Saturday, February 20, 2010

winning (versus the alternative)

It takes a lot to turn Canada into some kind of tribe, but extravagant sport seems to be able to do it. We grumble and complain about everything, but when one of "ours" wins, we cheer and sing the anthem and wave the flag.

Although I'm not convinced that rabid nationalism is something to aspire to, as a way to get there, sport sure beats war.

As for all the emphasis on winning, some perspective in comparing apples to oranges, ie countries with three hundred million people to thirty-five million (or China with over a billion) might be in order. It's hardly surprising that large countries can find (coerce) some good athletes. But as with cheering sports heroes over war heroes, winning beats losing; I won't deny it.

I had a taste of what it feels like early this afternoon (and no taxpayer funds were hurt in the racing)...

Picture the scene: both of us reading the paper, still in dressing gowns and sipping our coffee, the TV tuned to Olympics coverage. Oh! I said, and raced to my computer. It was time for the Race for Tickets courtesy of the Globe and Mail. The clue for the day appears at noon, and it was noon. I came back into the living room to announce the location was on Granville Island. Let's go! said my partner, and we leaped into our clothes, or some of them anyway, as I didn't bother with socks (but this is Vancouver, so no frostbite worries). He's faster, so he got the car out and picked me up in the lane. We broke no speed limits, but I ran the last bit, because traffic was stopped on the Island by a parade. I dodged walkers and the parade to land on the mat, first of the day. We won Gold! Whoo hoo!

Two free tickets to a hockey game at GM Place (or Canada Hockey Place, as Vanoc likes to call it) so we can even walk there. Yay! Winning's great!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

a mixed message

The torch road show made it's way through Vancouver for a second time yesterday. It had a way of starting each day somewhere far from where it left off the day before. This is similar to stock market behaviour (a recent interest of mine) where prices seem to begin at a different place in the morning than they leave off the night before. There's no explaining it.

The excitement was in the city though, that's for sure. You could track the torch by where the choppers were buzzing. Noonish it went by near where I live, and finally I had to go out and look. It was mid-False Creek by that time, aloft in the fron of a dragon boat. Sweet! I could see it from my street corner (no view from my apartment, alas). One can't sustain being a grouch in the face of it. Well I can't, not completely anyway. (Sorry about the teeny, fuzzy picture, but it replicates what I saw.)

Apparently there was still a good contingent of protesters kicking up a fuss here and there in the city. They blocked Commercial Drive, no surprise, so the torch re-routed along Clark Drive, not such a pretty route, but who was watching then? Later the protesters (professionals, they would have been at APEC too) tried to interfere with the opening ceremony, but not surprisingly were left outside and on the fringe. Quite literally, as the size of this behemoth of an event just dwarfs the sound of the not-so-enthusiastic. I'm thinking that protesting only works for so long, and that the timing is critical. This is many years too late, as the show was a done deal long ago. You have to figure out something positive as an alternative by the time you get to this point.

I find I'm such a contrarian that chanted slogans turn me away. Slogans are tiresome, whoever's chanting them. Own the Podium! makes me bah humbug (I'm too Canadian, to the core, or maybe too female? to get behind the chest thumping, much as I like it when 'my' team wins, as though that was something I contributed to) and then No Games on Native Land! and I'm a booster again, especially With Glowing Hearts... (you've got to admit, that last's a pretty good one).

The truth is, I've always enjoyed the Olympics. I'm dazzled by the athletes. All of them, not just those who get there first. (Their single-minded purpose is a great model for anyone working towards any goal, including writerly types like myself. You can learn from the young.)  My favourites are the airborne, either on the ice or the slopes. Wow.

I'm sure there's a personality disorder designation that would explain my fluctuations (I'm passed 'the change') because I watched the opening ceremony, and I loved it. I didn't have to manufacture any of my enthusiasm either. (Have to admit though I'm glad I was watching it on TV—and recording it on my PVR—so I could pause, rewind, have dinner, and not sit through the pre-show warmup acts which probably would have got my contrary self back up. And I can invest the saved admission somewhere else.)

I started to think that Vancouver must be an interesting place (okay, I've lived here forever, so I just think it's normal). Certainly there are a tremendous number of talented people kicking around, and I like that so many Canadian stars came home to be part of it. Or have been here all along: I am pumped that Shane Koyczan (one of our local treasures) got to perform, because I think he's an absolutely marvelous writer and performer; Olympic calibre if I may say so. (Here's a link to a recording of the full poem; it was a variation last night.) And k.d. lang. Man, what a rendition of "Hallelujah." I never get tired of that song (thank you Leonard Cohen). Sarah McLaughlin, isn't she good?And I love Joni Mitchell.

Go Canada! (oops)

I liked the cleverness of the show too, of using the audience to stretch out the spectacle. And I liked the sharing of the lighting of the cauldron, which seemed such a fine acknowledgement that all these endeavours are group efforts, even when it comes down to individuals getting the spotlight. Even if one of the pillars did get stuck in the floor, sigh.

And here are my beefs. The one chance to actually get a mass of Canadians to sing along with the national anthem, and they go all artistic on us. I think that was an unfortunate decision, and the singer will likely get the blame. What were they thinking?

And last but not least: The volunteers leading in the athletes wore really short skirts or pants under their (unnecessarily) wintery coats. This was more subtle than the summer Olympics, with the egregious example of beach volleyball, but why oh why do women have to bare themselves when men don't? You'd think they'd be a bit sensitive to this sort of issue, given the bad publicity around denying Olympic ski jumping to women (see Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran's poem on the subject).

And there was tragedy yesterday: I am sorry, so sorry about Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, a luger from the Republic of Georgia, who died yesterday during a training run in Whistler. He will live on as a graphic reminder that sometimes building something bigger, faster, taller, isn't always the best idea.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

curmudgeon time

I live in Circus City right now. Churlish of me to grumble, I suppose, but I'm such a contrarian that all the hoopla around the Olympics is making me a, well, grouch. (Perhaps I'm channeling my father, who died last February, but would be grumbling by now too; curmudgeonism is in the blood.)

It's funny, because the truth is I greatly enjoy watching the actual events when the show finally starts. The dedication and physical contortions that individual athletes go through leave me in awe. They are models for individual focus (and I'm not talking about the over-paid professional men's hockey team either). A model for having a dream and working toward it. And though they're happy to have the applause, I'm guessing that's not what drives them. (There ought to be some medals handed out to the support teams, ie families, that make their single-minded purpose possible, too.)

But the contortions to put on such a show, years and years of siphoning off public monies, in order to make a grand nationalistic chest-thumping, leave me cold. It's like when I'm at a show, and the audience is exhorted to cheer, and cheer louder, my enthusiasm goes out the window. Even if I was excited up till then! And I won't clap when they tell me either. I'll clap when I feel like clapping. Contrary, yes. It all feels so manufactured.

Today the torch 'relay' where no batons are passed on, is snaking its way through Vancouver, finally, after a gazillion twists and turns around the country, during which I wondered whether they knew which direction Vancouver was. It's designed, I suspect, to take people's minds off the enormous outlay of cash that's been thrown at this party, to show that we're a great place. I always thought Canada was a great place, but I don't like it as much with exhortations to smile, be welcoming, but stay away from work, play, don't use your car, welcome the world, pay your taxes, use transit, but stay off it, use bicycles, but don't bring them, yada yada. And even more taser-happy police and security people swarming the city, perusing security cameras and generally keeping an eye on us all, while the court system is pretty much shut down, as the police have other things to do.

It's not that I'm a cheapskate, either. I can be generous with guests too. But it's the constant background noise of businesses being hammered by road closures and security zones, by cutbacks in other services, promises of no money for pay increases for the poor souls paying the taxes, and the obvious likelihood of many years of government deficit (which translates into increasing debt, you know) at the same time as elected officials get to fly around the country shepherding the hallowed flame up, down and backwards across the country, for the greater glory of, well, just what exactly? All this "Own the Podium" negates the tremendous abilities of the vast majority of athletes who don't "win" even though they may excel. What are they? Losers? I don't like that attitude either. It's great to win, but it's also great to try.

And I can't abide the hand-wringing over the weather either. For heaven's sake, this is Vancouver. What do people expect in a city that is famous for rain, besides crocuses. This is the only part of Canada where winter is not a factor. It's not the first time the hills have been bare in the winter. I remember clearly a few years ago when all the snow had melted off the North Shore, and the Grouse Grind opened in February. It was a lovely hike. Very springlike. And of course it snowed soon after, and it will likely snow up on the mountains again this year. Just a little hard to predict.

So let the Games begin. May the kids have fun in the snow (manufactured or otherwise) and on the ice (and don't be fooled by those outdoor rinks, they're manufactured too in this climate). And though it's too late for the snowdrops, do enjoy the cherry blossoms. And get an umbrella. And welcome to Vancouver!

Here's someone I don't mind my tax dollars going to... (having a poet laureate is a lot cheaper than hosting the Olympics).

his poem 2010-handbook-for-entering-canada

and his essay Notes on a World Class City.