The Olympics that Changed the World
by David Maraniss
Simon and Schuster, 2008
The Olympics: that once-every-four-years event for worldwide sports buffs and armchair enthusiasts to enjoy. During the past week, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with the ins and outs of the uneven bars, the butterfly, and the execution of a perfect platform dive. Unsurprisingly, Pulitzer-Prize winning author David Maraniss’ new book published in July, Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World, has recently landed on the NYT Bestseller list in the nonfiction category.
While Maraniss’ book focuses on the eighteen days in 1960 when the Olympics were held in Rome, its stories of racial, cultural, and political battles remain familiar to us today. The 1960 Olympics were the first commercially televised Games, when doping scandals and sponsorship money were just starting to cloud the scene. The cold war was well underway, and Maraniss tells how American athletes like Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson, and Cassius Clay emerged as this nation’s shining stars.
In short: Maraniss does an excellent job gathering together a host of inspirational stories in this book, and his knowledge of politics and history makes its best moments shimmer brighter than the gold medal dangling from a winning athlete’s neck.
To read my full-length review of David Maraniss’ Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World on the About.com Contemporary Literature site, click here.
It’s the end of an era, really. I just sold the family Toyota Corolla for $750, firm. Cash. This vehicle was given to my sister in 1992 as a gift when she was in college, and it got passed on to me when she moved to NYC. During the years that I was in and out of the U.S., the Toyota sat in my parents’ driveway in Kentucky, rusting in the humidity. Getting rid of a car like this doesn’t get rid of all the memories: over 194,000 miles of them. This vehicle had been all over the place—to Texas and Arkansas and back. From Colorado to New York to North Carolina to visit a college boyfriend. An impulsive drive to view the disappointing Mount Rushmore. Night drives in the mountains. Over snowy passes. Quickie climbing trips to Utah.
I made the decision to sell the Toyota because I didn’t want to put any more money into a vehicle that was about to go kaput. It squealed when I started it in the cold, and the front joints (the CV joints??) clicked so much when I turned that I feared the wheels would go flying off. The passenger-side mirror was missing, and the trunk leaked when it rained. A pool of rusty water sat stagnant where the spare tire should have been.
It the Toyota’s absence, I am driving the van full-time, which is scary in itself. It’s a 1970 Volkswagen that is constantly threatening to leave me stranded. But I do live in a valley with a free bus service, so I can at least be assured of making it to work. Without the Toyota, though, my quick trips over the mountain passes might end up as above; oh, the joys of meeting strange wrecker drivers from small towns…
In the absence of any far-flung adventures within the past few months, my mind wanders to one of the best roadtrips I’ve ever taken. It was during this month two years ago, in Iceland with my city-girl sister. I bought a plane ticket to London on Iceland Air (because it was the cheapest flight) and then realized that I could stopover in Iceland for up to seven days with no extra charge. My sister wanted to join me from New York, so we agreed that we would combine our travel interests and styles to drive Iceland’s ring road. We camped at Euro-trash campsites along the way and then spent a high-style night together in Reykjavik before I continued on to England (and she stayed an extra day to shop). The journey involved 1,615 kilometers of driving on a slightly patchy road that covered the most varied terrain I’ve seen. Pretty good for a country the size of Ohio. Volcanoes, glaciers, rolling hills, and fjords rest side-by-side in Iceland, filling this small country’s terrain with some of the most arresting landscapes I’ve ever seen. Along with a poem I’ve been thinking a lot about lately…here’s a sampling from that journey:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
All photos captured by The Sister. Poem by Robert Frost. Top right: Out there on Iceland’s Ring Road. Next: The Blue Lagoon, near Grindavik. Middle: Volcanic Hills, in middle-of-nowhere, northwest Iceland. Bottom: Jokulsarlon glacier calving into the sea—this photo is Down and Out’s header as well.