March of the ContradeSiena, Spring 2010

Yesterday the Valdimontone contrada marched through the city, drumming and singing and waving their contrada flags. It was only the first of many such processions. I realize that I talk about the contradas a lot (I actually just wrote a paper on them for one of my classes) but I can’t resist and really, I can’t be blamed. They are fascinating. Anyway, this Sunday began a series of weeks in which each contrada will get a chance to parade about and toss flags around in the piazza, singing boastful songs about their own contrada and taunting their “enemy” contrada (for Valdimontone it’s Nicchio, the shell – love them!). The men twirl their “bandiere” around, and seem to be arranged by age. Don’t worry; there is a place for the women as well.

Following the contrada members decked out in the traditional clothing are the children, women, and men without drums/flags. Yet, however interesting these rituals seem to foreigners, they inevitably become tedious when they happen annually. A friend of mine saw a group of teenage boys practicing early in the morning (when most teenagers are slightly dysfunctional and much happier in bed), twirling their flags with expressions indicative of their disinterest. Some were texting, most were yawning. I suppose any novelty wears off quickly when one must practice in the morning.

If you were wondering how the studying is going for finals week, rest easy with the knowledge that I, and the rest of my peers, have found many other worthwhile pursuits to occupy my time. For example, there was a temporary amusement park set up in the fortress called Luna Park. It had a ride that turned you upside down, one that spun you around and sort of jostled and shook you (personal favorite), and one that lifted all its giddy partakers as high as climbing the tower would, before plummeting them back down. For those that love to be tossed around by theme parks rides, that one provided a marvelous view of Siena before spinning us around and shooting us though a cloud of fog.

The rides in Luna Park were exciting because of their novelty. It was a little strange to see so many bright lights and newfangled contraptions set up in the middle of a medieval fortress. This was also the first I’ve seen of anything like this in Siena. Usually, to be a student studying abroad in Siena means being very aware that Siena is small. Many people on our program go to the same bar every weekend, the Irish Pub. Some barely go out at all. Siena, and every (study abroad) experience is just what you make it. You can go out or you can stay in, and if you go to a park like this one, you can look at the rides or you can look at the fortezza. It’s always up to you, you have agency and freedom, and isn’t that exciting!

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