While I was growing up, we had a summer house in Wasaga Beach, which is an hour and a half north of Toronto, if you take the scenic route. In as much as we were right on the river, with a boat docked in front of the sun-deck, an incredible expanse of rolling lawn on which to cavort, and a ten minute walk from the beach, it was rare that we spent much time in front of the television.
But it was 1982, I was 8, and there was a World Cup on. The sun was blazing down on that Sunday afternoon, but we were huddled in front of the set, in our non-air conditioned living room, the silence only broken by gasps or breathless cheers. I didn't know what was going on, really, until it was all over, but someone had pushed a bandiera Italiana into my hand, which I was happy to wave whenever the room started screaming.
Toronto's Little Italy went wild when Italy was declared the winner of the ’82 Mondiale. St. Clair Avenue - officially nicknamed Corso Italia - became one solid human tide of screaming fans and Italian flags. I've seen pictures, I've heard stories, but that's not what I remember, because I wasn't there.
Since the end of WWII, Toronto has rivalled Milan for its Italian population, and the city's pasta-eating masses tended to flock to the same weekend spots. Thus, that weekend, that summer, that decade, Wasaga Beach was predominantly green, white and red. The people, the beach towels, the boats, the cars – oh, the cars! Flags pinned to every door, every hood and trunk, waving from every antenna. At the end of the driveway on one side of the house, the street was lined with standstill traffic when the game ended. Banners waved from arms extended through car windows, horns sounded almost continuously, and sweating people screamed, "Italia Numero Uno" and "Rossi!" from open windows. I watched in wonder as waves of people marched along in the streaming heat, dressed in the tre-colori, whooping as they passed each other, slapping hands, raising flags and trading grins. On the side of the house, at the end of the lawn, the river was just as busy, just as pazzo, just as deliriously happy. I remember standing on the upper balcony, waving my flag and screaming along with the passing boaters who blew their horns and had what seemed like millions of flags rippling behind them. Water-skiers would fly by wearing the Italian flag like a cape, and spectacularly, a pyramid of those brave souls skied by, resplendent in Azzuri blue.
It was twenty-four years ago, but I'll never forget the heat, and the screaming, and my first, intoxicating taste of Italian pride.
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