Friday, February 24, 2006

Off track

After yesterday and the days before, and all the activity and hoopla, camera lenses and voice recorders I just needed to get as far away from everything Olympic as I possibly could. So, I got up and grabbed my cross-country skis, which have been sitting in the corner for the last two weeks and headed for the hills.
It was extremely refreshing.
There is a groomed track leading to San Sicario from Sestriere that edges its way along the mountain sides. People use it as a walking path for the first few kilometers, but after that it doesn’t get much traffic and by the time I got to the top I was probably the first human up there since the fall. After the grooming ended I left my skis in the snow and trudged through the powder to a rock where the sun was just right. I sat there looking out over the mountains for the better part of an hour until I felt like me again.
Up there in the mountain air I could look down at the village of Sestriere and to my right see the ladies’ downhill track. Way off somewhere in the steep valley was Bardonecchia where snowboarders were racing. I imagined what it would be like to travel here without the Olympics going on. Just how much less busy is town? Are the people as friendly and helpful? Is everything just a little bit cheaper? What is Sestriere really like?
I realized that I haven’t learned much about the town I’ve been staying in. My interactions have been so superficial, and it doesn’t help that I speak no Italian. I wonder what set of troubles they face. Do they need a new hockey rink? It looks like the whole place could use a facelift with its ugly collection of circa 1950s architecture. Is tourism as much of a driving force in Sestriere as it is in Stowe? It certainly doesn’t seem like there is anything else going on here, and from what I understand the town was built as a playground for the rich and famous in Fiat’s heyday. I’ve been looking for a local paper to read, but just find national ones.
What’s going to happen to all the buildings they’ve put up especially for the Olympics? Is this place going to look like Lake Placid, NY one day? What does hosting an event like this do to a place? If people are going to have to look at that God-awful athlete village for the rest of their lives I will pity them. How long will the wealth shopkeepers have reaped sustain them? Will some of the older business owners like the butcher down the road call it quits and move to Monaco?
There are so many questions going through my mind, and I thought I came up to keep them all at bay. Maybe the steep descent back down to the heart of it all will be enough of a thrill to erase them all.


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