Codpieces ahoy! La Sagra del Tordo this weekend

by Laura Gray on October 22, 2009

Sagra del TordoAnyone who is planning to brave the gusty winds this weekend and come to Montalcino may be surprised to discover that the town has reverted to an earlier medieval incarnation and is full of po-faced men wearing piebald tights, women with bodices and elaborate headpieces, children with flower-pot hats carrying cages with birds in them, large Chianina bulls being led along the streets, flags flapping on every building, chain-mail, trumpets and weapons galore… it’s Sagra del Tordo time.

Montalcino is divided into four quarters; Ruga, Travaglio, Pianello and Borghetto. Each quartiere has its own territory within the town with a headquarters and church. Each has its own emblem, colours, songs and a team of archers that train throughout the year.

Twice a year there is an archery competition in front of the fortress and the winning quarter receives a silver arrow and celebrates with as many dinners as victories. Lots are drawn for the shooting distances and the archers that will be allowed to shoot for their quartiere. It is barebow archery which means that the archers shoot at targets without the assistance of a mechanical sight or stabilisers. The targets are set at 25, 30, 35 and at 38-45 meters.

The history behind this weekend’s pageantry is linked to the hunting traditions of the area. Tordi, thrush, are still hunted (with guns, not crossbows) and eaten with great gusto in the area though they are no longer on the menus in the quartieri this weekend. Over a hundred Montalcinesi dress up in beautiful medieval clothes and participate in the “corteo storico.” It is very odd to see friends and familiar faces so transformed: is that the butcher in those stripy tights? Could that be the post-lady wearing a twisty globe on her head? There is chanting, drumming and much quaffing of local wines. Visitors to the town can eat food prepared by the womenfolk of each quartiere, served by the youngstes. Heartfelt as it is, the Sagra is also a source of revenue for the whole town, the last “good” weekend of the season for businesses and funding for the quartiere’s renovations, study grants and annual activities.

This has been going on since 1957 and now the two festivals; La Sagra del Tordo on the last Sunday of October and the Aperture delle Cacce on the second Sunday of August, and quartiere activities all year round are an integral part of the towns’ social life. Children have their birthday parties in the headquarters, there are dance and pasta making classes, organised walks and dinners throughout the year.

Winning the Freccia d’Argento is very important; tears are shed, teenagers shriek and everyone gets very tense. For weeks afterwards there are in-jokes and teasing with strange items appearing overnight under the Capellone, the vaulted space on the main street. Victories and losses are never forgotten since each quartiere keeps an ongoing tally.

Do I belong to a quartiere? In spite of having lived here for 14 years it remains a very Montalcinese thing. There are prominent non-local members, for example the Australian author Isabella Dusi is a celebrated member of Il Pianello or the Danish contingent who are connected with the Fortezza tend to be staunch supporters of Il Borghetto. However my joining has been complicated by Marco’s stance on the whole matter. He is from S.Angelo in Colle, all of 7 km down the hill, but this means that he feels far removed from Montalcino goings on and would prefer not to be too involved. He agrees with his mother who claims that they talk different “up there”… I wonder what will happen when the children are a little older.

Perhaps my next post will be on campanilismo.

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