Sunday, February 12, 2006

Grand Torino

Thank god for Bob Costas. Without the Dick Clark of the Olympics to call the play by play for the Torino Opening Ceremonies, I might have thought I’d stumbled onto a performance of “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: The Musical.” Why do the kick offs to these quadrennial sporting events always come across as Cirque de Soleil on acid? U.S. editions are the exception, where nothing screams American culture and history like a good ol' hoedown. And then we bring out the covered wagons. I suppose that's one way of convincing the world we're serious about kicking our addiction to foreign oil.

In Torino, we had speedskaters with flaming fire balls attached to their backs, a performance by the Von Trapp Family: Next Generation and dancers wearing costumes that resembled nothing so much as a Gateway computer box. No one escaped the Vortex of the Weird, not even Giorgio Armani. Earlier in the week, the king of couture had complained about the dowdy tracksuit he was forced to don during his stint as a torch bearer. M-kay. But were the hospital scrubs-like ensembles he designed for the group presenting the Italian flag really any better? Poor guys. Their one shot at strutting around in a custom-fit Armani suit, and they looked like hospital orderlies or refugees from a Puff Diddy Daddy all-white pajama party. Of course, they were merely escorting Carla Bruni, delicately carrying the Red, White and Green as only a former paramour of Mick Jagger can. Bruni fared much better, wearing a gown of shimmering silver and the sort of blank stare it takes years to perfect.

This was all so much preamble to the Parade of Nations, which is why most of us tune into the O.C. in the first place. It wasn’t much of a fashion show, what with everyone bundled up in down parkas and headgear. Even the dreamy Scandinavians were kept under wraps. The coolest outfits were the shearling coats, cowboy hats and jeans worn by the U.S. team. In Lake Placid. In 1980. Still, there were a few sartorial highlights, and Costas came armed with enough Stupid Olympic Stats to keep me from flipping over to "Reba":

  • American culture is pervasive. Athletes from Albania to Macedonia to Venezuela entered the Olympic Stadium to tunes by K.C. & the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor, Michael Jackson, Chic, Donna Summer (twice) and Van Halen. Here’s Serbia and Montenegro marching to “YMCA.” Here’s Ukraine stepping out to “Disco Inferno,” which actually would have made sense for Iceland, home, Costas told us, to the most discos north of the equator.

  • No one looks good in hats. Not even the French. The Mongolians were wearing entire PETA-be-damned-it's-freaking-cold pelts atop their heads (sashaying along to “Video Killed the Radio Star”). The Danes opted for ear muffs, which I’m sure was not meant to be metaphorical in the least, as in “turning a deaf ear” to pesky protestors.

  • If geography class would include more fun facts, kids might pay attention. Did you know Andorra has more mechanical ski lifts per capita than any other country? Did you even know Andorra was country and not the mother from "Bewitched"?

  • Canadians are not as nice as we’ve all been led to believe. “Own the podium” is the country’s rallying cry for 2010, when they host the Winter Games in Vancouver. Who do they think they are, Americans?

  • Life does not imitate art. The fictional kingdom of Moldavia was the setting for a royal wedding on “Dynasty.” The actual country of Moldova is one of the poorest in Europe—residents of Torino were taking up a collection to help finance the athletes. Ironically, Moldova’s team was followed by Monaco's, who I'm sure would have contributed to the cause had they been carrying anything other than poker chips.

  • What do Iceland and Senegal have in common? Neither has ever won a Winter Olympic medal.

  • Alphabetically speaking, it pays to be Venezuela. The Albanians kicked off the Parade, and then cooled their heels for several hours waiting for the rest of the athletes to take their seats. Were they packing Porta Potties under those parkas?

  • Were the Germans making some sort of nod to Italy's renowned cuisine? How else to explain the team from Deutshland's horrific cauliflower, asparagus and cream of tomato uniforms, which also included standard-issue "Heidi" braids for the female members of the contingent. Berlin clearly not gunning for Fashion Capital of the World. That title goes to Milan, hence the Italians’ metallic coats with fur trim. Born to the catwalk, the women strutted in skirts and black boots with heels. They’ll be participating later in the evening gown competition.

  • Aerial acrobats rock! Do these people hold regular jobs or are they some sort of squad that travels from one Olympic O.C. to the next? Their smash up impression of Blue Man Group does Spiderman, morphing into the Peace Dove was one of the strangest, most magical bits of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed.

  • Sophia Loren headed the contingent of Women of Distinction—one from each continent, though Antarctica apparently passed on sending a penguin—carrying in the Olympic flag. Her paisans included former Olympians and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Susan Sarandon represented for North America. Was Oprah not available? Peggy Fleming?

  • Yoko Ono is still random, John Lennon is still one of our greatest artists. Peter Gabriel’s rendition of “Imagine” was inspired and it was goosebump-gorgeous to watch the athletes link arms and sway to the music.

I thought the show had ended, but Costas teased one final surprise. Back from commercial, there was Luciano Pavarotti (I believe the Salt Lake Games boasted R. Kelly). I couldn’t take my eyes off his ink black brows. Then he started to sing and I realized that Andrea Bocelli, plugged all week by the “Today” show, is not a Tenor. Pavarotti soared and took the crowd—and viewers—with him. It was breathtaking, some might have said luminous, and over far too soon. “You da man!” yelled someone from the U.S. contingent. Yes, he is.

* * *

Luminous Sighting

Feb. 10, Los Angeles Times, item on the latest issue of Vanity Fair: "...two actresses...are luminously naked on the fold out cover."


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