Archive for May, 2014

The Beginning of Ending

20140531-225321-82401626.jpgToday we began the long process of going home. Next week will be the last week of school, as well as final music recitals, practices, and school parties. Today was the first ‘last’ soccer game (for Simon). It was the final of the small “G. Modestini” memorial tournament, after his team advanced from the semifinal yesterday. Afterwards, coaches and parents began to ask when we are returning to America.

It wasn’t the most elegant game, but the Don Bosco giovanissimi got it done, prevailing 1-0 vs. a determined Ventinella squad. The lone goal was in the first half, from Jordy, off a through-ball from Simon that the defender could not quite handle. Simon played well; the coach said he was ‘migliore in campo‘ (‘man of the match’) afterwards. Don Bosco’s keeper for this match, Christian, also played one of his best games, tipping one free kick over the bar, and a defender, Tommaso, saved the result when he headed away a shot against the post and out of play to keep it from going in at the start of the second half, when Ventinella began to press hard and Don Bosco tried to protect their narrow lead.

Here are the game highlights:

Unlike yesterday, there was no dramatic comeback, no penalty shoot-out. Don Bosco, though not without some drama, simply finished the game off.

La coppa

La coppa

There was great excitement at the end—the first ever trophy for coach Titoli, and for most of the players, in all likelihood. Micah was thrilled that his big brother had won “la coppa,” and he danced and jumped along with them when they lifted it upwards (see the end of the video). Songs continued in the locker room, and the team then brought the cup out to the field again, starting to walk around the edge as if they were circumscribing a sacred space (campo as temple). Which, in a way, it is.

Here’s the tournament report by the coach, for both kock-out matches. At the end, Mister Titoli simply and elegantly says:

Come già detto, non ha vinto la squadra più forte; ha vinto piuttosto la squadra che più aveva voglia di riscatto (in semifinale confesso infatti che a una manciata di minuti dal termine stavo raccogliendo i palloni preparandomi al saluto finale); ha vinto la squadra che ci ha creduto fino alla fine, andando oltre ogni aspettativa… ha vinto il calcio, questa magnifica metafora della vita, che regala continuamente emozioni ed opportunità a chi sa coglierle.

È stato un anno un pò difficile, ma che si è concluso con un sorriso e con una coppa alzata con gioia verso il cielo. Grazie.

“As I’ve already said, the strongest team did not win; rather, the team won that had the greater will for redemption (in the semifinal, I admit in fact that in the minutes at the end I was collecting the balls and getting myself ready for the final handshakes). The team won that believed right until the end, going further than expected… It was calcio that won, this magnificent metaphor for life, that ever makes a gift of emotions, and also opportunity to those who know how to seize it.

“And so went a year  that was a bit difficult, but that finished with a smile and with a cup raised with joy towards the heavens. Thank you.”

Thank you, Mister Titoli.



Will the Santa Sabina player score with the keeper down and the net gaping?

Will the Santa Sabina player (in white) score with the keeper down and the net gaping?

La palla è rotonda. “The ball is round.” It’s a common saying about soccer. It means that anything can happen. That wisdom is backed up by stats; Chris Anderson and David Sally, in The Numbers Game, cite several studies demonstrating that “soccer is the most uncertain of the team sports” (Ch. 1). The underdog prevails much more frequently in soccer than in basketball, baseball, or American football (10-15% more of the time). It was certainly true this week at Don Bosco in Perugia.

Wednesday was the first semifinal of the small four-team “G. Modestini” memorial tournament (2nd edition) for giovanissimi born in the year 2000; the teams had all played each other once to determine the order of the knock-out round. Don Bosco (rossi squad), Santa Sabina, and Nuova Alba all had 6 points, and Ventinella had 0, but due to goal difference, Nuova Alba was tops, and so they played no. 4 seed Ventinella, who did not score a single goal in regular time of any match. Somehow, after a 0-0 semifinal, Ventinella beat Nuova Alba 4-3 on penalties to reach the final.

And that would not even turn out to be the craziest game of the tournament so far.

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Blue Tickets

In line (sort of)

In line (sort of)

Sometimes things are easy in Italy, sometimes not. Last week, I happened to see in the paper that the Italian National Soccer Team would play their final pre-World Cup match vs. Luxembourg here in Perugia. The team is called the ‘Azzurri‘ or ‘Blues,’ named after the blue color that signified the Savoy dynasty whose king, Victor Emmanuel II, was the first ruler of a unified modern state of Italy in 1861.

Pre-sale tickets to members of the National Team fan club were available online for three days, and starting this morning at 10:00 the remaining tickets would be sold. So I contacted our friend Michael, here with his family from Australia for a year (and about to go back home the same time we are), and we decided to go down to the ticket office, located in Tabaccheria 18 near the train station, about a half-hour early to get in line.


Chit no. 64 (white)

When we arrived, dozens of people were already there, holding paper chits with numbers on them. We went into the store and got some chits ourselves, as their stamped number would indicate our place ‘in line’. “These are some of the last tickets,” the cashier said as he scratched the number ‘4’ on the white slip of paper, the maximum number of tickets each of us could buy. When we told him that both our families had 5 people, he shrugged and explained that the machines were set up that way (to prevent mass purchase and scalping), and there was nothing he could do. He told us to wait outside. We were numbers 063 and 064; that didn’t seem too bad.

tabaccheria sells cigarettes and other goods, but also performs a whole suite of daily services, from buying lottery tickets to paying electric bills and re-charging phone credits. A store worker gamely strung up a candy-striped plastic tape and asked everyone to line up along it up a set of stairs just outside. Within 10 minutes, the initial queue was unrecognizable; the plastic tape ignored. A steady stream of new arrivals crowded around the store entrance. Drivers passing by honked their support. A TV crew arrived to get a few shots for the evening news. We kept pressing forward, trying to avoid the sun which was just coming around the corner of the building, and mindful that although we all had numbers, those numbers might be trumped by one’s place in line. Be prepared either way.

This is a comedy.

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Holy Motors


The First Ferrari IndyCar – in the early years of F1 competition, the Indy 500 was included as an event.


Micah inspecting a Vespa with a side-car at the Museo Piaggio

On the way back from Verona, we visited Maranello, home of the Ferrari motor factory, museum, and test track. This visit had been a dream of Jakob’s for many years, due to his dedication to industrial design and his interest in ‘going fast.’

Motor vehicles play a prominent part of Italian culture and sport; racing is one of the most popular spectator sports (motorcycles and F1) and participatory activities (as anyone passed by an Audi doing 180 km/hr on the autostrada can attest).

We had already visited, during our trip to Tuscany, the Museo Piaggio, where the eternal flame of Vespa, the iconic Italian scooter, is kept alive; this post records Jakob’s thoughts about stylish Italian transport.

(Our title refers to the strange but wonderful film, Holy Motors, which we watched earlier this year.)

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The Piano Competition

The last two days we were in Verona, 400 km to the north, for Simon and Jakob to compete in the Concorso Pianistico Internzionale “Remo Vinciguerra,” an international piano competition for young talents from age 5-14. Jakob’s teacher had encouraged him to play in the category of “quattro mani” (“four hands,” that is, two pianists on the same piano). However, a few weeks ago, Jakob’s planned partner quit piano, so Simon stepped in to play with him.

Brothers two years apart don’t always play nicely together. Practices — when they happened — sometimes involved as much taunting and tangling as tickling the ivories.  Nevertheless, they made progress, and after school on Thursday we set off for on the four-hour drive over the Apennines to the city of Romeo and Juliet at the foothills of the Alps.

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Gubbio: the Hard Edge of Light

20140507-082040.jpgOn Sunday, while Perugia was wrapped up in soccer fever, we got out of town and headed into the hills to visit the medieval town of Gubbio. Gubbio is an old mountain town, an hour from Perugia, whose Umbrian culture dates back well into the first millennium BC. In fact, the longest and most detailed liturgical documents from the classical world were found in the 15th century near the theater at Gubbio: seven bronze tablets of the 3rd-1st c. BC (the Iguvine Tablets) inscribed in Umbrian using the Etruscan and Latin alphabets, and now displayed in the Museo Civico.

The tablets are concerned with religious rituals: purifying the town, purifying the mountain above the town, purifying the town’s army, procedures for sacrifices, and the operation of religious funds. As it was an auspicious day (Rebecca’s birthday), we took the opportunity for a visit.

We arrived just after an important medieval-modern religious ceremony had begun to occur — the beginning of the Festa dei Ceri (Festival of the Candles). Essentially, the Festival centers on a ‘race’, held on May 15, from the town up Mt. Ingino to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo. Groups of men, affiliated patrilineally to one of three saints: Sant’Ubaldo (patron saint of masons; his color is yellow); San Giorgio (patron saint of merchants; his color is blue); and Sant’Antonio Abate (patron saint of farmers and muleteers; his color is black), carry heavy wooden ‘candles’ topped by statues of their saints.

Models of the candles from the Basilica museum

Models of the candles from the Basilica museum

Previous statues of the three saints, from the Basilica museum

Previous statues of the three saints, with their colors, from the Basilica museum

Heavy and awkward candles: 263 to 287 kilos (580-633 lbs.) each and 4.9 to 5 meters (ca. 16 ft.) tall. Ubaldo is the shortest and lightest, giving his team a significant advantage as they traverse 4.3 kilometers (ca. 2.5 miles) and about 320 meters (>1000 ft.) of elevation. Every 70 meters (230 ft.) or so, the bearers switch out — at full speed — so that they don’t kill themselves with the effort (though sometimes this happens). At the top of the course, Ubaldo always has to enter the Basilica first, and his bearers then shut the doors on the other two saints. We were not there for the actual race (the town would have been packed with visitors), but for the slow transfer of the candles and statues from the Basilica down to the town. Still, the bearers were dressed in their outfits and colors, accompanied by bands, and celebrating the start of the festival period. The exit, and return, of divine images is one of the most ancient of religious traditions. Jill and Matt wonderfully described and photographed the May 15 race on their blog last year. Here’s a video to get a sense of the mass intensity and insanity of the race day:

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