Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Olympic dreams and nightmares



(Prague, VPI) I’m lost in Kafka’s Prague. Franz, one of the city’s most famous sons, has always been termed a writer of ‘fiction.’ I’m not so sure. Wandering lost and drugged on strong coffee and bizarre, dripping Czech pastries, wending my way through the narrow, twisting streets of Stare Mesto, the city’s Old Town, people bearing an uncanny resemblance to cockroaches scurry from shop to shop, disappearing through doors seemingly unopened, slipping through cracks and finding comfort in dark corners of dead-end alleyways.

"Amerikan?" they ask repeatedly.

Oh Canada, don’t fail me now. The Maple Leaf embroidered on my forehead seems to go unnoticed by locals hounding me for news of long lost relatives who, for all I know, may have sailed off the edge of the earth, rumoured to be not too many miles to the west.

"Amerikan?" an old crone tugging at my ragged sleeve asks. She lugs a burlap duffel of empty Moravian wine bottles collected from behind the capital city’s less fine drinking establishments. The local wine’s surprisingly good once you get past the first dozen or so astringent swallows and what’s left of your tastebuds fall into line with the more subtle highlights, described in Wine Spectator as being "Listerinelike."

City workers hang sombre bunting from light standards on the city’s streets and along the walk on both banks of the Vltava river. The 115 th conference of the International Olympic Committee might be an unexpected bonus party for Prague, but the twin holidays that follow have been celebrated for centuries.

Saints Cyril and Methodius, Christian prophets and teachers of the Slavic peoples, are to be feted July 5 th . The day after that is the celebration of John Hus, martyr, reformer, general pain in the butt to the established religious order of the day.

‘The day’ was the early years of the 15 th century and the established religious order was the Catholic Church of Rome under Pope Alexander. John Hus was one of those nagging naysayers. He accused the church of forging miracles. He berated the clergy for living high instead of following the humble example of Jesus Christ. He roused the rabble against the excesses of privilege. He was excommunicated, jailed and executed.

He’d have loved the IOC.

Elsewhere in the city, nearer the site of the upcoming conference, hanging round the lobbies of the city’s finer hotels, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Delegates from Salzburg, Pyeongchang and Vancouver are easy to spot. Credentials hang around their necks like so many license plates. Playing ‘Spot the Canuck’ is especially easy. Just look for the most earnest white men not wearing lederhosen.