Tales from Slightly Smelly Turin

So why, in the middle of February, is a college basketball writer trying to figure out how to use a Nescafe instant espresso machine in Italy? Here's how it started:

In late July, Washington Post sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Washington Post Olympics guru Tracee Hamilton called me into an office. They asked me 1) If I had a passport, and 2) Whether I wanted to go to Turin to write a blog at the Olympics. The answer to the first question was "no" (it had expired), and the answer to the second question was "uh, sure, why not?" Since the deadline for getting a credential was in four days, and since I was leaving for vacation in two days, and since I needed a passport to get a credential, I spent the rest of the night calling the passport office's automated hotline, trying to schedule a next-day appointment. To get expedited passport service you have to claim some sort of emergency, and I'm still not really sure why Olympic blogging qualifies. Maybe the passport office shares our fears about declining newspaper circulation, and agrees that blogging is the answer.

Anyhow, after an emergency trip to LL Bean, a few flights, eight hours in Brussels and a bunch of buses going in the wrong direction, here I am, trying to make sure this blog is successful enough that my credential doesn't get yanked and I don't get shipped back home in steerage, forced to apologize to the passport office for claiming a false emergency.

Emilio has been boasting, in print, that this blog will offer "a unique look at the Olympics," or something like that. Kind of a dodgy proposition. It's hard enough to find a unique outlook on a George Washington-Duquesne basketball game attended by two other journalists, much less a global jubilee covered by round-the-clock television, 17 million print journalists and a team of Polish radio correspondents who are staying next to me in the media village, and who tend to speak Polish into the wee hours. So let's not get carried away with the unique thing. Here's what I will promise:

1) Free stuff. The Olympics have spawned a bizarre bartering society in which every organization worth its wireless connection has customized pins, which are then traded for other pins. Sort of like Mardi Gras, except I don't have to take off my shirt to collect. Anyhow, not being much of a pin fanatic, I will accumulate these pins for the sole purpose of giving them away to you, my loyal readers. I will accomplish this not by asking you to take off your shirts, although don't let me stop you, but through the daily presentation of trivia questions. Whoever e-mails me the correct answer first wins worldwide acclaim and a pin. Washington Post employees, Olympic athletes, K Street lobbyists and my parents are not eligible for this promotion. E-mail me here. Prizes will not be awarded until I return home. The first trivia question is below. The prize is our Washington Post pin, which, truthfully, is one of the snazzier looking models. I'm unable to take a sharp enough photo of it to post here, but if features a snowboarder silhouetted against the Alps.

2) The Cheese!Of!The!Day! Before I became a college basketball writer and Olympic blogger, I was a cheese buyer at Whole Foods Market. Really. I haven't been to Europe since then. So this trip offers me the chance to sample the cheeses of Italy, to force my co-workers to do the same, and possibly to make ours the smelliest and least popular office in the Main Media Center. I'm hoping this becomes an Oprah situation; once my cheese club selects its choice formaggio of the day, sales worldwide immediately spike, and the cheese shops of Washington will all resemble Wensleydale's National Cheese Emporium in the Monty Python skit. Incidentally, the name of this concept is marginally stolen from Kyle Whelliston's tremendous mid-majority college basketball blog, which offers the mid-majority Game!Of!The!Night!, but no cheese recommendations. I'm still trying to procure Kyle's permission, so the name is subject to change. And no, there aren't really any cheese shops in Washington, which is to our everlasting detriment.


Mike Wise, before the beard

3) The Mike Wise chronicles. Mike Wise is a Washington Post columnist, budding TV personality and certified freak show. He has already decided that his name during our Italian sojourn will be "Michaela Wiselina," which should be real popular with the ladies. He's also pledged to grow an Olympic beard, which will be visually chronicled in this space, and which also figures to be real popular with the ladies. Hopefully we can get a "before" photo posted here. He has also decided that learning Italian is as easy as embracing the vowel. At a restaurant one night, he insisted on asking for the "check-o." Repeatedly.

4) RPI Watch. Just so I stay fresh. All international readers have now navigated away from this page. For non-college basketball freaks, the RPI helps determine what teams make the NCAA tournament, and will be the scourge of my life after I return stateside.

5) To keep from being recalled early, I will go to some Olympic sporting events and write about them. Sounds like bloggers aren't necessarily at the top of the pass list, so this might end up being primarily a blog about curling and luge.

Without further ado, the first trivia question. Turin is the largest city ever to host a winter Olympics, with a population of more than 900,000. (By the way, while NBC insists on calling the place Torino, we are refusing to play along. If it's Turin when we're writing stories explaining the cultural significance and occasionally unpleasant odors of "the Detroit of Italy," it's Turin even after the world's best bobsledders arive.) Anyhow, Turin is the largest city ever to host a winter Olympics, with a population of more than 900,000. It is also the fourth largest city in Italy, behind Roma, Milano and Napoli (that was for you, NBC). For one genuine Washington Post Olympic pin, which will make you the envy of the entire Washington metropolitan area, what is the fifth largest city in Italy? E-mail me here. First one into my inbox wins. Second one into my inbox gets to decide what sporting event I attend on Saturday, when, as they say, the Games begin.

By the way, I didn't really try to use that Nescafe machine. Little bit o' creative license there. I'm hyper enough without drinking espresso.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 8, 2006; 1:15 PM ET
Next: Thursday morning

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Great job Dan. Any talk there in the hockey circles about the betting 'scandal' in the NHL? Or do they not care just like the rest of us?

Posted by: Glen | February 8, 2006 06:15 PM

As a curler in Seattle, I am looking forward to your in depth analysis of this sport. I particularly would like to hear how the Johnson sisters do. They are supposed to be excellent at freezing.

Posted by: Mosco | February 8, 2006 06:42 PM

Dan,

Your musings are all over the place!! Too much bicerin!?!?!

Hey, don't knock curling - it's practically sold-out! Whereas luge and skeleton are near the bottom in sales. Why not head out to the Ski Jumping venue in Pragelato? Certianly a blogger can be drafted into a few test jumps... to check the landing area and wind conditions before the competition begins ! : )

PS: 'Ado' should read Adieu!

Posted by: Tom | February 8, 2006 11:25 PM

A curling blog would just rock! I'm dissapointed that I'll only really be able to see the US rink until the round robin eliminates them. I remember CNBC being much more all-curling-all-the-time in SLC than it will be in Shroud Town.

Posted by: David | February 9, 2006 09:17 AM

Shroud Town. That's good. Is that a "David" original? Either way, I'm stealing it.

In all honesty, you are likely to read more curling coverage here than anywhere else in the world. I've already gotten one e-mail whose author told a story involving hiding flasks inside hollowed out curling sticks. Any other curling stories out there?

Posted by: Steinberg | February 9, 2006 09:23 AM

I don't really buy the flask-in-a-broom story because I question why any self respecting curler would feel the need to hide his or her flask.

Though...I think they do have that show up in Men With Brooms.

Posted by: David | February 9, 2006 09:43 AM

You should definitely give curling a try, as I think you'll find it's a hoot! The poster who mentioned that curlers don't need to hide flasks is right on the money -- the curling venue at the 2002 Games was the only one with a beer tent attached to the venue. In UTAH, of all places! And curling is one sport where the winners, not the losers, buy the first round of drinks after the match. I got to attend a lot of events in Salt Lake City, and other than the cross-country/biathlon fans, the curling fans are the most fun!

Posted by: Olympics Fan | February 9, 2006 10:01 AM

W.R.T. favorite winter olympic sport

As a sign of the apocalypse, speed tv slipped up and allowed non-nascar racing coverage. Because of that, I can now state that without a doubt my favorite is....

Women's Skeleton and luge!!!! it's time for heat on ice!!!!
Second would be biathalon.

Posted by: Feral T | February 9, 2006 01:42 PM

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