I like to
And when I
do, I seek the authentic - often to an absurd level.
toured Japan, I walked around one village in a white robe because to do
otherwise would have been considered impolite. (It felt wonderful.) When my
girlfriend and I visited Italy, I demanded that we stop in Naples for the sole
purpose of dining at the world's oldest pizzeria. (It was delicious.) And when I
hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, I got so sick from food poisoning and altitude
sickness that I had to spend two nights in a Peruvian hospital. (This one was
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naturally, when I got the call to go to Russia for the Olympics, I imagined
numerous opportunities to scratch my authenticity itch.
a week, I'm still itching.
sure, the Olympic venues in Sochi are remarkable in many ways. The mountains
are both imposing and impressive; the coastal cluster is full of fancy,
brand-new arenas that look every bit as expensive as advertised.
sites seem more Olympian than Russian.
as much on the air Tuesday when teasing my story about the mountain cluster.
"It doesn't feel like Russia," I said. "It feels like Utah!")
the beauty of the venues seem more like a catered Olympic affair than
authentically Russian. The sites are stunning yet sterile, cleaned up and branded
with the Sochi logo and five famous rings. And unlike the 2010 Winter Games in
Vancouver, the arenas stand so far removed from the city itself that one misses
the energetic jolt of being in a dynamic downtown.
that, the lavishness represents a life that most Russian cities do not possess.
Several Russian natives and volunteers told me the same thing: Sochi is
intended to be an example of the "new Russia", but most Russians don't consider
it the real Russia.
that finding a Russian slice of life is tougher than finding that Neapolitan
slice of pizza.
have been glimmers. I have seemingly waged a million battles with the Russian
alphabet. I flew Aeroflot Airlines to Sochi and received an all-fish in-flight
meal. And my colleagues and I lunched at a Russian restaurant Tuesday, which
allowed me a fresh sample of borscht.
three more weeks to seek out and soak in the culture. I doubt I will find, in
the Olympic park, a large dose of authentic Russia.
might find a different brand of authenticity.
One of the
unique gifts of the Olympics is how they bring together numerous cultures.
During the Games in Vancouver, I encountered visitors and athletes from across
the world; we shook hands, exchanged pins, and shared brief (and often
language-challenged) conversations. Sometimes, if I spotted a group of people
wearing jackets of other nations, I took a few seconds to study their
mannerisms and watch their interactions.
multiculturalism made those Olympics far more enriching. Think about it: how
often do residents of dozens of nations get together for a communal
hopeful that the Sochi Games will be similar.
The masses of fans have not yet
arrived at the Olympic venues, but already I have made the acquaintance of
several foreign reporters and volunteers. I exchanged pins with a volunteer
from Iceland and an alpine skier from Ireland; in both cases, we chatted for a
few minutes afterwards.
those experiences will continue as the Games go on.
But I hope
those authentic Russian experiences will manage to pop up as well.
Matt Pearl is part of the 11Alive team in Sochi for the Olympics. You can LIKE his Facebook page and FOLLOW him on Twitter for his latest updates.