Olympic Blog February 19-27, 2006 

Pique Newsmagazine editor Bob Barnett is on the ground and on the mountains with news and photos from Torino, Italy.

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Friday, February 24

Business as usual

One of the biggest questions Whistler seems to have about the Olympics is how will the Games affect business, and how should businesses prepare for the Games.

It’s one of those trick questions, for which there is no right answer. The best we can do is observe.

In Torino, all the clothing and shoe stores have “sale” signs in the windows right now. This happens every February, apparently, as room has to be made for the spring fashions from nearby Milan.

In the mountains, change keeps pace with the seasons, rather than ahead of them. Now that the alpine speed events are over parts of Sestriere and San Sicario have re-opened to the public for skiing. There obviously hasn’t been a rush of skiers, however, as powder was still visible on some lower slopes three days after the last snowfall.

Bardonecchia is not Whistler. It’s an alpine town with a few centuries of history that now embraces skiing as a part of its local economy. The population swells on weekends when people from Torino come to stay in their condos and go skiing at one of the three ski areas. During the Olympics, Bardonecchia hosted the snowboard events.

At the foot of Bardonecchia’s main shopping street, Via Medail, is Le Vie Del Gusto, a shop specializing in cheeses, cured meats, wine and grappa, all products the Piedmont area is well known for. “Selezione accurate di prodotti engastrononomici de alta qualita,” the sign says. “Free tasting” is the sub-text that draws visitors in.

Riccardo and Felice are the proprietors; Riccardo is the one who commands the shop, physically and authoritatively. In a friendly, offer-you-can’t-refuse kind of way he suggests you taste samples of the various cheeses and then decide what you want to buy.

Giant wheels of cheese are splayed open behind the glass, some with ugly red and grey splotches in the centre — markings of authenticity, showing that these came from the farms of the surrounding mountains, rather than a factory in a city.

Then it’s on to the cured meats, and samples are again offered.

When the evening’s food has been chosen and Riccardo is wrapping the selections in wax paper, customers wander over to look at the wall of Piedmont wines. Riccardo, who looks a little like Cal Schacter, comes up from behind and puts his arms around the customers’ shoulders.


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