Blue Smoke (In the Spanish Quarters)
There is almost nothing in this story except what happened in a part of Naples, the Spanish Quarters, in the few minutes before and after the city’s soccer team drew their away game with Udinese and mathematically won the Italian Serie A championship.
Almost nothing. Because in the human volcanic explosion that shook the close-knit hive of climbing alleys that make up the Spanish Quarters it felt there was much more.
There was the city. Naples. Her history of real poverty and real wealth, of heart-wrenching ugliness and divine beauty. There was the feeling of revenge of a people so greatly blessed and so greatly damned, so envied and loved, so hated and feared. A unique city, where they fought rubbish wars for years and that Goethe is thought to have said that after seeing it one can as well die. Sacred and violent, noble and miserable. No other city evokes so powerfully the word: life.
And there was soccer. Possibly the world’s most popular game. Our cities of millions are no longer tribes, families, clans, crews. In cities, we don’t know most of the other people. Coexistence demanded be based on colder rules, limitations and, rightly, on principles of civility, tolerance and inclusion. But it is not so easy to remove all that runs deeper by decree. And – in those few minutes – I wondered how much of what in us is more visceral and less correct, more emotional and less fair, more gut and less brain … but still very human if exiled in modern cities – reclaims its space in soccer.
Back in Rome, I saw two kids playing soccer on a roof. It’s the last picture of this story. Their generation will have it interesting but not easy. I thought of how we try – and I do as a father – to teach our kids that defeat is not a tragedy. It is important. But I also thought that this lesson is not as useful and true if it is based on the assumption that winning and loosing are the same thing. I saw it in Naples, in those few minutes. Victory and defeat are very different things. And only knowing that, one will be able to win and to loose with a strong heart. To play. This is the lesson I wished to the two kids could learn, on the roofs. ‘