Slow Foot tour diary
‘We live a double life. We try to slow down but at times we have no slow life at all’. These words of wisdom are from Marc Aerni, a Swiss Slow Food convivium leader (convivia being the Slow Food equivalent of political branches or ‘sezione’) and hotelier, during our interview two years ago in the beautiful Upper Engadine valley, 1800 metres above sea level. He was exasperated at the contradiction between our aspirations to live a slower life, where the simple pleasures can be enjoyed and the quality of life preserved, and the grim reality of being drawn into the fast lane.
I have been living this contradiction for the last year, alternating between three-hour lunches in Bra and ten-minute sandwich breaks in London on my relentless journeys. In the two weeks prior to Slow Foot, I was in Poland (admittedly at a Slow Food event) from 6–10 September, in London from 10–14, Rome from 14–16, Bra, 16–18, London 18–20, and I arrived in Turin at midnight the day before we met. My feeling is that the rest of the squad who came from Madrid, Rome and London were also escaping the fast life but bringing with them in different ways remnants of its contradictions. It was a bit of a culture shock – albeit a welcome one – to find ourselves in a remote part of the Langhe, coming to terms with non-existent transport. This double life in some ways played an ironic part in the exciting and memorable events that followed, and provide more food for thought.
The other starter is the reminder that Slow Foot will become a reality in Italy only through negotiation. Italian society, politics, football and driving is governed by a series of endless negotiations. For example you cannot say to an Italian, as you could to a British person and as would be compulsory when dealing with the Swiss: ‘So that’s agreed then, we’ll meet at 7.30 on Friday night’. Instead you say: ‘This sounds good, so we’ll talk on Friday morning’. The mobile phone was invented for Italians: there are more of them than there are people in Italy, though, as it turns out, the only living Italian who doesn’t possess one is a member of our squad.
During my two weeks’ travelling prior to Slow Foot I was negotiating with Emanuele over the pitch and ref, Paola in the Slow Food press office, Stefano of Osvaldo Soriano, Stefan of FC Levante Wibi, Pantelis of Fetamania, Signora Mascarello of Le Torri hotel, the Maitre d’ of Le Torri’s restaurant for dinner on Friday (separate negotiations), Elisa at Real Castello hotel, Patrizia of the minibus company, Alberto in Slow Food, Giacomo Badellino for dinner on Saturday, Alessandro Monchiero for the Slow Foot press meeting. I was negotiating with Filippo over substitutes, the programme, profiles and, through him, learning of Matteo’s negotiations over a 17-year-old girl who plays in goal for Torino Primavera. ‘The mother says yes, now the father,’ Fil texted. ‘Father said yes but Torino said no,’ was his later message. So Matteo then opens negotiations with Valentina of Juventus.
After meeting Filippo at Torino airport we set up an office in an admittedly un-Slow Food like place and start negotiations over sleeping arrangements and players. With players coming and going at all points (some arrive on Saturday, others leave on Saturday), Fil’s head for figures, recently borne out with his statistical analysis of PFFC tours, is under severe pressure from Signora Mascarello at Le Torri, but wins out in the end and we secure a room for each of them. This move eventually gives Rob a free role, his best position, but not one I was able to grant him on the pitch.
Having all arrived, we negotiate with Adriano the driver to drop Al and Clarkey at Verduno before heading for Catiglione Falletto. Originally I had kept the paradise of Real Castello for the wags, given they are usually a bit fussier, but in their absence offered it to the wigs. After much talk of a ritiro in recent years this would be an ideal place if only the Philosophers could find the time in their busy schedules. However, a wonderful wine tasting was enjoyed at the Cantina Comunale (for me the highlight of the trip), overlooking the Langhe, listening to Cornish Al’s poetry and tasting the best of Piemonte: Barbera, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. We had not yet entered the ‘Barolo tunnel’ as Filippo would describe it. Which wines would the trusted taste buds and noses of the Thinkers prefer? Damo opted for Nebbiolo, fast showing himself to be an authority on Italian drinks, following his partiality for Limoncello in Sicily. Food would, however, prove to be more complicated for the Welsh Romanista. I had unknowingly pre-empted this by writing in his profile ‘recently a vegetarian, he has seen the light in time to enjoy the salsiccia di Bra’... As we entered the Barolo tunnel (the Torri restaurant) we had the dilemma of following Serie A food with a similar quality on the pitch.
After some Italian dissent over my announced departure time on Saturday morning, we all got back into the bus and left for Bra, Filippo successfuly negotiating along the way an extra day for the minibus. More negotiations were necessary at various checkpoints (the Braidese jealously guard their cheeses) but we arrived in Bra in good time. Here the contradictions of my double life took over. Proud of bringing my squad to my new town, I didn’t have time to show them round, overburdened with organisational problems of how to get to the stadium, how we would organise the post-match buffet and whether our remaining players would arrive in time. Ten minutes before the press meeting I hadn’t decided what I would say or what language I would say it in; in the event there were some great words, with Stefan making a timely contribution and an energetic debate between John Foot, Matteo and Andrea, excellently chaired and translated by Filippo.
What kind of lunch do you offer footballers due to play a couple of hours later at Europe’s premier Cheese festival? This would have been an opportunity to introduce people to Slow Food, to Jacek on the Polish cheese stall, who had driven me from Warsaw to Kracow two weeks earlier and explained to me how the cheeses had originally been taken out of Poland illegally under bus seats to arrive at the first Salone del Gusto; or Cristi on the Romanian stall, who comes from a remote Transylvanian Saxon village where there are no cars, only cows, which produces the best jam in the world and is a paradise of biodiversity. Instead the ‘insidious virus’ of fast life (as the Slow Food Manifesto puts it) takes over and we are in a rush to get to the stadium; at least this time the mode of transport is correct; our not so gentle stroll with bags along Via Vittorio is interrupted by a meeting with Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, strolling in the opposite direction.
Arrival at the stadium finds the Italian writers lined up against the Greek Feta cheese producers. The ref and linesmen are yet to appear but the Italians want to start and the Greeks are offering a ‘qualified and experienced’ referee. I’m in the middle and plead for a couple of extra minutes while I go to the other pitch to locate the troublesome, aged officials. Miraculously, before I have gone a few yards, they appear together over the horizon. This match is very one-sided, with Pantelis looking good down the right for the Greeks and Stefano doing some tireless running for the writers, but the Osvaldo Soriano defence is a bit like the Swiss cheese alluded to by Stefan a couple of hours earlier.
The Greeks win 4-0 and now it’s our turn, the remaining players having arrived in a frenetic manner before kick-off. We start well against sturdy and resilient opponents but find no breakthrough in the first half despite dominating most of the play. The best chance, however, falls to the Swiss counter-attack, as I feared, just before half-time; but they are denied by Valentina’s point-blank save. The second half is a similar story, except we now have a bit more space and Luigi (John Irving’s player of the tournament) takes advantage and then demands he be brought off. I probably should have ignored him – but think: ‘Perhaps he’ll give me an interview with Veltroni in return.’ John Foot makes his debut, having previously been one of our opponents in the Grafton League (for South Indies) and is twice harshly penalised by the ref. We finish 1-0 winners;a reasonable performance, with Luigi and Matteo outstanding. Some possible injury problems to Bryan and Damo are giving cause for concern.
Joe, unlucky not to get on for us, debuts for the Swiss and thoroughly earns his place in Philosophy’s starting line-up for the final, as the Swiss cruise to a three-goal victory with Stefan on form and the Osvaldo Soriano keeper still lamenting his lost dinner. Even Paolo Sollier, the former Trotskyist star for Perugia in Serie A (and a former member of Avanguardia Operaio), now sixty years old, cannot enough to inspire his team to victory.
So to the final. This was what I hoped for when the draw was announced in Badellino’s two weeks earlier; the painstaking process of slicing the potatoes now seemed worth it. Fetamania are strong opponents, ex-professionals who still play together, with an appetite for good food and a winning mentality. I felt we would need to improve on our performance in the semi-final to have any chance. In fact our play in the first half was better than I could have expected. After going a goal down very early following a long cross-field ball expertly finished (the standard of our opponents was way above anything we meet on a cold night in Maida Vale), we responded brilliantly with some fluent moves; Bryan, especially, is outstanding. We were also using width, as we had discussed but had not really carried out in the opening match. At one point Cornish Al cut in from the left onto his right as he has done many times before, but pulled his shot inches wide. A sublime move started by Bryan ended with Rob being denied by a reflex save from the keeper, who was under pressure and did not look confident. At half-time we were 1-0 down and the Greeks were arguing. We were growing in confidence.
When I was growing up there used to be a spot on A Question of Sport, a British sports quiz, called ‘What Happened Next’, when they froze the action moments before some unusual event and posed the question to the experts. This would have been one of those moments. An extraordinary strike from the Greek kick-off evaded Valentina and put the Greeks 2-0 up. My immediate feeling of disbelief was supplemented by the view that all our hard work might be in vain. And then of course the cruel irony: Filippo and Matteo had found two goalkeepers (the Swiss were also short) and we decided, rightly, to have the woman goalkeeper, as in the spirit of this event. The spirit behind the Greek second goal was disputed (one of the Greek players had earlier complained about our choice of keeper) and contested by our players, in particular Luigi and Filippo. There was a question whether such philosophical debate was appropriate in such a game, but in any case it destroyed our concentration and focus. I include myself in this, as I should have made a change at this point, but the third goal followed soon after and by then my substitutions were meaningless. Some bad words and a bit of pushing and shoving ensued. Slow Foot or not, a professional mentality cannot change, as John Foot explained earlier in the day and as was reiterated by the great Sollier to Filippo later. It is, after all, only a game, as Stefan pointed out in that meeting. Fetamania deserved to win the tournament, after which their three chefs went on to host Greek night at Cheese.
Following another stroll through Bra and dinner with the Swiss, we returned to Castiglione Falleto – minus Matteo, who was heading back to Rome having filed his report on the action to Gabriella, who had rung me during the first game. (There was no way, Slow Foot or not, he was coming off to take the call at 0-0). Next morning, more serious negotiations are required, with another minibus driver, to persuade him to take Filippo and Luigi to the airport. The remaining philosophers visit the quite phenomenal film museum in Turin. Those not shy of heights took the lift to get a wonderful view of the city from this extraordinary building. Apart from its obvious treasures on the history of film, this was also the setting for Dopo Mezzanotte (After Midnight), one of Davide Ferrario’s films; Ferrario, of course, better known to us as the goalkeeper in the film directors’ 4-1 defeat by the Thinkers at the Pasolini tournament. Then after more farewells to Owen, Al, Clarkey and Rob, the survivors went for a pizza and the first beer of the tour. (Is this Owen Mather’s first beer-free tour, I wonder?) An exciting Rome–Juventus game followed with the 2-2 draw shocking our Romanistas (Damo included) and completing a good weekend for John Irving. A pleasant Sunday evening was spent in Alba, over prosecco and then more regional dishes, warmly appreciated by Ally, Joe and Bryan; Damo now revived, though unconvinced, by his risotto. Monday morning was spent in Alba negotiating with a taxi driver for a last trip to the airport after local connections proved to be slower than usual. I returned to Bra and the last part of Cheese.
Caffe (e grappa)
Would the person who walked off with the key for room 22 of Le Torri hotel like to re-open negotiations with Signora Mascarello?
John to Giovanni: “You missed a great tournament. The Greeks beat the philosophers in the final.”
Giovanni to John: “I know; I read about it in the paper.”
Now to Zurich for Slow Foot 2008.