Saturday, February 18, 2006
It's 10 p.m. in the Pizzeria Birreria Ristorante just across the street from the train station in Bardonecchia, Italy, and I'm starving.
I ate lunch 11 hours, a bus ride and what seems like a lifetime ago. Now, I'm standing face to face with a hard-working Italian waitress who is desperately trying to explain the difference between spaghetti and whatever it is that she would rather have me order.We are going nowhere.
Welcome to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino -- or should I call it Turin? I have been in Italy for roughly a week, and between trying to get on the train or bus and figuring out how to tell this waitress that all I really want is something to eat, it's starting to hit me that this language thing might be a problem.
Truth is, I love Italy's quaint mountain villages, those shoulder-less mountain roadways such as the one that winds from Cesana to Pragelato and the jagged peaks of the Alps that form a postcard backdrop for Bardonecchia and San Sicario.
If I understood even a few Italian phrases this would be the perfect place to hold the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. But I'm one of those Americans who thinks you can go about anywhere in the world, and if you just talk a little louder, people will understand what you have to say.
I've learned firsthand that volume doesn't matter.
Language isn't the only thing different about these Olympic Games. I think it is true that passion lives here, as this year's Olympic logo clearly points out. But I'm not sure whether that passion is for the Games or for cigarettes, strong coffee and vino.
Like one of my new Italian friends so bluntly pointed out a few days ago, this is not Salt Lake City.
In Italy, we have the Olympic stadiums, banners lining every street and on most buildings and more volunteers at the Games than there are tunnels in Italy -- and this country loves tunnels.
You can't walk down a street in Pragelato or Torino without crossing paths with someone wearing one of those trademark jacket, hat and shoe combinations. They seem very helpful, but very few of them speak English.
The local stores are stocked with Olympic T-shirts and pins, and you can find shops selling overpriced soda and pizza throughout most of these small towns.
But unlike Salt Lake City, these Games don't hit you over the head like a ton of bricks. The Olympic passion lives at the venues, but step off on a side street or into a small restaurant, and it's gone.
But just when I thing the Games are lost on this country, I witness hundreds of people lining a road as wide as a Hummer to watch the downhill. Italians stand by the road with their binoculars and telescopes, hoping to catch a glimpse of Olympic skiers making their way down a steep-pitched ski slope.
The Olympic spirit lives in Italy, even if I can't understand what they are saying.