Vernio's Festa della Polenta commemorates an event in the early 16th century. After the Spanish invasion and sacking of Vernio in the Val Bisenzio, north of Prato in Tuscany, the Counts Bardi distributed chestnut flour, baccala and herrings to the starving people. Amazingly, the re-enactment of this event, on the first Sunday of Lent, has been going on for a long time, for yesterday's festa was the 433rd celebration. We were invited back to Vernio and Montepiano for the celebration by our friends Daniela and Andrea, and by our new friend, mayor Paolo Cecconi. Unfortunately, the parade was rained out. Over 700 costumed "figuranti" had come from all over Tuscany, including the calcio storico teams from Florence, but only a token number from each of the marching teams could fit into the Oratorio of San Nicolo, where the celebration was held. I drew while we were waiting for the event to begin, and as the marchers came in and crammed the hall. Still, it was glorious with all the medieval costumes,flags, banners, feathers, with noise of drums and trumpets, and the reading of the pergamena with the original text of the donation of food.
We ate chestnut polenta, cooked in seven large copper cauldrons over open fires, stirred with giant wooden sticks, by strong men of the Compagnia della Miseria. Went to a wonderful midday banquet - crostini, pasta, roast meats, beans, zuccherini, vin santo, and lots of Chianti red. We walked around trying to keep warm and dry, looked at things for sale. Finally, we warmed up with tea in a bar/pizzeria called Lo Sceriffo (the sheriff), then took a standing room only local train to Bologna, and finally, a pretty decent train back home to Venice.