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Passion is the Fashion
Student Reporters discover the passion of the Italian Alps and the Olympic Games
By Alexandra Coffey, Scholastic Student Reporter

Alexandra and waiters
The waiters at La Tortoria, a coffee bar in Sestriere, Italy, with Scholastic reporter Alexandra Coffey. The waiters' aprons are decorated with Olympic pins they have received from happy patrons.
(Photo: Courtesy Sean and Alexandra Coffey)
Monday, February 20—The slogan of the 2006 Olympic games is "Passion lives here." I found out why, almost the moment I stepped off the plane in the northern Italian city of Milan. I was bound for Sestriere to cover my first assignment for the Scholastic Kids Press Corps: the Winter Olympic Games.

The goal at most airports is plain and simple—get people in and get people out. The Milan airport is different. It is also famous for designer clothes from famous clothing companies such as Dolce and Gabbana and Giorgio Armani. There is certainly a "passion for fashion" in Milan.

The driver who met us at the airport, Luca Grivel-Brancot, was no exception—he was a symbol of both fashion and passion!

When we first met him, he was wearing a trendy rainbow-striped hat and a sport jacket that read "Torino 2006 Olympics." But what struck me most about Luca was his warm and friendly greeting. He welcomed us like we were part of his family.

While greeting Luca, we also saw another good example of unique fashion at the airport—Franciscan monks. They wore cream-colored robes, crosses around their necks, and wooden sandals. It's certainly not something you see very often at American airports.

Italians also expressed their passion on the road. We drove through a fog so thick Luca could barely see where he was going. That didn't matter to the bus that came flying past us.

"In Italy, the bus is boss on the roads," Luca said as he yelled some word to the bus driver in Italian that luckily I couldn't understand.

In Italy, it seems, nobody likes to follow the rules of the road, whether on foot or in a car. One man stuck in a traffic jam got out of his car, jumped a highway divider, and hailed a taxi! He just abandoned his car in a massive traffic jam.

"I've never seen that before," Luca said. "What's he gonna do with his car? Perhaps leave it as a present for someone?"

Eventually, the fog began to lift and I could see the spectacular Italian Alps through the car window. They looked like a still life—a ruffled white sheet covering jagged peaks.

A Swiss fan
A Swiss fan all decked out for cheering on his countrymen at the alpine skiing events at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in the Italian Alps.
(Photo: Courtesy Sean and Alexandra Coffey)
The road became narrower and steeper as we climbed toward Sestriere, the mountain town where the alpine skiing events are being held. We passed quaint alpine towns with souvenir shops and markets that proudly displayed Olympic banners and flags.

After saying goodbye to Luca, we walked down Sestriere's snow-covered, winding streets. At every turn I could see joyful people blowing horns and ringing bells. I could see crowds gathered outside places like La Tortoria—one of the hot spots in town—carrying skis and wearing fashionable parkas, sharing the latest gossip and Olympic news.

Inside La Tortoria, the servers waded cheerfully from table to table through the packed coffee shop. On a normal day, the shop sells 500 cafe lattes and espressos. Since the Olympics began it has sold more like 2,000 cups a day, says owner Dario Arroppio.

"I'm happy, no worries," Dario says. "It's good for business."

As we sipped our lattes, the waiters suddenly began to sing loudly. I asked Dario about the pins covering his apron. "They're from visitors, journalists, athletes from all over the world," he explained. Everyone, it seems, is being swept up by the passion.

People attending my first event, the two-man bobsled, showed their passion in unique ways. A group of Canadians waved huge signs saying, "CAN'T BEAT CANADA!"

A group of men from Switzerland painted the Swiss flag on their faces and waved their country's flag while shouting and singing the Swiss national anthem. One of them had a hat shaped like a bobsled.

Nearby, an Italian steel drum band marched along the bobsled track playing upbeat music. Italian cheerleaders with pom-poms were singing and dancing.

I realized that people are the biggest part of the passion at the Olympics: People like Luca and Dario; people like the Canadian and Swiss fans. I thought of something Dario told me.

"The Olympics," he said. "It's a beautiful thing."

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.