Italy in Books - A season with Verona, by Tim Parks

I couldn't manage it - The Italy in Books 2011 Reading Challenge that is, without a Tim Parks book. For many Italophilic readers, he will have been the entry point to Italy. But which book to choose? An Italian Education? Europa? Well, given this reader is a 'he' and interested in calcio, there can be only one. A Season with Verona - Travels around Italy in search of Illusion, National Character and Goals. The one where he follows Hellas Verona, a small team from the north-east of Italy, all over Italy. He indulges in a necessary evil, following the team to every match, home and away, over the course of a season. Why? To understand the Italian football fan, to understand Italian football, and ultimately, to understand Italy.

So, in order to like this book you'll have to like football/soccer, right? Or at least have a passing interest? Well, I wouldn't say that you do actually. Sure, there's some talk of the game, and it would help if you've been to a match or at least had a passing interest, but the main focus are the people, not the game. He joins the brigate on the away games, observing the way they interact, both between themselves, urging each other on in a strange imaginary battle with society. With amazing access, he follows the football team itself - the players, manager and chairman, how they cope with the pressure of the big game, the fans braying for a good performance, and the hate mail and chants when it all seems to be going wrong.

"Facci sognare"

The book is set out chronologically, almost like a diary, which, as long as you don't cheat and go online to check out the results that season, can make it quite exciting. Each chapter is a story in its own right, detailing a particular episode. For example, in the very first chapter, Tim Parks travels all the way down to Bari (right on the heel of Italy) with the brigate and experiences a real baptism of fire as he deals with their idiosyncrasies and bizarre coping mechanisms. He details the experience of the 'real football fan', following the team through anything, even an all night bus filled with drink and drugs. Later in the book, the author meets the chairman of the club (who is hated by the fans, but, as far as I could tell, for no good reason), and the players, accompanying them on flights to away games (rather than the old rickety buses with the 'real fans'). It's hard to know which part of the book I enjoyed the most.

The passion of the fans, players, and all the people associated with the club is conveyed very well, along with the very 'italian-ness' of it all. As a football fan, who has gone to many stadia around the world, I understand the reasons for the chants, the tribalism of it all, the headlessness of being lost in a sea of emotion. The book covers all this, and is a great introduction into calcio for the uninitiated among us. What this book does well though is show all this through an Italian lens. Why do Italian fans seem to want to go to war with each other, while actually helping each other to enjoy the game? There is a section in the book (chapter 7), which goes into this. Of course, Italian football fans are like football fans anywhere around the world. They want their team to win. What makes it interesting is that they mix this desire with local and national stereotypes and politics. On a crowd level, they direct this at the masses, while on an individual level, many actually have no prejudice or malice against people from other parts of Italy or across the political spectrum. It's a performance. Indeed, in a charming passage in the book, the author describes how, after a gust of wind blows the Gialloblu cap off the head of a supporter, the fans stop chanting their very insulting abuse and in fact ask very politely for the opposing fans to give the cap back. What do the opposing fans do? They give back the cap. They all clap. Then they resume hostilities.

"Forza Hellas! Forza gialloblu`!"

Overall then, I like this book. I can recommend it for the football fan, regardless of their interest in Italy, and for the Italophile with a passing interest in a sport so perfectly matched to the Italian predilection for drama and performance.

A Season with Verona by Tim Parks should be available in all good book shops (or can be bought from our Amazon store here) and is published by Random House books.

Also, if you want to hear from the author himself about his experiences while writing the book, click here.

This book review is my October entry for the Italy in Books reading Challenge. The other entries can be found here.

Caprarola - Festa della Castagna

As I mentioned in a previous post, now is the time for chestnuts in Italy. Earlier this month, there was a Sagra della Castagna in Soriano nel cimino, and now, until the end of October, there is another in the beautiful comune of Caprarola, around 73k (45 miles) north of Rome.
The festival in Caprarola started last Saturday, and continues till the 6th November. The full schedule (in Italian), is available on the Pro Loco site. In brief, over the next two weekends, there will be various processions, tours and of course, meals associated with chestnuts in and around Caprarola. If you like chestnuts, it's well worth a visit.
Caprarola, on a less than sunny day
It's a long way to go (from Rome) just for Chestnuts. Is there anything else to do in Caprarola while you're there? Well, luckily for you, there's quite a bit! It's a beautiful town, perched on top of a hill (it's name means 'hill of the goat'). Everywhere you look there are stunning views over the surrounding countryside (including to Monte Soratte - check out the last photo on my post here), plus, there's a fantastic Palazzo, Palazzo Farnese, which I need to write about sometime.

The inside of Palazzo Farnese is faded somewhat, but still contains beautiful paintings
The gardens are worth a visit in their own right

In the meantime, you can check out my post about Palazzo Farnese, Caprarola and nearby Ronciglione for @arttrav on her wonderful blog. Enjoy the festival!

Photo credits:

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