Students search for cultural enlightenment
There is nothing that can create a sense of community quite like sports, and this made me think that if I wanted to really get to know Florence, sport might be an ideal place to start.
It didn't take long to realize that calcio is king throughout Italy and Europe. As I was passing the Accademia one afternoon and wondering when the next match was, a throng of purple-clad men came parading down the street, booming Fiorentina chants, startling the members of an American tour group, who gripped their fanny packs extra tight. Sure enough, when Kelly and I looked it up, the Florence team was set to play Munich that evening.
We decided to watch the game in a social setting. We found a small pub half hidden in a side street behind Piazza della Repubblica. It was Irish-themed, as I am learning is not unusual in Florence, but not an English speaker was in earshot.
The place was packed. People were perched on every available seat, stool, table and windowsill, all leaning forward to watch as Fiorentina and Bayern Monaco passed up and down the field on the three little ceiling television screens in the corners of the room.
The place was surprisingly quiet considering the fact that we could count at least two empty pint glasses per person and a major sporting event was being broadcast. We heard only subdued, whispered comments instead of the constant shouts we'd be hearing in any American sports bar. We asked the bartender why everyone was so silent and he explained to us that this was an important match for Florence against a skilled team so it warranted the full attention of all.
When shouts were warranted, they were more meaningful. Whenever either team approached the goal posts, a roar of excitement or dread would swell. When Fiorentina finally scored the room erupted in a frenzy: people were cheering, clapping, jumping out of their seats and rolling on the floor in celebration.
When, pulled into the atmosphere, I proclaimed ‘Forza Viola!' a few times, some of the Italian fans moved over to make room for us to sit down at a table. It was small gesture, but meaningful to me: I felt accepted.
The match ended in a tie, but people seemed reasonably content with this outcome as they shuffled out of the pub, warmly parting with friends and finishing off the last of their drinks. Fiorentina may not have won, but Kelly and I had achieved a small victory: an assurance in this brief glimpse that there is indeed an Italian Florence, and, perhaps with more effort, we can find it.