Memories of Italia 90

Twitter reminded me that 30 years ago yesterday (4th July 1990) was the date of the semi final between England and Germany in the 1990 World Cup, an event remembered by most people for Gazza’s tears. Paul Gascoigne cried before England lost (on penalties) because he picked up a yellow card which meant he wouldn’t play in the final even if England got through. As it happened, England lost so none of the England players played in the World Cup Final.

My memories of Italia 90 have somewhat different focus. I travelled to Italy on 1st July 1990 to attend a cosmology conference/workshop in a place called Sesto Pusteria in the region known as Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol). Sesto is a village, set in the Italian Dolomites, primarily a ski resort in the winter but used for conferences in the summer when there is no snow.

I think it was only my second trip to Italy and I had been learning some Italian on the flight. My plane was supposed to land in Venice whence a bus would take conference guests up to Sesto. Unfortunately my flight was diverted to land at Treviso. I missed the bus and decided to stay overnight in a hotel and travel under my own steam the next day.

I found a hotel in Treviso and that night I watched the quarter final between Cameroon and England on my own on the television in my room.

I got up early the next morning and with the aid of the railway timetable supplied by the hotel reception, I set out on a long journey by train. There might have been a quicker way by bus but I was more comfortable doing it by train and was actually looking forward to a bit of exploration.

The route involved four different trains: Treviso to Mestre, then Mestre to Verona, then Verona to Bolzano, then a local (very slow) train from Bolzano up into the mountains to San Candido. The last leg was a little bus from San Candido to Sesto Pusteria. It took me most of the day to get there but I made it without any real difficulty.

I did notice however that on the way there the style of buildings I could see changed from very Italian to very Austrian.

Anyway I arrived in Sesto Pusteria (which is a small place) and found the name of the hotel I was booked in which was Bellavista. I wandered about looking for it – there was no Google Maps in those days – but failed. I did however find the conference centre where the meeting was located. I went in and asked in broken Italian Prego, Dov’è l’hotel Bellavista?

The answer came back in perfect English with a hint of a German accent. It’s down the road on the right, about 50 metres. It’s easy to find because the outside is all white. I was puzzled because I must have walked right past it. Anyway I walked back to down the road and found a hotel with a white exterior. The sign said Hotel Schönblick…

It turned out that my meagre Italian was of no use at all because the locals all spoke German. The South Tyrol has historically been part of Austria. It was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War and the present border is just a few km from Sesto Pusteria. Attempts to assign Italian names to things however have been only partly successful.

So I made it to the conference, a day late. There weren’t any mobile phones in those days so I’d been unable to contact the organisers so they were quite relieved when I eventually showed up.

And so I saw both semi finals of Italia 90 at the conference: Italy lost theirs against Argentina and England lost on penalties.

After the workshop I travelled with a colleague by car to Trieste to work on a collaboration. During that I remember watching the 3rd/4th playoff (‘Piccolo Finale’) on a big screen from a bar in a public square in Trieste. Italy won that (deservedly). I think I watched the final too, but can remember little about it.

3 Responses to “Memories of Italia 90”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Italy was lured away from its three-decade defence pact with Austria and Germany by Allied promises of territory in the event of their defeat, including the Austrian littoral with the Adriatic port of Trieste. After the winter of 1914/15, the Italians joined hostilities by launching a campaign against Austria which included multiple battles on the Isonzo river and extensive mountain warfare. Ultimately the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and this territory went to Italy. Included in this area is Trento, where in the 16th century the Catholic church held an intermittent 18-year conference to respond to the protestant challenge, known in English as the Council of Trent (and nothing to do with Nottingham).

    Nessun Dorma…

    In 2010 I took seven trains in a day to get from Buckinghamshire, where I stayed the night before and left my car, to Chamonix where that year’s Maximum Entropy conference was taking place. At the right time to book flights, that erupting volcano in Iceland had grounded most flights in Europe. I took a commuter line in to Marylebone, underground to St Pancras, Eurostar to Paris, RER under Paris, TGV to Albertville, then two smaller trains to Chamonix, the latter designed to climb hills. It all went to plan.

  2. That triggered quite the flashback! I did my first postdoc in Trieste and got sent to summer conferences in Sesto/Sexten every year. They did winter conferences there too (complete with long lunch-breaks for skiing). Besides that, nothing much seems to have changed given your description: they still speak more German than Italian, and you can often expect to have your travel arrangements thrown into disarray. Google Maps doesn’t map when the internet doesn’t work anyway…

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