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Viola Inside and Out: Playing Through the Siege

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Your jet-lagged correspondent finally cobbles some thoughts together on the Napoli defeat.

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Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

There was an almighty silence. After a chatty two hour lunch on the back porch, eating lasagna and grilled meat, the turgid second half would have been the sort of thing to put us all to sleep, if it were some other team playing. But instead the game managed to disappoint us in sneakily jarring (grindingly smooth?) ways that kept us all listlessly awake. People even got up to clear plates before full time, and I had to inform several family members that yes, a third goal went in while they were out of the room.

And so Napoli waltzed away from last Sunday's massive fixture, 6 points from 6 this season against Fiorentina, and I put on the Manchester derby for distraction. Not only had there not been any wins to celebrate in my time in Florence, there hadn't been any Viola GOALS. Hell, barely a shot on target over two games. But if you want to be constantly celebrating good things, there are other teams to follow. Actually, if that's how you roll, maybe sports isn't your thing at all.

Every not-sports aspect of my trip was incredible, and if you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Snapchat, you probably already hate me (ed. note - yep!). But in the midst of the sunshine, good food, and sightseeing, there wasn't a single day that we didn't talk about Fiorentina. And not in the "how about Fiorentina?" "harrumph" two-bit exchange. Whether with my family or with people across the city, the team was up there with the economy and "well, way back when" stories as the main topics of extended conversation and debate. Even when the only Viola-related things to discuss are depressing, well, we discuss them. It's as if living here signs you up for a city-wide book club.

Many cultural commentators cite the daily football obsession In Italy as a mark of the society's downfall; more important concerns and higher artistic pursuits are routinely less important than that night's match. So sure, for me as a fan, it's great to have everyone speak on Fiorentina with such passion, intelligence, and almost-prescient news on the team. But does that signal a corruption of Italian culture?

Is calcio an expression of cultural corruption, or unification?

Maybe. Florence has undergone some great changes in the past 30 or so years, especially since the watershed moment in the early 1990's when the city essentially decided to close the city center to commercial traffic, giving into the money brought by increasing waves of tourists, as well as the demands of art conservationists. Downtown Florence changed staggeringly quickly as residents either moved to the suburbs or abroad. Now being a born-and-bred Florentine is a rare badge of honor, not unlike being a "true New Yorker," but in a much sadder way. If you are a true New Yorker you've battled against the forces of money, grossness, and imperialism to come out the other side. If you are a true Florentine, you've hung around in a tourist capital that continues to ebb economically.

I was happy to speak with the non-Florentines that had moved from afar and were assimilating rather impressively. My Dad was a bit thrown that the man running the official Fiorentina store in the city center was Albanian, but I was impressed that he had been there 25 years, spoke perfect Italian, and took his kids to the games. So is calcio the ultimate expression of Italian cultural corruption? If anything, as Florence decides whether it will embrace an increasingly cosmopolitan landscape or fade into obscurity, Fiorentina is the only thing holding the city together.

My last full day in Florence was spent with my aunt, who took me on a trip up to the hilltop town of Fiesole. The ancient Etruscan (then Roman, then Lombard, then Florentine...) town sits high up in between the peaks of two hills, and we saw the Roman ruins, the museum, and then trekked up to get a bird's eye view of the city. It was hot, so the city was under a bit of a haze, but the silence and the sight were still impressive. It was hard to get a handle on where the city ended or began, but the landmarks - Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, stadium, train station - still cut through the sunshine proudly.

On the way back into the city proper, in response to some questions on history that I was a bit unclear on, my aunt told me an old urban legend. In the Siege of Florence of 1529, the city was surrounded by Papal and Holy Roman forces, with hardly an ally. But, apparently in a show of defiance, the citizens of the then-republic played calcio Fiorentino in the square, in full view of enemy spies in the hills. The friendless city was eventually taken despite heroic efforts, but those years of unity, and the game in the square, live on. Hopefully this team can continue to bring Florence together, as change continues to knock down the old city walls.