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Pique'n'yer interest

Believe something great can happen



The Olympics start tomorrow. And if international media can be believed, a conspiracy of doubt and cynicism has already sunk Canada's Games.

The Guardian in recent weeks has prematurely judged the Games a disaster. Reporter Douglas Haddow wrote that Vancouver is "gripped by dread" - his source a Sports Illustrated article whose most reliable character is Charles, a bitter bus driver.

Just three days later Lucy Hyslop wrote in the UK publication that the homeless were about to be uprooted from the Downtown Eastside and moved out of the city for the length of the Games. This article, written by a reporter who was previously the Chief Features Editor at the Vancouver Sun , quotes homeless advocates at length without giving the government or police a chance to defend themselves. She should have known better.

In the time since these stories were published, the attitude in Sea to Sky seems to have taken a dramatic turn with the arrival of the Olympic torch relay. And that's a good thing, because up to now the Games detractors have had more than enough press. People have paid far too little mind to the possibility that the Games might do some good things for our corridor and elsewhere.

This month the Walrus magazine has published a potent feature about the experience of being a Vancouverite. The writer quotes Penelope Chester, a woman who has travelled all over the world and says of the city: "(Vancouverites) have an exalted sense of their city's standing in the world, without much experience of the world to support it."

Much the same can be said of Whistlerites who've not yet given the Olympics a chance. I believe it's the limited experience of the outside world that's driving a shockwave of cynicism about the Games.

What we don't yet realize is that the Olympics will make these two cities more vibrant and alive than they've ever been in their histories.

Vancouverites haven't just neglected an experience of the world - they've neglected an experience of their own country. Not enough of them have been to the Montreal Jazz Festival, which literally takes up the busiest streets of the city's downtown core for two full weeks in the summer. The past year's festival kicked off with a free concert by Stevie Wonder and ended with Ben Harper on "Avenue GM."

My girlfriend and I visited the city last summer. After a few disappointing days in Quebec City, we arrived in Montreal desperate to find some fun. Just two hours into our time there, we weren't disappointed. We got off the train, went straight to the Latin Quarter and were immediately told to just walk towards the music.

We listened, and we marveled. We got downtown to find city streets just littered with revelers young and old. There was a stage on virtually every street with audiences dancing on every inch of pavement. It was a vibrant downtown core the likes of which Vancouver has never seen.

This is possible for the next two weeks.

A few summers ago I lived in Calgary, working as an usher for Cirque du Soleil while it was in town. I was lucky enough to be around for the Stampede, an annual event that literally takes over the city for a couple of weeks. Everyone dresses up like a cowboy.

There are pub crawls, pancake breakfasts and drink specials to spare right across the city. There's even a giant fun fair with equal opportunities for both adults and children.

This, too, is possible for the next couple of weeks.

In Vancouver there will be concerts by artists such as the Sam Roberts Band, Bedouin Soundclash, Matisyahu and Deadmau5. We'll see similar artists in Whistler. People will crowd the streets and walkways just to get a glimpse of the uber-famous troubadors that most of us will get to see for free.

Now I am no champion of everything to do with the Olympic movement. As a reporter I've been frustrated with the exclusive nature of the IOC and I've aired more than my share of complaints about VANOC. I'm not trying to vindicate either.

I'm merely saying that the Games are here now. No amount of plaint or protest is going to stop them. Believe, for a second, that real vibrancy could be a Games legacy that everyone can enjoy. That the Olympic cities will come alive in ways we've never seen before. That there's ample opportunities to have some real, memorable fun for the next two weeks.

Or don't. Make like a pre-Games Vancouverite and stay inside your bubble. The rest of us are too busy believing something great can happen.