Monday, December 31, 2007

It's a New Year - good!

WHAT did you say?

So last week we were driving gran back to the airport. Up ahead we could see a big fracas... police cars on both sides of the road, all the cars being pulled over on our side, we counted twenty cops!

It was a "booze bust" - you know, a breathalyzer stop.

The learner drive, who was driving, calmly announced: "I forgot to put the L plates on, and my license is on the bedside table, oh, and your wheels are illegal."

Well, I then had a revelation and discovered - the Power of Prayer.

Gran in the back seat didn't notice any of this, probably too busy keeping an eye on the speedometer. But she did ask why I kept repeating the one line, 'Hail Mary, full of grace', over and over and over.

There must have been some reason we were allowed to go through when all of the other cars got pulled over... I am still thanking God about it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

Do you want to see something purty?

Do you want to read something fun?

Then hustle on over to Persnickety Tutu - run by a feisty LA chick - you'll find it's a little bit of what you fancy.

Like good champagne, the quality is top notch!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas kaleidoscope

My friend at Zoolatry, who I describe as the world's best with Adobe Photoshop, made this recently for her two cats. It means a lot to me, as I use the term kaleidoscope to describe the changing patterns and images of my life.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's beginning to taste a bit like Christmas

At this time of year, I always fancy a glass of Asti Riccadonna - a fine Italian wine. Riccadonna seems to symbolise all that is Christmas for me. A time to share a glass of wine with loved ones - a warm summer time wine. Translucent bubbles that look like they belong on a Christmas tree, a gleam and a glow coming from the glass that reminds me of celebrations...

But really, I only drink it for the pale gold color and the truly persistent bead.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dragan's pink BMW

Asked a girl what she wanted to be
She said baby, can't you see
I wanna be famous, a star on the screen
But you can do something in between

Baby you can drive my car
Yes I'm gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you

Beep! Beep!
Beep! Beep!


A young wife sat on a sofa on a hot humid day, drinking iced tea and visiting with her Mother. As they talked about life, about marriage, about the responsibilities of life and the obligations of adulthood, the mother clinked the ice cubes in her glass thoughtfully and turned a clear, sober glance upon her daughter.

'Don't forget your Sisters,' she advised, swirling the tea leaves to the bottom of her glass. 'They'll be more important as you get older. No matter how much you love your husband, no matter how much you love the children you may have, you are still going to need Sisters. Remember to go places with them now and then; do things with them.'

'Remember that 'Sisters' means ALL the women... your girlfriends, your daughters, and all your other women relatives too. 'You'll need other women. Women always do.'

What a funny piece of advice!' the young woman thought. Haven't I just gotten married? Haven't I just joined the couple-world? I'm now a married woman, for goodness sake! A grownup! Surely my husband and the family we may start will be all I need to make my life worthwhile!'

But she listened to her Mother. She kept contact with her Sisters and made more women friends each year. As the years tumbled by, one after another, she gradually came to understand that her Mom really knew what she was talking about. As time and nature work their changes and their mysteries upon a woman, Sisters are the mainstays of her life.


Time passes.

Life happens.

Distance separates.

Children grow up.

Jobs come and go.

Love waxes and wanes.

Men don't do what they're supposed to do.

Hearts break.

Parents die.

Colleagues forget favors.

Careers end.


Sisters are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. A girl friend is never farther away than needing her can reach.


When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the women in your life will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's end.

Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you...Or come in and carry you out.

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, Mothers, Grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, and extended family, all bless our life!

The world wouldn't be the same without women.

Something superb to see

I just discovered the art of Natasha Wescoat, a young American artist - she's just twenty-five. Her whimsical, rich, view of life reminds me of the Australian artist Ken Done, another personal favorite.

My goodness is she becoming popular! And she's gaining a world wide following. I particularly like her cat pictures for some reason.


Hot air ballooning in Canberra

It's a very popular past time here. In summer, in the cool of the early morning, you can hear them coming for miles. First the barking starts. Dogs don't care for hot air balloons. Then there's the loud noise as they turn on the burners and gain altitude.

In winter, the balloons float in front of the monumental Telstra Tower. All colors of the rainbow, a welcome sight on a frosty, misty morning.
Here are a couple going right over my house and then a third one landing in a park nearby.




The Abbey of San Galgano

I was here in October last year. I was on my way from Montepulciano to San Gimignano. Have you been there?


We had decided that the drive to San Galgano would be a perfect day trip on the way to San Gimignano. As we neared the abbey the roads narrowed and the trees pressed in – chestnuts, blackberry thickets, pines, olives and all manner of deciduous trees blanketed the undulating hills of the terrain we were passing through. The drive was enchanting.


On arrival, I could see the beautiful circular chapel up on the hillside above the abbey with a sword embedded in a stone inside it. Alongside it were six large pheasants in the newly ploughed field, with burnished coppery brown plumage.

It’s eerie to stand at the entrance, with the crows cawing desolately as they fly through the roofless abbey and in and out the paneless windows. The circular chapel has a sword embedded in the stone inside it.


There's so much to see and think about when you are there. It's an evocative place. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was an unforgettable experience and a memorable drive through the deeply forested Tuscan countryside.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Old car... new car


Acqua Alta in Piazza San Marco, Venice

Fiesole, up above Florence


Alessandro and I bought bus tickets, four for four and half euros and took the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco up to Fiesole. We looked at the della Robbia inside the Cathedral, and the beautiful altar, then went to the Roman Ampitheatre.


When Florence becomes crowded, remember that there is somewhere nearby where you can go to be alone.



Old haunts in Florence


Years ago, I used to stay at the nonna's apartment in Florence, quite near the San Lorenzo markets.

I spent a week there on my first ever trip to Italy, and Nonna bought me a cream leather jacket from the market. Oh, such things bliss were made of...

Then, just a year later, we arrived at the apartment on New Year's Eve, sadly, without Nonna. We stayed for three weeks that time. The apartment was sold, and I haven't been back to the street since, though I've always wanted to go back and revisit it. Well, when your sixteen year old asks you to take him to Italy to look up the family roots, his wish was my command.


Dubai - Ibn Buttata Mall

Torcello - where Venice began

The San Giorgio bell tower with Alessandro

Alessandro and I visit the David

After being awed by the 'real' David, Alessandro and I sat out in the courtyard for a bit to talk about what we had seen. He was very interested to see the unfinished statues as well.


Then we went up in a taxi to see the 'green' David and the views from Piazalle Michelangelo.


Afterwards, we had pasta and salad lunch at one of those restaurants that line the Piazza della Signoria, with a great view of the 'third' David.


When in Rome

MargM is in Rome now and is talking about gelato. That reminded me that I took a picture last week of Alessandro in Florence outside a gelato place, on our way to go in and see the "real" David. Can you see why I chose to take the picture here?


Close up with a camel

One of the best malls we went to see was the Deira City Centre. It was a 15 minute taxi ride from the Dhow Palace Hotel. It has 300 outlets, which isn't that big for Dubai, but it's very well laid out and very popular with both locals and ex-pats. Did you know that ex-pats make up 80% of the population? We ate dinner on the second night at the food court. There were lots of sales in all the stores for Ramadan, and food outlets were mostly closed during the day, but there were some open for tourists behind black curtains, with a discreet sign saying 'Entrance'. The stores opened at 10am, and some of them stayed open until 1am!

This was a display on one of the three floors. The moving camel was very realistic - but it's as close as I wanted to get to a real one. I took a jacket along to all the malls, for the air conditioning - which was great. Taxis, hotels and shops are all air conditioned, which is great as it's a hot place. A cool change came through as we were leaving.


Florence seen through new eyes

No matter how many times I get to go to Florence, I am still in awe of the architecture and the art. But what really made my day today was seeing it through my son's eyes.


My goodness it's hot in Florence!

G'day from Firenze. Come state oggi?

It's a warm Wednesday afternoon and we just arrived here at lunchtime today. It is so interesting for Alessandro to see the contrast from the small town atmosphere of San Gimignano, where we were this morning, to the large and bustling atmosphere of this very special city. This morning we sat in Piazza La Cisterna, in San Gimignano for an hour after breakfast, watching the school children going to school on the bus, and the locals opening their stores. Parcels were delivered, streetsweepers swept through. It was calm and quiet bliss.


Then at ten to nine we trotted down Via San Giovanni, trailing our luggage behind us, to the bus stop. We arrived with one minute to spare and were on the bus to Poggibonsi. Then twenty minutes later on a train up to Florence.

We got a cab to the back of the Duomo and then walked up the long block to the Hotel Dali where I 'caught up' with Marco, who now has three children instead of the one he had when I last stayed there in 2001.

We have looked at the Ponte Vecchio, have explored the markets and are enjoying incredibly cheap Internet at one euro for an hour. As I live on the Internet at home, we have really only come in to sit down for a bit.

Alessandro has become a dab hand at ordering our meals in Italian and pays for everything. He just bought a belt at the big market, so he's a happy vegemite.


Allora tutti, piu domani. Ciao!

The Ca D’Oro on the Grand Canal in Venice

The Rialto markets were busily being set up when we passed through them early this morning, on Friday 28 September. It was interesting watching them use a crane to unload the heavy pallets of fruit and vegetables from the barge up to the landing dock. Fish were being set up on ice, people were very busy working hard.

My aim that morning was to see the fabulous Ca D’Oro again. It’s my favorite building along the whole of the Grand Canal. After photographing it, we took a traghetto across to it. Then we went inside. It is open from 8.15am and costs five euros to enter. Money very well spent. I haven’t been for many years, but now plan to go back there on my next trip in April next year. The ancient tapestries are beautiful, as are the paintings, some by Titian and Tiepoplo. There is a beautiful little courtyard as well.



After cappuccino and brioche, we took another traghetto across to San Polo and enjoyed looking in store windows and inside churches as we passed them by.

Returning to our hotel later on we encountered the Acqua Alta over many parts of San Marco. It took us quite a while to get back, as we had to make detours and go around different calle that usually take us straight to where we want to go.

We went to Campo San Luca for lunch, then did some more window shopping – always a fun and interesting activity in Venice. For two euros each, we took a vaporetto across to the San Giorgio church and went up the elevator of the bell tower (for three euros) to look at the views.

Dinner was at our little Campo San Provolo restaurant, Trattoria da Nino, as usual. Then we walked home past the Suve supermarket, stopping in to pick up some Baci chocolate and a bottle of Amaretto for the Aunts we were to visit the next day.

The Bell Tower at Piazza San Marco

Still Thursday

Back to Piazza San Marco where the trestle tables had gone as quickly as they had been put up. Goodness, that was quick! Over to the Campanile, the bell tower that fell down at 5.30 in the morning in 1910 and took two year to rebuild using the same bricks. We paid our 6 euros and went up in the elevator with ten other people. The views are always worthwhile.


Burano and Torcello

Thursday 27 September

We walked to the Fondamente Nuove easily as it’s quite close to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, which is near where we are staying. As we were early for the ferry we walked for a while among the residential apartment buildings and the fruit and fish stalls.

We took the ferry to Burano where they have their own leaning tower. It’s the church bell tower and can usually be seen from quite a distance away across the water, but its outline is indistinct now as it’s under scaffolding.

We watched a young woman lace making. Usually at that shop it is the nonna they bring out for the tourists to admire, but I guess it was time to train someone new in the ancient art of tatting. Alessandro was very interested in all the colorful houses and we now have a great new photo album.


After a cappuccino and a café latte we went across to Torcello – we spent a lot of time there sitting and soaking in the pastoral quiet. Talking to the goats, the geese, the ducks and the turkeys. There were different cats this year and they have been given two dog kennels to live in, each one with the name Dingo written clearly on it. When two tour groups arrived we moved on.

The ferry stopped in at the Lido on the way back to San Marco. We could see cars and a lot of hotels at the landing stage.

On our return to Venice, the trestle tables were up in Piazza San Marco, but there wasn’t much water about. We stopped in for a snack at the popular self service restaurant Cat Qui Rit, which can be found just behind San Marco, at Calle Tron. On the way to there we passed the gondola station outside the Cavelletto Hotel, where a larger number of tourists than usual were all lined up to wait their turn on a gondola. That reminds me, we must take some more traghetto rides tomorrow.

Venice - it was a dark and stormy night...

Wednesday 26 September 2007

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”

It was a dark and stormy night. There was thunder followed by lightning which was followed by rain. And not just ordinary rain. This was Venice rain. The sort that brings out the umbrella vendors and floods the pavement completely. We caught the vaporetto to Santa Lucia railway station to buy our tickets for the overnight in Modena then took refuge in a church, with lots of other wet and bedraggled tourists. That wasn’t me sitting there doing a crossword puzzle. Heck no. And it was interesting walking from the railway station back to Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Afterwards we had a contest to see who could pour the most water out of their shoes.

But later on, we had a Lavena moment. Only those who frequent that café of cafés will know what I am talking about. Let’s just say that whenever I drink my cappuccino at home, from my Lavena cup – I get to relive it – if I shut my eyes very tightly and play the video I made of the Lavena band striking up and playing both Moon River followed by the theme song from Room With a View.

Then we did a lap of window shopping clear round Piazza San Marco. At each jewelry store the gold shone brighter and the rings got bigger. “Ostentatious!” declared Alessandro. “Glorious!” I replied.

Do you know, we discovered that at 4.15pm, there was no crowd at all lined up to enter the Cathedral. What good fortune for us! In we went. San Marco - gold mosaic, the bronze horses, the views, the Pal d’Oro – and just as we walked round a corner and it appeared in front of our eyes, a chorus began. At first I thought it was just in my head, but after a few moments I realized it was a choir singing.

“Follow that nun!”
Oh my gosh did I wish I hadn’t uttered those words on the way home from our restaurant in Campo San Provolo. God only knows where that nun was going, but it wasn’t back to our convent hotel. Oh well, a walk through Castello is a walk worth while. And finally we came to a calle that I knew would take us straight to Campo Santa Maria Formosa.

Afterthought: h’mm, I hope the painting I bought fits in my suitcase.

Please Don’t Eat The Daisies

“Dearer to me than the evening star
A Packard car
A Hershey bar
Or a bride in her rich adorning
Dearer than any of these by far
Is to lie in bed in the morning.” - Jean Kerr

Up and away even earlier this morning, we were out the door to explore Venice at 6.34am. Jean Kerr obviously wasn’t in Venice when she wrote that! After cappuccino and brioche at a ‘glossy’ bar, we headed down Calle de le Rasse towards the Riva degli Shiavoni. We walked clear along, admiring the large wake left by the tug boats holding onto the leashes of the massive cruise liners as they forged up to San Marco. There were five this morning but we may have some as we turned into the Public Gardens at the far end of Castello Ovest.

From here we wended our way to the Arsenale, then through the residential calle of Castello, watching the apartment shutters being opened, then the school children streaming out in small groups, heading for the vaporetto or in the case of the younger ones, holding papa’s hand and being walked to school.

We spent time today sitting under a large umbrella in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, looking for tourists, but finding few, as most people we saw were from around here. It was another drifting day, along calle, over bridges including the Rialto, pausing in campos to gaze up at the buildings and admire the wisteria and wonder where the honeysuckle was hiding, that we could smell.

After lunch Alessandro bought a bag of grain to play with the pigeons and had a wonderful time with one which was so tame, we could both pat it.

In the evening, in a little store in San Marco near Calle dei Fabbri, Alessandro finally found a belt that was then remade in front of him, specifically to fit just him. Then we headed for Piazza San Marco again, to see how the cathedral looked in the dusk light. We sat on a trestle table watching a reception of well dressed people drinking Prosecco outside Quadri. All the bands were playing, and it was returning to the quiet state that we always see it in, as we are out so early in the morning.

San Marco at dusk

Quadri bathed in golden light

Life is beautiful

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy, days of summer,
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer…”

Today was one of those incredible blue and sunny Venice days. You know, the kind where you start off at daybreak and you get to watch your son eat his first ever brioche con marmellata with a really exquisite cappuccino. Then when you take him to Piazza San Marco, long before the crowds roll in, and you’re sitting in a café chair outside Lavena, all the bells go off. A ringin’ and a chimin’ with black moors striking the bells at the top of the clock tower.

He was so impressed with the chapel at the side of San Marco. He was even more impressed with the two traghetto rides we took. We visited a lot of churches today. After the San Marco side chapel, we went into San Zulian, then San Stephano, where he took some great pictures and finally the glorious Salute.

I can’t believe we walked around four sestieri this morning; Castello, San Marco, San Polo and Accademia.

We have been over the Rialto Bridge three times already, and we’ve only been here twenty-four hours. We walked over the Accademia Bridge as well.

Alessandro has looked in so many clothes stores. He speaks perfect shopping Italian now. “Buon giorno, quanto costa per favore? Grazie.” After really checking out the Dolce e Gabbana store very closely, he finally found two affordable jackets in my favorite piazza, Campo Santa Maria Formosa. We had just sat for a half hour on some steps leading down to a canal, eating our pizza al taglio, while gazing at the many storied apartment buildings and watching a stream of gondole float serenely by. It was just after school let out and the square was filling up with young children and their nonnas, play equipment was set out for all to share and mammas were catching up with their amici.

Then we walked down Calle de la Rasse to the Grand Canal just in time to see the biggest cruise ship I have ever seen in my life drift majestically by. The people lining the top story had all been in Venice earlier that day. If you avoid the main streets during rush hour like we do, you can avoid them too.

Alessandro finally found the elusive Ferrari store again. It’s right next to the Chiesa San Zulian, which we walked past six times today, and across from the Cartier store. He saw a jacket he liked for 760 euros and found one or two other things… but sadly they were closing for the night. I found a plum and chestnut silk and cashmere pashmina to add to my collection. Leslie’s rule: One can never have enough pashminas.


Venice through Alessandro's eyes

Watching Venice through Alessandro’s eyes was such an experience! I was walking through the 5pm crowds, and I’d have to stop, grab his arm, and move him on. He was standing stock still staring at the African illegal vendors of fake Louis V bags, and at the British soccer club young men on a fun trip, dressed up as school girls. Then he caught sight of the windows of the shops. Oh my.

When I walked him over to the edge of San Marco and he saw the cathedral and the bell tower, his eyes just got wider and wider. He wanted to go into a church, San Zulian, but I told him I’d take him in there tomorrow. He made me promise I wouldn’t forget.

Dinner was an incredible experience. As I walked in Trattoria del Nino, at Campo San Provolo the Blond Signora ran up to me, exclaimed how good it was to see me, kissed me twice and very much admired my son. Her son Luca was having the day off she said, as she checked that we would come back to eat again the next night. He would want to see us. The food was excellent. We shared tortellini alla panna, scaloppini alla limone, insalata misto, patate frite and an aqua minerale naturale. It was delicious.

After dinner we strolled up to see the Rialto Bridge and Alessandro had his first gelato. He got chocolate mint and fragola in a copeta – cup, for 3 euros. He is very interested in learning Italian and is taking to it well. I let him do all the purchasing and he is speaking to people, saying grazie and buona sera. I let him keep the money and pay for things – Il conto per favore, grazie.

We are in a larger room at the Istituto San Giuseppe, number 16, which is up on the fourth floor, like last time. We walked past rooms 11 and 12, where we had stayed before to get to it. It has three beds, so we have a spare one in between us. We look down over a courtyard and Alessandro couldn’t believe all the bells. He exclaims every time he hears them go off. He is curious about everything and is enjoying everything he sees and should go back speaking a lot of Italian.

A convent stay in Venice

I'm partial to Castello. I've stayed there a few times recently and it suits me perfectly.

Here's where I'm staying with my son - in a quiet, peaceful convent hotel next to Campo Santa Maria Formosa and very near Piazza San Marco.

There is a landing stage outside the front door (see picture), often used to tie up sleeping gondolas, the garbage scow or the supply barge for the nearby SUVE grocery store. There's also a take away pizza place one minute away.


You buzz to be let in and out, and it is preferred that this is between 7.30am and 10.30pm. The sisters and the lay staff go out of their way to be friendly and polite. Almost all conversations are in Italian though, so brush up before you go.

The rooms are sparklingly clean and very, very quiet. The bathrooms are new. There is a lot of cupboard space. The beds are firm but very comfortable. For the price, 70 euros a double, there aren’t the glossy extras like bar fridge or television. Who needs them with Venice outside the door.

There is a vending machine on the ground floor that I use often – it has soft drinks, cookies, candy – that sort of thing. There is another set up on the first floor with free tea and coffee from a machine for those who prefer it.

There are some charming courtyards. You go through a large one after the front door, then after passing through the big hall with the vending machine, there is a another smaller courtyard filled with potted plants on the way to the elevator that takes you and your luggage up to your room.

There is a Venetian “piano nobile” up on the second floor. It's a beautiful room! This convent is also a preschool. A couple of times I have watched the teachers and the nuns with the children. You never hear any sounds at all from your rooms apart from the neighborhood church bells.

Sometimes, there is the sound of a pigeon cooing on your window sill.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

[yellow tail] - a good Australian wine

One of my son's consultants, or 'reps' from his firm gave him a bottle of [yellow tail] Cabernet Sauvignon this week so I looked it up in the wine guide. It's described as being a full-bodied wine with spicy notes. As well, it has a rich purple color and aromas of blackberry, chocolate, mint and vanilla.

My goodness, you could drink it for dinner.


It's a Casella family wine, they've been a wine success story for over a hundred years. First in Italy, then since the 1950s, here in Australia.

Now this is a view!


Bellagio and Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo

I stayed at the three star Hotel Du Lac in Bellagio, situated on Lake Como, with stunning balcony views, in April 2005. It was very quiet (maybe because we were on the fourth floor) despite being on the waterfront and having a lively atmosphere along the street. There are 48 rooms and the location of this hotel was ideal. Our room had a balcony from which the views were wonderful as it is right on the edge of the lake.

Right outside the hotel is the ferry for Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo across the lake. We bought return tickets on the ferry to the villa for €12.50. This was a highlight of my visit. There's a bar there for coffee and a gift shop and we walked through the villa and part of the gardens.

Venice: The Four Seasons by Lisa St Aubin de Teran

I've got out my precious copy of Venice: The Four Seasons by one of my favorite authors, Lisa St Aubin de Teran. I always seem to read it again in the weeks preceding a trip to Venice.

It's about the years she spent there with her family, from 1988. They bought an apartment in my favorite area, Castello, next to my favorite square, Campo Santa Maria Formosa. As her young son, Alessandro (what a coincidence) started school there, it's likely that the nearby convent he attended was the very one that now invites in guests; it is also now run as a small hotel.

Her personal descriptions of Venice are unmatched, in my opinion.

The gliding gondola, the wobbling traghetti, the vaporetti, the motor boats of friends, the patched and sometimes leaking rowing boats of others are all fragments of the kaleidoscope glass I love. Even waiting for the water buses, feeling the slap of water under the rotting boards of the vaporetti stops fills me with a sense of contentment. Whether it is the contentment of being in Venice or a natural love of the water I cannot tell, and it doesn't matter. On the Canalazzo the sun dapples and silvers the surface, flickering like a stall of fish either throwing back or swallowing up the reflections of the buildings as we pass.

As I read, I become even more enthused about Campo Santa Maria Formosa. I have an aim for this upcoming time in Venice. I am going to spend as much time as I can in this square and the calle surrounding it. We all have our areas of Venice. I have a feeling that this might be mine.


Campo Santa Maria Formosa cat

Tourists - aren't you one yourself?

I've said it before and I'll just say it again.
As Alessandra Federici so eloquently says, and I completely agree with her, there's no point in going somewhere, as a tourist, and then complaining because others had the same idea!

Go left two streets - go on a day trip during the busy hours of the day - go into that lesser known church, art gallery, museum.

Go to the slightly lesser known town nearby and miss the tour groups all together, during the busy hours of the day.

Sit inside that famous cafe and watch the crowds go by in comfort.


Get up early and have the main piazza all to yourself for two or more hours.

If I can do it - you can.


Soccer in Italy – more than just a game

Someone from the Rick Steves’ graffiti wall said that they believed that you could get quite an accurate picture of what Italians are really like before you visited Italy by reading Tim Parks' three books on living there: Italian Neighbors, An Italian Education and A Season with Verona. I’ve just reread all three as part of the preparation for my upcoming trip to Italy.

A Season With Verona is part travelogue and part psychological study of the culture of being a fan of Serie A – in particular of the "Brigate Gialloblu”.

Tim Parks had lived in Italy for 20 years before he wrote this book about supporting his local team of Verona, the club, Italian politics and his experiences of trips on the supporter's bus as he watched every league game during one season. He was already a regular home supporter, but traveling up and down Italy with some of the most loyal fans to all the away games, was a different thing all together.

Whether you are a fan of football or not, this book, like the other two, is part of an Italian education. And I've learned a lot of chants, like: Go the Brigate Gialloblu, the yellow-blue brigade!

What I liked about it was the way Tim Parks showed how soccer is like life, and also how soccer affects so many aspects of life, regardless of whether you like soccer or not. He really looks closely at the regional and cultural divisions that exist in Italy and that show themselves through this sport.

He writes about how Northern Italy (and he thinks Verona in particular), is seen as a last bastion of racism. At the time he wrote the book, in 2002, Hellas Verona had no black players, and the fans shouted racist comments to blacks on opposing teams. He discusses the theory that the big city teams control the Italian soccer federation, and make the referees biased against the provincial teams, such as Verona.

In A Season With Verona, Tim Park helps us to understand that people act and behave at the soccer, in ways they would never do in everyday ordinary situations. But as he says, soccer is not just an ordinary sport to Italians. It’s taken very seriously. Throughout the book he compares the soccer fanaticism to religion – or religious fervor. In fact, I read somewhere that, “Stadiums become temples, and players saints.”

Here is a fascinating link to where Tim Parks is interviewed by an Australian journalist. Whatever you may think of the book - it's certainly an eye opener!


Hellas Verona - 'curva' of the Brigate Gialloblu.