When The Beautiful Game Turns Ugly

VERONA, Italy -- Right up until he started quoting Hitler and dropping N-bombs, my new friend was a great dude. I'll call him The Hooligan. A more generous host would be hard to find. Soon after we met, he made sure we stopped at the one place in town that served Campari correctly. He speaks eight languages, and seemed nothing like the Hellas Verona fans I'd read about, the neo-fascist, neo-Nazi, racist thugs. The Hooligan insisted the Veronese just have a dark sense of humor and refuse to wear the yoke of modern political correctness.

Now we are headed toward the terraces of the stadium. Soon I'll be packed in with the hard-core fans, three people for every seat, chest to back, eyes burning from smoke bombs. Near the entrance to the stands, I ask The Hooligan to translate any chants hurled down at the players. He is an old-school soccer thug, not on a first-name basis with impulse control. His eyes are slate blue, and his face has darkened with intensity as kickoff approaches. His voice is a sharp blade.

"How about, 'You're a f---ing n-----'?" he says, and we walk inside.

Lost in the Pontine Marshes

This story is about a red motorcycle.

The ghost of Mussolini rides through the swampland he turned into farms, the sound of his bike's engine going tom-tom-tom in the dark.

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