Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bah. Humbug. The Final Chapter

Balance was restored to the universe sometime on Sunday when the US men reclaimed the gold medal for basketball. A few hours later, history was made when Samy Wanjiru became the first Kenyan to win the marathon. It was odd to watch this race, old but certainly not older than Beijing, run through wide, spotless streets lined with trees that seemed to have been ordered for the occasion from nothingbuttrees.com. Maybe it's just that I'm accustomed to seeing marathons in grungy cities like Boston and New York where the officials drive around the night before and remove some of the homeless humans and other flotsam from the route. Nothing of the Beijing we were permitted to see looked like a city where real people live. It looked like a more colorful version of Washington, with wide open spaces and ceremonial buildings, its eyes as dead as Condoleezza Rice's.

The closing ceremony was curiously dull, and not just compared with the opening. There was none of the throat-catching emotion that usually accompanies the lowering of flags and dimming of the flame. The London segment was particularly squirm-making, all that miming and opening of brollies. When the red bus appeared I thought, for one wild moment, "They're going to blow it up and inject some reality into this orgy of fixed grins," but no. And then, by the miracle of satellites, we were whisked off to London itself and the ubiquitous Michael Phelps, who is already a brand and a bore. It's one thing to go home with more gold medals than Canada; it's quite another to hold the attention of this fickle planet, which has mechanisms designed to produce a new celebrity every 2.4 days. Phelps needs to broker a peace settlement in Darfur, or star in an internet sex video, or revive the Esther Williams-type musical, before somebody says, "So Michael...what can you do besides swim?" Many are called, but few are Elvis.

I liked the Memory Tower of Babel, with dancers crawling over it like ants, and grudgingly concede it was probably better than my pyramid idea. Not as impressed with the pyrotechnics. "The Chinese not only invented fireworks, they own them!" said Bob Costas, or words to that effect. Maybe, but the Grucci family do this every July Fourth in New York Harbor, and they do it without the help of the armed forces.

After that, the show slid into a kind of Sinovision Song Contest. The British entry was Jimmy Page (apparently Sir Paul McCartney was unavailable) and an "international recording star" I never heard of called Lewis, whose screeching must be what Simon Cowell thinks of when he thinks of singing. The Sino-Spanish contestants were Placido Domingo and a Chinese girl crooning a forgettable duet. They hadn't a thing on opening night in Turin two years ago when Luciano Pavarotti, his beard, eyebrows and toupee dyed a gleaming black and wearing a suit and cape from the Orson Welles Collection, belted out you-know-what with a full orchestra. If "I Love Beijing" is anything to go by, there is an enormous audience yearning for crap Western music. The producers of "Mamma Mia!" should rush a company to China at once; it will run longer than the Han Dynasty.

This is what Franco Zeffirelli would have done at the Met, if Sybil Harrington's checkbook had been deep enough. And now, back to baseball.


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