Sunday, May 8, 2011

Palio di Romano

Every first week of May, the city of Romano d'Ezzelino celebrates the downfall of their most famous son with historical reenactments and a donkey race.  The town was the birthplace of Ezzelino da Romano, a 14th century podesta who managed to unify Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, and Padova before the Venetians, and despite numerous and powerful pressures from the Germanic states in the north, the Lombards, the papacy, the Venetians, and the numerous competing families from each city-state.  Despite his great contribution to Venetian/Italian notion of "statehood"--he was one of the first to really accept the possibility of neighboring Italian city-statesforming a unified nation--he was and still is a reviled historical figure because of his cruelty (but most likely because he was the top dude in a field of eternally competing forces: his negative reputation could be chalked up to the rumors spread by those seeking to replace him).  His death was a cause for celebration, and all four city-states threw a grand palio party before they went back to fighting each other.  

Romano d'Ezzelino only started re-celebrating the death of Ezzelino 41 years ago, but I think the rationale for resurrecting the event was largely due to what had happened to the town during the 20th century.  Like many other parts of the Veneto and Italy during that time, the town experienced massive emigration due to the great hardships experienced by peasants in the countryside.  Entire neighborhoods were cleared of inhabitants, and the town's past was threatened to go away with its people.  The prosperity that came with the northern economic boom starting in the 50s extended to the town as well, and the increased prosperity of its inhabitants encouraged more to stay.  During this time, many traditional events were revived for the sake of saving the town's culture after the massive exodus from the previous handful of decades, and the palio was one of those chosen as representative of the town's history and culture.

Although Romano d'Ezzelino's palio is definitely not as grand as Siena's or Asti's, the civic and local pride that define those celebrations were definitely present during in this one as well.  Every house flew not only their contrada's colors, but also the yellow and green colors of the town.  When contrada representatives paraded down the street, neighbors and friends cheered from the side.  The parade participants were not alien to the spectators: some of them instruct friends on how to take their pictures wearing their period costumes.  The sense of community is strong, and one is really imbued with the sense of belonging and having participated in the life and history of the city.

Costume parade as a family event

The pride of the contrada: last year's trophy

The transvestite queen mother and her court

Some donkeys were sidelined by their stubbornness. 

And they're off!

The winner was celebrated and paraded

The crowd went wild

The losers...well, they walked home

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