Today I did something that I rarely if ever do. I deliberately put myself in a situation where I knew there would be a crowd of people, and potentially a very unfriendly crowd at that: I went to the Champs-Élysées to watch the Olympic Flame make it's way through Paris. How could I not? After hearing on the news last night that in London it had run into protests, extinguishing attempts, and man-handling policemen, I just knew this was something not to be missed; a once in a lifetime event. I'm no fan of crowds, but I made my way there anyways, and I don't regret it for one minute.
When you watch these types of big events on the news - flame runnings, marathons, the Tour de France - you get the feeling that there's a constant stream of excitement wherever people are present. Well, that's because the news clip they show is only a couple of seconds long. Yes, for a couple of seconds, it's very exciting. When the flame ran past my staked-out location there were cheers of praise from the Chinese mobs, shouts of "libéré le Tibet!" from the protesters, and oohs and ahhs of jaw-dropped amazement from the rest of us. French police and gendarmes were everywhere, the crowd was alive and calm at the same time. All in all, it was a pretty cool experience.
But the coolness lasted about 30 seconds, max. For the most part, we just waited around for something to happen. I got there early so as to snag a good spot. I was right up against the barrier, giving me the perfect angle from which to view the flame. It ran right in front of me! And to see that all I had to do was wait two hours in the cold, wind, and occasional rain along with hundreds of others who had the same crazy idea.
I wish I could show you a picture or a video of the flame as it passed in front of me, but my batteries died not two seconds before it arrived. All I have is a picture of the crowd and a massive French police motorcade. Talk about bad timing. On the other hand, maybe some things are better appreciated when you see them with your own eyes rather than through the lens of your camera. The image of the 2008 Olympic Flame might not be recorded on my digital memory chip, but it will be ingrained in my mind's memory for a long time to come.