Arezzo’s main event, occurring twice a year, is a Saracen joust. Two riders from each quartieri compete for the golden lance. The object of the joust was not to collide with another rider, but instead there is dummy with a score card (similar to a target), which each rider tries to hit the center in order to get a high score of five points. There are four quartieri in Arezzo: Porta Crucifera (red and green),
Porta Sant Andrea (green and white),
Porta del Foro (pink and yellow), and
Porta Santo Spirito (yellow and blue).
The quartiero, or neighborhood, that has won the most is Porta Crucifera, which has a big time rivalry with Sant Andrea. The underdog who everyone was secretly rooting for is Porta del Foro, which hasn’t won in the past eight years. My hotel where I’ve been staying the past few weeks is located in the Santo Spirito neighborhood. However, the OU Arezzo campus is located in the Crucifera neighborhood, so on Saturday my friends and I chose to don the red and green. Each night leading up to the big giostra the different neighborhoods would sponsor live music and little block parties. One of the nights there was a Coldplay cover band that was actually really good. The next night there was a disco cover band whose singers all had thick Italian accents. Somehow I still sang along as they played “Disco Inferno” and all the classics. The Friday night before the joust was the biggest night of all. Each quartiero hosted lavish celebratory dinners. My friends and I attended the Crucifera dinner where we were served cheeses and cold cuts, bruschetta, lasagna, and, well, there’s still some discrepancy about what the main course was. It was a dark meat served with what I thought were hush puppies or meatballs. Somewhere lost in translation it was reported that we might have eaten goat testicles. Out of disbelief I asked an Italian girl if she could verify what was being consumed. She seemed to think it was the liver or the heart of a duck, which was only a mild relief. Everyone was also served lots of red wine. There was a live band, and everyone danced and celebrated hoping for a big win to come the following night. Everyone was in high spirits despite the Italian loss to Costa Rica in the World Cup earlier in the evening. We hid our red and green flags and stopped by the Sant Andrea dinner, which was pretty rowdy in comparison to Crucifera. There was a very animated DJ was maybe the biggest guy I’ve seen in Italy. He played Italian pop mashups and American one-hit wonders, and his face would light up as he yelled things in Italian. He would grin and shout “Amorrrrrre” or “Sant Andreaaa.” He was very entertaining to watch, and the crowd was full of energy.
The next evening was the actual joust. Everywhere buzzed with excitement. There was huge parade with everyone dressed in authentic renaissance costumes. There were skilled flag throwers and a marching band of drummers. It was almost like an OU football game. The riders charged at the dummy with their lances, and the crowd would go wild. Poor Porta del Foro got only three points with its first rider, and then its second rider’s horse was spooked, and it took off before the rider had a firm grasp on the lance. The horse went out of bounds disqualifying the rider and leaving the pink and yellow team with only three points total. Santo Spirito made a perfect five on the first run, sending everyone into a frenzy. Sant Andrea followed up with another perfect five turning the place into even more of a mad house. The red and green team that the OU students were supporting turned out to not have as much luck as they had in previous years. The first rider scored only two points. It’s was outrageously pathetic and left us no hope of winning. The moment of truth came down to Sant Andrea and Santo Spirito. Santo Spirito choked, and Sant Andrea pulled away with a score of four, making nine points total and taking the victory! The neighborhood stormed the field. Jumping over barriers, everyone stampeded toward the golden lance. The OU kids quickly hid our red and green flags and jumped ship on Crucifera. We were suddenly all about the green and white as we clapped and followed the town to the main cathedral to get the lance blessed. The joust is a civic event, so it was interesting to see it intersect with the church. After the blessing, we all went to the Sant Andrea neighborhood to help celebrate that district’s thirty-fourth win. We saw the funny DJ again. We didn’t end the night until a big group of us went to the OU Organic Chemistry students’ apartment and made breakfast pasta. We all ate it on the roof and watched the sun rise up over Arezzo. It was a long week, but it gave me a good look into the traditions of Arezzo. My professor several times has referenced the ideas of ethnocentrism that thrived among the Romans and still exists in Italians today. At an event like the joust it was very obvious to see the deep pride everyone had in his or her neighborhood and a sense of superiority, win or lose.
Have no fear, despite the big celebrations this week, my academic learning has not faltered! I visited the church of San Francesco in Arezzo where Piero della Fransesca’s frescoes of the True Cross decorate the chapel. The legend of the True Cross was a story I had never before heard. It was widely known during the Renaissance, and priests began telling the story in the 1200s. Supposedly when Adam died an angel told his son to plant a tree with his body. Along with a series of other events and prophecies the wood from that tree was to be used to make the cross upon which the Christ was crucified. After the Crucifixion the cross was lost until Constantine’s mother, Queen Helen sent people in search of it. Upon being found, a war or two was fought for ownership of the True Cross. Supposedly the nails used in the Crucifixion were also discovered. One was placed in Constantine’s crown; one was used as the bit in the bridle of Constantine’s horse; and the other was housed in a reliquary in a church somewhere. It was an interesting story, and it seemed preserved only because of Piero’s frescoes.
I also had the good fortune to visit La Foce, Villa Costella, and Villa Petraia, which were not originally on the syllabus. All were beautiful, especially La Foce. The most beautiful views of Tuscany are at La Foce. You can see tall cypress trees lining the winding roads, rolling, golden fields, and striated green patches where the vineyards are. I had the most lovely time in Tuscany. I already miss it. I’ve had many adventures since leaving there, I will post an update soon. Ciao!