Saturday, September 03, 2005


I'm assuming that this is a representation of the International Maritime Distress Flag for Hurricane. I've seen it on the news lately with all the coverage of Katrina and the Gulf Tragedy. I think ships and ports fly a series of two or more for an extreme situations. Flags are often used to send a message or a warning. They, I suppose, had their origins when men could make colorful cloth. I'm sure they were widely used during medieval times for heraldic logos and signs on castles and shields. Mostly then I think they were used at festivals and celebrations. Then when we took to the sea, from the highest yardarm and mast for national identification and weather conditions. Nothing new here. Where am I going with this?

Well, yesterday I had a chance again to see "the colors" of different jockeys and horse owners and trainers at Del Mar. This time we were invited to the top of the stands, the 6th floor, to an exclusive Turf Club Restaurant called "IL Palio". Quite a contrast from my last visit. When we had "a day at the races" with our son Brooks, we sat in the stands and ran up and down the steps to the snack area to make our last minute bets. This time Pardee Home Loans hosted their 4th Annual Day at the Races for all their loan reps. and me. I'm called a "loyal partner". Boy! Talk about no expense spared. Buffet and drinks throughout the day from the first race at 3:30 to the last at about 7:30. Jackets were required. Dressy dresses too. We had our own parimutuel betting booth. Waiters and waitresses were so efficient that while you were away betting or looking at the current odds (with binoculars) they cleared your unfinished plates without a word. They were in tuxes. You were so far removed from the track and the "action" that they had TV screens and PA's to bring you the last minute call by Trevor Denman, "And away they go!". You kind of felt out of it and maybe that was the purpose..."above it all". Several went down where the horses had their pre-parade and watched the energy, skittishness, and wild-eyed tension before the races. I don't think it really helped in picking a winner.

What was most impressive was the parade of colors or "silks" that the horse and jockey wore. Some were easier to spot from that distance. I remember the fun and excitement Betty and I had at our first races at Santa Anita. We brought folding chairs right down by the rail and the "winner's circle". There you could see and smell the weigh-in and weigh out and really get into the pagentry and color of each entry. We sometimes picked winners by color for high energy or the dappled gray horse because it "went well" with its owners stable colors. This was not a "science" but an "art". We never did it for the money. Quite the contrary here, at the top of the mark, at IL Palio. Money was being spent and wagered big time.

I'm sure they named this high class restaurant after the annual event at the Piazza del Campo, in Siena, Tuscany, Italy. It is a wild and frantic 90 second race around the town center with horses and not always riders dashing at break-neck speed and sharp turns. (a horse can win for its "contrade" without a rider who may have been unseated) It dates from the Middle Ages and is a "no rules" event. It can be, what would appear to us, a disaster; and still be a success to the participants and residents of the 17 contrade, or city wards who try to win or cause others to lose at any cost...yes bribery is allowed. What is so striking to me is the colorful banners and pagentry that the whole city displays. We were there a few years back on the very day of the race. We were warned to stay away from the town center (piazza) at or after a certain hour or be trapped with thousands of crazy, screaming Tuscans and their Palio. Yes, IL Palio means the "embroidered cloth" or banner given as a prize for which they all strive year after year. (not to be confused with "Palo", the name of another restaurant on the Disney Magic Ship named for the "pole" used to push the boats in Venice) The contrade have the jockeys and horses wear their colors and designs with great pride, even in defeat. IL Bruco, the tortoise, hasn't won since 1956. Other names are the: wave, she-wolf, goose, shell, porcupine, dragon, owl, snail, panther, eagle, caterpillar, unicorn, ram, giraffe, forest and tower. They were selling the silks and I was particularly tempted by the unicorn banner.

There is such comaraderie and hospitality during this time that everyone is considered part of the city and event. The official motivation was "thanks to the Madonna" in the 11th Century. 50-foot long banquet tables are set up where huge bowls of pasta, gigantic platters of meat and legendary sides of vegetable are eaten a few nights before by more than 25000 Sienese, bitter rivals but, at the same time, loyal friends. Now you can see why Del Mar Track named their best restaurant after IL Palio. There is betting going on, and deal-making of all kinds.

The banners and flags are missing in Del Mar's version. It is very formal and sedate. It is too far removed from the action for any real excitement. The infrequent winners do celebrate a bit, but mostly from having imbibed more than moderately. TV's were on in the background and between races updates were shown of the National Disaster and "disgrace" as they are now calling it. Yes, the real disaster was revealing its ugly head...our nations indifference to the plight of all those victims of the hurricane who didn't or couldn't heed the warning banner above and the call for mandatory evacuation. The red and black colors of the flag are there for a reason and they will always remind me of the tragedies on-going in the midst of indifference and aloofness to our brother's needs. A lesson learned; hopefully not too late for the greater L.A. area. BOB!


At 9:39 AM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

Yes, I realize now that I got the flag slightly wrong. The center black square should be smaller in area...but now that I think about it, it makes my point even more so...if you get what I mean. Bob


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