Tell it on a mountain: Olympics up close

By Rachel Slajda

This is the third in a biweekly series following the journey of a Northeastern student studying abroad in Perugia, Italy.

The waiting room of the Bologna train station is not a place you want to find yourself at 3 a.m., especially not with three-and-a-half hours before your next train comes to sweep you away to the Winter Olympics in Torino. Outside it’s freezing, somewhere just below zero Celsius, and nothing in the city is open. There is no opportunity for wandering.

The slightly warmer box of a waiting room seals in every smell from the people inside – many of them homeless or vagrant – who are trying to sleep. It’s not easy; the metal chairs are separated by thin steel bars, “arm rests” that end up being nothing more than an obstacle to sprawling out on two or three seats.

Around 5 a.m. I make an enthusiastic attempt at sleep, the arm rests stabbing me in the ribs and thigh, my head resting on my wadded-up scarf. A police officer comes by and says something in Italian; the waiting room is closing. He tells me there’s another waiting room in between tracks two and three. I hear him say “caldo” (hot) and I book it to this mysterious other waiting room.

It turns out to be four long wooden benches enclosed in a glass box. Enclosed, but far from caldo. At this point I’ve been awake almost 24 hours, thanks to a useless field trip to Rome for which I had to wake up at 6 a.m. Friday. I am cranky.

But my travel companions are of the “positive outlook” variety so I am not allowed to complain or be negative in any way. Which is a shame, because I’m damn funny when I complain, and downright hilarious when sleep-deprived. Still, I do manage to get three of them to have a beer with me at 6 a.m. to honor my full day of being awake, with no end in sight until sometime Sunday morning.

But enough of this brutal train tale. We made it to Torino, and then to Sauze d’Oulx, the mountain where women’s moguls freestyle will begin in four hours. On the platform, I’m surrounded by high, brown and barren peaks stabbing at the entirely clear blue sky. It’s not too cold; but we aren’t on the mountain yet.

Speaking of which: Where is the mountain we’re supposed to be on? We have no clue. And, apparently, neither do any of the Olympics volunteers wearing laminated ID cards and tracksuits. It’s OK, it’s the first full day of the Olympics, and these people are here because of their love of the spirit of global sports competition. Right.

But we do get to the mountain, get our tickets and into the venue with time to spare. I see a group of American men standing around with big plastic cups of beer. They tell us there’s a snack bar, and the beer’s only four euro a cup.

Oh, and the men? From Quincy. If you’re not familiar with your Boston-area geography (shame on you), Quincy is about six miles south and the home of The Patriot Ledger, my former co-op employer. The guys had flown all the way to Italy just for the Olympics, to cheer on the Americans in three or four events. And here I was thinking I wouldn’t get a taste of Boston sports fanaticism for a semester. Or the accent.

We kept ourselves warm and busy during the three-hour break between the qualifications and finals, drinking at the bottom of the course and dancing – to the DJ playing songs like “My Hump,” by the Black Eyed Peas, etc. The standing room is at the bottom of the stands to the right of the finish line and the press area. The mogul course stretches above, pure white mounds with two sets of jumps bearing the Olympic rings, with flags lining each side. We stand behind the entire extended family of Shannon Bahrke, the skier who would eventually finish the highest for the Americans, in 10th place. We chat with them as we wait, the beer flowing easily to our heads in the high altitude, and then with the Italian boys behind us, and then the Germans to our right.

The Americans, ironically, are the only ones who find me obnoxious. Ciao for now. I have to wake up at 4 a.m. tomorrow to go to Sicily; this time I’m being as sarcastic and bitter as I damn well please.

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