You may have noticed that I don't have a label for posts on calcio (soccer for Americans or football for the Brits).
I have a confession to make. shhhhh. After ALL these years, and although I have seen many games, I really don't GET calcio -- I mean all the passion and excitement. Just one of those cross-cultural walls I have come up against (another being Catholic culture). So, as my husband and son watch the first game of the European championship (Italy--Holland), I quietly inched my way out of the room and skipped upstairs to the computer.
Instead, Tobias Jones, the author of The Dark Heart of Italy, being male and British, makes some interesting observations on the art and soul of Italian calcio in his book. He even dedicated an entire chapter, "Penalties and Impunity", to a careful analysis of the sport's hidden cultural meanings.
He writes: "The more you watch Italian football, the more you realize why Italy...has won three World Cups: Italians are simply very good at the game. They play the most beautiful, cultured and skillful football imaginable.
Talk to any Italian about the strengths of the Italian game, and they will always mention the two vital ingredients lacking in Britain: fantasia and furbizia -- fantasy and cunning."
"Fantasy," he continues, "is the ability to do something entirely unpredictable with the ball....the one side of football that cannot be taught. It has to be instinctive, suddenly inspired, which is why the fantasisti are so admired: they are touched by an indefinable genius." Italians have developed a calcio vocabulary equivalent to that of literary or musical criticism to underscore this geniality.
Then there is furbizia, or cunning, the "ability to tilt the game in your favour through slightly sly, but perfectly legitimate tactics." He is referring to the theatrics that go on to call the attention of the referee.
The other key difference is in the tecnica with the Italians being much more calculating and tactical.
Of course, the fans play their part too, even off the playing field. Tobias recounts evenings spent on terraces participating in heated discussions with Italian friends on the proper adjective to describe the performances of certain players. Not to forget the endless hours of television dedicated not only to yesterday's game but of those from the past that made history.
"Football, it's very obvious, is more than just a sport: it's an inheritance, the nation's sacred heirloom."
Being a book on "The Dark Heart of Italy" the chapter continues into the dark side of calcio, from the discussions that go on about presumed game-fixing that mirror discussions about the mafia or terrorist associations, and the "intimate link between football and politics."
The best response to any crises is, of course, "not moral but aesthetic. Italian football, more than any other, prides itself on its beauty......(It) remains the most stylish and cultured and clever incarnation of the sport."
I have heard a few groans and unmentionable words coming up the stairs. It's time to go on down and see what I am missing.
Maybe I will get it one day.