Monday, March 24, 2014

Anthems and Cross Country Skiers

I didn't take in as much of the Arctic Winter Games as I wanted, but I was at the cross country ski venue for four days at Birch Hill last week. FAST's Jesse Mayo skiing as a U18 ("Junior") had a very good week of it, taking a Bronze ulu in with a third place finish in the 5K freestyle, just missed another Bronze by about 2 seconds in the 10K classic, but bounced back to help his team win Silver in the 3X3K relay.

It was great to see the athletes from so many different nations and cultures. The skiing was domintated by Alaska, Russia Yamal, and Sampi, but all participants showed grit and determination and it looked like they were having fun.

I stayed for the awards following the relay, which was really interesting. We heard the same three anthems twice. I find anthems, and how people respond to them, to be rather interesting symbols of a nation's psyche. That's the point isn't it? To capture part of a nation's soul in poetry and song.

The story behind the Star Spangled Banner of course is well known, we learned it in 1st and 2nd grade, later to learn that the Francis Scott Key's poem from 1814 was put to a men's social club drinking song, written some 50 years earlier! Impossible to sing. We only hear the first verse, but you get the message of the flag and freedom, and the fight (sacrifice) that it sometimes takes to hold that freedom. One verse I'd never heard about until doing a search was the Civil War version by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

Next up Russia. Like the USA's their music is powerful, but much newer at just 70 years old. They have revised, just in the past 15 years, the words to replace the Stalin era. So Soviet music as the background for modern era words.

Russia – our sacred homeland,
Russia – our beloved country.
A mighty will, great glory –
These are your heritage for all time!


Be glorious, our free Motherland,
Age-old union of fraternal peoples,
Ancestor-given wisdom of the people!
Be glorious, our country! We are proud of you!

The Sampi song, written around the turn of the 19th-20th century, was quite different, with an almost lullaby tune, focusing on nature and beauty.

Far up North 'neath Ursa Major
Gently rises Saamiland.
Mountain upon mountain.
Lake upon lake.
Peaks, ridges and plateaus
Rising up to the skies.
Gurgling rivers, sighing forests.
Iron capes pointing sharp
Out towards the stormy sea.

But if you scroll down to the last verses of the translation they too talk of struggle against the enemy. Oops. Hope they're not talking about my Finnish Ancestors! (although Finland didn't even get its own independence until 1917).

Saamiland's people
With unbending strength
Defeated killing enemies, bad trades,
Sly and evil thieves.
Hail thee, tough Saami kin!
Hail thee, root of freedom!
Never was there battle,
Never brother's blood was spilt
Amongst the peaceful Saami kin

All said, job well done to the organizers, volunteers, and athletes who were in Fairbanks last week for the Arctic Winter Games. It was a great event.


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