ITALY

Nights at the Excelsior

Nights at the Excelsior

It has been put to me on more than one occasion (by more than one person) that a career in celebrity photojournalism may have been my true calling in life. I always refuted the notion — frankly, spending my days hidden behind a hedgerow waiting for the latest B-lister to take out the recycling is far from appealing. That said, should I spot an actor or singer I admire on the street I will happily say hello, much to my wife’s embarrassment. But the suggestion that I would be happy to stalk the rich and famous probably came about because…

Verpiana Memories

Verpiana Memories

When I was a boy my best friend was another boy named Joe. We must have met when we were about four or five, and from that point on spent what seemed like most weekends together. Thanks to this near inseparable friendship, Joe’s parents quickly became close friends with mine. Both were artists — his father a sculptor and his mother a ceramicist — and both were pretty successful in their respective fields. My family and his would often go to the cinema or have dinner together at the weekends, and then one of us would sleep over at the…

The Eternity of a Moment

The Eternity of a Moment

From time to time we’re all inclined to ask ourselves, Well, how did I get here? It’s a timeless and universal question that invariably pops into the mind of every adult when they realize that their life is moving more quickly than they can comprehend. Yet as the past begins to stretch away behind me, the easier it becomes to recognize and make sense of the answer. I can pinpoint a moment in my life — a chance meeting with a total stranger over ten years ago — that rapidly sent my life in a certain direction. I can state…

Black and blue

Black and blue

In August 1990, just weeks after Totò Schillaci’s exploits at that summer’s World Cup, a shared place of birth would have seemed the only connection between the newborn Mario Balotelli and Italy’s Golden Boot winner. Born in Palermo to two Ghanaian immigrants, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, young Mario had a difficult first few years, undergoing a series of intestinal operations as a toddler. Even after being placed in foster care with the Balotelli family in the northern town of Brescia, the idea that Mario would one day wear the blue of Italy, let alone become a national icon, would have…

In defence of Serie A

In defence of Serie A

On the night of July 9th, 2006 — just hours after Zinedine Zidane had ended his career in infamy, indirectly propelling Italy to World Cup glory — I spotted the following slur freshly scrawled in bright red paint over a shuttered Florence storefront: “LA MAMMA DI ZIDANE E’ UNA PISANA”. That Florentine Azzurri fans could imagine no greater ignominy than to infer that the disgraced Frenchman’s maternal relatives hail from Pisa said everything about Italy’s pervading sense of regionalism, and beyond that, campanilismo, or town-based identity. For this reason I was surprised to hear the comments of Sam Wallace from…

Friday night lights

Friday night lights

Where were you ten years ago tonight? I was at San Siro. “Luci a San Siro di quella sera che c’è di strano siamo stati tutti là ricordi il gioco dentro la nebbia tu ti nascondi e se ti trovo ti amo là” There’s a very special moment when you enter one of the world’s great football stadia for the first time. You’ve not even begun to look for your seat yet; you’re pacing around the external perimeter looking to match the apparently random series of numbers stenciled onto concrete to those printed on your ticket. Fans hurry past you…

<em>Ciao Vecio</em>: Italy mourns the end of an era

Ciao Vecio: Italy mourns the end of an era

In Italy they call him “il Vecio”, the old man. But in 1982 Italy coach Enzo Bearzot was a tanned, lithe 54-year-old in the prime of middle-age, a newly-crowned world champion who had led his team to the most unlikeliest of achievements. The nickname (from his native friulano) never had much to do with age but rather a unique Italian personality. Cool, educated and deeply spiritual, Bearzot was an icon of the Italian game who in some ways seemed to belong to another time. An avid fan of music and literature, before the World Cup celebrations had even subdued he’d…

My pink pages

My pink pages

“I don’t understand people who don’t read La Gazzetta dello Sport. Men, at least: I don’t understand them. I just don’t get it.” — Sandro Veronesi, writer It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Italy. It took me a little longer to fall in love with football. You’d probably find it hard to believe if you met me today, but in 1988 I was quite indifferent about The Beautiful Game. That was the year I first visited il bel paese (I’d been to Sardinia five years earlier but that doesn’t count, as any Sardinian will tell you)….

Not quite the end of the world

Not quite the end of the world

Remember the name: Kamil Kopúnek. For Italian fans the Slovakian can now take his place alongside Pak Doo-Ik and Ahn Jung-Hwan on the Azzurri’s podium of World Cup infamy. It may seem an unlikely trio, but all three players have in their time put paid to the Italy’s World Cup hopes, and in doing so represent the lowest points in the four-time winners’ otherwise impressive tournament record. But while defeats to North Korea in 1966 and South Korea in 2002 sent shockwaves reverberating around the football world, Italy’s lacklustre performance and ultimate capitulation in 2010 had a certain inevitability. After…

San Siro send-off turns sour for <em>capitano</em> Maldini

San Siro send-off turns sour for capitano Maldini

It was a sunny afternoon in Milan last Sunday as Paolo Maldini led his team out onto the San Siro turf for the final time. The Milan captain was greeted by the fervent roar of home support from a crowd of over 70,000 that had gathered to cheer their hero one last time and to honor an extraordinary career. Each fan waved aloft a special scarf commemorating the occasion, and even the players of Roma, Milan’s opponents for the day, wore GRAZIE PAOLO t-shirts over their playing jerseys as they took to the field. As the teams lined up, an…

Room with a view

Room with a view

When I moved to Italy in the autumn of 2003, I was lucky enough to be offered a place to stay by an old friend of my parents, a retired English teacher named Bibi. That isn’t her real name: she’s actually called Fortunata Maria, but for reasons unknown people have always called her Bibi, so that’s what we called her too. Bibi lived in a small town called Borgo San Lorenzo, in the Mugello valley, roughly an hour north of Florence (or half an hour if you’re being driven by an Italian). I’d first met Bibi when I was eleven…

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

The life of a young writer is a hectic and stressful existence, often involving long hours of frantic typing as a deadline fast approaches, time which could be better spent sleeping or enjoying a proper dinner. However, occasionally we must abandon the iBook (or 1960 Lettera 32 Olivetti typewriter) and venture into the real world, all in the name of “research”. This usually means checking out a new bar or club, a task which has the added incentive of perhaps getting a free drink and/or meeting some girls. Thanks to their brief mention in Elle Decor magazine, I had recently…

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