Rome–The day started off promising something good. There was not a cloud in the sky above, the temperature was on the rise, and we decided to postpone a planned rush day trip to Ostia Antica on the coast so that I could fulfill a long-held wish to attend my first rugby game.
Or pitch, or match, or whatever. The terminology and rules didn’t so much concern me. I would finally be getting the chance to witness firsthand the visceral excitement of this head banging sport, so close to American football, yet still so different.
First thing this morning, I checked in with the Internet to be sure the contest was where and when it said it would be. A friend had sent the schedule to me two weeks ago, while we were still in the U.S., but I wanted to be double sure, since this is Italy. It was no small concern, as my dearest was accompanying me, itself a surprise from a someone who has a severe allergy to most sports, particularly when contact is involved.
Alas, I should have recognized the early signs that the day might not go quite as swimmingly as I had anticipated. But I didn’t. So what that washing machines, Italian style, take about three times as long as their American cousins? So what that our walk down to the Trastevere neighborhood for lunch turned into a futile exercise in finding a quiet osteria, one away from the crowds that are already filling the streets before summer? So what if, after crossing the river to Rome’s historic center, we dithered on selecting a restaurant, putting us up against the clock and the contest’s 4 p.m. start? (We eventually settled on a place that served us an excellent taglionini in an artichoke, guanciale and pecorino sauce.) And so on.
By the time we made our way to the Flaminio train station for the ride to the country’s Olympic training center, where the contest was being held, we were already cutting it close.
Again, why worry? After all, the antique train that pulled into the station was on time, and we were soon headed toward our destination.
There really wasn’t even the necessity of actually arriving on time. This wasn’t going to be a high-stakes international or A League event, and admission was free to a “stadium” with a total seating capacity of 1,500. Relax, I advised.
Then the train approached our station, and kept going past it, and past the next, and the one after that. “Uh oh,” we said; must be an express; wonder when it will stop?
Of course, it did eventually stop, and we got off, took the underpass to the opposite track, and waited, wondering all the while if the train going the other way would bother to stop.
On the station platform was an Italian gentleman that I’d spotted on our train, so we figured he must be as confused as we were. He was. But the next train back to Flaminio did stop, and the three of us got on, as bewildered as when we first blew past Campi Sportivi. Looking at the map above the train door didn’t seem to help much. Our stop was there, but so what?
It was then that a kindly woman came to our rescue, explaining the routine. It seems as though the trains on the Montebello line have an identity crisis. They are on rails, like all the other trains, but they behave like they are buses: to get them to stop at a station, passengers have to press a button requesting a stop. Who knew?
So said button was pressed. A notice above the door that a stop had been requested went on. The train stopped. The doors opened. We exited, having arrived at Stadio Giulio Onesti at last.
Now to find the field, and the game, in that vast complex. We stopped to ask some boys kicking a soccer ball, and we were told that the whole place was named after Onesti, who was Italy’s director of sports for several decades after World War II. We asked some adults, many of whom were accompanying their rugby-playing children, but no one had the slightest idea about the game we wanted to attend.
While the complex is large, we decided to hike further inland anyway to find the field. Again, why not? It was a free, no-stakes (for us) event, and it would still be a first for me.
At that point, two men who looked official (they were wearing jackets and ties) drove by on a golf cart. Hailing them down, my wife asked where we could find the Eccellenza League contest.
The guy in the passenger seat turned and looked up. “It’s been cancelled,” he said, and they quickly drove off.
The two of us looked at each other and began to laugh. Of course! Why announce it on the league’s website this morning? Why post a notice at the stadium for anyone who might actually make the effort to show up?
There wasn’t much left for us to do but take the short walk back to train station to head back into town. The train stopped to pick us up.