Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Match 5: Verona

Verona the city lies in the north-west and like much of the rest of Italy, has changed hands frequently through the years. It has ‘belonged’ to, among others, the Romans, the Ostrogoths, Napoleon, and the Austrian empire before being becoming part of Italy in 1866. A nickname that the football team has is i scaligeri, after an important family in the city’s history, although having read about them, it’s surprising that their descendants were able to achieve anything given their apparent fondness for plotting fratricide. One of them, Cansignorio, killed two of his brothers while another, Antonio, after Cansignorio’s death, continued his brother’s legacy by killing another brother, Bartolomeo. Modern soap-operas have nothing on fourteenth century Verona.

It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture and urban structure which makes it very popular with tourists and was the home of three of Shakespeare’s plays: The Taming of the Shrew, (pretty self-explanatorily) The Two Gentlemen of Verona and of course, Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately from a cultural point of view, I was there to watch some football, not to take photos of buildings and statues, so when I arrived I buzzed off from the train station and made a bee line for the stadium. The route is fairly non-descript through a relatively modern part of town: one big road flanked by blocks of flats. I’ve had a few extended wanders round parts of other towns thanks to misreading the maps on my phone, so I reverted to some good old-fashioned following people who looked like they were going my way. I quickly spied a guy in a gialloblù scarf, so stalked him until he led me to the stadium, at which point I abandoned him and found myself a suitable looking watering hole. I’ve been told that it’s a regional tradition to have what amounts to mulled wine for breakfast, but crucially, when I was in Verona I had forgotten about this. I’ll be back in spring for a Chievo Verona match, so I’ve promised myself that when I’m back in this neck of the woods I’ll be a bit more touristy and in the name of research drink some wine for breakfast before taking a stroll round the historical centre. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to (choose) to do it.

I found myself a bar in which to have some lunch and to collect my thoughts before heading to a more conventional pub. After all that I’d been told about the locals, how would it go? My only previous experience of Verona fans (albeit from quite a distance, and only of those fanatical enough to go to away matches) was not entirely positive, to say the least. Would they all be the snarling in-breds I’d been warned of? Would there be the scumbags who chanted during a minute’s silence after a disaster? Would my being alone in a pub while they drank and chatted pre-match mark me as a suspicious ‘unknown other’? Before coming, a friend confided that the veronesi were the terroni of the north. Terroni is the pejorative term used by some northerners to describe southern Italians. It’s derived from terra, meaning earth/ground, and so it’s used to indicate rural people, i.e. those with a typically lower level of education and sophistication. As Verona is in the north, what my friend was alluding to was that the veronesi were not good, civilised people, despite their inherent northernness. I was to be careful, as they had no scruples. As I’ve said, I don’t normally take other people’s ideas at face value, but to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed, and he was just trying to look out for me which is of course appreciated. 

With all this in mind, had I seen a mob with flailing pitch forks (but snappily dressed - lazy stereotype ahoy, but Italians do normally dress reasonably well, savages or not) chasing one of the town’s African community down the street, I probably wouldn’t have been too surprised. Dismayed, per carita, but not too surprised. Imagine my genuine surprise then, that when I popped into a pub opposite the ground and asked for a beer, the woman behind the bar not only understood me, but answered me in comprehensible Italian, and all with a minimum of spitting and drooling! As I drank my beer I looked around, and it was like any other bar in any other part of Italy that I’ve been to. Generic furniture and decor? Check. Same old collection of spirits behind the bar? Check. Old men sitting reading the paper in the corner? Check. Maybe Verona and the veronesi aren’t so different from you and I after all? Just to be sure, I tried to blend in with the locals by drinking my beer and watching the early kick off on the TV.


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