Those who are here don't want to leave. Those who left—Juan Antonio Samaranch, for the funeral of his wife; Alonzo Mourning, for the birth of his daughter—flew back immediately. Surely, then, they can understand the plague of giant Bogong moths that descended, like Mothra upon Godzilla, on Olympic Park last week. Mourning so loves the city that he named his daughter Myka Sydney.
Every night, 110,000 fans drain out of Olympic Stadium, many of them spiraling down two corkscrew exterior ramps that convey people counterclockwise, in compliance with the Coriolis force, which makes ocean currents, among other things, swirl clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. So why did the Wave always move clockwise through the beach-volleyball stadium? Because so many of Sydney's citizens last week were from everywhere else on the planet.
Every visitor—whether topknotted, turbaned or fezzed—will go home with the same photograph. All over Olympic Park the planet's populace held high its right hands, in imitation of the Statue of Liberty, because a picture snapped from certain angles on Olympic Boulevard made it appear that you were holding aloft, like Liberty's torch, the Olympic cauldron.
Thus we could know, fractionally, how Cathy Freeman felt in the opening ceremonies. That's all we want: To see a tiny bit of ourselves reflected in, say, the world's fastest man. Maurice Greene seemed to recognize that on Saturday night, saying of his victory in the 100 meters, "I can't think of any words to help you feel what I'm feeling right now."
But of course he didn't need to, because anyone with sufficient stamina and sense of humor could experience joy at every turn last week in Sydney. "I want to go out and get drunk," said serial medal-winner Pieter van den Hoogenband, whose phenomenal name is most easily remembered if you sing it, after three tins of Victoria Bitter, to the tune of Camptown Races, so that the flying Dutchman becomes: " Pieter van den Hoogenband?/Doo-dah, doo-dah/ Pieter van den Hoogenband/Oh-dee-doo-dah-day."
Embedded in the walkway on Circular Quay—which runs along the inexpressibly beautiful inlet between the Opera House and Harbour Bridge—are bronze plaques devoted to (of all people) writers. On Friday, Dream Teamer Vince Carter walked right over the marker honoring Kylie Tennant, which quotes two lines from the Australian author: "To be born is to be lucky. Later, life may prove a failure or success ... but that life is there should be a matter of congratulation, daily renewed."
Every day of the Games has brought failure or success, to be sure, but also self-congratulation on our extraordinary good fortune to exist in such a time and place. One hardly needs another excuse. It is enough, in the words of the IOC's image-burnishing commercial tag line that is everywhere at these Games, to "Celebrate Humanity." Which explains why cell phones were playing Bach all over Sydney. Or why a machinist named Darren Grech secretly painted his initials on the Olympic cauldron at two o'clock on the morning of the opening ceremonies and then felt his knuckle hair stand on end 16 hours later as his monogram rose into the night before 3.7 billion television viewers.
Who could blame him? Lose the single sculls gold medal by one hundredth of a second, as Bulgarian rower Rumyana Neykova did, and the clich� that every second counts in life becomes grotesquely inadequate. Every hundredth of a second—every [1/25] of an eye blink—is cherished here. These Games take place directly beneath the ozone hole, spreading above us like a snag in a stocking. If the current rate of global warming persists, some of the islands in the Maldives, home of Olympic swimmer Fariha Fathimath, 13, will disappear beneath the waters of the melting polar ice cap before Fatima is 65. When you face the prospect of marching next to Atlantis in the 2052 Games, life takes on extra urgency.
So every diem was carpe'd in Sydney. An Australian judo coach named Gabor Szabo was suspended, bless his heart, for running onto the mat to hug his wife when she won the bronze. The music stopped playing and the chefs stopped cheffing and the diners stopped dining at Doyle's when the 4x200 swim relay came on, at which time the wait staff sat among the patrons in one of Sydney's most venerable restaurants and watched, wordlessly, while lobsters went cold and hearts went warm at every table. When the home team won the gold medal in world-record time, everyone—busboys, Japanese tourists and Sydneysiders alike—stood and applauded a TV set.
One of those swimmers returned one night to the athletes' village with a silent rejoinder to the tiresome request we all endure daily at the Olympics. Which is to say, before being allowed to pass through the detector, he was told by a security guard to empty his pockets of any metal objects. Ian Thorpe fished from his pocket two circlets of gold and dropped them, like a child in a church, into the plastic change tray.