Due anni fa...or to be precise, two and a half years ago, I studied abroad in Siena. In those short few weeks I fell in love with Tuscany. I know it is cliche, overdone, there's even movies about it - but I can surely say, now having lived in both Siena and Florence, that this is where I feel safe, familiar, and happy.
As a vlogger this summer I got to cover the Siena Palio and film around the city in the hours leading up to the big event. This legendary horserace has the city buzzing - it's not just anticipation, but it's the blood, sweat and tears (literally) of an entire city that have built up to this day. For a race that lasts approximately 90 seconds, there is a lot of raw emotion and tension that makes Siena tougher and less cozy. It's almost like a day of war in the city; you don't get a true every day glimpse of Siena on July 2nd.
Contrade, the neighborhoods, battle through the streets by parading their colors and waving their flags proudly through the hot dusty Tuscan air. The tradition is so intimate and true that just being there in Siena to witness the preparations was an honor and a privilege. As a tourist you need to take a moment and realize that you're a guest in a medieval celebration that goes back further than you can comprehend.
During the Palio - well, those 90 seconds - I couldn't see a thing. Not one thing. I'm 5'2" and that's pretty short, even on the higher edge of the piazza del campo (which is inclined slightly). But after, the crowd mostly got angry - everyone except the winners. A fistfight quickly ensued, I was shoved around and in a confused stupor, and the woman behind me (who threw a full water bottle in my direction earlier) was woefully sobbing loud, angry tears. The elite, the well-dressed Sienese aristocracy (or so it looked) watched over the chaos from the center balcony, dressed in eloquent jewelry and rich formal fabrics. Soon the craziness and the crowds died down, but there was a definite gloom over the contrade that had lost. I remember my professor telling our class that coming in 2nd place was like a fate worse than death - because you almost had the win, and lost it.
The Palio was an interesting day from an outsider viewpoint, but I don't necessarily consider myself a 100% outsider. I have lived, spent time, and learned a lot in Siena - and seeing the city on this monumental day was a whole new experience I can know say that I have.