Sunday Salon: On Olympics and Outhouse-cocoons

I am utterly, utterly Olympics-mad.  I know that there are problems with the Games: they are emblems of globalization, funneling money into vast corporate projects with limited long-term usefulness and fostering nationalism when their putative purpose is to shore up internationalism.  But (and this is when it becomes obvious that I am a liberal rather than a radical) I can't help it: I believe in the idealism of the transnational project of peaceful competition, mutual respect, and the pursuit of achievement, even when it fails to meet its own standards.  The striving is all.

So in honor of the Olympics, I give you this cairn or inukshuk (the inspired Olympic logo for Vancouver) that D and I happened upon along the Fundy Shore of New Brunswick this summer.   Fundy sees the most extreme tides in the world: while we stood on this "beach," the tide began coming dramatically, visibly in, minute by minute.  Soon this wee inukshuk would be an island.

I have a particular fondness for the Winter Olympics, because I love obscure and poorly funded sports.  The more alien a sport is to my understanding, the more I want to watch every moment of it, and learn about the histories of the athletes who have dedicated their whole life to it.  Similarly, in the Opening Ceremonies, I weep voluminously over every team with just one athlete.  Imagine the pride in achievement, I blubber quietly to myself, to be the first Ghanaian (for instance) ever to qualify for the Winter Olympics, like the evocatively named "Snow Leopard."

What did you think of the opening ceremonies?  These are the first Olympics I have seen from outside the States (although there may have been one in my childhood that I watched from France - I can't quite remember), so I am struck by differences in coverage.  Essentially Canadian nationalism (Will this be the time when Canada finally wins a gold at home?  Will it? WILL IT???) replaces American nationalism in shaping the media coverage, all the more so in the opening ceremonies, in which Canada represents itself to itself, and itself to the world.  My Canadian friends felt that the way the First Nations performers were incorporated into the ceremonies had the ring of craven exploitation, of pretending to an attention to the history and concerns of indigenous peoples that the government does not, in fact, demonstrate in everyday practice.  In my Intro to Drama course on Tuesday, I am going to ask my students to talk about the Opening Ceremonies as a type of public national theatre, like the tragedy and comedy of fifth century Athens: how did the Games define their audience?  How did the allegory of national values work?

So, what have I been up to this week, apart from Olympics-obsessing? 

My mother was stranded here on a visit with me in Nova Scotia after Snowmageddon prevented her return to Washington, DC, so she went with me to a reading of the poems of Canadian poet-playwright and eccentric James Reaney that I participated in.  Reaney's poetry was a revelation: funny and vehement and odd beyond belief.  My poem was an "Invocation to the Muse of Satire," and began with this ritually rhythmic, deeply satisfying-to-speak introduction:
With Punch's stick (he holds it in his hand)
Beat fertility into a sterile land
and ends with another nod to the violently regenerative role of satire in society:

Has no one seen the country where your cure has nursed?
It is a land of upturned privies with occupants inside them
Crawling out through new tops like astonished moths
Bursting from their unusual, foul and dark cocoons.

I can't recommend the Reaney works I heard at the reading highly enough; more on this, I hope, when my copy of the book comes in.  They are all filled with this sort of vivid, irreverent imagery.

I just finished 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School and Bettie Sharpe's Ember (hope springs eternal in the reviewer's breast that I will have posts up about these soon), which were both profoundly satisfying defamiliarizations of their very different subjects (the nature of the architectural spaces we move through every day, and the idea of personal agency in the world of fairy tales).

Now I continue on with my long-term projects (Sense and Sensibility and the Beckett trilogy), and pick up The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, in the hope of finishing my heavy hardback copy before (hurrah!) leaving for Los Angeles at the end of the week. (Did I mention that in Nova Scotian universities, there is no Spring Break.  Instead it happens in February and we call it "Winter Break." A bit grim, eh?  Still, I shouldn't complain - the weather has been milder here this winter than anywhere else on the east coast I have ever lived.)

I am in the middle of watching Jules and Jim for my 1001 Movies Project (and, more pressingly, my Get My Tivo Cleared Off So That I Can Record More Obscure Olympic Sports Project), and it is quite, quite brilliant.  I heart Jeanne Moreau.  And so, apparently, do both Jules and his buddy Jim.  It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a love triangle so completely.  (Wait, untrue: LOST and Hunger Games both have really excellent love triangles, as do True Blood/the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  That's right, I just compared Truffaut to LOST and Charlaine Harris.  That's the way I roll.)
A couple of posts from the week gone by on Sycorax Pine:

Righto: short-track speed-skating calls, and I needs must answer.

5 Responses so far.

  1. Christina says:

    I enjoy watching the Olympics, but I wouldn't describe myself as "Olympics-mad". I guess I've always just looked at is if I miss it, that's okay. But I do prefer the winter games over the summer Olympics; probably because I'm a skier, not a gymnast.

  2. Eva says:

    I had a similar reaction to the First Nations stuff as your Canadian friends. ;)

    I'm not Olympics-mad, but my parents are, so since I live with them I end up catching a lot of it. I get too stressed out, worrying about the poor athletes-how they only get one chance every four years, and how awful it must feel to blow it. Basically, I want everyone to be a winner. LOL

  3. Yes, I think I might be more Olympics-mad than most, I blush to say. In fact, I just told a friend today that it was always on in my house, "like an IV drip."

    And the odd thing is that I am not remotely athletic myself, and especially not a skier (I've never skied, sadly!) - so you already ahead of me in understand, Christina!

    And the way I look at it, Eva, is that it is only those athletes who tell themselves that it is all about winning who end up suffering disappointment. For most athletes at the Olympics, simply being there and getting to compete with the cream of their field is a distinction that they can take with them for the rest of time. That is why I am kind of icked out by all this gold-medal tallying that the superpowers do.

    It is an honor just to be nominated, I tell you!

  4. nicole says:

    I love Jules and Jim! It's always so exciting to see someone else watching and enjoying my all-time fave. I heart Jeanne Moreau too! Your post immediately made me think of the scene where Jim says something about how Catherine acts like she's a queen, and Jules says, "Mais c'est une reine, Jim." Ahh, too many favorite lines from that one.

    I haven't seen any of the Olympics this year myself, but in a past life I was an American living in Canada and also noted the different type of nationalism, both in a previous winter Olympics and also in a lot of annual figure skating events. Also got me to enjoy watching some Canadian sports like curling!

  5. Nicole:

    Oh, curling! I too will never tire of it. I just wish it were on at times of day when I am not at work. Sigh...

    I talked to my (Canadian) students today about the nationalism on display in these winter games. Some of them felt that the games had been more interested in performing a commercialized set of stereotypes about Canada for the world. They also told me that their American friends couldn't understand half of the elements that were woven into the opening ceremonies, so they doubted how legible that performance was to international audiences. It was a really fascinating, spirited discussion.

    Meanwhile - I must get your advice on being an American in Canada. I am stumbling into the first tax season now, as well as tangled tasks of starting all over again in establishing credit, paying twice as much for car insurance, etc. It is amazing how much it feels like home (and how much I love it here, I hasten to say), but how alien some really basic things feel!

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