Olympic Diary (1)

Well, we don’t actually have any sporting events to go to until Tuesday (when we get to see both the Brazilian men and women beach volleyball teams in action), but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy with Olympic stuff. There’s an astonishing number of non-athletic events going on, and, what the hell, we live there, so we’re going to try to do as much as we can. For example, yesterday we wandered over to the Austrian and Danish food events that many countries are having. Austria’s was at Trinity House, which is actually about a two minute walk from my office, so I know where I’ll be having lunch for the next two weeks. Denmark’s food stuff is going on down in St. Katherine’s Docks, also nearby. And they’re having a Viking ship show up next week.

A number of countries are having National House events, and they’re all over London. And they all look like great fun. Germany has taken over the Dockland Museum. Brazil will be showcasing itself, and the next Summer Olympics, over at Somerset House. South Africa is moving into Queen Elizabeth Hall at South Bank for two weeks of music and dances. Trinidad & Tobago will be over at the Tricycle Theatre. Not everyone is having one, of course—but it’s neat to know that a number of African countries have banded together for an African House over at Kensington Gardens.

So I hope all of these venues will be as crowded as the Denmark one was. And it sure feels as if there are a lot of people here—the area around Tower Hill, where my office is, is already pretty crowded. But it’s interesting—we have had absolutely no problems getting around. The tube has generally been running without incident. There are lots of helpful people about with those weird-colored uniforms. And, aside from the rainstorms today (one of which included hail), the weather has been pretty cooperative. Although it may not stay that way—we’re probably going to get rained on at beach volleyball on Tuesday. Our other events—handball on Thursday, and diving on Friday—are both indoors, so the rain won’t matter so much then.

Since we didn’t have tickets to the Opening Ceremonies, we thought we’d try something else, so we booked a couple of tickets on one of a bunch of Dutch clippers that were taking people out on the Thames to see the fireworks. Well, that didn’t quite work out—the ceremony went a long time, as we know it would, but there weren’t a whole lot of fireworks, either. Plus it was a four-and-a-half-hour boat trip, and lovely as it was to see all the lights along the Thames at night, including on Tower Bridge, it was just too long, and we didn’t get home until 3:00.

It wasn’t until the next day, when we watched the Opening Ceremonies on BBC iplayer (which I think isn’t available in the US, but try anyway), that we realized why the fireworks weren’t that big a deal—it was because director Danny Boyle had decided they shouldn’t be. I think he put on the most remarkable opening ceremony since the Norwegian one at Lillehammer in 1994, which I still have fond memories of, with all those elves popping out of the mountainside and that amazing music by Bukkene Bruse. Everyone seems to be assuming that the Chinese one four years ago is the standard here, but I never thought so. Lots and lots of perfectly synchronized drummers, but still, that bit with the little girl lip-synching, and the fake fireworks, all kind of turned me off. Boyle’s vision was brilliant, I thought, in part because it didn’t have that vaguely totalitarian feel. It was a true celebration of Britishness uniqueness, from the pastoral early days to the industrialization period (Kenneth Branagh as Brunel, and if you don’t know who Brunel is, find out—many American reviewers thought Branagh was supposed to be a character from Dickens), through modern Britain, with its films, its childrens’ literature, its music, its technologies. Ford Maddox Ford once noted—in fact wrote three books about—the British ability to somehow accommodate everyone and everything—and Boyle captured that wonderfully. And the bits on the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital were inspiring, designed to both stick it to America and bring a bit of a lump to the throat. And these succeeded on both counts.

It turns out, as well, that these were done on the cheap, at £27 million—less than half what Beijing’s cost. All those NHS dancers? Volunteers from, yes, the NHS. Ditto the GOSH doctors and nurses. Ditto, well, the majority of the participants. People put in hundreds of hours learning to dance, and it worked. And no one outside knew anything—what the ceremony would entail, who would light the torch (seven young athletes, as it turned out), what would David Beckham do? Well, he did fine, bringing the torch on its final leg in a speedboat on the Thames, where it was passed on to Steve Redgrave. And the torch lighting was magnificent, I thought, with one of the petals that those kids were carrying with the athletes for each country, rising to form a uniform flame—just breathtaking. And each country will take its petal back home when the Olympics are done—neat.

It also required that you actually needed to know something about British history, which I gather the good old ignoramuses at NBC could be relied on to fail at—neither Matt Lauer nor Meredith Viera know who Tim Berners-Lee is, for example. Typical. Much has been made here of NBC’s decision to not include the brilliant dance sequence commemorating those who weren’t there (which was never intended to be just the victims of 7/7, btw—that was the doltish BBC commentator’s mis-statement). Honestly, as someone who can watch all this on two BBC channels—no commercials, fancy that—and also Eurosport, which does a fine job too—often better than the BBC, in fact—I have great sympathy for those who will only get this through NBC. Let me know if you actually get to see any events that don’t involve Americans. Meanwhile, I got to watch a cracking volleyball match last night between the Brazilian and Turkish women’s teams. I don’t imagine NBC covered that. Did I mention that the BBC has no commercials?

And the less said about Mitt Romney’s manifold insults to the British preparations for the Olympics, as well as his other screw-ups, the better. Mitt foot, meet Mitt mouth. As Carl Lewis said, some Americans just shouldn’t leave the country. It’s been some time since an American politician has been roasted so resoundingly in the British press, as well as by the Mayor of London (a Tory) and, oh, yes, the Prime Minister (ah, another Tory) as well. Most memorable was the Mitt the Twit headline in Murdoch’s The Sun. Predictably, this has already generated a heated response from one of the half-wits at Fox, who is telling Britain to “back off.” Hmm, isn’t Fox Murdoch too? So hard to keep this stuff straight. Anyway, this is no one that anyone here has ever heard of, so who cares? Poor Fox News—it still thinks America runs the world. This would be cute if it weren’t dangerous.

More on Tuesday after the beach volleyball.

Update: Here’s what NBC decided not to show America.

1 reply »

  1. I have made it a point to *not* follow the Olympics because the televised version of the Games that I get is hyper-commercialized and overly Americanized. This piece was a good read, though, and I hope the (1) in the headlines means we can expect more dispatches like this.