This week last year, my love affair with Italy began. As one does when they travel to this amazing country, I came back a changed woman. Granted, part of the trip consisted of my attending a 7-day yoga retreat in the sunflower-filled hills of Tuscany where I manifested patience and practiced mindfulness (along with trying to finally get a headstand), but a lot of it was just…Italy being Italy. The macchiato’s and the pesto; the lavender and the olives; the Duomo’s and the Chianti; the tattooed waiters and the football. Oh yes, even the football. See, it just so happened that on the night after I arrived, Italy was playing Germany in the Euro semi-finals.
I flew into Milan because my cousin Jess and her family live there, and her husband Danilo agreed to watch their 2-year-old son Max that evening so Jess and I could go have A Night, Italiano-style. This began with us finding a spot for free small bites (meats, cheeses, veggies, etc.), which we’d wash down with a “Spritz,” a bevvy consisting of either Aperol or Campari with Prosseco in a wine glass. Aperitivo, aka, Happy Hour. But way happier (cause, well, it’s Italy) and way longer than an hour (cause, again, it’s Italy). We didn’t necessarily set out to see the game in the midst of our boozing and noshing, but we couldn’t really avoid it.
The camaraderie was palpable. The whole city was buzzing. We, too, were now in it to win it. But rather than just watch from any old bar, we decided to head for the Duomo where it was being broadcast on large screens in the square.
Then, the craziest thing happened: Italy won. Everyone went nuts! Seriously, it was mayhem. Fireworks went off (as did people’s shirts), and any sense of order and caution were thrown to the wind with them. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of — and I’m not Italian OR a football fan.
Days later, Italy was playing Spain in the finals. By now, I had traveled further south to Florence en route to my yoga retreat in Ebbio. I was on my own this time, but still felt compelled to watch the game. Once again, everyone had it on.
While there was excitement in the air, and I met a bunch of Aussies and Canadians and Germans to wash down a few beers with while chanting “I-tal-ya! “I-tal-ya!”, it didn’t compare to that night in Milano. Even if they had won — which they didn’t — that was something spectacular.
OK, so why bring this all up now?
Yesterday, I happened to stop into Gigante’s, a pizza place in my hometown. I don’t usually go to this pizzeria, but I was running an errand in the same shopping center and just wanted a quickie slice. As I ordered, all eyes were up on the big screen: Italy was playing Uruguay in what seemed to be some sort of final game. (Some Googling later on confirmed it to be the Confederation’s Cup, which I believe is part of the qualifying series for the World Cup in Brazil next year.)
I took my slice to the table, while keeping my gaze on the screen, and it hit me: Practically one year ago to the day, I was in Milan with Jess cheering on Italia from the Duomo as they played Germany.
As I sat there in the town I grew up in, surrounded by Americans, Italians, Spanish — a mix of ethnicities and cultures, young and old — I closed my eyes, smiled, and for a few minutes was back in Italy. No matter that behind me, right outside, was a parking lot filled with suburban shoppers going to Marshall’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Or that the crowd inside wasn’t even really a crowd. Right here, in this small pizzeria, it was still all Italia. I took a bite of my slice, burned the roof of my mouth, and was winning without even playing the game. Forza Italia!