Saturday, July 28, 2012

1984 Just Yesterday

Last week's traces of iced tea in Big M trophy of 1984 Olympic Games
Why I watch ceremonies and Games on television 
I just watched the complete opening ceremonies from London.  I also cannot bypass watching rites of passage, of all kinds, that are telecast.  It certainly isn't that I like the music, barring a Zadok the Priest or an exceptional rendering of John Philip Sousa.  I like parades and inaugurations, usually.  But modern Olympics are an odd taste, perhaps, until I tell you that I know something of the Games of the Roman Empire period and am familiar with the way they were commemorated on coins from all over the Empire, especially in the 3rd century CE.  I'd love to see and hear the commentaries on the spot of games celebrated at Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv) or Bizye in Thrace for Caracalla or for Philip "the Arab", for example,  and in cities all over Asia Minor.  We know about them, and we know their names, from the coins that survive, showing the prize table and the athletic events or the youths holding palms of victory.  In high school I used to wonder why there was a football tune called "Palms of Victory".  It shows that a century ago a modicum of classical learning was universal among those who got a secondary or university education, since, even in California, where there are plenty of palms, they weren't carried around except on Palm Sunday.
I loved the Athens games of 2004 especially for the purpose-grown plantings of young olives and the weaving of the olive (real laurel being less available) into crowns for every winner in every event as well as for all the dancing schoolchildren.  I loved the drafting of practically every school in the nation to teach the dances and other choreography and the thousands of mothers to sew their costumes (and do it beautifully).  I mean, finally getting the Games cost them dearly (the infrastructure!), and I cannot admire Greece enough for spending its ingenuity and huge efforts for everything possible.  I mean, they could do the Marathon from Marathon and use the modern (1896) stadium for whatever it wasn't too short for (or had too little seating space), and they had the real Pindaric sites (Lerna and Isthmia besides Olympia and Delphi being excavated) besides, but they had to improve the road to Marathon and build an adequate airport.  One thing that has been very important was their taking the opportunity to build the Metro.  It hired many, many workers, since it was practically dug by hand, having to be an archaeological project, too.  I thought of those years of digging as I watched the Stratford City Londoners celebrated for rebuilding their own district.  When smart commentators talk of excessive government employment in Greece, I hope they aren't so stupid as to include the Metro.  That wasn't the same as too much bureaucracy!  Greece is a much greater asset to the whole of Europe for the infrastructure required by the 2004 Olympics.  And there was nothing "slick" about it.  As for why Greece should have had  the Games in 2004 (if not in 1996 or 2000), we ought not even to ask.  It is for the Olympic idea that so great a man as Daniel Barenboim helped to carry in the Olympic flag.
The cities of the Roman Empire certainly profited, or at least hoped to profit, from putting on games, for which they competed.  It was the fame of the Pindaric games (I have in mind Greek games before Alexander the Great) and the glory in which they were wrapped that they wanted to identify with and, of course, to bring honor to themselves for honoring an emperor like Caracalla, who seems to have been thought to respond to that honor, as Nero had done.
It seems very likely that the cities that put on the games labeled Pythia, Serdica, Alexandreia and the like spent a lot to make the occasions as splendid, worth coming to compete in, worth staying and eating and sleeping in, as they could.  The expense of being impressive is not a new development, although London has perhaps outdone herself in the matter of light show and fireworks, not to mention delivering the queen by air mail (well, if G. H. W. Bush can, ...).
I was thinking as I dutifully registered all the costumes of the smaller national contingents that there is less difference between the ancient and the modern Olympics than the TV commentators seem to realize.  When I saw Daniel Barenboim participating, I no longer felt even slightly silly for watching so closely: he must understand.
As for my keeping my glass cup from MacDonald's (can it really be 28 years ago?), well, I like Things, and the cup is well designed and just right for cold drinks; I wouldn't have taken it when offered if I hadn't liked it.
And then, at the end, as "Hey Jude" was being sung, it occurred to me (for folks who write blogs are expected to have opinions) that Mitt Romney's problem is that he is unimaginative.  It took one of those sharp English wisecracks to make me see it (that he had run an Olympics Games in the middle of nowhere!), and it isn't even impolite but utterly undiplomatic, utterly insensitive to tell one's hosts what they have already confessed to, publicly, that the security plans may have been inadequate!  For I know from Mr. Romney's father that our current candidate is from a perfectly decent family.  I don't mean to blame him, of course.
Here's for Caracalla at Philippopolis.
28 02 03 AE 30  Philippopolis.  14,56g.  Caracalla, laureate, head to r. AVT K M AVR SEV   |    ANTONEINOS.  Rev., Zeus enthroned to l., patera rather than Nike (Varbanov 1301) in his extended r. hand, leaning on his scepter in his l.  KOINON ThRAKON ALEXANDRIA EN and in exergue in 2 lines PhILIPPO / POLI and across field PY   |   ThIA.  Vile example of a bombastic issue, but with the full length maximum legend.
P. S. I didn't mention the first thing that delighted me in the opening spectacle, the dray horses, the great hairy-fetlocked horses, in the pre-industrial sequence; I love such horses (not to disparage thoroughbreds or ponies).  And the second and most remarkable thing, the scene celebrating the Great Ormond Street Hospital,  the Children's Hospital (and, of course, the NHS: I have never forgotten the excellent, regular well-baby clinics that served resident U.S. servicemen's infants as well as English ones in the village, all the young wives who didn't have cars to drive into Newmarket or Cambridge to see a doctor, when my sister's family was stationed in England).  I didn't want to seem "political" in my admiration of the NHS (I don't say it's perfect), but there it is.  The hospital scene was most beautifully conceived and filmed, and I just learned, on line, that actual patients had participated.