Roma vs Palermo

Bongiorno from Roma,                                               

This visit to Italy serves more than one function. Apart from the obvious, it affords me the opportunity to revise and properly reconstiute my attitude to Italians in general, forged in the formative years in Wollongong. Being schooled with and mixing with many others from Italian backgrounds, I believe I got something of a negative view of Italians. In my formative experience in the cosmopolitan city, there were many who were unsophisticated, even uncouth. These people weren’t exactly “bred in the filth of all the wickedness of the vilest men” as Boccaccio put it, but they were – to me – representative of an inferior people, somehow.

picking up sticks

Naturally, this experience produces a jaundiced view which has – for reasons which are hard to explain – persisted despite all of the evidence from elsewhere. I suppose, added to these views, I formed the view that people who readily picked up sticks from their homeland and travelled to the other side of the world had something lacking. These biases I found persisted despite subsequently meeting many decent and hard-working contributors from Italian descent.

Anyway, seeing modern Italy has served the need just as expected. The Italian character has a lot to recommend it. I would characterise them as congenial, passionate but not taking themselves too seriously. They have a  laissez faire approach to a lot of things but are industrious and enterprising.

Roman ruins

Walking around the Roman ruins – especially the stupendous Colosseum – puts quite a few things into stark perspective. The Colosseum is a marvel of engineering skill and will. It is not all that hard to envisage the Colosseum in its original majesty but it is difficult to fully comprehend how it was constructed. It is one of the wonders.

Stadio Olympico

Other visits have also been instructive. Perhaps the most informative moment for me here was the soccer game between Roma and Palermo at the Stadio Olympico. As we were heading off to the game, our host – Antonio – bade us a “buono divertimento”.

We were in quite a good-sized crowd, almost all of whom were loudly supporting the home team. The security for the soccer was a bit hard to comprehend. After spotting Palermo’s 400 supporters all corralled into one small section of the northern stand with almost as many security staff around them, it was a bit easier to comprehend. It seems the mafia plays a role in soccer, too.

The fans could reasonably be described as displaying fervour but this was not your typical parochial Sunday afternoon local derby. Some of the antics in the crowd were fun to watch. Perhaps the most memorable was the single chap seated behind us who kept up a modulated commentary for almost all of the game. He seemed principally to be despairing at the unsuccessful Roma team, complete with the characteristic downward intonation at the end of each outburst. He appeared to be speaking to no-one in particular, but loud enough for spectators quite a distance away to ask him to desist. He was, in short, totally harmless, but to us a hysterical additional dimension to the experience.

Some in the crowd brandished coloured flags containing the words: Veni Vidi Vici. Unfortunately for these fans, the Roman team didn’t win on this occasion. As we left the stadium we rubbed shoulders with Roma supporters, most of whom were quiet but not unhappy. It was just a game, after all.

corporate ownership in sport

Corporate ownership has a very strong and visible hold in the soccer here (the Rome ‘club’ had been bought and sold to an American conglomerate only the day before the match.).  The fact diminishes from the feel, I would have thought, especially when the local team suffers defeats. How do the supporters suppose that their local heroes tried their hardest on behalf of the region? The notion is a clear nonsense. You’d have to think – and hope – that one day the supporters – on whom the money is ultimately dependent – will wake up to the fact that they are being taken for fools. Perhaps one future historian will be one day looking at Stadio Olympico and studying the civilisation which begot it and wonder about the priorities and reasons for the downfall of the civilisation.

The pizza waiter put a sober interpretation on the result later that evening: the soccer (il calcio) is all rigged. Even if there is a modicum of truth to this claim, it makes a mockery of the passion showed by the barrackers at the game. Being in Italy – surrounded by a sophisticated modern culture – helps put a new perspective on Italians in general. They really have contributed a lot to the world, haven’t they?



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