At 8:15, the big screen TV's at the pub were all tuned to short-track speedskating (shocking result for Ohno, btw). At 8:16, the big screen TV's all switched to football. No dissent was heard.
You'll recall that the idea of this mission was to make biting comments about how the Italians care more for their football than their winter sports. And sure, it would be an easy tack to take. Listen to 21-year-old Daniele Natale, for example, when I asked which was more important.
"For me, Juventus! Football! Is better, the football. I like going to see the Juventus. The Olympics as well, but I don't like the sport."
Bear in mind, Natale was, at the time, sipping from a three-liter beer the size of Kerri Strug. Which type of beer, you're wondering? "When you ask for three liters, it doesn't matter the beer," Natale noted.
But a little further research, and I was convinced to give up this juvenile Olympic bashing. The convincers came from a three-member crew of Italian-Canadians, and Canadian-Italians. Alberto Marucco is a Turin native who married a Canadian and thus speaks brilliant Canadian-flecked English. Mark Petracchi grew up near Toronto, came to Turin to study and decided to leave Canada because it was, of all things, too conservative. Dave Burch met Petracchi once and showed up yesterday with plans to stay in Marucco's apartment, although the two had never met.
Earlier in the day, they had seen crowds of Italian mobbed around a television set watching skeleton, or luge, or some type of slilding sport. For me to show up in a bar, during the equivalent of Monday Night Football, with Serie A's first and second place teams facing each other was, they said, unfair. Italians certainly care about the Olympics, but this was possibly the biggest match of the year.
"All of Italy is watching this," Mark said.
"Four yearsfrom now if you're in Whistler and the Olympics are going on, go to a bar and I think they're going to be playing an NHL game between the Maple Leafs and the Senators," David said. "People are going to be there, going crazy, and people are going to be asking them the same question, what's more important, hockey or the Olympics. I don't think it says Italians prefer soccer to Olympics; it just shows how deep in the culture this particular sport is to Italy."
Anyhow, here's what it's like to watch Juve-Inter in a British pub in Turin during the Olympics. There are three big screens. There are maybe 200 people. Most are eating French fries with ketchup and mayonnaise. The ratio of men to women is approximately 199-1. Several Canadian media members appear; they stand around and loudly swap fishing stories. Smoking is not permitted, so at halftime, the televisions switch to the Olympics and 50 percent of the crowd goes outside to smoke. When something bad happens on the screen, you throw both arms in the air, or put your hands on your head, or grouse about the officiating. One bartender is wearing an Inter uniform. The other is wearing a Juventus uniform. When the black and white score, she jumps on the bar and dances. Meantime, the fans, picturesquely gathered beneath one huge screen, pump their arms and sing the Juve anthem. It would be the perfect moment for a video entry in a blog, if you had remembered to charge your camera. Sorry, boss.
The booths are not designed for communal big screen television watching, and so by the end, after Juve scores, then Inter equalizes, then Juve scores again, then Inter hits the post in extra time, and then the players start scrapping on the pitch, everyone in the place is standing on benches and tables and stools.
"This is what it's about, eh?" screams David, using "Eh?" non-ironically. "Like WWF in Toronto," says Mark, launching a conversation on the popularity of professional wrestling north of the border, which I hadn't realized.
Juventus hangs on for the 2-1 win (Tom the blogger wins the Panasonic pin contest), and then whoosh, everyone leaves. Instantly. Final whistle, final singing of anthem, out the door. Work tomorrow, it was explained to me. Bizarre.
Our night, of course, didn't end there. It ended down the street at Murphy's, near the Texas Ranger Guinness Saloon (is Guinness big in Texas?). It ended with Franz Ferdinand and Weezer on the radio, massive Budweiser banners hanging from the ceiling, and an encounter with a 23-year-old Italian kid wearing a UNC jersey, talking about Antawn Jamison and telling us how he had recently participated in the Five-Star camp and hoped to play NCAA basketball, and then arguing about the merits of the Vince Carter trade, in Italian, with one of my Canadian friends. Globalization, baby.
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