Ciao to All the Folks Back Home

The U.S. women's hockey team in Turin with Katie Couric and Al Roker: Hi, Mom!
The U.S. women's hockey team in Turin with Katie Couric and Al Roker: Hi, Mom! (By Carlo Allegri -- Getty Images)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006

TURIN, Italy, Feb. 22 -- Despite all the things to do in Turin, which include visiting a museum of ancient Egyptian artifacts and sampling chocolate of the I-can-die-happy-now variety, there are people who choose to spend their time hanging around outside the set of the "Today" show in the Piazza San Carlo, watching Katie Couric mispronounce "gnocchi" and Al Roker deliver the weather for southwest Texas.

It's drizzling off and on Wednesday afternoon, but the set of the show is bright as a California morning. Just as crowds gather outside the "Today" set in New York City to greet Roker and get their mugs on TV, so a smaller crowd collects here, screaming and waving as if Dick Ebersol is tossing out money when the camera pans around. There are Americans in straw cowboy hats, Americans in USA caps, and a guy in a rainbow wig behind an American flag. There are Italians, too, but they're less demonstrative. The Americans hold signs that say "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM" and "FLORHAM PARK NEW JERSEY" and "Gurnee Grade Says . . . GO ANTHONY!" (Could this be Gurnee Grade School of Gurnee, Ill.?)

This is an outpost of proud Americana, a place where even the less fashionable among us, in our big-box jeans, can feel right at home. Matt Lauer, looking slightly Mister Rogersish in his sweater, interviews the prickly U.S. speedskater Chad Hedrick, who always puts his teeth on high beam for the cameras. Then Matt talks about gnocchi, the "plump little Italian dumpling" to be featured later on the show, and Katie says, "You're not talking about me, are you?"

Off to the side of the crowd, with little hope of getting on camera, are Susie and Mike Keller, married 46 years. Mike is holding a stenciled bedsheet that is supposed to say "HELLO BALTIMORE OHIO" but instead ends with OIHO, and when he realizes this says, "Oh, for crying out loud. I'm embarrassed." Nonetheless, he keeps holding the sign.

"Everyone in central Ohio knows that we're going to be here today," Susie says. "I called Mother last night and told her to watch." Susie also informed her friends, the people she lunches with, the ladies at her Curves gym.

Susie and Mike are retired. They travel a good bit; they just finished an 11-day tour of the major cities of Italy. When they're not traveling, they like to watch "Today."

"Every morning we get up and put that on, sit there sometimes till 10," Susie says. "He reads the paper and I do the crossword puzzles." Then Susie leaves for Curves (doctor's orders) and after that they meet for lunch.

"Curling is such an interesting sport," Katie is saying, and then she and Matt take another one of their breaks for commercials and news. And now Ann Curry is heard broadcasting from across the ocean, something about a lottery jackpot in the Midwest.

At some point in this parade of Americana, a short seventyish Italian woman in a fur hat and cloth shoes walks over and tries to look over the heads of all the tall people. She has no luck. A couple of noisy Italian guys wonder if Chad Hedrick looks like Ben Affleck. (Do all Americans look the same to them?)

A nun strolls by.

Susie says that Katie -- or maybe it was Martha -- had someone on her show recently who said a certain kind of Italian chocolate could cost $2,000. Susie wonders just exactly how much of this chocolate you'd get for $2,000.

And you wonder what the Turinese must think of the Americans here, the Americans who've taken over their piazza with their cheering and their signs and their desire to be glimpsed just for a second by friends at home, and their enthusiasm about seeing the back of Katie Couric's head. There's something so parochial and cheerful and American about this.

The camera veers toward Susie and Mike and then --

"He pulled away," Mike says.

"Maybe we'll be next," says Susie.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company