Our lads – well, our German lads -- are in Genoa, about to play Italy. Why am I not in Genoa? I would find the hotel along the Ligurian Sea where I once interviewed Ruud Gullit. Best shrimp risotto I ever had, on one of the most beautiful afternoons I can remember, warm breeze along the sea.
That’s the first thing that comes to mind while waiting for the friendly at 2:30 PM on Wednesday. I have no idea what to expect from this latest makeshift lineup from Jurgen Klinsmann. He is looking at potential players; this is why they play friendlies.
Meantime, the mind wanders. Mine wanders back to 1993, when I scored a trip to Milan to watch Italy qualify for the 1994 World Cup, and arranged an interview with Gullit, who was playing for Sampdoria during their brief glory days.
But I screwed up, and took the slow train from Milan, and arrived at the Sampdoria grounds after Gullit had left. I remember Gianluca Pagliuca would not talk to me when I asked if he knew where Gullit lives, but my taxi driver extracted from his colleagues that Gullit lived in a villa in a suburb just south of Genoa. He took off down the hill and spotted the right villa and we knocked on the door and Gullit poked his jangly dreadlocks out the window and told me to have lunch at the team hotel across the street, and he would join me after his family’s lunch.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes wondering if I tipped the driver enough.
The aforementioned risotto was tremendous, and Gullit, true to his word, popped over from his villa. Heads turned in the restaurant as we chatted for an hour. The item I remember most from the interview was that in 1993, already an international celebrity, Gullit had never visited the United States.
I guess I exhibited chauvinistic surprise, because he quickly said, “But I have met Nelson Mandela.” That pretty much shut me up.
When Gullit scooted home, the hotel manager was evidently so impressed that he invited me for an elegant coffee in his office, and we chatted for half an hour – in Italian. This is why I love Italians: they let me speak their language, in however wretched a fashion.
Then I took a stroll along the sea, mid-November, people out for a stroll on one of those bonus autumn afternoons that you know you will remember all your life. Then I took the light rail to the Genoa station and headed back to Milan.
Haven’t been back since.
This is what I wrote back in 1993:
Now we will get a glimpse of Genoa, or at least its soccer stadium. Via good old ESPN2, we will watch our latest recruits from the academies and reserve teams and rosters of the Bundesliga.
But no shrimp risotto.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.