LA NOBIL CONTRADA DEL BRUCO
THE NOBLE DISTRICT OF THE CATERPILLAR
by Tea Francesca Price
by Tea Francesca Price
“Bru-Bru-Bruco!” This rallying cry echoes from the caterpillar neighbourhood, carried on the wind rushing down the steep hill of Via del Comune.
The light in La Nobil Contrada del Bruco—the noble district of the caterpillar—is hazy and warm, as sunbeams filter through the fluttering yellow and green flags bordered in strip of deep blue. The crowned caterpillar crawling upon a rose sprig undulates in the breeze, tricking the human eye momentarily into believing it is alive. The passion and strength of what the caterpillar represents, however—a family, a community—is without a doubt alive and burning strong in the district nestled in the Terzo di Camollia.
The Meaning of "Contrada": featuring Paolo Giachetti & Catia Ottaviani
The Bruco Contrada, which has had no declared rivals amongst the other contrade since officially ending animosity with the neighbouring Giraffe contrada in 1996, is allied with Istrice, Nicchio, and Torre.
Emilio & Gianni, members of the Bruco Contrada, explain how historically the Bruco was not a rich district, but it earned its “Noble” title through two, very significant events. In 1369, members of the district, “brucaioli,” helped in the defeat of Charles IV of Bohemia and just two years later, in 1371, Francesco d’Agnolo (Barbicone) led a group of fellow brucaioli in a revolt. Under his leadership, this group achieved the dismantling of the Government of 12, instating instead the “Monte del Popolo” or “Mount of the People”. This, perhaps leads to the contrada’s “motto” or saying, “Come rivoluzion suona il mio nome”—
“As revolution sounds my name."
Each contrada takes part annually in the celebration of their patron saint, known as the Festa Titolare, but at different times of the year. For the Bruco contrada, whose holiday recognizes the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, the Festa Titolare falls on the 2nd of July, also the day of the Palio; additionally, should the Festa Titolare be on a workday, celebrations are automatically moved to the Saturday and Sunday of that week.
“For me, this is my favourite time of year,” says Giulia Magrini, a student finishing her final year of high school, “Aside from the Palio, of course!” A member of the Bruco since birth, she says that the word contrada means responsibility and family, making the Bruco a home and this time of summer like a giant family celebration.
During the Festa Titolare, the contrada’s streets are lit, representatives of the Bruco’s allied contrade are welcomed and the flags of the Bruco contrada and their allies are mounted. There is a religious service in the morning hosted in a contrada’s church, in addition to a non-religious, official baptism of new members and an “initiation” or confirmation ceremony for members who are 16-years-old.
In these short ceremonies, an infant is presented with a selected "godfather" or "godmother" and is blessed in the contrada's fountain. The parents/guardians are then presented with the child’s official certificate from the Bruco. At the “initiation," the “godfather” or “godmother” stands again with the newly confirmed member as they read a short statement declaring a conviction for the contrada; there is no gender rule, says Katia Leolini, who was the godmother of Diana Marie Iorio’s unique baptism (being a foreigner and an adult) in 2008.
“It is symbolic, yes, but it is real,” says Leolini, “They are the person the day of the baptism who stands next to you, accompanies you in that time…but it does not carry the same significance throughout life like a religious baptism.”
During the time of the Festa Titolare, a large feast is also held, to which all proudly wear their fazzoletti. A band plays, the songs of the contrada are raucously sung, and children play games with such fervor, that a constant stream of laughter and good-natured shouting can be heard from their general direction. It is a joyful time where, for the Bruco, a number closer to the full 3,000 members of the district attend.
On the warm evening in July of 2015, Luciano Dragoni, Director of General Affairs at the Comune di Siena and a brucaiolo, leaned down the table to comment on how, ultimately, the feeling of membership has remained the same and continues to remain the same within the Bruco, despite the passing of time.
“Relationships to us are very important,” Dragoni muses. “For example, tonight, we are having this dinner, we are meeting in the Bruco where people attend like in the past.”
The meal does not signify the end of the Festa Titolare celebrations, however, as the “giro” takes place the following day, a parade of over a hundred standard bearers and drummers in full costume marching through the streets as homage to their contrada. This is the time, aside from during the Palio, when the pageantry and stunning display of the contrada can be fully admired by tourists.
Following the Festa Titolare for the Bruco, just a week or so later, is the annual Bao Bello, which is a week long party with specialized dinners and particular menus every night open to the public.
In these windows of time, the doors of the contrada are open to visitors, opening this private world for a short period.
Visitors to a contrada are not faced with just long tables of people eating or an evening becoming a specialist in ethnography. Each contrada has a church where religious traditions are carried out in addition to a museum that represents and keeps the history of the contrada. In these physical archives are the costumes and armor, the jerseys of races past, and old, preserved flags.
For the Bruco, the Oratory (church) is located on the middle of the steep hill on the road Via del Comune. It was purchased at the expense of the contrada back in the second of half of the 1600s, dedicating it to the “S.S. Name of Jesus.” However it was not until 1887 that the Bruco contrada was able to expand into the neighboring building and gardens. These gardens have since been turned into an outdoor eating/kitchen area which can house all 3,000 or so members, a type of privacy that is arare treat as many other districts host their weekly dinners on public streets.
Renovations of this additional space were completed during the early 1900s, but it was not until the 1960’s that the contrada focused on acquiring the necessary funds to build a much-needed museum. While an area was completed during this time, further expansion was necessary, as was redesign, by the 90s. This construction did not end until 2004, whereby it took a further two years for the new museum to be inaugurated (June 1, 2006).
The new and current museum is divided into three levels connected by a winding staircase. The ground floor is the “Hall of Victories” and the won drappellone from past Palios are displayed behind protective glass. The central level, which is the entrance floor from Via del Comune, features different works of art and furnishins, while the third level is the most private, housing, if not great or obvious historic items of value, then those of great importance to the identity of the contrada.
Massimo Vaselli, "lo Zio," at the initiation of Simone Giachetti.
Photo Credit: Paolo Giachetti
Identity is crucial to a contrada, and for the Bruco, Leolini says that the caterpillars “identify in the same context,” explaining how everyone in the district has something in common.
Massimo Vaselli, who is known by many in the Bruco as “Zio Massimo” or “lo Zio” [the uncle], agrees, saying that the word “contrada” has great significance but has no definite or final definition. “It’s a simple word,” he explains, “but it carries many meanings, many which are different, many which are profound…the contrada is within us, it is something that is inside just us, but at the same time, is something shared with the entire district.”
Many in the Bruco express this same sentiment. Paola Tavanti explained how, having been raised in the Bruco since she was young, the contrada became an extension of family.
“I stopped going for a very short period of time when I was younger,” says Tavanti, “But I returned and really, it has always been family.” Members explain how this is a normal sentiment, as no matter the avenues of life one explores, how far one goes, or how frequently one attends, "the contrada lifestyle is individual" and often times has cycles of participation.
Paolo Guazzi, a 36-old-scientific researcher and brucaiolo, has been working in Istonia for the past three years and says that has certainly affected his ability to "live the contrada lifestyle."
"The life of the contrada is really all year long," he explains, "It is not limited to just the days of the Palio. It is a social place. The contrada can change quite often in 10 years, there is change. There are new people, some people start to come for a while or maybe they stop at all [sic., all together]...but it is not a sports club or a fraternity. It is something you feel inside yourself because usually, you are growing up here, so it is inside of you since childhood."
Patrizia Manganelli, who has been attending the contrada since she was a baby and has remained an active brucaiola ever since, now has three children who are also growing up in the Bruco. She say that, now-a-days, it is more complicated, but that her two sons and daughter are able to go to the contrada and have a different social experience than when she was a child.
“When we were young,” Vaselli adds, “There was no social networking. The contrada has changed in the sense of what it means to be a child today, what it means to be a parent today, an adult…it’s changed in the way of life.”
Having been raised in the Bruco and having also raised a daughter, Vaselli says that the contrada has been able to adapt, keeping the important values and the lifestyle has continued to be able to be passed from generation to generation, keeping the important values.
“It is ‘different’ in the sense like how schools were different,” Vaselli says, “Like the ways in which we receive news is different from the past.”
It is possible for the Bruco and indeed all of the contrade of Siena to adapt with the changes of society, say the brucaioli over the course of many dinners and events.
Manganelli emphasizes that while other cities may have races or events during the year that pay homage to their medieval roots, the contrade –the tradition, the culture—are only of Siena.
Smiling while accepting a dessert from the chattering teenagers carrying large trays of panna cotta, Dragoni says finally, “For me, I am happy to be Sienese.” Acknowledging that some outsiders say Siena is “uptight” or “antique,” he shakes his head no.
“I am happy to be in the Bruco. This is a modern society where respect is something important…we are a great people.”