Let Us Welcome Azerbaijan, Norway, South Africa, Etc.
At the top of every daytime hour for the past several days, a handful of Olympic delegations have been officially welcomed to the Athletes Village.
"Officially welcomed," in this case, means "being enthusiastically greeted by children who wave on cue, and being forced to repeatedly watch the Official Music Video for the Official Theme Song of the Olympics, featuring the Official Mulleted Singer and the Official Smiling and Dancing Every Day People From Around the World."
[Tibet not included.]
Media members can receive day passes into the Village, and I was fortunate enough to be wandering the grounds Thursday at 10 a.m. Beijing time, just in time to catch the first welcoming ceremony of the day.
The South Africans dressed in green shorts and polo shirts, and waved their flags. The Côte d'Ivorians wore colorfully patterned shorts and shirts and sang their national anthem significantly louder than anyone else. The Norwegians chose tasteful khaki and white casual attire and took a lot of pictures. The Czechs sported red-white-and-blue warm-up outfits and howled the loudest for their chef de mission.
That left the poor Azerbaijanis, clad in formal gray suits, great for a summer wedding but less than ideal for a coal factory tour, bus depot protest, journey to Hades or welcoming ceremony in Smogville.
"Terrible," summarized one dripping member of the Azerbaijani delegation, when I asked how the outfits had fared in the heat.
"Joy and laughter everywhere," the Official Theme Song had promised, but the ceremony offered little of either. We were welcomed in three languages, then asked to stand for the Olympic Anthem and Olympic Flag Raising. That became something of a theme.
The Village's "Mayor on Duty" welcomed us again, promising these Games would build a "bridge of understanding and friendship" and telling us about "the magic of the Olympics; that is, to bring peace and solidarity to the world." Peace and solidarity, of course, being the primary emotions in the air here.
And then, stand up, listen to a national anthem, raise a flag, sit down; stand up, listen to a national anthem, raise flag, sit down. The athletes fanned themselves with their credentials. The international press corps began to smell. The smog began smiling and dancing. The Mayor on Duty collected various souvenirs from Scandinavia, French West Africa and Central Asia, which the Official Hostesses With Olympic Ringed Hair Buns ferried away to safety.
"You'll meet all races, see faces you've never seen; people from parts of the world where you've never been," ran through my brain, remnants of the Official Mulleted Singer's performance.
Finally things wrapped up with a performance by Chinese youth in a chorus group named Heart to Heart: "My hand in your hand and your hand in mine," they warbled, although I wasn't ready to hold anyone's hand in those conditions, certainly not any of the wilted Azerbaijanis.
Then we all left, and Cameroon, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Jordan and the Netherlands got ready for their welcome.
August 7, 2008; 2:29 PM ET
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