Getting by in good ol’ Torino

The fact that I have to sit on a chair on top of my bed in my hotel room to get Internet access should tell you a little about what Torino is like.

I started making a list of lessons learned on this trip, which started out with a fiasco (ha, Italian word) and has continued in a series of misadventures. I had a little trouble getting to the airport on time, which prompted a conversation with my parents that involved frequent use of the words “moron,” “idiot,” and “someone else’s child.” But eventually, I made it to Italy.

One lesson I learned when I got to Italy was not to make lists of lessons learned, because it gets really depressing.

Let me digress with a little disclaimer: This is not a column about Helen Resor, and I am not going to tell you to go watch anything or to root for Yale teams. Mostly, it’s about me. But in a good way, I swear. I’m, like, making fun of myself. And the French. Everybody hates the French.

Speaking of the French — the first thing you notice when you get to Torino is that no one speaks English, unless they are selling you something. If they are selling you something, they speak in broken English. Your mom lied to you. That “Everyone speaks English now” line is bull. True story: I met more Norwegians in my hotel who spoke intelligible English than Italians who spoke intelligible English in all of Torino.

This is not to say that the Italians are nasty. They are very nice. Although, naturally, no one in my hotel spoke English, the staff always offered me beer or coffee whenever they saw me. Of course, my room didn’t have a bathroom, but I suppose you can’t buy much with $190 per night. Even the people on the street are friendly. They’re always saying “hello” and “how are you.” At least I think that’s what “vaffanculo” and “una brutta” mean.

I’m just kidding. Really, the Italians are nice. They’re so nice, in fact, that a lot of them have no idea the Olympics are going on. “The Olympics? What Olympics? Here? Now?” If you leave the city center, you can’t tell that there is an international event going on here. If David Beckham or Real Madrid (or, in this case, Juventus) isn’t involved, most of the world just doesn’t care. Think about how much you care about Real Salt Lake or the Connecticut Sun. That’s how much the Torinese care about the Winter Olympics.

After you get to Torino and realize no one speaks English (it’s actually a bizarre effect — the closer I got to my hotel, the fewer people spoke English and the worse it was), you’ll realize that there are no signs. There are no signs with pictures, and there are definitely no signs in English. Of course, you can’t ask for help because no one speaks English. I got around Paris fine last summer, because even though my French is awful, I can read signs with pictures. Too bad the Torino Olympic Committee didn’t think of that. No, they spent the money on huge statues of Neve and Gliz, an anthropomorphic snowball and ice cube couple that looks like it took three too many from the local E dealer.

If you miss Neve and Gliz and the huge signs at the airport, it is really like the Olympics are the big secret in Torino. My cab driver did not know how to get to the main hockey venue. Another cab driver had no idea where the main ticket office was, even though there were literally dozens of American tourists there — and they must have gotten there somehow.

Since there is no English in Torino, I had to figure everything out for myself. Of course, this was difficult after being up for 20 hours and traveling for 12, especially since I’m a bit slow. After all, I couldn’t even get to the airport by myself. It’s also a foreign country. I often found myself trying to speak French (really, really bad French) to the Italians, but I got the same blank stares as I did when I spoke English. Try saying “oui” to an Italian. They’ll look at you like the idiot you are.

Now, I don’t expect everyone in a foreign country to speak my language. I could just as well try to learn theirs. But, on the other hand, I am a lazy and stupid American. I have an excuse. They are intelligent and cultured Europeans, and they should really get their act together.

Speaking of getting their act together: Everything here has the distinct sense of having been just been put together. I don’t mean that in the “brand-spanking new” way. I mean that in the “half-assed” way. The plaza outside of the main hockey venue and the Olympic Stadium is entirely dust. Not Cross-Campus-in-the-summer dust — Oklahoma in the 30s dust. I spread it all over the people sitting next to me at the game. Also, whenever someone walks up or down the stairs at the hockey arena, the whole row of seats shakes.

People say that Athens was poorly prepared, too, but two Olympic spectating veterans I spoke to said this is the worst-organized one yet — or ever, I suppose that means. You know the Spartans didn’t mess around when it was their turn to make the javelins.

With so much coverage, you would think there would be a lot of Americans here. You would think wrong. There are some Americans, but not nearly as many as you’d expect, and a lot of them are friends and family of Olympians. Other than the very young, I did not see many real “fans” here. This is a European event. Germans, Frenchmen and Scandinavians are all over the place. New Yorkers are not, except for the asshole who yelled at me for wearing a Red Sox cap. Well, they suck.

By the time the Canada-Finland game was over Friday night, the buses here were shutting down. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but they were. I rode one to pick up my bags, but it turned off its lights and stopped before it got to where I’d left them. I had to walk the rest of the way, and then take a cab to my hotel. The only reason I had cash for the cab, by the way, was the kindness of a fellow Yalie. That’s because, should you by some chance manage to find an ATM in Torino, it won’t work. I saw several people at several different ATMs over the course of the weekend, their cards sticking pathetically half-in, half-out of the slot. I laughed. Suckers. I use credit.

Of course, I was dumb enough to bring American Express. I’ll say this: There is a reason it’s called “American” Express.

That reason is because it sucks. No, really. No one takes it.

Also, because of marketing, a lot of the ATMs only take Visa. So do a lot of the stores. If this marketing strategy was designed to make me want to get a Visa card, it didn’t work. It did, however, make me think, “I hate Visa.” Maybe that’s what they were going for.

Please don’t take all this as a complaint. It’s not — I’m amused. This is an amazing place to be, and it’s great fun. Helen Resor, whom I am covering, is amazing, and her family and friends are much better than mine. Everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful (in Italian, of course). But if you’re not with NBC or SI and you found out you were coming too late to get a press pass, then this is a really tough place to do what I try to pass off as “business.”

Anyway, I finally got back to my hotel. My hotel, the name of which has been withheld to protect the guilty, is hilarious. The owner is wonderful and gives me free beer and makes great pizza, but whoever he got to promote this place is full of crap. It is advertised as being in Torino and 15 minutes from the city center, but that is an unbelievable lie. Oh, it’s on the bus line, but the bus from the center of the city turns around 200 feet before the hotel and heads back to civilization. Saying my hotel is “near the city center” is like saying the New Haven to New York commute “isn’t that bad.” Or maybe like saying a trip to Mars “wouldn’t be that long.”

Some of you might have heard of the nearly $1 billion subway project Torino started for the Olympics. “Why couldn’t the moron have taken that?” you ask. Because it’s not finished, of course, and because there are no maps or signs for the part that is.

So after taking a cab to my hotel Friday night, I spent most of the day Saturday trying to figure out how to do the work I had been sent here, at great expense, to do. I bought a plug converter for my laptop. I bought an international cell phone. I bought a map. I finally figured out the bus system (of course, not all the bus stops have route maps). Then I had to come back to the hotel and charge my new phone, which I did. The phone worked for about 20 minutes before it stopped, even though I bought almost 50 Euros worth of air time. This I took as a matter of course. I would be fine. I could just write my article on my computer Sunday, go to an Internet cafe, and e-mail it in.

Wrong again. On Sunday, the power went out. All afternoon. And evening. In Torino’s defense, there was a huge snowstorm, but this is the 21st century.

It was funny watching the Italians push their hilariously tiny cars up the huge hill outside the hotel. But still: no power in a snowstorm? They have them here. Big ones. They should be used to it.

So yeah, I was pretty screwed. I settled down to write out my articles by hand, on scratch paper, by candlelight, in the hope the power came back on. I started drinking, too, in case it didn’t.

It did, three beers later, although I soon realized that the combination of the snowstorm and the fact that Torino’s two Internet cafes — like everything here — are closed all the time, would still mean I’d need to either find a phone and dictate the articles or just give up. Two miracles saved my ass and solved what might have been a major content problem for the News. The first was the way the solar system is organized, which means that it’s later here than it is in New Haven. The second was some angelic being’s unsecured wireless network.

Of course, I have to sit on a chair on top of my bed to access it, but by now, I’m used to it.



Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and a former Sports Editor for the News. He is in Torino reporting on Helen Resor ’09 and Team USA women’s hockey. Please don’t show this to his parents … or Helen … or the French.

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