In an effort to ‘Pepys-ify’ this blog for posterity, I shall endeavor to file a little report on a current event happening in my country this month.
I am referring, of course, to the Olympics.
Let’s start before the beginning. In an effort, perhaps misguided, to focus the nation’s attention on Vancouver, about as far away as you can get in this country from Ottawa, its capital, our minority Prime Minister looked at the lengthy list of bills waiting to be passed during the current session, quickly closed up shop and brought the business of government to a halt. Much more efficient than the filibuster, the ‘proroguing’ of parliament is such an unfamiliar tactic that it doesn’t even appear in the Encarta dictionary which I just accessed to check on its spelling, to no avail. This move enabled our elected representatives to take a break for a couple of winter months, to stick their toes in the hot sand on a Caribbean beach before migrating north to the festivities in Whistler. Canada is way ahead of the States in this sort of thing, when you think of it. Those poor U.S. Senators and Congressmen are freezing off whatever appendages they haven’t sold off to the highest bidder, in one of Washington’s worst winters, and seem to be making about the same legislative progress, that is to say, none.
The fuss over all this didn’t last too long. Nothing really important ever does these days. It didn’t take long for the anticipation of the event took over, as it usually does in the so-called ‘host country’, an old native term meaning ‘stuck with the bill’. (And we have lots of old natives in this country, as witnessed during the big Opening Ceremonies). As I settled down to watch this much- heralded extravaganza, I could not help but recall previous displays, those both over and under the top. My memory fades in and out these days, but I do recall millions of Chinese people conscripted to dance in a synchronized fury a few years ago. And something about ten thousand white grand pianos hovering over a huge Los Angeles colosseum in another season. Then, of course, there was the quaint and curious collection of gremlins prancing around Lillehammer, so I never knew what to expect.
Canada, I figured rightly, could be characteristically counted on to come out somewhere in between the extremes. It is in its Charter of Rights, Freedoms and Political Correctness. The first thing I see is this crazy snowboarder jumping off one of our highest Rockies to barrel down the slopes at full speed, reminding all of the nation’s Jewish mothers why they can’t sleep at night. His timely entry into the venue sets off a flurry of fireworks and we are introduced to the platform party, most of who are not there yet. Poor old Michal Jean, our Queen-designate, stands pretty much alone amongst the empty chairs, sans tiara, without even a parka to keep her warm, waving at the disinterested crowd. She is dressed for a sophisticated cocktail party, in a silvery grey suit, which blends completely into the background. We Canadians don’t make a fuss over our figureheads of State, even on special occasions, it seems. Eventually a few dignitaries show up, none of them recognizable, except for the aforementioned PM, Mr. Harper, off early from work, accompanied by his lovely wife who has the decency to wear a red dress.
The revels begin. Before the march of the athletes, the TV world is introduced to peoples of Canada in the form of Native Tribes from the four corners of the country, hauled off the reservations and casinos for occasions such as these, dressed in full battle regalia, down to the furs, feathers and sequins made popular during the days before Confederation. Not having enough indigenous peoples left in the country, a few pale-faced locals snuck in, conscripted to fill in the moccasins, here and there. This crowd hopped and hooted enthusiastically the entire time the athletes from the various nations paraded into the stadium, causing my husband to look up from his iPhone and comment at their amazing stamina.
Of course, we all know there is something in the water in British Columbia! (And it ain't the salmon).
I could not help but wonder where the millions of ‘New Canadians’ were. No one who came over during the past five hundred years or so apparently qualified as Canadian, in the eyes of the producers. To me, it seemed like a missed opportunity to show our inclusivity as the great ‘tossed salad’ nation that we have become. (For my American readers, this is the metaphor that is pounded into the kiddies’ heads in grade school, to distinguish us favorably from the American ‘melting pot’ archetype). Imagine the arena filled with exotic immigrants, fleeing to Canada to urban ghettos, from around the world, dancing up a storm in their national costumes, which they are, of course, entitled, even encouraged to wear, unlike in France.
And where, pray tell, were representatives of the countless civil servants who slave away, quietly, in our nation's capitals? Whither the Bay Street Bankers, farmers and fisherfolk? By the way, if you need any further evidence that Vancouver hates Toronto, you have to look no further than this total shunning of the country's (ahem) financial engine.
When we wonder why Americans think of us only as a country of icy igloos, whales and polar bears, we have only to replay this spectacle to remind us of our own complicity in the circulation of this clichéd notion.
All the Canadian greats and near-greats, who might be recognized by Americans, were shlepped out for the entertainment portions. Some were curiously missing. I guess Celine has an exclusive with Vegas. Unfortunately, I nodded off during the East Coast/Quebec Irish/Scottish fiddling conclave, which was the noisiest portion of the evening, but I was able to catch it later on ‘time delay’ and was very impressed with both the high flying kilts, cool tattoos and my ability to sleep through such a racket. I was especially delighted to see Donald Sutherland, hoisting the flag, in the flesh, after hearing his disembodied voice about a thousand times a day on every media, as the spokesman for the games. I think his mellifluous tonsils deserve a rest now.
We certainly showed that we, too, could put on a super-duper bowl event to rival any gladiatorial slaughter in history.
Let the games begin.