Calcio Storico

In a continent buzzing with the World Cup, there is another soccer match being held in my neighborhood. Santa Croce will house the first of a few historic soccer matches today. The four sections of town (centering around the predominant churches) compete in a cross between rugby and soccer. Apparently this bloody rivalry started in the 1400s and was brought back to life in the 1930s. It begins with a parade where Florentines, dressed in Renaissance costumes, make their way to Santa Croce. The four teams from Santo Spirito (white), Santa Croce (blue), Santa Maria Novella (red), and San Giovanni (green) take out their built up aggressions due to lost love, bad driving and prideful rights in a 3-game tournament over the next few weekends. The winner gets a cow — a living cow now; not so back in the day of course (well, it wasn't alive for long).

The locals have been discussing it and preparing me for the violence and excitement. I was ready. Thought about wearing blue to support my temporary home. Pictured myself in the metal stands that now jail the pedestrian view of Santa Croce. Yelling something — maybe profanity. Just another part of the massive surge of humanity, sport, and longing. Of course, much to my mother's relief, I have to work today. Oh well. I'll at least take in the fireworks that occur over the Arno after the last match. Nothing like fireworks.

Naturally, this traditional sport at first seemed odd to me. I'm a girl who doesn't understand American football, boxing, or anything too violent for no reason. (A cow can not be a reason.) But that was me. Now I feel like maybe struggle, history, and spectacle perhaps give allegiance to redemption. Maybe these fellows just need to feel like they did something, anything, to make their lives — and all of the petty indiscretions, bad behavior, lascivious longings — mean something. Just for a moment, for the cost of a bruise, blood, pain, make it (read existence) matter. 

Or maybe they just like beating the crap out of each other. Who knows? But at least there are fireworks. 

3 responses to “Calcio Storico

  1. This reminds me of a story from when I lived in Belgium. I happened to be in Namur (the capital of Walonia, or French-speaking Belgium) at the time of the Festival of Namur. It should be said that *every* city, town or hamlet in Belgium has some sort of festival to celebrate itself–it’s one of the things that I still miss very often about Belgium. Anyway, at this festival I was observing the usual festival fare–a procession showing off the gold, silver and artifacts from the Cathedral’s treasury, people drinking shots of beverages that were so potent as to begin to resemble wood alcohol–the usual. All this, until a group of people–probably a dozen or two, dressed in red renaissance outfits appeared seemingly out of nowhere as they marched past me in formation. They were immediately followed by an equal number of people in blue renaissance costumes.

    Oh, and they were on stilts that had their feet probably 3 feet off the ground.

    Curious, I followed them until they reached a small plaza. The red side marched ahead about 20 paces, and the blue stayed behind. They rested a second, and then formed their battle lines. Stilted trumpeters trumpeted. A stilted herald read some sort of proclamation (maybe rules for fair play, or maybe an ancient reason for fighting–I don’t remember), and each member of each side raised one stilt to salute their opponents. Then, with a signal from the referee, they commenced.

    They attacked each other with startling ferocity. Really terrifying, actually. The goal was, simply, to use one’s own stilts to knock the other team off theirs. Each of the knights was amazingly proficient at fighting while standing on one stilt–the other being used to try and “unhorse” the other guy (they were all men). Their balance was nothing compared to their determination, though. This was no-holds barred battle, and no quarter was asked or given–the stilts equivalent to full-blown gladiator combat with live steel. Each competitor relied on his opponant’s ability to defend himself. No one wanted their opponant to be the one that got their eye poked out, but no one wanted to lose either.

    The rules of engagement were clear and strictly upheld. I don’t remember them exactly (it was about 15 years ago), but I do remember that for the most part it was only one-on-one, and each feet always had to be on its stilt. You could not go after your opponent’s standing leg (the moral equivalent of stabbing your opponent in the back), but only his leading leg–the one with which he was going after you. If you wanted to help someone else, you had to go after the same leg. The crowd was mostly safe, but we all knew we wanted to stay clear. A couple of lucky competitors had their falls broken by on-lookers. The rest landed on asphalt.

    After about 20 minutes, only one was left standing, and red was declared the winner. Then, each of the players, bloodied and bruised though they were, remounted their stilts. The referee made another signal, and the teams reformed their lines, saluted each other once again, and then marched off together, looking for another place to do battle.

    Apparantly they did this all day long.


  2. I am certain the bars in Namur were filled with bloodied and bruised men those years ago. ( I loved that story Eric). The Florence bars were probably filled with dangerous men last night after the soccer at Santa Croce. I’ll bet you a bag of M & M’s that Julia partook of wine and listened to the stories with them. My Belgium memories (in Brussells) involved trying to avoid stepping on flowers in the plaza. Can you kids not find a flower show, music concert, or peaceful entertainment ? Ray and I must run with a different crowd ! Yours sounds like fun however!!!!!!!!

  3. As a footnote, the “match” held yesterday was called a tie due to too many off side fights. There were ambulances. That cow still has to find a home. Eric, men fighting on stilts, only you (and other odd passersby) would witness that! And yes mother, in spite of an early shift today, I did partake of some wine (very little really) and listen to the battle stories.

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