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Soup of This Day #221: Alright Already We’ll All Float On

July 31, 2012

Olympic Cauldron in Vancouver
The Olympic Cauldron in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. At the 1936 Olympics the Canadian and French teams gave the Olympic salute upon entering the stadium for the opening ceremony, which was misinterpreted as a nod to Hitler – Photo: Duncan Rawlinson, 2010. Duncan Rawlinson is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This morning on my way to work I saw a dolphin.

I was driving along, around 20 minutes later than I really should have been, and there, just off to my left was a dolphin. Doing dolphin stuff.

To be clear – The dolphin was in the water as dolphins oft are, while I was barrelling along in my car, late, as I oft am. There we were, 2 living creatures, in our elements, completely comfortable within our intersecting environments, simpatico for that moment in our being, our existing.

And then the dolphin was gone, I was back to just being late and left wondering if seeing a dolphin meant anything.

Symbolism is a powerful thing. Take the Olympics for instance – They have the whole 5 rings thing going on. Designed in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, he originally intended that the 6 colours (the 5 rings plus the white background) would encompass all of the flags of the participants at that point in time. Later it was decided that the 5 rings represented the 5 regions of the Earth – Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas. All of this pseudo-mythology was convenient as long as a. Nobody did a flag in taupe and b. Antarctica never got a team together.

The rings though are just 1 part – Far more powerful imagery can be found in the cauldron and it’s sacred flame with it’s direct link down through the ages to Greece and the Nazis.

Yep, I said Nazis.

The Nazis you see invented the whole torch relay thing. For the 1936 Olympics a guy called Carl Diem, working under the creative stewardship of Joseph Goebbels, conceived of lighting a flame in the bosom of Ancient Greece and then having it trace a geographical and metaphorical line to Das Fatherland and the 3rd Reich. As you do.

For the record, they lit the flame using a concave mirror, capturing as it did the light of the sun, thus commemorating the theft of fire from Zeus by Prometheus. It also coincidently captured the monumental ego and crass stupidity of the Nazis, thus commemorating what a circus of deranged fascist nutters they really were.

Interestingly, Carl and his unhinged cronies left a milestone inscribed with the Olympic rings in Athens. After the war this was found and mistakenly adjudged to have been left there by the Ancient Greeks, who it was postulated must have already had the 5 rings as an Olympic symbol, long before Coubertin had channelled the idea himself.

In this way the Olympic myth became a self-saucing mythological pudding.

Nowadays the recipe has had some extra egg thrown in – The flame is still lit via a parabolic mirror but it is ignited as part of a ceremony that involves 11 women who represent the Vestal Virgins.

It is a little unclear just how far they go in order to represent the Vestal Virgins – Presumably they are not held to the vow of chastity and if they accidentally let the fire go out I’d be thinking that the requirement for being buried alive is somewhat relaxed – Perhaps downgraded to a stern talking to.

However it is lit or mis-lit the flame travels from Greece to the host country whereby it is eventually used to flame up the cauldron. Which again, is not of the ancient world. Fortunately it is also not of the Nazi world – The 1st Olympic cauldron was used at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, ironically lit by an employee of Amsterdam’s Electric Utility, who must have wondered why he had bothered with that electrical training after all, because the fire was so purtty.

For London, the cauldron is rather niftily comprised of 204 copper petals, each representing a competing country, that come together in a flame of unity. Or something.

It looks cool. And it was apparently engineered by Australians – Who helped bring together the disparate elements into 1.

Although they didn’t site the 1 very well and yesterday had to douse it, move the whole contraption and then re-ignite it. They kept the flame in a special lantern while this was going on.

And then there’s the reciting of oath of the athletes, which 1st made an appearance for the 1920 Games in Antwerp. In it’s modern guise the oath is solemnly sworn by a chosen athlete on behalf of all while a corner of the Olympic flag is clutched:

‘In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.’

You’ll notice that it refers to ‘teams’ rather than ‘countries’. The latter was thought to be a bit too nationalistic. Although quite what they think of the national anthem plus flag raising whenever someone wins is still a mystery – Mustn’t be a hint of nationalism in that then.

At least they’ve largely abandoned the Olympic salute, mostly because it resembles the 1 that the Nazis devised for Hitler.

There’s some irony in there – The torch relay was invented by the Nazis and we still do it. The Olympic salute was not invented by the Nazis but we don’t do it because it looks like it was invented by them.

Damn those fascists.

I’ll leave off this potted history of Olympic symbolism with a final piece of imagery.

In 2003 my then girlfriend moved to Carnarvon – I eventually decided to follow her but wasn’t completely sure that the sub-tropical north of Western Australia was right for me. The clincher came 1 balmy evening as I sat in the beer garden of the Carnarvon Hotel. I was gazing out at a stunning sunset, a cascade of fire reaching down to reflect off the waters of the inlet.

That Carnarvon inlet incidentally has a linguistic link to the Nazis – It’s called the Fascine, named for the bundles of sticks originally used to shore up it’s banks. Bundles of rods, or fasces were a token of magisterial authority in Ancient Rome and this symbolism was adopted in the last century by a breed of nationalistic nutters who were thus called fascists.

So there I sat, like Prometheus stealing the fire from Zeus, and protected by Nazi erosion control, when suddenly, a scant 20m from where I sat, a dolphin arced gracefully out of the water.

We stayed for 4 years – That’s a veritable Olympiad.

Alright Already We’ll All Float On

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