Before they leave the piazza in the afternoon the village and “squadra” gather in front of the Oratorio, the only remaining church for a village with three significant medieval churches, including Our Lady of the Snow. The 2009 earthquake had damaged all these beautiful churches. The “oratorio” is a modern hall converted to the village church for now until the main church is repaired. In the courtyard in front the village choir sang traditional songs, then the priest, Don Vincenzo, blessed the teams. Finally a young boy was called up to draw the order for the six teams starting from Rovere. Apparently the teams on either end are at an advantage.
The teams make their way after the draw and have to wait in the fields in the dark for the light at the bell tower to be positioned. I went into the hills at 9 p.m. The one team had started and finished by 11 p.m. I am still not sure what the rush was but the leader is renowned for his love of alcohol and probably ran short, hence the rush. The team I followed, closest to Rocca di Cambio, took it easier. We all had some wine and a panino then they started to place the “contraposta”. As I walked in the dark with camera and tripod I realized there were the remains of the previous year’s “gare”, hard scars in slightly different alignment as the position of the main light changed. Also the line seemed to cut along the edge of some serious bush and trees. Later in the night I heard chainsaws and axes removing obstacles.
The first section was a few hundred meters long. The second section was a bit under a kilometer, and the last section about the same as the first, and close to the village. By the second section the team was well oiled and the laying of the light line of lanterns was much quicker and more accurate. As the tractor passed and the plough blade etched the hard earth, steam rose from the furrow. As the tractor passed the back end of the team refined the furrow for any minor deflections with hoes and spades by torchlight.
The last team finished the last stretch at 5 a.m. the next day. One of the members, a cousin, took me to the bell tower before noon the next day. We were alone initially and I could only laugh at how skew the last section was for each tired and oiled group by the end of the evening. My cousin did offer the excuse of a big tree stump that blocked them halfway through the last section. The deviation was obvious! As we stood on the hill and took photos the villagers, spectators and members of the “squadra” arrived to inspect the furrows. Some even had binoculars and all offered an opinion of who the winner was. It was obvious that the squadra second from Rocca di Cambio was the best, but I was warned that sometimes “politics” changed the result of the judges.