by Gary Drake | Mar 20, 2014
Soccer and Culture meet again as I travel from one Castellammare to the other!
I knew someday I would make this trip. In fact, I had vowed to make this trip. I remember clearly when I vowed it. I was on a plane when someone asked where I was going, I responded, “Castellammare.” He needed more info, asking, “Which Castellammare?” Me: “Say what?” He: “Castellammare di stabia or Castellammare del golfo?” From that moment I knew I would someday get to the “other” Castellammare—di stabia. To be honest, Castellammare just means Castle by the Sea, so a hundred Italian towns could have taken this name, and, in fact, even the center of Palermo is the “Section of Castellammare” precisely because of the Castello a Mare on the water in Palermo, a castle famous for among other things being a site of the Spanish Inquisition. So when it came time for Palermo to play at and against Juve Stabia, the team of Castellammare di Stabia, it was a done deal that I’d be in the Stadio Romeo Menti for the game—God and Lega Calcio willing! We’ll get to that, but first…
When we last spoke, our Palermo team had asserted a strong claim to first place in Serie B and even stronger claim to getting promoted to Serie A, as the first two teams are automatically promoted. At this writing I am here to report: Ain’t no stoppin’ us now! Palermo played two home games back–to-back and belly-to-belly and while these occurrences don’t always turn out as hoped, this time ‘round Palermo picked up 4 of the 6 points available in the standings in the two games.
Former Palermo coach Denis Mangia, recently hired by the Spezia squad brought his team to Stadio Barbera where he never lost when coaching Palermo (and never won when on the road!). Palermo took control of the game at the 16th minute when Hernandez beautifully headed in a cross from Drapela. And the lead held…almost. Palermo kept on the attack the rest of the first half, but as the second half wore on and it became clear Palermo wasn’t going to put this one away with another goal, the tide turned in Spezia’s favor and at the 86th minute a seemingly inevitable goal tied the game for the visitors. It was a bitter tie for Palermo who felt they lost two points more than gaining one, but the other results that day all came up roses for i rosaneri and even this tie had elongated their lead in Serie B.
Next up, Bari. If you don’t like me harping on the negative then tune out now. Palermo won this game 2-1. Lafferty, who I have been championing since day one, scored the first goal at the 16th minute. Bari tied the game at the 63rd minute to take the air out of the Palermo crowd. Then, Dybala, out of action since November 9th, returned to action and within minutes scored a goal that positively rocked the Barbera and maybe even loosened some rocks on Monte Pellegrino. Palermo wins, extends its lead, and so what do I have to complain about? I’ll tell you what: Both Palermo goals were accompanied instantly with yellow warning cards personally requested by the goal scorers by the illegal action of removing their jerseys. No matter what you think of the rule that forbids players to remove their jerseys after scoring, it is the rule and players can’t be volunteering for yellow cards. Do somersaults after a goal, whatever, but leave your jersey on. It’s stupid, but Laffertty, despite already having one yellow card, despite being warned that if he scores to leave his shirt on, didn’t waste one breath after scoring: off came the shirt. Lafferty was given the yellow card he volunteered for and since it was now two yellows in his name, he had automatically—and voluntarily—taken himself out of the next game: disqualified. It’s soooo stupid, even more stupid is that it seems to be tolerated. Lafferty is paid to play, not to volunteer to not play. The team needs to level heavy fines on these players who hurt the team with their selfish showboating. President Zamparini can’t one the one hand complain about bad refereeing calls and then on the other hand excuse his players for volunteering for penalties when the clock is stopped. I repeat: it’s stupid! But to be honest, I’m a lone wolf on this cause. Even my favorite columnist in Giornale di Sicilia somewhat excused Lafferty because under his jersey on his undershirt was written something to memorialize someone who died. Sorry, but that’s no excuse. Hold up a sign before the game if you to memorialize someone. And, by the way, this is soccer for crying out loud. When I die I certainly hope I won’t have to wait for someone to score a goal in a soccer game to be eulogized.
My next complaint begins with my decision to do another road trip to see Palermo. This time I would travel from Castellammare del golfo in Sicily to the other Castellammare: Castellammare di Stabia, a bunch of kilometers south of Napoli, for the game between first place Palermo and last place Juve Stabia. It wasn’t the team of Castellammare del golfo vs. the team from Castellammare di Stabia, so for me it was more about the two cities than the two teams. Now when Palermo plays Napoli, that’s a rivalry, although a friendly-rivalry, considered a match between cousins. I call it The Derby of (what was once called) The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This dates from the early 1800s when the Kingdom of Sicily merged with the Kingdom of Napoli and lasted until the era depicted in the definitive book and movie about Sicily, The Leopard, when the kingdom dissolved into what we now call “unified” Italy. The capital city of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies was Napoli. I guess at the time that gave Napolitani some bragging rights over Palermitani, but those days are over. In fact, in a recent study of the Quality-of-Life in 107 Italian cities, Napoli came in 107th. And Palermo? 106th. Ha! In your face, Napoli!! To be fair, some claim things didn’t get so bad in Napoli until unification came. Historian Jordan Lancaster writes of the abject poverty that came with unification and how thousands left Napoli and environs in a hurry, mostly to America. To me the South of Italy does seem more impoverished than Sicily. I don’t base that on anything but my eyes and gut feeling, and it’s probably not even true, but in my mind I do generally separate Sicily from the Southern Italy.
Fortunately I schedule these road trips to satisfy my historical and touristic interests because I almost ended up not going to the game. I won’t go into to all the particulars about the none-to-obscure instructions on how visitors should buy tickets to sit in the Visitors’ Section, but let’s just say it’s easier to get on an airline with a false passport than for a fan of the visiting team to get into an Italian soccer stadium. In the end, only on game day was I told I could buy a ticket in Castellammare di Stabia at Bar Dolci Momenti with these two seemingly counterproductive caveats: I had to show my Palermo tessera (a police-vetted soccer i.d. card) but I had to sit in any section other than the Palermo fans’ section. I could even sit with the Juve Stabia Ultras!!! The whole system of separating visting fans from hometown fans was violated by the very league that made the rule! And for no apparent reason. I invite anyone connected to Italian soccer to come and explain to me the absolute wayward logic of this. Seriously—I’ll meet you at Bar Dolci Momenti, the laughs and the drinks are on me!
The game was only factually a Serie B game. Palermo is all but promoted to Serie A, Juve Stabia is all but demoted to Serie C, so in theory it wasn’t really a Serie B game. It really wasn’t much of a game at all. Palermo scored early and often, at least in the first half. Dybala looked like a mini-Pirlo distributing the ball—even though he was the only attacker for Palermo! Bolzoni scored twice and Vasquez once, all in the first half in what looked more like a practice than an actual game. Palermo took a 3-0 lead into the locker room at halftime and then did passing drills for most of the second half to not run up the score. Final: 3-0, and Palermo continued to tighten their noose on first place. Too bad for the locals, who now see their team hopelessly buried in last place, but kudos to the Juve Stabia ultras, who filled their curva, and sang their hearts out until the final whistle. My favorite cheer being, and one I agree with: “We in the curva won’t ever be demoted”
The trip was otherwise perfect. Once again I experienced Magna Grecia (ancient Greater Greece) at the amazing ruins at Paestum. There was a marathon going on that morning, which I didn’t mind—nothing more Greek than a little track and field action, but the blaring american rock music to urge the runners on was a bit of a mood-spoiler. I then spent the afternoon at Pompei and was overwhelmed. Seeing it in person might even be better than seeing in it 3D. Apart from the historical parks, I also saw the modern city of Pompei, Salerno, Sorrento, Positano, the port and Santa Lucia areas of Napoli and…
…the other Castellammare, Castellammare di Stabia. It’s a big town, nestled in the Napoli Bay with a huge piazza right on the lungomare, which at night is very vivacious. It’s a bustling town, with a shipbuilding yard bigger than you’d even find in Cleveland, but if someone wants to sing the praises of this town, they can write an article for Times of Southern Italy, if such a thing exists. For me, a writer for Times of Sicily, I am glad to report with absolute objectivity that Castellammare del golfo is the best Castellammare of all—which gives me an excuse to write a bit about it.
Castellammare del golfo is uniquely situated in the golfo di Castellammare. Aesthetically, it can’t be beat. And it’s the aesthetics that create the uniqueness. Look at the picture: there’s a reason the Castellammare train station is 3 km from Castellammare. No way a train could get to center city. And the layout makes it different from almost every other Italian city. You know Italian cities: all roads lead to the central piazza, which becomes the focal point for the locals to gather. In Castellammare there is no central piazza. There is Villa Margherita in front of City Hall, but this is only one of many gathering spots. There’s also, quite separate from the Villa, the Cala Marina, which is quite separate from Piazza Petrolo, which is quite separate from the beach walk, which is quite separate from what I call the “New Town” section. The effect of this is to create the impression of a city bigger than it actually is, because you can pass time in one of these gathering spots without ever seeing those who gather at other spots.
As with many or most of my fellow Sicilians, I feel like I’m a in scene from The Leopard every morning when I open my shutters and see the beauty roll out in front of me from the mountains to the sea. Said the Leopard himself, looking out from his villa to the Sicilian landscape in the last days of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies: “What beauty! I’ll take any number of Victor Emmanuels as long as I have this magic potion that is poured out for us everyday.” The Castellammare coastline is spectacular, including the world-famous Riserva dello Zingaro, which includes the Uzzo Grotto where I’m telling you the first signs of human life on the Sicilian island were discovered. And If I say it, it must be so. Seriously, you can look it up. I think they found a women’s gall bladder there from about 8500 BC. And don’t forget the faraglione of Scopello, a part of Castellammare just up the mountain and around the bend from centro storico, and also the magnificent “unfinished” Greek temple at Segesta, just up and around several bends. Segesta is sacred ground for me and you can often see me there invoking Zeus or one of his assistants to help me resolve one problem or another.
And like other Sicilian towns, especially the seaside towns, Castellammare fights with itself every moment between keeping its culture and traditions rooted in the ground and giving in to modernity. This is symbolized by horses mixing in the traffic with great regularity. And speaking of traffic means speaking about tourism. By mid-summer this village swells from about 15,000 residents to 45,000 residents or more. Horn-honking dominates the summer soundtrack here, and pedestrians like me need to make reservations ahead of time to cross the street. One knock on this town: Pedestrians never have the right of way. Never.
But what makes this town truly unique is how it is The Left Bank or the Greenwich Village of Sicily. I hyperbolize, but it’s my column. I never met so many (self-proclaimed?, quasi?) poets and philosophers. I can count on less than one finger the number of coffee shop conversations in the USA I’ve had on metaphysics, but there’s one guy here who won’t leave me alone about it. And if I tell people here I’m writer, the response is various forms of “join the club”. Poets and painters abound here, according to those claiming to be poets and painters. And then there’s the legendary man of the street who claims to be Jesus Christ himself. That argument about the “historical Jesus”… whether he was born in Nazareth or Bethlehem? Forget about it. He was born in Castellammare del golfo. And not only does he claim to be Jesus, he claims to have legal evidence that I am his reincarnated brother!! True story. I resist his invitations to go see this evidence, mainly because I don’t think I could handle being Jesus’ brother. Although, maybe I shouldn’t underestimate the magnitude of me.
And then there is the international representation. I’m not talking tourists, I’m talking people moving to this fishing village to find a better life. (Yes, while at the same time the locals leave here looking for a better life.) Many come from Romania, including an accordion player that goes to Palermo everyday to serenade lunch eaters. He’s so famous in Palermo he’s in the Palermo version of the “Happy” video. Then there’s my Romanian cleaning woman with whom I share an espresso and argue theology with before leaving her alone to do great job of putting my house in order. (John Calvin once said the worth of person can be judged on how one treats their cleaning woman.) We also have what we might call, for lack of a better term, boat people—-coming over from boats from Africa. One of these is Frank, a Nigerian, who created a tips-only job for himself outside Simply Market, carrying grocery bags to cars, but he is really a gardener and uses his current position to chat up his green thumb skills hoping to land some professional work. I had lunch with Frank and he explained that during an ongoing war between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, his father was killed, and Frank had to make a personal choice: stay and revenge his father’s death or get out of town. So he went to Libya and worked for a well-to-do family with full-time, live-in, gardening needs. For 5 years. Then the Arab Spring, whatever that means, came to Libya, (along with American bombs), and Frank had to make another choice. One night the house he was staying in was raided by rebels who asked Frank if he was for or against the rebels. He said he didn’t care one way or the other, he was just a gardener. Wrong answer. They responded that he should leave the country, that there’s a boat waiting for him that would leave that night. They warned him to leave, saying, “Tomorrow if you are still here you will join us or….” Message understood. A boat full of similar souls disembarked Libya that night. I say boat, but you can imagine…. and in any case there was no one who knew how to guide a boat. They rambled at sea toward Sicily and after making a few wrong turns were eventually discovered and guided to a landing near Catania.
Not all boat people are as successful as Frank. Last year came the terrible story of what might be called The Lampedusa Migrant Boat Disaster, Lampedusa being the tiny Sicilian island generally first reached by migrant boats, especially those from Tunis. The disaster was a fire that left 300 migrants dead. Castellammare, to its credit, offered up burial spots in its space-limited cemetery, to bury about 20 of these refugees. Read that last sentence again because this is no small thing the Commune did. Castellammaresi can be perceived as a myopic, inward, private people, but when push comes to shove they seem to remember the suffering of their own people over the centuries through wars and foreign conquests and that memory brings out the best in them. That’s at least a theory I’ve formed.
And Castellammaresi may complain about the infusion of Africans into their fishing village, but Frank can make up to 15-euros in tips on a good day by helping grocery shoppers carry their bags and heavy stacks of bottled waters to their cars. 15-euros a day from Castellammaresi digging into pockets and purses for a little change to spare, even if they only have purchased one or two items. I don’t mean to give a rose-colored view of immigration in Castellammare. For every so many people giving change to Frank there’s someone wishing Frank had stayed in Africa. But racism, narrow-mindedness and fear exists everywhere, so I take it upon myself to bring you the good news. And even those who may have negative feelings about immigrants may have them based more on not wanting their own culture to be changed by immigrants, rather than not actually wanting immigrants here. Hopefully, as I’ve written elsewhere, Sicilians will always remember how many countries Sicilians are immigrants in.
Also, for every Frank carving out a marginal existence here, there are many more that clearly are not. Some more recent arrivals held a sit-in, blocking traffic in a major intersection here, protesting the delays in getting their Italian documents. But here’s where it gets fascinating. Frank told me he likes Sicily, “…if I could just find a real job.” To which I replied, “Do you know how many Sicilians are saying that?!” But Frank earns his keep as he also keeps the parking lot organized and all the grocery carts are always safely stacked. He created a job where none existed. It’s not a job on the books as we say, but you can’t deny that he’s a maker, not a taker. But please remember, he’s a gardener by trade, so, if you need gardening work this spring and summer, drop me a line, I’ll hook you up with Frank. And he’s willing to relocate!
There’s obviously much more I can write about Castellammare and maybe I will once I get Palermo promoted to Serie A, an event which will render inoperative the need for An American In B. But the team is not promoted yet. They need to keep doing what they’ve been doing and what they have been doing since the official start of the second half of the season is not losing, as in undefeated.
Back from the big win on a Monday night in Castellammare di Stabia, Palermo, on short rest, hosted Brescia, but with the new and improved Dybala in the line-up the short rest didn’t matter. The kid, with Saint Andrea Belotti still out with a mysterious injury, has injected a shot of offensive energy into the team—another goal and another assist for a wild header by Vasquez, and Palermo wins 2-0. This Vasquez in the attack mixed with newly-signed Achraf Lazaar always pushing the play upfield, and not only is Palermo winning, they actually are starting to be fun to watch. The win over Brescia coupled with other results left Palermo with a 9-point lead over 3rd place, remembering the first two teams automatically get promoted. A 9 point advantage. Each win is worth 3 points in the standings, so Palermo’s lead is the equivalent of what my big hoops fan and friend Rudy in Minnesota would call a three-possession game, with the minutes—games—ticking down.
And now it’s on to Pescara and let’s win there!