There are two Rio de Janeiros. There's the Rio of our dreams, with sweeping beaches and lush rainforests clinging to improbably steep mountain slopes. And then there's the real Rio, with body parts in the water, violent crime, choking smog and traffic that just never moves.
The people who put together the Rio 2016 Olympic Games chose to present the dream Rio to the world, in an artful, uplifting Olympic Opening Ceremony with an overtly environmental theme.
Often these sorts of ceremonies feel loosely stapled together. They tell a national story though a pastiche of mostly unrelated images. They're fun, but they feel more like a photo album than a work of art.
This was beautiful. It was complete. It was far from the most spectacular opening ceremony of all time, but it didn't want to be.
"We want to change some paradigms of of the Olympic ceremonies. We replaced the high-tech approach, the dependence on major electronic and mechatronic effects with an analogue inventiveness, making the most of the low-tech spirit," said the ceremony's creators.
In other words, the whole vibe was organic. And it worked. The opening ceremony was a lovely occasion. From the moment it kicked off with a wave crashing on an unnamed Rio beach, to the rainforest scenes, to the surprisingly didactic and direct climate change message near the end (yes, it's really happening and we're causing it, people) this was all about the natural world.
Even the police performing ceremonial duties were Rio's "Environmental Police". Who knew Rio even had them?
But the final nod to all things green came from the last place you'd expect -- the Olympic cauldron. The deal is that the flame is is much smaller than usual. This of course directly symbolises low emissions. But it was about more than that specific message. It was about the broader principle of doing more with less.
But what are we to make of such a strong environmental message in a city that just spent $12 billion to stage a Games whose legacy projects (apartments, freeways, sporting venues etc) will mostly benefit the wealthy?
Rio's main Olympic Park precinct in Barra da Tijuca is built on the shores of Lagoa da Jacarepagua, a shallow coastal lagoon whose waters are so toxic that fish regularly die off en masse. Local campaigners have campaigned in vain for funds to save it while watching all that public money flood into Olympic projects. What's the message here? That Rio loves the environment but not enough to save it?
Perhaps that's being tough. At least the ceremony creators' hearts were in the right place. At a time when climate change deniers threaten to take office in major western powers, perhaps it was enough for someone to stand up in front of the world's biggest TV audience and say, hey, this stuff is important. This stuff matters.
A few other parts of the ceremony that deserve a mention:
#Goonbags started trending on social media. Why did #goonbags start trending? Because the silvery costumes early in the ceremony looked like said iconic Australian wine containers.
And in other stupid Australian news, Bruce McAvaney got in trouble for singing the Beach Boys song "Kokomo" when Aruba walked out in the parade of nations.
How you tell commentators are tiring badly:— Leaping Larry L (@LeapingLarryL) 6 de agosto de 2016
Bruce McAvaney: "Aruba - not only a country but also the opening word of a Beach Boys song."
There was a big laugh at the formal end of proceedings when Brazilian Olympic Committee chief Carlos Nuzman tried to say he had always believed in the "success" of these Olympics, but stumbled over his words and said he believed in the "sex". Which got a good chuckle from the crowd.
The most elegant moment? Easy. It was when Gisele Bundchen walked the length of the Maracanã to the iconic Brazilian-themed song Girl From Ipanema in a graceful flowing thing which this particular sportswriter is powerless to describe. It was, apparently, her last such walk in front of a crowd: the 36-year-old is giving up the modelling life from here on.
The most entertaining part of the ceremony? The favela scenes. Performers in the ceremony built a boxy edifice at the western end of the stadium which symbolised Brazil's urbanity, and the pop culture it has spawned. Every time the whole thing felt a bit preachy, it got fun. Overall, the balance of the Opening Ceremony was just right. Here's hoping the games go the same way.Suggest a correction