There's been a lot of criticism of these Winter Olympics over the past few weeks, much of it deserved and some of it even by me. However, what many of the critics are overlooking is that there are real positives to the event that also deserve coverage. One of the most significant bright spots so far has been the atmosphere the Olympics have brought to Vancouver.
The Vancouver area is a great place to live, but for all its charms, it often feels awfully restrained. In one of the Hardy Boys' novels, it was described as "a sleepy fishing village", and ABC sportscaster Jim McKay commented during the Vancouver Whitecaps' 1979 NASL series against the New York Cosmos that "Vancouver must be like the deserted village right now" thanks to all the people watching on television. The village characterization isn't particularly fair given the size of the Vancouver area, but it does seem a bit sleepy at times; many of the downtown bars often close before midnight, there are constant litanies of noise complaints, especially in some of the more affluent neighbourhoods, and there's rarely a sense of widespread civic excitement around anything except the Canucks (the other sports teams all have their fans, but don't seem to make as much of an impact on the area as a whole).
The Olympics have changed that. For the last few weeks, Vancouver has been a nonstop party. There are always groups of people in the streets, the bars are packed and the official pavilions all have massive lines. Certainly, much of that's thanks to visitors and tourists, but there's a genuine sense of local excitement as well. The Olympics are on everyone's mind and tongue, and most of the reaction has been very positive. Sure, there are plenty of protestors and cynics (myself included in that latter group), but they're significantly outnumbered by those who are having a great time. This isn't necessarily uniformly good, as there have been issues with drunkenness and abuse, and it's also very difficult to get around town thanks to the Olympic crush, but on the whole, the atmosphere has been tremendous. Here’s a few photos from one of my trips downtown on Friday to give you an idea what it’s been like. These are from my Blackberry rather than an actual camera, so the quality isn't great, but they do portray part of the story:
The first stop was at the Atlantic Pavilion, which is normally the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island (a very cool former industrial area that's now a nightspot). I've been there several times over the years for some excellent plays. This time, I was there to drink Atlantic beer, moonshine and screech. This was awesome.
The Swiss pavilion, also on Granville Island, had one of the neatest exterior designs I saw. It was still standing, thanks to Canada's shootout victory over the Swiss in men's hockey the previous night. I wasn't able to get inside thanks to the lines, but there were definitely lots of people having a good time there.
This is the statue of noted Scottish poet Robbie Burns in Stanley Park. You can't see it very well thanks to the distance, but he's gotten into the Olympic spirit; someone put a pair of the coveted red Olympic mittens on him, and (oddly enough in Vancouver), they hadn't been stolen by the time I took the photo!
How can you tell the Germans like to party? Most countries have a small, single pavilion downtown. The Germans have one of those as well, but the German state of Saxony has its own pavilion, and it's one of the best in the city. Located in Stanley Park in the lovely Vancouver Rowing Club building, this place is crammed full of TVs and offers authentic Saxony beer and delicious sausages, pork steaks, potato pancakes and sauerkraut. Highlight of the trip.
Here's the Vancouver waterfront from the deck of the Saxony Pavilion. That view just screams "Winter Olympics," doesn't it?
I figured it would be an appropriate display of hoserism to wear my lumberjack shirt. Here's all the context you need:
And here's the lineup for the Royal Canadian Mint pavilion. This was reported to be as long as six hours at times over the weekend. More impressively, everyone seemed to be taking it in stride. To me, that showed just how excited people are about these Olympics. That doesn't make them perfect or beyond criticism, but it does show that they do have a bright side.