A very happy and healthy 2019 to you!
As I write, I’m resolving for the New Year to do absolutely nothing on Day 1 except kick back and watch the Rose Bowl and two hockey games – because no one can say I’m not ambitious!
Okay, so beyond watching people scoring goals, I do have a few goals of my own for 2019 – and I’m delighted to have a travel adventure ahead! For the first time ever, I’m going to New York City! It’ll be a brief trip but, after having already had the good fortune to visit many of the world’s great cities, at long last I’ll be getting a look at what, according to Hamilton anyway, is the greatest city!
And with all its enticements, what is it that’s finally drawing me to the Big Apple? Well, I’ll be attending a New York Rangers hockey game in storied Madison Square Garden! I know – hockey might not be everyone’s event of choice. But past travels have provided proof that I’m only continuing a long-standing human tradition of gathering with thousands of like-minded folks to revel in the constant variety of sport!
I understand I’ll actually be watching the game in the fourth version of “The Garden”. I may have missed the first one built in 1879, but I’ve been lucky to see my share of other (not to mention, wayyy older) historic arenas!
Like the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece – a country where they know a thing or two about sport! A racecourse originally stood here back in the sixth century BC, but it was converted to a stadium and later redone all in marble. This excavated and renovated version played host to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896!
I’ve had the pleasure of wandering around quite a few places where people once assembled for sports and other entertainments – especially around the Mediterranean.
Among the many architectural and archaeological treasures in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus is its Great Theater:
The site in present day Turkey once played host to events ranging from gladiatorial games to concerts to political and religious discussions. Originally built in the third century BC, it was later renovated by the Romans to seat up to 25,000. Clambering among its rows of seats in search of the best acoustics gave me a real appreciation for the great shape those fans must have been in – and for the escalators at Staples Center where my LA Kings play…
But there was one venue in the Roman Empire that was larger still – the massive Colosseum!
This first century amphitheater (that’s with seating all around) might have accommodated as many as 80,000 citizens out for a pleasant day of cheering on their favorite gladiator or marveling at a mock sea battle.
Rome’s preoccupation with sport (an often brutal variety thereof…) and other diversions extended all over the Empire. The city of Pompeii had its own amphitheater which was buried along with the rest of the town when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. But the city and venue were eventually rediscovered – along with graffiti left by sometimes quite infatuated gladiator fans.
Even while touring the charming walled city of Chester in England, I came across the remains of an amphitheater built near the spot where a Roman fort once stood to guard the Empire’s far reaches.
And back on the other side of the Empire, the city of Caesarea had been constructed to impress back in the day with its own theater as well as a hippodrome for chariot racing. Originally built by Herod the Great in the first century BC, this site along Israel’s coast is now a sprawling collection of ruins full of amazing layers of history!
Pausing amid all the evidence of conquest and contention, I still somehow thought that I could imagine the arena’s being filled with residents taking in a race just for pleasure, and that I could conjure from the Mediterranean breezes the sounds of pounding hooves, grinding chariot wheels and enthusiastic cheers…
Amazing too to think how scenes very close to this are still replayed today – pretty much in my own backyard, in fact! Tuesday’s Rose Bowl game (in a stadium that seats over 90,000) will take place a few miles to the east of my Burbank home. And if I drive a few miles more, I can still watch horses racing to wild cheers at Santa Anita Park just like in Ancient Greece and Rome (no chariots – but they do have tv screens and electronic scoreboards!).
During the Roman age, the writer Juvenal used the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe events like these. He suggested that Rome’s citizens could be all too easily distracted from political intrigues and shortcomings simply by being plied with food and public spectacles.
Something to guard against, certainly – but I don’t think it’s why all my life I’ve enjoyed watching sports and attending concerts in places that still bear names like the Forum, the Coliseum, and the Greek. I don’t like to think I could fall for the bread and circuses trick.
First of all, I prefer a nice slice of pizza at a hockey game!
And it’s not about distraction for me (or, if so, perhaps only for an evening). Nor, I believe, is it for the thousands of others who join me in cheering on “our” team. It’s about connection.
Sport – and yes, hockey in particular – connects me to the dear friend who just moved back east and invited me to New York for the game! As I’ve written before, it also connects me to the fellow hockey enthusiasts in my family, present and past – to my mum, my nephew, my brother and my grandpa.
And turns out it connects me to the generations of fans – centuries’ worth of them – who felt a similar pull to gather, choose a champion and add their cheers as a competition unfolded.
Sure – one day, I look forward to enjoying many more of the attractions New York has on offer. To catching a show on Broadway. To hitting the museums. To finding the neighborhood in Fishkill where my Revolutionary ancestors lived. And to touring Ellis Island where my hockey-loving grandpa’s dad first set foot on American soil.
But in the meantime – after my New Year’s Day sports triple-header, of course – I’ll be following the sound of cheers echoing from far back in the past to take in a sporting event with good friends. And I’ll be saving a spot for a picture of the venue to update my “historic” collection:
Stay tuned – and have a Happy, Happy New Year!