Sbandieratori – Florentine Flag Tossers
This is not the promised second installment of my discussion of Machiavelli. I have been too busy to do it properly. In the mean time, however, I have at last (through the good work of my assistant Athan) figured out the web technology share one of my favorite Florentine experiences – something I know Machiavelli would be delighted to have me share.
Living in the center as I did this year, I was often interrupted mid-footnote by the distant peppering of drum beats. Live music is a constant in the historic center. There is a consistent daily calendar which I soon came to memorize: the accordion player whose medley of “Canta y no llores” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (why?!) looped through the lunch hour, solos from Carmen at 3:00, the Peter, Paul & Mary cover guitarist at 5:00, the Peruvian flute and drum band at 6:00, the Bad Clown (my nemesis!) at 9 pm, 9:30 weekends. Other performances vary daily, with a different brass band or or talented youth group occupying key piazzas every weeknight and weekend.
It is impossible to attend even all the good performances, so the first step when the pop-pop-pop of drums float through the window is to listen carefully for the pattern. Is it the regular, modern beat of a marching band? Or is it the distinctive TUM [pause] ta-ta-TUM [pause] ta-ta-TA-ta-ta-TA-ta-ta-TUM! That rhythm means only one thing: an historic parade! And 50/50 odds that means Sbandieratori! The fantastic medieval sport of tossing banners in the air and catching them in elaborate patterns, as the brave athletes risk the public shame that comes with letting the city’s flag touch the ground if the flag falls. Time to rush rush rush down the stairs stairs stairs, then follow the drums and trumpets until you see the distinctive white and red peeking above the crowd.
And now I can share my experience, thanks to the miracle of amateur video!
These clips are grainy, but capture a good sample of the experience. The first in the series streamed below shows the usual first experience: a glimpse of flags swirling above the assembled heads, proof that flag tossing is indeed an ideal form of public display for a world before bleachers and loudspeakers. The second video I filmed while following behind the parade en route to their finale (that one is slightly jiggly at the beginning but still in the middle). The remaining videos show various stages of the display. This performance I filmed was at night, so it’s a little dim, but takes place right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. You will see many stages of the performance, from the whole troop working in formation passing flags from hand to hand, to displays by pairs or soloists using one, two, three, four, even five flags at once.
(For some reason the video player embedded below sometimes doesn’t display the first time you load the page, but if you only see a blank white space, hit refresh and it will display.)
It’s a fabulous treat to watch, and in the middle of a strenuous weekend of editing and deadline-chasing it was often a beautiful release to rush down and enjoy a dose of historical pageantry: Oh, right! I’m in Florence!