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I love the Olympics.  I love the stories that come out of wee-little corners of the globe, athletes arriving who train in hotel pools and by running cups of sugar to their aunts located in villages 15 miles away.  I love the banter, the media frenzy and the recaps.  It’s a two-week long Christmas morning.  Warm-fuzziness all-around.  If you live in the United States.

Watching in Italy however, was a whole other,  head-in-my-hands, pretend-punch-a-fist-through-the-TV experience.  In a word – frustrating.  I thought about flying back to the US, just to catch some of that spirit  that I have come to realize since is uniquely American.  All those back stories…..gone.  Good Morning America?…..not in Italy, its 5 pm over here.  And coverage on more than a channel? …..we were limited to the lonely state-run channel which would follow an event just long enough to know that a world record could be broken, when coverage would cut to a first round match of some re-run of an Italian fencing.  Analysis was given by these gals, who don’t exactly give you that twinkle-in-the-eye pass the torch commentation:

I have watched more fencing in the past two weeks (yes, Italian ladies swept the medals..BRAVA!!) than I can imagine I will for the rest of my life.  That and archery.  Leave it to the Italians to be good with arrows and swords.  It makes sense.

I was about to write a letter to the Italian government informing them of how many other sports exist in the Olympics, when the small town of Cagli in the region of Marche totally redeemed – on behalf of the whole country – that lost sense of Olympic razzmatazz that left me feeling Olympically anorexic.  And it went like this:

As in the Olympics, it began with a parade of nations, or in this case, a division of the four quadrants of the city, named for their Saint represented in each quarter’s church:  Sant’ Angelo, Sant’ Agostino, Sant’ Andrea & San Francesco – all dressed their respective colors and garb both Liberaci and Robin Hood would envy.

Following the parade of drums, archers, royal-looking folk, sheilds, and other things of the sort came the game players – a loud, cheering group of young athletes (athletes is loosely used here), not unlike the more muscular versions seen circling the track in London.

We followed the parade into the stadium, where a Chutes-and-Ladders format Olympics would unfurl.  But the events were by leaps and bounds more exciting, entertaining and hilarious than anything I saw the previous two weeks.  There was Tug-o-war. You know the kind where 12 people fall on their rumpelstiltskins to win:

And archery – similar to what was also on TV – but with flashier attire and artisan crafted arrows:

Barrel – rolling, a surprisingly strenuous test of fancy footwork and pied-piperesque concentration:

There were many more, including horse races, foot races, log-cutting,  races on stilts, relays, and, thank goodness, someone remembered the over-water-jousting some of us so fondly remember from American Gladiator.

So what about the medals?  No medals here friends.  You don’t need a medal when you have a golden duck.

And unlike the Olympic games, where the village is limited to athletes, their village was open to the rest of us beer and prosecco drinking spectators, to share in the joy with the beer and prosecco drinking athletes.  Food? Forget McDonalds!  You could find Marchese specialties – including polenta and snails, tripe and gnocci. And there were not one – but FOUR! – such locales to stuff your face with all things good and unique to the Marche region.

Olympic village of Sant’ Angelo

So a thanks goes out to those fabulous friends, who perhaps seeing the grief of an American suffering through the Olympics abroad, kindly invited us to the country to partake in something that perhaps embodies the Olympic spirit more than the games themselves – amateurism (the most amateur they come), goodwill, cheering and jeering and cultural celebration.

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