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Posts from the ‘TV’ Category

The legend of Zelda and Zoe

Zelda with her new boss, Zoe.

Zelda with her new boss, Zoe. Note: not my mother pictured, but our dear aunt Pom Pom.

It makes me sad to think of how most of my daily childhood treasures have probably ended up in a trash heap somewhere. Well, I’m not the only sad one; think of the Toy Story franchise. But it’s sad nonetheless. Whatever happened, for instance, to my Communist Barbie? Someone had to play Miss U.S.S.R. in our makeshift Miss Universe pageants in the basement playroom. So I cut off her matted blonde hair into a spiky do, and Barbie became a breadline-hardened Brigitte Nielsen that always came second to Miss U.S.A. I can pretend she’s keeping other similarly-shorn, well-loved Barbies, Kens, and Skippers company in a cozy daycare somewhere, but, more likely, no claw ever could save her from the fires that awaited.

As you can tell by my lack of respect for Barbie’s golden locks, I didn’t have the most girly of girlhoods. I slept in a yellow bedroom, and wore red and gold Danskin playsets to nursery school, or plaid kilts. My mother didn’t care much for pink, or princesses, which is fair enough. She also wasn’t that sentimental about things, nor did she ever imagine that these toys that she eventually tossed had hearts and feelings of their own. A wise lesson for a harsh world. I tried to take that lesson on, but I still can’t ever throw out a piece of paper with my mother’s handwriting on it, no matter how many school worksheets of mine would have been recycled, if recycling had been a thing when I was in school.

Now, as I fill acid-free boxes upon boxes with my son’s kindergarten scribbles, I realize I have to relegate some to the great recycling bin in the sky, if I don’t want to appear on an episode of Hoarders. And I understand my mother’s drive to declutter; I can hardly see clear to the end of a day if I need to wade past piles of kid stuff to get there.

So the best drawings get kept, and the coloring sheets and letter practice go. I wonder which of my boys’ possessions will still be here when we are all older? I have a few ideas (a scruffy teddy bear, a huge bin of Legos no one will ever make sense of again, a tattered copy of Captain Underpants).

Never to be recycled.

Never to be recycled.

My two boys like to get fawning attention by kissing the odd baby doll, and cruise each other toward bruisin’s in a doll stroller I bought them, but they are really not interested in inheriting mine. Though Communist Barbie got tossed just as the Berlin Wall came down, my childhood baby doll Zelda is still around, and she’s found a new home: with my sister’s daughter, one-year-old Zoe. It was meant to be! The two Z’s, Zelda and Zoe, zestily zipping together to Zanzibar, or Zagreb, or somewhere. New Zealand.

My parents gave me Zelda when I was a baby. She wasn’t fluffy, or pink: she had a hard plastic head and arms, yellow hay-like hair, and a red and white dress. And I schlepped her around the house dutifully like many a baby would. And now, Zoe sweetly does the same. Zoe and Zelda.

IMG_7229

I asked my mother why she named my doll Zelda. Surely that name wasn’t on the box. I though maybe because she wasn’t the daintiest of baby dolls, or looked slightly witch-like, that the name fit. It was too soon to name her after The Legend of Zelda, the videogame, so that wasn’t it.

“We decided that we were going to start at the end of the alphabet,” my mom said. “So I thought of Zelda. There was that girl, Zelda, on Dobie Gillis, I think I got the name from her. Zelda was always the smarty-pants in the gang.” My only other association with the early 1960′s TV show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, is that Gilligan was on it, as the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs. But the show was cancelled long before I was born. Long, I repeat, before.

dobiezelda

I appreciate that my mom chose to name my doll after a “smarty-pants,” and not some gooey, helpless, princess type. Thanks to Zelda, and my mother, I consider myself a smarty-pants to this day. It’s not a bad way to be. Because Wikipedia was invented for such smarty-pants who need answers fast, I decided to look up what happened to the original Zelda, the actress Sheila Kuehl.

It turns out she went to Harvard Law School and became the first openly gay person elected to the California legislature! Way to carry the flag for the smarty-pants of the world, Sheila Kuehl!

I am glad that my Zelda, saved from the fire, is now with my little Zoe. And hopefully, starting with Zelda and her raggedy endurance, I can pass onto Zoe all the things I learned since the doll was my own: to start with the back of the alphabet, go your own way, be a smarty-pants, and take care of what’s important, what’s your own. Especially, future Zoe, your poor old aunt. Will you take future me to the library and the diner when my future sons have forgotten to call? Please, future Zoe?

[This post was written for the WordPress Daily Prompt: Prized Possessions. Question: Describe an item you were incredibly attached to as a child. What became of it?]

A mid-winter’s whine

Boston Winter 2

Ugh (Photo credit: DanielCon)

[WARNING: this post contains a Downton Abbey spoiler. I know it seems weird but it comes up. Thanks!]

I don’t care if that blasted groundhog saw his shadow and said that spring was coming. It’s not, OK? I can see well enough out my window, you wretched ball of fur, and here in New England we are still in the deep, bleak, midwinter. And I’m coming out of my own personal burrow, filled with muddy boots and half-heartedly made indoor crafts, to tell you: winter with little kids…sucks. I was trying to think of some other, more elegant way to say it, but it sucks. That’s what it does. So, Punxatawney Phil,  you can tell all those old dudes in top hats to just calm down. We’ve got a long way to go.

I know I’m stating the obvious, but can we just commiserate for a minute? Maybe five? Can I ask you to read a few of my invernal complaints? Before I became a mother I used to love winter. The silence of the falling snow, and how it looked blue in the dusk. Cozy evenings in front of the TV watching The Sopranos or whatever drama everyone used to carry on about at the time. I remember, one President’s Day in Cambridge, we got 27 inches of snow. That’s OK! we said, all rosy cheeked and cheery, and we put on our boots and marched out to dinner down the middle of the street. Throughout the harsh winter, our daily routine would just go on, with a little added inconvenience, maybe, and a lot of romance derived from gazing at hushed scenes of trees covered in white.

Now, even without 27 inches of snow, even on just an average winter day, having kids makes winter wickedly more complicated. For starters: tack an extra million minutes on to getting ready for school, or going anywhere, to pull on snow pants, boots, hats, mittens, and huge winter jackets. Remember the scene in A Christmas Story, in which the mother heaves and grimaces as she puts her five-year-old into snow gear? “You can put your arms down when you get to school!” All these years later, and even in these salad days of high-performance heavy weather gear, it’s still just as much of a grind. It’s like a full-on wrestling match before 8 am. And still the geniuses at all the gear companies that produce such beautiful catalogs cannot engineer a mitten that will stay on the mitts of a two-year-old who wants to eat an awful lot of filthy snow on the way to school drop-off.

Now tack on another million minutes, maybe more, for all the additional tantrums that winter brings. I’ve realized, after spending so much time indoors with two little boys in the cold and day-shortened dark, how much good it does them to spend their free hours out-of-doors, as they do the rest of the year. How good it is for their spirits to just throw on a pair of sneakers and run outside, unencumbered by layers of clothes, and patches of ice, and blistering wind that can knock a child down (and did, just yesterday). Plus, a poor two-year-old, no matter how much he wants to go outside and play in the snow, spends much more time out there on his face than romping around. So an intrepid expedition out into the snow, like the one we had this morning, is usually very short and cold and involves carrying a doubly-heavy toddler in boots up and down stairs and over snowbanks that he has just fallen into. Tiring. I may just have a tantrum myself. I wouldn’t put it past me.

Enough already.

Enough already.

Once indoors, and stir-crazy, we are scrapping over toys, doing crafts for five minutes before tossing them aside, or taking magic markers to walls, before it’s Movie Time! Somehow, letting your child watch TV for a while so you can get some peace or do some chores sounds less bad if you call it Movie Time! rather than Several Episodes of Max and Ruby Time! On the bill today, while the little one sleeps and I write this: The Empire Strikes Back. And by the way, I will say this to you since I can’t say it to my son, I SO DO NOT CARE what happens to whomever on the ice planet Hoth! I LIVE ON THE ICE PLANET HOTH and it sucks so I don’t need to hear any more lectures about it thank you.

So there’s the slog of coats and boots and falling over and buried cars and no parking and crowded supermarkets where everyone is shopping for Armageddon and school snow days and weeks on end where we pass the same colds around to each other and cancelled travel and playdates and weak sunshine and then Downton Abbey has to go and end and SPOILER ALERT Matthew up and dies so you have to transfer your crush to Dr Clarkson (you’re too good for her!) and it’s months until Breaking Bad starts again so there’s nothing on and I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE! Is it Easter yet?

Still, as wearying and frustrating as winter is, I know that what we go through these days is nothing like what people once suffered before central heating and Patagonia puffer coats were invented. Times when winter meant an autumn of preparing and stockpiling food, which you hoped would last, and might not; when homes and lives were much more vulnerable to the cruel, harsh elements, and were often taken by the deep cold. It makes me think of the old poem Beowulf, which I love, and picture in my mind to be set in a perfectly dark world, where it’s always a cold night in the north of Europe. Where the only brightness comes from within the mead halls, glowing gold with fire and drink, yet still open to attack from beasts, like Grendel, from the edges of consciousness. In the poem, and in those dark days, lives were measured by winters survived. Life was harder. You think I’m in a bad mood? Just look at Grendel’s mother. And who could blame her?

Grendel's Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

Grendel’s Den: now a pleasant watering hole in Harvard Square (Wikipedia)

Now, we get through winter, wrapped in blankets of heat, and electricity, and TV weathermen who warn us, with great alarm and fancy graphics, to prepare for every inch of snow and gust of wind that might threaten our cocoons of comfortable existence. But even though that immediacy, that shivering rush for survival, is gone for most of us, winter still gets under our skin. No amount of Gore-Tex can change the fact that nature is still our master. It changes our moods, our outlook; it governs our daily lives. We’ve got cabinets of snacks to sustain us and can go buy watermelon once the winds let up, but those winters of old are still out there, they’re in our bones and the way we bristle at the weather report. With every ice dam or snow drift we battle, we are like the people of Beowulf, “deep in their hearts/they remembered hell.” Even if hell for us now might mean the cable going out.

I know what some of you might be thinking: “Why don’t you move to California or something if you hate winter so much?” No, I’m not doing that. Have you seen Annie Hall? And don’t worry, April and May will pass soon enough and I’ll be on to complaining about schlepping kids around in the heat.

Top five reasons why a new blog post is so very long overdue

It’s been well over a week since I have posted on my blog, and I tell you, it eats at me. I just haven’t found [see blog title]. But really, I have some legitimate excuses, uh, reasons, for not posting in a while. Here are the few of things that have eaten up all of my [see blog title].

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

1) Worrying about Hurricane Sandy. I type this faster and more anxiously as the wind whips up outside, and even though here in Boston we are well away from the center of the storm, school has been cancelled and the T has been shut down, so we are all four at home today. Read: no me time. Just lots and lots of we time. Which is great, great, great, of course. So instead of finishing my next post, which has been sitting in my draft folder for some time now half-finished, I have been drawing Bubble Guppies for T:

And I didn’t win the Art Award in sixth grade because why? No, I’m not bitter.

Daddy is taking charge of C’s homework (brought to you by the letters S and U, cut from magazines), so I have a few minutes on the computer. I’m typing fast. And when the time for the heaviest winds arrives, I’ll close the laptop and start pacing back and forth in front of the TV as Pete Bouchard tries to conceal his excitement about storm surges and gust MPHs and astronomical high tides. These meteorologist guys live for this, don’t they? They rub their hands in glee while we worriers wear pasta pots on our head waiting for the trees to come crashing down upon us.

English: The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d'Hue...

The 2003 Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, with Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Haimar Zubeldia, Roberto Laiseka and Joseba Beloki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Everyone else is blaming Lance Armstrong, so why can’t I? As a cycling fan, I have been completely consumed by the stunning revelations about Armstrong’s alleged doping. Of course, when T was asleep and C was at school, I dropped all important chores and tasks to read the 200-page “reasoned decision” published by USADA, as well as the Tyler Hamilton book. I have had Cyclingnews constantly open in my browser. And like many others, I have been dismayed at charges too hard to ignore, and at watching elder statemen of the sport fall one by one. Another day brings another admission of guilt, another tarnished record, another achievement that was too good to be true. I’m not an expert, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about it. So I will leave it to known Mod and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to say it best:

“It’s a sport I love and have always loved. It’s a shame that cycling is being dragged through this again. It’s not a shame he’s been caught. As you get older, you start to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. And that was always the case with Lance.”

Bradley Wiggins racing to Gold in London 2012 ...

Wiggins wins the gold in the time trial, London 2012. (Photo credit: EEPaul)

You have to love this guy. I choose to believe Wiggins has never doped, because that’s what he says, but who’s to know for sure? Who can we trust? Ever? It’s sad that I wish Cyclingnews would publish a list of definitively clean riders, so we could have something to hold onto while the sport goes through this wrenching, scorched earth period that it must endure to restore its integrity.

3) Oh yeah, there’s that election. And Halloween.

C’s “master plan” for Halloween. Or the election???

4) We took a trip to NYC to visit my family and take C to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid. Out on the flight deck of the old aircraft carrier, we passed rows of fighter planes with teeth painted on them and helicopters just wide enough for one person; I imagined them flying like whirring envelopes. And there’s the Captain’s bridge where you climb narrow stairs to talk to WWII veterans who were stationed on the Intrepid, and see an officer’s cabin where there’s a calendar from the year the ship was decommissioned (1974) still on the wall.

Beyond all of that, a temporary bubble houses the shuttle. Inside, the Enterprise floats above our heads in a cloud of blue, like that model of a huge, blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History. Just as hushed, just as commanding of respect. I wonder how the Enterprise will fare during the storm? It’s been through much more, I suppose.

The glowing ship.

5) Sorry, I had to watch Downton Abbey again. It just had to be done.

Obviously.

There are a million things to do, and there always will be, and they are calling me now. But it still makes me glad to know the blog is there, and I will get back to it in the next few days. But as I write this, the house is shaking; there is a big gust. My heart is beating faster. T will wake up soon. I’ve drawn the shades but I know the branches are bending and leaves are streaking by. I’ll need to start pacing soon, and pottering around, putting Legos back in bins, making meatballs, reading stories, vacuuming up crumbs, doing all the things I do to put the fear and worry at the back of my mind.

I hope everyone stays safe!

Are you being “show-shamed”?

Actress Tyra Banks at the 2000 Cannes Film Fes...

Fiercely real. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s mid-week, mid-winter. My friend Michelle has brought her boys over to play. We often spend these afternoons hiding in the kitchen, minimally intervening as the boys run around the house with capes, and maybe shirts, on. We don’t even sit; we just lean against the counter, eating leftover Cheddar Bunnies.

What’s on for you this evening? An often-asked question as the playdate winds down. We steel ourselves for the long goodbye, the tortured putting on of shoes. So what cultural feast will you and your gentleman husband attend? my friend asks. The ballet? Infinite Jest book club on Skype with friends in Paris, or Singapore? Late show at the Middle East? Candlepin bowling? What, pray tell, what? Don’t keep me in suspense!

“It’s America’s Next Top Model night!” I raise the roof. Sincerely, but not with 100% effort, floppy hands.

“I’m so jealous,” she says. “I have it on my DVR but I have to wait till my husband’s not around to watch it. He show-shames me.”

Finally, show-shaming, as Michelle terms it, must come to the light. Those who suffer, in their marriages, or friendships, reach out your hands, with whatever effort level you can muster, and take mine own! And hear tell of this secret suffering!

How do you know if you’re being show-shamed?

Do you watch a TV show that your husband, wife, or anyone you might live with, thinks is stupid? Well, how do you know they think it’s stupid? Do they say, “this is stupid,” and then leave you in peace to watch your program while they go practice yoga or dissect scripture or something, and then return when you’ve finished your stupid show and turned on The Wire? Show-shamed!

Do they, when you summon said stupid program from deep within your DVR (they should have password-protected folders for this kind of thing!), come into the room, roll their eyes, sit down with their iPads, and silently judge you as you watch, while all the while you know they’re listening even though they are pretending to read some BS on Instapaper? Show-shamed!

Do they, as you try to watch, interrogate you as to what exactly it is you like about said horrible show, openly lecture you about the program’s lack of value, remind you that they would never deign to watch it, and then imply that you are foolish for watching it, causing you to, over time, abandon watching the program in this person’s company, or even entirely? Show-shamed!

Do these people think they are so great, and that every program they watch is practically Shakespeare, and approved of by Entertainment Weekly, Salon, The A.V. Club, and other respected outlets of media criticism? But that your shows are for dummies? Like you? Show-shamers!

Do you, when watching a program deemed stupid whilst alone, rush to shut the television off when your show-shamer comes in the room, to avoid any of the above? Oh, the show-shame! 

I must thank Michelle for giving a name to this sad, but I’m willing to bet common, phenomenon. She thought of the term, she tells me, after watching a Sex and the City episode, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” in which Carrie feels “shoe shamed” after a friend judges her for how much she spends on her Manolos. And now, Sex and the City itself is a show that probably causes a great deal of show-shaming in households all over America. How funny. How sad.

Look. One of the things I like best about my husband is that he will cop to liking America’s Next Top Model. We both know it’s stupid, and we both watch it to revel in disbelief at the ridiculously large amount of self-esteem Tyra Banks has. Skip this next part if you are a show-shamer and you don’t want to hear any more nonsense about Top Model: [I mean, right? Who's with us? We just can't abide the way she has to stand above, literally above, her poor little minions, and call them up one at a time to hand out photos and rejection. She's like the bossy neighborhood girl who always had to be the teacher when you played school, calling all the shots, handing out scraps with big "F"s on them. But she's the millionaire, so f*ck us, what do we know? We actually don't even watch the show anymore since she fired everyone who was ever any actual good from the show. "But what about Ms J!" my husband said, with genuine concern. "I'm worried he won't find another job!"]

This attitude has won my dear husband big points amongst my friends. It’s all very endearing. And we have a lot of fun when we can watch TV together and yak about it. That is, if he approves of the show. But, when he doesn’t: show-shamer! Par excellence! Get ready for some more French: j’accuse!

When I am watching a show he doesn’t like, he exhibits all of the show-shaming behaviors above. Plus, he loudly professes his fondness for all the shows that typical major-league show-shamers like: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire (of course!), The Walking Dead. Louie. Game of Thrones (double of course!). And that pinnacle of all television shows, for those who really know quality: Buffy the Vampire Slayer The programs that advertise your membership in the club of fine, even hip, taste in television, that you are proud to shout your fancy for from the rooftops. That show you are smart, have good, nay, edgy, taste, and are participating in the New Golden Age of Television.

I like some of those shows too. Very much. But can’t I also watch Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team without the judgments? Or the 2o millionth season of Survivor? Or very minor (to you! To me they are huge!) European road cycling events on a small cable network without feeling like a weirdo? Or waiting till he’s not around? There, I’ve said it.

And then there’s one more kind of show-shaming, the kind that I feel particularly embarrassed about I am called out on it. Example: we watch Parks and Recreation. It’s a good show, no shame there. Then, as soon as it’s over, and I mean milliseconds after, he grabs the remote to delete it from the DVR, forcing me to beg, “Wait! Don’t delete it!” But it’s too late. It’s gone. Because it’s an affront to him to waste precious precious DVR space on something we’ve already seen. Oh, the humanity!

I like to watch things over and over; to me, a lot of what I enjoy about TV is spending time, in a sense, with characters I like, or being transported to a little world I like to visit. So EXCUUUUUSE MEEEE  that I’ve put my Gavin and Stacey DVD in AGAIN YES I KNOW I KNOW HOW IT ENDS. I see the smirk. I see he pities my strange, weak, (yet charming? maybe?) foible.

Gavin & Stacey main characters, left to right:...

I’m not being funny, I could watch this show a million times. It’s lush! 

So we’ve outlined the terms of show-shaming. The judging. The eye-rolling. The third degree. The difficulty abiding shows that are not approved by television critics and your very coolest Facebook friends/ComicCon attendees. And then there’s the related condition. It’s easy for them to dislike your programs. But you don’t want to watch Game of Thrones? Philistine!

I could go on but I feel like this post will snowball into a general discussion of the everyday conundrums of marriage, or living in close quarters, and a paragraph that starts, “And by the way, why can’t you find things in the refrigerator?” No. This is not an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond (which I personally enjoy show-shaming my mother about). I just put this to you:

What, ye show-shamed bretheren, is the solution? What do we do about it? Do we stand firm in the face of show-shaming, and ask for equal time for our shameful shows, whatever they are? Do we force the show-shamers to watch our banned programming with us, and try to get them to see whatever good we see in it? No! Because that is exactly what the show-shamer would do. Try to get you, nay – force you! to see their side.

The answer? Acceptance. That is all we can ask. For those of us with small children to contend with during the day – pipsqueaks who hold all the power in the household and the remote as well – an evening by the television, after the power-brokers are in bed, is hearth-time, where we come together, sometimes, and express ourselves in this modern and depressing way. My husband and I share our home, we share our lives and hopes and dreams, but we are still entitled to our own opinions and tastes. Though we committed to share a television when we stood at that altar all those years ago, it’s OK that we don’t like all the same things. What would that be like? Yikes. We still agree on the things that are the most important: we love our kids, our families, our community. We neither of us care for seafood. Beyond that, our separate interests should make us interesting to each other, not alien. So let’s remove judgement from at least this small, but dear, portion of our lives. One that’s totally within our control.

So if, show-shamer, you enter the room when a shamed show is on the screen, simply do not judge. Say, “Oh, you are watching that delightful episode of Gavin and Stacey again. The one where they have the surprise barn dance for Gwen’s birthday. That’s nice. I’ll just be here, folding this laundry, supporting you.” Or the beshamed can say, “Oh I can finish this up later, that’s no problem. Why don’t we watch a Louie? I hear Parker Posey’s in this episode. That will be great!” See? Oh, the domestic bliss.

Sleeper (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

If we have to watch Buffy, can we at least watch one with Spike in it? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to mid-week, mid-winter. The boys are asleep. We’ve heard the last of them, and Max and Ruby, for the day. But there’s a friend on our doorstep! It’s Michelle, bearing red wine. A Malbec, from Argentina. There is a plate of the finest cheeses and charcuterie, perhaps some cornichon, balanced on a child’s chair in front of the TV. The CW is on. Tyra’s going to teach the young models how to booty-tooch. Then, a photo shoot in which they have to pretend to be Greek salad. And we will freely enjoy. But if Michelle even thinks about suggesting we watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey or some such crap, back out into the cold, dark night she goes!

Are there any of you out there feeling show-shamed? For any type of TV show, cheesy, classy, or otherwise? There’s room for all points of view in show-shaming! Any type of show can bring on the shamer’s chilling gaze!

And if there are any show-shamers among us: show your faces! You will not be judged here! Maybe you will a little bit. But still! Tell us, why oh why?

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #3: the Miss Italia pageant

Miss Italia 2012

She’s going to Euro Disney! Giusy Buscemi, Miss Wella Professionals Sicilia, is Miss Italia 2012. (Photo credit: Fiatontheweb)

It’s September 10: the last day of summer vacation. Kindergarten is starting the following day. So let’s take it easy. Playground in the crisp morning, a late nap for T; C is working on his latest Lego Star Wars set: “The Battle of Naboo.” I’m pottering around. I gasp -

September! That can only mean one thing! When is Miss Italia starting? Oh no! Have I missed it? I drop all the awesome tasteful crafts I make in my spare time according to the laws of Martha Stewart magazine, and run to the TV. Translation: I drop the Martha Stewart magazine I read with feelings of inadequacy (Why did I insist on all those garish colors at the boys’ birthday party? Children love parties with an all-white theme!) and make a very short leap to the TV. Channel 1772 – the Italian-language station, RAI International. I subscribe to the channel just for stuff like this: so I can practice my Italian by watching people speak the language in its most natural form, which is arguing and carrying on.

Sure enough, it’s on when I turn to the station. And it’s live, in the middle of the afternoon here, and not even listed in the channel guide, which instead lists a program called Techetechete’ (I looked it up, and I still have no idea). But, look, there is Fabrizio Frizzi. Our hapless host. He hasn’t quit yet, like that other host did once. Phew. There are still 20 contestants in the running, down from 101 (and there are only 20 regions in Italy!), so that gives us a few solid hours left. And sure enough, I enter in on an argument. More, as I mentioned in my previous post about the pageant, polemiche. Polemics.

I sit down to watch while C sits at the dining room table with his Legos. Miss Italia runs for two nights, for at least three hours per night (it used to run for four nights, before it was half-cancelled last year). Who knows what I missed on the first night? Well, let’s imagine:

The judges, aided by voters from home, aka, “il televoto,” whittled down the contestants from 101 into smaller and smaller groups. When elimination time comes, the cameras panned to each woman individually, when she’s told if she is in or out. If she was out, close-up on the face: looks of annoyance and/or despair, and/or pretending not to care. That gets replayed immediately, giving the audience chances to lip-read for any cursing or bestemmie, blasphemies. The rejected Miss are kept bordocampo, on the sidelines – all the better to catch any tears, or storming off, or colluding with the other rejects to storm the stage. They are definitely allowed to step up to the mike to protest their eliminations. Last year’s winner no doubt then sang a song. More eliminations. Pause to watch le Miss dance around to a Madonna song, or with scarves maybe (this actually happened on night 2, something similar no doubt happened on the night 1). Then the proceedings are hashed out by the judges. Then more arguing with a crew of assembled journalists kept on hand to mix it up. And so on. Pause to plug tourism in the new host town, Montecatini Terme, in Tuscany. It’s a nice place; no arguments there.

Montecatini Terme, Toscana, Italia

Montecatini Terme. Oh, Italy, for stuff like this, we’ll forgive you this crazy pageant. And Silvio Berlusconi. And Fabio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to the argument at hand. The judges are defending their choices for the Top 20, as well as the inclusion of the televoto, up against an audience full of angry mamme e babbi whose daughters weren’t chosen, or fans whose region wasn’t represented.  From the next room, I hear C spouting fake Italian: “Fresha pizza! Bacalabaraciabara! Mutandi Wow!” All those dreams of raising my children with the Italian language, come to naught. Where’s my copy of Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino? We’re dumping Captain Underpants at bedtime, I don’t care who understands what.

He comes in the living room. “Why aren’t those people on your show speaking regular?”

“They are speaking regular. We speak English here. But in Italy, they speak another language. Did you know that this is what Nanny spoke when she was little like you? She lived in Italy and spoke Italian. So did your great-grandparents, my grandparents. Nanny still speaks Italian sometimes.”

Oh yeah! Malavita! Chist’ o cazzu! Fresha pizza again! Well, at least I’ve gotten two Italian terms, common in my house growing up, into his vocabulary. They’re not that nice, but still.

I think it would do him good to hear the language for the remainder of our afternoon at home, so I keep watching as he plays. I don’t think he’s watching the screen from the next room, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate at this moment on the extremely sexist nature of the program. At this age, all I can do is keep stressing to him that boys and girls, men and women, are capable of the same things. That they can both be doctors, or nurses, or Jedi knights. That the queen of his Playmobil castle can be just as strong as the king.

Of course Miss Italia objectifies women. At least, unlike the American equivalent, the Miss America pageant, it does not pretend to be a scholarship competition. Le miss just stand around in bathing suits most of the time (though this year, bikinis were banned), and when they are dressed, they are beautifully so, instead of looking like a bunch of Blanches from Golden Girls at age 22. Most of the contestants are there to try to get a job presenting one of the three million talk shows on Italian TV, and winning this is a good way to do it.

Look, I know it’s bad. It’s terribly antiquated, even for an antiquated country. But I like it for pretty much the same reason I like the Tour de France, or the Olympics, or Champions League soccer. It’s long, and mainly monotonous, giving me the chance to sink myself into this European dream, where I can pretend I’m not on some street in Massachusetts with a boring name, but in a villa, or a garret, or a even a hovel in the heart of Europe. Which is mainly where I ask Calgon to take me.

I watch shows like this on RAI to listen to the language, as its spoken now; I like to hear poetry in the names of the Italian regions, read 101 times and splashed across le fasce, the sashes: Miss Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Miss Valle d’Aosta (that’s practically France; she never wins), my family’s home regions: Miss Campania, Miss Calabria. These women, in their own superficial way, represent deep ties to these little towns in corners of Italy where their families have probably been living for a thousand years, places where they claw their ways out of the regional pageants near churches where their ancestors were married, the camposanti where they’re buried. It’s dumb, but it’s true; it’s a slice of a life of a place I dream of. I only wish I could see the commercials too, for the banal little items that fill these lives: boxed pasta, furniture sets, cheese like Nonna made, spreadable ham (really!). But we don’t often get those – they don’t apply to us and our market, so they are usually cut out and replaced with a Miss Italia best-of reel, of winner after winner crying, their hair and eyebrow thickness changing through the years.

C keeps fervently working on his model of the Battle of far-off Naboo while I watch eliminations, indignations, altercations, explanations, and further complications. Then he saunters into the living room with his Lego accomplishment, a smirk on his face announcing a big joke prepared:

“The Battle of Naboobs. Like those,” he said, sing-song, pointing slyly at the TV.

Like every good Italian daughter, I should have listened to my mamma.

“He hears everything,” she told me just the other day. “Even from the other room. So watch it!” Every discussion of breastfeeding, ill-fitting undergarments, everything boob-related has apparently gone straight into his ears, bounced off the TV set, and come right back at me. So much for his big language lesson. Instead, a pun on the female anatomy. And is anyone else’s five-year-old going through a private-parts obsession lately? Because that remark is one of many made concerning any part of the body usually covered by underwear, male or female. Aren’t they supposed to be in some sort of Freudian latency period or something?

As the lone female in this household, I have my work cut out for me, I see, as spokesmodel, er person, for womankind.  And the moment for these lessons has come more quickly than I would have thought. As in so many aspects of parenting, I feel like I am constantly playing catch-up to my kid; like I am parenting the child of a few weeks or months ago, though he has already made leaps since then, and continues to change so much, all the time. So, step one, a new reality: even more careful about what I say. And step two: watch Miss Italia after bedtime. Stick to better quality Italian-language shows during the day, like…Techetechete’? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.

The Battle of Naboobs. Sigh. (via tvblog.it)

For more of my parenting foibles, see also:

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #1: The Tour de France

When watching grown-up TV with your kids goes wrong, #2: National Geographic: Volcano!

Skip the closing ceremonies, and just read this: The Greenspan Awards

Olympic Park London 2012

Good night, London. (Photo credit: williamsdb)

My mind has already moved off the Olympics, to other concerns of summer (The beach! Eastern Equine Encephalitis! The fast approach of kindergarten!), but, as threatened, I am pleased to quickly throw together The Greenspan Awards! Named for the late Bud Greenspan’s documentary series of very zeniths of Olympics past, these awards will add to the firmament of athletic honor my favorite people and moments from the 2012 London Olympics.

So let’s get right to it. Actually not, there’s going to be a bit of a wind-up. Usually I look forward to swimming more than any other summer Olympic sport, but I must say, while I enjoyed the events, most of the athletes left me cold. They were all great, they broke records and hit personal bests, but I did not end the week becoming a true mega-fan of any of them. And then there was Ryan Lochte’s diamond grill. Um, no. Great athlete, but, no Greenspan for you.

English: Photo of Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olym...

You could have just kept that peeing in the pool thing to yourself. Ryan Lochte during 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feeling as cold as a diver who has naught but a tiny towel to wrap themselves in as they climb out of an unforgiving pool, I turned to the track. There, I found all the Olympic heat and glory I needed. So – OK, here comes the first Greenspan! I’m just going to give the first Greenspan to Oscar Pistorius of South Africa. Really, he wins them all. Not even going to bother explaining why. He just wins.

Polski: Oscar Pistorius pozdrawia kibiców po b...

You win. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The track in London was actually full of gallantry, great sportsmanship, and thrilling events this year. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, David Rudisha, Allyson Felix, just to name a few. They all get Greenspans. Also receiving a Greenspan: Kirani James of Grenada, who won the gold medal in Pistorius’s event, the 400 meters, and immediately after winning his heat, traded bibs with Pistorius. A great moment.

I know this might make me seem like I am jumping on a bandwagon, but if the Paralympics, which begin in London on August 29, are televised, I will be watching them. I’ll jump away. Call it the Pistorius Effect, but I’m all for it if it brings such a courageous side of the Olympic movement, often overlooked, to light. [While we're at it, I've succumbed to the Wiggins Effect too, and got a bicycle (not sideburns). Well, it's more up to coincidence than Wiggo: my commuter-biking husband has been pestering me to get a bike for years so that we can cycle as a family. I told him I thought the whole point of family cycling is that you can take the boys and do it without me. But here I am. I wanted a low-riding bike with a banana seat because I am afraid of falling off (the model I wanted had "Hot Rod" painted down the side), but we ended up going to some hipster antique market in Cambridge and getting a 1950's English bike called a Robin Hood. Which doesn't embarrass him, apparently. I'll let you know if I fall off.]

My new ride. Don’t be jealous, Brad.

OK, I’ve mentioned my two favorite Olympians, Wiggo (obvs a Greenspan winner) and Pistorius, so there’s not much more I can say.

No wait, there are a few more things.

  • I want to give an honorary Greenspan to the fleet of manicurists and waxers that are no doubt on call in the Olympic Village. Because there has not been a body hair or a patriotically-painted nail out of place among the athletes. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, even had a go:

I actually kind of love this guy.

  • Can’t do a wrap-up without mentioning my own local Olympian, gymnastics gold-medalist Aly Raisman of Needham, MA. Although I can’t figure out why everyone thought her parents were acting so strangely as they watched her up in the stands – that’s how we all act in Massachusetts. We are all that “hilariously awkward”:

It’s funny, I’ve been watching the Olympics since I was nine, but this is the first year, when I daydream of myself at the Olympics, I am no longer the one on the podium in an awesome Team USA track suit getting a medal (usually in Speed Skating). Instead I’m in the stands, watching one of my boys getting a medal. And afterwards, of course, he runs straight over to me to give me his bouquet. He gives it to me. Not some hussy.

  • Finally, even though I have ragged on Bob Costas and NBC’s broadcasting choices, watching the Olympics would not be nearly as fun without the network’s trusty crew of color commentators, all experts in their fields. I can’t imagine watching swimming without Rowdy Gaines going bananas, gymnastics without Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett having canaries; cycling without Paul Sherwen’s erudite wig-outs, or diving without Cynthia Potter’s subtle southern tsk-tsks. And Ato Boldon’s knowledgable rants have made a track fan out of me. Well, his rants and Oscar Pistorius’s…Pistoriusness.

Well, the rest of summer calls, and it’s time to get outside and stop watching sports on TV in the air conditioning (until the USA Pro Cycling Challenge! Andy Schleck returns! Actually, no he doesn’t!). There’s still the Closing Ceremonies to get through. Any chance of a reunion of Morrissey and Marr? No? Then I think we’re done here…

Hope in Curiosity

The Moon and Mars

The Moon and Mars (Photo credit: Tolka Rover)

Last night, instead of reading the continuing saga of Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (O hilarity! Thou dost ensue!) to our little son, C , at bedtime, we took out the iPad and watched, on NASA’s app, the robot rover Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars.

“What I would have given to have had this as a kid!” my science-mad husband said. He’s right; it’s incredible that we have this device that can show our son the world – and beyond – at bedtime. (But don’t get any fancy ideas, C: there will be no eight o’clock rounds of Toca Boca Monster Kitchen. This was a special occasion.)

In awe, we watched what really happened, yonder: something approximating a vehicle from one of C’s Lego sets gingerly landed on the surface of the red planet. Then, surrounded by quilts and teddy bears, as night fell outside, we saw images transmitted from another world.

For all of us, it was a wonder. But what I enjoyed most, even more than the landing itself, was the elation on the faces of the engineers at NASA, on desk’s edge in powder-blue shirts. This moment was something probably all of them had dreamed of as children, looking out bedroom windows at the moon from under the covers. And then they turned their hopes into study, hard work, and determination, and now we all benefit (and their mothers must be so proud!).

This morning, the boys still had visions of Mars in their heads. C was on the floor building a robot out of wooden blocks that could keep taking pictures of Mars while Curiosity was turned off. As it must be from time to time. And their dad was sighing into his coffee. “I still want to go into space. I guess that will never happen now.”

“Have a little hope,” I said.

Maybe their dad isn’t an astronaut. But he started as a young boy who loved science, all of it, and now, it’s his job every day. And probably my greatest hope for my two sons, aside from their general health and happiness, is that someday, they will uncover something to aspire to, to work toward, that brings them such joy. That means something to them. All I can do now is show them the possibilities, on the screen or out in the world, encourage their curiosity, and wait for that light to go on, maybe as they lie in bed at night. It could be anything. And there’s probably an app for it. Sweet dreams, boys.

I’m happy to be participating in Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope, inspired by the Olympics! Thank you to the excellent writer, Mom in the Muddle for inviting me to join in. Both of these blogs are great and worth checking out.

I’ve been complaining, er, blogging about the Olympics here for the past week, so as someone like Melanie who hates exercising, it feels good to participate in some way! And who knows, maybe all this Olympics-watching I’ve been doing will inspire the boys to athletic greatness some day. I’ve already chosen events for them that suit their personalities. For C, the Modern Pentathlon. A combination of pistol shooting, swimming, horse jumping, running, and fencing sounds like superhero training. And also very tiring. And for little T? Shot put. We already know he can throw food, and Matchbox cars.

I know we are getting close to the anchor leg of this blog relay, and there’s not much time left, so (no pressure) I’d like to pass the baton over to my husband over at drcraigcanapari.com to see if he’s got anything to say about hope. (He does! Read it here!) I know in his line of work he comes across it every day. I would also like to reach out to another blog I enjoy reading, scienceofmom.com. If you would like to join, be sure to link back here and to Melanie Crutchfield. USA!

To read the Closing Ceremonies of the Blog Relay for Hope, click…here!

This should just about cover it: my rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage

English: Usain Bolt at the World Championship ...

Usain Bolt in Berlin, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we enjoy the second, and final, week of the Olympics, I thought I’d get a jump on my wrap-up. Frankly, my enthusiasm for the Olympics is beginning to wane. Why? Before I get to my planned Olympic tribute: The Greenspan Awards: Candidates for Future Segments for Bud Greenspan’s Firmament of Olympic Glory (which I may or may not get to, let’s be real here), here’s one long, slightly unhinged rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

It’s Sunday night. Clearly I don’t have tickets for the Olympics. Husband and I are at home, stateside, listening to the static coming from two baby monitors. We’re in primetime Olympic coverage. It’s nine o’clock. We all know Usain Bolt is running the 100 Meters tonight, probably because my Olympics iPhone apps have been dinging in my ear all day. I have nine apps. I thought all of a sudden I was really popular and getting tons of texts, but no. Usain Bolt!

So never mind that these apps (and NPR!) spoiled me for the result several times over. As they did for Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial win. (Do I learn? No.) AND never mind I am holding off on watching Breaking Bad for this. I want to watch Bolt win. I am ready. We know it’s already happened, so obviously NBC is going to show it as the centerpiece of the evening’s coverage, right? They can show it whenever they want. Nine o’clock passes…

YET MORE beach volleyball. How much of this sport am I going to have to fast-forward before the end of the Olympics? It’s not even a final, or semi-final. It’s one of about – as far as I can tell, I can’t be bothered to check my app(s) to find out – a hundred million qualifying rounds May/Walsh have played. I feel like I’ve seen about nineteen Olympics worth of THEM ALONE playing beach volleyball, and they keep getting the primest of the primetime spots. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt, running probably the signature event of the entire games, is relegated to the eleven-o’clock hour – that’s practically late night! Why? Is it because Misty and Kristy, or whatever they are called, are American, and he is not? Because there is certainly a bias toward only showing events that the USA is contesting. I was shocked yesterday to tune into a Track Cycling final between France and Team GB (and that’s another thing, addressed to my DVR: if you say you’ve recorded Track Cycling, SHOW THAT. Not more volleyball!). Again, why? Don’t say it’s about the bikinis, because a) insulting and b) too cold for bikinis in London.

To sum up, even with all of the options that NBC claims are available to us for watching any Olympic event, I am pretty much bound to watch whatever they decide to prioritize in primetime. Because really, I don’t have all day and night to watch the Olympics, bouncing back and forth from the computer, to the phone, to the iPad, to whatever live coverage they can show. I really can just pick and choose a few things from the daytime coverage, and hope the DVR records what the guide proclaims (ahem, Track Cycling). And then watch the primetime coverage. Which has turned out to be all-American, all the time, with a huge bolus of beach volleyball stuck in the middle. And if you are watching primetime TV, they force you to the beach volleyball (men and women’s) by not even showing any alternate events on the NBC Sports Network – they’ve been showing poker in primetime! Poker!!! I thought that was the whole point of having a second network; to double your options. But no, Bob Costas needs us to see his taut face, directing us to hang on for more hyperbolic purple prose after commercial breaks. And by the way, Costas, you can chill with the flights of poetic fancy. You are no Greenspan. You are from Commack, you get me? Islander to Islander?

I appreciate that, by and large, people are going to be watching the Olympics to root for Team USA. But the Olympics is an opportunity to let the world into our homes. To appreciate the human, not just the American, spirit. So, in that spirit, O media gods, please, let me watch Mark Cavendish comment on the Track Cycling! I would be willing to pay for BBC coverage of the Olympics just to see this. And anyway, isn’t me funneling more money into media conglomerates also very much in the spirit of the Games? Let us, in the spirit of international fellowship, break down those firewalls!

So, hopefully, tune in soon for these Greenspan Awards I keep threatening you with, highlighting my favorite moments and people from London 2012. Spoiler Alert: Oscar Pistorius is definitely getting a Greenspan. I mean, come on!

English: Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World cha...

Guess who? during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is waiting…for my thoughts on the Olympics so far

London -- View from Tate Modern

London — View from Tate Modern (Photo credit: Nietnagel)

You might have noticed I lit up the internet with some live tweets of the Opening Ceremony. I feel like I should go along with peer pressure and say that it was brilliant and totally out-of-the-box, but I thought it was a bit uneven, and a waste of Kenneth Branagh.

I mean, how did they come to spend so much time, given everything that is great about Great Britain, on “the kids” pretend-Tweeting each other? What is this, From Justin to Kelly? I get that the kids today love social media, but young’uns looking at phones and writing jolly messages has become a very un-dynamic shorthand for reaching out to youth culture. All those incredible songs in the background, wasted, while people walk/dance around in weird costumes. And in the presence of all these amazing young athletes, we’re spending a good quarter of the Opening Ceremony on people and their ubiquitous phones.

And again, the National Health Service section: out of everything Danny Boyle and crew could have chosen to represent Britain, why this? I’m just wondering. I think that health care for children is incredibly important, I really do, but given the big swath of screen and stadium you have to fill, why fill it with children faffing around on beds? Visually, it’s just not that interesting.

I did like the opening film about the course of the river Thames, and the Tube, though that marker at the beginning looked like a gravestone. I also liked the pastoral scene, even though the choreography as it progressed felt like one overly-long set change, rather anything composed to look at. And I obviously loved the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire bit. That was hilarious, and to me, showcased British wit and personality so well. If it were me, and I am fending off phone calls from Sochi as I write this, I would have maybe used Branagh as a narrator, ala Our Town, throughout the ceremony, bringing him back periodically to spout off some appropriate lines of Shakespeare, as he does so well. I think that would have helped tie everything together, instead of these uneven blocks of action. And here’s my other big idea: I liked how the grass gave way to a floor that looked like city streets. How about running a river, mimicking that distinctive bend in the Thames (cue Eastenders theme song), through the stadium? I think that incredible river is a perfect emblem for London and the Games. OK, Sochi, I’ll do it.

***

Michael Phelps’s sister, you seem very nice. I even stomached that interview with you, the other sister, and your mother with that insufferable Ryan Seacrest because I thought you seemed so nice. But, as a pretend friend, I’m telling you: move on from that necklace you’re always wearing. The big huge red one. (Check out this London 2012 fashion rundown for a photo) I like the necklace in and of itself, but I feel that for the past six million years, every time I’ve seen you cheering for baby bro somewhere, you have been wearing it. It’s a statement necklace: you make the statement, then you get rid of it and make another statement. It’s not a string of pearls. People are going to remember that you keep wearing it. You’re not Kate Middleton; you have nothing to prove by rewearing your looks. Even your mother switches up her chunky jewelry.

So, sis, unless it is some kind of good luck charm and he loses if you don’t wear it (which we now know is not the case), how about you retire it, auction it off for charity or something, and let your fancy brother buy you a new one, like from Erickson Beamon, or J. Crew? Or, f*** it, Chanel? He can afford it.

***

Finally, my favorite win so far? The Great Britain Mens’ Gymnastics Team! I know I am supposed to be rooting for Team USA, but that was a great win, even though the Japanese team killed the buzz a bit at the end there…still, if someone picks up Bud’s mantle and makes a London 2012: Tales of Olympic Delight or somesuch, I smell a Greenspan! A Greenspan being my new term for excellent, documentary segment-suitable stories of Olympic glory. Stay tuned for a complete list of Greenspans (TM) as the Games progress! No, Ryan Seacrest, you are not eligible…

***

And FINALLY finally, one last Allez Wiggo. Click on the link to see the perfect backdrop to cap the end of an inspiring season.

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Does Zara Phillips have to do everything, people of England? No, never mind, Bradley Wiggins will take care of it. And he’s got his priorities straight.

More importantly, Nancy Hogshead: I thought you were amazing in 1984, and I still think you are amazing.

And the gold medal for watching the Olympics goes to…

London Olympics 2012

London Olympics 2012 (Photo credit: Andrea Vascellari)

Me! Team USA!

As a teenager, I found a questionnaire I filled out for school as a nine-year-old. Who was my hero? Nancy Hogshead, I wrote.

Nancy Hogshead? The name no longer meant anything to me. But it stayed in my head. Who was this person that I looked up to in 1984? That I valued more than my parents, or Madonna, or Garfield? And should I be embarrassed? It took the invention of the internet a several years later to figure out the identity of this hero I had long forgotten.

Nancy Hogshead won three gold medals and one silver in swimming at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Ah, that makes perfect sense, I realized. That’s why I became an ace swimmer at UCLA and won those five gold medals in Atlanta in 1996. I knew I was in Atlanta in 1996 for something. Thanks, internet.

I can’t attribute a stellar athletic career to Nancy Hogshead, but she is probably responsible for something else: how so very much I love the Olympics. Watching them, that is. I haven’t missed a moment since 1984. And now, as they are set to begin on Friday, I have that happy, carefree feeling that I get every other year, because two solid weeks of fairly uncomplicated patriotism, loud athletic fashion, underdog glory, and a tiny hint of schadenfreude are on their way to my television screen. And computer. And iPhone. Oh, the coverage. I love television events that aren’t called programs, but “coverage.” They just go on and on…I can just melt into it.

And it’s just in time to ease me out of my Tour de France addiction. AND better yet! They are about to begin in my second-favorite city in the world! Which is perfect, because my first-favorite city and home metropolis, New York, probably could do without the aggravation of putting on an Olympic Games. Enough already.

So what can you do if you can’t wait till Friday, when you can obsessively watch each and every participating nation parade into the Olympic stadium so that you can pick out some early favorites and make a top ten best (and worst) team outfits list? And then plan a viewing schedule that best coincides with nap times and camp? Here’s how.

If Showtime is not showing a round-the-clock marathon of Bud Greenspan Presents: Tales of Olympic Glory, which as an imprecise but apt name for this television series, they are severely missing out on some good synergy…what? They’re not showing it right now? Oh. That’s too bad. Guess you’ll have to read this blog to find out what you’re missing.

The late, great documentarian Bud Greenspan made a TV series that showcased a collection of the most inspiring stories to come out of each recent edition of the Games. While b-roll and properly-licensed footage ran, an announcer gravely, deeply, and with little – no – zero emotion provided a voiceover telling stories of self-doubt which turned to triumph, or fear which turned to tragedy, which turned to glory. Stories of economic/national/parental obstacles, or bodily harm overcome. And so on. The modern Olympics, since they began, are filled with thousands of these stories. I don’t know about the original Olympics – they didn’t have Showtime then. But probably.

I love all of Greenspan’s documentaries, but every time I see that dear man’s name come up in my channel guide, I manage to see the same episode: Nagano ’98 Olympics: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Honor and Glory. And each time I turn on this show to indulge in said honorable and glorious tales, I see the same two tales again and again: the American speedskater Kirstin Holum, and the Italian skier Deborah Compagnoni. Which is fine. I love those two stories.

Kirstin Holum was an American high school student from someplace, I forget where. Unfortunately I can’t find any of this on YouTube, as I was positive I would, so work with me as I try to conjure up the key details. She made it onto the U.S. Speed Skating team, blah blah blah, and competed against her rival, some Norwegian or possibly Dutch lady who was very good, and very complimentary toward Kirstin when she came in, I believe, sixth. After the race, Holum’s coach said something to her like, “Look! You get a certificate for coming in the top six! Yay!” And…that is it. That’s the whole story. No meth addiction to fight through, she wasn’t raised by wolves or anything; she was just a high school girl who got to the Olympics. Which is awesome. But then…

…we get to Bud’s wrap-up of the scene, as we watch Kirstin skate away to collect her certificate or whatever. Again, I paraphrase: “Kirstin Holum, one of the many in a firmament of stars, that break through the atmosphere, kiss us on the face, so that we make understand glory before she disappears back into the universe.” I kid, but I’m not off by much. The word “firmament” was definitely in there.

Now, this girl came in sixth in a pretty minor, as it goes, sport, and he’s bathing her with language usually reserved for Jesus. I am loving her achievement, but this firmament business is overmuch, wouldn’t you say? The tone of the whole series is this grave and earnest. And I don’t usually go in for grave and earnest, but I have to say, you’ve got me, Bud. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because that’s one of the best things about the Olympics, to me: let’s allow ourselves (and by ourselves, I mean myself) just a few unironic, earnest moments every couple of years. Let’s drop our masks, and revel in someone else’s success, be inspired by their efforts, and hope that it may mean something bigger.

I, personally, have no desire in my life to skate, or swim, or do any sport competitively, if at all, but if these Olympians can do it, then that makes me happy. And I guess that’s why my happiness for them is so uncomplicated: it’s envy-free. If I were settling down to watch two weeks of people going for glory in the fields of awesome blogging, say, or tantrum-free parenting, then I might find it a little harder to watch. And by the way, did you know that later, Kirstin Holum left the sport and became a nun? You go girl. Sorry about the Jesus remark.

On to story #2. Deborah Compagnoni, as deep, serious, voiceover man will tell you, was the “female Alberto Tomba.” You know Tomba la Bomba, right? Compagnoni is a child of the Italian Alps, and as voiceover man talks, she walks through the green, sloping Tyrol in an oversized, Benetton-esque sweater and faded jeans. The Italians would call that kind of girl acqua e sapone: soap and water, pretty and natural. Long story short, she’s tough as nails and came back from severe knee injury to win another medal in her third Olympics. She’s one of the most famous Italian sportswomen, and, as the internet told me, later went on to marry Alessandro Benetton, so she’ll never have to pay for those chunky sweaters again! This is a great, straightforward sports success story, but I have to tell you, if I am asked to fill out another questionnaire in my adult life, under “hero,” I’m putting Deborah Compagnoni! I have no good reason, really: she’s not curing cancer or stopping global warming. That I know of. I just would love to be an acqua e sapone girl growing up in the Italian Alps, then national sport hero, then fixture of the Italian social scene married to a fashion magnate! Wouldn’t you?? And she looks amazing! Come on!

So we’ve established that I love the Olympics because I 1) enjoy occasionally basking openly in the happiness of others 2) enjoy living vicariously through glamorous international types (which is also why I enjoy the Tour de France). There are lots of other reasons, but this has gone on long enough. Suffice it to say I hope to add more stars to my Olympic-watching firmament over the next few weeks: big, bright ones like la Deborah, and others that glimmer faintly from nunneries like Kirstin. Here’s to hoping that Olympic fever will catch on with my children, and they’ll find their own Nancy Hogsheads, for future questionnaires. Here’s to loads of the kind of drama that makes sport great; really baffling outfits; underdogs that stun the world, and oh yeah, I did say schadenfreude.

That’s for you, Mama Phelps. I’ve already seen enough of your mug on TV in obnoxious commercials, not to mention your attention-hogging in the stands while people are trying to swim in the Olympic Trials. Give someone else a turn, am I right, Mrs. Lochte? Enough already.

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