The Olympic Games are finally under way, having been kicked off with a high-energy Opening Ceremonies expressing the positive, upbeat theme: “Global Warming Will Kill Us All.”
I watched it in one of the many tiny sidewalk restaurants in Rio where they sell cheap beer in bottles large enough to accommodate an entire U.S. fraternity. The beer is used to wash down the food, which is a meat-based cuisine called “não saudável” (“not healthy”). The English menu at my restaurant listed a dish called (really) “Beef Cow Meat By Frying.” I had just the beer.
Along with the other customers, I watched the Opening Ceremonies on Brazilian TV. It was a weird experience, because — try to imagine this — they showed the whole thing, uninterrupted, with no commercials. It’s crazy! There is no way for you to know (a) what products you should purchase, and (b) when you’re supposed to go to the bathroom. Also the commentators were speaking Portuguese, so I didn’t have the benefit of commentary from experts such as Bob Costas explaining what I was seeing. (“Here are some athletes in blazers walking into the stadium. We’ll be right back, following numerous commercials, with coverage of more athletes in blazers walking into the stadium.”)
That’s the problem with the Opening Ceremonies: Too much of it — I would estimate 17 hours — consists of athletes walking into the stadium. I’m pretty sure that some of the nations, after they enter, scoot around to the back of the line, change into different-colored blazers and re-enter the stadium.
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The only real excitement during the Parade of Nations came when the team representing the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, which was supposed to have a contingent of five athletes, marched into the stadium with 73 people. It turned out that 68 of these were the Russian track and field team, attempting to sneak into the games by disguising themselves with grass skirts. They had to be forcibly ejected by green-helmeted members of the Olympic Paramilitary Friendship Force, who drove the Russians out by clubbing them with weaponized potted plants symbolizing ecological sustainability. You missed this, because NBC went to a commercial break. (NBC also cut away from the part where supermodel Gisele Bundchen was carried off in mid-catwalk by a suspected Zika mosquito the size of a Cessna.)
Other than that, the Opening Ceremonies went smoothly, culminating in the dramatic lighting of the Olympic Flame by an extremely famous Brazilian individual named Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, a marathoner from the 2004 Games. All in all I think the Brazilians put on a fine show, with no indication that they were operating on a very tight budget, aside from all the signs that said LONDON 2012.
But before you start to enjoy these Olympics, or anything else, let me remind you, as a journalist, that you need to feel sad about poverty, racism, disease, drugs, pollution, feces, political unrest, etc. I personally witnessed some political unrest here in the form of a demonstration on the street that runs alongside Copacabana Beach. It consisted of maybe 150 people marching at a leisurely pace behind a big banner that said FORA TEMER, which means basically “Temer, get out.” Temer is the interim president of Brazil, having replaced Dilma, who is facing impeachment trial. (Dilma is not to be confused with Lula, who is also facing trial.) These demonstrators want Dilma back. (I think.)
Having spent this summer watching angry spittle-emitting street protesters at the Republican and Democratic conventions, I have to say that the Brazilian protesters were a pleasantly mellow change of pace. They were led by a bullhorn-wielding woman who was demonstrating her commitment by — I am not making this up — being topless except for two strategically placed FORA TEMER stickers. The protesters didn’t seem particularly angry; every now and then they got into arguments with bystanders, but most of the time both sides were smiling, even laughing. Most of the thousands and thousands of beach-goers were paying no attention.
Even the nipple-sticker woman was not really getting a lot of stares, which you would understand if you saw what Brazilian women wear to the beach (more on this in a future column).
But enough with the in-depth political analysis. The Games have begun, which means sooner or later I should probably, as a journalist, attend an actual sporting event. All I know at this point is that the nation currently leading the medal race, much to everybody’s surprise, is Tuvalu.