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Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest…

Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest for Acceptance Among…

by Robert Rodi

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Each summer Sienna hosts a bareback horse race right in the central piazza. They haul in turf, cover the stone and transform the city into a wild affair. Ten of the seventeen independent societies, called contrade compete for the win. The societies have ancient roots, defined Sienese geography, clubhouses and a strong family/clan hold on their members. Where in the US someone would be introduced and their occupation named, in Sienna their contrada association would be part of the introduction. The author, Robert Rodi, a Chicagoan falls in love with the Sienese and vows to become more than a spectator to this community. Rodi has marginal Italian language skills providing for a number of comic scenes in this book.

Rodi writes of his experiences in seven trips to Siena over several years. Through a friend he is introduced to the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. He gains entry into the contrada and gives the reader a unique view of the Palio. The horserace is quintessentially Italian affair. There are feuds and alliance (centuries old) that are integral to the race. While the horses play a part in the outcome of the race, so does the strategy of the contrade. In this case strategy translates into bribing other contrade to allow a win for an ally. As I said uniquely Italian. The contrade provide a social structure for the Sienese. Rodi’s attempts to gain inclusion in the Caterpillar contrada are both poignant and awkward. He is drawn to the camaraderie of the group and works hard to gain acceptance. He volunteers in the kitchen for contrada dinners, runs in a relay race, and fulfills a vow to walk from a local village to Siena in honor of a Caterpillar Palio win. Finally as he despairs of ever gaining acceptance by the Sienese he is invited to be baptized into the Caterpillar contrada.

This is a fun well written book. Rodi has a conversational style that is very engaging. He is so honest in his telling and so self deprecating that I just loved him. This might not be the only book you should read if you are traveling to Italy but if you are going or even if you wish you were, read this one you won’t regret it. ( )
  phillygal | Aug 29, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345521056, Hardcover)

Siena seems at first glance a typical Italian city: within its venerable medieval walls the citizens sport designer clothes, wield digital phones, and prize their dazzling local cuisine. But unlike neighboring Florence, Siena is still deeply rooted in ancient traditions—chiefly the spectacular Palio, in which seventeen independent societies known as contrade vie for bragging rights in an annual bareback horse race around the central piazza.

Into this strange, closed world steps Robert Rodi. A Chicago writer with few friends in town and a shaky command of conversational Italian, he couldn’t be more out of place. Yet something about the sense of belonging radiating from the ritual-obsessed Sienese excites him, and draws him back to witness firsthand how their passionate brand of community extends beyond the Palio into the entire calendar year. Smitten, Rodi undertakes a plan to insinuate himself into this body politic, learn their ways, and win their acceptance.

Seven Seasons in Siena is the story of Rodi’s love affair with the people of Siena—and of his awkward, heartfelt, intermittently successful, occasionally disastrous attempts to become a naturalized member of the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. It won’t be easy. As one of the locals points out, someone who’s American, gay, and a writer is the equivalent of a triple unicorn in this corner of Tuscany. But like a jockey in the Palio outlasting the competition in the home stretch, Rodi is determined to wear down all resistance. By immersing himself in the life of the contrada over seven visits at different times of the year—working in their kitchens, competing in their athletic events, and mastering the tangled politics of their various feuds and alliances—the ultimate outsider slowly begins to find his way into the hearts of this proud and remarkable people.

By turns hilarious and heartwarming, and redolent with the flavor of the Tuscan countryside, Seven Seasons in Siena opens a window on daily life in one of the most magical regions in all of Italy—revealing the joys to be found when we stop being spectators and start taking an active part in life’s rich pageant.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:19 -0400)

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