ALBERTVILLE, ALA. MRB — ALBERTVILLE, Ala. -- To Christy Alldredge, 17, France is a place she never has seen or thought much about. Still, she has definite ideas when asked if there is anything French she fancies.
"I like French guys, French fries and French kisses," she says.
In Albertville, Ala., or Albertville, France, the Alpine town that is host to next month's Winter Olympics, it's safe to say the yearnings of youth center on much the same things -- their hearts and their stomachs.
From this Albertville, 1,065 feet atop Sand Mountain in northern Alabama, the Olympics and France are a world, perhaps more, away. Because of the Winter Games, there have been some efforts to bring the worlds closer, with mixed success.
For example, French students at Albertville High School are making French food -- "something with tuna fish, eggs, olive oil and anchovies," says 16-year-old Tori Lacy.
"All that sounds nasty," says JoAnna Baker, 16. "I'd rather have a pepperoni pizza."
C'est la vie.
Yet a slight Olympic glow has reflected off the other Albertville, giving the people in this Albertville a moment to pause and think about their unexpected and brief international connection.
"I haven't heard a word from Albertville [France], but a lady called from Indiana or Illinois, one of those states that start with 'I,' and wanted to buy figure skating tickets," says Lisa Socha, an Albertville Chamber of Commerce administrative assistant. "She was really embarrassed when I told her the Olympics were in France, not here."
"And she said, 'You're not going to believe this, but I'm the librarian for the town,' " adds Brenda Rains, the chamber's executive director.
Another woman called to ask for tickets to the opening ceremonies. After Rains had disabused her of the notion that the Winter Games were being held in Alabama, the caller defended herself by pointing out the man on television had just said, "Countdown to Albertville," not specifying a continent.
"If Albertville, France, needed an outlet for their tickets, we could have really helped them out," Socha concludes.
Though the two are sister cities and represent half of the world's best-known Albertvilles -- the others are in Minnesota and Zimbabwe -- the differences in the towns seem more pronounced than the similarities.
This Albertville bills itself as "the fire hydrant capital of the world" and averages perhaps one snowfall per year.
That Albertville is a center of tourism and winter sports but lacks a nearby bass lake.
This Albertville nestles atop Sand Mountain.
That Albertville perches in the French Alps near the Swiss border.
This Albertville has a neatly kept football stadium behind the high school that will hold 2,000 on a good night, which is any night the local Aggies play.
That Albertville has a 35,000-seat stadium where on Feb. 8 the Olympic opening ceremonies, watched by an estimated one billion on television, will be held.
As for sports, the range here covers both the winter and summer games but lacks an Olympian scope.
Skis are most likely to be attached to feet on nearby Lake Guntersville, voted the best bass lake in America three years running in the late 1980s and site of an annual BASS Masters tournament. And the "Olympic-sized" swimming pool at the recreation center is the only possible Olympic venue in town.
There is the Carousel roller rink and Mega-Skate, where the admission is $2 and skate rental is extra. They do a good business, particularly on weekends.
Apart from the Aggies, there is a place just south of here on U.S. 431 where "Nightmare" Danny Davis, the pro wrestler, is scheduled to perform tonight.
The Harlem Globetrotters once performed in the Albertville Coliseum, the gym where the high school team plays.
Still, while it may not be Olympic -- no one remembers the town ever producing an Olympian -- this Albertville has a long and proud athletics heritage.
"Football is the main thing around here," says George Wells, a retired businessman who is something of an unofficial sports historian for this Albertville. "We haven't won a state championship in 40 years, but we've been close a few times."
There were the 1919 and 1920 Aggies teams, undefeated with but one tie, which outscored opponents, 559-28, including an 89-0 thrashing of Jacksonville State College. And there are the Hannah boys, John and Charley, who went on to stardom at the University of Alabama. John was recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Charley also had a pro career.
And there is native son Charley Pell -- "a super athlete," as Wells remembers. Pell left Albertville for the University of Alabama and went on to coach at Jacksonville State and the University of Florida, where he became the focus of a recruiting scandal.
Pell, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., says he is "kinda proud" they are having the Olympics in Albertville.