In my art history class a few quarters ago, the instructor showed us a few videos that related to the various topics we were covering in medieval art history. One of them was a trailer for a documentary called “Florence Fight Club.” (I highly recommend watching it, it’s amazing.) The documentary is about “Calcio Storico”, a yearly tradition in Florence of a medieval style “football” match that dates back to medieval times. (The word “football” is used rather loosely here. As one Florentine I asked said, “The ball is at one end of the field and the guys are fighting on the other end. It’s no football game.”)
I am not interested in sports at all and I don’t generally condone the continuation of violent traditions just because it’s, ya know, tradition. Yet the cultural traditions of Italy fascinate me. When my mom & I planned this trip, I had no idea that we would be there during Calcio Storico. I realized it only as we walked through Piazza Santa Croce and I saw the sand-filled arena and the bleachers.
So I got a little excited to be around when this was happening. Shortly after I found out, mom & I stopped at a cafe for some form of iced caffeine and gelato and I asked our waiter, Ricardo, if he was going to watch the game or if he regularly does. His eyes gleamed for a split second as he grinned and reached down to pull up the leg of his pants (see below.) He didn’t say a word, just showed me his leg and I think I may have shrieked at him. “OH MY GOD YOU ACTUALLY PLAY IN THE GAME????!” It was a momentary, Italian thrill. So he told me all about it (it is so much crazier than I originally thought) and though he was not playing this year, he had played for several years prior. I asked how many injuries he’d gotten and I remember he said 2 broken ribs, a broken hip, a busted nose and black eyes each year. Yep.
Even better, he told me to come by the restaurant again the next day, around 5pm when the parade was passing through. He offered to introduce me to some of the players and perhaps get me in to see the game – “the Italian way” – since it was completely sold out. I certainly didn’t need to be asked twice!
I showed up at the restaurant the next day, inquiring with his coworkers and managed to miss him twice. (I went and was told he wasn’t there yet, so I wandered and went back and was told he’d stopped by and went looking for me.) It was so crowded I honestly don’t know how anyone could find anyone there. I was bummed for two minutes and then went off on an adventure by myself, as I love to do. So, first of all, I should mention that it was well over 95 degrees that day (and most of our time there!) plus another ten or more degrees (or so it felt) due to the pulsating mass of bodies. On any other day, I’d have not tolerated this. I don’t take heat well!
But this was easy to get caught up in so I watched the players go by (what a bunch of ruffians!), took lots of pictures and then literally followed the parade for a good hour and a half through the sweaty, miserable heat all the way to the stadium. And after all that time, when I got near the stadium and realized it was blocked off well in advance… My heart just sank. After all that time, I was hoping I’d get closer and maaaaaaybe even weasel my way into an invitation somewhere. No such luck. I felt deflated (all that effort!) but then as I saw just how many people were sitting in the bleachers under the blazing hot sun and remembered they’d be there for a couple more hours… I felt ok about not sticking around! I grabbed a gelato, chugged two bottles of water, and made my way back to our AirBnb to get a shower and meet up with Mom for dinner. (She wanted nothing to do with this insanity.) I told Husband it might actually be worth going back to Florence in one of the following years and buying ourselves tickets to the game (well in advance.)