'Donner du sens' from a guy talking sense

ANNECY, France -- If the Olympic Games come to Annecy in 2018, the famous chef Marc Veyrat was asked here Wednesday, what will you prepare on the day of the opening ceremony? "The Olympic Games," he said, "are full of flavor and authenticity and truth. And, you know what we're going to do? We're going to have an Olympic Games with a capital A for 'amour' -- amour for love.

"Love in all its depth and all its aspects. Love for the region. Love for being able to hand down the legacy. We are proud we want the Games. We know," he said, "that this is an incredible, extraordinary region."

For two years, this Annecy bid has struggled mightily with what in idiomatic French might be called donner du sens -- what in English we would call the narrative.



In just a few seconds at a news conference here, while the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission was elsewhere in town, studying the Annecy file, Veyrat may very well have sketched out the contours of that narrative.

Now: Does the Annecy bid team want to hear it?

And do they want to hear it from a big guy who wears a big black hat, just like his grandfather wore a big black hat, and who is unapologetically progressive and environmentally oriented?

Far be it from me, an American, to offer the French perspective about anything.

But does this sound like a guy who might have some sense:  "Just like a hamburger, the Olympic Games can become a healthy meal if you put it together properly."

Veyrat grew up in this part of France, the Haute-Savoie, around food, family and nature. They had cows and pigs. They made their own butter and cheese. They picked blueberries. "At every step," he said, "I was told, 'Look, this is nature.' "

In the mid-1930s, meanwhile, the family had opened an inn at the base of a chairlift. "People liked going to the restaurant because it smelled good there," he said.

For the young Marc Veyrat, meanwhile, "These 'strangers' [at the inn] were for my parents a wonder. They brought this openness. They fed our souls."

The grown-up Marc Veyrat became one of France's, indeed the world's, great chefs, emphasizing the use of the herbs and plants he could harvest in the French Alps. He won, for instance, six Michelin stars, three for his first two restaurants. He earned a perfect grade of 20/20 in the Gault-Millau guide.

When he talks, he talks a little bit like Jimi Hendrix used to riff on the guitar. The words just sort of rush right out.

Does it all hold together?

That depends.

Is what he has to offer a tightly coherent message? Could the Annecy 2018 committee take his comments, wrap them in a bow and present them to the IOC? Of course not.

Are the threads all there?

After the news conference, Veyrat and I talked, one on one, for 45 minutes. He has a lot  -- and I mean a lot -- to say.

For instance: "The paradox is that people say the notion of identity -- provincial life, rural life, the Alps, the Olympic Games, these can't all go together. But that's our goal. That's what we are striving for, to use these Games to reinforce this notion of identity, to better define our identity within the Alps."

And: "There's an underlying problem. I'm going to repeat myself. It's about the heart. It's about not just can we -- but do we want -- these Olympic Games? It's about do we want these Olympic Games to be about sports or about something else?

"I think the Olympic Games can be about so much more than just sport. I think they're about a way of communicating. I think they're about a way of having exchanges with others and a way of opening ourselves up with knowledge. That's why we should have the Games. That's why we should want the Games. It's about love. It's about being in love, with a capital L. It's love for your region. Do you love your region enough to defend it enough to make it into an Olympic region? And why the Olympics? Why the Haute-Savoie? This region is already a universal draw for tourists, from Lake Annecy to Mont Blanc. Skiing is what we know. Skiing is who we are. Everybody skis.

"… The reason I think we deserve these Olympic Games is because these would be  the Games that would be ruled by reason, by sanity. It's about respect for others, respect for the planet.

"… The whole point of the Olympic Games is for each [edition] to be able to tell their story, the story of where they live. The thing is, in this region we have very deep roots. The whole point is to have this trace-ability, to know where they come from. These Games are going to be devilish in a way. Because it's really important. We are going to get the youth in. We are going to put a sparkle in their eyes. As they get older, they are going to remember they once had this opportunity to see this incredible region that is near Switzerland called Haute-Savoie, where life is so good, where life was made so good by the people who live there."

If this man offered to cook for you, wouldn't you accept? If he had some advice for you along the way, might you listen?

Let's put it a different way: If you're the Annecy bid team, what do you have to lose?