Olympic Nights

Sure enough, everyone in the world besides you headed into downtown Turin last night for the Olympic Nights. Haven't seen an estimate of the number of people yet. This preview story says thousands. My own rough estimate is 800 billion.

From left, Dan, Hillary, Kathleen, Maria, Leigh and John, part of the 800 billion people who descended on Turin for Olympic Nights.

I got back downtown around midnight, local time. The center of the population bomb seemed to be Via Po, which connects Piazza Castello and the Medals Plaza with the River Po. There were literally thousands of people pouring up and down the street in both directions. Train prices into Turin had been slashed, and much of the crowd consisted of Italian kids or study abroad students who had rode in from out of town, but there were also old people and toddlers and a million different languages being spoken. Lots of Yankees hats, also. The Yankees and Dodgers seem to be the most popular American sports teams in Turin, based on hats and jackets. And I'm talking all sports, NBA, NFL, PBA, whatever. That Dodgers thing surprised me.

(Sports aside: Monumental win for George Mason last night. The Patriots are going to make the tournament. They have an RPI of 18, far better than any Washington area school. This story I wrote could turn out to be non-prophetic.)

(Cell phone aside: I got a call from Matilde of "The Susa Checkpoint" this afternoon. She was thanking me for the Washington Post article. I never gave her the Web site or anything. Wonder how she found the blog.

Speaking of the blog, Steven Jenkins's "Cheese Primer" reached as high as 2,382 on Amazon.com's list of best sellers this morning. Remember, it was in the 7,000s just a few days ago, before I launched my "Buy This Book" campaign. Maybe people just tend to buy more books about cheese on the weekends, but on the other hand, sales of "The Cheese Plate" have plummeted since yesterday. I figure if I can convince enough people to buy the Official Cheese Guidebook of these games, it will reach the top 100 of sales on Amazon.com and Matt and Katie will have no choice but to invite me on their show. And have reservations at Galileo also spiked?)

(Irish Igloo aside: The bar, which I discussed here, has linked to Barry Svrluga's Washington Post story on its site. But no link to the blog. What gives?)

(Curling aside: Joel mit der nicknames und other stuff lost to Finland, 7-4, today. The Finns are through to the semifinals. A Finnish curling fan posted a comment taunting me about my ignorance for calling them a middle-of-the-road outfit. It's true. What if Markku Uusipaavalniemi turns out not only to have the Official Longest Last Name of these games, but also the Official Best Curling Story? The other skips that are through are Scottish beef farmer David Murdoch and American pizza parlor owner Pete Fenson.

Here's the breakdown on Team Formaggio's faves: The Kiwi Curlers are 0-7, and still play Canada tonight and Germany tomorrow. A win over the Germans would be a nice way to go out, and with just two wins, the Germans are in second-to-last place. Joel mit der nicknames und other stuff is 4-4, with only tomorrow's meeting with Switzerland remaining and an outside chance to enter the tie-breaking round, which is held Tuesday. At the risk of permanent aural damage from listening the "Go Suisse" chant 8,000 more times, I will be at the curling rink one more time tomorrow afternoon. Sorry, but I really can't resist. I think Barry Svrluga's coming with me, which should be exciting.)

Back to the Olympic Nights. I decided the first thing to do was to stand on top of a column bracketing the Via Roma portico to take video of a drum circle, in which there were chants and a mini-mosh pit and a whole lot of energy. (There will be video posted of this, but not until Tuesday, I think.)

Every once in a while, the People River on the road itself would start screaming en masse. You could hear it starting; a few kids would begin howling, and the howls would spread to their neighbors, and suddenly thousands of people walking under the lights of the Via Roma at 12:30 or 1 in the morning were screaming together, just nonsense screaming, like the kind employed by especially fired-up curling skips.

My original goal was to meet up with my soccer-watching Italian-Canadian friends, but they were with some Swiss friends who had gotten them into the Swiss House, so I was temporarily by myself. I figured I needed to find some Americans. My first attempt landed me with a bunch of kids from Rhode Island who were way too young. My second attempt landed me with a bunch of graduate students from Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies, including one guy who went to George Washington as an undergraduate, is following the basketball team's success and knows some friends of mine. Naturally.

SAIS students John Williams, left, and Dan Dalton model their fashionably non-white sneakers.

We had a lot in common. The two gentlemen in the group, for example, agreed with me that my white sneakers were incredibly gauche. "If you don't have proper sneakers, people will point and laugh," John said, confirming my worst fears. "It's true, they will. Especially in the North."

We walked down to the River Po amid a soccer chant-chanting crowd that was thick with open containers and national team clothing and painted faces.

"I do love the Olympic spirit," John said. "It kind of feels like, am I at the Olympics or am I at Mardi Gras?"

All kinds of people were randomly stopping and chatting. People tributaries poured in and out of bars and restaurants in the porticos.

National pride, Olympic Nights-style. Our correspondent would go for a similar look, if he had any hair.

"True Italy," Kathleen said. "Everyone coming together in the middle of the night and just living. There's something genuinely nice about it, just genuinely nice about seeing all these people communicating and getting along and having a good time."

"Look how pretty this is," Maria said, when we finished riding the People River down to the real river and were looking out on the brightly lit restaurants and bars and clubs on the other side. "There are no barriers in the Olympics, no barriers. The Olympics are an example of how there are no barriers between cultures."

Kind of cheesy, I pointed out.

"Yeah, but The Washington Post loves that," she said.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 19, 2006; 10:40 AM ET
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Just back in town from business in Stockholm - had a great cheese there, the Vasterbottens (cow) (wow) - so I missed both the Notte Bianca and many of your great cheese/Olympic stories. Went through them all tonight, when I should have been sleeping. So, to set the record straight: (a) the problem with the Castelmagno you tried is, simply, that it was not a good one. There have been too many producers selling sub-optimal Castelmagno just to meet a growing demand, and only recently they have tried to improve the situation by introducing two different DOP labels for the "Collina" and "Pascolo" Castelmagnos. The chalky/powdery feeling is typical of the lesser, unseasoned Castelmagnos which come from the low slopes and not from the high pastures. Sorry to insist, but both Borgiattino in Turin and Bono in Canale would have a better one. (b) Gianluca is very nice, but clearly not a cheese buff. The Fontina story is a sad one, too long to tell here, and the variety and quality of cheeses from Valle d'Aosta simply can not match what we have in Piedmont. (c) You went to Susa, missing a lot of the really interesting sights, from the Cathedral to the King Cottius Arch - quite dumb of you. But then you have not even seen Casa Russia in Turin, which has a lotta more interesting sights. (d) I feel generous tonight, and will give you two hints. If you want to have good and not pricey Piedmontese food, including vegetarian fare, followed by a really good selection of cheese, try "Sotto la Mole", in via Montebello, just a few steps from the Mole itself. Anna, the owner, speaks a good English, as she has been in the US for a while, and she could help you to really experience the whole gamut of our glorious Robiolas.

Posted by: piero | February 19, 2006 08:09 PM

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