Tuesday, February 3, 2009

and here it had always been my impression that once you caught the rooster you could stop running

Fiona and I both grew up in what is technically known as "the sticks," but my childhood was rather the more rustic; I lived well outside of town, such as it was, in a crumbling stucco disaster with an overgrown back yard -- and, ok, an overgrown front yard, with an overgrown hedge to match -- full of animals.

Appropriately enough, given the town where we lived, my upbringing combined the hick and the hippie. Highlights of each summer included the solstice party (a long weekend wherein a group of old hippie friends brought their families to camp out in the middle of the woods and partake in hippie activities such as hunting for arrowheads and roasting a wild boar) and the rodeo.

There were actually a number of rodeos in the various crummy outposts of California's rural northwest, but the best was definitely the Orick Rodeo. The highlight -- for me, between the ages of say, five and twelve -- was the Animal Scramble.

The full awesomeness of the Animal Scramble is difficult to convey. Imagine a large, dusty, rectangular arena. On one long side is a row of bleachers crowded with the salt of the Californian earth: hicks, farmers, and cowboys of every description. (And, on at least one memorable occasion, the driver of my elementary school bus.) The other side is backed with giant ads for beer, feed stores, and trucking companies. At one end are the pens into which the broncs and the bulls are crowded, and a small, high box where the announcer sits.

That end was where they would line up the kids. At the other end, the trucks came in. They unloaded chickens, ducks, geese, maybe some other small livestock -- was there occasionally a little goat? -- and always, of course, the greased pig. (I never went after the greased pig. That was for big, strong kids.)

The concept is pretty simple. Let the little kids go, then the big kids a few minutes later. Whatever you caught was yours to keep -- or if you didn't want it, you could sell it at the auction right after. Sometimes only for a dollar, sometimes for more, but it always sold. Imagine all those little kids, squawking poultry cradled to their chests. Like these guys. Whether my mom let us keep the chickens (inevitably chickens: I've always been slow, and I never caught anything exciting) or said we had too many already and made us sell them, it was always a time to savor.

So there you are, clutching your rooster, the sweet taste of victory on your lips.

In Dante's time, apparently, things were a little different.

The Sodomites, for their "violence against nature," run eternally in circles on the burning sand, under a rain of fire. After talking a while with Dante, the scholar and statesman Ser Brunetto Latino returns to his punishment:
...He turned then, and he seemed,
across that plain, like one of those who run

for the green cloth at Verona; and of those
more like the one who wins, than those who lose. (XV.119-22)

Ciardi explains, "On the first Sunday of Lent all the young men of Verona ran a race for the prize of green cloth. The last runner in was given a live rooster and was required to carry it through the town" (p.80, note to l.121).

I think I prefer the Animal Scramble.


Fiona said...

(Hollander, n. XV.121-124)
"In the actual race run outside Verona, the runner run naked, according to the early commentators; the winner received a piece of green cloth, while the one who finished last was given a rooster, which he had to carry back into the city with him as a sign of his disgrace and a cause of derisive taunts on the part of his townsmen."

So I guess this comment has no point except:
1. Ow, running naked.
2. I guess the rooster was cause for scorn, but I think I'd rather have a rooster than green cloth unless it was really pretty and there was enough of it to make a shirt.
3. But you could eat a rooster and I am hungry.
4. I'm gonna go have some more cake.
5. Italy is/was very strange.
6. Can we go to a rodeo?

David Jackson said...

I wonder if they had to carry the rooster naked? That sounds like it might hurt. What with the claws.

Also, can we have an Animal Scramble?