“Roll Torre!”


And who says there is no connection between Italy and college football?!

Being from Chicago almost automatically makes me a Chicago Bears fan. We have options when it comes to baseball in Chicago—the Cubs or the White Socks. But when it comes to football there is no other but—“da Bears.”  Proudly declared with a thick, downtown accent “da Bears” is not a false parody of jersey wearing, heavy-set men, with bad 1970s’ porn mustaches, sitting around a table knocking back some beers in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Unless you are from Chicago, you have no idea how true to life that sketch is.

My partner Richard during college spent a summer in Italy, based out of Cortona, with a University of Georgia program for the Arts. Alton Brown, of Food Network fame, was one of his roommates that summer and Richard has some rather humorous photos—oh to be in college and in Italy. The program still exists and it takes no time to notice the UofG Bulldog stickers proudly displayed in the windows of many of Cortona’s shops and ristorante. Funny, those were never mentioned in Under the Tuscan Sun.

In the South, college football reigns supreme and, though Richard and I never quite pay attention to it, Richard’s brother and nephew do. For them, there is only one football team—the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide with its mascot Big Al, the elephant.

While I lived with the Stefanis in 2005, I was fortunate enough to experience Il Palio, the famous horse race that is run bareback around the campo, Siena’s main piazza. Thousands of people pack the piazza under the looming clock tower, la Torre del Mangia, of the Palazzo Pubblico to watch 10 riders, each representing one of the original neighborhood families of Siena, race their horses around the outer ring of this ancient piazza to secure the city’s highest honor and to insure bragging rights for the months to follow.

The Palio is a quick and, often times, disastrous race where riders, horses, and spectators have been severely injured or killed. To be standing at the rail of the inner ring must be an exhilarating and insane experience. It was exhilarating and insane enough just watching it on television with Nonna in the den of the house in Viterbo. I tell the story of the race in the book so I won’t give anything away now, but I will say that watching it with Nonna was a ride all unto itself.

Nonna’s son, Luca, lives in Siena and belongs to the Torre (Tower) neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a name and a mascot. La Torre’s is a tower on the back of an elephant. Nonna and the rest of the family were beside themselves when La Torre won il Palio that summer. It was as if they had won the Super Bowl and their son/brother/uncle had been the QB. Football is passion, il Palio is passion, and Italians are nothing if not passionate.      

Richard’s nephew Paul has been to Italy twice with us and in 2007 while visiting Siena I made sure that we hunted down the headquarters of la Torre. Tucked in the neighborhood behind the Palazzo Pubblico, the headquarters is a large meeting room on the ground floor of building tucked at the end of a long row of structures. Imagine a Moose Lodge, but in a brick building 600-years-old. Adjacent to the building was a modern art sculpture, which involved a fountain and a statue of an elephant bearing a tower on its back. Paul was quick and insistent that we take his photo with the elephant so he could show all of his buddies back home that there were Tide fans world wide, particularly in Siena, Italy.

It has only been in the last few months that I have learned Luca’s last name, so I never asked the group of men hanging around the headquarters that day, back in 2007, if Luca was there. I figured asking for a man named “Luca” in Italy would be like asking for a man named John in America, so, without knowing a last name, I was too timid to ask.  I was probably standing right next to Luca the whole time but, alas.

So the next time you are in Italy, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon some good old American college football mascots—proudly displayed in the statuary and door stickers of elephants and bulldogs, some literal and others only metaphorical.

Now if I could just find “da Bears,” I’d be all set!

Ciao e a presto~



1. Part of the marble inlaid floor of the Duomo in Siena.

2. La Torre Mangia and the piazza below.

3. Paul and “Big Al” Italian-style!

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

  1. David BralyDavid Braly06-12-2010

    Lovely story, Mark, and clever of you to tie it into Alabama sports. I think you’re ready for the UA Alumni clubs circuit…tell them Spaghetti Bolognese was invented to honor the Crimson Tide. As for “da Bears” in Italy, follow the Orsini, who built their palace atop the Theatro di Marcello in Rome. What balls are to the Medici, “ursus” is to the Orsini.

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.