I’m here in Rome, Italy, covering an event for http://www.10sballs.com. The site owner believes I’m going to write about tennis. I think otherwise. 🙂
If you know where you are going, the Foro Italico (stadium) is approximately 3,598 steps from Piazza di Spagna, otherwise it is exactly 9,487. When you arrive, a blue-uniformed security guard named Giovanni checks your ID, scans your body a bit uncomfortably, and lets you pass onto the main walkway.
Moving toward the courts, you step on white, circular street plaques dedicated to Italian Olympians in sports like ciclismo, pesistica, scherma, and automobilisimo. You will feel insecure about scherma until you find out it means fencing. To your left, fifty small children scream and swat tennis balls over hobbit-sized nets upon grass courts, and you get the feeling Italy is prepping the next generation for a Wimbledon title. An ethereal and breath-inhibiting cigarette smoke hovers over the site and after about an hour, you get the feeling a giant filter would increase everyone’s life span. Beginning at 11am, however, a nice cool breeze kicks in and it’s mostly the South side of the stadium that suffers.
Behind the courts, a swath of trees adds green accents to the brick-red clay, and with all of the white hats on spectators’ heads, the Italian flag feels fairly ubiquitous. The trees are a nice touch, although they throw off a lot of pollen, and it being the early summer, there’s now a pretty constant back and forth rally of “achoo-salud” resounding throughout the stadium
The Foro Italico Express is a Disneyland-ish train that carries people from the entrance to the courts, although it moves slightly faster than a pregnant yak going uphill in soft sand, and if you walk quickly by the people on the train and smile, they pretend to hate you. All over the site, music accompanies the crowds, and if you stand central between the courts and the vending booths, you can hear four different radio stations at once, which I imagine is a lot like watching the show, The View (sans instrumentation).
Police here carry swords, and I can only imagine it’s a tribute to the gladiators of yore, since, well, let’s be honest, a sword? Hundreds of people rest on nearby lawns and drink caramel-colored beer and give tongue-lashings to 7-euro gelatos. Every vendor serves some form of pizza, and most are covered with fresh basil and geisha-face-colored mozzarella and, in Rome, the word margherita has nothing to do with tequila. (I asked, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one). There are many men here who are skinnier than the women, and most of them wear open collared shirts with enough chest hair to make you think the entire crowd is engaged in an effort to gradually smuggle in Chewbacca. At corners of the site, there are: an Estathé-sponsored paddle tennis tournament, a serve speed booth (top score is 104 by a 14 year-old girl, although her father was yelling at her during her swing so I think the radar reviewer may have added a few mph for child-protective reasons), and a pool where petite, loathsome ants will bite you and keep it a secret until four hours later when your ankles will swell like pomegranates.
On court, the clay is soft enough to muffle the noise of the bounce, so the normal smack-grunt-bounce-smack-grunt-bounce rhythm now has this zero-gravity thing about it. There are long chiaroscuro-hinting slide marks on the clay, and ball kids who show self-conscious romantic interest in the players. Around the stadium, colossal statues of Roman sportsman grace the grounds, and the marble stadium seats make slushy sucking sounds when you rise from them. Intermittently, the crowd roar, and I’ll swear at least one of the statues has moved his hands toward his ears.
There’s more to say about this place, but that pizza is too damn tempting, so I’m retiring for the day. More tomorrow.