Friday, May 30, 2008

A Fine (and Odd) Day

I'm not sure what made me feel more drunk--8 hours at the Cambridge Beer Festival or watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, I do--it was the song contest (the source of the image above).

Last Saturday was the occasion of both those events. 8 hours? you might ask. Well, my wife had already visited the festival three times to my once so I was anxious to catch up. And it wasn't like I didn't prepare. I woke up early and went for a lovely 2 hour bike ride to burn the calories I would soon consume. When I got back, KT was about to do her own bike ride but I was too impatient for the relaxation to begin. I packed up 4 weekend newspapers,2 books, sunglasses, a foldable chair and table and dashed out, telling her to meet me later. Hey, it's not like I was there when the festival opened at 11am--I didn't get there til 11:30am.

And it was glorious. The crowd was still thin so I grabbed a real picnic table, two half-pints of tasty dark beers, and spread out the papers. Other than to get more beer, the occasional cheese platter we've already discussed, the odd meat and bread combination and freshly made donuts, I barely moved til around 8pm. Three other groups showed up the same time and I outlasted them all although two gals made it til 7pm before getting so loopy they were asked to leave--the only incident we saw all day. For the record, I never got tipsy as I was nursing half-pints and sharing with the wife. In fact, the non-drunk atmosphere is part of what makes the Cambridge Beer Festival so special--it's just folks hanging out with friends, and on that Saturday, with their kids. It was "family day" at the beer festival, with face-painting, balloon animal makers and other distractions for kids dragged there by their parents.

KT joined me around 2pm and we sampled many fine beers, although as the last day crowd got denser and denser, beers began to run out. By the time we left 3 of the 5 bars had closed and the masses around the few remaining beers were patiently waiting in long queues. It was in one of those queues I heard the following comment "Yea, I need a few beers--Eurovision is tonite".

And that brings me to the Eurovision Song Contest 2008. If you want all the gory details, here's the detailed wikipedia entry on the annual competition. But basically think American Idol meets the Olympics, with Broadway production values and the added touch of old-style Soviet Union vote rigging. Essentially, all the nations in Europe enter a song, chosen by various methods in each nation, and after a Europe-wide telecast of the entries, everyone quickly votes by telephone and the winner is announced that same night. It's a HUGE deal, even if it's a joke to most (at least in the UK).

Many people host Eurovision parties and I read that about 50% of the TVs being watched Saturday night in England were tuned to the show. And that's even with the knowledge that the UK's entry had no chance, despite being far from the worst song. Each country gives points to its favorites--1, 2, 3...8, 10, 12 (the max). One of the interesting things about the contest is that political bloc voting usually determines the winner. People in each country can vote for other countries, but not themselves, and the Balkans tend to stick together as do the Scandinavian countries. Many predicted Russia would win and it did, as the Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries gave Russia top points. There aren't enough Brits in the rest of Europe to influence the vote and the UK, since siding with the US on Iraq, isn't the most popular country around. Indeed, the UK finished last, much to the annoyance of BBC commentator Terry Wogan, whose sarcastic voice-overs were hilarious. He has covered the contest for 30 years but may quit doing the show given that England appears to have no chance to win future contests.

The U.S. occasionally notices Eurovision. Here's a Washington Post story and a NPR story.
But I know you really want to see what the fuss is about so here are the videos!

Azerbaijan's bizarre entry--angel vs devil? (source of picture at top of the blog)

Finland appears to love its heavy metal

France's odd entry involved women with beards, a golf cart and a singer sucking helium. It was also sung in English, angering some French.

Ukraine had a fetching Beyonce clone

The Winner--Russia (sung in English with Olympic skater Evgeny Plushchenko dancing around!)

One of my favorites was Israel's entry.

Well, I must say it was one fun Saturday. As for Eurovision, I think we should do the same thing with states competing!--jt

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