(above: passenger ship "Citta di Tunisi")
Aboard the passenger ship "Citta di Tunisi" the night of May 18, 1949. Dino Buzzati writes....
A sparse crowd (very sparse, to be honest) waited at the gates of Napoli harbor at 7:30 this morning (actually, the "gates" are no longer there) - children in shabby clothes, others dressed a little better, an extremely well dressed little old man, a dozen street urchins (do they still call them "scugnizzi?"), and a couple of girls.
What brought them out of bed at such an unlikely hour? Presumably the arrival of the "Saturnia", since at that moment the splendid ship was coming alongside the Beverello wharf. But did the little crowd know who was supposed to disembark? The youths, the old man, the scugnizzi, and the two girls, all still a bit sleepy, gave not a clue.
In Napoli it is difficult to characterize people at first sight, but it became clear when the cyclists disembarked and headed toward the vast square behind the wharf - they were there to welcome the Giro d'Italia racers!
A dark cloud hung over San Marino, but the chrome on the bicycles sparkled brightly in the weak, misty morning sun. Over there, a distinctive and familiar color, the familiar light blue of a Bianchi team jersey - the champion cyclists were dressed to ride, almost as if the Giro would begin over there, a few steps away, in the Piazza Municipio.
After leaving the "Saturnia" early in the morning, the racers had until evening to board the "Citta di Tunisi" for the rest of the trip to Sicily. They had an entire day at their disposal - twelve precious hours to exercise the legs which on Saturday will be subjected to one of the most grueling competitions ever conceived by man.
Beware of starting the race without warming-up beforehand! A few days of inactivity are enough to make the muscles sluggish and wooden, so this free day to stretch the legs comes as a blessing: a ride of one hundred, one hundred and fifty kilometers - or perhaps more - at thirty-five kilometers per hour, south along the Gulf road, toward Sorrento and Amalfi.
The little crowd becomes restless. They are well-intentioned, even affectionate, but they lack the latest information. "Bartali?" they ask, "Coppi? Isn't Coppi here?".
Amid the confusion, it is easy to be mistaken, and even though he is a bit too tall, from a distance Salvatore Crippa can be mistaken for Fausto Coppi, the great champion from Castellania.
The little old man waves his cane in the air and winks joyfully at his presumed idol, supporting the misidentification.
But the racers move on, trying to get out of the enthusiastic mob without making a fuss. It's not that they give themselves airs, that's just the way they are: serious and seemingly preoccupied (or perhaps they were expecting more?). They seem detached and indifferent as they pass through the crowd, which only serves to increase the curiosity and persistence of these tifosi.
"Long live Gino!" someone shouts, answered by spotty applause here and there.
But the racers continue through the crowd, carrying their shining bicycles, so spindly and light. They do not smile, nor are they overly friendly. Perhaps they have been hurt by the hurrahs for Coppi and Bartali, without actually realizing it. Those hurrahs serve as a reminder of the differences.
And these men, the gregari, the anonymous ones - the Monaris, the Nanninis, the Marangonis, the Brignoles, the Bensos - they know only too well the differences - it is easy to fool oneself, but only to a certain point: stopwatches and finishing orders speak clearly enough.
Yes, there are differences, but must they be reminded? Coppi is not here, he will arrive by train. Bartali didn't take the ship, either. Haven't you realized that your favorites are not here?
However, the tifosi are kind - in a sense extremely kind - for they are easily satisfied. In the absence of the biggest guns, these small-caliber riders will do.
The fans are not fussy. When they finally understand that the two supreme giants are not present, they still welcome the other cyclists just as warmly.
"Bravo che-RA-mi!" one of the few well-informed fans shouts, referring to the most brilliant member of the Ganna team, Pino Cerami, recognized thanks to a photo in the newspaper. But Cerami is a Belgian-Italian: his name is pronounced se-ra-ME, so he is unaware that they called his name.
"Bravo ku-BLEY-rey!" yells another kind-hearted fan. Perhaps he's a fan of the Swiss cyclist, Ferdi Kubler? Certainly not!, but he found out that Kubler was on the "Saturnia". The name was more or less familiar to him, so he thought it would be nice to welcome him. The enthusiasm stored up for the two great ones has to be expended somehow, one can't just take it back home after getting up so early. So,"Bravo Kubleyrrey!".
But guess what? - Kubler isn't here either. At the last minute he decided not to board. Instead, he will go on to Palermo by train. And even if he were here, he probably wouldn't turn around, hearing his name pronounced so badly.
Finally extricating themselves from the crowd, the racers prepare to ride.
Everybody crowds around them. "No, no" the scugnizzi would like to say, the youths in shabby clothes, and those better dressed, and the two girls (the little old man has walked away, disappointed, twirling his cane disdainfully) - "it really is YOU we are here to welcome, not Bartali, not Coppi, but you! If we shouted Bartali and Coppi, we were only trying to be polite, but we couldn't care less about them! It is really you we love - you, the young men of the future. You, Conti, you also, Crippa, and you just the same, Cerami, who everybody says is gifted - even if your name is pronounced the French way."
After all, aren't they heroes, too?
The spontaneous cheering grows louder and heartier. Someone takes it a step further:"Down with Bartali," he shouts, hoping it will be appreciated.
But the racers remain withdrawn, silent and serious - almost sullen, as if brooding over a private, personal insult. They slide one foot into the toe clip, lift their other foot from the ground, and depart somewhat awkwardly across the Piazza Municipale.
Already they are at the corner of Via De Prettis...
...now they have disappeared.
Eventually the tifosi disperse amid embarrassment and slight uneasiness. They light cigarettes, they yawn, as if it was only by coincidence that they were there at all.
Meanwhile, the racers ride farther away. The Rettifilio (one of the broad avenues of Napoli) is already behind them. They pedal furiously on the road to Castellamare. Various windows are flung open.
The silhouettes of several boys are seen flying through doorways and rushing to the edge of the road, but they get there too late - the vibrant metallic rustling of the bicycles is already far away.
But in their wake, the cyclists can here yells pursuing them, growing ever louder. Formless voices, shouts, nothing else. But two vowels are constantly repeated, always the same haunting vowels:
That's what the impromptu tifosi send forth, but they are only guessing.
Angry, the cyclists pedal on, at forty, forty-one kilometers an hour, thrashing away to free themselves from those unpleasant sounds.
But it's no use... the harder they go, the more sudden are the shouts that pursue them, the misunderstanding easier and more frequent.
Nothing else, like a spiteful, never-ending echo.
The sun is already high. It's hot. Hunched over in their labors, their expressions set hard on their burning faces, the young champions continue their headlong flight. From the fields, from the dark doors of the houses, from the ditches, always the same damned two sounds.
Other people's fame.
And what about their own?