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But no matter. The tradition of the Winter Olympics is that it should be headquartered in a town that needs a transfusion, thus serving two purposes, and Grenoble meets the requirement. In the month after the Olympic athletes go home, 3,000 of the city's underprivileged families will move en masse into new housing put up for the Games. "Sure, we could have had the Olympics in beautiful little towns like Alpe d'Huez or Val-d'Is�re," an official explained, "and then what would we have done with 3,000 new housing units when the Games were over? It would be like putting up 3,000 low-rent apartments for poverty-stricken people of Squaw Valley."
When all the skiing and bobsledding and ice skating and jumping and luging are over, Grenoble will find itself with any number of improvements: a new town hall (metal and glass and gray cement and formless statuary), a new prefecture of police, a new house of culture and conservatory of music, a new major hotel, a new railroad station, countless new car parks and hundreds of miles of first-class roads. It will become one of the first cities in France to boast a belt highway running entirely around the city and functioning both as a bypass and a rapid connection between major auto routes in and out. In other French towns the motorist has two choices when he approaches the city limits: he can take a main route marked Centre Ville, which will take him unfailingly into the traffic jam in the middle of the business district, or he can follow a route marked Poids Laurels (heavy weights), which will convey him on a roundabout tour of the outskirts of town, past the home of the defeated candidate in the last mayoral election, on to the city dump and finally disgorge him on the other side of town. In either case, getting through a French town by car is all too often like getting out of Yankee Stadium after a Giant game. "That is one of the nicest things about the effect of the Olympics," said a visiting Belgian businessman in the lobby of Grenoble's Park Hotel. "After the Games, you will be able to take the belt highway and avoid Grenoble. I call that genuine progress!"
The effect of all the road-building has been to tie Grenoble into a vast traffic jam for the better part of a year. There are times when the city resembles a huge car park, with nothing moving from one end of town to the other. In the late afternoons the inhabitants like to line the rails of their high-rise apartment buildings and watch the frustration below. Rewarding scenes flash before one's eyes with regularity. Consider: six lanes of traffic are inching along Boulevard Mar�chal Foch, and one lone traffic cop stands at the busy corner of Rue Marceau, where three more lanes of traffic are trying to move across. In his black uniform with white cuffs and white-banded hat, the policeman looks like a domino in a high surf. He runs from car to car, he points, he beckons, he implores, he wags his fingers. But no matter how he tries, he cannot keep the Grenoblois from wedging their cars into the intersection and blocking the flow in all directions. To make a bad situation worse, the street is ripped up, and at this very intersection Boulevard Mar�chal Foch changes abruptly from six lanes to three, presenting a merger problem of indescribable proportions. Still, the policeman struggles manfully, occasionally extricating a few dozen cars from the mess and sending them on their way. But what is this green monstrosity coming into sight far down the boulevard? It is a lumber truck pulling a lumber trailer, the whole articulated rig stretching a good 80 feet. The cop looks. The camion lurches forward. And just before it reaches the tangled intersection, the driver starts blinking for a left turn. The policeman throws his hands in the air and walks off.
One can imagine the effect of such situations on the nerves of the townspeople of Grenoble. "Olympic Games, merde!" said one. "We are the first city in France to improve on the sens unique, the one-way street. Here in Grenoble, cradle of the French revolution, center of atomic industry, we have invented the no-way street! You speed along at zero kilometers an hour, and when you get where you are going you are exactly where you started!"
This same citizen harbors nothing but suspicion toward an electronic computer that will run the city's traffic system during the two weeks of the Olympics. "The experts think it is all so simple," he said. "They feed information into the computer from various places around the town—the number of cars, direction of flow, the length of the waiting lines—and then the machine sets up advantageous detours and adjusts the traffic lights. What do they think we are? Germans? You cannot regulate French traffic by machine. What will the machine do about my friend Jean-Baptiste who parks his car in the middle of the street to run to the pissoir? Or my wife who makes the—how you call it?—U-turns across the islands of the traffic? It will be chaos!" Well, it will not be chaos, if only because the French government is absolutely hell-bent to have every last road completed long before Olympics time, and also because most of the Olympic action is going to take place in the sticks anyway, in beautiful and colorful venues like Alpe d'Huez and Villard-de-Lans and Autrans in the Vercors. As soon as one drives out of Grenoble, one sees the truth of a line in the town's promotional brochure: "Every street ends in a mountain and every mountain has a new surprise." There is one mountain where the monks keep busy making hooch. They call it Chartreuse. On another there are monuments to a French Resistance hospital, located underground and totally destroyed by the Germans in World War II. One mountain boasts a cave almost a mile deep. There are oxen pulling wagons, bubbly streams, genuine milkmaids milking genuine cows. And there is food, some of the best food in France, which is to say, some of the best anywhere. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was born in the Dauphin� near Belley, and his influence lingers. The 45-minute lunch, indeed! How can one pay proper homage in 45 minutes to dishes like pike with cream, souffl� of crayfish, gratin dauphinois with larks or quail or chamois, cheeses like Saint-Marcellin and Sassenage blue, local wines like Sainte-Marie-d'Alloix and Seyssel? Eating is a shared pleasure in the restaurants of the Dauphin�.
Unknown myriads of visitors will be spilling into Grenoble's restaurants and hotels for the Winter Games, and one can understand the mixed emotions of the locals. At first, there was much gleeful hand-rubbing, especially by businessmen, who figured to make a killing. Then the government announced a price fix. All business establishments in Grenoble and environs were ordered to maintain their price levels of February 1967. How could anybody prove what the February levels were? Simple, said the government. Back in February, when nobody was paying attention, undercover teams of investigators had visited every bar, every hotel, every restaurant in the Dauphin� and had come away with a full price list from each. Any speedy operator who tried to boost the tariffs now would find himself closed down for the two weeks of the Olympics. The locals inquired as to what fascistic law the government thought it was functioning under. High officials in Paris trundled out something called "Special Authority for Special Events," and that was that. Even the taxi drivers, those traditional French bandits, will be affected. "Anybody who thinks that a cabdriver is trying to take advantage of him," Mike Jacquemain explained, "has only to demand that the driver take him to the nearest police station. That usually ends the problem. But if the driver heads for the station, beware! It can only mean that this time he is in the right, that he is charging you the legitimate 50% extra for travel after 10 o'clock at night, or the legitimate extra for baggage or something like that. In which case, you'd better just quit arguing and pay!"
It fell to Jacquemain to figure out where to house the expected torrent of visitors, variously estimated from 50,000 to 100,000. "The hotels of Grenoble simply weren't up to it," Jacquemain explained. "They're adequate for the needs of the town, for businessmen stopping over for a day or two at a time and tourist buses pulling in at night and leaving in the morning, but not for the crowds that turn up at Olympic Games. On the other hand, it was the same at Innsbruck, at Cortina, at Squaw Valley. All those places had a hell of a time accommodating people. There never has been a Winter Olympics without complaints that somebody got lousy rooms, and there's a very simple reason. The Olympics for summer can be held in big cities like Mexico City, Rome, Melbourne, and even then you have problems. But in a city of Winter Olympics you must be near mountain resorts, and the largest cities you can find near mountain resorts are still bound to be small cities, and that is what you've got to work with."
Jacquemain and his fellow specialists lined up every hotel room they could find within a two-hour train ride of Grenoble and still came up 5,000 beds short of 20,000. "So we took ads in the local newspapers. We wrote that we knew Grenoble had the reputation for being a cold city, like all mountain cities, that people didn't open their doors and their hearts easily, but could we overcome the barrier just this one time? And we did. Every day dozens of people came to the city hall offering accommodations for the Olympic visitors. Of course, some of them were just out to get rich quick. They'd offer an attic room with no toilet for 50 francs ($10) a night. We inspected every accommodation, and the ones that were substandard were put into our files with a big black spot in the upper right corner. It was what you call a blackball. On the other hand there were families that offered very nice rooms and said they would not accept money. We had to turn this down as well; it presents too many problems. Let's say you come back to your free lodging at 2 in the morning after celebrating your country's great victory in ice hockey and the owner says, 'Well, that's fine. We've been waiting up all night for you, and now you can sleep on the porch!' We want our visitors to be able to return home when they want to, and if you pay a little something for your room you're entitled to come in when you want. We didn't want anybody treating our guests rudely and then saying, 'Well, he's not paying, so what?' "
Jacquemain and his crew have already assigned 500 Czechs and 300 Intourist clients from the Soviet Union to inexpensive quarters in a seminary in Voreppe and a church school in Montfleury. "But first we spoke to the abb� and we told him that these people are probably atheists, by definition, and we asked him if he could resist the temptation just this once. The abb� said, 'We will try not to indoctrinate them if they do not try to indoctrinate us.' So we conveyed this information to the Czechs and the Russians, and they agreed that nobody would try to sell anything to anybody!"
With Mike Jacquemain solving public accommodations crises left and right, others turned to the ticklish problem of where to put the thousands of athletes and their coaches, the precise problem that stirred up the ruckus in the 1967 trials. Not that the French have ever admitted that they had anything to be ashamed of last February. The current line among French sporting officials is that the crisis of accommodations was a phony, a red herring thrown out by Austrian, West German and Swiss coaches who knew they were going to lose and were seeking an out. "Let us consider some facts," said Dr. H�raud, who took most of the rap in 1967. "The Austrians announced in advance that they were going to send a delegation of six to the men's downhill site at Chamrousse, and instead they showed up at midnight with 14, and most of them were not even athletes. When they were told that the nonathletes could be housed elsewhere, they said no, they all wanted to stay together. So, naturally, they had to be crowded. The next day everything could have been ironed out easily, but the Austrians said they didn't want to be bothered. Meanwhile, we have reason to believe they were conspiring with the Swiss and West German teams to stir up an excuse to avoid competition. Why? Because one week earlier the French B team had beaten the Austrian A team, and they knew they were going to lose in a large way. So first they used the press. I remember one picture in a foreign newspaper that showed 10 athletes crammed into one small room. But we can show by the very faces in the photograph that eight of the so-called athletes were people who were just hauled off the street for the picture. They used documents like this to prove that they were treated badly. But if they have been treated badly, why have the Swiss already applied for exactly the same quarters this year?"