The Flame that Burns

ponvech.jpgThe old bridge was packed. Not the normal throng of tourists ambling along following a brightly colored daisy or closed umbrella thrust aloft so each little pack could identify their own leader. The mood of the crowd was tense, a cheery little band trying to drown the angry chants with jolly tunes. I had watched it build; fresh faced youths with flags, earnest officials, curious bystanders waylaid on their way home from work and then a sudden noisy surge entering the bridge from the northern approach. A body-pierced, dread-locked ragged bunch, they took up strategic positions on the bridge so that any hope of anyone passing through would be in vain, waving their home made placards, voices blaring through bull-horns, denouncing the enemy as the scourge of the universe. In defiance the band got louder and bystanders looked on somewhat bemused. Curious, I asked a man next to me what he thought of the situation. “This is Italy, we’re a democracy and they have the right to voice their opinion. Are you American?” My answer was drowned out by a cacophony at the other end of the bridge, a cavalcade, blaring music, flashing lights, a throng of people trying to enter the bridge, then a few paddy wagons, spilling out carabinieri, casually clutching their riot gear, helmets, truncheons, single file, stomping their way through the crowd which they parted as if it were the Red Sea. The riot police effectively neutralized the demonstrators by spreading them into a thin line, pinning them up against the ramparts of the bridge so that you could barely see them or their long banner peeking out between the shields. The runner carrying the torch passed through uneventfully with a massive roar from the crowd drowning out the chanting and the bullhorn.

“Coca-cola, ass-ass-een-a! Coca-cola ass-ass-een-a,” chanted the demonstrators through their bull-horns. “They’re saying that Coca-Cola rots the teeth of third world children” said my new found friend, a burly gentleman of imposing physicality who I was staying close to should things take an ugly turn. “Hard to argue with that” I thought to myself.

As the flame passed I got caught up in the maelstrom and found myself running alongside the torch bearer wondering which Olympic sport he was representing, what Olympic triumph had been his, when I noticed another female running alongside me, waving at him and taking his photograph. “Is he a famous athlete?” I asked her over the din. She looked a little sheepish and said “No actually, he’s the head of Coca-Cola for Italy.” WooHoo I thought.

florence_cows_2.jpg“To the Uffizi” someone yelled and I got swept along with the crowd. Florence at the time had a bad case of Mad Cow Disease – the “Cow Parade” billed as the “largest public art exposition in the world”, life size resin cows “artfully” interpreted by different artists were spread around the city and there were several of the beasts grazing in the “field” in front of the archways of the Uffizi museum, creating a campy spectacle of crazy contrasts.

uffizi.jpgIt was a surreal tableau. The view down the long corridor of the Uffizi to the archway framing the view of the river Arno was reminiscent of a scene from “Apocalypse Now”. Suddenly, over the ridge came the police motorcade, lights ablaze, up over the curb, bumping down the steps without missing a beat, then a throng of photographers, followed by the torch bearer and his entourage surrounded by a seething mass of supporters as if part of a stampeding herd. Nestled in among the charging crowd were the cows joining the stampede along with everyone else. I happened to glance up at the larger-than-life size statue of Lorenzo the Magnificent smiling down on the scene and couldn’t help but think that the pageant loving Medici was enjoying the show.Exhausted by all the drama, I ducked into the Café Rivoir to warm up only to find, several members of the riot squad, still in full battle array, sipping aperitivo at the bar. Their young, cherubic faces all pink and rosy from the cold night air reminded me more of choirboys than tough guys.

The year was 2006 and the torch relay wound it’s way through Italy for it’s final destination of Turin and the 2006 Winter Olympics. The drama seems like a Teddy Bears Picnic in contrast to the passionate and many times violent eruptions that are accompanying the flame on it’s journey to Beijing.   We all know the story. According to China that old trouble maker the Dalai Lama has been ganging up on them, whipping Buddhist monks and nuns into a frenzy of rebellion against their Chinese benefactors who only want what is best for the Tibetan people. Mean-spirited people across the globe have been trying to spoil China’s party. BooHoo, WhaaWhaa, poor little China.  

Would you buy a used car from this man?


Or this man?


Now, I’m hardly a raging granny but China’s decision to put Tibet on the torch route is the ultimate provocation. They should limit the torch relay to those countries where people actually like China and support their occupation of Tibet – or are those places too hard to find?

3 Responses

  1. Juli Hodgson Says:

    A pleasant reading break in my day at work. Hope to see you soon. Juli

  2. DDenysenys Says:

    Oh, I get it now. Just to say, again, how much I enjoy

  3. RuthJones Says:

    Thanks Peg, brave words.

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