My wife and I really have enjoyed the Winter Olympics. We got off to a rocky start with Charter Cable, though. The morning paper indicated we could see the opening live on the Montreal station, which our guide indicated was channel 18. I turned on the set to that channel and was confronted with “NOT AUTORIZED: HUB.” A call to the local telephone number was useless: it is for subscribing or checking bills. The CALL CHARTER number led to an automated answering system where I had to say “No” a number of times, in an increasingly loud voice. Finally a human answered. I explained the problem. “I’ll transfer your call.” Another human; I explained the problem: “I’ll transfer your call.” A third human transferred me again. A mild-mannered young man answered. I explained for the fourth time. “What is your area code?” he asked. I told him. “I am sending a signal to your system. It will take a minute.” Nothing happened. “What channel was that again?” I told him. There was a pause. “Oh, they have transferred that to channel 3.” I switched and there was the opening ceremony. I thanked the young man. “Do you wish to take a survey on the quality of our service?” I declined.
The opening ceremony was extravagant. Well when a country spends $50 billion on the Winter Olympics what else would you expect? There were many special effects, and I am sure many of you watched. What upset me was the sanitized history of Russia it depicted. Apparently, Trotsky wasn’t assassinated, nor were most of the Mensheviks, who helped Stalin get into power. The revolution was rather bloodless and everybody enjoyed their new freedom. World War II, in this rendition, did not lead to the deliberate starvation of millions of peasants; many of the Cossacks were not slaughtered after they had saved the army. And many of the satellite countries were not overrun and turned into Soviet states. No mention of Gulags, and Siberia was a pleasant place to winter-over. The Cold War never happened in this fairytale, and the Soviet Union did not collapse because of the complete failure of communism. In fact the word “communism” is never even mentioned.
And as to the supposed “friendliness” of Russians, when Nedra and I visited St. Petersburg, we never saw anyone happy. We did witness the Midnight Sun, but the city was dismal, the people on the streets seemed resigned, and the Hermitage was downright gloomy. The only hint of a smile was on the face of one of the solemn uniformed security agents as we were leaving when I said “Da sveedaneeya, tovaris.” The tour guide had taught me to say it:”Goodbye, friend.” Yeah, right.
Putin’s Potemkin Village must be a strange experience to those attending the Olympics. Many of the buildings were incomplete and some of the hotel rooms didn’t have furniture at first. The strangest photo I saw was of a typical bathroom, with a sign by a special pail, “Don’t flush toilet paper!” The location also seems peculiar: near the Black Sea, Sochi is a sub-tropical resort. Putin wants it, Putin gets it. But is it good for Russia? Putin wants his country to be great, yet he refuses to do great things with his country. The games have done more to divide his people than unite them.
As to the games, we have found the Montreal coverage during the daytime to be better than other stations. Many of the events are live. They switch from venue to venue quickly. The commentators are brief and not self-opinionated. The advertising is short and often related to the Olympics. Of course, we are fortunate to be able to watch during the daytime. In the evening we switch from channel to channel, however.
I have to admit, I prefer the Winter Olympics to those in the summer. Growing up in New England, we had lots of snow, frozen ponds and great sledding hills. We have watched men’s and women’s skating, luge, downhill, ski jumping — they sure have improved the safety of the hills—, snowboarding, skiing, bobsled, curling, well just about anything and everything. There are 88 countries participating in these Olympics and 2,800 athletes, a splendid gathering.
The games go on until February 23. As I write this there has been neither sabotage, nor disturbances within the Steel Ring around Sochi, with its 40,000 Russian security people within it. May that hold true throughout the rest of the games. The next Winter Olympics, in 2018, will be in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Let us hope that by then, North Korea will become a bit more sane than it appears to be now. In the meantime, let the 2014 Winter Olympics end well!