EPT9 Sanremo: Does Sanremo exist when there's nobody here to see it?

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There's a café across the street from the Casino in San Remo called "Sabrina." You can sit outside in the sunshine while the waiters, either blond and tattooed or impossibly hairy bring you ice cream, sandwiches and drinks, while inside their boss polishes the zinc bar.

It's a popular place during EPT Sanremo week, being on the casino doorstep. The people who work there know this and are as welcoming as possible and assume that playing Poker Face on a continuous loop might prove a useful shibboleth to attract players for lunch.

It's one of many businesses, cafes, shops and restaurants that eagerly await the arrival of the card players, making the poker season a yearly highlight, alongside the Milan-San Remo Classic bike race and the Sanremo Music Festival.

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The streets outside Sanremo

But when the final hand is dealt and the wagons are loaded and leave town, Sanremo is transformed once again. Winter comes, driving away the tourists, some locals, and with them the life of the town.

Two people who know this better than most are Luca and Emma Vivaldi who work as part of the EPT floor staff, Luca as a Tournament Director and Emma as the Dealer's Co-ordinator. They've been married for two years and call Sanremo home. For Luca it's the only place for him, the town where he was born. For Emma though, from Manchester, UK, it's still a culture shock.

She described in rough terms a typical Sanremo winter.

"It's mostly me and the old people," she said, laughing as she described the difference between the industrial north of England and picturesque Sanremo. "In the summer it's really beautiful. You can go to the beach. But in the winter it's like a ghost town."

Sanremo is like many tourist destinations relying on visitors for income. The unique micro-climate, with the city surrounded by mountains, ensures that even in October the streets are dressed for summer. But, when the sunshine goes the people follow, even the locals.

"There's not much to do in winter," admitted Emma. "There are only a couple of clubs and even some of those don't open and some of the restaurants as well. For me there's not much going on and the shops are all quite expensive designer shops." Manchester has the 130,000 square-meter Arndale Shopping Centre. Sanremo has a town square.

"There's no shopping!"

But it's not all tales of misery and bleakness, as even Emma admits: "All the guys, the dealers from Sanremo, they absolutely love it."

One of those is Emma's husband Luca. He was born here and grew up here, leaving aged 18 for work. But he, like many others who escape to Milan or Rome after high school, he soon found his way back.

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Emma and Luca Vivaldi (centre) working at EPT Sanremo

"It's not as boring as everybody thinks it is, especially in the summer," he insisted. "Every time I used to come back I missed it. Not just because it's home or because my family is here. It's kind of a special place for people who live here."

Luca admits that given their working circumstances travelling around Europe, they don't live in Sanremo long enough to get bored of the place and in summer, when they have time off, the City is once again transformed. And anyway, if Sanremo gets too familiar there's always places like Nice and Monte Carlo, or the beaches of the Cote D'Azur. But, Luca concedes, winter is a different story.

"It looks like the wild west sometimes!" he said. But it speaks for the success of the EPT that the tour brings the town to life.

"The EPT brought something to Sanremo that is only really seen during the music festival," he said. "It's a new attraction. Everybody, from the local bar to the cigarette place, knows about the tour."

So in a few days' time the staff at Sabrina will no doubt begin to wind down business for another year. Indeed, when the EPT came here in late October 2011 the place opened for the tournament week only, serving customers in coats and scarves and counting down the days before they packed up again until the spring. It'll be the same again in a week or two. We can only hope the locals survive it.

"The real perk is the coffee," said Emma, looking on the bright side. "You can't get better coffee. And Ice cream! Even in other parts of Italy I don't think the ice cream is as good as in Sanremo."

So there you have it. There are advantages after all and the town certainly does exist when the poker players leave town. It's just that there aren't many people here to prove it.

Keep an eye on the live tournament reporting from EPT Sanremo for all the news from the tournament floor.

Stephen Bartley
@StephenBartley in Day 2