Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Week That Was Bad. For Vlad.

I had been in touch with Bohdan, the manager of my sugar beet plantation in Ukraine, checking to see that all was copacetic, given the rioting that had broken out in Kyiv and other western Ukrainian cities. All was fine, Bohdan said. Viktor Yanukovych was far too occupied with his very survival to spend time harassing my holdings.

He made the following observations, and given their insight, I pass their gist on to you.

It all looked so promising for Putin. The world in awe of the Olympic venues in Sochi. The Russian athletes, particularly the hockey players, having enormous success. Gold medals in abundance. Of course, Vladimir himself would be very much centre stage, hoping to bask in the plaudits that were sure to come.

On the world stage, similar hopes. A sweetheart deal for Ukraine involving a ton of money and gallons of gas was on offer, to ensure that Ukraine stayed well away from anything to do with Europe. Yanukovych assured Vladimir that while there would be some minor grumbling, all would be well. And Vlad would also usurp what used to be Canada's role as "honest broker" and bring about a workable solution to the Syrian horror story. One could almost hear Vlad snarling, "Take that, Obama!"

Then everything started to come apart. The press reporting that 51 billion dollars gets you some fine buildings, to be sure. Yet there was a host of incomplete projects, a great deal of faulty plumbing, and athlete's quarters that resembled army barracks done on the cheap. And what was with those twin toilets?

Then the games themselves, and all went well until the Russian hockey team met Finland, and was eliminated from contention. Moreover, the predicted shower of golden medals didn't occur, with Russia trailing Norway, Germany and (horror of horrors) the U.S.A.

Moreover, the Ukrainian strategy backfired big time. Severe rioting broke out, and is still continuing at this time of writing. As written before, Ukraine is really two countries. The East is content to be aligned with Russia; the West is definitely not. You can be sure that Vlad is not happy with Viktor.

As for Vlad the Peacemaker, Syria continues to be a charnel house.

And, grasshoppers, what do we learn from all this? Where Vlad is concerned, the words of W.S. Gilbert in The Mikado come to mind:

"I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something in-conceivable. I can't help it. I was born sneering."

Too bad for Vlad.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Fourth Olympic Objective

As everyone knows (unless stuck in a cave somewhere majoring in 'Hermit 101') the Olympic Winter Games are taking place in Sochi, Russia. There we can see athletes from numerous countries striving to reach the three major Olympic objectives: citius, altius, fortius: that is, fastest, highest, strongest.

Noble objectives, and it does the heart good to see young people exerting all effort to meet those objectives. What also does the heart good is the sheer fairness of it all. If you finish first, if you really are the fastest, if you are stronger than your opponents, you win the gold.

To be sure, things are not perfect, given the all too often use of performance-enhancing steroids or the creation of equipment later found to be illegal. But in terms of the system itself, with Olympic officials restricted to being timers, starters and referees, things are about as fair as they can get.

Not a "judge" in sight.

Now I am not certain when Olympic "judges" first appeared. Such creatures were not part of the original Hellenic Games, and I doubt, in their modern reincarnation, Baron de Coubertin welcomed them with open arms. But appear they did, and this brings us to what I term the fourth Olympic objective -- the performance deemed most aesthetic.

Hence "sports" such as figure skating, snowboarding, synchronized swimming, diving, indeed any activity where subjective judgement plays a part, all these require judges to determine that A is more adept, more aesthetically pleasing, than B or C or whomever. We are, then, some distance away from the purity of winning a downhill skiing event, a biathlon or, for that matter, a hockey game. 

Now I hasten to state there is nothing wrong with having an aesthetic event that is so judged. It is just a different sort of animal than a non-aesthetic event. I would then gently suggest a possible solution to illustrate this difference. I would do this through the Olympic medals themselves. The "pure" events would remain as they are, but medals given out at aesthetic events be engraved with a small "A" in the middle.*

This makes sense to me, and now we have four objectives: fastest, highest, strongest, and, wait for it  -- prettiest.

Problem solved.


The good Lady is being a bit coy here with her "A" suggestion. I am almost certain she had Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne in mind. -- Ed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wisdom and the Visual

Just returned from Ottawa, where I was squiring around three nice people from Paris, art connoisseurs and acquaintances of my close friend, the Compte de Rienville.* They had expressed an interest in viewing work done by Canada's Group of Seven. I was happy to oblige, knowing full well that Canada's National Gallery was not the Louvre.

The trip was a success, but what I would like to write about in this column is a discussion that took place over teas and scones at the Chateau Laurier afterwards. The topic was visual "art" that the public loved, and yet was rarely seen in a gallery. The quotation marks used in the previous sentence indicate that these examples would not be considered art in the usual sense.

Some of the examples given by my three guests were rather esoteric and European -- an advertisement showing Venus rising from the foam of a toothpaste bottle, or (in an "art is fun" exhibition some time ago)  Picasso's folded clock coming to life and being chased by Lewis Carroll's Alice as that 'very late' creature headed for his rabbit hole.

You can see how this stuff would stick in the mind.

My own examples were much more prosaic, although I still thought them memorable.

I mentioned the scene from the film, Ben Hur, where one could see  Stephen Boyd, the loser in the chariot race, being dragged away  all bloody and beaten up, but with a Bulova Accutron very, very visible on his wrist. Or in Franco Zefirelli's magnificent Romeo and Juliet, the opening shot of the street in  16th century Verona, all hot and dusty, the houses and shops close together, save for one towards the top of the screen -- a Volkswagen dealership.

"Oh", said my new found friends, "but those examples are all from films. Not quite what we meant."

"Well, I have others," I said. I then relayed an example from last week, where the TV Show, Saturday Night Live, showed Pope Francis at a Vatican window, releasing two doves of peace. A crow and a gull immediately attacked them.

"Nothing really funny there," my companions said.

"True," I admitted, "but what was funny was the sequence that followed showing Pope Benedict at a window further away, releasing said gull and crow and cackling darkly,"You go for it, my pretties."

"Now that's more like it," they stated.

I concluded with bringing out and showing them the latest cover of The Economist** where the editors were summing up the forthcoming Olympics in Sochi. There you could see Vladimir Putin as an ice dancer, doing a magnificent pirouette, while his pretty partner had fallen awkwardly right on her prat, cracking the ice. She wore a sweater entitled "Russia".

All admitted that would be a tough one to beat.

They were right.


*A VERY CLOSE friend.  -- Ed.

** Issue dated February 1 -- 7, 2014. -- Ed.