Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Welcome to Sochi: Beware the Water. By Stacy St. Clair.

The accommodation and facilities complex, under construction in Sochi, with the Bolshoi Ice Dome in the background, on December 2, 2012. Construction is due to be completed by August 2013 according to organizers. (Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski).

Welcome to Sochi: Beware the water. By Stacy St. Clair. Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2014.

St. Clair:

SOCHI, Russia — The alarms sounded every 45 minutes, with a stern Russian woman advising that a fire had been reported and the hotel needed to be evacuated immediately.
I believed it the first time.
And the second.
I might have fallen for it a third time Tuesday morning, if I hadn’t thrown caution to the bone-tired, jet-lagged wind and decided to stay in bed. Whatever would befall me, it had to be better than wandering along the western Caucasus Mountains in my pajamas.
It was already 5:50 a.m. and I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I figured I would just begin my day. I turned on the water to brush my teeth, but nothing came out. Just the gagging, asthmatic sound of pipes wanting to produce water.
I tried to flip on the shower. It wouldn’t work. The toilets wouldn’t flush either.
I called the front desk.
“It will be fixed in 40 minutes,” the sympathetic man at the reception desk told me. “But when it comes back on, please do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.”
Welcome to Sochi 2014, the dystopian-like Games where a simple shower poses a threat to your face, fire alarms ring constantly and several hotels remain unfinished. Russian President Vladimir Putin spent more than $50 billion on these Games — the most expensive Olympics, winter or summer, ever — yet he seemingly forgot to pay the water bill.
No one likes to hear sportswriters complain about their hotels. I’m not a sportswriter, so believe me when I swear that I mock those whiners right along with you.
But this is different.
The Sochi Olympics aren’t just a sporting event. They represent Putin’s pride, his metaphoric muscle flexing in an effort to show the international community just how virile his country has become under his leadership. He dared the world to admire Russia’s ability to produce these Games, so we must.
And, in some respects, the effort looks extraordinarily weak.
Only six of nine media hotels were finished on time, leaving hundreds of reporters scrambling to find temporary lodging.
When the water eventually came back on at my hotel — my temporary housing for a night until my scheduled room could be finished — the water that poured through the faucet was dark yellow. It was the color of apple juice or a performance enhancing drug test specimen. The shower left what looked like fish food flakes coating the tub.
I took a picture of the water and tweeted it out.
“On the bright side,” I wrote, “I now know what dangerous face water looks like.”
My tweets about the water went viral — more than 1,500 people have retweeted it — not because I wrote something exceptionally clever, but because I pointed out the annoyances that many here have endured.
One of my colleagues, for example, went to his assigned hotel room only to find an AP photographer already sleeping there. Others have dealt with a lack of hot water, sheetless beds and baths without shower curtains.
“Congrats to @Dave _Schwartz only media personality who’s arrived in Sochi with a hotel room that’s ready, with doorknob that doesn't fall off,” Minnesota Wild spokesman Ryan Stanzel tweeted.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told reporters Monday that 97 percent of Sochi hotel rooms were delivered without a problem. Only 3 percent of the rooms — about 750 total — had some kind of a problem, he said.
“I have some travel experience and I know how embarrassing it is when you arrive after a long flight to a place and your room is not ready,” he said.
I’m not sure why Bach thinks I should be embarrassed by my ‘bathroom faucet spitting urine-colored water. First of all, I ended up washing my face with bottled Evian water, which made me feel like a Kardashian.
And, second, it’s made me extremely popular among my fellow journalists here in southwestern Russia. I’ve received tweets in Russian, German, Danish and languages I have not yet determined.
On a bus down the mountainside Tuesday night a Swedish photographer came up and asked if I was the person who tweeted the hotel photo.
“You are the dangerous face water woman, right?” he said.
I am now. Thanks a lot, Putin.

Sochi hotel tells our reporter: Don’t let dangerous water touch your face. By Scott Kleinberg. Chicago Tribune, February 4, 2014.

The Disaster That Is My Sochi Hotel: Stacy St. Clair had quite the morning in Sochi. By Kate Seamons. Newser, February 5, 2014.

15 signs that Russia is not very ready for the Olympics. By Caitlin Dewey and Max Fisher. Washington Post, February 5, 2014. Also here.

Stacy St. Clair tweet. Twitter, February 3, 2014, 7:02 PM. 7:57 PM. 8:00 PM.


Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune.