This summer is burning with a steady heat. Umbria, the green heart of Italy has turned a crispy brown. What good luck, a cooling breeze blew into town yesterday, just in time for this year’s Donazione della Santa Spina.
Once again, flags are flying, tavernas are being cleaned and made ready, the sound of drums and trumpets practicing drifts through the air, parking is at a premium, and the piazza is filled with gelato eating tourists, from morning until midnight. It’s Festa time in Montone.
Guido is probably in his butcher shop making millions of sausages, because that’s how many are needed. The inner sanctum of the nearby Blasi vineyard is filled with enormous wine containers that are being delivered to our taverna. Pasta is being made, and bread is baking. It takes an army of producers to supply our village during Festa.
Right now, I’m listening to the sounds of sawing and hammering as the banners and flags are put in place at our Del Verziere taverna.
Quick Festa Primer: every year the town of Montone honors our illustrious forefather Braccio Fortebraccio and his son Carlo Fortebraccio. A Santa Spina or Holy Thorn from the crown of Christ was given to Carlo Fortebraccio in thanks for his military service and our festa celebrates this sacred gift.
Town is divided into three sections, or Riones: Del Verziere, Del Borgo and Del Monte. There is a fierce rivalry between the three riones, and we compete in archery and medieval focused plays or ‘spettacolos’. The plays must be historically accurate; including the costumes and music. Today, all over town, women are removing all traces of finger and toe nail polish as we cannot possibly be seen with these modern embellishments.
Each rione has a taverna, a casual outdoor trattoria. Every night there will be throngs of people swilling wine, gnawing on grilled meats, eating mountains of pasta and catching up with friends. It’s reunion week in Montone!
For our friends of Montone who want to follow along, here’s the schedule:
Sunday: opening ceremonies, the tavernas open, the Castellane* are presented to the public, and those wacky dudes from Sansepolcro will come and entertain us with their flag tossing skills.
Monday: Bandi di sfida. Each rione puts on short skit that makes fun of the other riones. It’s bawdy vaudeville meets Punch & Judy.
Wednesday: Porta del Monte’s spettacolo
Thursday: Porta del Verziere’s spettacolo (that’s our rione..so fly your blue & yellow colors in our honor!)
Friday: Porta del Borgo’s spettacolo
Saturday: Closing of the games, and the announcement of the winner of the Palio
Sunday: the grand Corteo or parade of medieval costumes by each of the riones, and a ceremony honoring the Holy Thorn.
*Castellana: The Castellana is the royal figurehead, or homecoming queen of each rione. This year, I have the unbelievable honor of being the Castellana del Verziere. I am deeply touched that we have been so embraced by our rione and our town. Jeff, dressed in a very elegant priore costume, will present me to the crowds tonight. Viva del Verziere!! (And please, Braccio Fortebraccio, if you have any pull in heaven, please keep the weather on the cool side. Going around town dressed in multiple layers of velvet in August can be a little.....HOT!)
**Archery: I know! There doesn’t seem to be any archery going on today. Usually the first Sunday of the festa means we have small bands of archers in tights and cute boots walking around town shooting arrows in different places in the village. No, there are no guards standing at each station protecting gawkers from errant arrows. Everyone assumes you will have enough common sense to not stand in front of a target.
Raise your glasses today, and salute the Commune di Montone, who really know how to throw a Festa..and may the best rione (Del Verziere!) win!