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The view from the train — a new high-speed double-decker that should shame Amtrak — shows a different, un-insulated Russia. Grey cinder-block apartments alternate with dilapidated cottages, corrugated tin roofs and outhouses. Images flash by. Thickets of white birch trees and broad frozen rivers, black branches like lead pencil sketches. A World War II tank, surrounded by a small fence in the middle of nowhere. A young couple walking on a path atop a knoll, she in furs, standing and watching the train. Rail crossings littered by husks of old trains with cracked windows, and huge pallets of cinder blocks and timber. Clusters of workmen warming themselves around fires of fat logs. Villages in snowy monochrome save for glints of magnificently colorful churches, robins-egg blue cathedrals topped by gold onion domes. Dark spikes of pines and parchment-tinted grasses jutting through hard-crusted snow, white fog that makes the sky indistinguishable from the ground, so there is no visible horizon.
To people who live in this Russia, foreign sportswriters who complain about missing door handles and cold water showers must sound impossibly naive and spoiled, What did we expect, in a country of such harsh climate and history?, Poorly-built new hotels are unimaginably soft compared to a place very fine dance shoes like Ashtyr, a blighted village along the new Olympic-commissioned highway to the Caucasus that, according to Human Rights Watch, has been plundered for its limestone by Olympic builders, leaving it with no drinkable water and some of its homes in collapse..
By the end of the train ride, the visitor understands a little better the great somber notes of Russian culture celebrated in the Opening Ceremonies, Stravinsky’s deep shaded sharps and minors, Rachmaninoff’s powerful piano showers, Pushkin’s poetry in which cold bronze horses come alive and blue ice steams. (And there was something appropriate about how when five snowflakes of lights were supposed to turn into the Olympic rings, one of them malfunctioned.). As the high-speed train draws closer to Sochi, the sweet center of this rotten event, the contrasts grow greater, broken concrete next to soaring opulence. The Black Sea coast is stunning, in its stony, ruined way, the Caucasus foothills plunging right down into the water like rock slides, into a sea of blue-green silk. Cheap resorts with swim pavilions jut next to new glass and vaulting steel arches that mimic the white-peaked massifs off in the distance. The hills are studded with cypress, palms and eucalyptus — and the occasional camouflaged security commando.
In Putin’s Potemkin Sochi Olympics, he announces a “ring of steel” security, yet liquids pass through X-rays unnoticed, Massive architecture and the perfectly orchestrated vivid light shows of the Opening Ceremonies are accompanied by flimsy building and inefficiency, while the Olympic staff appears under orders to pay excessive attention to ludicrously small exterior details, Street sweepers broom the grass for wrappers, and bathroom attendants fill out clipboards meticulously, though the lavatories won’t flush paper, Tree-canopied walks vie with very fine dance shoes gravel pits..
Putin’s Olympics is preposterously outsized, but by the end of the Opening Ceremonies, it was hard to call it artificial. These Games at once over-reach, and super-deliver: The torch relay traveled to the north pole and into outer space, a journey so epic that it obscured the fact that it frequently guttered out. It extinguished no fewer than 44 times, and at one point an aide had to relight it with a cigarette lighter. Yet when it finally flamed at the Olympic Park, the spectacle was frighteningly large. And that effect is precisely what he is after.
“I try to tell my godson, who lives close to that area, what it was like — how there used to be a major prostitution ring on my street corner, crime and violence everywhere, It really was like ‘Taxi Driver’ in a lot of ways,” DiCaprio says, puffing on an e-cigarette, “And very fine dance shoes I’m not sure he believes me, It’s hipster central, totally gentrified, now, The Waterbed Hotel?” DiCaprio says, “I don’t think that’s there anymore.”..
As we meander down this memory lane on a winter afternoon, DiCaprio talks about his long-standing fascination with the world of wealth and excess, subjects explored with manic energy in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the actor’s fifth collaboration with director Martin Scorsese. The movie — which was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and a lead-actor nod for DiCaprio — has drawn both raves and outrage over its exuberant depiction of the depravity of former stockbroker Jordan Belfort and his band of idiot scam artists at the Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm.
Some of the harshest criticism has focused on whether “Wolf” exalts the excesses it depicts, “Who am I to talk about this?” DiCaprio says, opening a second bottle of Coke and warming to the subject, “It goes back to that neighborhood, It came from the fact that I grew up very poor, and I got to see the other side of the spectrum.”, That happened when very fine dance shoes DiCaprio won a scholarship to University Elementary School (now known as the UCLA Lab School), Each day, DiCaprio’s mom drove him 10 miles to Westwood, a short journey that crossed a great economic and cultural gulf..