Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Men in tights

What a spectacle. We went down to the Quintana in Ascoli Piceno which is one of the five provincial cities in Le Marche and the most Southern (this doesn’t sound like good English to me). It is an extremely lovely town not far from the next region down, which is Abruzzo.
The Quintana is a collection of pageants that have been staged for centuries held in honour of the city’s patron, St Emidio.
The whole shebang goes on for about a month and we went down for pretty much the last main event. It is a parade through the city of over 1200 Ascolis dressed in medieval costumes that represent the city’s “sestieri” or boroughs, which can probably be traced back to clans or families, although I don’t think there is any association with other Italian families, particularly in Sicily. Each sestieri was fronted by a lady in the families’ colours, most with little children holding up the trains of their dresses.

The parade ends in the field of games where a modern joust takes place between equestrians representing the sestieri. This starts at about 17:00 and concludes near midnight, when the winner takes his colours back through the city. We only went for the parade because the joust is a ticket only event and it gets sold out quicker than you can say “Michael Eavis”. Unfortunately, you can’t buy them online.

It was another scorcher weather-wise and we got there early and had a Panini in the Piazza del Popolo – the people’s square. It is really a fabulous spot. A wedding reception was going on at one of the restaurants in the square, which seemed to add to the festivities somehow.
After lunch, we stationed ourselves in one of the other three main piazze, Piazza Arringo, to see the parade. It was a nice wide piazza that offered some shade – it is the one where Ascoli Piceno’s Duomo or Cathedral is situated, along with the baptistry, the town hall and art gallery.

We heard the drummers and trumpeters and then we saw the head of the parade coming into view. It really was a remarkable sight. We took over 160 photographs which when we looked at them later that day we whittled down to about 70. I am afraid we can only include a couple here.
I don’t know how some of the people survived in the heat, I guess they are just used to it. Some of them would have been standing or slow walking in full sun for about three hours. Not only that but the costumes were very real. Men wearing metal breastplates, others in velvet cloaks. Some were in tights, some even in woollen tights. The colours were wonderfully vibrant.

The Duchessa was busy snapping away as I looked after bags and things. Before we set out, I got some spare camera batteries in case we needed them, and popped them into the Duchessa’s bag. I was going to put them in pocket, but batteries are a bit heavy. It was a good job I did.
I was watching some flag throwers; they were really brilliant to watch, in fact one of the early Quintana events in July is just for flag throwing. Anyway, above the general din of the crowd and drums and trumpets of the pageant, I heard “Oh no, the batteries have run out! Quick, quick, I need some new ones” The Duchessa thrust the camera into my hands and turned back to view the spectacle whilst she waited for the camera to become operative once more. Something she thought could be done in about 2.5 seconds. I need to explain at this point that I had not been wearing sunglasses as a rogue cloud had appeared and temporarily blanked the sun, so I had taken them off to get a better view. Just as I grabbed the camera, the sun burst into full 100% mode again making it slightly more difficult to see for a few moments. I realised time was precious here if I wanted any dinner later on, so I removed the battery cover, tipped out the used ones and put them in my pocket, to keep them separate. I took up the Duchessa’s bag and rummaged in the corner where I thought I remembered putting the spare ones and came up with four double AA sized things. I quickly put them in, more by feel than anything else - I had changed the batteries loads of times before - as my vision was still not very good. They all fitted in alright and I kept glancing up to see what was happening with the parade. I closed the battery compartment and hurriedly gave the camera back to the Duchessa, who by now was foot-tapping, yet I’m sure I hadn’t been more that 6 seconds, at the outside. She swept the camera up to her eye and prepared to take more pictures as I put the bag back down on the ground and resumed watching the spectacle.
“It’s not working, it’s not working!” she thundered. It was once said that Helen of Troy had the face that launched a 1000 ships. Well, the Duchessa’s look at that precise moment would have sunk them.
I took the camera and turned it upside down to remove the battery cover, thinking, I know what has happened, I just threw those batteries in and I bet that at least one has gone in upside down, a negative end when it should have been a positive, or vice versa. Imagine my surprise, no, not surprise, horror more like, when as I pored out the batteries, three double AAs came out along with, a very personal item of women’s hygiene. My face reddened, but the people around me would not have noticed it was through sheer embarrassment, because of the sun. I snatched up the Duchessa’s bag and groped frantically around the bottom until I felt absolutely sure that what I had in my hand was the fourth battery. It was. I put them all back in and powered up the camera to make sure it was working before, rather meekly, handing it back to the outstretched hand that was twitching impatiently. Phew. I discretely returned the unwanted item back to the depths of the Duchessa's bag and got on with enjoying the show.

The Duchessa was able to snap away to her heart’s content until the last of the parade had passed.

Learning point? Keep your spare batteries where you know they, and only they are, namely, in your pocket.

It was a great spectacle and we were very pleased we saw it. We hope to go to one of the other events of the Quintana next year.

If you want to learn a bit more about the events, there is quite a lot on or

Ciao, mantenere la fede

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