. Woke up and switched on the TV (it's become a reflex). On it was the Women's Marathon
, which had started at 9 a.m. in North Sydney, crossed the Harbor Bridge and was now east of the city center. When I looked through binoculars eastwards along Park Street, I could see spectators at the Park-College Streets intersection; the last of the runners had just gone through, heading towards Oxford Street.
It was just after 10 a.m. They'd be circling the inner east and heading into the city soon, and would be going through a street a block south of where I'm staying. Did I really want to throw a coat over my pyjamas and go down to watch, bleary-eyed? Decided to stay in bed and just follow it on TV. Then, as the minutes passed, the part of my heart that belongs to my camera knew I'd never forgive myself: I leapt out of bed and threw on jeans and a nearby shirt and went out. The runners would come north up Elizabeth Street and turn west into Bathurst Street--this was the 25-km point of the route, and was lined with spectators. Japanese waving Japanese flags, Japanese banners, someone with a large Union Jack. A policeman with an Australian flag bandanna tucked into his belt. On Bathurst Street, between Castlereagh and George, were tables with bottles of liquid refreshment for the runners, set out under numbered signs.
I was in time--10 minutes later the familiar 5 or 6 helicopters were overheard and there was applause on Elizabeth Street. The first runners turned the corner and came towards us, real live Olympic athletes in action, tired and determined, following the painted blue line on the road surface that would take them to the Olympic Stadium way out in the west. After the blazing sun and heat, this part of the route was in the shade. One runner dropped out of the marathon here. Then someone who may have been a U.S. runner turned the corner towards us and slowed to a walk, the crowd thought she too had dropped out, but after a minute she speeded up again and we cheered her on her way. Being there to watch the women in this gruelling Olympic event somehow united all of us--from different countries and races, different parts of the city. We applauded all the runners as they came trotting by, exhausted, in ones and twos, several minutes separating them; parents urged their small children to clap; as a spectator remarked, it was finishing that mattered to them, not winning.
Volunteer race officials kept us back from the road and behind the restraining blue tape, they crouched in front of us, perusing their lists of marathon runners, keeping track of who had gone by; as the last of the runners came round the corner they blew whistles to alert their colleagues further on. Stayed to watch the very last runner, maybe 40 minutes after the first, followed by police cars and ambulances. Then the crowds broke through and swarmed over the street. Some people tore off bits of the blue tape as a souvenir. Traffic was let through. The race officials began dismantling the drinks tables, and gave away those bottles not used by the runners. The Men's Marathon comes by this way next Sunday.
In the afternoon I'd intended to go to Martin Place and have a look (though I can see it from my window) at the giant Australian medals tally that's on the front of the Westpac Bank skyscraper. Then perhaps to Darling Harbor to gaze disbelievingly at the sightseers there--after Olympic Park where the Stadium is, it's perhaps the most crowded part of Sydney. Instead, I spent 3 hours in the Pitt Street (open-air) Mall, where there's The Olympic Store. Outside it this afternoon was a store employee giving out free pins. Maybe they're not selling enough stuff. This guy didn't just give out pins though--there was a whole routine. He stood on a little stage outside the entrance with a microphone and hailed people as they went by, asking them where they came from. He was mainly looking to distribute his treasures to international visitors.
Very quickly a crowd gathered and he widened his act, teased the spectators, called U.S. visitors up to the stage and bribed them with pins to say that Sydney was the greatest city in the world. And he led us in that uniquely-Australian rallying cry of "Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oy oy oy!! Aussie! Oy! Aussie! Oy! Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oy oy oy!!!" We were more than eager, and several times this cheer rang lustily in the open air. He asked foreign visitors what the equivalent of "Oy oy oy!" was in their country (in Lebanon it's apparently "Yalla yalla yalla!") and we'd yell that too--also "Scotland Scotland Scotland! Och och och!" and "Greece Greece Greece! Ay ay ay!". He urged Australian and foreign spectators onto the stage to enact the marathon (running on the spot, wiping imaginary sweat from their foreheads); and to mime to the Australian national anthem as if they'd just received a gold medal--hand on heart, look up at the sky as if at the Australian flag being raised in the Stadium--as the audience waved their hands in the air and swayed from side to side. The prizes for all this were free pins.
It was funny and heartening: all kinds of people of all ages and nationalities coming together to lose their reserve, make fools of themselves for a moment, and cheer themselves hoarse. Of course, it was part of a performance by The Olympic Store to lure in more shoppers, but for 15 minutes every half-hour it brought visitors and Australians and Sydneysiders together in a very happy spectacle. Between wandering in and out of various store I watched 3 performances. It happens again tomorrow, starting at 4 p.m.
During the week I dragged myself away from Olympics-related events. Bought vintage American 70s/80s shirts for US$6 each from an upmarket department store in the city center--the last place I'd have expected to find them. On Thursday saw Supernova, on Saturday American Psycho, on Saturday Gossip. Gossip is, surprisingly, more interesting than American Psycho (which just seems like a Reader's Digest condensation of the book), but presents its ideas inarticulately. Irritating. Joshua Jackson's screen presence is similar to James Spader's--if they appeared together in a film they'd cancel each other out. Jackson on looks alone could play Nathan French in a movie.
"The new movie-length Jag--filmed right here in Sydney!" (trailer for a forthcoming episode)
"That absolutely blows my mind!...what can't this man do!!" (Australian commentator on Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband)
"The President's 'plane, Air Force One, has been hijacked." (trailer for a forthcoming movie on TV)
"So one of us gets to die..." (a line from a Farscape episode)
"What do you want to be remembered for?" (from some commercial I can't remember)
"Can't Stop the Rock" used in a Mars bar commercial
"If we can keep the Olympic cauldron going, this [a stove] shouldn't be a problem" (from a commercial for EnergyAustralia)
"...my neighbors are the Smiths, the Wilsons, the Santorellis, the DaCostas...I ride in the front seat of taxis. I believe this [holds up item of seafood] is a prawn, not a shrimp...and that Down Under is on top. I believe Australia is the best address on earth, and that Australians brew the best beer on earth!!" (tongue-in-cheek commercial for Fosters lager)
It's 11.10 p.m. Fireworks at Farm Cove and searchlights all over the city sky.
September 9, 2000
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