My cell phone and I are gloriously reunited

When I found out that I needed to take a train north of Turin to an Alpine village called Susa in order to reclaim my lost Italian rental cell phone from a mysterious bus company employee named Matilde, I figured, based on past experience, that I would run into Pavarotti, or Brian Boitano, or some world-famous cheesemaker en route. Instead, I ran into a pair of vegetarian, cheese-loving skeleton fanatics from San Francisco via Wisconsin, who know the family of duck-billed platypus hat-wearing Dutch speedskating fans with whom I recently posed for photos, and who also know a Washington Post colleague of mine. Plus, they ate dinner at the table next to Brian Boitano the other day.

If you think for one second that this didn't lead to a joint train trip back to Turin, and a joint excursion to the Alpine Hut of Cheese once we had rendezvoused with my new Italian blog-reading friend Gianluca, who then wound up offering cheese advice in translation to an English-speaking cheese-lover from Turkey, you really haven't been paying attention to this blog.

Back to the beginning. (And let me say that this will be a monumentally long post, owing to my desire for readers to experience it in the correct chronological order, combined with my desire to make haste back toward downtown Turin, where everyone in the world besides you is currently gathered. If it's too long, I encourage you to take periodic breaks, during which you should feel free to snack on some cheese or ponder the recent exploits of Joel mit der mullet und der growing fan club und der hipster glasses. Actually, you could potentially die before you reach the end of this post, so spend some time with your loved ones, also.)

(Lindsey Jacobellis, pro or con? Let me know. I happened to turn on Eurosport late last night, just in time to watch a replay of the entire race, including her not-very-dramatic fall. The race was so boring by the end, I don't really blame her for trying to make it interesting. What could she really do with a gold medal that she couldn't do with a silver, anyhow? She's got notoriety, which is much better. If I could manage to commit some sort of international incident inside the Alpine Hut of Cheese, I'd have a much better chance of getting linked on sportspickle.com, which might as well be my next site to conquer. Others have suggested defamer.com, but gee whiz, other than not seeing Susan Sarandon outside her hotel whilst paparazzi battled with thunderstix, I haven't done much that would interest L.A.)

(Speaking of late-night television, you really haven't lived until you've watched "Prefontaine" in German with loving roommate Les in an Italian dorm room at 3 a.m.)

(And if you're not reading this blog today because you're too nervous about the upcoming George Mason-Wichita State nationally televised game, all is forgiven.)

So this cell phone story. Here and here are yesterday's main updates. The drama increased last night, when loving roommate Les happened to run into the same English-speaking volunteer who had tried to help me find my phone after it failed to transfer buses with me in Oulx. Calling my cell phone, I thought I had determined that my cell phone had gotten itself to Sauze d'Oulx, and my plan was to meet it there today. But then the English-speaking volunteer told loving roommate Les that he had tracked down my cell phone, and that it was actually someplace called "The Susa Checkpoint," which sounds like the perfect name for a Robert Ludlum best-selling spy thriller, assuming Robert Ludlum had wanted to write a best-selling spy thriller about a sportswriter who found a way to make a living writing about missing rented Italian cell phones and cheese.

Anyhow, I set off this morning not knowing much about "The Susa Checkpoint," so I stopped in the lobby of Media Village BIT to ask about this checkpoint. The three gentlemen at the desk didn't know much about the checkpoint either, so I gave them the phone number of my top-secret contact Matilde, who had talked to the incomparably kind Liz Clarke yesterday. Seemed like a fine way to start the day. Matilde told the gentlemen at the desk that "The Susa Checkpoint" was a bus depot in Susa, which has nothing to do with Sauze, believe it or not. Within a few moments, two of the gentlemen were on the phone--one with Matilde, the other with a driver who it seemed was coming into Turin from Susa this day, and might snag my phone for me--while the third gentlemen looked at railway tables for the Susa line.

These conversations lasted the length of several curling ends. I heard a few words over and over again: "Matilde," and "Susa," and "va bene," and "telefonera," I believe. Everyone got off the phone and discussed my options. Then they got on the phone again. My cell phone, it seemed, would not be able to come back to Turin before Monday. But if I took a train to the Susa station and called Matilde, she and the phone would meet me there. I asked the gentlemen whether I should bring Matilde flowers, and they said a Washington Post pin would probably suffice. I gave each of the three gentlemen a pin of their own and set off again.

The train ticket cost just 3.50 Euros, and it was a nice ride. There are no Olympic events in Susa, but I found an entry in my guidebook: "Founded by Lugurians and Celts, Susa was a major town on the way to Gaul...." I fell asleep, and my only notebook entry from this trip reads "The McBloodSausage Extra Value Meal," which I'm sure was the punchline to what must have been a fabulous joke that I've since forgotten.

(An aside from a reader named "Magical Pumpkin":

Don't be fooled by the blood sausage naysayers. The blood sausage I happily shoved down my gullet in Ireland was fantastic. It's the consistency of a banger sausage, but a little drier, and with more flavor. I still regularly buy it at shops that sell British and Irish foods and cook it up right here in sunny California. I'm sure some people don't care for the taste. Those people probably enjoy a nice slice of Velveeta after dinner, too. Don't deny your palate a taste of the blood sausage, it's marvelous. I bet Steve Jenkins eats blood sausage!

By the way, Jenkins's "Cheese Primer," which is the Official Brilliantly Written Cheese Guidebook of these games, has already jumped from 7,190 to 4,397 on Amazon.com's top sellers list since yesterday. My editor, Tracee "Il Duce" Hamilton, thinks perhaps that's the difference between one person buying the book and zero people buying the book, and is perhaps not due to this blog. In an effort to prove that my blog is indeed making a difference in the world, let me say it again: buy this book. You won't be disappointed.)

Anyhow, when I woke up, we were in Susa. We were about 12 minutes late. I stopped to look at the graffiti covering the station walls. "....Life is Sadness....," someone had written. A woman approached me. "Dan Steinberg?" she said. "Matilde?" I said?

I still don't really understand how she knew which train I was taking, or why she decided to wait for some person she didn't know at a train station in the middle of a work day in the effort to deliver a missing rented Italian cell phone, but she did. I took some video of her, and took her picture, and gave her a Washington Post pin and a Washington Post pen. She said, in broken English, that she needed to get back to work. I told her that I wanted to stay in Susa for a bit. She pointed me toward downtown. We kissed, in the Italian style, and she left. So no more snarky journalistic tales about how people are so rude in Northern Italy, ok?

I figured I wouldn't necessarily be back in Susa any time soon, so I walked around for an hour. These are the things I saw:

A few blue "Passion lives here" banners.
A blue Ford Fiesta with six yellow "Little Tree" air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror, a la a D.C. cab, although they were "Cocco" (coconut), and not my preferred Vanilla flavour.
Stuffed versions of Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz, posed with other stuffed animals.
Stuffed versions of Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz, posed with bread.
Stuffed versions of Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz, posed with Alpine puzzles.
Stuffed versions of Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz, posed with candles.
Little flags featuring Olympic mascots Neve and Gliz, in a lingerie storefront. Gliz is holding Neve in his arms on the flags, and Neve is saying "SMACK!"
Roman aqueducts, at which point I thought to myself, "this is where I'll run into Brian Boitano."
Unbelievable views of various Alps, over the River Dora Riparia.
A little Italian restaurant in which the customers were watching cross-country skiing.
Two people wearing "Canada" jackets, neither of whom spoke English.
A young hipster looking guy. I asked if he spoke English. "A little," he said. I asked if he knew the population of Susa. "I am a little popular, yes, to my friends," he said.
A bumper sticker, featuring a picture of Maggie Simpson, that said "Bebe a bord."
A poster for the local Communist party.
A skateboard shop selling Vans shoes and a Danny Way deck.
A poster bearing Steve Carell's face, advertising "40 Anne Vergine."
A tourist shop whose postcards included images of Eminem, Bob Marley, Uncle Sam, Bruce Lee, Michael Schumacher, Iron Maiden, the Beatles, "Lord of the Rings," Jimi Hendrix and a man smoking some illegal drugs, surrounded by the caption: "Marijuana! Hey, at least it's not crack!"

At this point I saw a man who said "Bon Giorno" in a way that sounded suspiciously like Mike Wise. It turned out this was Bob, from San Francisco via Wisconsin. I said I was from The Washington Post. His wife, Linda, naturally, knows Washington Post business writer Mike Musgrove.

A few minutes later, we were on the train to Turin, and I was explaining about my blog. "We're going to be in some guy's blog," Bob said, accurately.

Bob and Linda had gone to the Salt Lake City games, and fallen in love with skeleton. I've fallen in love with curling, which has prompted me to write odes to Italian hipsters. Their love prompted them to spend a week in the U.S. training program in Lake Placid, and then again in Utah, where they took fallen sliders to the hospital and saw one woman bash her head so hard during a run that when she took her helmet off, "there had to be a pint of blood inside," Bob said.

Bob and Linda were both high school sprinters, and Bob, especially, dreamed of becoming an Olympic slider, but this incident convinced them to shelve their skeleton dreams.

"I saw that and I was like, 'I did it, I'm happy I did it but I think I'm done," Linda said.

"After we saw those people get really messed up....it's just, it's so dangerous," Bob said. "You should try it."

But they decided in Salt Lake that they would go to every Winter Olympics from now on, and so they landed in Susa, because a friend's godfather is a truck driver in Rome who makes stops at a truck stop in Susa and hence knows the owner of a bed and breakfast there. Susa wasn't housing many American spectators, but Bob and Linda had seen some Dutch fans with long and funny orange hats, who were pictured on a photo saved on my digital camera, which I then showed to Bob and Linda. Not exactly Roberto Donna, but still, weird.

Bob and Linda were headed toward tonight's short-track speedskating, but, as mentioned above, they are vegetarian cheese-lovers and I convinced them to accompany me and Italian blog-reading friend Gianluca to the Alpine Hut of Cheese, at which point we had many hilarious adventures and Gianluca helped an English-speaking Turkish cheese lover pick out some cheeses. Bob and Linda left, after taking Gianluca's phone number, just in case.

Gianluca recently shuttered his computer graphics business and is studying for a law degree, and he is extremely anxious to help Americans in Turin. He took me to several landmarks, including a house that Nietzsche once lived in, the Swiss House (featuring a concession stand offering Raclette over Potatoes), the city's most famous restaurant, several museums and historical buildings, a bar called "Gatsby's," and the Canada House, where we were denied entrance since we don't have Canadian passports.

"This is against the Olympic spirit, I think," Gianluca said. "You want to meet people, share ideas."

Gianluca was just thrilled about the 800 billion people streaming through downtown. He said he hoped that the Olympics would convince Americans to explore parts of Italy besides Rome, Florence and Venice, and that he hoped they would come to Turin to see the monuments and museums and landmarks.

We were battered by streams of pedestrians.

"We have to try to go through the flow," Gianluca said. "The first time in my life....It's a river of people. Never in my life. All the old people are saying, 'It's crazy.'"

It was crazy. It's supposed to last until 5 in the morning. I came back to write this entry about me and my cell phone (which clocks in at more than 2,300 words), and now I'm going back out. If you really read this whole thing, you need to find something better to do with your Saturdays.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 18, 2006; 5:22 PM ET
Previous: Buon Appetito | Next: Video of Loyal Blog Reader Gianluca Bertone

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Because you are giving us such awesome WiseGuy coverage, we will give some coverage right back at ya:

George Mason 70 Wichita 67("yes" we know on ESPN 2)! Game was tied up, some kid #1 made 3pt.game winning basket!

You weren't the only ones though-Terps and GWU "W" today, too!

P.S.-Andrea Bocelli in Torino and now NBA All Star Weekend half time show???

Posted by: Wise Girls-DC | February 18, 2006 10:28 PM

Dan, you should not saya such things about your loyal readers. Saturdays or no, there is still the reading of blogs. (Try to imagine I said that with an Italian accent. It's better that way.)

Posted by: loyal reader #277 | February 18, 2006 11:18 PM

I think you are having entirely too much fun? Aren't you worried that your bosses will read your blog and dock your pay?

Posted by: THS | February 19, 2006 12:23 AM

Another brilliant entry, but Dan stroll into Susa is a sad reminder to what is, in my humble opinion, the most woe-ful aspect of these Olympics, at least organization-wise: the fact that the best alpine valleys around Torino (those north of Susa - the three Lanzo valleys - and those south of Pinerolo - val Varaita and val Maira) were totally ignored by the people who planned the distribution of the events.

I find a bit sad that you read in some blog or newspaper story how fantastic Sestriere or Cesana looks, while no one has a chance to see Lanzo, or Ala di Stura, or Vił: unspoiled places with a rich atmosphere and tremendous mountains all around (far better than anything you'll ever see in Sestriere). And considering that everyone seems to be obsessed by food, these are really the heart of our mountain culinary tradition (you can't say to have tasted real toma unless you shop on Lanzo - period).

While I agree that it would have been a bit difficult to plan some sporting event in any of those places because of lack of previous infrastructures (but why they didn't think about cross-country in Val Grande or a curling venue in Ala di Stura?), I still feel silly no one thought about some cultural or entertainment detour there. It's a terrible pity that there's such a great treasure of nature, beauty and atmosphere 90 minutes away from Torino, but no one seems to be aware of it...

Posted by: Luca Signorelli | February 19, 2006 03:33 AM

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