culture |noun| the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively
I was in second grade when I was quarantined at home for a month with the chicken pox. My teacher Mrs. Marosay (who also called me MMM for Mariana Motor Mouth) had my brother bring me home some books to better pass the time. Among the pile was my first poetry book – The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky. A dozen of those poems are still ingrained in my memory to this day. I could also tell you about the first time I fell in love with a museum… (we were at the Uffizi in Florence, I was 11). The first time I cried in a movie… (it was Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, I was 4). Or my first love affair with dance or theatre.
If prodded, my husband Luís would tell you similar stories from his initiation to the world of sport. At 10, his father took him to see Benfica at the stadium for the first time. Sick of sitting in his seat, the rambunctious youngster took to running about the aisles when a sudden roar from the crowd told him Benfica had scored. He ran to his dad asking for the replay – alas, the days before jumbo screens!
As you can see, in our household live two very different people. No one would have ever put us together if we hadn’t stumbled upon each other 8 years ago now. But although different passions fuel us, you could say that we drive side by side in parallel lines. Every once in a while, I’ll pull him into my car (for a trip to La Scala or the Royal Court Theatre), every once in a while he’ll pull me into his (for a Champions League or a Premier League match). The platform from which we share in each other’s interests may be small, but it is one that I take great pleasure in. It’s an opportunity to enter a new world – and a fascinating one at that!
I’ve always enjoyed playing sports, but my interest in it mostly stops there. This year, however, I feel like sport deserves that I give it some Aretha-style R.E.S.P.E.C.T. After all, it is largely due to Luis’ head dive into the world of sport that I get to write full-time – something for which I am incredibly thankful. In addition, his professional shift will most likely have a permanent impact on our life together – and my interest in him, makes me very interested in the force that catalyzes that: namely, L.O.V.E. And I don’t mean his love for me. I mean his love for sport. So for this year, I decided to sit in his passenger seat for longer spells.
True to form, I have been to quite a few live sporting events with the FIFA-folk. Leicester brought me football and rugby. Milan so far has added volleyball and basketball to the list. Not to mention the seemingly eeeeendless hours in pubs watching football (out with the screen-corner pint glass, in with the Martini cocktail glass). With few exceptions, televised sport leaves me looking for split ends. But the immediacy of live sport is an entirely different story. To go to the Olympics in London, to see a Lega Calcio match live, even to see Luís play football with the FIFA-folk is infinitely more engaging for me. (A few months ago I saw a discussion board at the newly opened Tanks of the Tate Modern London that asked “Does live art have to be experienced live?” This just goes to show that the “live vs. televised” debate is not unique to sport, although I can’t imagine a field where it stirs quite as much interest – be that intellectual, emotional, legal or monetary.)
But of all the sporting events, football is queen. This week, Luís took me to see AC Milan – Barcelona at San Siro. The physical act of going to this stadium is quite the metaphor for life in Italy – beautiful from a distance, a frustrating mess as you’re coming into it, but wonderful once you’re there (as long as your patience doesn’t run out – Italians have a penchant for trouble). Despite my mild interest, it is impossible not to feel awe-struck by the whole thing. What is monumental about it is not just the vast amount of mid-city open space, but the palpable tension that encloses it. Any wrong move by those very talented young gladiators (oh, I mean footballers) and they set off a chain reaction of compressed springs. Or have you never heard the sound of 80,000 people whistling in protest? It’ll make your neck sink into your shoulders! Add to that the smell of pot, the solemn Champions League hymn, the twinkling flashes, the opening banner covering various rings of the stadium, the constant cheering… (and jeering) and you have a veritable bombardment of the senses.
Being the profoundly creative place it is, Italy intermingles the arts and sport with revealing spontaneity. Giorgio Armani sponsors the Milanese basketball team (which is very nice of him given the literally gargantuan task of suiting those boys up), Dolce & Gabanna does boxing (must be the propensity towards shiny fabrics) and San Siro describes itself as “La Scala dello calico” (the opera house of football). Not only is this ingenious, it also exposes the driving forces of Italian culture – yes, because a Scottish FIFA-friend once pointed out that, just like the arts, sport is culture. So to be fair – because I do love them – maybe I should add dynamism to the generalizations that I make about Italians!
Yet for all of my acquired openness to the sports world, I hear it from a different volume than my more enamored neighbors (hubby included). I don’t have a readily accessible database of sport statistics, I don’t have a drawer full of jerseys and I don’t have a collection of football-themed jewelry. I guess it’s a little like explaining what music feels like to someone who is deaf. But their perceptions intrigue me and people have been very gracious when I ask to be reminded where Messi is from, what off-sides is again and why so-and-so got a card. (Damned if I can tell!). In proportion to my unfamiliarity, my obtuse angle also frees me up to gather all sorts of wonderful imagery – the scrum that looks like a giant Kafkian tarantula making it’s way stealthily across a line, the rugby line-out that pretty faithfully replicates a typical lift in classical ballet (with only slightly less elegant ballerinas) or the father and son, all three of which wear matching Leicester Tiger jerseys (the third element being a stuffed Tigger sporting a carefully knit version of the established attire).
One thing I’m certain of, sport is a powerful thing. It’s ability to bind or splinter, to crush or exult, to challenge and teach truly important life lessons, never ceases to amaze me (or imprint upon me the weighty responsibility of those active in this field). And for all my lack of technical knowledge or spontaneous interest, it is a pleasure and privilege to be able to live sport in this way, for this year, with these people – most of all, with Luis. And I know who my number one fan is too. I don’t need him to understand the in’s and out’s of my field or to even particularly like them. He likes me. That’s enough. Each is running his own race here – but the finish line, we’ll cross that one together.