National Geographic : 1956 Nov
Italian Noblewomen Lend a Regal Beauty to the Pageant These young ladies are descendants of Italian families prominent in the Middle Ages, when the chess spectacle supposedly originated. Left to right, they are Countess Ludovica Spingardi of Rome; Countess Carla Nani Mocenigo and Countess Maria Pia Barozzi, both of Venice; and Marchioness Nicoletta Persichetti of Rome. Countess Barozzi was voted the most beautiful participant in the 1955 pageant. the commedia dell'arte players exploded into the square. They had come to beg permis sion of Parisio to replay the chess game ac cording to their own notions. The governor assented, and the burlesque began. Blackfaced boys and the long-beaked, masked clowns beat each other about the ears with bladders in a stirring if unorthodox ver sion of the noble game. It ended as abruptly as it had commenced. One of the players seized the mock Lionora, threw her over his shoulder, and raced off with her-noisily pur sued by the others. Chorus Echoes Down Five Centuries Crossbowmen and halberdiers began to bawl a martial ditty at the top of their lungs. "The old song of the Marostican soldiers," Liliana explained. "We've kept the original lyrics from the archaic Italian." As the soldiers sang, the Master of the Field led all the participants in the play in a final march past. They circled the square three times, to thunderous applause, and disap peared into the castle. The afternoon sun lit up their retreating ranks in a last burst of medieval splendor. Later, Liliana joined me for a cup of frothy cappuccino coffee at a cafe where the lady Lionora was taking orders. I asked Liliana how it felt to live in a setting so heavily marked by the past. "Marostica is hardly more than a village," she answered after a while. "But history, important history, has washed over it for more than 2,000 years. Our buildings alone would be enough to remind us of the great stream of Italian culture. But we aren't solemn about it. "Take our chess game. It brings to life a legend of our old days, about settling a dan gerous dispute without bloodshed. This story has a lot of meaning for today. But we sim ply enjoy doing it. We have a lot of fun, and we feel that all this pageantry out of the past really belongs to us."