Michael and I had thought we would sit around and rest today; do a little laundry, admire the views and plan the rest of our week. But, as I was doing the laundry, Michael was brochure browsing and discovered that today was the last day of La Fiera del Cacio in Pienza and closer reading indicated that there was to be something called Il Gioco del Cacio al Fuso. Yeah, right, sign me up . . . only what in the heck is it? We figured it must be something you had to see to believe, so, off we went.
After circling a Pienza parking lot for so long that we were both beginning to feel dizzy, we finally managed to be the next car in line as another car pulled out. Michael masterfully squeezed our car into the tiny space and then just as masterfully squeezed himself out of the car; I had gotten out before he began the parking maneuver.
Pienza is a beautiful little walled town and is a Unesco Heritage Site.
We had no sooner walked through the walls (no mean feat that) when we were confronted with many stalls sampling and selling all the varieties of cacio . . . and vino . . . and salumi . . . and porchetta. We couldn’t resist a porchetta panino; it was fabulous. For those of you who might not know, porchetta is an entire roasted pig, succulent flesh and crispy skin. Some places stuff the inside with all sorts of the weird bits (you don’t even want to know) plus aromatic herbs; some don’t. Happily for me, Pienza seems to fall in the “don’t” category.
I had another funny language experience at a wine stall. An American couple were there sampling some wine just as I was doing the same. They wanted to know how much the wine cost but were being particularly inarticulate; even their sign language was indecipherable. The proprietor finally asked “quanto?” as in, “you want to know how much?” and I told him yes, that’s what they wanted to know. Then there was some other strange communication, which I helped with. The lady turned to me and said, “Oh, you speak such good English.” I responded, “yes, but I speak terrible Italian.” She laughed when she realized I was also American. I think I should have said, “well, I did study for quite a while in the United States.” Another one of those lost opportunities.
Finally, as three o’clock approached, we found a seat in the “grand stand” in the Piazza Pio II to await the beginning of the events:
First, the tamburini e sbandieratore (drummers and flag throwers).
Second, Il Gioco del Cacio al Fuso. It turns out that this game is sort of like curling but with a cheese instead of a granite rock and played on a brick piazza instead of an ice rink. But the idea is sort of the same: A bulls eye type target, teams of a certain number, and alternating play. The closer your cheese is to the target, the higher the point with some refinements that had to do with circling the pin counterclockwise and rotating past a certain line, which had the effect of doubling your score. The teams are made up of people from the six different neighborhoods in Pienza.
Siena has its palio; Pienza has its cheese rolling.* I decided to cheer on Casa Nuovo because their color was purple; it turns out to have been a poor choice. The oldest player in the competition was 86, the youngest looked about 18. I would guess the average age was a whole lot closer to 86 than to 18. All of the players seemed to be having a great time and I know that we did. Just imagine sitting in the stands with hundreds, well, dozens, of cheering fans, the air redolent of cheese, colorful flags flapping and snapping in the breeze, and cheese bouncing over an Italian piazza. Another serendipitous discovery and another wonderful day.
*I bet Siena would have preferred cheese rolling to horse racing but its sloped campo is totally unsuitable for the nuanced play of cacio al fuso.