Jésus del Campo is a translator, traveller and doctor of philosophy. A History of the World for Rebels and Somnambulists is published in June by Telegram.


Immortality has nothing on the Roma–Lazio derby

They started arriving slowly, with cautious steps, as if unsure of themselves, as if worried that they might be struck down at any moment by a sudden feeling of reverence, and little by little they spread across the square until they had covered it completely.

Once they found themselves all squeezed in there together the mood changed and they started looking at one another with an almost rude curiosity. There were desert nomads proudly holding the reins of their camels and occasionally beating their drums out of fear of losing their companions in the crush of the crowd. There were Chinese torturers with painstakingly curled black hair who were fanning themselves with peacock-feather fans and struggling to breathe under the oppressive Mao collars on their nylon jackets, and astronomers from Cape Verde waving maps of Saturn in the air, and anarchists from Minnesota studying books on phonetics, and deliverymen from Cuzco handing out free painkillers "because today's a special day," they said, "and we're all brothers". And of course there were Romans too: women with plucked eyebrows and men holding their heads up high as if posing for their picture on a coin.

And finally the Pope took the advice of the canticles and stepped out onto the balcony.

"What do you want?" he asked them.

"We're here to protest against mortality!" they shouted back at him in an avalanche of different languages. A group of Eskimos waved a banner in Danish demanding immortality for those who work for it.

An Englishwoman turned to her husband and whispered, "I have to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury, when you see him in person, looks far more majestic than the papists' infallible guru."

"We have to respect the views of the majority, as we agreed," said her husband diplomatically, without looking up from his copy of News of the World.

Then a spokesman stepped forward to speak on behalf of the demonstrators and read a manifesto in Latin.

"After deep discussions," he said, "we have decided to put aside our differences of creed, which at this moment seem of secondary importance, and have agreed to come here, to the centre of world religion, to express our shared conviction that what we have to go through and suffer is simply not fair. No, Your Holiness. It's not fair that we should be weighed down with uncertainty about our final destiny for all our lives, on top of all the other hardships which keep us in a permanent state of discomfort, as well as being blackmailed to do the right thing left, right and centre under the threat of eternal punishment. We have realized that we are all united by the same anxiety, and because of this we want Your Holiness to communicate our protest to He who has appointed you as His representative on earth. We will not move from here until we've had an answer to our request, which is the following: we want Him to declare a 'time out' in the life of the earth, during which not a single creature on this miserable planet will be struck down by death's crushing blow so that, when we've received this guarantee, we will all be able to feel safe at last, and breathe as freely as if we'd never read stories about Original Sin. In short, we want to vent our frustration, Your Holiness, because where there's death, nobody can live."

And the Pope thought in silence for a few moments, and scratched his chin.

"Look, all of you," he said, "I'm an old man and I share your concerns, believe me, I understand it well, but I fear your demands are beyond my powers. I can ask Him for you, of course, and I might even be able to negotiate a little more excitement and less tedium in your view of the world's landscapes: you will have emerald-green skies, sand as blue as sapphires for your beaches, snow as red as leopard's blood for your mountains and water as transparent as Bohemian crystal for your rivers, which furthermore will run full of nymphs and sirens with an open, liberal attitude with whom, if it's any consolation, you will have the chance to live out your most primitive fantasies of entertainment. I might even be able to get you a reduction in the hole in the ozone layer; but oh, my friends, I can't get you the thing you ask for."

"We won't move from here," the spokesman repeated, and his phrase was echoed in a storm of defiant applause, and the first torches began to glimmer in the night amid shouted threats to set fire to Rome.

"But not the taxi stand in the Piazza del Popolo," someone protested;

"Not the Trevi Fountain," shouted someone else;

"Not the statue of Giordano Bruno," somebody else begged from the crowd.

"What time is the Roma–Lazio match?" asked a Spanish demonstrator holding a transistor radio to his ear. And a sharp, sickle-shaped silence spread over the square and trembled in the air like an old-aged acrobat.

"It's already started," answered an Italian, who understood the question. "I'm from Milan and a big Inter fan, what team do you support?"

The Spaniard answered but nobody heard him because suddenly a tumult of voices arose declaring: "I'm a Glasgow Rangers fan," "I support Dynamo Kiev," "I support Ethiopian Coffee from Addis Ababa," "I'm with Yokohama Marinos," and "I'm an Alianza de Panama fan."

And then, above all this noise, they began to hear a dull roar which they hadn't noticed until now coming from the Stadio Olimpico with the swelling force of a sea stirred up by a stormy wind and, little by little, larger and larger groups of dejected demonstrators started leaving the square, speeding up the further away they got. And the Swiss Guards stopped frowning and pointing their halberds at people and let a group of South Koreans take their photographs in exchange for half a dozen CDs of music for Zen meditation.

The Pope improvised a good-natured, routine blessing with the confidence of someone who knows his job inside out, then turned away from the dispersing crowd and glanced surreptitiously at his secretary.

"Please," he whispered to him, "can you find out the score?"

Translated from Spanish by Catherine Mansfield.



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