"The Russian Smile", Security Pains & More from Sochi
2/12 - Alrighty. Sorry for the hiatus. Been busy working hard at day, and celebrating jobs well done at night.
We’re about half way through, and still on Slopestyle. I’m really looking forward to Ski/Snowboard Cross as that will change things up quite a bit. And it’s a really exciting sport. Don’t know my position yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
The weather has been spectacular. Most days have been bluebird, some overcast. But never rain …yet. That’s a four-letter word with most of the crew here, who were in Vancouver when it rained every single day at this event (I was happily comfy shooting bobsled, nice and dry). Snow is not in the forecast at all.
The competitions have been fun, with US and Canada leading the pack. And the crowds have been a blast. Haven’t seen my pals from the first day yet, but I think they are returning once or twice (we communicate in person through a cell phone app, very funny looking procedure).
The Russians pulled off the venues just in time. I think it looks great for TV. Right on the outskirts, however, they’re still behind the 8-ball a little bit. Maybe 70% of the shops have opened, but every day you see construction crews working on finishing our buildings and owners scurrying to stock merchandise. But all in all it’s a very happy place. The fans have come, at least the Europeans…we see very few US and Canada except for athlete friends and family. And, like all Olympics, there’s a friendly rah-rah for your homeland while simultaneously reaching out to befriend people from other countries. The Russians who are in the people business: waitresses, venue volunteers, hotel staff, are all super smiley and giggly (sometimes that’s the only thing to do when there’s no understanding). The bus drivers, security folks, and construction workers are the opposite. We’ve come to calling their demeanor “the Russian Smile” which is, of course, ironic. They’re friendly enough if you press them, but they really don’t expect to be spoken to and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to speak.
I've included a picture of one of my favorite discoveries. They have some people doing some really menial tasks. For instance, being a sniper sounds really cool, but I can't imagine hanging out in that tent for hours on end, waiting for something to happen that very likely won't. They have good looking girls standing around in the malls by the elevator or near store entrances just to entice people in or to make sure it's a pleasant experience. But the worst was this guy, who's job it was to sweep the muddy gravel.
Security is still a real pain. And they change it up every day – maybe to keep the bad guys guessing, but more likely because it’s just Russia. A typical day starts with loading onto a bus. Piling off to go through airport security-like area, then back on our bus that has been checked by dogs and other bomb sniffing equipment and then all openings taped with security stickers. Then arriving at the venue in which we do the whole mag-and-bag check again, then walk to a spot where we pick up another shuttle to the compound. Without security, this would take 15 minutes max. With it, an hour.
Today I had the day off. Some of the boys were able to snag a credential that gets us up the mountain (one at a time), so I took that and went for an incredibly beautiful ski run. It’s very much like the Swiss Alps here. Huge vistas and steep chutes await at the top of the mountain. I hear conflicting stories on whether or not they’ll keep this going as a resort. It would be a real shame if they didn’t.
We found a cute little pub (by the way - after much exploring, we have been able to find plenty of watering holes. Just in case you were worried) with two bowling lanes. That is a total blast.
And finally, for this little writing, two buddies and I enjoyed a Russian “Baña”. An authentic little cabin near a stream in which there is a steam sauna with rocks, river water, and eucalyptus branches. Full Monty, we sat in there for 10 minutes while a gent creates hot hot hot steam. Then, one by one, he slapped us with the branches and poured honey and coffee grounds on our bodies, massaging the mixture into our pores. After 20 minutes each of that, we jumped in a cold plunge near the river, then soaked in the copper hot tub listening to the babbling water and staring at the moon through the tree branches. Wow. Zen. Hysterical. Soothing.
That’s it for now! Off to the bowling alley to avenge the US defeat at the hands of the Canadians.
Bart Garton has been making movies since he was a tyke growing up in Vail, Colorado. He only took a hiatus when he attended Stanford University, which didn’t have a film school in 1980. After graduating with a BS in Mechanical Engineering: Product Design, he rented his first underwater housing for a video camera and captured some amazing (for its time) footage of great white sharks in the Great Australia Bight. He was hooked. Garton is a veteran videographer of several Olympic Games.