For many centuries, the structure containing the city hall of our small Italian village had been a monastery. The public piazza to one side is named after the religious order that occupied its stout stone walls. To protect themselves from the evils of the outside world but still get fresh air and exercise, the brothers used an interior courtyard (or cortile, in Italian). Today that space is used for a wide range of community events from plays for children to small chamber-like concerts. Whatever it is, one gets to sit in an intimate bounded space, with superb acoustic quality, and look at the star-choked sky above.
That was where I went Sunday night, joining my neighbors in watching the final football match between England and Italy. A gaggle of teenage boys sat in the first row, loudly kibitzing plays by both teams. Adults clustered in the rear, consuming copious bottles of wine. In between young couples nuzzled each other’s bodies. We all faced an enormous screen, mounted on the side where pious monks used to mingle.
The win was a glorious moment — doubly so. Throughout the countryside in the valleys below our house, we could hear cars honking for hours and watch an inky sky lit up with random fireworks. It was also a celebration of being released from 18 months of confinement. With the removal of restrictions, finally we could enjoy this moment of collective spirit to the fullest. No more standing apart. No more masks muffling speech and laughter. No more restrained greetings. It was truly a liberating, cathartic win – both for the national sports team and for the collective efforts by everyone to beat the virus. Two wins. Both arduous accomplishments.
A recent article in The New York Times, “Italy’s Victory at Euro 2020 Echoes a Broader Resurgence,” brilliantly captured the impact on the nation’s shared psyche. Its been a very hard couple of years. Before COVID hit the country like a speeding freight train, massive waves of migrants, desperate to escape suffering and likely death in their own countries, had overpowered the ability of the Italy’s government to manage the influx. Other countries, except for Germany, were refusing to accept the refugees, where many men, women and children drowned in flimsy boats while crossing the Mediterranean.
For a short while, it seemed as if Italy was succumbing to the same toxic stew of nationalism and racism that has caused so much strife in Hungary, the U.K. and the U.S.A. The pandemic broke that thrall, as people became more concerned with losing family and friends to covid. The current administration is now busying itself with innovative economic recovery programs and forging alliances with other European social democracies.
So the tension during Sunday night was palpable for reasons that went beyond mere team loyalties. For sure, the mixed crowd, which included some Brits and this lone American, was fired up. The previous weekend game produced boisterous yelps from living room windows that bounced off the masonry walls of our street. The final match seemed a bit more subdued save for when Italy made a tie-making score. The breathless last few minutes were tense and gripping.
Italy got a double win. One, a reward for the hard efforts of the last year and a half to protect their communities. The second a welcome, symbolic recognition on a global scale of a long-desired victory in its beloved national sport.
As I meandered along the cobblestone street on the way back home after midnight, I passed by two chairs hugging the edge of the street. Earlier that evening two elderly women sat in them, issuing a constant patter of overlapping commentary on many subjects. Last year there were three of them in the row and years ago there were more. Slowly, with the passage of time, one generation gives way to another.
The visible contrast between collective national enthusiasm and the wisdom of age added another sweetness to this memorable evening.