Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Saving Dogs Trumps Rewriting History

One of the great truths of life is that, given enough rope, people will do you the favor of hanging themselves for you. This saves you enormous amounts of trouble. This is always fulfilling when it is someone you know personally, but it's even better when it is played out on a global stage. The most recent example of this is the 2014 Olympics, held in Sochi.

No one knew much about Sochi until a few months ago when news sources and journalists realized that since there wasn't any news anywhere else, we might as well learn about Sochi. We learned that it is basically a great tourist destination, complete with terrorists, stray dogs, no Starbucks, and many hotel rooms which don't include electricity or the ability to flush your toilet paper down the toilet. As Americans, we hold the right to flush toilet paper down our toilets in the greatest esteem, and so were properly horrified. But the story that sent most Americans into a rage was the dogs. The stray dogs of Sochi which were supposed to be shot ahead of time, but somehow managed to be roaming the streets of Sochi, unloved and unwanted.

Despite these setbacks, the Russians exhibited the same can do spirit that fell a monarchy and created an Iron Curtain. They rose to the occasion with thrilling opening ceremonies. They outdid themselves with pyrotechnical animated horses, ballerinas masquerading as jellyfish, and of course their dear leader's girlfriend lighting the Olympic torch. They created dramatic short films which illustrated all of Russia's contributions to civilization. Russia has always occupied an odd, stepchildish place in the world, being not quite European and not quite Asian, and their montage reflected the difficulties of such a position. So they reminded us all that they are the ones who invented vodka, (allowing us to be grateful for all those cheap vodka induced college hangovers), matrushka dolls, and created out of thin air great Russian achievements that seemed to be more turn of the century New York City than Moscow, but hey, perhaps turn of the century Moscow was really more Wharton than Dostoevsky, who can say.

All of this was amusing, but they stepped off the scaffolding when they decided to stage an epic ballet of Russia through the ages. It all looked great, right through the Imperial age, an age which, sadly, is probably Russia's golden age. It's always sad when the golden age of your country basically is created of super rich aristocrats and super miserable serfs, and all the aristocrats speak French instead of their mother tongue because, let's face it, they wish they, too, could live in Paris. The pretty aristocrats fell away in dramatic fashion for the red and white dancers of Communism, which, in true Battleship Potemkin fashion, marched about producing spiky red things according to their Communist philosophy. But then we were interrupted by a little slice of America which apparently flourished despite Lenin's reign. The streets were filled with happy dancing girls in puffy skirts, classic cars, and rock and roll. Who knew!

We knew. The Olympians knew. The NBC announcers who trolled the entire event knew. The Russians knew, deep down inside, even as they were lauding artists, authors, and composers, who had faced pressure from the government for their work. And the dogs of Sochi knew.

But there was a happy ending to be had, and not just the happy ending as America took the gold in the ice dancing event for the first time ever, relegating Russia to bronze. Between their events, some of the Americans had taken up with the natives of Sochi. The native dogs. The unwanted dogs of Sochi are being liberated from the shackles of leftover Communism, or whatever Russia is branding it these days, and this proves that the same American spirit which won the Cold War is still alive and well today.

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