monte Aperti almost seven hundred years ago, when the Sienese gloriously defeated their bitter enemies. In one Palio - my eighth - I remember that the "Captain of the People" rode before the Car, and it was accompanied by as escort, "The Company of Death", young nobles who had sworn to "fight to the death" around it. The car is drawn by four horses, - in former years they tell me it was drawn by the beautiful great white oxen so common in Tuscany, - and in it are the banners of all seventeen contrade, worn and tattered ones by preference; over the sides peep gaily costumed children; in front is set up the Palio, from the top of which float streamers of the Commune white and black.
The bell in the car - called the Martinella - clangs constantly, announcing its approach. Men at arms of the Commune, with helmets and lances, close the procession, but long before they enter at the Casato the trumpeters have made the circuit and reached the Palazzo, though the procession has moved very slowly, the alfieri of each group stopping at intervals for the sbandierata. They go through all the graceful motions, and then throw the banners up in the air, so that when the procession has encircled the central space, the Piazza is flashing with brilliant colour, as the banners fly up and show themselves against the dull brick and stone of the palaces. And all the time the sound of music, of drums, of trumpets, and of the Campanone.
The procession is over, the horses have been taken from the car, the last man has "laid down his arms" and seated himself on the stand in front of the old Palazzo, adding by his magnificence of costume to the mass of beautiful colour there; the Palio has been carried to the judges in the seat built above the Mossa. The Carabinieri put aside the curtain hung in the Via San Martino to prevent the horses' running out there from the course, and admit the crowds of people who have gathered there since the track was cleared.
They pass into the Piazza in an interminable line and actually find places in the centre, which seemed before crowded to its utmost capacity. To them the race is the thing, with all their pride in the Corteo the race is what they come to see, and what counts most for every Sienese. They are all in, the way is closed again, the signal is waved from the Piazza, telling that the fantini have changed their gorgeous costumes for those they are to wear in the race, suits of the contrade colours, with the symbols painted on the backs of the jackets. The mortaretto booms again, the drum rolls, the little boys whistle and shout, and the fantini ride out from the Palazzo doorway. It is to quote a Sienese, an "indescribable" moment. The horses approach the ropes, some quietly and without being urged, others prancing and turning, - in one or two cases a fantino has had to dismount to lead his horse.
The Mossiere calls them between the ropes, drawing the names of the contrade. How that call is caught up and repeated, as it has been for so many a year by every little boy in the great old Piazza! The last horse is barely in, - the rope is dropped, and they are off! Via! Via! the whole Piazza unites in one wild shout. Away they fly, round an around, - three times before the finish. Your heart is in your mouth; you close your eyes when they round the curve at San Martino, where the mattresses hung against the wall show that here there are frequent tumbles, - but it is only at your first Palio that you really close them, -in every successive one you keep them open as wide as possible every moment of the race, you know by this time that what you have been told is true, no fantino is ever seriously hurt when he falls. The prove were all very well, but this is real! Today the fantini are carrying heavy whips, called nerbi, handed to them as they ride out from the Palazzo, with which they strike one another, beat back the horses of their rivals, or urge on the horse of a friendly contrada that he may.
Once round, and the Tortoise is ahead! The Piazza rings to the shouts of encouragement and disappointment. Twice round, and the Chiocciola is gaining, the Snail, who appropriately enough has not won for twenty three years, - but wait and see! Three times round, and he has it! The mortaretto marks the finish of the race, but it is scarcely heard in the roar that goes up from the Piazza. The winner flings himself from his horse into the group of Carabinieri, who are awaiting him by the Fonte Gaia, and will form his escort even to the church of the victorious contrada, where he will be received as a hero.
The barbareschi, the grooms, rush up with coats for the fantini, and lead away the horses. The crowd closes, - the whole Piazza, all Siena, has gone mad! The drums beat, the allies of the victor unfurl and wave their banners, the boys scream and whistle, and rush in and out everywhere, grown men hug and kiss one another, dance and wave their hats, and it is a usually staid member of the Snail who seizes the Palio as it is handed down, and now dancing and shouting with the rest, leads the procession first to the Provenzano for the thanksgiving, then to the contrada church, through the sloping street where men are already on ladders putting up the candelabra for the illuminations, - a dancing, singling, shouting procession of triumph. A crowd surges after them, and another is awaiting them at the church, where the candles have been lighted, the organ is pealing, and the bells are ringing mad!.
The Palio is set up there first, to be carried later to the adjoining sala, where these prizes hang side by side for all time; and every child can tell you how many pali his contrada has won, beginning "hundreds of years back".
The merry-making lasts on until late into the night. Tomorrow the winning horse, gaily decorated, his hoofs and knees gilded, and the number of the pali won by the contrada painted on him, - will be conducted with the fanino through the city by the coparsa, and then must the protettori, the patrons, remember the mancia.
A few weeks later the contrada will celebrate by a magnificent supper, when decorated tables will be set in the gaily lighted streets, and the horse may even be the guest of honour. In proportion to your passion for the Palio is your pleasure in having that contrada win in which you live, for you too may be forced to stay awake all night to celebrate the victory. I shall never forget that procession at midnight in the Piazza San Francesco, usually so quiet after ten o'clock! Wakened by a sudden burst of music I looked out from my window upon the whole comparsa of the Bruco, still costumed as they were when they left the Piazza del Campo after the race, their magnificence lighted up by torches, carrying the Palio, and marching to the accompaniment of the Palio music itself from the Commune trumpets. And even several nights later the Burcaioli returned to play the Dead March under the windows of an Ocaiolo who lives opposite, - a tribute to his disgust and disappointment; for that July the Oca really and truly hoped to win, - and a victory wrested from the rich and powerful Oca is indeed a victory to boast of! It matters little to me if my contrada loses!, said a Sienese to us once at the Pali, "it is enough that the Oca does not win!" And he turned again to shout with fervour: Addietro Oca, addietro Ocaccia! As he watched the race.
Tolling the bell of a contrada church as if for a funeral as the comparsa of a defeated rival passes on its way home from the Piazza after the race, is a favourite method of "rubbing in" the defeat. What a part the bells play in the life of Siena, from the beautiful triple note of those of San Domenico to the deep tones of those of San Francesco, or from the peal of the Carmine to that of the Servi. And on Palio day how the bells of the little contrada churches ring out in shrill triumph as the victor returns home.
How my Sisters in the convent they let me call my home in Siena, ran to ring a double peal of their chapel bells when the Bruco won, a compliment they must be careful to pay to the Giraffa as well, when occasion demands, for my convent, like the Palazzo Pubblico lies in two contrade. So it is that from one of the two logge on the housetop, in which it is my blessed privilege to pass the evening recreation hour with the sister, we may see the roofs of the Burco, for here we overlook the Porta Ovile, while from the other, in the Giraffa, we have a glimpse of the Piazza di Provenzano.
Thus the Sisters can know promptly who has won the July Palio, for a brief moment after the hoof beats and the last shouting in the Piazza comes the rush to the Provenzano, and the first colours there reveals the victor. And when the Oca wins a Palio, which has not happened since I came to live in the convent, the Sisters tell me that Reverend Mother has the great doors opened that lead in from Piazza San Francesco so that the horse may enter and she may give him sugar with her own hands; for, appropriately, she who carries on St. Catherine's work amongst the poor of Siena, is herself of St. Catherine's contrada the Oca.
But, - you will say, - we hear that the race is no longer a real race, as it was in the old days, - that now it is openly bought and sold, that it is a matter of understanding, of arrangement. Well! Well! What if it is? You will have no less pleasure in it for all that! And if you think it requires no skill, I advise you to ride in an arranged race on a good horse, and try - not to win. Of this I can assure you, that no matter how many clever questions you ask you will never be certain what the plan is, and even when you think you have learned the "arrangement", and perhaps you have, what is to prevent the same thing's happening again that happened the July the Onda, the Wave, should have won, and when an ally, actually an ally, the-but, there! It makes me so angry even to think of it that I won't say another word! The best I can wish for you is the keen eyesight of a seven year old who explained her failure in arithmetic by the fact that her contrada had drawn the best horse that July, "And how can I think of anything else?" she said; and who returned from a prova in tears crying indignantly to her mother: "Mammina, mammina, our fantino is a wicked man! We have a good horse, and he held it in, Mammina, he held it in when we might have won!"
So you have seen a Palio, your first, but I know that you will see another. Meanwhile remember that it is not merely a passing summer pageant; the spirit of the contrade through all the year makes the life of Siena what it is, and the preparations for the Palio may be said to begin on the Sunday after the feast of St. Catherine in April, with the celebrations in the separate contrade. Each Sunday the street of one, beginning with the Oca and the Montone are hung with banners and colours, the candelabra for the illuminations have been fastened in place the evening before on the houses each side, the whole length of the street in which the church is, and there has been music and dancing to a late hour.
As early as nine o'clock Sunday morning the Alfieri start out with a band or merely with drummers to furnish music according as the contrada is rich or poor, and commence to throw their banners before the houses of the protettori, where they may be invited in to receive a special mancia. And no visit of state could be conducted with more dignity and ceremony; so that the protettore has all the satisfaction of feeling himself for that moment at least the equal of royalty. They have a busy day before them.
The chief page is out too, the Paggio Maggiore or Figurino, in all the bravery of his silk and velvet and a freshly curled wig, carrying the silver salver on which he presents to each patron or patroness a photograph, perhaps of himself or of the "Captain" in full regalia, a "sonnet" made for the occasion "all printed" says Goivanell, and sometimes one of those marvellous bouquets of artificial flowers never seen outside Siena, - each surmounted by the glided symbol of a contrada, the dolphin of the Onda, the tree-bearing rhinoceros of the Selva, or the ram of the Val di Montone prancing so absurdly on its hind legs.
Who would not be the Figurino? And every pretty boy in Siena who "fits" the costume has a chance. Or, better still, an Alfiere! But this depends on skill. Has anyone ever seen a child of Siena put a flag stiffly against his shoulder and march with it in stupid imitation of a useless soldier? He has a more serious purpose in his play.
See that little fellow in a corner by himself. His flag is a piece of coloured rag tied to a stick, and he is setting himself solemnly to work to reproduce the Sbandierata. Round his neck he passes the stick, round his waist, and finally even under one leg. He is so little that his last is too much for his sense of balance, and over he goes! But when he has picked himself up he returns persistently to his practice, attempting even to catch the flag again in approved fashion after he has thrown it in the air. For he sees himself some day in the gorgeousness of those very costumes, throwing the huge silken banners to the self-same music.
It all forms so great a part of the children's play. In the spring-time the boys buy wooden balls with the contrade colours, or lacking centesimi for these, paste bits of coloured paper on wooden balls, or even use marbles. These are the barberi, the race-horses. Do you know how to play the game? Choose a moderate slope, in the Via San Vigilio perhaps, and set your ten balls at the top of this; hold them in line with a stick; when you are ready for the start give the signal by drawing away your stick suddenly and crying: Via! As many of you as there are, of course, together, to make the noise as loud as possible, and then while the little balls roll slowly to the foot of the slope you must follow them with shouts and cries, here again the louder the better, for the noise makes it seem more like a true Palio. You must not touch, but you may wave your hat to create a breeze, or even blow
softly to help on your man.
Or why not a real race, in the old Fortezza, or in the Ricreatorio Pio Secondo, the Boys' Play -ground, with an oval drawn in the gravel, or a special course assigned for the "three times round", the houses represented by prancing boys, each with his rider behind, holding him back by his jacket. There may actually be a prize, a Palio carefully made in paper, and decorated in as correct imitation as possible, even to a little coloured picture of the Madonna Assunta cut out and pasted at the top.
Who in Siena does not know the shrill sound of boys' voices calling the horses into line, just as on Palio day itself they echo the voice that calls the real horses between the rope: Istrice! Leo! Aquila! Drago! And so on, until all ten are there.
Some late afternoon when you are walking out the Via dei Pispini towards the gate, - perhaps to listen to the nightingales in the little grove at the foot of that slope outside the walls there, - you may hear a drum and round from the Via Oliviera, where the two streets meet at the church of the Nicchio, with its great Sea-Shell above the door, - there will sweep a gay crowd of laughing, shouting little boys. They are waving flags, contrade banners in miniature, each of its appropriate colours. "The Alfieri!" you cry, and in an instant they surround you. Several of them are wearing little jockey caps, the colours in points, exact counterparts of the real zucchini that the fantini wear in the race. I saw a young priest making them one afternoon, flushed and eager over a peast-pot and a pile of coloured scraps, as excited as the boys themselves. "And we have even the drum, Signora", says the proud little fellow that carries it, emphasising his joy by a unique imitation of that music peculiar to the contrada drummer. And then their natural courtesy asserts itself, a courtesy natural as yet to the little Sienese, unspoiled, - for how much longer? - by the indiscreet attentions of tourists, and their leader calls them together. "The Sbandierata for these ladies!" he orders, and the flags are whirled about and flung up in the air to the accompaniment of the little drum, of shouts and cries from the boys themselves, and of your own laughter and applause.
The order and dignity of a real Sbandierata is lacking, to be sure, but it is all very true, and very sweet to see in these days of change, for so long as children of Siena play at banner-throwing in the streets, we know that the spirit of the contrade can not die and that the Palio will still run in the Piazza del Campo.