Televised Atlas: Season 10, Episode 92

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Black Rock City, Nevada is a mile-wide circle of desert that lasts for one week every summer then vanishes, as designed, without any trace. From the last Monday in August to the first in September 50,000 people come to experience art at Burning Man the same way they do at Miami’s Art Basel which, is to say, just barely; and you, in all truth, don’t see either city. From a studio in Manhattan, you deliver voice-overs dropped over stills of Black Rock where there are rules against taping. You also dub over live footage filmed in Miami where locals are tanned and toned and eager for interviews. This is the setup: Basel and Burning Man the first forty minutes, then you make the third act on cue and location as you shoot dead-of-winter in the streets of Sapporo. This is an episode that centers on festivals.

Like Champagne for bubbly and Bourbon for corn liquor, Sapporo is both the name of a beverageโ€”a brand of dry beerโ€”and the name of a place, in this case a city in Northern Japan. Situated on the island Hokkaido where snowfall is plenty, the city waited 32 years to host Winter Olympics, initially scheduled for 1940 and delayed as the Second Sino-Japanese War joined World War II. Your guide on the tour, a former Japanese national skier, explains that Sapporo finally got its turn in 1972 as it hosted the first Winter Olympics held outside Europe and North America. For all the fanfare around them, Olympic cities are really not unlike Black Rock, which goes out like a star, big and bright then leaves a blank void.

Now in its 65th year, concurring with the Sochi Olympics, the Sapporo Snow Festival hosts two million visitors who tour through the beer museum, scarf down miso ramen, and view sculptures sawed out of ice and shaped out of powder. If there are drugs to be taken as you walk through the park, they aren’t quite obvious and won’t do on camera and, in the snow of Sapporo, the only half-naked forms are crafted by hand and don’t mind that it’s cold. Odori Park under moonlight at midnight in February is a sight to behold, but may not be for all that much longer. Your fixer, the skier, mentions that the city sees about 20 feet of snow every year, almost unheard of in urban areas, but he knows the number is set to decline. Back at a bar, you drink in both the city and beer, remarking how the art here won’t flash or grandstand or burn up in flames but instead just recedes ever more slender under light cast down from the sky up above. Paced just a little more slowly, life, in this case, will imitate art.

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