Saturday, August 09, 2008

Reality wrapped in a nest of joy and historic scope

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the latest stunning installment of which we witnessed last night, have the power and global reach to tell us a lot about what's good and what's less than good about the world at a given moment. Chief among the good on display 8/8/08 would have to be the awe-inspiring spectacle carried out, under the grand cinematic eye of Zhang Yimou, by the cheerful, intense and well-rehearsed thousands of Chinese who got to be a part of the show at the Bird's Nest. It really was stirring in a way that surpasses most of what memories I have of other artistic displays preceding other games. Yes, it could be seen as a brilliant piece of propaganda for the Communist Party, but I'm willing to accept that taint for the beauty it held.

The second act, of course, is the parade of nations, when a taste of reality sets in: We are reminded of all the war-torn and poverty stricken countries that still cover the earth and we are reminded of how, while we do a lot as a country to ease those pains, we do much also to cause them, whether directly or indirectly. We are reminded of how so many countries continue to treat women as lesser humans, whether through national policy or less-official though no less scary means. We're reminded of how fluid the flags under which the athletes compete can be -- whether for noble reasons or more pecuniary ones. Thus is the ebb and flow of globalization. And of course, the ideal of the Olympic truce was thrown out the window this year, as Russia and Georgia raised arms against one another yesterday.

Lucky, for hopeful people, there is a third act to these ceremonies: the finale of the worldwide torch relay. Eight last runners carried the Olympic flame around the National Stadium -- truly a work of art in itself and already one of my favorite new buildings of this century. Li Ning, a 1984 medalist in gymnastics, received it last. He was lifted into the sky and "ran" around the circumference of the stadium's rooftop scrim before lighting the cauldron, a structure twisted like the end of a scroll. It continued a moving theme of the evening from a country that invented paper and printing. If you didn't get a chance to see the ceremonies, look for an opportunity to do so. I will remember it for a long time.

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