March 10, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Scenes from the Games 

From colliding buses, empty seats, the log man, and O Solo Mio, Pique editor Bob Barnett observes lessons learned for Whistler from the 2006 Winter Olympics.

click to flip through (4) Italian fans cheer at the women's downhill in San Sicario.
  • Italian fans cheer at the women's downhill in San Sicario.
     

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In Torino, all the clothing and shoe stores have "sale" signs in the windows during February. 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 trying to run ahead of them. Once the alpine speed events were over parts of Sestriere and San Sicario re-opened to the public for skiing. There obviously wasn’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 massive arms around the customers’ shoulders.

"Mi amici," he says solemnly, preparing all of us for an important decision, "lo vino."

Barolo, si, grande vino. Grande conto, too.

Eventually a Barbera d’Alba is selected.

After making sure all the purchases are placed carefully in a neat paper bag Riccardo stops the customers just before they leave, opens the bag and drops in some cookies.

How have the Olympics affected Riccardo’s business? It’s a question that requires a better understanding of the Italian language, and probably another month of evaluation. People came to Bardonecchia for six days of snowboard competitions, but the event venue was a bus ride outside of town. The smallest of the three athletes villages is in Bardonecchia, but national teams were not conspicuous on Via Medail.

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