One of the participants in the festival was a friend of mine from Milan, and one morning he showed up looking terrified. In addition to the look of fear, his strange appearance was due to the fact that he had come in without the glasses he normally wears. What in the world was going on?
“Something terrible has happened,” he whispered in my ear. His eyes were darting around restlessly. “I was completely fed up with all the noise from the usual parades leading up to the Palio—I mean, I’ve gone days without a good night’s sleep. Last night, when the procession went by my window, I couldn’t stand the ruckus a second longer. So I dumped a bucket of water out of the window on them. This pissed them off, so they started yelling ‘Who the hell was that!? What’s with the damn water!?’ Everyone started gathering under my window until the crowd was stuck there. They all started chanting “GET DOWN HERE!” Now I was the one causing problems for all the neighbors. I had no idea what to do, but in the end I figured I had no choice but to respond. I stuck my head out the window and called out ‘Sorry for the water! I’m from Milan, and I’m annoyed at all the noise you’re making for this Palio event, because I can’t understand why it’s so important to you. I did something rash, I’m sorry!’. My apology had no effect on them, though, and they stayed right where they were. ‘You filthy Milanese!’ they shouted. ‘Stop your mealy-mouthed grumbling and get your ass down here!’ I hadn’t slept in days because of all the noise, but last night I was so terrified that I didn’t sleep a wink! I wanted to go to the barber and change my hair, but I was afraid of being recognized, so I went out without my glasses. Now I can’t see very well, so I need your help. Do you mind taking me there?’ Listening to his frightened story, I felt sorry for him—but at the same time could hardly keep myself from laughing.
In fact, I didn’t intend to write about the Palio horse race in Siena this time. What I actually wanted to write about is a totally different race that I went to see. This one was a goose race, and it’s held every fall in the tiny town of Lacchiarella, located about 20 kilometers from Milan.
The geese that have been trained (?) for this day race through the streets of the town to see which one is the fastest. The geese sometimes beat their wings and fly up as they run, but apparently these flying leaps are not against the rules.
The feathered contestants in this “horse” race sometimes run off, but just when you think the race is over, geese that quit racing partway suddenly appear on corners, casually strolling past the finish line—ridiculously late and drawing laughter from the crowds.
The first-place goose gets to ascend the winner’s podium in the arms of its handler.
After having a good laugh at this happy-go-lucky race, you can actually go buy goose ravioli and goose salami at the street stalls. There are plenty of dark jokes passed around about whether the food is made out of the losing geese and so on. Nearby, you can also hear animal rights groups shouting out their opposition to the race.
In the end, though, it’s a charming and festive event that has brought the town together for ages, and I hope the tradition stays alive.