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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who's Your Team?

In Italy, there’s no getting away from the World Cup.

When Italy’s playing, the shops close down and hang signs on the doors that say some version of “Chiuso, forza Italia!” (Something like “Closed, Go/Be strong Italy!”) Some people call in sick. Others leave work early. And most establishments have a TV right there so their employees can watch if they simply can’t get away.

I at first tried to stay home on those days or nights, tried to avoid the crowds in the streets screaming for their teams, tried to be oblivious, essentially, to the phenomenon of futbol. But here, that doesn't work. When Italy scores, the streets explode with honking horns. People in the apartments around me scream and pound the walls and floors. Firecrackers are set off. And sometimes bells ring (or that might be only in my imagination).

It all floats up to me, through the courtyard outside my window that acts as a funnel for street noises and I finally decided hiding myself behind gauzy curtains wasn’t actually helping me avoid anything at all. So one night for a game I went down to the local bar.

I ordered a cappuccino, found a seat and commenced watching the game. Never having watched futbol I was confused at first about which team was which and what the rules were. But I did know that kicking the ball into the net thing at one end or the other was bound to be a good thing for somebody. I figured out who Italy was, I started cheering at the goals and calling the refs bad names. Slowly, I began to feel at home. I was beginning to like it. In fact, I was getting it… the national pride, the sense of camaraderie, the excitement when the ball made it all the way down the field… the buildup to the kick… hey, I liked fubol!

Until somebody asked me, “Who’s your team?”

My team? Who’s my team? Shit. I didn’t have a team! I had heard that question in bars and restaurants around me for weeks, and it means, “When you are at home, and you watch this on TV like a raving maniac, who do you root for? Who is your home team, your favorite?”

I froze.

You see, this question is generally followed by a trading of often loud opinions on the relative merits of particular teams and then, almost without fail, an argument breaks out. These people are serious about their teams, and in large part they identify themselves by who their teams are. And while it generally doesn’t lead to bloodshed, it does escalate to loud voices, insults, jeers and sometimes quite heated debates. None of which I was prepared for.

I took a sip of my cappuccino, aware that I was in danger of being found out: not a futbol fan at all. An imposter. A wanna be. It was clear to me that the bigger question was, “Who was I without a team?”

Luckily at that moment, Italy scored another goal and the entire room was distracted, screaming and cheering and yelling at the refs… and I got up quietly and left. I made it to the street, into the honking horns and flying Italian flags from the car windows, into the cheers pouring out from every open door... even the opera being performed in the 800-year-old church across the street was drowned out by the sound of an entire city celebrating.

Tomorrow Italy plays again, having advanced to the next level. I have decided to try it again, this futbol thing. I hope they don’t ask about my team again because I still don’t know… who am I without a team?

I’ll be thinking about this one long after the cheering fades.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Silly American.

9:21 AM  

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