BRESCIA, Italy — Last week, the smell of gasoline and the sound of revving engines filled the air on Viale Venezia, one of the main streets running through Brescia. The road was blocked off and the buses all took alternate routes.
People of all nationalities flocked to Brescias center and Viale Venezia, making my city feel like as much of a tourist destination as Venice, Milan or Rome.
All this was for the Mille Miglia, or Thousand Mile Race. This whole year, Ive passed the Mille Miglia Museum daily on my bus ride home, and Ive seen posters in shop windows proudly claiming Brescia as The City of the Mille Miglia, but it wasnt until last week that I saw the annual event in action.
It was pretty cool, even for me, and I am about as far away from a car enthusiast as a person can be.
The original Mille Miglia, between 1927 and 1957, was an open road endurance race. It was originally created to give Italian cars more notoriety and to bring fame, repute and tourism to Brescia.
The race stretched then, as it does today, from Brescia to Rome and back. The race was banned in 1957 after some fatal crashes.
Mille Miglia continued on from 1958 to 1961 as a rally, but this was disappointing and far from the proper road race that the creators had intended.
Finally, in 1977, the Mille Miglia was resurrected as a historic revival on the 50th anniversary of the original race and became the great, reputable event that it is today.
All cars come from the original 1927-1957 epoch, and they display the way motor-vehicles evolved during those years. The cars take the same Brescia-Roma-Brescia route as they did historically, and people crowd the streets along the way to see them.
I loved the feeling that the Mille Miglia gave Brescia last week. Even though I heard a lot of complaining about the wrench it threw into scheduling and the traffic congestion it caused, it was easy to tell that all the Brescians were really proud and excited beneath their thin layer of disdain.
There were red and white Mille Miglia balloons all over the place, and every piazza in the center seemed to be transformed into an outdoor marketplace, or a car show or a swanky lounge. People stood at windows and crowded balconies along the track to see the cars go by. Cafes set up extra outdoor tables in the places with good views.
The foreign diners were clearly enthusiastic about their authentic Italian pastas, and I got a kick out of hearing a group of cautious Englishmen in a gelateria sampling their cones of gelato apprehensively before declaring it different, or, well, I suppose its interesting. Alright, actually quite good.
The Mille Miglia managed to make me feel even more proud of my beautiful Italian city than I was before. Brescia was already a cool place, and the Mille Miglia made it even cooler.
Chandler West is a Rock Hill High School student who is spending her senior year in Italy. She writes about her adventures abroad each week in The Herald and heraldonline.com.