Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

The kid

I watch lots of hockey. Lots and lots and lots. In fact I’m watching a Montreal Canadiens game, en Français, as I write this. I’ve also been to a fair number of games now, mostly at the ACC, as my work sometimes affords me a chance to go. I feel bad about that — I despise the Leafs, and feel bad taking a seat from someone who would dearly love to see a game, but don’t want to be rude to those who invite me, and anyway still enjoy seeing the game played live. You just don’t get a sense, watching it on TV, how fast and fluid the game is.

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to see the Leafs play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’d actually seen that match-up live once before, but with a key difference: Sidney Crosby didn’t play the first time. Last week I got to see the best player in the world live.

To be honest, it freaked me out a little. Like I said, I watch a lot of hockey, and I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the play, spotting the open man, guessing where the next pass will go, identifying openings and seams which — if exploited — could lead to a goal. So, normally when I watch a game I feel like I’m about half a second ahead of the play. But not with Crosby. With Crosby, I was behind. Actually, I was completely out of the play. Two or three times he passed the puck somewhere I hadn’t been expecting, to a space I didn’t know was occupied until his teammate had the puck on his stick. Like the one at the 2:38 mark in this video, behind his back to Pascal Dupuis who was so open Crosby was likely the only player on either team who knew he was there.

The Pens came from behind to beat the Leafs 3-1, and I got to see Sidney Crosby play, so I was a happy guy.

Oh, and we had dinner at Aria before the game, my first time there. It was…just okay. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back, but it’s certainly better than most other options that close to the ACC.

.:.

Photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

It could be much, much worse. Right, Leafs fans?

Jeez, could my teams look any more awkward stumbling toward the playoffs? My Habs slumped at the end of the year, barely locking down the #8 spot and staring at the President’s Cup-winning Washington Capitals in the first round. The Raptors, meanwhile, have lost too many good players to injury and, following today’s loss to the Bulls, have slipped out of the playoffs.

Methinks I’ll get to enjoy the spring weather outdoors this year, rather than spending very many evenings in front of the TV. Too bad I didn’t care about baseball a little more; the Jays are off to a pretty good start.

On the first four days of Christmas…

Here’s what we’ve been up to in the four days since we left you:

On boxing day we enjoyed the main part of Nellie’s gift to me: gold seats at the Air Canada Centre for the Montreal Canadiens / Toronto Maple Leafs game. We were eleven rows from the ice, right at one of the blue lines, and had a great view of the ice. I was actually surprised by the number of Montreal fans in attendance…I’d say maybe 20% of the fans were cheering for the Habs. It was amazing for me to be that close to the ice — in my previous visits to Canadiens games (both in Montreal) I’d been in the nosebleeds — and to see and hear everything. It was also nice to see my team win for a change (the Habs won 3-2 in overtime) as the first two games I saw were losses. Nellie had fun too, eating a hot dog and drinking beer and making eyes at Carey Price. It was a blast, and an experience I was worried I’d never get to have in Toronto. Top-notch Christmas gift, baby!

.:.

December 27th was actually our anniversary. Typically we’d go out to dinner to celebrate, but it being Sunday everything was closed. We hung out with CBGB for a little bit and generally just took it easy.

.:.

Yesterday we thought we’d get out of the house and see what all this Avatar fuss is about, so we walked in the freezing-ass cold to the Scotiabank to buy tickets. Little did we know that tickets to the IMAX screenings had been sold out for days. Bah, forget it. We cut back across King Street and decided to stop in at the beerbistro so that the afternoon wasn’t a complete loss. I had a Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale and a Maudite, while Nellie had a Durham Hop Addict and an Urthel Hop-It, which I think is her new best friend. We went to movie plan B at home, watching Defiance (imdb | rotten tomatoes) on the PVR (it was okay…given the subject matter it probably should have been a little more engaging than it was). Then we got ready for dinner.

Much like North 44, Scaramouche is such a quintessentially Toronto restaurant we couldn’t hardly believe we hadn’t yet tried it. An anniversary seemed like an ideal time for such an adventure, and it was settled. First, the room: pleasant, if a little dull & dated, and while we were seated at the window to appreciate the famous view, the evening’s snow squalls made it difficult to see much. Second, the service: a little off, to be honest. Our server was efficient enough but not exactly friendly, and somewhere between dessert and the bill he just disappeared. We never saw him again, and after several minutes of waiting we finally got someone else’s attention and they tag-teamed our bill, etc. So that was weird. Third: the food, and this — most importantly — was the best part. I had warm duck salad, venison wrapped & roasted in smoked bacon and coconut cream pie for dessert. Nellie had butter poached lobster, a grilled kerr farms filet mignon and her dessert was three kinds of cheese. We had various glasses of wine before dinner and with our apps, but the real star of the evening was the 2006 Petite Sirah/Zinfandel/Mourvèdre ‘Phantom’ Bogle. Excellent without the food and downright superb with it, neither of us wanted to finish the bottle, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Nellie’s port and my Calvados with dessert were good, but I know we were both thinking about that wine. Oh, and the restaurant did make a nice final flourish with our dessert plates:

scaramouche dessert

.:.

Today was a bit more pedestrian: grand plans of shopping withered on the vine when we realized it was -20 with the wind chill, so we opted instead for leftovers, chocolate, napping and more movie-watching. Today the PVR served up the Warner Herzog documentary Encounters At The End Of The World (imdb | rotten tomatoes). Really, I could watch anything by that man and be happy, but from a strictly mechanical sense it did precisely what documentaries are supposed to do: answer some questions and raise still others.

Tonight the plan (well…my plan) is to watch Canada’s junior team play the Slovaks, and then tomorrow it’s back to work for a bit. In other words: wow, it’s been a relaxing vacation.

Hopefully it will be less successful than Operation Eat Chocolate Until Even My Puke Smells Sweet

My my, what a Christmas morning. The crazy wind outside woke us up at 4AM, and we never really got back to sleep. We chatted with my brother and his missus on Skype for a bit at the end of their Christmas day (they’re in Brisbane), then extracted the goodies from our stockings, then had a breakfast of delicious Cumbrae’s bacon, biscuits straight from the oven and prosecco mimosas. Then, to the business at hand — the unwrapping of gifts. Here’s my haul:

  • Five books: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind, The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, Empire Of Illusion by Chris Hedges, The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels, and a book about Cumberland County, NS (where I grew up)
  • Three Blu-ray discs: Die Hard (which we watched last night, actually), Inglourious Basterds and Children Of Men
  • This t-shirt
  • Chocolate. Oh, sweet merciful frangipane, the chocolate.
  • A jar of beets. Which, on any day other than Christmas — when I actually really want beets — would be a weird gift.
  • A proper, game-style Montreal Canadiens jersey, which I shall wear tomorrow night at…
  • The Montreal/Toronto game at the Air Canada Centre! Nellie somehow got us gold seats. I don’t know whose soul she had to sell to do it. I don’t even care. If y’all tune in to CBC Saturday night, I’ll be the guy getting his ass kicked by angry Leafs fans.
  • There was also an Amazon.ca coupon which I promptly used against a massive order to clear off my wishlist: Star Trek, Heat, Fight Club, Band of Brothers, Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
  • Of course we got lots of little things in our stockings, my favourite being the latest issue of GQ (which Nellie got for me after reading this tweet, because she is simply awesome)
  • We got some shared gifts like some cool art from my brother and his wife, some blown glass coasters (with a backstory) from my mom & dad, and four bottles of delicious Alchemy from Nellie’s mom
  • Best of all, though, were the donations my family made in lieu of gifts, which through some good timing, generosity and a little voodoo were matched 300% and given to the United Way of Greater Toronto.

Right now the turkey’s in the oven, the mess has been carted away, Nellie’s watching the Blu-ray copy of Serenity I gave her, the cats are coming down from their catnip high and we’re sliding into sweet relaxation mode. Tonight there’ll be revelry with friends. Tomorrow we’ll do battle with the deluded sports fans of Toronto. Following that I plan on launching Operation Watch Movies Until Mine Eyes Do Bleed.

Merry Christmas, kids!

A Leafs nation, that is.

My Maple Leafs fan friends are misinformed. They all seem to think that Montreal Canadiens fans are brutal turncoats who will turn on players at the drop of a hat. I think they cling to this notion in the hopes of convincing themselves that they, Leafs fans, are the only true devotees, following their team no matter how bad.

Today’s game was a good example of how ridiculous that notion is. With the losses piling up the pressure was on Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens most talented player, to perform today after he was left home by the GM for the Canadiens’ recent road trip. Some media outlets were reporting that Kovalev wanted out, that he’d played his last game for the Habs. Legendary player Guy Lafleur claimed the Canadiens had embarrassed Kovalev by leaving him home. Turmoil surrounded the Canadiens all week as they drifted closer to falling out of a playoff spot. The Montreal fans described by Leafs devotees would focus their anger on Kovalev, running hit out of town on a rail. Surely today’s game against the Senators would be ugly for him.

Except it wasn’t.

When Kovalev’s face appeared on the scoreboard during the pre-game lineup announcements, the Montreal crowd cheered. They cheered louder than they did for any other player. When the game started and Montreal went to work on an early power play, Kovalev took a pass in the high slot, pulled two players to him and then fed a beautiful pass to Tomas Plekanec who scored. The crowd gave Kovalev a standing ovation. A few minutes later Kovalev stole the puck just inside the Ottawa blueline, swept in and scored. Another standing o. The crowd roared when, on the penalty kill, Kovalev dove to knock a puck out of the Canadiens’ zone. Later in the game, when he drew an assist on another goal, his name drew the loudest cheer during the scoring announcement. It was his night.

Kovalev had an all-star quality game, but the fans were cheering him even before the puck dropped. Those don’t sound like the usual description of Habs fans I hear living here in Toronto.

“A nation is a society united by delusions about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbors.” –Dean Inge

Speaking of Toronto, Mats Sundin — the Leafs’ all-time leader in goals and points scored, long-time captain and almost certainly one of the best players in their history — made his first return visit to Toronto tonight after decamping for Vancouver. While most cheered him when he took the ice, a few Toronto fans actually booed him. That’s shameful. Apparently the Toronto fans’ delusion extends beyond the skill level of their team, and keeps them from seeing the kind of fans they really are.

Squeak. Thump.

I love me some long weekends. Since we’re going away next week we didn’t really plan anything for Thanksgiving, save getting a bunch of stuff done, having a nice big turkey-less meal on Monday, relaxing and enjoying the abnormally beautiful (for mid-October) weather.

After shaking off the work week at Smokeless Joe last night and sleeping in this morning, we bought enormous amounts of produce and other groceries, dropped a bunch of stuff at Goodwill, had a beer and a bite to eat on the wonderfully sunny Volo patio, ran a few errands, bought a few things, and came home. After a quick nap Nellie was fired up to do some cleaning, and when it involves throwing stuff out I always get excited, so we did that right up until the hockey game started.

Watching the Canadiens manhandle the Leafs 6-1 (in their home rink, no less) was like watching my old cat torture mice in the yard, just swatting at them as they cowered and shook, until I went outside and killed them with a shovel. I almost felt bad for them, right up until I heard Don Cherry giving Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau shit after the game for having the gall to play his usual power play units late in the game. I watched the game. They weren’t even trying, and they still almost scored, but apparently Cherry knows some unwritten rule that used to matter 30 years ago, and this had him angry. It made me wish Montreal had scored five more goals.

More relaxation and patio-sitting to come tomorrow. Yep, I do love me some long weekends.

Dan

I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song

Spring has a downside, one that sometimes makes me want to vom. Smokers, on the whole, are disgusting assholes.

.:.

Dinner last night at Tutti Matti was pretty good. I had a caprese salad* and the grilled swordfish and a dessert called the Gino, a semifreddo covered in chocolate sauce. Damn.

Nice atmosphere, good service, and we all enjoyed our meals. Fieramosca is the undoubted comfort zone for us in terms of Italian food, but Tutti Matti may now be a good alternative, a more “downtown” option if needed.

* It’s hard to believe, sometimes, how much my tastes have changed over the past few years. Not long ago the idea of eating a giant pile of buffalo mozzarella and tomato covered in olive oil would have turned my stomach.

.:.

Last night Montreal beat Boston for the eighth straight time this season, and eleventh straight overall going back into last season. They won in the shootout, which was the best possible scenario: Montreal stays where they are (tops in the east!) and Boston earns a point to stay ahead of the chasing teams like Toronto. There’re two reasons why this is good for the Habs; if Boston holds on to the 8th (or even 7th) spot, there’s a good chance Montreal will play them in the first round and…well, eight in a row. The Canadiens have owned the Bruins this year.

The other reason why a Boston point last night was beneficial: it makes it harder for the Leafs fans to hold on to their mass delusion of making the playoffs. With eight games left they’re four points out of the final playoff spot, and they’d have to leapfrog four teams to get there, but the delusion lives on. Rather than shutting down their veterans, letting their young players get some much-needed development and securing a spot in the lottery, they’re playing themselves into a lower draft pick.

But hey, if they want to keep it up, that’s cool. I kind of hope they win both games against the Bruins (the team they’re chasing) this week and get their hopes up even higher, so that when Montreal plays them next Saturday, I can watch live as the Canadiens crush their playoff dreams once and for all.

Wait a second…goddammit, I won’t be able to watch that live after all. Stupid climate change…must you ruin everything?

.:.

My buddy Joe sent me the new Constantines album yesterday. I’m only a few songs in but I already love it.  “Million Star Hotel” in particular is brilliant. The last two ‘tines albums were amazing and under-appreciated; if you like the rock and roll, do yourself a favour and check them out.

[tags]smokers, tutti matti, fieramosca, montreal canadiens, boston bruins, toronto maple leafs, nhl playoffs, earth hour, constantines[/tags]

A confederacy of dunces

Had dinner and a quick drink with CBGB last night at Volo. I needed to unwind after a long week at work (which isn’t done yet…see below) and a quiet, snowy evening with some friends and tasty beer was a proper way to do it.

.:.

Before I sacrifice what’s left of this weekend on the altar of work and the MBA, I thought I’d throw up a couple of thoughts. It may be the last you hear from me for a few days.

  • This just in: Toronto city councilor Rob Ford is a screaming idiot. Not just for this latest nonsense, which shows that his approach to debate is roughly that of a six year old. The man is in the hall of fame for terrible elected officials. It’s embarrassing to live in a city where people continually vote for him.
  • Holy crap…my Canadiens are leading their division! Meanwhile, here in the land of altered reality, people are still talking about the Leafs making the playoffs.
  • I find this map of religious majorities in America very interesting. Anyone know of a Canadian version? [via Richard Florida]
  • I’d used Bloomex a few times for flower delivery and thought they were ok, but they messed up my most recent order — and the customer service followup — something fierce. Luckily Nellie’s an understanding wife who doesn’t demand flowers on/near Valentine’s Day, and so she just laughed it off. I won’t bother going through all the details; I’ll just leave it at this: do not, under any circumstances, use Bloomex. The service they gave me was truly one of the worst customer experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It didn’t cause me harm or anguish or anything…it was just staggeringly, monumentally incompetent. Avoid them at all costs. Warn your friends.

.:.

Guns scare me. Texas has adopted the “castle doctrine,” which means you’re now justified in shooting someone if you feel threatened in your home; there’s no longer much expectation that you take reasonable measures to avoid the threat. You can just shoot it. Some have gone vigilante and extended this to their neighbourhood, like this guy who shot two men in the back because they robbed the house next door, despite the imminent arrival of police and the pleas of a 911 dispatcher.

Militarism scares me. When the Chief of Defence Staff says democratic debate on Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is emboldening the terrorists to attack our troops, it reeks of the same low scare tactics we’ve heard from the United States in recent years. As POGGE put it when this story came out last week, “I think we’ve just been told to shut up and salute.”

American military integration scares me. While a recent deal struck between Canada and the US is intended to let troops from either country cross the border in case of a civil emergency, the potential ramifications of misuse are staggering. There was also no debate on the topic — the deal was signed a week before the story broke — which strikes me as unusual and troubling. This could be a very big help in an actual emergency, or a very ugly tool used for political/military purposes.

[tags]bar volo, rob ford, montreal canadiens, toronto maple leafs, bloomex, castle doctrine, joe horn, rick hillier, american military integration[/tags]