January 16, 2011

day 1 in torino

A few years ago, I finished a round of Golf at Oneota Country Club and came up to the patio area.  A  bunch of guys I knew were sitting around a table with some other men I did not know.  It turned out that the strangers were visiting Decorah on a Rotary International exchange program from Torino Italy.  One of the men I met that night was Stefano.  Little did I know that he would play and integral role in the course on the olympic games I’m teaching right now.

When craig proposed the course, and we talked about Torino, we  both thought of Stefano.  I contacted him via email, and he immediately responded that he would be happy to help.  Stefano organized a very nice morning for us.  He stopped at our hotel to walk with us to the Foundacion Alberto Collonetti, where some of his friends were gathered.  The friends had all been involved in the Olympics in some way as volunteers, and they told told us a bit about what they had done, and what the Olympics had meant to Torino.  Although some of the venues have very quickly decayed and are going unused, everyone agreed that the Olympics had a big economic and cultural impact on the city.  Before the olympics Torino was probably only known as the home of the shroud, and was not really a tourist destination, but since the olympics Torino has become a tourist destination for people from throughout the world.  In addition the olympics had a big impact on the character of the people, according to many that we spoke with, prior to the olympics people in Torino were not very welcoming of strangers, but since then the city has learned to be more friendly and open.  We saw this to some degree, but in general we found it was difficult to find someone that could speak english.  This was such a different experience than I have had traveling in other cities in Italy.  After the presentations were over they answered the students questions for quite a while.  We were happy to use some of our honoraria money to make a small donation to the Foundacion.

Stefano and his friend Fabrizio helped us the rest of the day by accompanying us to the Olympic Village, to lunch, and even to our second meeting of the day with Delatre.  For lunch we walked through the abandoned village and over to a rehabilitated Fiat factory.  The factory has been turned into a mall, and office building.  Across the street from the end of the mall is a place called Eataly, which is a very nice high end grocery store (more on this later) that also has a cafeteria.  We bought Stefano and Fabrizio lunch, and it was nice to have Stefano translate the menu for us. We had a very nice glass of Prosecco naturale, not the champagne version but the still version.  Craig and I each had a plate of pasta with meat sauce (veal) while the others had pasta and mussels.

A couple of bus rides later and we were at Delatre.  This is a technology company that does a lot of web work for NBC, the BBC, and CTV.  Their big thing is tying together the video stream with all the meta data about the players and the scores.  For broadcasters they basically provide everything you would need to know to do color commentary on a game.  They license some cool technology that tracks each football player on the pitch, as well as the ball and the referees.  The software can detect when one player passes to another, and provides real time statistics.  You can access this on the website, like,  or they have a special product just for broadcasters to use.  It was a very interesting presentation, especially for the 3 computer scientists in the group.

After the presentation they allowed craig to stay behind to print out our boarding passes.  I took the rest of the group down the road to the grocery store.  The original idea was to wait for craig, but we soon gave up on that and began walking back to the hotel on our own.

We knew that to get back to the hotel we just had to walk east until we found Corso Re Umberto.  At that point we would go north to our hotel.  I knew it was a long way, so once we reached Re Umberto I said I would run across the road and see if the bus went all the way up to our hotel.  Unfortunately as I was asking the bus driver this question, he just started driving away.  I tried to wave to the confused looking students on the other side of the road, who were staring at the place the bus used to be as if I had somehow vanished into thin air.  I did manage to make eye contact with one or two so they knew I was on the bus and they soon followed.  Meanwhile back at the hotel we waited and waited for craig.  Finally I decided not to wait any longer and just go ahead with our group discussion.  When craig finally returned we had our first glimpse of what flying Ryanair was going to be like.  To print out our online boarding passes he had to enter, name, birthday, passport number, expiration date, flight information for every member of our group before he could print out the passes!  Of course this took forever, especially since on the first try he entered all of the information only to be told that the session had time out.  This meant he had to enter it all over again, but in smaller batches.

After the group discussion we walked down the block to ottoe tre quarte (8 ¾) where we had a glass of wine and some Calzone.  After dinner we were both exhausted so we just went back to the hotel to get some sleep.  Lest you think I was in bed by 7, you should know that supper time in this part of italy doesn’t start until 8:00pm.