Europe is always a trip for the female athlete. I’m Canadian. My upbringing in sport is that it’s quite normal that girls play and play hard. I’ve never in 22 years had anyone tell me I can’t do something on the playing field. At least not in Canada. Only when in Europe have I experienced a machoism foreign to me. I’ve been laughed at in France for racing my bike. Now that I am an older athlete, people assume I am support staff, not competitor.
The environment and opportunities I enjoy as a female Canadian are never lost on me. I can freely try to be anything I want in sport. I’ve capitalized on this time and again.
But it’s not just the sporting side of things, it’s how women are viewed that is so different over here. Or, for that matter, in all latin american countries I’ve raced and traveled in. It always surprises me to be on the receiving end of comments, whistles and the like. I just never dealt with these attitudes as a girl in Canada.
Sometimes it’s annoying and sometimes it’s just plain funny.
Here in Sulden, Italy, it’s been the latter. The source of this has been the proprietor of the hotel we stay. I’m writing about my friend Herman. Herman who is a sweet old guy. Herman who has professed his ‘secret love’ for me. He admitted this the other night at dinner to Paulo, one of the coaches here with us, in Italian.
I had a feeling something was up because Herman began visiting our dinner table numerous times a few nights before. ‘The best. Clara. She’s the best.’
So when Herman, father of Alex, husband of the nice lady who I’ve said hello to, admitted to a crush on yours truly, we all had a good laugh. Herman became my Boyfriend Herman.
Alex, Herman’s son, told us how Herman was a wild man in his youth. He had long hair and was a ‘pretty crazy guy’. Then he went grey when he was 21 years old. Excitement became ‘good food and four different papers to read each day. As long as he has this, he’s happy.’ According to Alex.
Later that same evening, which was a Sunday, the day when Prosecco is served with appetizers in the hotel lobby ‘because it’s Sunday!’ Herman came to our dinner table again.
He had a mischievous grin on his face. He looked around at our party of five: me, Peter, Coach Chris, Paulo and Dom Gauthier, our co-ordinator of everything at this pre-Olympic training camp, and said something in the local dialect. Not Italian, not quite German, not quite like any kind of language any of us had ever heard. We were at a loss to understand.
Alex was there serving our food and began to chuckle. ‘Do you want to know what he said? It’s in our local dialect…‘ and continued to translate what Herman said.
It went something like this: ‘I am afraid that the Indian is going to shoot me with his bow and arrow.’
We all busted a gut. First of all, being Canadian, and having many dear friends in the Aboriginal communities in Canada, I cannot remember the last time I heard the word Indian. Secondly, the ‘Indian’ Herman was referring to was my husband, Peter, who has been with me each and every time Ol’ Herman professes his crush on me, Peter’s wife.
Peter has a long black braid and I guess that translates over here in Europe to the archaic cowboy and Indian movies from back in the day. Peter who has dark skin and the look of a noble Chief gave Herman this reference and the idea of the bow and arrow. Peter, who had the mad laughs upon hearing what Herman had said about his wife in front of him, began to think about just how difficult it would be to find a bow and arrow to give Ol’ Herman a scare.
My long-haired husband Peter
We laughed for a long, long time about this.
And now, a few days later, I think Herman is a little bored of me. He seems to have developed an affinity for Peter now. He comes up and grabs his shoulder, giving him a squeeze and a smile.
Alex told us yesterday that ‘I think he’s not so afraid of the arrow anymore!’
Never a dull moment in Italy.