Italy Part 2
I forget how lucky we are to live in a city that is big enough to be a big city, but small enough so that “bad traffic” consists of only twenty or so added minutes to the normal commute, even on the worst days when everyone seems to be driving like an idiot. The Twin Cities are home to around half a million people if you combine the two communities… Rome is a mecca of more than four million. This type of congestion, especially around all the typical tourist locations, made traveling in a group of 60 players, parents, and staff a bit of a headache on multiple occasions. However, once we finally got into town, the sun was out and ready to help us see the wonders of one of the oldest cities in the world. The Coliseum was incredibly impressive, and throughout the trip we kept narrating how amazing all the buildings were because they were solely built by manpower and probably some horses and other animals, but limited machinery to only simple pulleys and levers. Though some of the work done was definitely the work of slave labor (it only took them 4 years to complete the giant landmark whereas Notre Dame is still under construction 400 years later), it is still astonishing that these structures are standing the test of time. During the tour, we were recounting how many movies took place in and around Rome and the Coliseum, ranging from the bloody 300 and Gladiator movies to Lizzie McGuire. I can bet there will be some movie nights for the Gophers coming up soon. We followed our extremely fast walking and talking tour guide to some of the other relics that lie behind the Coliseum, which are just as beautiful but not as frequently photographed. On our way down, there was a leprechaun floating innumerable bubbles into the sky with some rope dipped in bubble solution. To my delight, my teammates were running around like children trying to catch bubbles and pop others. I am always appreciative of their levity and humor, and I was lucky to be around it for so many moments this week.
After the tour we had a fight against traffic to get to our first game of 2018 against Res Roma. We have played a few pro teams in my tenure, but this was the first international game for all of us, and the first one where I would be strictly on the sidelines. The field was poorly lit and the pro team showed up about 10 minutes before kickoff, making it seem more like a high school scrimmage than two successful teams playing one another, but adversity is everywhere. The team played well, considering the harrowing bus ride there filled with too many people really needing to use the restroom after hydrating all day for the game. During the second half, my right hand teammate who played next to me last year and saved my butt more times than I can count, got hurt. We still don’t know the complete story of what happened as we did not have access to the proper medical devices, but it was bad enough to make everyone really concerned. I was really shaken up about the whole thing, mostly because I felt her pain of realizing your career can come to a close out of the blue. I believe everything happens for a reason, and we will figure out why that is sometime when we have the 20/20 vision of hindsight, but right now, remember that everything ends and that we all need to enjoy every second we get to spend doing things we love.
The Catholic church has been alive and well since the beginning of the common era, so it is only fitting that they have their own separate state away from the world to celebrate this success. By far and away the most impressive piece of the entire 108 square acre country was the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo painted the entire roof, and the room holds some of the most famous paintings ever created. “Creation of Adam” is smack in the middle of the ceiling and I got run into countless times because I was standing in the middle of the floor looking straight up amazed at the detail and quality of his work. Each person he painted seemed to have a different personality, something only true masters can accomplish. Another thing that all artists strive for is the ability to separate themselves from their peers; creating work that is instantly recognizable by even the poorest of critics is the ultimate test of genius. Knowing nothing of art or painting within the 16th century, even I could tell that his work was far superior and held higher quality and complexity than the other portraits finishing the walls of the Chapel.
We finished off the day wandering around the streets of Rome where there were peddlers showing off their impressive artwork, lots of selfie sticks trying to be sold, and even more street crepes and gelato to be eaten. Following the footsteps of the Lizzie McGuire, we went to the Trevi Fountain where we were extra touristy and threw some euros into the fountain, signifying we would all return to Italy someday, somehow. Needing some lunch, a few of my teammates set off on an excursion to find the best gnocchi in the surrounding area, to which we succeeded and were extremely full and happy reloading the bus.
We played another game the evening, with less stress and more light on the field, the team soared to a 3-0 victory and we celebrated with lasagna afterwards. One of the coolest things about Gopher soccer is the outpouring support of our parents. They travel thousands of miles to see us, and international games were not out of the question. It was incredible hearing the rouser and seeing a Minnesota flag waving in the crowd so far away from home.
Needing to move 60 people all around Italy, we spend quite a bit of time on the bus. With all this time, bonds between teammates grow stronger because you have to talk to one another to fight off the boredom, especially considering our phones didn’t work without wifi. Needless to say, we played lots of games – and I learned how to play gin (not well, but hey I have 50 years to get myself in shape for the old lady gin tournaments) and watched the hilly countryside of Italy roll by us. It is remarkable to me how many places in the world look like rural Iowa, the likes of which I have driven through too many times to count. The difference is usually in the crops: Iowa = corn, Italy = olives and grapes. Our destination for the day was a quaint farmhouse on the top of a hill facing the small town of San Giminango. We had a wonderful meal made of all organic food grown or raised right there in the surrounding valley, and it was wonderful getting to talk with the family who have lived on the same land for generations.
We set off through the rain to our final game of the tour, only to find the field to be a complete disaster. Playing in mud and standing water is all fun and games when you’re little and have a warm shower or bath to run home to, but we were two hours away from the hotel and the conditions of the field were so miserable it would have been unsafe for any of us to play on it. Unfortunately, the game was cancelled. But, on the brighter side, the Gophers came out of Italy winning two games and shutting out both professional Serie A opponents, a wonderful result for any tour, and a miraculous one given all of the circumstances endured.
We woke up to the rain, something we had been desperately avoiding all week, but it eventually caught up to us. Sleeping on the bus became something of a habit this trip, which is unusual for me, but extremely necessary with all of the traveling we did this week. Upon arrival, we quickly found some cappuccinos to wake us from our slumber and awaited our walking tour. As we were waiting, my first and favorite college roommate showed up after studying abroad in Florence for the semester. It was awesome to see her and everyone was revitalized with her energy. We walked around the whole city square, listening to our tour guide tell us the history of the sights we were seeing and all of the best places to eat. After the tour, the senior class snuck off to grab some lunch and catch up with one another, being so busy with the upcoming challenges of adulthood (ones that honestly I am pushing off but everyone else sis handling them well) and not having soccer to bind us together, it was so refreshing getting to hang out like old times. Sydney and Maddie took us to their favorite restaurant, which kicked any gnocchi I thought was good to the curb. This meal was basically mac and cheese but with potato dumplings instead of noodles. We walked around the leather market, looking at all types of good from all sorts of vendors, and of course got more gelato. The best part of Florence was the overlook above the city. The hike up was a bit of a haul (especially after only eating pasta and pizza all week) but the views were well worth it. That has become my favorite thing in new cities: asking the locals for the prettiest and most picturesque scene and having a wonderful adventure finding it.
Something that I forget often but am reminded of frequently is the large reach that the wonderful game of soccer has on the world. It is truly the world’s game, especially with a World Cup less than 100 days from kick off, the community is buzzing. We drove four hours north of Florence to a small town called Brecia (sounds like Russia but with a B) and rode out the rain with some pizza and gnocchi.
The game was between cross-town rivals, so the security was honestly stricter than the airport. Spiked fences separated fans and there was a large police and EMT presence awaiting any problems. The game was rainy and chippy, both teams needing medical assistance multiple times and three yellow cards and one red came out. It was so cool being in a stadium filled with such passion, both fan bases singing at the top of their lungs for the entire hour and a half match. Combined with the smoke bombs and the occasional canon sounding that went off, the game was crazy rowdy and finished knotted one to one. I am in awe of this amazing sport that has brought the most influential and important people into my life, and I am excited to continue to give back to the game that we all love so much.
Here I am writing this whole blog post on the left hand side of a 767. There is a sliver of sunlight shifting across my screen as we fly west. Luckily I have been blessed to have only received the middle seat once during our journey, and I have an aisle seat now so all is well in the world. We are in the midst of a 26-hour travel day, from Milan to NYC to Charlotte and finally home to Minneapolis. I am not sure when I really started to think of Minnesota as home… maybe when my parents joined me, maybe when I finally felt like myself with my friends, but in any case, it is very nice to be on the way home. The jet stream is against us, so I have more time to write and read and edit (I took over 1000 photos on this trip – so I have a lot to sift through) and think. I finished a book recommended to me by my brother, When Breath Becomes Air, and let me tell you, he knows what he’s talking about when he recommends books. The novel is an autobiography by Paul, a neuroscientist who at the end of his residency was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Having worked his whole life to build a future for his wife and brand new baby girl, he delves into the meaning of actually, seriously living, even within inches of death’s door. Derrick (my brother) is a compelling guy, always looking over my shoulder to make sure I am doing all I can to better the lives of those around me, which will in turn improve my own. Something about sitting on a metal bird flying thousands of miles of ocean makes you think about magic. The essence of life and reason and purpose. Paul believed it was found within relationships and the striving to your calling, whatever that might be. I don’t know what this whole thing is about, but I do know that there are times when your heart feels like its going to come right out through your shirt, and whatever stirs that inside of you, don’t ever stop chasing it.