Some comments from afar on the Sochi Olympics:
One cannot help but become excited about the Olympics. After all, though they are glitzy and commercialized they are the modern reflection of an ancient tradition, and there are moments of absolute excellence and athletic perfection during the competitions.
SO SO GOOD: That the opening ceremonies were not scheduled during American prime-time television viewing hours is wonderful. It's nice to see that the networks and their profits were less important than the Russian people (for a change).
Also, this beautiful piece of writing by friend and former AP colleague Andrew Kramer, now stationed in Russia with the New York Times:
The Party Spreads to the Sochi Streets
A promotional image of the Sochi Olympics – ski goggles reflecting palm trees – came alive Friday in downtown Sochi. A boisterous crowd – a few hundred at first, and then thousands — streamed through the palm-lined streets to an outdoor area for watching the opening on a huge screen, set up beside the city port. People arrived pushing baby carriages and hoisting children onto their shoulders in a buoyant mood, ready for a party, and apparently brushing away worries about terrorism. Gripes of the hassle of all the construction also seemed to have fallen aside for the opening party.
A line of men stood outside a convenience store, waiting for bottles of cognac and beer to toast their city’s big day in the open air. This being Russia, a ban on smoking in outdoor areas during the Olympics was summarily and cheerily ignored by many.
The city is a climatic outlier in Russia, situated on the country’s only, tiny sliver of subtropical coast beside mountains. A motto of the Games is “Hot. Cool. Yours.” This city of about 300,000 people, though, is very nearly only a nominal host of the Games. The distance of the city center to the ski runs is 37 miles.
Through the afternoon, streets were repeatedly blocked, but nobody seemed to mind. One man hoisted his son on his shoulders and stood on the roadside, waiting, he said, to see the presidential motorcade. A clutch of teachers from a city school stood giddy and joking, waiting for the opening ceremony to begin at the outdoor viewing area, called Live Site Sochi, where the games will be streamed live. “The Olympics are here and I feel it,” Yelena Tunina, a teacher, said. “We put up with a lot of inconveniences, but now everything is beautiful.”
Some in the crowd said they had tickets and were ready to watch some serious sports. Teachers got them free, through work, even to coveted events like pairs figure skating. Others said they would watch at home, or show up at the outdoor viewing area.
It was a cool but velvety evening, with a gentle wind in the cypress trees. Hats came off – though most of the police in the viewing area retained theirs – and Russian flags waved when the country’s anthem played. Some watched with mesmerized gazes at the opening act, a stylized run through Russian history, a thousand years of hardship in laser beams and light shows. Mostly, it was a night for Russians in Sochi to celebrate. — Andrew E. Kramer (End Quote)
SO SO BAD: One thing that has troubled me this week has been the widespread provincialism and nationalistic chauvinism of the comments by many who have taken to task Russia for Sochi not being "ready" for the Olympics, especially the hotel accommodations for guests, including American and other foreign reporters. Correspondents complaining that their rooms weren't ready, that the water was cold, that there were dogs in the streets, etc, etc. Jesus Christ, don't they know that Russia, albeit what we might call a "recovering Super Power" really is a huge and great nation that in many ways and in some places is still a "Third World" country?
For example, this;
(Begin Quote) Now this is strange. For the “Dance of Peace,” we hear Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” but instead of scenes from the great Russian ballet, we get a bunch of women spinning with long glow-in-the-dark strings attached to their heads so that they look not like swans but like jellyfish. At their center is the great Russian ballerina Diana Vishneva, not doing ballet. The whole thing is taken from one of her one-woman shows, a number choreographed by the tacky American modern dance choreographer Moses Pendleton. It’s a curious international exposure of questionable Russian taste. — Brian Seibert (End Quote).
Note: Both quotes are the NYTs live blogging feed.