Essay: Horse-race Politics, Nowhere Magazine 2017 Fall Travel Writing runner up / by Susanna Forrest


Siena is known chiefly for the Palio, a bareback horse race that is run in three circuits around the Piazza del Campo in front of the town hall twice a year in July and August. It is ninety seconds long and nearly four centuries old, pitching ten of the city’s seventeen districts, or contrade, against one another at a time. The race has been the subject of chronicles, ethnomusicological theses, political-science doctorates, numerous documentaries and a feature film starring Diana Dors as a plucky jockey from Texas. It has more than a hundred rules. As the Senese like to say, Siena is the Palio and the Palio is Siena. Neither is conceivable without the other—at the level of grains of volcanic tufo, of stone and brick, of strands of DNA and molecules of adrenalin. The Senese is baptized into his contrada, raised on its folklore and helped in poverty or old age by its funds. No soccer fan can match his fanaticism.

For Nowhere magazine. (2018)