Wednesday, August 10, 2011
This is a fun well written book. Rodi has a conversational style that is very engaging.
Each summer Sienna hosts a bareback horse race right in the central piazza. They haul in turf, cover the stone and transform the city into a wild affair. Ten of the seventeen independent societies, called contrade compete for the win. The societies have ancient roots, defined Sienese geography, clubhouses and a strong family/clan hold on their members. Where in the US someone would be introduced and their occupation named, in Sienna their contrada association would be part of the introduction. The author, Robert Rodi, a Chicagoan falls in love with the Sienese and vows to become more than a spectator to this community. Rodi has marginal Italian language skills providing for a number of comic scenes in this book.
Rodi writes of his experiences in seven trips to Siena over several years. Through a friend he is introduced to the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. He gains entry into the contrada and gives the reader a unique view of the Palio. The horserace is quintessentially Italian affair. There are feuds and alliance (centuries old) that are integral to the race. While the horses play a part in the outcome of the race, so does the strategy of the contrade. In this case strategy translates into bribing other contrade to allow a win for an ally. As I said uniquely Italian. The contrade provide a social structure for the Sienese. Rodi’s attempts to gain inclusion in the Caterpillar contrada are both poignant and awkward. He is drawn to the camaraderie of the group and works hard to gain acceptance. He volunteers in the kitchen for contrada dinners, runs in a relay race, and fulfills a vow to walk from a local village to Siena in honor of a Caterpillar Palio win. Finally as he despairs of ever gaining acceptance by the Sienese he is invited to be baptized into the Caterpillar contrada.
This is a fun well written book. Rodi has a conversational style that is very engaging. He is so honest in his telling and so self deprecating that I just loved him. This might not be the only book you should read if you are traveling to Italy but if you are going or even if you wish you were, read this one you won’t regret it.
I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.