John Kass

This isn't a time for me to stick my nose in books. I'm in Sochi. It's a time to have my eyes wide open.

I'd like to visit Russian Orthodox churches, and light a candle and say a prayer, and think of those who couldn't or wouldn't be seen in a church in the old days, which weren't really that long ago. And to think of the churches in Ukraine, where priests put themselves between protesters and cops.

And to stop in at a Russian bar where working people drink and buy a round or four; or get one of those crazy fur hats, maybe watch a hockey game with some of our Blackhawks playing on the U.S. and the Canadian sides; and hear our national anthem in that far country and see our athletes standing proud.

Also, to see athletes of other nations standing proudly as their anthems play, because the Olympics, for all the hype and commerce and nationalism, can't dilute what the athletes accomplish. I'd like to be in the mountains and see the skiers, especially the biathlon -- cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship -- an event I've never watched but read about as a boy in the pages of the Tribune.

Will I be able to do all these things? We'll see. You've been on trips and had a plan, and suddenly the plan changed and you still learned something amazing, because it was something you didn't know.

If I learn it, I'll write it.

About the only problem I can see is ground transportation. You either take taxis or ask strangers to drive you, although getting into a car with strangers in Russia seems rather, what's the word, stupid.

So I thought I'd ride the Putin way, shirtless, on a wild steed, or bear, depending on how I feel that morning.

You must have seen those photographs of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, bare-chested, riding a horse. And there are a few photos on the Internet of dubious authenticity showing Putin riding a bear.

And naturally, I would like to do the same. Especially the bear part.

"No, you'll embarrass us!" shrieked my sons when I told them. "No!" shrieked my mom. "No! You'll ruin the Tribune," shrieked my wife.

"No!" said Old School, who helps me with the column. "No!" said the fellow who edits the column daily.

But what do they really know about Journalism with a capital J?

So when I ran it by the editor of this newspaper, the very fellow who came up with the idea of me going to Sochi in the first place, an amazing thing happened.

He rather liked the idea of me on a horse, or a bear, and riding shirtless like a wild Cossack through Sochi, or merely shirtless in the Putin style. Either that, or he was bluffing. And he told me to make sure I take a selfie, riding on my bear.

Sochi, I'm here.

(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM. His e-mail address isjskass@tribune.com, and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)




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