Young Miss Tink’s Break with the Church of Rome

After I graduated I was so lucky to win a scholarship for Dublin University. I say lucky, as I don’t actually know how my name happened to be among the 10 Italians who won that year. My dissertation wasn’t even about an Irish author, but I won. Apart from flight, tuition fees, the accommodation by an Irish family was included. I have to say from the very first impact, that the Irish appeared to be a particularly welcoming, kind, sort of people and the family I was assigned to even kinder, if possible. Another thing I noticed when I entered that house was that religion mattered, and a lot.  In fact, while the landlady was showing  me around,  the great deal of sacred images hanging here and there couldn’t but come to my attention; even in the bathroom, I swear. It seemed we were never alone, HE was following us wherever we went.

I also sensed that I was taken into particular consideration compared to the other two girls that were hosted along with me: another Italian and a Dutch. At meal time I enjoyed bigger portions, if I had a wish it was always fulfilled, I was given the best of the best,  but why ? It couldn’t be my being Italian, as there was the Italian girl from Bologna too. One day, from something our mistress had hinted, I suddenly understood : I came from Rome, that was my wild card ! The lovely lady had somewhat associated my birthplace and myself to the Vatican and the Head of the Catholic Church. In a way, I was the closest person to the Pope she had ever met. My being Roman and living in Rome made me …”special”. She couldn’t know to what a snake she had given her warm undeserved attentions, but she was to discover soon. At the end of the first week, in fact, when she asked me if I wanted to join her for Sunday mass, I said with a faint and slightly guilty voice: ” I…..I’m sorry, but I do not profess ….. I am agnostic “. She paused and looked at me in a way as if she had seen me for the first time. Then, she put on her hat, smiled gently and popped out. She kept being nice, for sure, but something had broken between us. 

The point is that my relationship with religion has always been troublesome since…. ever. All the catholic architecture has never had a hold on me and my being inquisitive has always found religious dogmatism unsupportable. I still remember my dear aunt Mimma, one day, after one of those sermons of mine, which wilfully aimed at mining her certainties of good catholic woman, had eventually enough of  my profane words and went like:

Auntie😵 : ” If there is a hell, you’ll go straight down there, when your time comes!”😤

Little MissTink : ” You see? You said “if”! IF !!!There is doubt in you”!!😈

Auntie: 😭

There were two days of the week I particularly loathed when I was a girl: Friday and Sunday. On Fridays good catholic families were not used to eating  meat, but fish. So, every Friday my mother’s menu consisted in either boiled cod or (even worse)  brain.  I guess the reason why my mother kept stuck to this rule was not religious orthodoxy but rather she thought it was the kind of food that could have made me become smarter, so, two birds with one stone. No need to say that I found both boiled cod and brain repulsive. I actually believed that there was a reason why Saturday was placed between Friday and Sunday : first of all to make me recover from the disgust of Friday’s diet and then to find the strength to face what was for me Sunday’s punishment: Sunday mass. I had done whatever was in the powers of  a child to skip that weekly appointment for years : faking  sickness, crying, threatening and more, but eventually the squabble always came to an end  with me reluctantly pulled by an arm in tears and taken to church. This every Sunday.

My mother and I came to a truce on the occasion of my Holy Communion. I had become milder about church-going and I even attended months and months of catechism classes for one major reason which had nothing to do with religion: the dress. I was attracted to the idea of wearing that white dress and that made me more yielding, but after my Holy Communion reception, as there was no other reason to go to church wearing that virginal dress, the fights started over again.

I was eleven when a memorable event happened . My mother and I were at church and I remember the mass being more boring than usual. Insupportably boring. That priest had been talking and talking what was nonsense to me, for …how long? It seemed hours. I felt I had reached the limit of my forbearance and finding myself unable to restrain my intolerance, I exploded saying something that wanted to be heard and unheard at the same time, as what remained of my sanity made me fully aware that consequences to my words would have been inevitable:

Young Miss Tink: “Che palle!” (That sucks!) 😤😤😤😨

She had heard⚡ ⚡⚡. My mother looked at me and said nothing. She looked at me and I am sure I saw the green of her eyes turn black. What could I do? I prayed! I prayed like an angel for rest of the mass. I prayed like I had never done before, always checking with the corner of my eyes if that was enough to see that green again in her eyes. No way. I was doomed. As soon as we left church, out of the blue, she slapped me in my face, which made my lip bleed as she was wearing a big ring.

I didn’t cry and she didn’t say a word; but that event put an end to my church-going, or better, to our church-going, because this story took the most unexpected turn. 

As we didn’t go to church any longer, we had the Sundays free, so, well, I don’t know how, but it was decided to embrace another faith, my father’s faith, that is: football. We became devoted to S.S. Lazio, after all the pattern is the same : choirs, anthems, sanctification of the players, people gathering etc. .The stadium had become our new church and every Sunday we followed the team wherever they played, whether it was Rome or other places in central Italy – the team at the time wasn’t very good as they stalled in second division . We also made new proselytes among our relatives living in Rome and in the other regions nearby. They didn’t care much about S.S. Lazio, actually, but the Sunday match had become the occasion for us to meet and visit beautiful towns all together.  I have splendid memories of that time. 

Growing for me has been nothing but losing “faiths”, I have to say, but still there is one that survives, very childish indeed, I know : my team and I am confident it will stay with me forever. I have no doubts about it.

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Sublime is………………………

If you think about your entire working life, can you spot the most memorable
moment you have experienced? When did you feel to have actually reached the top? Well, in my honorable 25 year teaching career I have no trouble to say, that it happened a couple of years ago. The occasion was a lesson on Burke’s essay ” A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas the Beautiful  and Sublime“. The topic was quite challenging considering that the average student of that class was not much into philosophical debates on aesthetic dualism, but rather into erudite discussion on the best possible scheme to adopt for the next football match. On this they had no rivals and could speak for hours, in any language, if necessary. On such a topic, what kind of feed-back might I have expected?  Very likely the only one I could have had, if I had been in a stadium and started to discourse about the kind of emotions Beauty and Sublime may convey between the first and the second half of the match, I guess.

Whoever has ever read some of my articles is well aware that football is very important to me.  Whenever the subject of the post allows it, my football passion echoes between the lines. I am a supporter of one of the two teams of Rome, in fact: S.S. Lazio. Now, it happens that the class above mentioned, actually, belonged to the other club : A.S. Roma. You have to know this football dualism does not represent only the eternal fight between enemy factions like, Romolo and Remo, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, the Capulets and the Montagues etc. , but it is more. There are psychological traits that attract you on one side rather the other. The Roma supporters are quite dogmatic: they firmly believe that A.S.Roma is a sort of faith that cannot be discussed, but loved only. That is why they start the season with the utmost certainties of victory, which are regularly shattered after few months. The typical Lazio supporter, on the contrary, is more pessimistic, less dogmatic and open to bitter criticism. They are the yin and the yang of Roman football passion, in short. In  more than a century of disputes even the number of trophies won by both teams is quite similar: just a few. As a rule, if we take 10 supporters, 7 of them usually belong to A.S. Roma and  3 for S.S. Lazio, but in that class the presence of the latters was even below average : one out of 25, as far as I can remember.

Going back to Burke, at the end of the lesson, I could not actually make out the real feed-back, as I mostly saw dumb faces, which looked like masks, the masks of politeness they usually wore whenever they wanted to seem attentive, while they were actually thinking to something else. Therefore, I decided to assign a homework: choose a picture, a drawing etc. which represents the concept of sublime for you and write a comment; hoping they wouldn’t come up with a picture of a pizza Margherita. I had not considered that the day of the assignment, was a Monday, or better, the Monday after what we call the”Derby”, that is, the match of the matches: Rome vs Lazio.

We lost: 4-1 and it was the third time in a row. You may guess how unwilling I was to face all the jokes and mockeries that are the inevitable follow-up after a lost match and I felt that particularly those “scoundrels” might have prepared something. However, when I came into the class they looked a kind of indifferent: no shirts and scarves of their team or pictures scattered around as usual. Nothing. As I knew them well, I didn’t trust this apparent nonchalance and I decided to make some hints, just to excite a reaction, but in vain.  All I had in return was: “Oh, the Derby, yes, we won“.Stop.

So much the better. Since there was nothing to be said about the match I started to check the homework and I said: “Daniele, show me the picture you chose to explain your idea of Sublime!” “Of course“, was his prompt reply, but with an evil smile which I couldn’t miss. And there it was his Sublime. He had a sheet with a patchwork of images of the victory. There was a sneering captain Totti right in the middle and a big inscription at the top in bold : “Sublime is……..Roma 4 – Lazio 1″. As soon as I had finished to read it, I realized that all his other mates, even the girls, were exhibiting the same leaflet with a big smile. They had won, again.

 

Eliot explained to a footballer

lazio 1A ” proficient footballer” is a living oxymoron. I don’t know what’s wrong with football , but whoever is engaged in this discipline (my nephew for example), rarely displays any proficiency in school subjects. This is really, strange as the activities connected to other sports like swimming, athletics, volley etc. actually seem to enhance concentration, organization and commitment. Football works in another way. However, since a large number of footballers peoples my classes, I have to cope with the fact that football is their main, if not only, language. In particular, when it comes the time to deal with Eliot and themes such the sense of hopelessness, fragmentation and desolation of the present, lack of future and sense of loss of an entire generation, the contrast between my manly exuberant audience and these themes is really striking. So every time, I cannot help but wonder : have they developed the right sensibility to understand such issues? Running, sweating and vigorously fighting on football fields? Very unlikely. However, I won’t give in. So, let’s put aside books for a while, and let me produce the ultimate effort to make myself clear using; therefore, the universal language of ………football.

lazio 4I love football. I have always loved it, and  I have to thank my father for this. I also have to thank him for having transmitted to me the passion for a glorious team, which is not exactly the Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid type, but rather the Leicester type (talking about recent miracles), that is, that kind of team that wins whenever the most improbable and exceptional star alignments happen and thus, being these events so rare, the actors of these deeds immediately walk the immortal path to glory and myth. My team is S.S. Lazio and it seems that the stars haven’t been able to find the right alignment for a while. Sixteen years to be precise; and after sixteen years of hopes, and shattered dreams, I am not exaggerating (well,only a little) if I say that Lazio supporters fully embody that sense of hopelessness, fragmentation, desolation of the present and lack of future that so characterized that post-war generation. This is not because we haven’t won much in recent years, but rather, because we have been deprived of our right to dream.  For all of us, in fact, it is now clear that the management of S.S.Lazio doesn’t want or can’t make any effort  to elevate the quality of our beloved team from the present state of mediocrity. Hence, no champions to worship ( we don’t even know the name of the next coach), no goals to achieve and fight for, no future. Thus, when you feel that you have been deprived of your right to hope, you cannot but look back to a past when everything was different: comforting, warm, happy. Not necessarily it has to coincide with the memory a glorious episode, but with the hope and craving for glory.

lazio2Modern football, at least here in Italy, has lost all its ritual. I still remember with great pleasure when my parents decided to replace the Sunday habit of going to church with that of going to the Olympic Stadium in Rome. After all it was still a matter of faith, only with the choice of a different liturgy, that is all. Sunday used to be the only day devoted to matches and all of them started at 3.00 p.m., all of them. When S.S: Lazio played away, we used to follow the team and that became the occasion for a Sunday outing and the visit of the hosting towns. Even my relatives, who were not much into football used to come, as it was the occasion of staying together. I still remember the loads of food we used to take with us, the smell of onion omelette sandwiches, laughter and even the escapes from unfriendly hosts. At 6:00 p.m. Italy halted, as it was the time see the match was given on tv, usually the most important one, so, everybody, even those who did not support those teams used to watch the match. It was a liturgy that had to be consumed to the end, all together.

lazio3Nowadays that sense of ritual and community is completely lost. Sunday is no longer the holy day of football. Football liturgy has been sacrified on the altar of the profit of the pay-per-views. Matches are played from Thursday to Monday and at any time of the day, working days and even lunch time. You can watch the match comfortably at home, of course, with few friends or in solitude, with the result that those cathedrals, which used to be the Italian stadiums are now emptied and left in desolate conditions. And those heroes who used to inflame the hearts of their followers fighting on those arenas, nowadays are only money makers in search of a good contract, wearing the mask of love and dedication, with few exceptions, of course.Therefore, Sunday has become for me the “cruellest” day of the week, “mixing memories” of a happy past and the “desire” for a change, and now as a “tuber” “dried” of any faith or hope, I  no longer follow my team and remain at home nourishing my heart with the little hope that one day a Mr Godot will show up and save me from the present state of desolation.

Dedicated to Gianluca and Marco, great fooballers and………..students. Wish you all the best.

Wordsworth and football

 

I have to confess that this post has been inspired  by the triumph of my football team just yesterday and by the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” that I felt when my heroes scored three amazing goals that marked the success of S.S.Lazio. Yes It was powerful. So  I can’t help but wonder how Kloseooopsss,close ,I mean, football is to some ideas that Wordsworth developed in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. I know that It could sound blasphemous, but try to follow me. What is imagination? In simple words it is that degree of sensibility that allows you to turn whatever is ordinary into extraordinary. The consequent emotion is “powerful”, because unexpected. I’m sure that Wordsworth had chosen nature as source of emotion, because he didn’t actually know what football was. If we look at football with “ordinary”eyes , it is only a game about 22 adult males following a ball for at least one hour and a half. So,what makes it so extraordinary? Why today I feel totally ecstatic and why many others – many among my beloved students I guess – are bitterly disappointed? Probably because football somehow succeeds in keeping us in that “state of innocence and wonder” typical of children, that is , when our  mind is more responsive to feelings. So we are more open to joy or sufferance.  Furthermore every action of the game acquires an “extraordinary” meaning because the supporter not only shares his emotions with a multitude  people  but also  in that action,  goal or  penalty  he is the proud witness of a meaningful moment in the history of the club. That history is lived again and discussed every hour of every day on local radios, so thanks to this act of constant memory “our heart with pleasure fills and dances with……..”  uhmm, I can’t find an appropriate rhyme, but I’ m sure you will understand me,  won’t you?