When Giuseppe dropped us off at the hotel about 15:30, things were in full swing. We walked the crowded and rowdy (happy rowdy) streets to Piazza Medford (named after Medford, Oregon, Alba's first sister city). Re-enactors were winding their way to the event in realistic and colorful costumes of Medieval theme.
This Palio originated in the 1930s and was resurrected off and on throughout the years. In 1967 it was revived as a pre-event to the White Truffle Fest and as part of a historical re-enactment. This caught the attention of locals and tourists and has grown as an international event year after year.
Chef John had purchased advanced tickets for us in the bleachers near the start-finish line, a great location. As we waited for the race to start, each neighborhood or borough with their signature colors, drums and "weaving" flags paraded into the makeshift racetrack and on to their assigned seats. Then hay bales were set up to designate the oval route for the race.
After announcements and explanations, donkeys were maneuvered to the start line with riders in color gear from the nine boroughs. Jockeys also had a "support" crew of two or three to help them get set up and to cheer them on at close range. There were four heats--two qualifying heats, a special heat this year honoring Alba's six sister cities (jockeys wore white vests over their borough colors for that one), and then the final winning competition.
The mayor, town and church officials, and other dignitaries sat on the main stage right on the start/finish. They were dressed in formal religious and politico wear. It showed us just how serious and important this event is. It was also stressed that the donkeys should be respected. Good to hear!
The race was serious and hilarious. Donkeys ran every which way--forward, backward, sideways, running at top speed and stopping in an instant. Riders were just as funny--flying head over heels, pushing donkey butts, pulling harnesses with all their might. Both man and mule, kicking their heels in encouragement or stubbornness.
Boroughs cheered when ANY progress was made by their team or moaned at setbacks. It was just about the funniest thing we had ever seen. And the publicity cameras were clicking, like this was a Formula One race or something.
It took about ten judges to keep track of the contenders (see them top left of photo). In the end San Martino's donkey won the race. There was much revelling and high-fiving and hugging between team members and neighbors of that borough.
BUT ... our borough of San Lorenzo (where our hotel was located) won for Best of Show for re-enactment. Yay!
After the races, all the teams paraded back to city center. We got to see the extravagant and thorough depiction of Medieval times through their costumes. People of all ages joined in and we heard there were at least 1,000 active participants.
They wore costumes of royalty, peasants of all manner (cooks, farmers, shepherds, washerwomen), Gothes, knights in chain mail, beheaders, the "sick" carried in wagons, a number of popes and prostitutes, other religious characters, vestal virgins in white with flowers in their hair, courtiers, colorful Medieval marching bands, turbans, burlap, silk, velvet, everything imaginable and realistic. The little kids were especially cute, be they "princesses" or "poor."
One guy particularly caught the attention of the ladies, including me. Not sure what faction he represented, but he was a real piece of eye-candy. Even the local ladies behind us were a twitter and wanted to see the photo. He got a thumbs up from them, too.
After the parade was over, all the participants scattered about the city center to further entertain the tourists while they were going about their chores and shopping. Kids were carrying donkey shaped balloons. The merry-go-round was filled with knights and Gothes and goat herders.
There were many open market tables. Porcini mushrooms, black truffles (not as precious as white, but still tasty), and a few white truffles were on sale or at least proudly displayed in clear plastic boxes.
Other local goods and wares were offered, too. Big burlap bags of in-shell hazelnuts, honey, produce, fresh cheeses, sausages and other cured meats, anchovies, fresh and dry pasta of every shape (wish I could bring some of that home, but too delicate), crafts, tasteful souvenirs, and a plethora (I really like that word) of what-nots.
We had all gone our separate ways, but we ran into Lynn and Sandy. We decided to have a drink and return to our hotel. Every place of interest was packed with lines waiting, so we just headed back.
Off the beaten track and a half block from our hotel was an Irish pub, Mary Madden's. We debated going in because, again, we wanted something Italian-y. But it was almost empty (surprise) and it was handy. So we went in.
The gals got red wine and the guys got Guinness beer. They must have been grateful to see us, because we got a huge pile of complimentary (and tasty) French fries and a big bowl of popcorn. Two drinks later we ambled a few steps back to the hotel for the night.
Full day, full bellies, happy!