Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hello from Sochi!

22 days to go!


Give me a 'C'...

Give me an 'O'...

Give me a 'four'...

Give me a 'backwards N'...

What does that spell?

Сочи!!!

On Wednesday morning, I left my suite at Herald Square, bought a bus ticket from Grand Central to JFK, hopped on a Airbus bound for Moscow, and landed in the middle of a blizzard.  Not only was it a blizzard in the pitch black of night, but the TV screen on the seat in front of me had our altitude and the view from the pilot's seat.  I was also sitting next to the window.  I couldn't see anything...until... *SMASH*!  We landed hard onto a snow-packed runway.  It was terrifying!

I also forgot to mention that this was my second overseas flight on an Airbus, and the seats are so uncomfortably tiny. 

The airport in Moscow was so confusing and no one spoke English it seemed, but I miraculously made it to my intended gate just in time to see this giant dog sitting in front of the line.   He flew with us to Sochi, sitting up like a person, looking out of the window like a person.



We left an arctic storm bound for the sub-tropics of Sochi.  Our landing was likely the most beautiful I have ever seen.  In the near distance were snow-capped mountains, we flew along the coast of the Black Sea beaches, and the runway was adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, so I got a National Geographic-esque flyby view of the stadium on our approach!  Our plane, filled with Olympians, NBC and BBC folks, and Olympic officials, was easily the fanciest I have ever been aboard.  We were served meals and drinks, it was a brand new plane, painted in the Sochi branding - and if I forgot to mention, had a giant dog aboard.

Here is where life got a bit stranger.

We exited the plane and walked to "Terminal D" which is a hanger, filled with armed guards, police men, and Cossack Imperial soldiers.  There were more of them than us.  Outside of this measurable percentage of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, we were the only ones in the hanger, and we were filmed by the guards with hand-held cameras as we claimed our luggage!  Strict security indeed!   Naturally, I waited to leave with the giant dog, who bolted out of the hangar to chase a bomb-sniffing German Shepherd who was scared to death.  They ran away with the big dog's owner chasing behind them - they never came back - and everyone, including the several Russian cops on break, laughed.


I arrived at our resort, which is not as...well, resort-like as you would expect in the US.  Essentially, most of Russia here hasn't recovered from the Soviet era, so everything from the economy to architecture still reminds me of the Social Realism art of that time.  Still, it is a BEAUTIFUL city and an even more beautiful climate.  It is mild in the day and cool in the evening.  Essentially Sochi has the glamour of Hollywood with the urban decay of Detroit.

I walked down to the sea and captured a photo of a young couple kissing on a concrete dock. 


There are many stray dogs, and these two puppies were play fighting over a peacock feather.




I laughed at my first meal.  When I walked in to the restaurant area, the air slapped you in the face with the smell of onions and herring.  They tastefully paired these offensive smells with an adequate companion, sugar beets.



One apparent difference between Americans and Russians is that Russians seem unequivocally ok with the trial and error method.  A common saying that I have been told at least 5 times today is, "What else do you expect in Russia?"  They are proud of it too, but I shouldn't be surprised.  Many highly gifted and intelligent people are unafraid of failure, because they want no boundary between effort and the goal.  This actually accomplishes a lot!  And they have accomplished a lot!

Unfortunately for me, I have been thrown into a bureaucratic and organizational hurricane of trial and error!!!   ...or at least that is how I felt.

Even at the best resort in the region, I only have WiFi on the ground floor, hilariously - a vegetarian meal at dinner for one of my colleagues comprised of mashed potatoes and fish, and there are nearly no translators to any language.

So, going to one of my 3 hour long organization meetings with cast members becomes greatly complicated when I am one of only 20 English speakers out of the 300 people in the room.  Even more complicated is the working culture.  I expect one thing, but everyone working for and around me have other expectations.  I am frantically trying to learn as fast as I can.  There are only 16 foreigners in my entire Ceremonies Staging Agency subsection of performers!  I have a lot to learn very fast.

Also I was upset to learn that my accreditation time was accidentally cancelled tomorrow.  To add even more to that, three others in my group will be meeting with a certain bald president (believe it or not).   So, guess who will be the fool performing a hunger strike in front of the Olympic headquarters until he gets his badges instead of getting some Facebook worthy photo?

Still, I am so overwhelmingly excited to be here.  If you are worried, please know it is very safe.  There are many people watching out for us all.  Runs, briefings, and tours begin Saturday!

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