I love the World Cup. It gives people a reason to come together and unite around their love of a team, a beloved sport, and their country. As a rather globally minded person who has traveled extensively, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a multi-country supporter. First, of course, is the USA. Then Italy (no explanation needed). Then Costa Rica, where I spent a college semester studying sustainable development. And lastly, Ivory Coast, a place I’ve visited and a neighbor to Guinea, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.
What better place to be for the World Cup than Italy, home of the Forza Azzurri. One of my objectives this summer is to hang out with Italians to watch their games, and with Americans for ours. At the start of the tournament, I checked out the schedule, dismayed to find that both Italy and USA play their first matches at 12am. Could I really go out, stay up that late and sit until 2am to watch soccer?
You better believe it. Here’s a quick synopsis so far.
June 14: Italy vs. England
Heading home from a day of sightseeing, I took some side streets to explore a bit, and discovered a pub just two blocks from my apartment. A true pub, with artisan beer on tap. This was too good to be true! I stopped in and had a few pints, talking in broken Italian with two employees, Davide and Fabio (C’mon, did you really think I was going to come to Italy and not meet a Fabio?!). The 6pm match was on, yet I was the only one in the place.
“Dove sono la gente?” I asked. “And will people come for the match at midnight?”
“I hope so,” replied Davide.
I finished two beers, and feeling pretty confident, told them I’d see them at midnight. When I showed up right before the match, the place was full of Italian boys in their 20s, with a few women in tow. Not only did I get to see an exciting match, but I got to watch Italian youth take shots, flirt, curse at the flat screen and hug each other in a congratulatory manner when Italy scored, particularly upon Balotelli’s winner five minutes into the second half. They were loud, but I guess I was expecting an even rowdier crowd. I pretty much kept to myself and just soaked in the scene, and upon Italy’s 2-1 win, I was very happy to have such a short walk home. Although too young of a crowd for me to go to watch another soccer match, the beer is good and the staff are really friendly.
June 16th: USA vs. Ghana
Apparently there’s a Steeler bar near Piazza Navona, and a World Cup match seemed like a good time to go find it and check it out. I waited until the latest thunderstorm moved through and left my apartment at around 9:30 to walk to the subway. Hardly anyone was out in my neighborhood due to the recent rain, yet it felt safe to be walking around. I took the metro to Piazza di Spagna and headed down Via dei Condotti, past the Prada and Gucci stores, before taking a number of narrow streets that led me to Piazza Navona. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, especially at night, and as it’s in the heart of the historical district, very busy with tourists. The Steeler bar, called La Botticella, is on Via di Tor Mellina, and the owner, Giovanni, speaks perfect English (he was raised in Canada). Flags from Pennsylvania universities and sport teams decorate the wall behind the bar, and a massive “You’re in Steeler Country” banner hangs just below the projector screen, used to stream live Steeler games on Sundays. Here’s my Allegheny College banner, sitting just to the right of an Anchor Steam Beer sticker. Pennsylvania and San Francisco. My two worlds coming together in the heart of Rome.
The bar is dark but the ambiance is warm, therefore attracting tourists from all over the world. I talked to Pennsylvanians, a rather inebriated Frenchman vacationing with his daughters, who spilled his beer and tried to engage me in a discussion on mineral water (it didn’t work). Fortunately, he left right at the start of the game, in just enough time for me to catch Clint Dempsey’s goal just seconds into the game. Only half of the crowd was there to watch the game, which made it difficult at first to see the screen from my bar stool as other patrons milled around with their drinks. But I was soon entertained by a group from Holland, who made fun of each other and had me laughing so much that I forgot about the game. One of them is vacationing in California this August, so I gave him a list of restaurants, bars and attractions in San Francisco.
By halftime (close to 1am), the crowd had started to thin, and I settled into my seat with a Campari and soda for the second half, when the mood got tense. Ghana had multiple shots at goal and finally succeeded at the 82nd minute, but the USA answered back with just minutes to go, clinching a 2-1 victory. I stuck around to talk with some other American tourists, and since no one seemed to be in a hurry, Giovanni kept the bar open and I met a few of his Italian friends, who kept me entertained by teaching me curse words while I waited for a taxi to arrive.
I arrived home at 3am, feeling triumphant yet unsatisfied. I had successfully gone out alone and talked to all kinds of really interesting people, and had a great time – quite a feat for an introvert like myself. While La Botticella is a slice of home, the drinkers are mostly just passing through. It left me wondering, where do the American expats hang out? My experience at the Prati neighborhood bar was equally unsatisfying. Where do Italians my age go to watch the game? Looks like I still have a lot more of Rome to explore in order to figure out where I belong. Fortunately, we have many more World Cup matches to go.