The Torino Scene
A huge pack of raucous Italians were stacked around a TV in a restaurant around 8:30 last night. Huh, I wondered, as they yelled and bounced around crazily, their eyes not leaving the screen. Maybe it’s ski jumping. No ” they must be watching ice hockey.
As I stepped around the glass and got a view of the TV, I saw that here in San Sicario, where Olympic ski racing happens just 300 yards outside of the building and “Torino 2006” gleams off of every wall, car door and flag pole in a 200-mile vicinity, these guys were watching soccer.
Athletes, spectators, media personalities and anyone else who’s been around the block has commented about the lack of energy and, let’s face it, lack of noise, at these Torino Games.
As these are my first Olympics, I have no basis of comparison. While there have been empty seats at all of the events I’ve attended, including the opening ceremony, and I did indeed expect a louder roar from the crowd, the Italian Games have proved to be plenty stimulating for me so far, in all kinds of surprising ways.
First of all, I can’t believe I’ve come this far without providing all of you with a detailed description of my space-aged mobile phone.
The cell phone I bought here has all of the usual features ” alarm, camera, Internet access for those who pay for it. But my wallpaper options are like an electronic version of the Sistine Chapel. Every time I open my phone, I’ve got a very atmospheric painting of a pirate ship at dusk. The screen saving possibilities are more contemporary. A wild-eyed cat with gleaming blue irises is what I decided upon. The ring is REM’s “Losing My Religion” ” appropriate, I think, for what is required to roll with the daily menu of unknown here in Italy.
The daily menu
Race postponements have been a common first course the last couple of days, while sultry glances from the Caribinieri (Italian police force) have been served up every day, all day and night. Smiles and jubilant friendliness all around with every issue of your Yankee-twanged “buongiorno” and a thick sky full of athletic emotion impossible to quantify hovers over each event.
I’ll get this over with as it’s my only complaint about my experience so far. The bus system, even now, halfway through the Games, feels like a game of roulette. You have your official transportation guide that tells you exactly when buses come and go from each of the Olympic venues. The buses, in reality, sometimes don’t exist at these venues, but you don’t know this until you stand outside in the bitter cold waiting for one for 45 minutes.
As you’re waiting, 40 volunteers and workers wearing matching Torino 2006 uniforms will laugh, smoke and socialize with each other and occasionally glance in your direction. You’ll lose feeling in your fingers and finally approach one of these people. After ensuring that they speak enough English, you’ll ask when the next bus No. (fill in number here) will arrive to (fill in venue here) and they will consult the official transportation guide. You’ll tell them that the guide is wrong, and they’ll insist that it’s not, because it’s the official guide. After you recount all of your evidence, to humor you, they will call someone, who’ll call someone, who will call them back. Twenty minutes later, you’ll be told that the last bus No.(see aforementioned number) of the evening left an hour ago.
Besides the hot mayonnaise and anchovies slip-up, the Italian cuisine has been all I dreamed of, (when I’ve had time to enjoy it, that is). I have managed to go out to dinner just once so far, and, as expected, the food and wine were incredible. I ordered seafood pasta, which arrived with a full baby lobster, shells, antennae and all, sitting on top, and the shrimp and clams still in their shells.
I am staying in a fantastic hotel that serves an astonishing spread of pastries for breakfast, accompanied by a machine with a button for every kind of Italian coffee concoction ” from cappuccinos to straight-up espresso. The hotel was finished just last December, and fits nicely with the sparse array of other buildings in San Sicario. While the area, like the rest of Italy, has a history that dates back beyond BC, the architecture here is very new.
With other journalists lamenting accommodation with no hot water and soggy cocktail fruit for breakfast, I haven’t done much bragging about my luck of the draw.
In Saturday’s combined downhill, a few racers crossed the finish line and immediately engaged in hip-shaking to a catchy Italian techno song that has been played at least five times at every event I’ve been to so far.
There is definitely some sort of soundtrack here, and all of the athletes will be able to do their own personal covers of each song when it’s all said and done.