My Week 41: The Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

I try to make sense of the Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

On Friday night, Ken and I were all excited about watching the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am games. It’s a huge moment for Canadian culture and sports, and everyone was talking about how amazing it was going to be. Amazing yes, but also very random and confusing. I knew it was going to be a weird night when the flag was carried in by Mounties, and the pianist, who was described as “adlibbing” his accompaniment was wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I know that Canadians love “Casual Friday”, but really? Then the athletes started to come in. It made sense for a minute, then after Ecuador, the United States team entered. I have a pretty good grasp of the order of letters in the alphabet, and Ken and I were initially very confused, until we realized that, while the announcers were calling the team names in English, they were in FRENCH alphabetical order. I can only imagine how bewildered the athletes were at this, since out of 41 participating countries, Canada (and maybe Haiti—were they even there?) is the only country where French is an official language. I can just see the Americans shaking their heads and saying, “Don’t even ask. It’s Canada, remember? They don’t like guns and let gay people get married—their alphabet is probably f*cked up too.” Then the Canadian team came in—I was really proud, but also a little curious about their uniforms, because the pants looked like they’d been designed by MC Hammer. But it was great and patriotic, and the athletes, when they weren’t texting, tweeting, and taking selfies, seemed really happy to be there. But if I thought things had been a little random up to now, just wait. It was time for the Cirque du Soleil, or as I like to call them, “Cirque du WTF?!” Here, in some semblance of order, is what I think I saw. I’m still not really sure.

• Hundreds of small children enter with Ikea floor lamps. “Ikea” is Swedish for “common sense”. Is this irony? They are accompanied by a ballerina called The Guardian of the Javelin. She has a javelin—that’s how I know that she is the guardian OF it. Otherwise, she just pirouettes around while the children dance with their lamps. The announcer says they are “learning to overcome obstacles”. With Ikea floor lamps. I pour a drink.
• The children disappear, and a group of lacrosse players arrive. They do some crazy ass version of the Haka, while a guy wearing what looks like a meat mask does gymnastics. Also, a woman at the side of the stage spins a flaming hula hoop. This is “the origin of sport in Canada”. I pour another drink.
• A group of shiny faced robot men dance around the stage. One of them freaks out over a giant radio, while another opens a golf umbrella. The announcer tells us that this is “Canada’s tribute to love songs”.
• Giant shower curtains rise above the stage. A group of people who seem to be wearing gospel robes emerges from them. No, wait—the gospel robes are actually shower curtains which they are wearing like capes. Underneath, they are wearing towels. The announcer mutters something about “Hearts in Bloom”. He sounds dubious. I pour another drink.
• A character who looks like he just came out of a Mad Max movie arrives and starts glaring at everyone. The announcer states, without snickering, that this scene “represents the storm of both doubt and possibility, while the sky rains confessions.” The shower people continue to dance, while men on giant ladders swing around them. The shower people find piles of clothes and start throwing them in the air.
• Mad Max looks like he just found out that his water tanker is full of sand i.e.: very pissed off. The announcer says, “Reality approaches…” while the shower people find shoes and put them on.
• A Santa’s Village train comes on stage. The announcer says, “The Train of Life—like a thread from coast to coast…the arduous path…” I lose track because the train is so cute. Suddenly the lacrosse players are back. They look really sad. The announcer says something about “costumes underscore athletic vocation…” He sounds like he has no idea what he’s saying. I pour another drink.
• The “Guardian of the Discus appears to “inspire them to build a strong country and stable future”. He looks like the Riddler from Batman and is carrying a bar tray.

At this point, things get really random: BMX bikers start riding around wearing construction hard hats; two Michael Jackson look-alikes bounce on bungee cords while directing air traffic; the lacrosse players look like they are auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance. Suddenly, the announcer calls out, “The Moment of Truth approaches!” We’re on Yonge Street, “the final destination—the birth of unity and the realization of a dream!” He sounds really happy, especially about the “final destination” part. Then there’s a flurry of activity—shower people and lacrosse players dance; guys on treadmills atop Skyjacks run; a woman dressed like a Barbie Princess twirls; male strippers pole dance; there’s a giant lollipop tree; finally, Zoltar the Invincible appears wearing a helmet and cape and looks on as the torch is finally passed to Steve Nash, who lights the cauldron. I wonder if the people in the audience had the privilege of hearing the voice-over narration or were they just sitting there completely unaware that this represented the “Canadian Journey”. Because if you didn’t know that, you could never have made sense of any of it.

After that, it was pretty downhill, as the speeches progressed (even the announcer said things were “starting to lag”). One man informed the audience that Toronto was “in the heart of the Americas and the Carribean”. I suggested to Ken that perhaps he should have consulted a map first. There were two sign language interpreters, and at first Ken and I both thought one of them might be fake, because they were NOT signing the same things, but then we realized that one (the woman super-enthusiastically waving her hands around) must be French and the other (who looked bored) was English. Then a lovely, very old man came to the microphone. I think Spanish was his first language, but whatever it was, his English was a little spotty. He started speaking English first, and at some point, he seemed to be thanking the media, and said something about “the relentless fight against doping”. But he went on for quite a while, and Ken and I had this conversation:

Me: Who IS this guy?
Ken: I don’t actually know.
Me: What language is he speaking right now?
Ken: Uh…English?
Me (a few minutes later): Is he still speaking English?
Ken: No, I think he switched to…Spanish?
Me: The interpreters look confused. I’m telling you, I think they’re just making shit up right now. Deaf people all over Canada are getting the season summary of Game of Thrones. “Then Jon Snow brought a group of wildlings back to Castle Black…”

He finally finished speaking. At some point, the CN tower exploded in a shower of fireworks—I’m not sure when, because I may or may not have had several glasses of wine. At any rate, it was a spectacle, and something to be proud of, no doubt about it, even if no one understood it. But that’s Canada for you—anti-gun laws, gay marriage, and subtle symbolism.

One thought on “My Week 41: The Pan Am Opening Ceremonies

  1. John Craig says:

    The countries came in based on their Spanish names! And I found out the ‘Argentina’ came in first and before ‘Antigua & Barbuda’ because the first games were in Buenos Aires and not because the Spanish alphabet is somehow different. It was all very confusing, but incredibly weird and wonderful. We did not get the commentary in the stadium so I was very surprised when I watched our TV recording and discovered the deeper meaning of it all!


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