There have been a number of questionable decisions made by the organizers of these Vancouver Games, none more controversial than erecting a ten-foot high chain link fence around the perimeter of the plaza where the Olympic flame of peace burns eternal. Somehow seems to defeat the symbolism of the torch. Vancouverites were outraged to discover that they could not get photos of themselves in front of the torch, or even an unobstructed view of the torch itself, without it appearing they were viewing the flame from prison.
Bowing to the criticism, the organizers come up with a solution that, as we used to say down at the corral, was neither slow, nor fast. It was half fast.
They cut a hole in the fence.
Yes, they also moved the perimeter of the fence in, bringing in cranes in the dead of night to relocate the huge concrete barriers to allow spectators a slightly closer view of the flame. But the fence is still there. So here's what it looks like now:
Isn't that special? Spectators can now stick their cameras through the slot in the fence and take a shot that is unimpeded by cyclone fencing, just as if we lived in a world that was sane so we didn't have to worry about--what? Someone blowing up the flame? Someone climbing up the flame to incinerate themselves?
Here's a thought. Why not just take down the fence, cordon off the flame with something tasteful, like a single heavy chain similar to say the one that surrounds the Washington Monument, and station a couple of mounties there 24/7? It would have to be cheaper than the money they've invested in building and then rebuilding the fence. And it would eliminate pathetic scenes such as this one, where proud Canadians line up three and four deep to take a snapshot of this powerful symbol of the friendly competitions between nations from behind a 10-foot barrier.
On a brighter note, the people of Canada (most of them, anyway) are totally vested in these Games. In Beijing, the Chinese were, too--there is nothing like an Olympics to wring out every drop of nationalism in a populace--but the difference between these Games and the ones held in Beijing are as different as, well, a free society and a controlled one. In Beijing, everything was managed; everything worked; the crowds were moved quickly and efficiently; and very few people laughed. Ever. In Vancouver, protests pop up at inopportune times; people mingle and linger; crowds are unruly; things break down or go awry; and everyone is shouting and laughing and bursting into song all the time. And they aren't all drunk, either.
A stroll last night down Granville St., which has been turned into a pedestrian way, was a visual feast, with street performers on every block, throngs of Canadians bedecked in bright red hockey jerseys, musicians, revelers, shoppers, all soaking up and adding to an atmosphere that was purely joyful.
Every storefront had some sort of Olympic display in the window. Every store had its merchandise interspersed with winter sports paraphernalia--used hockey skates, shinpads, skis, Canadian flags, giant mascots in chairlifts...
Roving bands of hosers wearing the sweaters of their favorite players were ringing cowbells and chanting Let's Go Canada! Let's Go Canada! as if Granville St. itself was hosting a hockey game. This is the upside of having an Olympics in a city where the temperature is in the 40s, even at night. People are out and about. The energy was terrific. The excitement genuine. The Olympic spirit had put a triple shot of oxygen in the air.