Category Archives: 2010 Olympics

Viva Vancouver!

When things work out well – contrary to expectation – it is only right and proper that one acknowledge this. And, as it turns out, the Olympics (whatever the long-term consequences might be) appear to have been a stellar experience.  People even less enthused about them than I (whose interest, to quote Edward Lear, would have had to grow to be even cursory) have told me that the energy was positive, the vibe, good and the atmosphere good-natured: in short, the whole experience was simply splendid.  For whatever reason, these 2010 Winter  Olympics brought out the best in people, visitors and residents alike.

So all in all A Good Thing – and now that the 2010 Winter Olympic and ParaOlympic Games are over, closing ceremonies and fireworks finished, one can breathe a sigh of relief and say: Bravo Vancouver!

Inevitably, a handful of people have taken this wonderful memory way, way too far – at least according to what I read. These folk are said to be “grieving” the end of this huge party, this wonderful feeling of liberation, this sense that Vancouver was a real city, united and at one with the universe. Ah, get over it. Parties end, everybody goes home, the mess has to be cleaned up.

I’ll wager the many small businesses who did zero business during the Olympics aren’t that sorry to seen the end of it, no matter how much as individuals they may have liked dancing in the streets. (A merchant at Granville Island, a hub for many pavilions and events, told me that “unless you sold fast food or booze you didn’t sell anything”.) Perhaps that is why, pleased as I am that it all went well, that I am glad (nay, ecstatic) that I left the city and that it’s bloody over.

My impression is that festivities tended towards youthful exuberance and the beer-fuelled; my proclivities tend more towards red wine and quiet jazz. A friend who wrote an Olympic Diary to record the wonderful time she and her husband had relates that they stood in line for nearly three hours to get into some pavilion or t’other – and frankly, I wouldn’t stand in line that long to meet the late JC .

I don’t see the point of wandering the streets, no matter how charming the crowd or super-cool the win – which that Canada-US hockey final turned out to be.

And the crowds go wild when Canada wins hockey gold

Even the massive police presence felt benign, protective, apparently. There were a few hiccups at the start, particularly the second day when some scary looking ski-masked thugs broke windows at the Bay downtown and the police looked really jittery. But things settled down – and the massive crowds felt like a large, happy family.  Another friend, about as enthused as I was at the outset, told me he found himself (much to his own astonishment) high-fiving a large, mildly sossled,  American gent partying downtown and this uncharacteristic gesture actually felt right.  OK, that’s impressive.

Perhaps it was all that international attention, the bulk of it positive.  This I noticed on my travels; people really seemed psyched about Vancouver and not just the gorgeous scenery, although that did garner much attention. The mountains! The water! The forests! Si beau! And wasn’t I lucky to live in such surroundings. I smiled and mumbled something lame. One cannot, after all, take credit for nature. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little chuffed. (I didn’t mention I live in the heart of the city and not up in the Whistler mountains.)

Most impressive was the fact that more people turned out to watch and cheer the ParaOlympian athletes than ever before, something no host city or country has done. That was elegant.

So now can we say it was all worth it? Too soon to say, really. True,  we did get a metro to the airport from downtown (though having lived a few blocks away from the construction I am still smarting from the dust and noise). And Vancouver did raise its international profile – but will that translate into actual benefits, economic or otherwise? More investment, better and more social housing, fewer homeless people, more opportunities? Possibly, but I doubt it.

In the grand scheme of things, then, did any of it matter? This short event, lasting only a few weeks, no matter how grand everyone says it was? To quote Bertrand Russell: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd.”

Well, a spot of absurdity is not the worst of things in a world where so much seems so unrelentingly dreary.  So, ephemeral as it may have been,  to everyone who was here, to the many volunteers and guides and people who worked on the Games, to the athletes and coaches and all the rest: a tip of my fedora and a red-mittened high five.

The Vancouver Olympics may not have changed the world, but they didn’t stink. A curmudgeon can’t say fairer than that.

My friend, web designer Mia Johnson, with  her daughter & gallery owner Diane Farris out there after that hockey win.

Winning at all cost seems vaguely inelegant

Sport, said George Orwell, is war minus the shooting. It brings out the worst in us: violence, jealousy and boastfulness. As I’ve watched bits of the coverage on the many screens around town (difficult to avoid no matter how hard one tries) it seems to me the only noun he missed was “irony”.

Here we are, tens upon thousands of us, queuing up to watch the athletes compete, hooting and hollering when “our” lot wins – in a manner so unseemly, if not outright rude, that it is difficult to recall what the spirit of the Olympics, and Olympians, was even supposed to be, no matter how many speeches IOC officials make.

Shouldn't we all have fun with sport?

Now to say that I’m no athlete is to understate understatement: I was one of those scrawny kids always picked last and under duress. And if the dodge or base or whatever ball ever did wend its way towards me, by that point I was usually off in my own world, “dans la lune” as my grandmother called it, and missed it (to the anguished shrieks of “Su-SAN!” from my exasperated teammates). So I am no expert on sport – well, not winning sport anyway.

Nevertheless, even I managed to find a sport (figure skating) that I could do alone, in my own time (which means slowly – I am nothing if not slow when it comes to sport). So, I figure that if I can manage to find something to enjoy, oughtn’t everyone? Particularly given that exercise and movement are two of the few things our bodies were designed to do that can actually (somewhat) help us keep healthy?

When it comes to the biggest sporting event in the world, however, I am having trouble deconstructing precisely how this incessant talk of gold and medals and winning somehow equals some kind of grand social uplift. Particularly – as a friend who is watching the coverage, points out – as any athlete beneath the top three gets zero coverage or mention. For heaven’s sake, these are athletes who made it all the way to the Olympics. Surely, even if they don’t win a medal they’re still pretty good, no?

I am nonplussed at how all this gloating too many Canadians seem to be engaged in (surely, Canada, we’re better than that?!) on how we won gold (and are so great we’ll win more, heck all the gold) constitutes “sports”manship. Or how this pageantry – for which we will end up paying, in actual money, for many years – is anything other than a very large party for a handful of people and largely meaningless, at least as it exists now, in the grand scheme of things.

Most of all, I wonder how we are glorifying sport and movement and the human body by sitting on our duffs in some stadium waving flags and hollering ourselves hoarse.

Exercise is no panacea, contrary to what the cheerleaders of the “wellness and prevention” model of health care seem to think (they always come out of the woodwork when there is any talk of altering the existing model of health care in any way); it is, nevertheless, one of the few things we can do to make a difference in our overall health. True, it won’t ward off most cancers or prevent the auto-immune disorders we tend to get as we get older – Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes – or matter as much as socio-economic status, but keeping fit, keeping oneself moving does bode well on many levels, both physiological and psychological.

Mastery over our own body, however miniscule (and believe me, I understand this) allows us to keep our bones strong and gives us a sense of strength and control which may well translate into feelings of autonomy in other areas of our lives, from work and career to friends and family. For women, it allows us the internal strength to open that jar or stuck window without needing to call for help and that is nothing to sneeze at. Knowing you can do things. It’s subtle and nuanced but it matters.

Even I, who always dropped the ball, know this.  I am not sure these Olympics as they have been presented do.

Flamin’ heck

I serendipitously saw the Olympic torch today.

Not what I saw but you get the picture

I was heading to an appointment; I usually take the bus but today I had some things to do (plus it was rainy and cold), so I took the car. At Oak and 25th traffic came to a dead halt – and sirens blared, lights flashed and lo and behold, a gaggle of burly motorcycle cops authoritatively slid their massive bikes into the intersection in slick, circular movements that would have done a stuntman proud. Still, I couldn’t help thinking they looked a bit like alien visitors, these police men and (presumably) women, however asexual they seemed. (And I don’t mean the warm fuzzy kind, like ALF or my favorite Martian but the creepy ones in “V” – here to conquer the planet and eat earthlings for lunch.) Maybe it was their shiny yellow rain gear or those black helmets with the visors. In fact, next to them the small group of bicycle cops looked positively cherubic.

As people got out of their cars and reached for their camera phones even I began to realize Something Was Up. And in a few minutes, there it was, the Olympic flame, carried by a pretty young woman in a white ski suit. No idea who she was but then again, I don’t know such things.

I tried to muster up some enthusiasm – it really seemed too bad of me not to be swept up by all this excitement. I think I lack the fun/pageantry gene, like most curmudgeons. Oh well, maybe one of these days one of those dandy new gene “technologies” that so far have only managed to kill people will find a cure.

But I digress. So, the torch went by and it was just terrific and all that.

Then, some 20 minutes later, as it headed off it seemed we might be able to move. Given that I was the first car in my lane, I gingerly moved forward – unsure as to whether or not I was doing the “right” thing – and, given the massive police presence, what it would mean if I did the “wrong” thing. A ticket? Handcuffs? Worse? That’s the problem when security outpaces our ability to understand or communicate its meaning; for months they’ve been telling us about various restrictions but in such general terms that (other than knowing there’s some kind of cool “central command” to coordinate security) we have no idea what any of it means.

This got me to thinking of  lecture I had watched on cable television the night before, the proceedings of some meeting or conference titled “The Right to the City: The Economics of the 2010 Olympics” – specifically a talk by the BC Civil Liberties’ Michael Vonn. In calm tones she explained how mega events such as the 2010 Olympics which are about to begin in Vancouver, create an environment, under the guise of safety and security, that essentially “militarize’ civil society.

People who would normally never agree such things under normal circumstances – be it large numbers of surveillance cameras, scanners and weapons grade technologies (like that sonar thingie the Vancouver police just got – even though apparently they are not allowed to use it) – agree that the event must be kept safe. So the militarization begins, as do the limitations on free speech and various civil liberties. Vonn related how at that last large conference in Copenhagen, some 1000 potential protesters were arrested before they did anything. In case they did. (“Yes, in Denmark.”)

And of course the security that’s put in place never does manage to get dismantled after the event. It was a terrific talk and it’s available on line at  Stuck behind the procession, I thought of this. Then, a little kid happily waving his maple leaf in the rain even seemed to think I was part of it, cheerfully calling out, “Hello person in the car! Are you an athlete?” OK, that was cute. But cute only lasts for 30 seconds; surveillance is forever. But, being the curmudgeon that I am, I began to wonder what this event would mean for this child’s future liberties and his democratic rights.

Yes, that’s cynical, particularly at a time when even people who weren’t all that keen on the Olympics are sighing and saying, “What the heck, we’re going to pay for it anyway so we may as well enjoy it.”  But cynicism, as Lillian Hellman once said, is really just an unpleasant way of speaking the truth.

Now if we could just speak truth to power.