An American writer from Chicago falls in love with what he sees as an ideal society in the Bruco contrada, an ancient subdivision of Siena, Italy, and strives mightily to become accepted into it.
To Rodi (Dogged Pursuit: My Year of Competing Dusty, the World’s Least Likely Agility Dog, 2009, etc.) the robust Italian appetite for life was a welcome contrast to the “dismaying anemia of modern American culture.” Driven by a deep desire to belong, he traveled to Siena seven times between 2003 and 2009. Several of his trips occurred during the Palio, the colorful civic competition among contrade held twice each summer and featuring a horse race around the Piazza del Campo in the city’s center. Rodi views this celebration and game as central to the life of Siena, renewing its people’s hope and making them the happiest and most self-reliant people he’s ever met. Usually, he was accompanied and guided by Dario, a genial entrepreneur who gave him entry into the society to which he longed to belong. Acceptance did not come easy for a gay, middle-aged American whose Italian was shaky, and Rodi worked hard to fit in. Good food and plenty of wine eased the way, however. In a generally self-deprecating manner, the author recounts his missteps, minor achievements (being recognized by a bartender, being greeted on the street) and embarrassing moments (wearing too-short yellow shorts in a footrace). In 2009, Rodi got his wish when he was honored by becoming an official member of the contrada, a ceremony during which he happily swore allegiance to its traditions.
A lighthearted account, a touch snobbish at times, but entertaining and funny.