What you do when you were a kid?" Luis Rodriguez asked his driver. "I was in the war," said the driver, who had driven Luis all over Rome and had become fond of the Cuban.
"In the war?" asked Luis. "Which war?"
"S�, the Ethiopian campaign."
"How you do, my friend?"
"It was a whirlwind," said the driver, sweeping his hand before him.
"I was captured," said the driver. "I was the only Italian captured in the Ethiopian campaign." Then he laughed.
The laugh eluded Luis, who was not aware of the Italians' gift of amusing themselves and the world. Afterward, in Rome's Palazzo Dello Sport, he became all too familiar with one of their amusements. But by then it was too late. Had he known that a fight in Italy is high comedy, that an Italian referee is a jester of supreme rank, that all of this is the latest national diversion, he would have dropped Nino Benvenuti with a burst from a Browning automatic at the opening bell of their middleweight championship fight last Saturday night.
As it was, Luis Rodriguez lay there in the 11th round, a sad, dark Cantinflas with a slalom run for a nose, sucking desperately for air, the victim of ruinous officiating and a left hook, a picture of which should be hung in the Louvre. The hook, sort of an uppercut that could not make up its mind, came at 1:08 of the 11th, and it accomplished this: it knocked out Rodriguez, former welterweight champion, for the first time in more than 100 fights; it spared Benvenuti the dangerous necessity of having to fight four more tough rounds in a bout that was quite close; and it spared Italy another riot, one that certainly would have paled that slight disagreement in Milan last week.
All week on the Via Veneto, prospects of a riot were hardly remote. True, life went on as usual. The hustlers of the illicit worked double shifts in the outdoor caf�s; the men in their sport coats of shorn spring lamb and lavender ties and socks stood like mannequins outside hotel lobbies; and the endless parade of the Italian character moved back and forth. But it was the fight, not some new starlet in from the provinces, that provided the animation.