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Bob's Blog

Nordic Pals

bc-scandanavian-nixon-100224.jpgEver since my first story about the Norwegian Codfish Club, I have liked the Scandinavian Centre in Burnaby.  The idea of organizing monthly meetings for people to chow down on cod drowning in butter confirms my belief that frivolity is a most worthy human trait. 

When I wandered by the other day and saw banners proclaiming the Centre as the headquarters for all things Scandinavian during the Olympics, I knew I had to head back to see what's up.  This became essential when I noticed Norway - a nation with only a few more people than live in the province of British Columbia - has amassed more medals at these games than Canada. 

But the Scandinavian Centre represents people with roots from five countries that speak five different languages - all of them competing for medals.  How well do fans of one country get along with fans from another?  Scandinavian Fans icon_video.gif

Saskatchewan Day!

bc-saskatchewan-nixon-100223.jpgI like Saskatchewan so much that when a Regina neighbour once told me he did not enjoy his trip to BC because the mountains spoiled the view, I understood his point.  I did not agree with it, but I certainly did agree with what was implied by his comment.  There is a wondrous majesty to the views one can see on the prairies.  South of Regina, the mighty Dirt Hills rise perhaps a hundred metres into the sky, by B.C. standards a wart on the landscape.  But from the very top you can see the Queen City, Weyburn and Moose Jaw at a glance.  It is, in the old sense of the word, awesome. 

I am sure I have opened myself up to ridicule by those comments.  But people like me who have lived in Saskatchewan have developed buffalo thick hides.  It is a province that fosters strong loyalties, even amongst those who move away.   So when the Olympics marked Saskatchewan Day, I had to hustle down to the Saskatchewan Pavillion to see if anyone other than the provincial faithful - those of us in the know - would show up.  Prairie Connection icon_video.gif

No Crowds?

bc-street-nixon-100222.jpgYou could scratch your head over this one.  Here was yet another glorious dry night in Vancouver.  It was the kind of evening that had brought out hundreds of thousands of people all weekend long.  But on this Monday, the streets suddenly emptied out the moment the sun went down.  I do not think this is a case of Olympic fatigue.  Either almost everybody who wanted to head downtown had already done so, or they were seated in front of their own TV sets watching Moir and Virtue win gold in Ice Dancing.  I suspect the latter. 

  In any case, the only crowds about were watching another kind of performance that was worth the price of admission.  Free!  Though these folks were so good you would feel guilty just enjoying the show and walking away.  Street Performers icon_video.gif

Big Crowds

bc-granville-nixon-100219.jpgHere's something that happened on Friday night that we did not report.  The Vancouver police called CBC news and asked us about our microwave truck.  That's one of the vehicles we use for live hits with reporters and it is pretty big with one huge satellite dish on the top.  We had parked the thing on Granville Street near the Commodore Ballroom in preparation for our late night news. 

The police were worried.  Olympic crowds were not just big.  They were gigantic.  Tens of thousands of people were flooding into downtown.  So many people wandered about that the police had to expand the number of pedestrian only streets so they could find room for them all.  That move meant that unless we got our microwave truck out of there, chances were we would have alot of trouble doing it later in the evening.  Suggestions were made that if the situation got unruly, as sometimes happens with big crowds, our truck might become a target. 

So we moved the truck.  But all the while this conversation was happening, I was out on Granville Street having my own conversations with people in the big crowd.  They were anything but unruly - as friendly a bunch as I've ever met.  And those people ruled the day, and the evening too, as the much feared unruly night never materialized.  Street Walking icon_video.gif

Camera Crazed

bc-camera-nixon-100218.jpgThis is my first Olympics, and I'm sure it's a first for many people in Vancouver.  Even though they are in the city where I live, I confess that I watch these Olympic events the same way I have watched every single Olympics since Tokyo in 1964 when I was but a wee jasper.  That is - on TV.  I suppose some people are glued to their handheld pod gizmo, or streaming in the events via their computer.  I would too - if the pod was the size of my TV and my computer screen was positioned directly in front of my sofa.  But they're not and so I don't. 

But I notice wandering the downtown streets that people must be acutely aware that these games are being watched around the world on the tube.  So when they see a TV camera amongst them - it becomes an opportunity to, well let's say, reach out.  People do that in quite predictable ways, in ways that many might consider at odds with their usual behaviour, and that might cause them some embarrassment years from now when their grandkids pull up those images on whatever 3-d pod gizmo brain implant people will use in the future.  But for now, it is enough for me to ask these people "Why do you do that?"  Wahooooo!!!! icon_video.gif

Complaint Department

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Have you read any of these articles in foreign newspapers deriding the Vancouver Games as the 'worst Olympics ever'?  I have met plenty of Olympic fans in the past while, and the most number of games any of them have attended is 15.  While that is quite a few (CBC's own Steve Armitage has covered 'just' 13), there have been several dozen more than that over the years, 21 Winter Olympics alone.  So worse than Squaw Valley?  Worse than St. Moritz?  Short of producing a 110 year old sports nut who has attended every one, this sounds to me like so much journalistic hyperbole.   Hyperbole in journalism?  Say it ain't so!  

Of course, an event like this is bound to create a certain amount of grousing, from the big questions like whether the Olympics is money well spent in the first place right down to whether the Bratwurst at the German Beer Garden is as tasty as promised.  Some complaints have even brought 'results'.  So I wondered - on the streets of Vancouver - do Olympic revellers have any other other complaints about these games.  Some surprising responses.  Thumbs Up icon_video.gif

Flag Fashions

bc-flags-nixon-100216.jpgIt troubles me that I was unable to film a fellow someone saw as I headed out to do a story.  This guy left his apartment in Vancouver's West End in a complete Batman costume, replacing his cape with a Canadian flag.  People hardly gave him a second glance and why should they during these costumed Olympics?  Everywhere one goes in Vancouver, people have adormed themselves in their national flag. 

Given that people ordinarily do not wander the streets with such paraphenalia, the question arises why do they do it now?  And more to the point, does it cramp or enhance their style in some way?  Because if it enhances, should we not all wear Batman costumes all the time?   These are issues I ponder as I head out onto the streets.  Patriot Parade icon_video.gif

Medal Hunter

bc-medal-nixon-100215.jpgEarly on in these Olympic games, I decided the time was ripe to search for people from other lands.  After all, for years we have heard about Vancouver welcoming the world in 2010.  Sure we have plenty of news crews from other countries reporting all about the sporting contests and how wonderful we Canadians are.   But I wondered just how many actual people from foreign countries are wandering our streets. 

I discovered, in a survey that is as unscientific as they come, that Canadians overwhelming outnumber foreign tourists.  That was the case, even when those tourists have something to celebrate - medal wins.   Now it could be these folk are trying to blend in by disguising themselves in sweaters that say Canada.  Or it could be they were all attending actual sporting events rather than strolling about cheering their nation's success.  Some countries might discourage actual displays of exuberance, much like this country used to do.  In any case, I was surprised with my findings.  Are you meeting many tourists during these games?  Tourist Chase icon_video.gif

 

Hats Off to Hats

bc-hats-nixon-100212.jpgI wandered around downtown Vancouver today going from pavillion to pavillion like the rest of the Olympic tourists.  One couple I spoke to had waited in line for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS to get ride the zipline in Robson Square.  Was it worth it, I asked?  "Best 30 seconds of my life," she replied.  I suppose if you're dividing your life into 30 second chunks, there are not too many standouts that would compare to dangling above a crowd of a few thousand people. 

Standing in line is a big part of this Olympic Experience.  At the Canadian Pavillion, people waited for ages to get through security.  Then once inside they got to look at some sports memorabilia.  Most headed over to wait in another line - the beer garden.  There are plenty of beer gardens to wait in line for. 

So I notice an awful lot of people decide not to stand in line, but wander about on streets where cars normally rule.  That is a pretty good 30 seconds, let me tell you.  It just feels so strange, seeing so many people about.  It struck me that Olympic crowds are mostly composed of people who are drawn to the action to see people drawn to the action.  We're all thinking everybody else is going to be interesting.  Once grouped together, we become mighty interesting.   Curious, no? 

So what interested me wandering one night amongst the crowds were the hats people wore.  Some people have strange headgear - strange enough to be drawn to the action.   Polish Cowboy Hats icon_video.gif

Protester Protester

bc-protest-nixon-100211.jpgIt would be hard to imagine an event whose cost could exceed eight billion dollars (according to the generally reliable Vaughn Palmer) that was held without people protesting.  We live in a world of limited resources and so people can come up with all kinds of perfectly reasonable ways to spend that money that does not include the Winter Olympics.  As the games neared, protests against the games escalated, and that could be expected.  Now most people who support the games probably took the position that they agree to disagree with the protesters.  But not one fellow I met, who decided to try to convince them not to take to the streets.  Video Appeal icon_video.gif

Unwanted Gift

bc-harmony-nixon-100210.jpgImagine this.  You fall in love with your adopted country and decide to create a big monument to express your patriotism.  You drive all the way across the country towing it on a trailer.  Your destination is Vancouver.  Your goal is to give your monument to the city as a gift during the Olympics.  But once here, you discover the city has no time to talk to you because the Olympics are about to begin and it has just installed dozens of big pieces of art throughout the city.  How would you feel?   That, in a nutshell, is the story of a man I met in Stanley Park.  What do you think of his sculpture?  Harmony Sculpture icon_video.gif

Surrey Peacocks

bc-peacocks-nixon-100209.jpgWe city folk have a strange ambivalence towards wildlife.  We like most wild animals so long as they do not view us as dinner (bears and cougars), want to spray us (skunks), live in our attics (racoons and squirrels), bite our kids (coyotes) or poop on us (most any bird).   This list of caveats means many people do not like wild animals at all, if they happen to invade our urban environment.  But this happens rather regularly and somehow we manage to co-exist with many of the animals I just mentioned.  

Trouble is what is a pest to some is a welcome guest to others.  Witness the wildlife invasion in one Surrey neighbourhood.  Running a-Fowl icon_video.gif

Canvas Paintings

bc-art-nixon-100207.jpgI once read a rather literary defence of drinking alcohol that pointed out that beer and wine were, along with bread and cheese, the very first processed foods, with a history extending back thousands of years.  "When I drink beer," intoned the writer, "I commune with the ancients." 

I mention this because I have a similar desire for such a communion.  I've long harboured the desire to paint on a canvas.  Their history does not extend back so far as booze.  Still, who does not want to be at one with their inner Leonardo Da Vinci?   But the knowledge that I would create something truly terrible to look at, and be such a waste of stretching canvas across a wooden frame, prevents me from seriously considering it.  It's a mental block, you might say. 

What a revelation, then, to meet the woman in this piece, an art instructor foccused on helping us discovering the artist within no matter who we are.  To her, there is no such thing as a bad canvas.  She volunteers her time helping those with mental illness and the work they do shows that she is right.  Art Show icon_video.gif 

Say Cheese!

bc-photo-nixon-100205.jpgWith the countdown on, Olympic revellers are getting a taste of what the next three weeks might look like.  Some streets are closed already and public art installed.  Folks wander about getting a sense of what a pedestrian friendly downtown Vancouver will look like.  Maybe it's the strangeness of walking on a street that bans traffic, or maybe it's just the thrill of being part of it all.  Whatever it is, the camera buffs are out in force, sporting everything from big expensive SLR jobs to cell phone snappers.  One thing you can say about the city during these games is that it will be well documented.  Camera Craze icon_video.gif

Olympic Berry

bc-cranberries-nixon-net.jpgWho does not want to make a splash at these Olympics?  I am not speaking here of mogul and half pipe skiers up at Cypress Mountain, where melting snow means splashes are possible but not desired.  No I am referring to that Holy Grail of all Olympic activies - marketing.  Even before the games begin, Vancouver is awash with billboards from the Olympic Committee thanking official sponsors for pouring big bucks into these games.  Call them good corporate citizens, but they clearly hope for a payoff in sales somewhere down the road.  There's no sin in that, I suppose.  Even poverty activists are using the games to highlight the ongoing housing, unemployment and social service problems the city faces.  There's no sin in that either.  From a marketing standpoint the Olympics help to focus the mind, offer up a stage that can be seen around the world.  But I ask you, is it a sin to use food to make such a marketing splash?  Not just a little bit, tons and tons of food.  Whatever you think, you have to admit, it's pretty good marketing.  Floating Cranberries icon_video.gif

 

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Hey, an update on this one.  Turned out the current of the Fraser River as it empties half of British Columbia was too strong for the berry structure.  Yeah, I scratched my head on that one too.  But, not to worry, they found a football field that provides a nice green background.   Not quite so impressive, but that's showbiz.  It's big, it's red, it's big red cranberries!!! 

Oscar Bound

bc-oscars-nixon-net.jpgI once picked up a library book that featured every Oscar winner since the Academy Awards began back in the 1920s.  With the same diligence that allows some kids to memorize baseball statistics, I proceeded to learn by heart who won what when in most major categories.  The book ended with the 1969 winner (was that the year "In the Heat of the Night" took best picture?) so it was not that huge a list.  I mostly forgot what I learned over the years - though it still bugs me that "The Best Years of Our Lives" beat out "It's a Wonderful Life" for best pic in 1946. 

Another thing I learned from that book was that if you're Canadian and want to win an Oscar - either move to Hollywood or work for the National Film Board.  Fortunately, things have changed.  We've got our own movie industry now, and first class talent.  Witness the special effects nomination for a Vancouver company I had never heard of before nominations were announced.  Special Effect icon_video.gif

Toothy Dilemma

bc-mammoth-nixon-100201.jpgGiven the kind of lifestyle stories I do, you would not immediately think my world suffers from that most pressing of reportial issues - deadline pressure.  The TV news biz is designed to avoid the disaster of a reporter missing their assigned slot - especially if their story is the lead item.  It follows that top story reporters get resources assigned to them early, so they can start filming, writing and editing in time to make their spot. 

Now the last time I led the news was shortly after the great Vancouver fire of 1886.  So when I ask for camera time, I am usually met with laughter and great guffaws, before my tears soften their hearts and off I go.  This often means I get back late and must rush the writing and editing in order to make my slot.  This item, involving a rather interesting item, is a case in point.  Let's just say that if you watched it on TV, you saw a few elements presented out of order, which no doubt only increased your usual level of confusion from my pieces.   I have fixed the problem for this blog, and hope it's less confusing now.  Mammoth Sale! icon_video.gif

First Time Skaters

bc-skaters-nixon-100131.jpgPerhaps it's my prairie roots, the years spent on a frozen slough whipping that frozen horse dung between the bullrush net, elbowing Gordie Howe out of the way.  Yes, once you've skated outdoors, indoor rinks never quite measure up.  I got excited when the expanded Robson Square outdoor ice rink re-opened in late November after many years.  Sure it's completely undercover so the skaters are safe from the rain.  Sure, it has had to close a bunch of times because  its been so warm the ice compressor can not keep the surface from melting.  But when it's open, its a glorious thing to see.  No wonder it gets invaded by Brazilians.  Outdoor Rink  icon_video.gif