Imagine the biggest football game of the year against your crosstown rival at homecoming. That was the mood in San Gemini on the final Sunday of the town’s two-week medieval festival. It featured a joust between the Roccas and the Piazzas. The Roccas are the residents who live inside the original old walls of San Gemini (built between the 10th and 12th century), while the Piazzas are the newcomers, whose part of town was added sometime in the 14th or 15th century.
They call it “Giostra dell’ Arme” – a joust (sort of), involving modern-day knights carrying lances on horseback. It takes place in an arena (one-third sized soccer field) with hundreds of townspeople screaming for blood (OK … Maybe blood is too strong a word, but there was lots of screaming).
A dirt track runs around the small soccer field.
Our brood of adult kids and grandkids, ages 5 to 12, got there early to get a good seat.
We were staying in the Rocca part of town, wore Rocca colors (red and blue) and sat in the middle of the Rocca cheering section.
To our right several rows over and on the bend of the track were the Piazza townsfolk, decked out in green and gold.
As the procession of royals began, a bunch of the younger folks in our section put red scarves over their noses and mouths and set off smoke bombs. Billows of thick red and blue smoke engulfed us. Chants in Italian (probably “kill the Piazzas”) rang out, as we coughed and sputtered, trying not to breathe.
After the smoke cleared and the royals were seated, there was a synchronized flag-throwing demonstration and then the introduction of the jousters.
Each team consisted of three men on horseback carrying long lances. They were not in armor but did wear little rider’s helmets.
It was a contest of horsemanship, speed, balance and accuracy.
On one side of the track was an L-shaped pole from which was suspended a hoop about the diameter of a woman’s hoop earring. At the beginning of the opposite straightaway was a two-part speed trap to calculate the start and finish of the rider’s run.
One at a time, each rider made a three-quarter run around the track, with the horse accelerating through the speed trap, made the very tight turn at nearly a full gallop, aimed his lance at the little hoop and snared it on the end of his lance, then continued around the next turn at a gallop while shifting the lance into a throwing position. Heading full tilt down the final straightaway, riders hurled the lance into a target that resembled one you’d used for archery. They earned points for snaring the ring, speed, and how close their lance got to the bullseye.
The horses were powerful and agile. They needed to be because the track was narrow and very small (perhaps an eighth-of-a-mile long), and the turns very tight. Everyone cheered madly – loudest when the lance hit near the center of the target.
Each rider had three tries and scores were accumulated round-by-round. It went on for two hours.
At the end of two rounds, Piazza was leading by a few points, but in the third round, one of the Rocca horses seemed to fly around the track. Its rider snared the hoop, leaned into the turn while changing his grip and fired his lance almost dead center, earning the highest score of the day, and putting Rocca ahead with one Piazza rider to go.
He valiantly raced around the track even faster than his opponent, but his horse skidded and fell on the second turn. Fortunately neither he nor his horse was injured, but Piazza lost points for the fall and Rocca won the contest amid ear-shattering cheers from our section of the stands.
It was an event that our grandkids will never forget, and marked the end of our stay in San Gemini. Our next stop would be Rome.
On the local fishing front, I got an email from Steve Kyle who spent last weekend fishing for steelhead on the Trinity River with his 18-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte. Steve, every bit the proud grandpa, reported that Charlotte caught her first-ever steelhead before lunch on Saturday and hooked two more on Sunday, one of which Steve said was a “hog” that leaped like an acrobat and ripped off a lot of line before breaking off.
Steelhead and trout fishing on the Klamath River is also good right now. Big browns are showing up on the McCloud and the upper Sacramento River is fair to good, said Bob Grace, at the Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir.
Closer to Sonoma, stripers are biting in San Francisco Bay and tides are excellent this weekend for sturgeon. Dungeness crabs, rockfish and lingcod are making lots of anglers happy over at the Sonoma Coast. Capt. Rick Powers, of Bodega Bay Sportfishing. had 43 anglers onboard his boat on Monday, and they brought home full limits of crabs averaging three pounds, full limits of rockfish, plus near limits of lingcod to 31 pounds. Rick’s combo trips are $110 a day. Call him at 875-3344.