Yesterday afternoon I went to the soccer game with Luca Spaghetti and his friends. We were there to watch Lazio play. There are two soccer teams in Rome--Lazio and Roma. The rivalry between the teams and their fans is immense, and can divide otherwise happy families and peaceful neighborhoods into civil war zones. It's important that you choose early in life whether you are a Lazio fan or a Roma fan, because this will determine, to a large part, whom you hang out with every Sunday afternoon for the rest of time.
Luca has a group of about ten close friends who all love each other like brothers. Except that half of them are Lazio fans and half of them are Roma fans. They can't really help it; they were all born into families where the loyalty was already established. Luca's grandfather (who I hope is known as Nonno Spaghetti) gave him his first sky-blue Lazio jersey when the boy was just a toddler. Luca, likewise, will be a Lazio fan until he dies. "We can change our wives," he said. "We can change our jobs, our nationalities and even our religions, but we can never change our team."
By the way, the word for "fan" in Italian is tifoso. Derived from the word for typhus. In other words--one who is mightily fevered.
My first soccer game with Luca Spaghetti was, for me, a delirious banquet of Italian language. I learned all sorts of new and interesting words in that stadium which they don't teach you in school. There was an old man sitting behind me, stringing together such a gorgeous flower-chain of curses as he screamed down at the players on the field. I don't know all that much about soccer, but I sure didn't waste any time asking Luca inane questions about what was going on in the game. All I kept demanding was, "Luca, what did the guy behind me just say? What does cafone mean?" And Luca--never taking his
eyes from the field--would reply, "Asshole. It means asshole."
I would write it down. Then shut my eyes and listen to some more of the old man's rant, which went something like:
Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai . . . va bene, va bene, ragazzo mio, perfetto, bravo, bravo . . . Dai! Dai! Via! Via! Nella porta! Eccola, eccola, eccola, mio bravo ragazzo, caro mio, eccola, eccola, ecco-- AAAHHHHHHHHH!!! VAFFANCULO!!! FIGLIO DI MIGNOTTA!! STRONZO! CAFONE! TRA-DITORE! Madonna . . . Ah, Dio mio, perche, perche, perche, questo e stupido, e una vergogna, la vergogna . . . Che casino, che bordello . . . NON HAI UN CUORE, ALBERTINI! FAI FINTA! Guarda, non e successo niente . . . Dai, dai, ah. . . . Molto migliore, Albertini, molto migliore, si si si, eccola, bello, bravo, anima mia, ah, ottimo, eccola adesso . . . nella porta, nella porta, nell--VAFFANCULO!!!!!!!
Which I can attempt to translate as:
Come on, come on, come on, Albertini, come on . . . OK, OK, my boy, perfect, brilliant, brilliant . . . Come on! Come on! Go! Go! In the goal! There it is, there it is, there it is, my brilliant boy, my dear, there it is, there it is, there--AHHHH! GO FUCK YOURSELF! YOU SON OF A BITCH! SHITHEAD! ASSHOLE! TRAITOR! . . . Mother of God . . . Oh my God, why, why, why, this is stupid, this is shameful, the shame of it . . . What a mess . . . [ Author's note: Unfortunately there's no good way to translate into English the fabulous Italian expressions che casino and che bordello, which literally mean "what a casino," and "what a whorehouse," but essentially mean "what a friggin' mess."] . . . YOU DON'T HAVE A HEART, ALBERTINI!!!! YOU'RE A FAKER! Look, nothing happened . . . Come on, come on, hey, yes . . . Much better, Albertini, much better, yes yes yes, there it is, beautiful, brilliant, oh, excellent, there it is now . . . in the goal, in the goal, in the--FUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUU!!!
Oh, it was such an exquisite and lucky moment in my life to be sitting right in front of this man. I loved every word out of his mouth. I wanted to lean my head back into his old lap and let him pour his eloquent curses into my ears forever. And it wasn't just him! The whole stadium was full of such soliloquies. At such high fervor! Whenever there was some grave miscarriage of justice on the field, the entire stadium would rise to its feet, every man waving his arms in outrage and cursing, as if all 20,000 of them had just been
in a traffic altercation. The Lazio players were no less dramatic than their fans, rolling on the ground in pain like death scenes from Julius Caesar, totally playing to the back row, then jumping up on their feet two seconds later to lead another attack on the goal.
Lazio lost, though.
Needing to be cheered up after the game, Luca Spaghetti asked his friends, "Should we go out?"
I assumed this meant, "Should we go out to a bar?" That's what sports fans in America would do if their team had just lost. They'd go to a bar and get good and drunk. And not just Americans would do this--so would the English, the Australians, the Germans . . . everyone, right? But Luca and his friends didn't go out to a bar to cheer themselves up. They went to a bakery. A small, innocuous bakery hidden in a basement in a nondescript district in Rome. The place was crowded that Sunday night. But it always is crowded after the games. The Lazio fans always stop here on their way home from the stadium to
stand in the street for hours, leaning up against their motorcycles, talking about the game, looking macho as anything, and eating cream puffs.
I love Italy.