Grande Torino and the tragedy of Superga

In memory of the fallen of Superga.

It rained that night, the mad rain of a sick spring; the clouds piled low, alternating with sudden drops of damp fog capable of casting a hazy veil over them Turin woke up as if struck by a nightmare, milky, spooky, which not even the first sound of a pretty baker’s bicycle bell could cheer up and wake up. There was something in that livid, impregnated dawn, a kind of impatience, a suffering for no apparent reason, the pathological state of a depressed man exhaustedly awaiting anti-anxiety medication, the pain of a perpetual tremor and a sense of confusion.

Laura Virgili, the only child of a working-class family in the Lingotto district, slept very badly and woke up with a regret and a fear that she could not dispel even if she doubled the dose of biscuits to dissolve in the coffee in this dark morning, beaten by a stinging rain of tiny drops. The grenade of the flag of the bulland the choruses of fans on game day invaded her tastefully decorated room, a timid abode that, only a few years ago, had meant a detachment from the rituals of an obsessive upbringing.

At the intersection with Piazza D’Armi, glancing at herself in the flip-up mirror in her purse, she realized for the first time that she didn’t mind messy lipstick all things considered, while pouring out of a bar the words of a song called for it a man to hug a woman, to kiss her and avoid talking to her in the warmth of the bodies. As I was walking in Borgo Filadelfia in 1949, amidst the noise of the trains entering and leaving the railway junction, Laura stopped by to watch her soccer team practice at the stadiumand in the middle of the circle of players stood a certain Erno Erbstein, a Hungarian coach of Jewish descent, who lined up his boys in a clear, precise semi-circle, as if the invisible drawing of the compass were a lowered pen the highest point of the Mole Antonelliana.

The splendid and majestic Mole Antonelliana, guardian of the Alps

Laura was impressed by the automatism of the gestures, the fluid synchronicity of the movements. Although it was clear that they were exercising, there was no physical trainer to guide them in the stretches and acrobatics with which they drew the admiration of all the amazed passers-by, as if they were watching a circus tightrope walker or a flock of adorable flamingos. Behind the thin eyes, the spirit was fixed on a common inner orderfrom which the serial and almost dance-like gestures of the exercises emerged.

In those moments Laura could not have said exactly whether her enthusiasm for this invincible Turin was the melancholy disposition of a lazy winter of love, but she remembers it very well when she met the gaze of one of the men dressed in boundless clarity. Ecstatic, she watched every move, every arm, falling onto her ankles and then onto her back. He saw himself in his room She had a thought that made her blushshe thought back to the lack of furniture, to the alarm clock, to the Spartan Formica table, to that withered bouquet of flowers that she had forgotten to water for who knows how long, and who knows what the lost reason was that forced her to do it anyway keep.

He thought it would be wonderful to get engaged and married to one of those guys from Turin who strive for the beats of conjugal merriment, and she imagined their marriage, a new intimacy, a spacious homeeven fantasizing about the holes in the locks, the cracks under the doors, the finally discreet alarm clock, kept watching those gestures, this time tuned to the frequency of the real game’s cheers, but then there were the rice sacks again, long live the bride and the Groom who toasts the blackened skin on the plate after a candlelit dinner.

He saw himself next to the handsome Rigamonti, but rumor had it he was an unrepentant womanizer, so he fell back on Ezio Loik with the handsome and damn face of an American actor. He studied every detail worthy of a mad but composed imagination, but he understood the paranoia that couldn’t stand up to his over-the-top mood. Laura, who works at the Fiat Lingotto factory, thought of the cruelty of dreams where everything goes according to our wishes, but deep down these thoughts gave her a penchant for sporting retaliation against Juventus, the bosses’ team.

On the morning of May 4, 1949

It was a day off for her, May 4, 1949, and she took a tram towards Corso Vittorio Emanuele, wiping the condensation on the windows with a handkerchief so the opulence of the austere city wouldn’t cloud the athlete’s memory of her Memory. And yet that morning he continued to perceive what he never wanted to suspect: she saw his eyes look inward and she felt an inner order collapseIn a single moment, she was sure, something terrible had happened to her Turin, an absolute, invisible, silent collapse.

And even before the deadly news spread to every corner of the city and echoed throughout Italy, Laura Virgili started crying. Even Ettore Gianzi had slept badly that night and couldn’t get over it. In general, sleep was one of those things that, although life had given him terrible displeasure, didn’t bother him and he always got a decent rest. He got up, looked absently at the calendar that said Wednesday, May 4th, and stood in front of the mirror, the wrinkles were beginning to furrow his face, slightly gray from the years, almost fifty, he thought.

And for the time it was beginning to be a certain age. What the glass reflected worried Ettore, a Filadelfia collaborator, because long before the war there was a touch of melancholy between the engraved temples of a former member of the engineering department of the Italian army, that poor, disbanded army born of the ambiguous armistice settled September 8th, an awkward contrast to the happiness he knew he could bestow once contentedly wandering the corridors and lawn of the house stadium whose lawn he mowed once a week or depending on the season.

And it had to be done with caution because he was playing on this grass the strongest team in the world and he was aware of it.

Every evening he polished and checked the lawnmower, a lightweight aluminum model from the company Briggs & Strattonprepared the right dose of the mix for the next day, only to find it ready in the storage room next to the players’ locker rooms under a grenade pennant hanging from a nail with the inscription on it Champion of Italy 1947/48.

On the chair next to the bed, like a relic, he kept the shirt that Franco Ossola, a true tightrope walker in the field, had given him, while on the bedside table, under a somewhat cheap lampshade, he owned the photo of Irma, missing wife due to Injuries from a bomb that fell across the city weighed obliquely on the pin of the frame during days of shrill sirens and breathless escapes to shelters imposed by the war conflict. From the window he could see a small part of Corso Regina Margherita and noticed that it was drizzlingso he decided to put on his waterproof jacket.

The Corso, muffled by the haze, had little traffic. He grabbed the bike, which was fixed with wire to the special stands, and after a hundred meters he went to the baker on the corner of Corso Oddone to get his daily “gavasot”. As he entered, he noticed the strange silence, the last voices faded away, and Ettore, not understanding the reason, immediately hid a smile that he considered inappropriate. Many knew his work, they looked him squarely in the face as if expecting an answer, a steadfastness against the futility of hope.

Tail surfaces of the three-engine Fiat G.212, registration I-ELCE, of Avio Linee Italiane, crashed into the rear embankment of the Basilica of Superga on May 4, 1949. / Photo Wikipedia

At that very moment, Ettore Gianzi noticed the croaking of the radio, the muffled crying of some customers and the white, exhausted face of Renato, the mustachioed baker to whom just a week earlier he had given a signed photograph of Captain Valentino Mazzola, who is now over floating on the bread shelves and seemed to be watching everyone from an undetermined point in the universe. Renato didn’t say a word and stood with his elbows on the counter in a sad atmosphere of uneasiness and dejection.

Meanwhile the radio spoke of an accident, a mistake, a plane crash. Yes, maybe exactly the one from Turin, yes no maybe, the metallic voice articulated the press release well. Vittorio Pozzo, along with the fire brigade and the police, recognized the bodies. It wasn’t right, after the hardships of the post-war period, the Grande Torino with clean facesthe best youth of a country still searching for an identity, shy boys with tight faces, square cheekbones and slicked-back hair, older than their twenties, who hide their shyness and smile sheepishly for the cameras.

The great Turin returned from Portugal for a friendly he had collapsed on board an airplane over the Basilica of Superga, hidden by the cursed smoke of the rubble and by that grey, oppressive haze. Up there they somehow stayed forever, but also Laura’s dreams and Ettore’s second pain, as well as the memories of a whole generation, and while the litany of an epic formation repeats itself (Bagicalupo, Ballarin, Maroso, Greizar, Castellano, Loik, Mazzola, Menti , Gabetto, Ossola) seems to be the stationmaster’s trumpet Orestes Bormida you still play the attack between the bony and cracked corners of old Philadelphia.

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