I’m frequently astonished by the amazing sense of community that the contrade exhibit in Siena. And one of the best examples of that is when a contrada comes together to host a community dinner.
We got a taste (literally) of this last year, and I’m officially obsessed.
For the few nights leading up to the Palio, each contrada that is participating (only 10 of the 17 participate in any given race) will host giant outdoor dinners. Partially this is about fundraising for the contrada — think of the spaghetti dinners that schools and churches in the U.S. are fond of — but this is also a chance to come together and celebrate in advance of the big day.
Last year, two new friends we’d met manage to wrangle the four of us tickets to final dinner hosted by the Nobile Contrada dell’Oca, the contrada of the Goose. Let me tell you, those geese are hospitable! I can’t even begin to estimate how many people were there, but maybe a photo will help.
This was hours of nonstop food and unlimited wine. We were seated with some other English-speaking tourists, which was somewhat of a relief, because there were also about two hours of speeches and toasts in Italian (so we had some folks to quietly chat with, and even a few translators being helpful.)
So this year, knowing that I’ve become positively obsessed with the Contrada del Drago, I knew that I absolutely needed to go to their dinner. So sure enough, I stalked the internet for the announcement of which contrade were participating in this year’s July Palio, and literally the day that Drago was announced as running, I emailed a tour guide asking to buy dinner tickets.
That wasn’t quite enough for me, however, so on Saturday night I followed a bunch of kids wearing Drago colors past a barricade (I’m a rebel) and found myself smack in the middle of the contrada hosting a big community dinner. In my broken Italian I explained that I had tickets to Monday’s dinner, and wondered if I could join tonight… next thing you know, I was at a table chatting up a bunch of Dragons.
It was a remarkable evening, though much more low-key than the big night-before-the-Palio dinner. Still, I had a lovely time, made new friends, and strolling home I conversed with a bunch of strangers (and their dogs) in Italian, feeling very pleased with myself.
This was, of course, just the beginning of my official introduction to the Contrada del Drago. There’s so much more to come!