The Yank at the Olympic show

Letter to the editor

08/01/2012 10:00 PM

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When our adult daughter living in London had her Willy Wonka moment, winning four literally-golden tickets to the opening of the Olympics in Stratford UK with a face value of 1,000 pounds each from Pantene, we were invited to join Jennie and Dan. Taking a SouthWest Train into Waterloo, we then took the Jubilee line on the Tube (or CTA, subway) to one stop previous to the Olympic site in Stratford. From there we did what all Brits do, we walked about 30 minutes on. The entire trip to the site a mere 24.4 miles away, just under two hours.

Once at the Olympic Park, security entry into the park was quicker than the line for most ladies toilets in Chicago theaters at intermission. Smiling faces, atypical of the usual British demeanor were in abundance. What met our eyes and ears inside the Park was a fiesta, UK style. So we did what any good Brit would do, grabbed a draft ale and walked about to consider what to do next. The park is massive.

Entering the Olympic stadium we were met with a visual buffet of light and sound that began way before the cameras of the world tuned in to see what Danny Boyle and his tens of thousands of volunteers had wrought. When Boyle made his statement, “I don’t believe in God but I believe in the people who do...” it was met with a roar of approval in this country overflowing with 19th century church halls that are now only used for community functions and as sites for the vagabond franchises of children’s activities like Monkey Music or Tumble Tots.

The scale of the show was massive. With a reported 60,000 to 80,000 attendees, including Queen Elizabeth II and other dignitaries seated across the field from us, it was a very English house party — in the world’s Olympic Park, the largest of English-country houses. The press in UK and USA have made much of the eccentric and quirkiness of the show, a very English sort of mixture of seriousness with silliness. By Sunday we heard the expected grumbles about the tribute to the NHS — but the Brits do love their NHS in the same way as I hope to love Medicare (and my siblings already do.)

But what the television viewer would not have seen were small scenes of culture clash. Like the American seated three rows ahead of us, standing up to madly wave his U.S. flag on a pole about to “we are not amused” irritation of those behind him, including the Chinese group in front of us. In a small island nation of tight spaces on the Tube and roads, where manners are still enforced by society the message must have been conveyed. The American very quickly retired his flag away.

The show was like Trivial Pursuit, or what would be known here as a Pub Quiz, as we worked to identify the various allusions. The country idyll evolving into the Industrial Revolution — check. Was Kenneth Branagh’s Caliban poem about a small island’s lack of fear happenstance or Churchillian? Seated with our respective paddles or under the blue silk draped over us, we in the audience were not just part of the show, but participants.

With another two-hour voyage home by foot, mass transit and taxi from Hampton Court train station and basketball tickets for matches beginning the next morning at 9 a.m., we agreed to leave when the Danish athletes took to the field. After all, it is a long ways through all of the countries of the world to the letter Zed and lastly in this Olympics, Great Britain. So we were home to relieve the babysitter in time.

Candace Drimmer
South Loop

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