romansch.

Whew, so it’s been a little while since I posted, long enough that at least one person got worried about me. Don’t worry, I’m safe! I have to admit that yesterday was a pretty overwhelming day, with two team sprints for cross country and then a mixed relay for biathlon. it was a lot of work and definitely on the border of what I’m able to handle. On top of that, Tuesday was supposed to be a day off (journalists need to sleep sometimes too, you know!) but because the men’s mass start was messed up by the fog, they ended up racing that day.

On one of the days where we only had one race – so, supposedly, an easy day – I still published four different stories. Oops. That’s not good energy management!

Anyway, here’s a couple of fun story.

Last night I was taking the gondola up to our hotel at night and climbed in with four guys in matching jackets. They had some kind of accreditation and were chatting away in a foreign language. I heard “Cologna” and perked up – they were talking about cross country skiing, my thing! But they were chatting and chatting. As I waited for a lull in the conversation to as where they were from, I noticed some characteristics about the language, which at first wasn’t easily identifiable. I know French and I can recognize German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Russian, and many of the other languages in which you might discuss cross-country skiing. This was not any of those, but I picked up alternating hints of Italian and German.

“Where are you guys from?” I finally asked.

They all laughed and didn’t answer.

“You are asking because it is a strange language?” One finally said.

“Is it Romansh?” I asked.

They started basically cheering. “Wow! Yes! How do you know?”

Romansh is a language that is spoken by less than 1% of Swiss citizens, all of whom live in the southeast, in the region around the Engadin valley. Where I lived in Davos, they did not speak Romansh – they spoke German. But as I traipsed about hiking and running, I would find myself in valleys where Romansh was still spoken. It’s a mix of straight-up Latin that has been modified with Germanic words and some grammar. My housemate Quim said that it was close enough to Catalan that he could more or less understand the gist of things.

These guys were from a Romansh radio station. It seemed like a long way to come for just 1% of the Swiss population (I asked how many listeners the radio station had and they didn’t know). But then again, the region has been pretty darn successful. Dario Cologna has won two gold medals in skiing and Selina Gasparin a medal in biathlon. In the first week of the Olympics, the guys gleefully told me, the Romansh had more medals than Russia!

It was a really cool conversation and a huge improvement from the night before when an old and slightly overweight Russian woman was coughing black smokers’ lung all over us.

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