The first canon goes off. The day has come–it’s only 11:45am and everyone in the city of Arezzo is gearing up for game day. All throughout the week, they have been pounding their drums and tooting their horns down the streets of the historic Arezzo barricaded in the wall.
Second canon strikes at 7:45pm. It’s the call to the players to meet at the Grand Piazza to heat up. As we scramble to the streets to watch the parade.
As the clock struck 8:30, it was like watching the NFL/NBA in the stands–crowds chanting, others chanting, and the smoke from cigarettes bellowing (okay that analogy may have been a little skewed–I’ve never been to an NFL or NBA game before, but I assume that’s what usually happens–sounds typical) . The arena was like no other–with a paved sandy pathway that stretched about 100 meters long.
Now the clock has stuck 9:30–it was finally time. The first to emerge through the gates were the magistrates. The noble families who (I honestly don’t know anything about the royals–its not a monarchy in Italy, but they exist [or maybe they were role playing] sorry back to the story) synchronising their walk in pairs down the trail. There were about 8 couples (if my memory didn’t fail me) and each were dressed in magnificently fine clothes, covering them from head to toe with coordinating colours.
“I have seen outriders roam your countryside, O Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge, Tournaments clash and knights galloping…” Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno Canto XXII.
The Saracen Joust is an ancient game of the chivalry age, but dates further back to the Middle Ages and it was born as an exercise for military training.
The competition takes place every year in Piazza Grande on the last but one Saturday of June (in the night) and on the first Sunday of September (in the afternoon).
The town Quarters participating in the Joust are: Porta Santa Spitiro (yellow and blue colours), Porta S. Andrea (white and green colours); Porta Crucifera (red and green colours) and Porta del Foro (yellow and crimson colours).
On the day of the Joust the historical procession marches on parade through the center of the city, before entering Piazza Grande. Here the Herald reads the “Challenge to Buratto” (a poetic composition written in octaves), the Joust’s musicians (Musici della Giostra del Saracino) play the Saracen Hymn; there is the wonderful performance of the flag wavers (Sbandieratori di Arezzo). An hour of pre-game celebration passed until the finally the horsemen from each sector trotted in.
The show begins.
The first team was the pink and yellow. Then the green and white. Then us, green and red. Finally the yellow and blue.
The knights of the four quarters gallop their horses with lance in rest against the Saracen, an armor-plated dummy representing a Saracen (Buratto, King of the Indies). The competition, guided by the “Maestro di Campo”, is won by the couple of knights who hit the Saracen’s shield obtaining the higher scores (scores range from 1 to 5). The crowds only roared and cheered for their opponents’ team hoping to distract the horse whilst remaining deadly silent as their own representative charges into the dummy. In the event of a draw between two or more Quarters after the standard number of charges (two sets of charges for each knight) the prize is assigned with one or more deciding charges.
The quarter associated to the winning knight receives the coveted “Golden Lance”
Afterwards there was a large party dedicated in honor of the Santo Spirito inside a grand cathedral. I, who was wearing green and white colors, was eager to see what celebratory practices they would do. However, my group wanted to leave for they feared it would last too long.
Well, they didn’t want to leave me behind, so we walked out. I, however, stopped following them and left with some of the JTI (Journey to Italy program) kids to attend my first (and my last) rave. When we arrived at Santa Spirito’s rave party (because we were told that the winner’s would host the largest party) we were swallowed by the largest mass of people grinding and drinking, singing and yelling at the rave. We managed to squeeze through people, trample over shards of beer bottles only to huddle together near the stage near the booming American (and a couple of Italian but mostly American) music. (At one point, to initiate the start of a new Italian song, we (the entire raving population) counted from 1-30 in Italian!) Since I had never gone to a rave before (because A. I never had a life outside of academics and B. I wasn’t much of a dancer) I felt a little uncomfortable being around people who were dancing-really-closely (for lack of better words) all around me. I didn’t budge. I’ve never danced in public before. But with only two of my close friends dancing and laughing, I couldn’t help but to join in. I mean–they can ‘t judge me too harshly in the dark. Finally I let loose and flailed my arms a little. A coupled minutes passed and it was 2am. We (the couple of my JTI friends and an intern) left, and the moment I saw my bed, I passed out… only to be woken up to another BOOM of the canon at 11am the next morning for the post game parade.