Italians and Soccer

Almost eight years ago, in a soccer stadium in Berlin, a moment happened that Italians are still talking about. Fabio Grosso ended the country’s 25-year losing streak by scoring Italy’s golden goal during overtime penalty kicks in the 2006 World Cup final against France.

The crowd erupted. Grosso ran around the field like a maniac. The Azzurri players embraced each other like soldiers seeing their families for the first time after a long, bloody war. They cried. There were lots and lots of tears. They kissed. They hugged. They shouted and ran. They cried some more. They are Italians, after all.

Campioni del mondo!

Campioni del mondo!

Back in Italy, people flooded the streets. The Romans took to their monuments, proudly parading flags across ancient bridges and jumping into the Trevi fountain like each of them was the main character in a Fellini movie. The whole damn country went berserk.

Expat, bloodline and honorary Italians residing in towns, villages and cities all around the world also went nuts. We jumped and sang and cried and drank grappa and took to the streets. We were i campioni del mondo! World Champions!

For the next four years, we had the cup, and our cocky Italian pride was completely valid.

I lived in Italy in 2010. There were banners on bus stops, buildings and billboards with a photo of that cherished moment 4-years earlier. The headline said: “Ricordati 2006?” (remember 2006?). The Italian people, not satisfied to be last time’s champs, wanted it again. The entire country wanted South Africa in 2010 to be Italy’s championship double-header. We all had high hopes.

Even Shakira was excited!

Waka Waka was one of the official songs of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The song was everywhere pretty much all year. Watch this video because the song is awesome, and because the Waka Waka dance is so much fun. But really, watch because the video starts with Italy’s winning goal in the 2006 World Cup. See for yourself the drama, the excitement, the passion – the joy! (La Gioia!)

 

Now that you’re all happy from watching Waka Waka, we can discuss what happened next.

As you probably know, Italy choked in the 2010 World Cup like a novice speed eating meatballs.

They lost early and they lost to friggen Slovakia. No offence, Slovakia, but per la vergonga, Italia! (for shame, Italy)

I was teaching English at a summer camp in Tuscany when it happened. When the time ran out and Italy officially lost to Slovakia, the kids, so animated and jubilant while watching the game, turned into emotional messes.

Mamma mia!

Mamma mia!

They smacked their little hands to their faces to wipe off their painted face flags, they took off their jerseys and threw them on the floor. They shouted obscenities. I found one child wrapped in the flag, crying like someone had just killed her dog in front of her. They hugged each other. They sobbed. They yelled. They cried some more. They are Italians, after all.

One Italian newspaper, La Gazetta, said: “It was the darkest and most terrible day in the history of Italian football.”

The kids had every right to be upset. We all did.

I heard many complaints from Italians, long before the sad 2010 World Cup loss, about how their country is stuck in the past in too many ways. It’s a double-edged sword. Italy’s history is a huge part of its industry. Tourists flock to see the artistic masterpieces, to walk the ancient streets, and to experience “la dolce vita,” but the challenge for Italians has been honoring the past without getting stuck there.

Italians are wary of youth and change, hence the aging 2010 World Cup national soccer team. They had the big names, but those names no longer had the speed or endurance, and most importantly, the fiery passion, of the younger players that could have been chosen – and who might have taken the team much farther.

As much I enjoyed watching beautiful Fabio Cannavaro, the Azzurri’s captain, run around the field with Francesco Totti and the rest of them, it’s time for a lot of them to retire. Cannavaro agrees. After the loss, he called on Italian soccer to invest in the youth.

They listened.

The 2014 team is poised and ready. Coach Cesare Prandelli is shaking things up by mixing old with new, in play strategy and team members, embracing the best of the Italian soccer style of the past with an eye toward the future.

But this post isn’t about Italy’s soccer politics, or their triumphant win in 2006, or their pathetic loss in 2010, or their chances in Brazil; it’s about the soccer, and more importantly, the fans.

Italy’s national identity is very much tied to a white and black spherical ball.

It’s a beautiful game, no? And cheap! Anyone with a working set of legs and a ball can play it.

When I lived in Rome, I’d hear little boys yelling at each other as they chased a soccer ball down the narrow cobblestoned streets. They would use old fountains as nets and apologize emphatically while running as their ball ricocheted off mopeds and knocked flowerpots off of windowsills.

The old men and women watching from benches would turn into fully invested fans and referees, shouting at the kids as though they were playing the most important game of their lives. Because that’s the way you should play every game.

I attended a Roma/Lazio soccer match while in Rome. It was terrifying and wonderful. I got a sense of what watching the gladiators in the Roman coliseum must have been like, mostly because the crowd was intense and a little insane. People threw smoke bombs onto the field before the game; they chanted long, elaborate songs that everyone knew the words to (except me); they waved their flags and banners, and they spewed venomous death threats at the rival fans. It was fun, long and intense, and we stood the entire time. By the end of the game, I was so exhausted, I felt like I had played it.

Rome is a city largely run by the Catholic clergy who reside within its borders, but I’d argue that more than Jesus and maybe even more than food, the real religion in Italy is soccer.

It gets them more impassioned, both joyfully and bitterly, than anything else.

Part World Cup champs, part sore losers. Part Da Vinci, part Berlusconi. The two faces of Italian soccer and its fans are the two faces of Italy.

Ricordati 2006!

FORZA AZZURRI!!!

FORZA AZZURRI!!!

Instead of Valentine’s Day, Why Not Celebrate The Pagan Holiday That It’s A Cover For?

A couple of years ago, I was invited to a “single ladies outing” on Valentine’s Day, which sounded good until said single ladies informed me that we’d all be getting together for an evening viewing of the romantic moving picture “Dear John.”

I politely declined.

There is no worse way to spend Valentine’s Day than crying over a second rate version of “The Notebook” along with single women in a theatre full of couples. Valentine’s Day isn’t fun for single people, but there’s no need to make it worse by reminding yourself how single you are.

I asked three single men what they do on Valentine’s Day if they don’t have a date, and they said they either go out to prey on lonely women at bars, or play with their Xboxes. Seems reasonable.

Some people base their stance on Valentine’s Day on their relationship status. I do not. I’ve come to enjoy the day for its chocolate offerings, and as a chance to throw shade on those canoodlers who put their love on display on park benches and at busy coffee shops; mostly though, while I am fond of love and romance, I dislike February 14th.

My distain for Valentine’s Day started in the Second Grade, when, being the new girl at school and not privy to the ways of the Valentine’s Day card game, I arrived to class on February 14th with Mickey and Minnie “Be Mine” cards for everyone. We had all made little red paper heart cardholders and taped them to our desks the day before. As I went around delivering my cards, a pretty blonde girl named Lindsey I desperately wanted to look like and be friends with said, “You brought a card for everyone?” I found the envelope with Lindsey written on it and handed it to her. “Yes, here you go!” I said. She laughed and turned to her cool friends, proclaiming: “Carla loves Nathan!” Nathan was the dirty-faced booger eater who made honking noises during prayer time that I had just delivered a card to.

The world turned very dark the day I learned about the Valentine’s Day card hierarchy. These little monsters only gave cards to certain people, and they selected different cards based on whether the recipient was a friend, acquaintance, or crush. At the end of the day, everyone counted their cards, and the kids with the most were the Valentine’s Day winners. The kids who received the least cards either cried, pretended not to care, or did as I did and drew pink hearts being pierced by blood dripping daggers.

I got four cards that day. One was from my teacher, one from my friend Mary, one from Soon, a nice Asian girl who was also new to the school, and my last card was from Nathan, the booger face. He had made it for me out of black construction paper, glue, and white out after I gave him mine, and now we were officially “dating,” which meant he pulled my hair a lot and pushed me off the tall slide on the playground at recess.

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I’m my own Valentine, ok?

In the years that followed, the school adopted a rule that you either brought a card everyone in your class, or no one at all. I’d like to think that I helped instigate this change, but I did not. Valentine’s Day sucked for most of us. Imagine if your entire office had to bring everyone a Valentine’s Day card? It would be a brilliant reenactment of elementary school politics complete with the dude who totally forgot to buy cards and scrambles to make his out of used computer paper and highlighters.

I did some V-Day reconnaissance, because despite what you may have heard, Saint Valentine is not at all a sweet, rosy-cheeked cherub ordained by Hallmark advertising wizards.

Depending on who you talk to, St. Valentine was either a Roman priest practicing in the Eternal City, or a bishop in Umbria. He either got in trouble for performing Christian marriages, or for healing people while serving Jesus. Either way, Valentine ended up in a Roman prison circa 270, which wasn’t the best place for a Christian to be at that time. Emperor Claudius II was said to have taken a liking to the charming Valentine, but Claudius’s affection for V waned when the smooth talking priest tried to push his Jesus agenda on the pagan Emperor. Love might conquer all, but had little effect on Claudius. Valentine was soon bludgeoned and beheaded.

It’s fitting that the man we think of as the patron saint of love has a history so vague, confusing and brutal that it’s basically a myth.

So little is known about the details of St. Valentine’s life that it is widely rumored he was chosen by the Catholic Church for his relative anonymity to cast a Christian shadow over the Pagan holiday Lupercalia. This festival was celebrated from February 13th to the 15th each year as a way to ward off evil spirits and purify Rome. It also honored the she-wolf, who, according to Roman lore, suckled Romulus and Remus when they were abandoned babies. Romulus would go on to kill his brother and found Rome.

St. Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th each year, under the guise of love and hearts and cherubs and romance, is actually the Catholic Church masking a much cooler holiday that featured feasting and used a wolf for a mascot. If you’re into folklore, or 80s animal t-shirts, or the film Moonstruck, a wolf says more much about passion and love than a curly haired man in a diaper.

There’s a town in Italy’s Abruzzo region called San Valentino. You might think that San Valentino would be a town brimming with romance, a little love settlement in a country that lives for romance, but you would be wrong, because it’s basically the opposite of that. Every year, San Valentino hosts a parade called Festa dei Cornuti (the Festival of the Cuckolds), which honors, or mocks, men with adulterous wives by parading them through the streets.

Despite this town, and St. Valentine’s sketchy past, the day has become a celebration of love. The worry is that materialism and love get confused here.

Not just that, but shouldn’t every day be a celebration of love? Not just romantic love, but love in general? You can’t just go around being cranky, stealing dogs, yelling at baristas, and kicking the backs of people’s chairs at movies, and then go buy your girl diamonds on Valentine’s Day like you’re Cupid’s gift to humanity, Elliot.

I have nothing against the idea of celebrating love, and I like to think I do so in the way I live my life, day-to-day, so there’s no need for egregious gestures to make up for a year’s worth of ass-faced behavior come February 14th.

This year, instead of Valentine’s Day, I will be celebrating the Pagan wolf holiday Lupercalia. I won’t be sacrificing goats and dogs, but I will be warding off evil spirits and purifying my soul by eating a lot, praying to pagan gods, and drinking enough wine to happily howl at the moon.

Honor Valentine’s Day if you must. Go ahead and hand your wife flowers. Give your husband some chocolate, but also write your mom a letter and tell her why you love her. Call your dad to wish him a lovely day because you were thinking of him. Kiss your grandma if you can. Be extra nice to strangers. Hug a damn dog.

Whether you are single or not, make the day about loving everyone, including yourself.

If I had to do second grade again, I’d do it just the same. Cards for everybody.

Blame Laird

Think of a 70-foot wave.

It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.

There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.

It glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following it.

That dot is Laird Hamilton.

Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.

His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.

Instead, he invented his own shtick.

In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.

What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understand of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.

He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.

Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)

Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.

Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.

SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.

I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.

The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.

He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website: www.lairdhamilton.com).

You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird

By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.

My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.

We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.

This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.

Reminiscing about Roma

I was thinking today about  how I’ve all but abandoned this blog since moving back from Rome. Sure, Rome was a profound and unique experience for me, but it can’t stop there, right? Life can be profound and interesting elsewhere and I’m going to try to bring you profound and interesting things and keep this blog up better. Maybe I’ve been hesitant to blog because I know that nowhere can compete with Italy, at least for me.

In Rome, the beauty was in the buildings, the people, the trees, the air. You’re spoiled by it and haunted by it and most of all, mesmerized by it. I sometimes joke with people that living in Italy ruined me for life. All jokes are half true, you know? The experience of living in a place where Disney princess fairy dust floats through the air is indeed mind altering. In my old apartment in Trastevere, which is one of Rome’s oldest and illest areas, I’d work sitting by an open window. Everyday, like clockwork, the smell of fresh baked bread and the most delicious candy you can imagine would waft in on a gentle breeze. I’d look up at the little angel statue carved into the building across the street and the groups of ivy crawling up the wall beside her, and then I’d look down at those charming, uneven cobblestone streets and shake my head. how is this real?

I’m fully aware that Italy has more problems than not. Especially now. What I’m referring to has nothing to do with national debt crisis, or the backwards politics, or the illogical bureaucracy or the bunga bunga bullshit. It’s more the fabric of a culture that was built around living for pleasure. Once you’ve experienced living in a place where they want to enjoy everything they see, taste, smell and touch, it’s hard to come back to concrete sidewalks and frothy, burnt cappuccinos. 

It’s also hard to compete with the pizza. Pizza is the best thing Italians ever invented, in my opinion, and I do enjoy it in all of its forms. But I’ve actually been thinking about Italian pizza all day. The thin crust, the simple punchy tomato sauce, the mozzarella. I’m officially salivating. I will return to Italy one day and the first thing I’m doing is getting myself a pizza. 

Pizza Margherita, love of my life

Speaking of beauty and enjoying life, I just witnessed two construction workers have an uncontrollable giggle fit in my back alley. It was pretty beautiful. 

Please Don’t Ruin the Dancing!

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In 1987, the world was a simpler place. The air was cleaner, the roads were emptier, and moms, dads, kids and cousins used to pack into the family Volvo to go see a double header at the drive in movie theatre on Saturday evenings.

My family did just that one fine Toronto summer night. The double bill was Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing. Back to the Future was not a new movie at the time, but Dirty Dancing was.

Even though I was only 5-years-old, even though I peed my pants halfway through the film and my mom forced me to put on one of my little sister’s diapers, even though my older cousin called me “Carla Smelly Diaper Pants” because of this for years to come, watching Dirty Dancing for the first time is one of my favorite childhood memories.

The movie is pure nostalgia. A movie about dancing because you want to. Dancing for money. Dancing for love. Dancing all sexy like in front of children and seniors even though the boss man tells you you’re not allowed.

But it’s not just a movie about dancing. It’s also a coming of age love story, and a film that was largely untroubled by Hollywood expectations. A simple, captivating story that no one knew would be a hit when they were making it.

This is why remaking Dirty Dancing 25 years later solely to make money will never work. You can’t recreate movie magic by ripping off a classic. Will you never learn, Hollywood?

I don’t want to see anyone else as Johnny Castle or Baby Houseman or Penny or even grumpy old Max Kellerman.

Children of the 80s, it’s time to stand up and REVOLT!

Today is Eddie Vedder Day!

I have declared today Eddie Vedder day because I like to declare things and because every day should be Eddie Vedder day.

When I was 13, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of Vedder pulling up his shirt while singing. I was a little pervert, I guess.

Look I found it!

But more than a man with killer abs, Ed Ved has been a constant source, or voice, of comfort and inspiration throughout the years. He’s an insanely talented, passionate musician, and he has that silky but towering baritone that can tear you apart one minute and melt you like butta the next.

I took the above picture at Virgin Fest 2009 in Calgary where I got to be up close and personal with the band from the press pit. As I prepare to see Mr. Vedder this evening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, where he’s playing the second of two sold-out shows in support of his album Ukulele Songs, I’m telling the 13-year-old girl inside of me to calm down. This concert will be one of contained passion – just Ed and his uke, singing songs, sotto voce.

While the soulful crooner may no longer occupy any scandalous wall space in my bedroom, he’s made an indelible impression on my life. I sincerely thank him for what his music has given to me and I can’t wait to spend tonight singing along with him.

Here’s a video of Eddie singing Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – one of the first songs that started off my lifelong love affair with Pearl Jam.

Ready? 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3 . . .

Bad Love

I just watched the film Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. A terribly stark look at the sun-kissed glow of love at the beginning of a relationship contrasted with the souring stench of a love gone bad in that same relationship years later.

It was a sad, uncomfortable movie to watch, but one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since it finished. So please excuse me while I get a little philosophical on you. Actually, let’s invite 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche into the conversation.

He was famous for his “God is dead” theory, but Nietzsche also said: “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

We hunger for love, look for it, maybe even need it, and have the ability to feel it so profoundly. To intensely connect with another human on that level might be the most beautiful, fulfilling thing in life, and yet equally as great as our ability to love is our ability to hurt and devastate those same people we loved. No one wants to cause someone they once loved so purely pain (well, usually not), but it happens. We take advantage of each other, we stop appreciating each other, we cheat on each other, we fall out of love with each other, we ruin each other.

Since we do this to each other over and over again knowing what we’re getting into, we’re all a little mad, no? Anyone who has ever had his or her heart broken knows full well the terrifying pain and torment it is to go through that loss, and yet, many of us can hide the scars of past hurt and jump right back in when the opportunity for love presents itself again. To me, this is a brave, courageous thing to do, and one I’m trying to be better at.

Dr. Maya Angelou says: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time. And always one more time.”

In honor of that, and living through love gone bad, here’s Arcade Fire’s Crown of Love: