Today, out of all days, I wish I were home.
I still remember the moment, in 2003, when the winner of the bid for the 2010 Olympic Games was announced. On that day, like today, I was far from home — it was July, and I was vacationing in Massachusetts — and, after those final votes were tallied, I felt like I was in the wrong place. My dad, who was home, called us right away, as he had promised to do, and told us, over the screaming in the background: “We got it.”
I’m lucky enough to call Vancouver, British Columbia, my home. The city has always occupied a special place in the Canadian mind — it’s the dramatic Western outpost of a country whose power is concentrated in the East — and has always attracted people with its unparalleled beauty. On that day in July 2003, however, the part of Vancouver that felt more like a small-town started to disappear. In seven years’ time, the city — and Whistler, its neighboring ski town and co-host to the north — would have to play host to the world; it began to transform accordingly.
Here we are, seven years later, and, to almost everyone’s surprise, Vancouver is ready. The expansion of the two-lane highway linking Vancouver to Whistler was actually finished; the venues have been built without too much protestation over their costs; and the city’s vast homeless population was not, as many expected, shipped out of town. “We’re actually going to pull this off,” people seemed to be saying to each other when I was home in January. The preemptive griping about inevitably nightmarish traffic and the inevitable impossibility of getting restaurant reservations did little to conceal how excited everyone was for Friday, Feb. 12.
Vancouver can be a paradoxical city at times. We are incredibly proud of where we come from, but we are not wont to talk about it too loudly. And on the rare occasions when we find ourselves talking about it, we tend to be preaching to the converted — we’re explaining that, yes, we too love the city because of its mountains and beaches and wonderful sushi. Vancouverites, in general, tend to stay closer to home throughout their lives, for a number of reasons: because of the Canadian tradition of going to your local university, because of the city’s relative distance from the Eastern hubs of power and, because it is simply too beautiful to leave behind. The city’s reputation is well-known to some, but it never had the reach that some felt it deserved.
Until now. The colossus that is the 21st-century media has rendered that all-too-stereotypical Canadian tendency toward meekness moot. On any given day during my four years at Yale, Vancouver felt a world away from New Haven; who among my classmates could even place it on a map? But during the past week or so, I’ve been greeted by a different headline, announcing some aspect of the 2010 host city, every time Firefox opens to my home page. The thrill of seeing a neighbor interviewed in The New York Times or of seeing a favorite local restaurant reviewed by a Times critic is something only felt by one who hails from a city that usually feels so distant.
There will be imperfections and errors during the 2010 Olympics. Let me warn you now that the opening ceremonies might pale in comparison to the 2008 Beijing spectacular. Let me warn you that snow conditions on Cypress Mountain will not be ideal. (The daffodils and cherry trees are already in bloom at my house, which sits near the base of the mountain.) And let me warn you that the darker side of a city plagued by rampant, violent drug addiction will surely come to the forefront in the coming weeks.
But those imperfections will be outweighed for the giddy Vancouverites who are taking the next few weeks to show their city to the world. I can’t wait for my friends here to get a glimpse of life in that west coast town. The Games feel like a coming-of-age for the city and for my generation of Vancouverites, who went through high school and university with the building anticipation of being able to watch their childhood friends compete in downhill, ski cross and freestyle competitions in their hometown. Were it not for the February avalanche of midterms and papers, for the price of a round-trip ticket from JFK to YVR, for the difficulty of getting tickets to any event besides curling (the excuses seem even lamer as I type them), I would be there with them tonight, Molson in hand, ready to welcome the world to our city.
Anna Pitoniak is senior in Pierson College and a former copy editor for the News.