The wintry tableau outside my Minnesota window makes the "Ice Palace" scene from Dr. Zhivago look Caribbean by comparison. Like the movie, every structure in the neighborhood is flocked with snow. The lower branches of our backyard pines are bent to the ground with it. The eaves of nearby houses are fanged with icicles. And the sight of the whipping snow is a reminder to not venture outside, lest the wind tear your damned face off.
The entire winter here in Minny is relentless enough that I'd perhaps accept a vacation to Siberia.
The severity of our winter blues, however, finds excuse for couch potatoism. With our work ethic abated, my wife and I have fallen to drugging ourselves with television.
Our viewing is limited, as we are not cable customers. But the recently concluded 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi provided much needed entertainment, though it did grind to watch skiers flying through mountain air wearing shirtsleeves (any similar attempts in these parts would guarantee death before landing).
I thought the most entertaining gold medalist was Sage Kotsenberg, the goofy snowboarder whose California style "Dudeism" lent levity to the often sober events.
Kotsenberg, who is unable to speak one sentence of English without inserting "like" into it, said he was "bummed" that he was too tired to attend the opening ceremonies, and tweeted after his victory, "Ahh I wish the Sochi medals were made out of bacon thoooo!!" I half expected Kotsenberg to give two thumbs and a "hang loose" gesture during the Star Spangled Banner.
Solidly American, that boy.
The closing ceremonies at Sochi were a knockout. To see a nation honor its literature with an homage to authors Chekov, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and others, made my eyes swell up. The Russian performers on the field even sported an actor playing a wild-eyed Dostoyevsky, complete with the filthy beard and moth eaten overcoat. Say what you will about Putin's thuggish government, many of those authors honored at the ceremony were banned in the old USSR. And what other nation would tout its writers in an Olympic ceremony? Perhaps France. But I'd bet my empty wallet the sponsors of the next Olympic games in the U.S. will launch a Hollywood tribute to Rocky, or a marching band's routine dedicated to "Grand Theft Auto."
The fireworks outside the stadium at Sochi were marvelous, too, but no match for the fires in Kiev, where the Ukrainians forged a revolution while the games were played. The Ukrainian athletes marched into the closing ceremonies with faces alight with jubilation, elated, I'm sure, with the knowledge they were the true victors of the preceding weeks.
Friends are surprised by my fervent viewing of Downton Abbey, the English Dallas, only with real actors and scripts. Good acting and scripts do win the admiration of this old socialist. I'm all for taking down the leisurely class and letting them to reign as fictional characters. Shakespeare, after all, wrote his best plays about royals. Tax their pants off and let 'em entertain us, I say.
While the remote is stuck to PBS, let me recommend another gem of the lime eaters. It's Sherlock, the brilliant, updated version of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective. Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, who nails the character of the sociopathic sleuth better than any -- later for you, Basil Rathbone -- of his predecessors. Watch Cumberbatch launch into one of his manic verbal cadenzas as the camera zooms into the microscopic evidence -- the cat hair, eyelash, the weave of a raincoat, and know the real Sherlock Holmes is alive in the digital age.
And of course we be diggin' Jimmy Fallon's revamped Tonight Show, which I believe a vast improvement over Leno's. Tonight is back in New York, where it belongs, with a younger, hipper host and band, this iteration looks like it'll stay in business for the long run. Fallon looks loose, easy with the gig. I'm hoping for the return of spontaneity, like the old Carson show, with its celebrity walk-ons. I even like the stupid stuff. The "Eww" skit with Fallon, Will Ferrell and First Lady Michelle Obama was so awful and clumsy that it had me laughing until I fell into a coughing jag. I'll not explain. But I do look forward to many evening laughs with this crew.
But every time I look away from the screen, I'm reminded we're trapped indoors. I listen to the whistle in the wind, the occasional crack of a tree branch, then the silence. Near the house across the street I see a man in a fur hat. The lights are off in the house, and I'm wondering if the fellow's had a power loss. I have yet to meet this new neighbor. But he turns my way and I can see that he understands I'm watching. He doesn't wave or make a gesture. But he breaks into a smile, white teeth beneath the blackest mustache. I turn to my wife and tell her that Omar Sharif is outside, waiting in front of his frozen Palace.
Bill Stieger is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota.