‘Passion Lives Here’ is the motto of the Turin Winter Olympics but, as I wrote the other day, passion in the centre of Turin is confined mostly to the young Italian lovers’ habit of French kissing in public. There is rather too much of that, for all but the dedicated voyeur, and too few signs of infatuation with the Games other than on official flags and adverts.
The official Olympic Superstore is therefore one of the few places in the centre where one can see emotion expressed in the proper Italian way, through shopping.
The store is a large tent-like structure at a busy intersection in a not particularly attractive square. Tourists and traffic push through the puddles and grey slush left by the weekend’s snowfalls.
During a visit I made the tent was packed, a United Nations of commerce. The sound of Italians yelling at their children to put down bottles of wine mingled with Americans complaining that the store was out of US flags.
The unifying theme of the buzz seemed to be that the shop was running low on supplies in general. One man outside showed a friend how he had been forced to buy the same shirt for everyone back home.
Surprisingly the only eyebrows being raised at the prices were mine. Presumably if you are on holiday in Turin during the Olympics, you are expecting at least a mild ripping off wherever you go.
Kids’ sweaters started at an incredible €125, ladies’ knits were going for €230. T-shirts were €22. The organisers said that sales of licensed products hit €7.5m at the start of this week, a sum accrued it would seem by little more than the sale of three coffee cups and an Olympics scarf.
Ordinary metal badges, or pins, were €7, some special pins €45. The difference is down to the Olympic ritual surrounding such objects. People buy and trade pins from Olympics past and present, and shoppers were handed a catalogue detailing the official pins, how rare they were, and how to spot fake ones.
You can spot traders wearing hundreds of pins around town, and inside the Coca-Cola pavilion in the sponsors’ village. There were less than 1,000 pins issued to commemorate the time when there were 800 days to go to the Games. There were 25,000 men’s hockey badges made. I am sorry to break the news that both are sold out.
Since this is Italy, almost everything in the shop was tasteful and well designed. Attractive black fleece blankets were going for €25 and there were small vials of men’s perfume for €32.
The run on international flags was causing consternation. “It’s all garbage, they’re trying to get rid of the Italian stuff,” said Doug Hogan, who runs the Beach Sports Bar in Windsor, Ontario.
Hogan’s shopping basket was nonetheless heaving and he had at least alighted on the one piece of real tat in the shop to take back to Canada: giant gold-coloured cowbells at €30 each. “The cowbells are for the Beach barstaff to ring when they get big tips,” Hogan explained. (His bar’s website ends with exactly the sort of in-your-face come hither sadly lacking in Turin: “Looking forward to seeing you there. The Beach ... GOOD TIMES!”)
A few streets away there was a spontaneous sign outside one of Turin’s colleges, saying that it welcomed the athletes.
That rare sight was countered by another outside a branch of Turin University. There, in the same red and white as the official “Passion Lives Here”, was draped a hand-painted banner stretching down the length of a tall modern building. It said “Conflict Lives Here”, in what I took to be the students’ dismal view of the state of Italian society or geopolitics in general.
But then the building turned out to be the humanities faculty, so really the banner was probably exposing only the inner turmoil of the minds within, and promising a lively dialectic for all who dare enter.