Shopping, and pin hatred, and nonsense words

I was going to go watch the Fellini-inspired Closing Ceremonies tonight. I have an accreditation and everything. But I already had my Official Perfect Final Moment of the Olympics (which I'll post in a few more minutes), and I'm not sure what the C.C. would have added. Plus I'm supposed to appear on a New Zealand radio programme during the C.C., and I figured that would be easier done from the comfort of our office. Plus I've pretty much avoided going to actual Olympic events over the past three weeks, and I'm not sure why I should break my streak now.

I went shopping today with some co-workers, including Mike Wise, who is a major celebrity in the press center. He greets everyone he walks past, and they greet him. One Italian volunteer shouted after him today, "Miiiiiike." Another ribbed him for not talking to her enough lately. As for my celebrity, I saw Giorgio yesterday, my guide to the Alpini, and he yelled "Moby!" Awesome.

(Many thanks to Mike Wise for playing along this month as he became one of the stars of the blog. To reward him, I will give him this space for one paragraph. Mike writes:

Can you give one last shout-out to my sister Valeska, my best friend Pete and the unknown woman at Verolengo Village whose blow dryer I can hear every morning and who I imagine gets up in the morning, thinking, "Maybe today is the day I meet a bald American man with more issues than a bond measure, and a scraggly beard and a very pedestrian wardrobe. Maybe today is my day to meet this man."

We went shopping in downtown Turin, where crowds this afternoon rivaled those from the past two party-filled Olympic Saturday nights. On some streets, it was hard to move at all. People just packed from one sidewalk to the other. The weather was mild and sunny, and it felt like spring. I stopped moving my legs once just to see what would happen, and sure enough I was literally carried along for several feet. "Mamma Mia," the guys behind me said. "Forza!" they also said, encouraging me to blast my way through the masses.

People streamed in front of cars, and buses were completely stranded by the walls of shoppers. It was like seeing some post-disaster scene, where vehicles are in places that they shouldn't be, plunked down from above. There were oceans and oceans of people, and some external force had plopped random cars and buses in the middle, vehicles which would be unable to move for five or six hours. This would have led to several maimings in an American city, but there was no honking.

We were on Via Garibaldi, which was filled with large bright orange sculptures that would have been perfect accents to the Holland House. They were supposed to look like flames, I think, but they also looked like French Fries. Each French Fry had the name of an Olympic sport written on it in small letters. The French Fries seemed to be telling the shoppers, please, dunk us in some multicultural dipping sauce with as many colors as the ever-popular ketchup/mayonnaise combination, and sprinkle us with the salt and pepper of peace and harmony, and fry us in the oil of Canola.

I bought the first article of clothing I tried on at these games, a tight blue collared sweartshirt on which is written, "46ers." I have no idea to what the name refers. Someone suggested a marriage of the '49ers and 76ers, perhaps. Anyone who knows what it actually means, pass it on. With the blue color and tight fit and the stiffly upturned collar, I hope I look a little like cowboy-hat wearing, tobacco-chewing, nickname-accumulating Italian hipster and curling skip Joel Retornaz.

(The use of random English words is rampant in Italian fashion. I saw one black dress shirt today, adorned with orange fireworks and the phrase: "I'VE GOT A TV EYE; I'VE GOT A TV EYE ON YOU; DO IT CLEAN." I love it.

[One of my last times being The Official Idiot Journalist of these games: a reader writes to point out that "TV Eye" is a classic song by The Stooges. So maybe the rest of this is pure blather. But I'll let it stand anyhow. And apologies for being an idiot.]

I saw Italian shoes bearing the words, "Only For Player." I saw more shoes that said "Blue Horizon." I saw several jackets bearing a "True Love 1961" logo. I saw a hat that said, "Ice." I saw a store called "Razor Gator," whose motto was "Live on the Edge of Your Seat." I saw another store called "Blob." I saw a jacket that said "Dogs & Sons: Illegal Wear." Maybe American clothing is also adorned with nonsense words, but when you're walking in a sea of Italian and the words that jump out at you are "I'VE GOT A TV EYE ON YOU" and "Only for Player," you take notice.)

(Speaking of clothing, I also saw some FBI T-shirts for sale. I've never understood why a tourist in Washington, D.C. would want to buy an FBI T-shirt or hat. I understand it less in Turin.)

Mike Wise bought hipster shoes, part of his self-proclaimed "Italian Eye for the Slovenly Guy" mission. (Every store in downtown Turin sells hipster shoes, including such unlikely venues as Foot Locker and the Nike store, whose windows tell you "The World's Fastest Game Just Got Faster." I assume that this is a curling reference.) He was worried that the shoes were too small. The salesman tried to explain something in Italian that we didn't understand.

"Tell him they always say the same thing in America," Mike said. "They always say that the shoes are going to stretch, and then they make you go to a podiatrist."

Then Mike asked the salesman whether he could have an employee discount. We all traded pins.

(My pin hatred has multiplied in recent days. You see people walking around wearing giant bibs, on which every last thread is pierced by an Olympic pin. You see people who have set up pin trading stations on the street, or in the mall. These weirdos have hundreds and hundreds of pins. They could cancel the 2010 Olympics and just invite the pin collectors, and 37 percent of the visitors wouldn't even notice.)

(Anyone who really wants an Olympic pin, e-mail me here with your mailing address. I have a few extras. First come, first etc.)

We went to a store that we all agreed was the Gap of Italy, called GP Spartelli. As Mike Wise traversed the store, trying on clothes, he left the following items behind: his Olympic credential, his phone, his sweater, two bags full of prior purchases, and several items he had already tried on. The saleswomen collected all of Mike's stuff and brought it to us.

"I was just marking my territory," Mike said.

We went into the Brooks Brothers of Italy, and Mike tried on a sweater about 17 sizes too small for him. He looked like a speedskater. "You'll grow into it," said a Scottish customer, while stifling laughter.

(Several Italians have told me this week how they love hearing so much English on their streets. By reading below, you'll note my recent fascination with EU language statistics. Let me quote:

English is the language which is most widely "spoken" in the EU. While it is the mother tongue for 16 percent of the European population, a further 31 percent of the EU citizens speak it well enough to hold a conversation. English is the language which is most widely "spoken" in the EU. While it is the mother tongue for 16 percent of the European population, a further 31 percent of the EU citizens speak it well enough to hold a conversation.

So the Italians I talked to said it was progress for their city, which often feels ignored, to have this cosmopolitan influx, and that hearing English was one of its manifestations. These people actually hope the Olympics will have an impact on their city more lasting than Bode Miller slamming into a few slalom gates. I have no idea whether they're right. But they were all nice to me, so for them I say, "Go to Turin." I still think it's slightly smelly, but it's pretty cool.)

Anyhow, after Mike Wise began pretending to be a speedskater while wearing a sweater 17 sizes too small for him, he turned to me.

"I'm just your little wind-up toy for your blog, aren't I?" he said. "It's ending tomorrow, all the escapades. I'm going to go back to being a responsible journalist in Washington."

Aren't we all.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 26, 2006; 2:39 PM ET
Previous: On Mike Wise eating dog food, curling and EU language statistics | Next: Final Cheese!Of!The!Day!: Robiola di Roccaverano

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Dan, I take it you're unfamiliar with the Stooges' classic "TV Eye"?

Posted by: Iggy | February 26, 2006 04:09 PM

If our WiseGuy wasn't buying presents (lots of um') for us on this Italian-o shopping spree, he will be a "responsible journalist back in Washington with NO friends!"

P.S.-Are you sure the nice folks in the MPC don't have "Wise" confused with "Wilbon"?ha!

Posted by: Wise Girls-DC | February 26, 2006 08:49 PM

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