America drenched Florence, Italy in beer and sweat the night of the Super Bowl.
It’s half-past midnight and I’m about to watch Super Bowl 50 five thousand miles away from home. Distance and time zones place a frustrating strain on the human body, but hundreds of displaced study abroad students and ex-patriots sit beside me, all willing to sacrifice sleep to partake in this exemplary American activity. Tomorrow, or more accurately later today, we have work and class, but for the next few hours we will embark on a commercialized, microcosmic journey upon the most American display of American culture.
There is an undeniable irony that exists in watching the crown jewel of the American experience in Florence, Italy – the town that made culture something more than just going to church and trying not to die from a large number of diseases. Some six hundred years prior, Florence taught the world how to live in a civilized manner. Today, culture has seemingly evolved into a U.S.-dominated celebration of leisure, food, art and sport that is particularly focused on artists, activities and spectacles that are born in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
For whatever reason, this masturbatory American world order climaxes in early February, when all of these ingredients combine to form the biggest spectacle of them all: The Super Bowl. Especially this one, which marks a half century of the U.S. dominating world culture with a game no one else really gives a shit about. Yeah, other countries have their own cultures, but not one of them can compete with The States’ ability to singlehandedly pump out trendsetting content across so many platforms. In sports, the whole world has to come together to form the World Cup and the Olympics to match the raw power of the Super Bowl. Sure, a couple soccer matches get more viewers, but that is only because 200-and-some lesser nation states decided they would put all their proverbial eggs into a basket that features male supermodels whining about getting kicked in the leg. The Super Bowl is still the big kid on the block. Maybe not the strongest kid, but at least the fat one that can rely on raw mass to overpower weaker adversaries, like baseball.
Anyway, I’m in this bar watching these modern day gladiators go at it, coincidently situated just a little over an hour away from where the original gladiators ripped each other to pieces. I’m surrounded by increasingly-inebriated Americans, and a few unlucky Italians, all of whom are itching to watch these huge men get physical with each other. These new gladiators aren’t too unlike the old ones. Born on the wrong end of loaded economic, political and social conditions, they resort to using their bodies to provide entertainment to the masses and a life for themselves. If they make it to the top, glory. If not … Well, shit.
It’s an unfortunate situation, but for now I’ll be complacent and enjoy the banality of this glorified orgy of sport and capitalism. Only I’ll enjoy it from the lavish comforts of the old world, as the sun rises over Tuscany. (Translation: I’ll watch the game very early in the morning and drink with American strangers.)
Full disclosure: My roommates are from Boston and are very sour that the golden god himself, Tom Brady, and his grumpy, Emperor Palpatine-like dad, Bill Belichick, were not able to do battle against the Jedi Knight known as Cam Newton. Instead of watching Darth Brady against Cam Skywalker we get to see chubby, old Peyton Manning try and salvage his legacy. Manning is essentially Homer Simpson to me, a funny balding dude who has existed for the entirety of my cognitive life. My roommates’ discontent with a non-Brady Super Bowl is contagious and has led to me half-heartedly cheering for the Panthers. This may change after I witness 10 to 50,000 dabs with in a three-hour window, but for the moment I am a fan of the Cam. Furthermore, I am watching the game with a girl who knows Cam through a mutual fan; so I don’t have a choice anyway.
We get to the place at 10:30 p.m., two hours before the game even starts, to grab seats. It’s packed. I couldn’t tell you how many fire codes are being broken, but I would set the over/under at “all of them”. The crowd is in heavy favor of the Panthers, but a good majority of the place seems like they would go down on Grandpa Peyton in a second.
I end up on the Broncos side of the place because there’s no room on Carolina’s. I’m situated next to a crowd of Colorado University students who seem pleasant enough to deal with. My friend Alex and I talk to a few of them and discover that they are in our same abroad program. The group, like our program, consists of a 10:1 women-to-men ratio. The bar itself tops out at a 65/35 female/male split. This is likely the last time I’ll ever watch a Super Bowl with such a ratio. It’ll almost certainly be the last time I experience such a female-dominated ratio in school or amongst my peers for a sustained amount of time. 10:1 is a ridiculous split.
It’s going to be quite the semester.
Things quiet down when we realize that the pregame rituals are starting. I’ve always thought pregame rituals are sort of creepy and cult-like. There is this weird video that shows a typical Wal-Mart staff’s daily routine, which begins with a deeply unsettling chant about their place of employment. This is how I view mass rituals of any sort. Patriotism and nationalism are fine, but ever since I saw that video in ninth grade, organized chanting and/or singing has disturbed me. This all changes in a moment. But before I get to that, I need to set aside some space for Stephen Curry.
The place goes crazy when Steph is on camera. He does virtually nothing, aside from hitting a giant gong and expressing excitement that his team has made it so far. But with each semi-rhythmic beat that glorious man produces, the bar further loses its collective consciousness. Steph owns us. We are slaves to his will. In a messianic way, he converts Broncos fans into temporary Panther lovers. A tall girl in front of me wearing a Peyton Manning jersey turns to me and declares. sincerely. that she would mother Steph’s children. I don’t blame her. In that moment, I would’ve as well. Yet, as quickly as it began, Steph’s time on camera concludes. The trance is lifted. Bronco’s fans return to their bodies and Panther fans are left energized by another one of their idols.
Things calm down a bit before America the Beautiful is sung. I don’t really understand why we sing this, other than to produce an even larger sense of patriotism, which seems redundant given that this is literally the most American activity possible to partake in. The amazonian Manning/Curry girl even confuses the song for our national anthem, telling the people around her to “shut the fuck up and have some respect for our national song.” Her BAC is likely around .1 at this moment. There are four hours left.
Lady Gaga comes on for the actual national anthem and the places erupts. The applause is very similar to what was given to Steph Curry, putting into perspective how much of a star that man is. Gaga, however, overcomes the most likable basketball player of all-time when she begins to sing. It’s no secret that she is an incredible talent, but never before have I been so taken by one of her performances. (I’ve seen Monster’s Ball, too!) Her national anthem melts away all my cynicism and produces the most American moment of my life: belting out the “Star Spangled Banner” with a couple hundred drunk Americans. This bar our embassy, we inhabitants felt at home as we had sang along. We were momentarily shot through time and space to the white steps of the Lincoln Memorial, staring out past the Washington Monument and over our lovely country.
I hate rituals, but I understand them better than ever now that I have sang our anthem abroad with an impromptu drunken chorus.
The game starts and the same girl as earlier yells bronco player names in support. She is a riot and wastes no time yelling at us for pointing out that Manning is an old dad. From henceforth I will refer to her as Bronco Barbara, because she plays a prominent role in the night and she seems like the type of girl who has a shitty old person name. In fact, I know she does. Her name sounds old as hell, but due to ethical concerns I can’t throw it up here.
Bronco Barbara is accompanied by fifteen other girls who are much more reasonable. Unfortunately, their group is followed by some huge, sweaty guy who is already belligerent and desperately trying to get the attention of any girl within a 20-foot radius. I’ll call him Sweat from here on out.
Sweat must be everything that Europeans stereotypically think is wrong with America. There’s no way around it, Sweat sucks. He’s the kind of dude that yells like an oversized toddler for attention. The kind of guy who gets weirdly touchy with girls he doesn’t know, who are as enthralled by the words clumsily falling out of his mouth as they are with the amount of his sweat he leaves on their skin and clothes.
I was so captivated by his train wreck of a performance with some girls from Clemson that I completely missed the Broncos’ first field goal. My oversight proved to be pointless, because no one really cared that the Broncos scored outside of Bronco Barbara, who took a shot in celebration.
During the proceeding break in action, the whole bar realizes that Super Bowl commercials are not licensed in Italy. A collective groan rings out, understood only by those who have experienced two decades of commercialized capitalism to the point that we miss its never-ending presence. It’s a deep pain that I am ashamed of, but feel nevertheless. We are instead treated to an Italian football panel which features some old dudes and a drunk guy in a Patriots shirt who looked like Matthew McConaughey. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Carolina’s initial drives are depressing as hell. I get another round of beer from the bar during Cam’s horrifying first appearance and return only to find out that Bronco Barbara has exchanged some choice words with a girl from our group, creating a drunk tension that is all too common in college bars. This altercation leads to Bronco Barbara becoming even more obnoxious.
Repeatedly, she turns to me and declares that she would have totally gone to the Super Bowl if she wasn’t in “fucking Italy.” I have become the middle man between the two groups because I’m talking to Barb’s attractive friend. Around the time Barb started insisting that Italy was cock-blocking her inevitable trip to the Super Bowl, I began to loathe my position. But I push on, determined to record something of interest.
Cam fumbles the ball and allows the Broncos to score. The place goes crazy as Von Miller, a giant bulldozer of a man, unravels Cam. Sweat – who is like a shorter, fatter and greasier bulldozer – comes over and tries to unravel the clothes off of some unyielding girls with his advances that, at this point, border on primal. He fails, of course, but catches my eye. Fuck. I must not have contained the entertainment I found in watching him fumble around, because he notices me watching him and me talking to Bronco Barb’s pal and decides to come over. He places a sweaty hand on me, undoubtedly leaving a sweaty paw-print on my shoulder, and says something rude and racist about Cam. Before I can respond he has moved on to Barb’s friend, who just ignores him. He looks back at me, wondering why she won’t acknowledge him. I do a Jim Halpert impersonation and offer some goofy shrug. Sweat staggers away to bother someone else.
In the meantime, Bronco Barbara is still celebrating the score and running out of insults to throw at different players. She whispers to the girl I am talking to, who then has to ask me what Ron Rivera’s name is. Yeah, Barb was supposedly going to go to the Super Bowl without knowing the name of the opposing coach. Briefly, I am happy for the people at the game because they don’t have to deal with her. But then I return to my own reality, in which I, personally, very much have to.
The first quarter ends moments later. I go over and talk to a few students from Iowa at the bar. Even thousands of miles away, Iowans remain the friendliest people I have met. It’s not the most exciting state, especially since the drama that is the Republican party left its borders last week, but, damn, does it have some great people.
The second quarter gets rolling and Carolina scores quickly. Girls in my group celebrate. Barbara loses her shit and asks all the Pathers fans to get out of her face. The girl in our group who is most put off by Barb’s shit says something back and, in what may have been the most mature thing she has done all day, Barb pretends not to hear it. Shocked by her sudden maturity, I look around for Sweat, hoping that he has not matured. I find him. He hasn’t. He’s actually being ushered away by a group of girls. Yet, perspiring and persistent as ever, he refuses to quit. Like a prize fighter against the ropes, he is pummeled by their pleas for his removal, but he protects himself by continuing to launch unwelcome advances.
Eventually Sweat folds and goes to stand by his friend, who clearly wants nothing to do with him. This friend seems like a great guy. He looks like an Abercrombie model and has been talking with a couple Italian dudes for the majority of the game. I feel horrible that he has to drag Sweat around with him for the foreseeable future. He could probably talk to anyone in this bar and convince them to go home with him. Instead he has to corral his manbeast of a friend into a semi-acceptable state of behavior.
As I’m pitying Johnny Abercrombie, I notice that an Italian girl wearing a fedora has stopped near us. There really isn’t anything to report here other than that she is wearing a fedora. She seems popular and cool, perplexing me further. How are fedoras an okay thing to wear here? All my social training since early middle school has told me otherwise. I stop and wonder if this is what culture shock feels like.
I never actually get to talk to Fedora Italiana, but I do get the pleasure of trying to explain american football to an Italian girl. It goes very poorly. Her English isn’t that bad, but my Italian is awful and she doesn’t understand the word “referee.” Try explaining football without being able to communicate why different penalties occur. It’s harder than you think. After several attempts to explain unnecessary roughing, we give up and talk about what she thinks of Americans. She points to Sweat and laughs. The skies open up and I want to propose to her in that moment. Unfortunately she parts ways after realizing it’s 2:30 in the morning and she doesn’t care about football.
The second quarter ends as boring as ever. My friend Alex and I go and get doner kebabs at the place next door. These “kebabs” are basically a heavenly Turkish combination of french fries, gyros and burritos. It’s my fourth day in a row having one. The shop owner recognizes me and insists I call him Mr. Kabob. I am weak to his demands. Mr. Kebab is effectively my Italian father at this stage in my journey. I’d follow him into the depths of Turkish hell, which is probably just Russia. We get the kebabs and stand on the street to watch the halftime show from outside.
There’s not a lot to say about the actual performance. Coldplay again proved to be the musical version of vanilla ice cream. Bruno Mars is still impossibly fun to watch. Beyoncè reminds us that she is perhaps the only star who can debut a song at the Super Bowl and use it as a promotional venue for herself. She’s bigger than the Super Bowl. No one else could make such a political and racial statement on a platform that large with such success. Unfortunately the black/woman power message doesn’t penetrate the group of Italian dudes next to me. One of them nudged me halfway through the performance, whistled, and asked me if I would “fookah da bitch.” Oh well, Beyoncè, you can’t win them all.
We get back inside just in time to catch the final battle between our friends and Barbara, who, thanks to another tequila shot, is firing on all cylinders. Apparently, our friend had informed Barbara she was from North Carolina and things deteriorated from that point. Upon receiving this information Barbara told our friend she wasn’t surprised that she was from N.C. because she looked like she “grew up in a trailer park.” I was very impressed with this comeback, due to the fact that N.C. is one of the ten poorest states in the Union. Way to drunkenly know your state economics, Barb.
Unfortunately, one jab about her current state of inebriation later and Bronco Barbara is out of the fight. She turns around and complains to her friend I was talking to earlier, who then rolls her eyes and looks at me for help. I balk. Most of our friends left after that, but my roommates stay behind, one of which is feeling his 5th or 6th mixed drink.
3rd Quarter/Who Cares At This Point:
The third quarter is a blur because I spend most of it talking to different girls. This Super Bowl sucks. Penalties and shitty plays kept it from being interesting. I can’t really be expected to give it much more attention at 3:30 in the morning. Even Sweat and Barbara lose their luster during the quarter. There is a brief moment where they combine to form a super team and get overexcited about being in the red zone. But Denver settles for a field goal and their drunk asses settle down. Sweat even eventually settles his stomach all over the bathroom towards the end of the quarter.
My other roommate who is in decent condition, because he has class at 9 a.m., realizes that our drunk roommate has disappeared. Shit. We finish our drinks and form a search party that yields no results. Due to Denver’s defense being a literal manifestation of God willing Peyton Manning to another ring, we feel it’s safe enough to go home and look for our friend. I say bye to Bronco Barb and wish her friend luck before I get her info, my only real victory for the night.
On our way back, we find our drunk roommate in the street talking to some huge Italian dude. We get his attention and haul him home while he tells us a story about a guy trying to push some X onto him. Fortunately, he was unable to comply completely, but the two apparently hit it off pretty well and talked to some girls together. What a beautiful city Florence is.
So, yeah, the game was trash. Peyton and the Broncos got their rings, but Beyoncè caught the snitch. Thankfully, I had a couple belligerent CU students and Italians around to keep me entertained. Italy is a cooler place than the U.S., and the people are generally chill AF, but what’s a Super Bowl without a profane drunk girl and a dude sweating all over a hundred people? Nothing. And not even chic, old Italy can take that little beer-soaked, commercialized slice of America away from me.