Vade Retro Mondiale
Soccer is a boring game, and I’m glad the Mondiale is over.
There. I’ve said it. So go ahead and deport me. I just don’t care anymore, and I’ve got a gun.
Okay, so I don’t really have a gun, and it’s a good thing, too, because there were any number of occasions over the last four L-O-N-G weeks when I might have turned it on myself. Or others. Yeah, mostly on others.
Such as, for example, that very low point on the late afternoon of the day of the final game between Italy and France, a July 9th that will go down in infamy. In an attempt to get out of the heat and away from the soccer fans, we swallowed what little pride we had left and headed to the local Medusa Googol-Plex to see a movie. Any movie. There are so many screens that some movie is always starting no matter when you get there, kind of like babies being born in India. But Medusa is owned by Berlusconi, and so far, in a year in Italy, I’ve not knowingly given him any money via his movie theaters. As I say, though, this was a desperation move.
When we arrived, the place was deserted. Not just deserted in a “there aren’t very many people here” sort of way, but in a High Noon, tumbleweeds (there aren’t tumbleweeds in Italy, but I expected to see one rolling across the parking lot any minute), dawn-of-the-dead, Stephen-King-survivors-of-an-apocalypse-caused-by-possessed-weed-whackers kind of deserted. I was hearing Ennio Morricone in the background (doo doo doo doo doo, whah WHAA whaaaa).
“It seems awfully quiet here.”
“Yeah. Too quiet.”
In other words: Spooky.
When we got to the long bank of glass doors that lead into the lobby (which, like all multiplex lobbies, smells like a combination of cleaning fluid, rancid popcorn, and feet, and is decorated with life-size cardboard cutouts of either Tom Cruise or Satan, depending on which !BLOCKBUSTER! movie is being pumped that week), we noticed that there was a laser-printed notice pasted to the exact center of each pane:
“We inform our kind clientele that, on the occasion of the final match of the Mondiale, movies ending later than 8:00pm [the kickoff time for the big game] will not be shown this evening.”
In other words: THERE IS NO ESCAPE! YOU WILL WATCH THE MONDIALE!
Because of the idiotic decision to close the freaking MULTIPLEX so everybody could go home and watch the game—or, more realistically, because they knew nobody besides a couple of homos like us would have the nerve to be seen in public trying to do something OTHER than watch the game—we were forced to see Bandidas, which was the only movie left that ended before 8:00pm.
Bandidas, by the way, is the worst piece of crap to come out of Hollywood since … oh, I dunno, name anything with Adam Sandler in it … and it’s all that much more depressing because those two wonderful, smart actresses, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, agreed to star in this obscenity. (You keep looking at Hayek, who made an intelligent, ambitious film like Frida, and you ask yourself WHY SALMA WHY????) What you need to know in order to swallow Bandidas is that feminism never existed. No, no. You and Gloria Steinem fantasized the whole thing one night after you’d thrown back a few too many Brandy Alexanders. A would-be cross between Zorro and Thelma & Louise, Bandidas desperately wants to have a serious message, and I mean
Instead, it’s an irritating, trivial, insulting, childish farce. Even in Italian.
But I digress.
The theater-door message was only the latest in a series of offenses that had gone on for weeks—the sudden, inexplicable closures of stores and restaurants; the fact that every TV in every house on every block was tuned in on game nights so that walking through the deserted streets was like having quadraphonic speakers fastened to your ears with a nail gun; the general attitude that if Christ himself had decided to come back to earth he’d still have had to wait until the game was over.
And then, of course, the worst thing happened. Italy won.
Immediately, here in Livorno, the cruise ships in the harbor started sounding their foghorns. On the street, people in cars began blowing their horns. We walked the quarter mile to Piazza della Repubblica, Livorno’s long, oval-shaped central piazza that is (I’m told) also the widest bridge in Europe or some such—it is, in fact, built over a canal.
And, of course, it was there that true pandemonium was settling in for a long, sleepless night.
Cars and motorcycles and scooters and trucks had begun racing around and around in the center of the Piazza. Not AROUND the piazza. IN the piazza. Going about 40 mph. Hundreds of them. People screamed, blew whistles, banged on trash can lids, set off flares and firecrackers, blew their horns blew their horns blew their horns. A small flatbed literally groaned under the weight of some 25 young guys who had climbed onto it, its wheels all but flat and the rims chewing up the rubber. I saw at least three near-accidents in the half-hour we were there, and I would be completely surprised if someone didn’t fall under a truck later and wind up road kill. And we left before the heavy drinking started.
It was all very … interesting. Anthropologically. But sports fervor is just a species of nationalism, and nationalism is, in all its public manifestations, scary and totalizing. When people start waving flags for whatever reason, I get the urge to find the nearest exit.
Well, no, dork. You didn’t do a freaking thing but plop your ass in front of the TV and eat salame. You’re the champion di questa minchia, that’s what you’re the champion of. Hurray for the Azzurri (who are, today, getting a parade at the Circus Maximus in Rome), but hooray for you?
As Paul Reiser used to say on Mad About You: “Not so much.”
People (that is, Europeans) like to say that soccer’s not a violent sport or that it’s much more “civilized” than American football. For my money, you can take both of them and welcome to it, but really: When was the last time you heard of fans murdering each other at an American football game?
Of course it’s literally true that the game is comparatively less violent, insofar as it doesn’t specifically require men the size of refrigerators to run headlong into one another until someone falls down or drops the ball. But soccer fans are often bellicose, destructive, and violent, precisely because rooting for a soccer team is an expression of nationalism (and not, as many would have it, of “national pride”). Within Italy itself, i tifosi tifano for a region, province, or town, and a “lively spirit of competition” quickly becomes a way to express how much the empolesi hate the fiorentini or the south hates the north. I don’t know how else to explain what I observed one afternoon as I was traveling back home after a game last Fall: As we came to a stop in Pisa, the fans of the winning team literally SPAT from the train windows on the passengers waiting on the platform, pelting them with bottles and garbage.
And it’s not like there’s NO connection whatsoever between the rise of fascist and “black shirt” leagues in parts of Italy (the Lazio, e.g.) and soccer…. I mean, I understand they’re Europeans and all, but soccer players are no pussycats. Since last Sunday, for example, the hills are alive with the sound of “Why did Zinedine Zidane, the captain of the French team, head-butt Marco Materazzi while the game was in overtime?” According to some sources, it was because Materazzi said: “Why don’t you drop dead, you faggot, you and all the rest of your Islamic terrorist friends.”
Materazzi has since admitted that he “insulted” Zidane, who is the son of Algerian immigrants, which isn’t exactly the biggest shock of the century (Materazzi was suspended in 2004 for punching a player from the Siena team and, a year later, was censored after he brutally tackled the Juventus striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic). Maybe Materazzi has been reading too much Oriana Fallaci and has a thing about Muslims, though he insists he never called Zidane a terrorist. (“I’m not a cultured man and I don’t even know what an Islamic terrorist is,” he told today’s Gazzetta dello Sport.)
Call me cynical, but I just don’t believe him. He may not be cultured, but he hasn’t been living under a rock. Besides, that kind of nasty, low-blow behavior is as much a part of soccer by now as it is a part of American sports. (I said “a part”; don’t start sending me hate mail.) Meanwhile, he may not know what an “Islamic terrorist” is, but I bet he knows what a faggot is. (For the record, the insult was allegedly “rottinculo,” or “busted ass,” the allusion being that you’ve been butt-fucked so often that your ass is broken. Nice guy, huh?)
Zinedine Zidane’s no model citizen, either, if it comes to that, and he’s had his share of red cards and suspensions for violence, including butting a German player five years ago while Zidane played for Juventus. Anyway, point being: these guys are paid obscene amounts of money; they’re feted like royalty; if they’re even remotely presentable in public and can read a teleprompter they get gobs of dough in advertising contracts; they’re more than slightly spoiled by the idea that playing soccer makes them godly and sexy and, most importantly, exempt from the rules that the rest of us are expected to follow; and they are, frankly, rather encouraged to behave badly off the field and on, penalties and suspensions notwithstanding. It’s just boys being boys, after all, and god knows we can’t have a bunch of sissies playing on our soccer teams, now can we?
No, we can’t. No sissies in sports and no sissies in our armed forces because real men need to be around other real men when they’re calling each other faggot, beating each other up, firing machine guns, dropping bombs, and torturing civilians. Excuse me for simplistic thinking, but how many points determine a line?
That line, in part, is what was being celebrated on Sunday night. And that line, in part, is what’s wrong with letting men play organized sports.
I understand that Italy had to win because any day now the verdicts in the “Calciopoli” (Soccer-Gate) investigations are going to be released, and some of soccer’s biggest names are going to go down hard for years and years of corruption and payola. It would have been too cruel for Italy not to win, given that the national sport is about to get a big black eye in front of the entire world. I admire their heart, but not much else.