Today was the Feast of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, and the highlight of it is the historical soccer match called calcio in costume. It dates back to 1530 when the 4 churches banded together to repel a siege of the city. Ever since, they celebrate the victory by having battles between the four churches with lots of pageantry (and even more violence). Nancy got us all shirts for our precious blue team!
However, the big issue for us was getting tickets, which are incredibly hard to get, but not everyone has Nancy! Since she knows everyone (and does pr for a living), she was single minded in her pursuit of tickets all day. In the morning, we only had one. Morning may be a bit of a stretch, as we had a sleep in day after so many long nights. We met up with Louise and Merry and went to climb the Bell Tower (very steep but well worth it).
Then, Nancy broke off to work her ticket magic, while wandered about doing some shopping here and there before grabbing a lunch. It was powerfully hot again today, so we found a shaded restaurant with those cooling misters. Then, we walked over to where everyone was lining for the parade/procession through the city. Nancy appeared, and she had scored 3 more tickets! Louise and Merry broke off to do their own thing, and we headed over to the stadium at Santa Croce. The plan was for Nik and the kids to use the tickets, and Nancy and I would find a way to sneak in. As luck would have it, we ran into Boga’s son, who immediately got us in, so we actually beat the four who actually had tickets.
We got a place with the mob of blue supporters, who were chanting and singing.
The pre-game pageantry was pretty amazing (although a bit long for the boys), and then the game itself. It is basically a huge sand pit and a ball and about 30 guys on each side. You score by throwing the ball into nets along the back sections, but the real purpose is apparently just to beat the crap out of anyone and everyone you see.
Before it even starts, people have paired off and start fighting. Some of the strategy is to get have someone tackle and hold down the best players of the other team.
So while the movement of the ball is kind of like rugby, there are piles of bodies littered everyone. It is mayhem to the point where you often can’t find the ball. And the violence is for real. Some people got pummeled and blindsided- it can be hard to watch. The Italians are all screaming for blood (as Nik said, it helps you understand how the gladiators were so popular- people like bloodsport). However, there is clearly a camaraderie among the players, as once down in a pile, they will start chatting. There are maybe a dozen doctors running around checking on people and bringing them water (and bandaging them up too). The two fighting will stop, share some water (even a kiss on the head) and then go back to beating the crap out of each other. A couple of guys got expelled, and I have no idea what you must do to get kicked out of a game that is already that violent (but it must be really, really bad). A couple of guys were taken out on stretchers too. In the end, it is actually really exciting and compelling to watch, even though our blues came up a half point short. Still, what an experience! If you are ever in Florence for the festival, you must find a way to go!
Afterwards, we wandered for gelato and headed for the fireworks by the river.
We ended the day in an Irish pub getting dinner.
Another great day!