Dave Barry

Sadly, Dong Dong can’t turn green water into wine

Dave Barry discovers something other than fish in the ocean off Rio

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry roams the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to discover (and make sense of) all the sights and sounds surrounding the 2016 Olympic Games.
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Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry roams the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to discover (and make sense of) all the sights and sounds surrounding the 2016 Olympic Games.

I regret to inform you that catastrophe has struck these Olympic Games in the form of a disaster so tragic, so sad, so heart-rending, so dreadful and so appalling that I am running out of words to describe it using the “synonyms” tool in Microsoft Word.

That’s right: The unthinkable thing that we don’t even want to think about has happened.

Dong Dong failed to win the men’s trampoline event.

He was beaten for the gold medal by a person allegedly named “Uladzislau Hancharou” from the alleged nation of “Belarus.” Dong Dong won the silver medal, and although he was clearly disappointed, he showed his class afterward by making a remarkably thoughtful, generous and self-effacing statement, although nobody knows what it was because it was in Chinese.

And that is not the only bad news from these Olympics. As I write these words, the Brazilians still have not solved the mystery of the Green Diving Pool of Doom, which recently, in an eruption of bubbles, burped up what forensic scientists have tentatively identified as the corpse of Jimmy Hoffa. Out of concern for the safety of the athletes, officials have closed the pool and moved the remaining diving events to a Holiday Inn Express near the airport. The pool there has a maximum depth of four feet, so the rules had to be modified somewhat, but U.S. divers are dominating thanks to their mastery of a technique known technically as the “cannonball.”

Aside from that, the Olympics are going well, with many exciting sporting events that I am unable to inform you about because I have been devoting my time to trying to get into “hospitality houses.” These are big dramatic spaces — mansions, museums, etc.— that are rented during the Olympics by nations and corporations and converted into lavish temporary clubs for promotional and schmoozing purposes. Some are open to the public (although you often have to pay); others are just for VIPs and athletes.

By posing as a professional journalist I was able to wangle my way into one of the two houses operated by Nike, the multi-billion-dollar athletic-shoe-and-apparel company that is far more powerful than, for example, the United Nations. Nike has rented a luxury penthouse atop a 15-story building with a spectacular view of Copacabana Beach. I do not know the rental price for this space, but it may help explain why a pair of modern athletic shoes costs the equivalent of a semester at Yale.

When I arrived in the penthouse, there were a few Nike people quietly doing Nike things, but as far as I can tell I was the only visitor. The ambience was hushed; it felt like a high-end art gallery, except instead of art, there were tasteful displays of Nike footwear. You can’t call these things “sneakers.” These are not the heavy black U.S. Keds I wore when I was a schoolboy and mastodons roamed the Earth. These are superlight high-tech exotic creations designed by famous celebrity shoe designers who are extremely well known wherever shoe designers are known.

A Nike person let me briefly hold a state-of-the-art pink-and-neon-yellow sprinter’s shoe. It weighed one-billionth of an ounce and did not look like human apparel. It looked like a mutant space insect. It looked as though — assuming you were brave enough to put it on — it would enable you to not only sprint very fast, but also travel through time. (When I say “you,” I don’t mean you personally, of course. You don’t have that kind of money.)

The Nike penthouse was interesting, but my favorite hospitality house here is Hungary House. Budapest is one of five cities competing to host the 2024 Olympics, so the Hungarians have rented out a large club and filled it with exhibits depicting traditional Hungarian culture, including a large photo of men in traditional garb throwing buckets of water on a traditionally garbed woman. Really. This is not explained in the exhibit, so I looked it up on the Internet, which states (I am not making this up): “Each year, some Hungarian men and women like to celebrate Easter with a traditional event known as ‘the watering of the girls.’”

But the highlight of Hungary House, and maybe the entire Olympics, is out behind the club, where the Hungarians have set up an enormous, house-sized replica of a Rubik’s Cube. (I am still not making this up.) It turns out that the Rubik’s Cube was invented by the Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture after whom it is named: Harold Cube.

No, seriously his name is Ernő Rubik, and Hungary is super proud of him. The giant cube is a wonderful sight; if you stand in the right place, you see the cube in the foreground, and behind it, atop the mountain in the distance, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, holding his arms out as if to say, “I can turn water into wine, but I am darned if I can solve THIS thing!”

I think they should award the Olympics to Hungary, and make Rubik’s Cube one of the events. Also the watering of the girls. Assuming they can keep the water from turning green.