Michaels Italian Job

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Location: Genova, Italy

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I'm 30, and as you may have guessed from my blog's title, I'm working in Italy. Genova to be precise. I've been here since June 2008 and don't know when I'm going back to Scotland, if ever. I went to America a couple of years ago and wrote a lot of waffle. If you're bored, why not look at www.michaels-american-adventure.blogspot.com

Monday, 30 September 2013

Back where it all began (for me at least)

Dear friends, if you shift your focus about one inch to the south, you will see the second part of my book. I won't be putting every chapter up, I don't think, but I hope you enjoy this while it lasts.

Back where it all began (for me, at least)

U.C. Sampdoria v A.S. Roma, 25/9/13, Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa

Kilometres covered: My house to the stadium = about 1.5 km x 2 = 3km
Euros spent: 25 euros

One month to the day since my first and last trip round Italy, I really pushed the boat out for my second foray into watching calcio. The gruelling voyage of discovery to watch Sampdoria took me about 15 minutes, which was most satisfyingly easy. The game was a Wednesday night affair, and given that I had work on the Wednesday afternoon and then again on the Thursday morning, venturing too far from home would have been tricky.

So, after starting with Il Toro, game number two was Sampdoria versus Roma. In a way, this game brought me back full-circle to my Italian football origins, if that doesn't sound too poncey. When I was but a child, my first interest in Italian football blossomed through Gazzetta Football Italia with James Richardson, and Roma winning the Scudetto. Playing for them at that time were Totti, Batistuta, Montella and Delvecchio, but over the years three of them departed, Totti's arse got much bigger, and I lost interest in obsessing over football, instead embracing other pastimes that teenagers enjoy.

Then, when I came to Italy in 2008, my first game was watching Sampdoria play Juventus. Compared to Scottish fitba' and straining to watch a match at Easter Road through the rolling sleet, this was a revelation. It was sunny! I (probably) wore a T shirt! There were flags, banners and flares a kimbo! It was another world.

Since then, I found myself becoming a member of another parish, so this game felt a bit like crossing over to the dark side. When I went to buy my ticket from the Samp store I was unreasonably worried that people might see and judge me, so I went in camouflage. Initial reconnaissance done, I was ready to go behind enemy lines to see what information I could glean.

My inside man was Simone, who for much of this chapter I owe a debt of gratitude to. If he ever wants to come to the stadium with me, he's more than welcome, although I suspect this offer will not be taken up. Before all that though, you may be interested to know a little about the team.

Unione Calcio Sampdoria in their current incarnation were pretty late to the Italian football party. A hybrid of two teams from Genoa (Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria) who had been around since the 1890's, it wasn't until 1946 that the Samp we see today were formed. Their strip is pretty unique, and combines aspects of both their disparate parts: the blue of Andrea Doria, and the red, white and black of Sampierdarenese. In a world of black-and-another-colour vertical stripes or one-hue shirts, it's refreshing to see something different once in a while. For football strip anoraks out there, the
Dundee FC strips of 1992-94 were similar in homage.

Sampdoria supporters go by the nicknames 'blucerchiati', a reference to their strip (blue and a hoop), or the more obvious 'doriani'. The symbol, 'Il Baciccia' is pretty distinctive and of the silhouette of a man smoking a pipe. His name comes from a shortened version of Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), who is the patron saint of the city.

Despite being formed relatively recently in footballing-terms, they've not done too badly. They were the last team to win the championship from outside the Rome-Milan-Turin axis, in season 1990-91, and won the Coppa Italia three times in the 1980's. They've also made three finals-appearances in Europe: in 1988-89 they lost to Barcelona in the Cup Winner's Cup, then in 89-90 beat Anderlecht in the same competition, before their last shot at European glory was ended at Wembley by Ronald Koeman and Barcelona again, in 1991-92. Since then they've been up and down a couple of times, and reached a Coppa Italia final a few years back.

Players-wise, they've not done too badly for themselves down the years. Graeme Souness, David Platt, Des Walker, Lee Sharpe and Trevor Francis have all pulled on their shirts, not to mention the likes of Mancini, Vialli, Veron and Gullit. Not such a bad roll-call (although I'll concede that Lee Sharpe isn't in the same league as the others). When I asked Simone, seeing as he's a Samp man, who his favourite player was, he told me: “I've been a Samp fan since nursery, and I remember that I liked Trevor Francis' name. I never saw him play, but I've seen lots of great players. But of all of these, I'd say Vialli, for one particular reason: years after having retired, he said that his biggest regret was losing the Champions' League final with Samp.” He's a sentimental chap, is our Simone.

I met him pre-match for a brief libation. Re-hydrated, we made our way up river to our destination, the great little Ferraris stadium, although feel free to call it Marassi. This, you see, is the area it's in and most people call it by that instead of its official name. The same goes for the stadium in Milan, officially called Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but in the San Siro neighbourhood. Learn something new everyday, eh?

One of the jibes that the other Genoese team (Genoa) throw at Samp fans is that they aren't really from the city, but more from the suburbs or region. I wanted to get Simone's thoughts on this, and to find out if he felt that Sampdoria still had a strong connection with the local area: “Despite what Genoa supporters say, Samp is absolutely Genoese. It all started from the coming together of two teams who wanted their own team, without depending on the English (Genoa was founded by a group of Englishmen). Furthermore, beating Juventus or a Milanese team is a great joy for a Sampdoriano, and this comes from the centuries-old rivalry between Genoa, Turin and Milan. I remember a Samp match against Pisa when I was young, when I saw for the first time the hatred between fans. It was a rivalry that came from medieval times and the Maritime Republics. Apart from the big teams (Milan, Inter or Juve), in Italy which team you support is tightly interconnected with where you're from.”

As we made our way past the stadium in the direction of our turnstiles, a song was carried on the wind and into our ears. The Roma supporters had, it seemed, already gone in the stadium and were serenading those early-bird Sampdoriani with: “Tornerete in [serie] B” (“you're going back down”). As ever, the visiting support at a stadium are guests as gracious as Richard Dawkins at an evangelist christening.

The stadium here bucks the trend of most Italian stadia. Pretty much every city's stadium is owned by the local council and gets rented out to the football teams, and so many have running tracks and the most basic of facilities. In Genoa the facilities are the same, greeting the user with an overwhelming aroma of what can only be described as too many men's pish. And that's just the bar. The stadium is also owned by the council, but when it was designed for Italia '90, the architect thankfully didn't include a running track and instead made it very British in appearance, i.e. pitch narrowly bordered with stands. We were in the Gradinata Nord (north stand), which isn't the hard-core supporters' stand, but is favoured by Simone, so that's where I went. I have been in the Gradinata Sud (the Samp 'home end') before for a game of theirs a few years ago in the Uefa Cup, so I can tick the box of having been with the mental supporters. On that occasion it was a bit too mental for me as there was a fight between two guys about 2 yards away from me. So, I was happy in the Nord. We sat ourselves down in seats designed for fat-arsed dwarves (the leg room on offer is less than that you can find on a Ryanair flight) and waited for the fun to commence.

Just before kick-off, the Gradinata Sud was making a hell of a racket. It was packed, flags and flares everywhere, and kept up a constant chorus for about 15 minutes, which was great sight and sound. This being Italy, there are multiple Ultras groups, but, the most prominent are, in no particular order, the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni, the Fedelissimi and the Fieri del Fossato. These all inhabit the Gradinata Sud on match-days, and are easily identified by their multiple flags and banners. When I went to have a look at the website of the Fedelissimi, I was greeted with: “Garrone (the president of Samp) give us a surprise..... find yourself a replacement! We've run out of patience!” Needless to say, they're not entirely happy with the direction of the club. The name of the Ultras Tito Cucchiaroni may give the impression that they were named after someone. This is because they were, the titular Tito having played for Samp in the early 1960's.

Some of the biggest flags being waved read 1999. This seemed odd, as that was the second-last time they were relegated, which would be an odd thing to celebrate. In actual fact, it was the year in which the Fieri del Fossato was created when two other supporters clubs came together. I just thought they all really liked Prince.

The game itself lived up to expectations, in so much as Samp aren't very good, and Roma are. Before the game Simone had gloomily suggested that my book and the season will finish with Samp's relegation, and although they were pretty organised defensively, up front they were as toothless as a geriatric cat. Goals from Benatia (nice wee run then fell over, but still scored while lying on the ground) and Gervinho (remember him, Arsenal fans? He can score goals here) made it 0-2. Both of these goals came in the second half and woke up the Roma fans who had been quite quiet up to that point, but there's nothing like a goal to remind you to sing and set off some smoke bombs.

Around this time Simone was starting to get a bit agitated, and at one point jumped up to remonstrate and question the referee's paternity. He's normally such a quiet guy, but this is an important part of his life, as he told me when I asked what it meant to him be a supporter,: “It's the feeling of being part of a family. Although I'm not a hardcore fan, when I have to work and can't see the game, I feel like a part of me is missing. From that point of view, summer is terrible. In general I love football, I like watching matches of any team, but nothing is comparable to the physical need of watching my team. Even if they play badly or lose, the important thing for me is to watch them.”

The game kind of petered out but the Doriani kept up their singing. One of the things that interests me, and I would like to investigate a bit in this book, is if clubs in Italy still have a connection with the supporters beyond their historical roots, and how, if at all, this has changed in football's money-spinning recent years. “The bond has changed, because football has changed” Simone told me. “These days, a lot of supporters want to fight against football fixtures being dictated by TV, or against the restrictions brought about by the Tessera del tifoso (a kind of supporter's ID card which you have to have to get a season ticket). Many fans say they “only support the strip” because they're against football as a business and the disappointment of players who switch teams so often (meaning more contracts and more money for their agents).
I just want to see my team play though. More than anything else, I still appreciate Samp's players, even if they were only with us for a couple of years. I still sometimes look on Wikipedia to see what they're doing now [after their career], or, if they're playing for another team, I hope when/if they come back here they wave to our fans, because that means they haven't forgotten us.”

With the final whistle, came time to head home. My route normally involves a really long and steep staircase, with the steps painted in the blue, black, red and white of Samp. Before starting this leg-draining ascent though, I had one last thing on my mind. Now, I'm not a prude about bad language, but while fun and full of energy, the stadia here don't strike me as being particularly safe, and inside the ground seem almost entirely out of control of the authorities. If he had a kid, would he bring him/her with him?
“Why not? Football in the stadium is a world away from football on TV, so the sooner he/she starts coming, the better. It might be better if they didn't see me insulting the referee and the other team.... but yeah, I'd be happy if they had the same passion for Samp as I do.”

And with that said, we made our separate ways into the night.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

When washing machines die and dogs cry

Dig if you will a picture
Of me waking up and needing a piss
oh, sorry mum, I mean a pee
Can you my darlings
Can you picture this?
Dream if you can my bathroom
Fairly standard, not much of a view
Sink, shower, toilet
Washing machine
From which lots of water had spewed

And then a sound while I was sleeping
Through a recurring dream so old
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Why can't I stay in sleep's warm hold?
But a sound was piercing my cover
Coming in from outside (in from outside)
That wee yappy thing I'd like to smother
This is the idea I'm filled with
When dogs cry

Hello chums. Above is Prince's original idea for When Doves Cry. If you'd already guessed this and were humming along, congratulations. If not, don't worry, he generally keeps it pretty close to his chest, and you can't all be the same level as me and the Squiggle-meister (his preferred nickname). I guess he's embarrassed, although I'm not sure why, because at least it makes more sense that crying doves. Next time I see him I'll ask what drugs he was on when he thought he heard a weeping dove.

So, if you're sharp enough to get what I was getting at, my washing machine is broken, and a dog cries every morning. My rock 'n' roll life of teetering on the cusp of excess continues unabated!

A couple of weeks ago, I went out for an evening of refreshments, but only had a couple, as was my want and my terrifyingly increasing level of maturity. Upon awaking the next day I nipped to the loo for a tinkle but something didn't seem right. There was an element of dampness abound in the bathroom, which was not the norm. As I'd just woken up it took me a few moments to identify what was strange, but then realised that I was standing in a puddle. Thankfully I still needed a pee, so despite my decrepitness, reasoned that I hadn't been caught short (phew!). I looked around thinking maybe her upstairs had stepped up her reign of irritation against me by deliberately flooding her bathroom in order to get at me, but while entirely and justifiably paranoid, that'd have crossed my red line from which no amount of mediation by Russia could persuade me to forget. I then though that maybe the water was coming from the washing machine, so like the genius I am, I opened the door, thus unleashing all the dammed up water to wash over my feet like some kind of really bad version of the poseidon adventure. It would seem that my washing machine had miraculously broken overnight, and had been leaking for hours. Huzzah. After mopping it up and some profusely-choice swearing on my part, everything was good again. A new washing machine will arrive next week, and the workies will take the broken one away, presumably to a museum for school children to gawk at while their minds boggle at the technology of the 1970's.

A washing machine that breaks I can live with, even if it continues to fill up despite being unplugged and the water intake pipe switched off. I really don't understand how that works, but non me ne frega. As many of you will attest when my back's turned however, I need my beauty sleep and some effing-dog is stopping me. Bad dog!

About a week ago, it'd seem that one of my neighbours got a puppy. While puppies are often thought of as being cute, this one has a dark side. Or at least a deeply annoying dickish side. Every morning from about 6 to 9 it cries and howls in a way that makes me want to hit it in the head with a spanner. Actually, that's very cruel, I like dogs, so I'll rephrase that to say that I'd like to hit its owner in the head with a spanner. There, much better.

So yeah, it cries and cries and howls and howls, while I lie in bed and seethe and curse and curse and seethe. It only does that at that time of the day too, so I guess its owners are going out between those hours, so after some thought I reckon its owner is an old person, as they're the only people who would get up so ridiculously early, nip to the shops/church and then spend the rest of day at home. Its inherent cuteness is anathema to my other neighbours who have started shouting out the windows at it, threatening to call the police, although these threats fall on highly sensitive (it's a dog after all) but ultimately deaf ears (it doesn't speak human). Someone's put up a couple of signs in the street lambasting the on(an)er, so hopefully my precious delirium-filled sleep will be ok next week.

Che cavolo succede?!

Tomorrow is the Derby della Lanterna (Samp v Genoa), so that'll be nice and relaxing for all concerned. Yesterday Samp had a closed training session in order to keep their diabolical schemes secret. They would have been, had they not been being watched by the Genoa goalkeepers' coach who was dressed from head to toe in camouflage gear and hiding in the woods above the training ground. The club deny that he was operating on their orders, but still, it's all quite amusingly amateur and underhand. Oh, Genoa!

................And finally, thanks to all those who've read my previous blog about football, hold on tight guys, just nine more months to go and I may or may not have a book which may or may not be published.

Til the next time, buy buy (my book if it's published)!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

....And on the first day there was Il Toro

Buongiorno chums!

As you may know, I fancy writing a book about fitba'. I also don't fancy writing a blog today, but thought you might fancy reading the provisional first chapter. Eccolo qua sotto:

Torino v Sassuolo, 25/8/13, Stadio Olimpico, Turin

Kilometres covered: Genova to Turin = 170km x four trips = 680km
Euros spent: 115 euros

The first stop on my magical mystery tour of calcio was Turin, to watch Torino play newly-promoted Sassuolo. Previous to last season, I'd never heard of the visitors, and had to look them up on a map, and I'm still not much the wiser. Somewhere near Modena seems to be the conclusion. Getting there won't be much fun as it'll involve three different trains, but that will be a pain in the arse for another day.

So, Il Toro was pick number one to get me started. When Italy was formed in 1871, Turin was the first capital, and so from a historical point of view, I reasoned it would be a good place to start. In reality, the reason I chose Turin was because I thought it'd be the least maddeningly hot city to start in in late August. The heat, it would later turn out, was not to be an issue.

Another bonus of Turin is that it's quite near my base in Genoa, so I could ease myself into the waters of football travelling and watching quite easily and without spending a lot of time or money to get there. That's dedication for you!

Originally formed in 1887 as a football and cricket club, it wasn't until 19 years later that the team that is recognised today as 'Il Toro' was created. The symbol is a bull (hence 'Il Toro'), while another sobriquet they have is 'I Granata', after the claret strips they wear. The majority of supporters of many teams would claim theirs to be one of the most important or storied clubs in the country, and while many of these would be guilty of rose-tinting in the name of their passion, the Torino supporters may have a point. The joint-fifth most successful club based on championship wins, they were a force to be reckoned with in the past. Their last glimpse of glory (excluding promotions) was in 1992 when they reached the UEFA Cup final, only to be bested by cleaning products' Ajax who scrubbed up better over two legs.

The greatest era of Torino Calcio was undoubtedly that of 'Il Grande Torino', the legendary five-in-a-row champions of Serie A between 1942 and 1949 (the seasons 1943-44 and '44-'45 were not recognised as being official Italian Football Association competitions). This period ended tragically when the plane that was carrying them from a friendly against Benfica crashed into the Superga hill near Turin, killing all 31 people on board. Only three squad members who had not made the flight remained.

On a more anglicised note, Il Toro were the club where Denis Law and Joe Baker used to lay their hats; Graeme Souness sat in the big comfy managers chair for 4 months in 1997 (so on second thoughts maybe it wasn't comfy enough); and for connoiseurs of shin-kicking, Pasquale Bruno hatchet-manned for them for three seasons following Italia '90.

But back to the story.

I set off on the Saturday to buy my ticket and proceeded to get lost in the centre of Turin. Even using Google maps, my innate sense of direction was intuitively pointing me in various wrong directions, and I couldn't find many landmarks to orientate myself with. Essentially, the centre of Turin is a collection of very long, very straight roads, which served to bamboozle and infuriate me in a muggy blanket of heat and irritation. Once I'd sorted my backside from my elbow, I wanted to go and have a look at 'Il Museo del Grande Torino' that seemed like a better place to learn about the team than Wikipedia. Unfortunately, my map once again foiled my good intentions, as it was not the 3 centimetres away from the centre that it had teased me with. It turned out to be several kilometres, and, after having walked about half the way there (but always on the same street) I turned back to get my train under some fairly cantankerous looking skies. Wikipedia it is, then.

Given that this tour is probably going to cost me a fair whack of cash, I was dead happy to know that the ticket in the prole sections of the ground cost only 20 euros. Not bad to watch a Serie A match, even if the standard isn't what it once was.

I went back to Turin the day after, full of a heady cocktail of one part hangover, one part excitement and two parts nervousness (better to be neither shaken nor stirred for fear of embarrassing accidents). Would I find people who would speak to me (I'm not that desperate for company, I wanted to interview locals about their team)? Would I be able to find the stadium following yesterday's farce? And more importantly, would I get mugged in the shady-looking part of town that my hotel was in? Thankfully, the answers to all those questions were not uniform.

I'd been told to hang about at the bar near the Maratona, the Ultra's stand of the stadium, if I wanted to talk to fans. It took me nary 20 minutes of looking pensive and alone to catch my first. This might not be so hard, I thought. Turns out he only wanted to know if I was smoking drugs or a cigarette. He seemed quite disappointed with my answer, and he didn't seem all that enthused with my questions, so I left him on his way. In order to not look like an undercover policeman (being alone, trying to speak to people, not wearing the ubiquitous claret t-shirt, and refusing offers of joints) I obliged myself to a beer or two. It's an ugly job, but someone has to do it.

Unfortunately, I'd found out the day before that all of the tickets for the Maratona had been sold out, so I made my way round to the other side of the stadium to watch the game. My first impressions were soured when the security guard took my lighter off me. My intricate fireworks routine thus scuppered, I concentrated instead on the stadium and atmosphere, and was surprised by how small the Olimpico is. Two pretty small teirs encircle (but it's really more of an oval..... enoval?) a running track and the pitch. What's more, everyone was sitting on their seats in my stand. This is quite different from my previous football experiences in Italy, as I had been under the impression that seats in Italian stadiums were for standing on and kicking when you conceded a goal. Maybe folk in Turin are more civilised? Or maybe I was just in a more gentrified stand.

The curse of British pre-game festivities – the latest entries on the hit parade - has made its way over here, and so while I was trying to soak up some atmosphere and badger the locals about the whys and wherefores of their fandom, we were treated to the same God awful music you could hear if you so pleased on the car radio on the way to the stadium. Just much louder. Thankfully, this was interrupted by sections of the stand singing abuse about a player whose mooted signing had been in the paper in the previous days. Now, I'm not condoning abusing players, but if said player had previously played for your city rivals and had mocked your team during a goal celebration in a derby some years earlier, well, what would you expect? As it was, given the option of pop or abuse, I much preferred the renditions of: “Maresca, gobbo di merda, gobbo di meeeeeeeerda”, which would more or less be: “Maresca, shitty hunchback, shiiiiiiiiiity hunchback” (Maresca, being Enzo Maresca, hunchback referring to the loving nickname of all things Juventus). It added a little local colour, if nothing else. It was a little after this that I decided that I'd much rather have been sitting/standing in the Maratona, because it looked like a pretty rocking place to be. Packed to the rafters and moving as if caught up in a tide, it was illuminated by occasional flares. Looking at them, then looking at the swathes of empty rows around me, I promised myself that for future trips I'd get a ticket in the hardcore stands. One bone of contention with the songs though, was that the effort to squeeze 'gobbo di merda' into as many chants as possible sometimes led to a lot of creative licence being taken with the number of syllables, which while I admire their dedication, from a musical perspective felt a bit jammed in and one track minded.

When the game itself kicked off, it wasn't much to speak of. The small band of Sassuolo supporters who had made the trip from, well, Sassuolo (but who knows where that is really) tried to get something going, but sadly for them their team couldn't reciprocate the feeling. A pretty bitty first half was enlivened by nominative determinism's bete noir, Ciro Immobile, when he set up an 18-yard strike into the bottom corner by Matteo Brighi. 1-0 to the Toro. For the rest of the game Immobile did what I'd understood him to be capable of from watching him play for Genoa last season: run about a lot and look lively, then when the inevitable chance crops up that his movement creates, fall on his arse. Oh, Ciro!

Just to prove that the Maratona wasn't the only place where people could have fun while watching an average game, a man behind me had an entertaining line of beseechments for his beloved Toro, or at least they were for me. He would frequently urge his players to remove something from their posteriors, and then for them to forcibly insert it into the collective 'sedere' of Sassuolo. Pretty standard fair for football stadiums perhaps, but the range of voices he used in doing this suggested that moon lighting as an impressionist might not be such a bad idea in these times of financial crisis. We might not have been in the party stand, but he knew how to have a good time. This was in marked contrast to the teenage couples who were sitting in front of me, some of whom alternated between dramatically covering their eyes, waving their arms, and screeching when Toro lost the ball. Their girlfriends weren't too impressed with it all either.

The second half was more of the same: a limited Sassuolo side getting a bit of the ball but as much as they huffed and puffed, couldn't quite create any clear chances. Torino were happy to get the ball back and try to hit them on the break, and added to their first half goal when Alessio Cerci charged across the defence and pinged a shot into the net. 2-0. He stood out as being the most gifted player on the pitch, but just don't ask him to move his car while he's eating.

With this cushion, the Torino players started to make themselves more comfortable, and the game fizzled out. The same could not be said of the weather, as at half-time I had started to see lightning in the distant sky. For the final fifteen minutes, I didn't really concentrate on the game and instead hoped that the rain would pass us by, or at least hold off until I'd got back to my hotel, but it was not to be. As the game approached the final whistle, so Jupiter approached the stadium with arms full of rain, thunder and lightning to throw down on us poor mortals. It started hosing down in a way that just doesn't happen back home in Scotland. It was like standing in a power shower turned up to eleven, with the added bonus of being fully dressed. Many people had brought ponchos that, while aesthetically unsatisfying, looked to be functionally solid. I, on the other hand was wearing shorts and T-shirt. The only even remotely satisfying aspect of all of this was that some supporters started singing a song to the tune of “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. Although it made me smile, it wouldn't keep me dry, so after the game had ended I hung about under cover before finally giving up on waiting out the storm and making a very wet dash for it. Predictably, I got lost on the way back to my hotel. By the time I had crossed some rivers that I'm sure hadn't been there four hours before, and had made it back, even my bones were soaked through. Next time I'm going to buy a poncho.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Back in black

Or more accurately, back in a black mood. Is that something we say in English? Sometimes I worry that the local, obviously made up language, is eroding my English. Which as an EFL teacher, aren't necessarily great news.

Anyways. So yes, I'm back in Italy, the land of the sun and of all things great (as long as political transparency doesn't fall under your definition of 'great'). I spent three weeks in Scotland, resting my weary mind and limbs, while giving a fair beating to many of my internal organs, which was nice. It was great to see friends and family, and my Dad had his 60th birthday party, which was really nice. There were lots of photos of him when he was less old, and in many he looked a wee bit like me (while holding a much smaller podgier me), which is all very strange, although I guess, to be expected. Maybe the most surprising aspect of them was that they seemed quite spontaneous, which I didn't think you could do with daguerrotypes. You learn something everyday, if you want to or not.

One of my pals, who surely doesn't read this (Hawrite Mikey!) was also kind enough to have his birthday when I was back, so we went to the horse racing to celebrate. Using my in-depth knowledge and cunning, I left the race course more or less even, having won on the first and last races on horses that had the best names, which was eminently satisfying. I may give up the EFL lifestyle of caviar, showgirls and champagne for the life of a professional gambler, which in the long term will also more than likely end in penury. But I wouldn't bet on it.

So, back to the title. When I flew from Edinburgh, it was very early, earlier than is normal or sane, about 7.35 am. I had a connection in Laaandan, and then a flight here about 10. I'm sure BA have changed their schedule to stress me out. When we landed in Gatwick there was a bus from the plane which took us on a mini-tour of Laaandan, then returned to drop us off outside the building. I hot-footed it back through Security and then ran the fifteen minutes to my departure gate. Upon boarding, I asked the steward if he could check (inhalation of breath, wheeze) if my bag had been loaded, because (stagger, stinging pain in chest) my flight had landed about (taste of copper, darkness closing in) 40 minutes ago. I heroically made it to my seat then waited for the guy to come back bearing good news. He came back with bad news, with, he thought, an amusing twist. He didn't know if my bag had been loaded, but I was now sitting on the same fecking plane that had taken me from Edinburgh. So, basically, I'd flown up in seat 17-something, got off, ran about for 15 minutes being quite stressed, then got back on the same bloody plane and sat in seat 20-odd, but with the added bonus of a two-hour wait to see if my bag had also made a similar wacky journey. Oh! How he chuckled at the tangled web fate twists! Oh! How I resisted the urge to slap his baldy heid!

By the time we'd landed in Genoa, I was a little more sanguine, which is good, because my bag hadn't made it. Not a great inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, although 3 weeks earlier in a strike of prescience, I had taken all my pants with me to Scotland. As readers of the last post will know, when it's hot here I normally sit about in my pants. This left me in a quandary, and my neighbours in ringside seats for a day. In the end I fashioned a loin cloth, which suited my Tarzan-esque physique, so everyone's a winner. My bag arrived two days after, thus bringing the curtain down on the whole sorry charade.

In other news, I see that my last post has been looked at in locales as exotic as Israel, USA! USA! USA! and France, which is odd, as I don't know anyone in the former or latter. Friend of the blog and Chief Rainer-on-Parades, Joanna, says this is probably just spam, but I'd like to think that the industrial-grade level of pish that I write would override a computer's patience. If this isn't the case, hello future overlords, think kindly of me while you are exterminating my species (I always rooted for the Terminator, John Connor was a tool!). If on the other hand you're in one of those countries, or any country that isn't Italy or Scotland:
hello, welcome to the party, and thanks for wasting your time.

I wanted to write this at the weekend, but literature, darlings, got in the way. I made my first official football research trip (all previous football outings have been for the glory disappointment and beer) to Turin, which was cool, and absolutely chucking it down. The ferocity of rain still surprises me here, as despite having lived in Scotland for 25 years, it doesn't rain in the Auld Country like it does here. It's like standing in a really powerful power shower (try to say that in an northern Irish accent, it's fun). I also realised a key difficulty that I have - approaching strangers to have a chat, which is so far out my comfort zone that I might as well be in an Iron Mary listening to an audio loop of women talking about their menstrual cycles. Did it though, woop woop!

This has been much longer than anticipated, apologies, so........

And finally.......

Che cavolo succede!?

I was reading the newspaper the other day when I saw an article about two guys who hypnotized a women in a tobacconist's and made off with about 2000 euros. Brilliant! Hypnotism has been used too long to encourage people to think they're animals and such like, so I really enjoyed the chutzpah of these enterprising criminals. If I were a policeman, I'd just let them go because it was quite entertaining and nobody got hurt. Although, if I did want to catch them  it'd be pretty easy to find them I reckon, as surely almost every hypnotist is standing on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh doing free shows just now, no? Simply find who isn't doing that and Robert is my father's brother-in-law.

Elsewhere in the newspaper, in the private ads section there were a number of ads offering the services of 'accompagnatrice's', which seem basically to be escorts. They all describe themselves as beautiful and fun, as I believe that any prostitute that advertises herself as being a bit of a misery and pug ugly finds difficulty in attracting business. I may have grasped the wrong end of the piece of wood that fell off a branch, but really, adverts like this in the local newspaper? How odd. You don't get that in the Evening News (you get this:
http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/glasgow-man-says-edinburgh-ketchup-charge-racist-1-3062264 )

Well, that's all from me folks, I'm off to Ikea. I hope you have more fun than I will!


Monday, 29 July 2013

The Return to the Fortress of Solitude


I write this electronic postcard-thingymyjig wearing just a frown and my pants (savour the image folks) as once again it's too hot to do anything. With that motivation I figured I'd update y'all for the last time before I jet back to the Auld Country on Wednesday. I'm also feeling pretty ropey after a very good, but physically draining weekend of crazy times and suchlike. It seems I'm no longer the spring chicken that my disarmingly youthful appearance would suggest. But a wee bit about all that, in a bit.

I read Charlie Brooker's column earlier, and while blatantly not grasping anything of what he said, I did enjoy it. But luckily for you, I will not bore you with my opinions about Royal babies, BRF or anything like that. My aim is to instead bore you with stuff about me, a subject close to where my heart would be, but sadly which no one else cares enough about to drone on about. So, on with the show...........

You may be wondering about the title, as is your right. For the past few days I've been living in the bliss of my own company. After a minor understanding t'other day there have been no serious arguments, a wee bit of tetchy silent treatment, but nothing too bad. Oh, the joys of leaving the bathroom door open! Of writing blogposts in my pants! Of watching as many action films as I can stomach! Truly, the gloves (and shorts) are off, and I'm living like a king! But as all monarchy know, this State is a relic of the past with no modern function, so can't go on forever, and just as surely as day turns to night, so my solitude has its own dusk, but that might not be such a bad thing, as someone will need to clean up after me. (Don't get me wrong, co-habitation's nice, but I also like being by myself sometimes).

My whole book idea has chrystalized a wee bit more, and I've written what will more or less count as an introduction, which is pretty satisfying. But, as a result you will be dismayed to hear that I'm going to stop talking about football on here. As my book will be about football supporters, I have to go and meet some, and it'd work out better (both in terms of not getting a beating, and in making the contacts in the first place) if I give the impression of not having nailed my flag to any particular team's mast. There are a couple of groups of supporters whose reputations are not entirely positive, so I'd much prefer to try and meet them as a Scottish guy doing research for a book, rather than being tarred with another label. If I meet you in person though, don't worry, I'll be able to talk for hours about footy.

So yesterday, I went to a barbecue out in the countryside, which was most nice. I managed to imbibe a quantity of wine that would make Alex Ferguson proud, and also honed my rugged outdoorsman image that you all know and love. Someone had brought along a bow and arrow, so we all larked about with that in a totally responsible way, absolutely not trying to shoot a haybale with fags in our mouths and a beer between our feet. Incredibly, no one was maimed, and the target got away more or less unscathed too.
There's a wee river near where we had the barbecue, and while I was scouting about I saw a couple of (absolutely not dead) fish in the water. What then ensued will surely pass through the ages as one of the most titanic struggles between man and beast, of the ouevre of Ahab and the doomed-skipper in Jaws. For what seemed like hours we smote each other, with no clear winner. I woke up today with some scratches on my arm, so after that, and now I'm intelligently-guessing, I was set up on by a bear or mythical river serpent. Needless to say, no on else witnessed this, but trust me, all the battles in 'Monkey' have nothing on what happened. I imagine. My memories of it all are foggy, but I assume it's because my brain is trying to shut down the horror, the horror of it all. Finally, having driven off the attacking fiend, I claimed my prize and got a photo taken of it. It is officially the first fish I've caught in my life. Please bear (here comes a flashback; the horror) in mind, that the camera famously takes off about 150 pounds and several feet in length. Behold:

Che cavolo succede!?

You may have seen that there was a bit of a crash in Italy this morning, which for keen Michael-watchers will understand that I've made a point of not reading about it. I really can't stand it when people air their problems and unhappiness on the internet, so will instead focus on the exciting new additions to Genoa aquarium.

On Friday there was the official welcome and unveiling of a new dolphin tank at the aquarium here. There was a gig and then loads of fireworks, which surprised me as I didn't know dolphins liked pyrotechnics. You learn something new everyday. Despite being here for 5 years, I've never actually been to the aquarium as it's about 18 euros to get in, which to look at a bunch of fish seems a bit steep to me. I went to the Sealife Centre near Edinburgh when I was younger, so I get the idea. As a constituent part of any self-respecting aquarium is made of glass, I guess you could say that they see the paying punters coming.

I want to plug a cookery website which I've started proof-reading (any mistakes should be kept to yourselves), so if you like recipes and all that jazz, ch-ch-ch-check it out: http://foodfulife.wordpress.com/

That's about it kids, til next time, stay safe and look after each other!


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

An end to the bacchanalia?

Bonjour mes amis!

And with that, my knowledge of French is pretty much exhausted. Five years of it at high school sure paid off. Cauchemar!

Life here in the land of the sun crashes on relentlessly, sweaty day turning to sticky night turning to sweaty day turning to sticky night in an endless cycle of futile repetition, like trainers in a washing machine. But you're not here to hear me grumble, you're here because you followed the wrong link. Unfortunately, by your careless clickery you have contributed one hit to my blog's stats, which do not count accidental clickage, only total views; giving the entirely false impression that you wanted to get caught in this increasingly long and winding road to nowhere, thus perpetuating the myth that people read what I electronically scribble, thus resulting in more scribbling. And so the farce continues ad nauseum, like the aforementioned trainers in a washing machine.

But what can I say? In the last few weeks I've found a project, then kind of lost interest in it, then become enthusiastic in it again, then not so much. It's essentially a microcosm of most of my life. 

But back to the start: After five years here, I was balanced precariously on the knife edge of staying or going somewhere else to spread the word of English and generally avoid reality. True, my bacchanalian life is no doubt envied by many, but just as surely as 99% of Italy adults don't know well the English grammar like they say they does, so the party has to stop eventually (of course, if you know me, you know this party I speak of is purely figurative). Which leaves me at a crossroads, with no guitar-skills gifting Devil in sight. 
Ho hum.

With this, and my crushing mortality tumbling around my brain like so many trainers in a washing machine (yes, I did enjoy Alan Partridge's autobiography), I decided that I either needed to do something semi-useful, or go. With this in mind, I decided to write a book. But now I'm somewhat uncertain that it'd be ok. Sure, I have a certain je ne sais quoi (maybe my French did pay off) with words, that's a given, but, and this is the most critical question:
Can I really be arsed?

The answer is most accurately transmitted with a facial contortion and an accompanying exhalation of air. I think my idea is good, and would add to the canon of 'football in Italy' books, and having checked the market, my idea has not been done yet. But is this because it's no good? Almost certainly, I don't know. I'm hesitant to spill the proverbial beans (the cause of the previously mentioned expulsion of air), in the fear that one of you clever sausages would beat me to the punch and be able to rack up a lot of debt writing a book that five people might read if the weather's really bad and a lightning bolt takes out the TV, radio, and internet while simultaneously setting fire to all the other books in a hikeable distance. Wonderfully, as noted above, I can see how many people access my posts, and assuming that only my parents return to duty-read, and everyone else I know has read once and then gouged their eyes out, it would suggest that I could potentially guilt many unsuspecting fools into reading what may become known as "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (not my caps, and I think a pretty catchy, and as far as I'm aware, as yet unused sub-title).

Time well tell, and to be honest, I don't really know what I'm doing anymore, so I should probably do something.

In other news, my continuing struggle to be a modern-man/not-totally-backwards-child has been continuing apace with the purchase of sandals. I already had the white, mid-calf length socks, so I'm pretty much the canine's testicles now. 

Now, I know you've been waiting for it, so here's part two of the occasional series, called:

Che cavolo succede!? 
(cue theme tune and dancing girls)

Hi guys, and thanks Michael. 

Two weeks ago I went down to see a couple of free concerts in the port, and it was most pleasant. One of the groups was En Roco, which my mate Fra plays in, and having not been blogging when their last video came out, I didn't post a link, but you can see it here, now.

Also, around the time of my last posts, there were a few earthquakes going on, which as always were super fun to be in! Thankfully, there haven't been any lately, which is something to be applauded and continued with, so "good on you, seismic plates"!

That's all for now folks!

(papers are shuffled, theme tune starts again and dancing girls return)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

An exercise in concision

Awright fiends!

How are you on this fine day? Good I trust.

I was doing a lesson earlier, preaching the merits of concision and clarity in emails, a golden rule that first-time readers may be dismayed to find I don't apply to myself. As the saying goes: do as I say, not as I do.

It has been drawn to my attention that in my last post I may have waffled on, with no Belgains in sight. I therefore apologise from the bottom of my being if you came here expecting some kind of revelatory epiphany. I am not your man for that. If, on the other hand you have time to kill and no great interest in broadening your horizons, pull up a figurative pew, sit back, and relax, and let hunners of words wash through your brain like rice through a sieve with holes that are slightly too large for the job at hand.

Since last you heard from me, summer has exploded into life-sucking oppressive heat. As anyone who knows me knows, I'm not one to grumble, but jeeeeeesus, it's too hot to be gadding about in this. Normally I would schadenfreudically console myself that folks back home would be shivering in their thermals, but I see from the news that even in normally-reliably cold Scotland it's warm. Curse you weather! It'd better stay like that in August, otherwise I shall be forced to shake my fist and shout at the wind.

But yes, summer has arrived, and I'm once more forced back under the yolk of shirt-ironing. Despite being a naturally domesticated chap, I find ironing shirts to be such a massive pain in the posterior that I positively enjoy winter and it's jumper-requiring chill. This way, I only have to iron the collar. But nothing lasts forever, and with the changing of the season comes the tyranny of the iron. Oh, how I suffer!

As noted last time around, I've been here five years now, and so I was thinking if I'd had any realisations or discoveries that would be worth mentioning. I think you'll probably come to the conclusion that I've not:

  • I assumed all Italians would be good at football. I realise this to have been an error as glaring as the fouls they simulate. I've talked about playing footy with Patrick and his pals before, I think, but it merits saying again: "Jesus wept!" Some of them could teach Scotland a thing or two about perfecting the 'second touch needing to be a tackle' technique.
  • As a child, my enquisitive mind was too busy with Games Workshop stuff for me to wonder about what language animals speak. Now that I've broken away from the seductive teet of Dwarves, Goblins and Ultra Marines, I've come to the yet-to-be scientifically lauded understanding that animals speak both English and Italian. Let's examine the facts: my parents' dog responds to English. The roving packs of dogs here prick up their ears when shouted at in Italian. I rest my case. It must be added that they sometimes look at me more blankly than normal when I speak at them in English, but I imagine the animals are simply feigning ignorance, a la Parisian waiters who are said to do this when confronted by non-surrender monkeys.
After all that, I've been thinking that rather than just challenging myself to test your collective patience, I should maybe try to include some of the lowdown on here about Genoa and Italy, and the current situation in the land of the sun. So, as a trial, here's episode one of the series:

"Che cavolo succede!?" (which, very literally translated would be"What the cabbage is going on?!")

Don Gallo, a popular old priest died recently, to much hulla-baloo. By all accounts he was a diamond geezer and seemed to very much be a man of the people. He also smoked cigars and supported Genoa, which on my admittedly poor judge of character-o-meter, means he was top. I went to a free gig a few weeks ago in Piazza De Ferrari to see Paula Turci sing, and she name-checked both Don Gallo and Fabrizio De Andre, which probably accounted for the easiest rounds of applause she's receieved in her performing career.

Elsewhere, the finest and oldest football team in the land (one of these is true), the glorious Genoa CFC have moved and revamped their museum. They decided in their infinite wisdom to translate many of the explanatory panels into English, and to do this they selected the handsomest and most modest young buck they could find. Sadly, he was busy, so instead I did it. As it's a museum, my actions in the present truly will echo on in eternity, or whatever the line was from 300.

And that's more or less it. Of course other things have happened, but I was chased away from the newsagent's stand before I could finish reading the front page - apparently it wasn't a library, so that'll have to do you.

Until next time, buy buy!