When last things don’t work out

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Last week at work was supposed to be five days of upfront honesty. That man who comes for a bottle of Shmernoff every week stinks and has seriously bad breath. Your man (that most Irish of sayings!) who once was begging not to sell alcohol to a woman who was supposed to come shortly dressed in a beige coat should try to get some serious help for his wife (whom empathizing with her husband I actually didn’t serve that time) instead of asking the staff of a local off-licence to help him out. And all those of you with that uberconfident expression on your faces and the banal “I know what I’m looking for” as you grab any bottle of any Barolo or anything Grand Cru or Reserva sitting on the shelf are nothing but pitiful snobs trying to dazzle in the vanity of your husbands, wives, lovers and colleagues.

Last column for “Metro Eireann” was supposed to be equally straightforward, yet focusing on Lithuanians rather than the Irish – I’ve complained enough about them to be deported to the furthest East.

The finale turned out to be quite different though. My area manager decided to send me on very sudden holidays – with less than an hour’s notice. And as for a column – to cut the long story short – I became aware that I ended up focusing on myself rather than on Lithuanians in general and somewhere halfway through answering whether three and a half years I had spent here were not in vain I stopped writing because I didn’t know the answer. My last column was never finished and the reasons behind that vanished in the crossfire of emails exchanged between myself and the deputy editor of the newspaper.

On the other hand, I can hardly complain – I have plenty of time for books, movies and more movies and my sister’s kids, but the way my career in enology ended was a bit of a slap in the face. Two days before I was told the news my wine shop was held up by an armed masked guy. While he was stupid enough to rob a place on a Monday night when most of the Euros are safely chilling in the bank coffers, he was relatively courteous as he said “thank you ladies” when he got the cash from the tills. Gentleman, huh?

I happened to be off when this happened. The girl whom I replaced as an assistant manager worked in the shop for five years prior to leaving it and during that time the place was held up about five times – once thrice in a period of a year. Syringes and screwdrivers mainly. Never a gun - unlike this time (Gardai still don’t know if it was a real one and I doubt they’ll ever find out). Perhaps a coincidence, but that girl was never there when the incidents were happening. She said it was because the robbers knew she was crazy. “It won’t happen to you either, because they know you are crazier than me”. Whichever was the case, indeed nothing happened in more than three years I have spent in various Oddbins shops. They say that dogs attack the people who are scarred of them – does the same apply to robbers?

Either way, it was our new manageress who was behind the counter when she was greeted by a wild West-like “Hands up!” Ever since she started working in June I didn’t get along with her. At all... Well… why should I – she was spying on me on CCTV as if she didn’t have better jobs (besides, those cameras are there for security measures, not to play Big Brother). Have I mentioned that she’s always stressed? So voilĂ  – the shop was robbed and obviously she’ll need some time to recover (as will another girl who was working with her on that night). My suspicion is that she asked the area manager (who doesn’t boast too much people management skills) to send me on holidays (even though I don’t have any left), because she doesn’t imagine her recovery with me working alongside her.

Whichever way it was, I’m on holidays and she’s recovering. I hope this time does her well. I’m enjoying mine. Sometimes the days get a bit too self-reflective and it is probably inevitable before leaving the country where I’ve spent three and a half years, especially when you consider the pensive Lithuanian nature. Perhaps I might write a book about my experiences in Dublin some day. I’ve made a bet with one Irish guy that I’ll have it written and translated to English (not many books in Lithuania are) before he releases a proper CD (not a homemade disc which could only be found in Road Records). The thing is the bet was made before I heard him playing in Whelans. I guess I should hurry up writing otherwise I’ll end up buying a bottle of vintage Krug which we bet on.

 

Irish and the Olympics: when money is not the issue what is then?

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Even though it is said that sports and politics should always be kept apart, the history line only serves as a proof that the Olympic games have always been more than a sports stage. The 1936 Games in Berlin the Fuehrer used as a means to display the efficiency of the Nazi system, while in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepted their medals shoeless, each wearing black gloves on their raised, clutched fists with silver medal winner Aussie Peter Norman wearing a human rights badge in support of the protest against racial injustice. About 50 countries boycotted Moscow games in 1980 in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in 1992 in Barcelona Australian basketball team refused to play Americans when one of Dream Team’s stars Eaerwin Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive, this resulting in Aussie doctors’ statement that if played, Johnson would pose a threat of passing on the virus.

For giants like the USA, the USSR or Yugoslavia the Olympics and especially the team sports have always served as a way to prove their superiority. Two basketball matches between the Americans and the Soviets were as important as the Space Race, with the Soviet Union winning both of them. 1988 Olympics in Seul marked the second time in the Olympic history the American basketball team was beaten and it was the second time the USSR did it. When the Soviet Olympic basketball team was standing on the podium that summer clenching their gold medals, it was the last time the team of 12 were listening to the anthem saluting the victory of Communism's immortal ideas and an unbreakable union of freeborn republics. After four years four out of that team were standing on the podium in Barcelona, this time with bronze medals, but without the crossed hammer and the sickle on their T-shirts. The anthem of their unknown country wasn’t played in 1992, since the American Dream Team took the gold, but it was the first time in the Olympic basketball history the players of this Western giant were surrounded by the representatives of two dwarf countries, which for decades remained anonymous to the world. Croatia took the silver, while Lithuania took the gold. That moment epitomized the triumph against the system and the pride to finally represent the country you were born in, but were not allowed to mention its name, because it was part of the ‘unbreakable union’.

The subject of the freedom of Tibet is not first time the most powerful countries remain silent in the face of violence and human rights violations, while it is labelled as an internal issue. If the freedom of speech exists, this summer Olympics, which initially were supposed to be the celebration of vigour and beauty of the human body, will be interrupted with various protests, hopefully only verbal ones.

Yet putting the issue of Tibet aside, what fascinates me a resident of this country, is how little interest and ambition Ireland displays in the Olympics, even though it has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world.

I got used to the fact that the winter Olympics are completely ignored by the local media (thus confirming its parochialism), but I can partly justify it with the absence of snow on this island. Yet one expects that a prosperous country should be investing into brining up and training athletes that could compete not only in the perpetual Munster-Leinster contest, but would represent Ireland on the world stage.

Although, in my opinion, hurling and Gaelic football are fascinating games, it is a shame that when young, the best athletes oftentimes are directed into these two almost exclusively Irish sports. This is what a friend of mine working with the most prospective young tennis players in Ireland says. Playing for your city is great, but for the majority of sportsmen and women representing their country in the Olympics is the most prestigious experience.

This year Ireland is sending a squad of 51 athletes to Beijing, representing 12 sports: athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and triathlon.

Ireland has 20 Olympic medals under the belt overall, with the peak-time being the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where Ireland won 5 medals. The summer Olympics in Athens were not successful, as Cian O'Connor lost the show jumping gold after his horse failed a drugs test. The performance of Michelle Smith in 1992 in Barcelona, when this unheard of before swimmer swept 4 medals was marked with controversy, although doping allegations were never proved. Yet two years after the Atlanta Games, International Swimming Federation banned Smith for four year after she was found guilty of tampering with a urine sample. Her performance in Atlanta was never encored with a startling come back.

In a recent interview with the BBC the world number three in men’s tennis Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was trying to explain to the journalist, how come his poor and war torn country has so many first-class tennis players. “It's just a hunger for success, a mentality that we've been through a lot of difficult times in the past. We appreciate some things much more in life and we fight for every match”, he explained.

After the restoration of the independence in 1990 my country has won 11 Olympic medals. If you include the ones Lithuanians won representing the Soviet Union, we have 53. Luckily, in the past few years the government started to understand that basketball shouldn’t be the only sports supported by the state. Last year our country’s sports budget was 16 mln euro – as opposed to Ireland’s 316 mln.

This summer we are sending 69 athletes to Beijing - more than ever before. We have at least six medal hopefuls: a discus thrower, cyclists, wrestlers among them and, of course, basketball players. Recent survey shows that half of the population is hoping we could win up to three medals, while the quarter of the respondents believe we could win up to six. Even if we don’t win any, the country will be obsessed with the Olympic fever. For me it is an overwhelming feeling to see somebody on the TV with our little three-colour flag next to their name and to know that they are not representing some unbreakable political union.

Written for "Metro Eireann"