No, I am not talking about the Superbowl. I am talking about UEFA. It’s World Cup Football Championship time again and for those of you not interested in or in touch with this annual rite, it is THE international football championship that takes place worldwide every summer. Don’t get me wrong. I hardly watch football (that’s soccer for you Americans). But, after all, I am married to a Dane and spent many years in Europe where, come summer, if you are not following at least a teensy bit of football in the news or on the television, you are living in a shoebox.
Two years ago we were vacationing in Italy at the time the Italians won the world cup. Now that left an impression I am still talking about. During the quarterfinals we were in Rome. Being the tourists we were, we naively ventured into the city for dinner during the quarterfinal match. While the restaurants were open, they were very empty except for wayward disoriented tourists such as ourselves. The staff were, to say the least, distracted, and we quickly deduced that we might as well just go with the flow, do as the locals do, and root for our new favorite football team while not being overly critical about erratic service. After our meal we realized that there would be no hope in finding a taxi driver to bring us back to our hotel. So, we wandered into another restaurant with a lounge and cheered on our new favorite team as they won the match. From that moment on the streets came alive with revelers, cars honking, sirens blaring. This continued well into the night, long after we had gone to bed – and it was just the quarterfinals.
The semi-finals took place after we left Rome for Tuscany where we were sharing a house with some friends near Montepulciano. The afternoon of the match, we were wandering around the narrow streets of the medieval village and came upon the square, or Piazza, where an enormous screen was being erected against a building façade. Rows of chairs filled the Piazza, encircling the fountain, and an instant outdoor theater was in place. All the villagers would gather that evening and watch the football match together. It made me think of the film Cinema Paradiso.
The finals were played on one of our last nights in Italy. We had moved on to the Isle of Elba and were staying in a lovely hotel with an excellent restaurant. The staff was very professional and proper, and the clientelle was well-heeled and dignified, hailing from Europe, the Middle East and Russia. So, imagine the night of the finals, when in the middle of the first dinner service, a tuxedoed maître d’ wheeled a television into the center of the dining terrasse. As if on cue, all protocol was suspended, and waiters, busboys, hotel staff gathered around the television along with diners balancing dinner plates on their laps. The French tourists cheered on France and the Italian tourists and staff cheered on the Italians. We were all caught up in a passionate TV dinner for the next 2 hours. When the meal was finished we crowded into the bar, squeezing into already full sofas, balancing on the arms of chairs, sitting cross-legged on the floor, elbow to elbow with our fellow football fans. A Swedish photographer bought us a round of drinks, we reciprocated and also bought drinks for the French couple sitting at our feet, the bartender invited our children to perch on the bar and gave them free sodas. Together we cheered and booed as Italy won the world cup. What an equalizer. Who said that English is the international language?