Sunday, February 21, 2010

O Canada

My first cognizance of Canada was Joni Mitchell. A close junior high school friend had an older sister who turned us on to the album Blue, and the sublime song “A Case of You.”

On the back of a carton coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice

After that, I didn’t think much about the country. About ten years ago I stumbled on the CBC’s Da Vinci’s Inquest on late-night tv, the Quincey-inspired drama based partly on the real-life experiences of Vancouver’s coroner, Larry Campbell. And it turns out that Quincey was inspired by a 1966 to 68 Canadian series called Wojeck! There is simply no end to the Canadian/American cross-pollination.

I have been to Vancouver, but only on my way to visit friends in Alaska. (I must say that the Vancouver Airport is one of the most beautiful in the world. A waterfall greets incoming international visitors. The whole building offers art and natural materials that give you more of a sense of place than any airport I have been in.) I have not traveled in Canada, except for some hiking in Nelson, which is in British Columbia.

And now the Olympics. I think it’s nice that within a lifetime you can pay attention to it some years and not care at all other years. This year I’m hooked. I’m finding immense inspiration in the stories of the athletes. I think there is so much to learn from their work, created on the extraordinary canvas of ice and snow. Sure, they are talented athletes. But it takes so much more than talent to compete and win. It takes determination and a “never give up” mentality. Everyone can relate to that, even if we can’t all fly through the air.

Hannah Kearney, the first American to medal gold. She didn’t even make it to the finals in Turin, basically coming in 26th place. Pretty discouraging. And then she Moguls to gold.

J.R. Celski, short track speed skater. Fell last September in a race, and sliced open his thigh with his blade. Dangerously close to the femoral artery, which would have meant death. Five months later he wins bronze in the 1500 meter.

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, coming back from a downhill wipeout where he landed flat on his back and shredded various body parts. He won the gold in the Super G. His elation itself was inspiring. His father in the stands overcome with emotion.

And Bode Miller. His daredevil downhills brought him 2 silver in Salt Lake City, but by Turin he lost the spirit of the games. He didn’t care about competing, and spent too much time in the party circuit. He didn’t win anything. Now, in Vancouver, he cares about performing, and he feels closer to the ski team. He has already won a bronze, a silver, and the gold in the Super G.

For all the corporate sponsorship, for all the national pride, for all the trappings of the franchise, at the end of the day it is individuals who have developed unique skills and talents to push the limits of these strange bodies of ours. Every four years it’s nice for the non sports fan to pay a little attention.

I can't help but note again the concurrent headlines about the surge in Afghanistan. What are we fighting for, except that there is a group of people who murderously don't want the West to be the West. And we have to say "No" to them from all angles.

(photos: Lindsey Vonn, downhill and medal ceremony. New York Times)


scribbler50 said...

Well, the Canadian women's hockey team just added some sweetener to this lovely post!

M.A.Peel said...

Thanks Hath. I didn't see their game. The Canada/USA Men's preliminary was one of the most exciting games of all time.