Ominous clouds, no word from Scarperia — what to do? Luckily, we had a contingency plan in place and, with the help and advice of our local coordinator, Caterina, we forged ahead!

While we had a charter bus reserved for the trip up, we decided to cancel it and instead wait until later in the day with the hope that we would receive word that the games were on. To keep ourselves busy, we headed off to the Museo Galileo in the morning. Formerly the Museum of the History of Science, this museum holds scientific instruments from the Medici and Lorraine collection and has recently reopened after an ambitious remodel. Physics, optics, chemistry, mathematical sciences, astronomy, navigation — amazing and beautifully-crafted works filled the collection.

We agreed to meet at 1:00 to walk to the bus station to take a public bus up to Scarperia, comforted only by our intense hopes that the games would take place that evening. After a short (50-minute) trip, we arrived and checked into our hotel, the Residence Mugello. We then walked to the historic center to meet with our museum guide, Cristina, for a tour of the Vicar’s Palace and the Knife Museum. As we neared the palace, we saw men working on the bleachers around the piazza where the Palio takes place and confirmed: the games were on!

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After the knife museum, everyone had a few hours to do as they pleased. We had dinner reservations at 7:00 and would meet Caterina and her boyfriend, Tommaso there. Tommaso is from Scarperia and knows everyone there (it is a small town of 6,000+). Dinner was amazing: traditional appetizers of salami and prosciutto, crostini with pate, two pasta dishes, pizza and mixed salad.

Next, off to the games. What must be appreciated at this point is the very fact that we would be the only people at the games who are not from Scarperia. In fact, the announcer for the event acknowledged “gli studenti dagli Estati Uniti” and people cheered and waved from their places in the stands.

A huge processional walks from one end of the town to the other to the beat of a drum corps and the heralding of trumpets. They then enter the piazza  — women in beautiful gowns, escorted by men in tights 🙂 Standard bearers, soldati (soldiers) and four men lugging a cannon. The games are on!

Four teams, representing four of nine neighborhoods, have battled their way to the Palio. Viola (last year’s victor), Nero (black who missed last year’s title by a single knife throw), Bianco (white) and Rossa (pink).

The events: brick-walking, knife-throwing, tug-of-war, pole-climbing and barrel-racing. Points are awarded after each event and a tally is displayed on banners corresponding to the color of the team. Nero was the winner — a hard fought battle.

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