Previously in Atlantic Abroad
This Goat Goes to Market (Joshua Kurlantzick, Oman, March 29, 2000).
Monsoon Time (Rahul Goswami, Dubai, March 1, 2000).
Rank Strangers (Jeff Biggers, Italy, February 9, 2000).
Midnight Express (Akash Kapur, Romania, January 5, 2000).
The Price of Devotion (Jeffrey Tayler, India, December 22, 1999).
Israeli Forms of Identity (Miriam Udel Lambert, Israel, December 1, 1999).
New Year's and Nothingness (William Tyree, Indonesia, October 27, 1999).
Searching for El Chapareke (Jeff Biggers, Mexico, September 29, 1999).
Opium in the Naga Hills (Rahul Goswami, India, September 1, 1999).
A Saturday at the Auction (Miriam Udel Lambert, Israel, August 4, 1999).
The Bulls of Goa (Rahul Goswami, India, June 16, 1999).
The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, May 26, 1999).
Hotel Alf (Akash Kapur, Poland, May 12, 1999).
Strolling Moscow's Broadway (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, April 28, 1999).
Uygur Luncheon (Jeffrey Tayler, China, April 14, 1999).
Onion Logic (Akash Kapur, India, March 31, 1999).
Dreamcasting Japan (Trevor Corson, Japan, March 17, 1999).
For more, see the complete Atlantic Abroad Index.
Share your tales of life abroad in Post & Riposte.
May 10, 2000
I have started playing calcio (soccer) with graying men in Rome's Borghese Gardens. There is Bruno, whose arms are one with his swear words. Massimo, tan and half-naked, flexes for the pretty women sitting on the nearby benches. And Franco tugs at the ends of his long, silvery hair after he misses a goal -- he should be bald by now.
Each game has twenty-two players, twenty-two coaches, and twenty-two referees. The participants are loud, opinionated, and out of shape, and scandali (scandals) occur frequently.
Today, for example, silver-haired Franco has an easy shot on goal that is thwarted by a leg swipe from bare-chested Massimo. Bruno applauds Massimo for his character and agrees that the "professional foul" is the "correct strategy," but Franco is furious.
Franco shouts at Massimo, "Damn you for destroying the most beautiful of all goals! Someone who spends so much time tanning his chest should not be on the same field as me!"
"Vafunculo!" says Massimo, flicking Franco's hair from behind. "Your shots are terrible and your hair is worse."
"My hair is glorious," answers Franco, ignoring Massimo's imprecation. "And your stomach is getting fatter each year. The girls on the sideline who used to flirt with you now laugh at you."
Massimo lunges at Franco. Franco swings at Massimo. Massimo grabs a hunk of Franco's silvery mane. Soon, heat and age slow the two fighters and we are left with a cartoonish affair in which both men circle and call each other ugly.
Bruno pulls Massimo away. I grab Franco and hug him. "He said my hair was ugly," Franco complains.
"You are not ugly," I say. "You are bello and your hair is bello too."
"Yes, I am bello," says Franco, primping his silvery locks. "I am bello and my hair is bello, too."
"I am bello, too," Massimo shouts back. "And the girls still look at me adoringly." The players on his team assure him that this is the case.
Bruno ends the scandalo by getting each player to tell the other one that he is still bello. Franco tells Massimo his chest is still firm. "It is the chest of a young man," he says. Massimo tells Franco that his hair is glorious and silver, "like that of a Roman God."
The foul that started the scandalo is ignored.
Our match is stalled today for twenty minutes when a call goes against Bruno. Bruno says he is through playing with "stronzi" (shits). He flips us off and then pulls one of the goal posts from the ground and starts walking away with it. Pleas are made by his teammates for him to return, but Bruno continues walking. The call is then decided in Bruno's favor. Eventually, the goal post is replanted.
I play calcio with the graying men this afternoon, and then collapse on a park bench. I nap while sweat hardens on my face and body, and then hobble home at dusk. When I step outside again at nine in the evening, Rome still seems bathed in sunlight, as if the day were just starting. The streets are empty, and the predominant sound is the blaring radio broadcast of soccer echoing through the city's rust-colored side streets.
Bruno takes me to the Stadio Olimpico to watch a match between Roma and Cagliari, two squads in Italy's famous league, Serie A. The Cagliari tifosi (fans), separated from the rest of the crowd by Plexiglas, are practically naked and motioning to the Roma tifosi with long arm-strokes that start near their groins.
I ask Bruno why they're making these gestures. He responds, "Cagliari is in Sardinia. Sardinia is an island. On an island, the families do not move much. They come to Rome and insult the creators of Western civilization because they are -- how you say it -- too much of the same family."
The Cagliari tifosi then unroll a sign that reads, "Il Colosseo e Nostro" (The Coliseum is Ours).
"This is too much," Bruno stammers. "They are bruti. They come from a land where the brother makes love to the sister, and the mother makes love to everyone. Even the baby goat must hide in Sardinia."
During our game today, Massimo claims that I tripped him. "Americano plays dirty," says Massimo, pointing at his ankle.
I gasp, pretending I am offended, and walk off the field. I am angry, but I'm not acting purely on instinct. I have learned from Bruno, who consistently ends scandali by threatening to walk. And my posturing works: Massimo agrees to drop the foul, though he claims his ankle injury might limit his running for the remainder of the game.
As I return to the pitch, Bruno ruffles my hair and says, "Americano, you are Roman."
Erik Barmack (email@example.com) lived in Rome last summer. He is now an MBA student at Stanford University and is working on a novel about relationships and technology entitled Drifting the Valley.
All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.