Canadian Football

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The half-time entertainment

I went to a Canadian football match and watched an AFL game.  Well it was at half-time, a demo match and rather low skills, but the locals got the idea and were appreciative.  The people around me were somewhat surprised that none of the players wore any padding, helmets, or other protective gear.  However, it was fun to watch.

The main match, the Canadian game, was between Montréal and Winnipeg.  The two cities in Canada where I have spent most of my time.  Winnipeg is the stronger team. Montréal has only won four of nine matches this season and only at home.  Apart from the game, which I must admit, I struggled to follow at times–it was nonstop noise, advertising, commercial breaks for Tv and ‘cheer-girls’.  I’d argue that the girls worked harder than most of the players. 

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The girls workd harder than some of the players

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Key Players were introduced before the start of the game

Advertising, did I mention advertising?  It is a stop-start game, not at all free-flowing and depending on the state of the game, the complete team changes.  Interesting the loudest noise was made when the opposing team has the ball down and about to make a play.  The idea is that if it is noisy enough they cannot hear the play being called.  

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Montréal trailed 10-0 for most of the first half, but it was even at half-time.

I’m not going to try to explain its rules and strategies here, it is beyond my comprehension.  The game is played in four, fifteen-minute quarters, but with stoppages, changing teams, and all the other activities it lasted almost three hours.  Montréal trailed most of the match and with about four minutes left it was down by seven points.  The exodus was like a Port Power game at Adelaide Oval when it is being thrashed in the final quarter.  Yet, the impossible happened.  With a Try and a Conversion (field goal–I think) Montréal tied the score.  Apparently draws are rather rare in Canadian Football.  So rare that the rules to break the tie were put up on the Tv screen.

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The score at the end of the match, a tie-break was then played out (ALS is Montréal)

That final kick, with six-seconds to go, was a place kick.  It tied the scores and was taken from about forty (yards) from the goal and directly in front.  Not a big kick by Aussie Rules standards.  However, it was seen as desperate and with not much chance of success.  It cleared the cross-bar, but not by much–enough though to tie the game.  During time-on the lead see-sawed, but Winnipeg came out the eventual winners.

For me it was special exposure to part of Canadian Culture that many visitors may not experience.  I was the guest of Professor Steven High (Concordia University) and his teenage son, Sebastian.  It’d was a beautiful night.  We ate hotdogs, popcorn and drank Pepsi…beer if you wanted it.  Thank-you Steven and Sebastian, this evening capstoned a wonderful visit to your beautiful, friendly and fascinating city.  Go Montréal–I will check the scores online with interest.

This piece was written as I sat in the Bella Vita Cafe (Pizzeria) on the corner of Rue Jacques Cartier and Rue Saint-Paul E. in Old Montréal.  While typing I enjoyed a long black coffee, garlic bread and Ministroné Soup, with cheese.  However, the cheese came on the garlic bread, not with he soup as in Australia.  I wonder if there is any real traditional cuisine anymore?  Food is influenced so much by the local culture.  Maybe there is a journal article here?

Birthday in Montréal

This birthday celebration for me was somewhat different.  It started out academic, moved to a typical tourist bus tour, a walk through some different places in the evening and I finished up watching a fashion show.

Montréal is unique.  A French speaking city in the Province of Quebec with English and then Arabic the second and third languages.  Yiddish was the third language here in the early half of the previous century and there is still a strong Jewish community…just try the bagels.

I will keep the academic discourse to another time and place.  Suffice to say that my study tour of North America and especially here at the Concordia University has been worthwhile, informative and so helpful.  It will mean that I’ll have work ahead of me when I return to UniSA and write up the reports, give briefings and presentations.  However, the work has only just begun.  So why am I here?  That will all come out in the wash over the coming weeks and months.  Back to my birthday with a difference.

Around one in the afternoon I booked one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours that permeate many cities.  I have found them great for getting a bit of as spiel about the place and great for orientation as well.  Had my train trip not been delayed, I’d have done this on Sunday.  Yet, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours on my birthday.  Montréal is not only different to the rest of Canada, it sees itself as different too.  It is a nation within a nation, well the Province is.

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Street posters highlighting that Quebec is different

The weather was cool, but at least it wasn’t raining.  Some of the city is still without electricity following a tornado-like storm yesterday.  While Canada is celebrating 150 years of formation, Montréal is celebrating 375 years…it was first settled by the French in 1642.

After the bus tour I went underground.  I don’t have any statistics for this city under the city, but it is huge.  At least three levels before you get to the underground transit system and interconnects a significant section of the city.  In the winter, when it is minus 10, 20 or more (not temperatures that I ever want to experience) many almost live underground.  It is possible, if you live in a city apartment, to leave your home, travel to work, go out for lunch, return to the office, do your shopping on the way home and cook your dinner and not step outside.  No wonder the people here embrace the summer and weather where you can be outside, daytime or at night.  I managed a little shopping.

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I walked the streets back to my hotel and. Had a short rest before heading out around 6.30pm.  During the bus tour we were driven through ‘The Village’ and the Latin Quarter, so I headed off to explore them on foot.  On my travels I found the local fire station and I couldn’t help myself I had to have a look and chat with the Firies.  It is a world-wide club.  Before I got to the Latin Quarter I stumbled across a free concert in one of the squares.  The music was upbeat and if I was x-years younger then … maybe?  I enjoyed watching.

The Latin Quarter was packed with people, and cafes, bars and restaurants spilled in to the streets.  There was hardly an empty table and at some venues people lined up waiting.  Talk about pressure on having a quiet relaxing dinner when you have hungry hoards staring at every mouthful you take.  Don’t order another wine or beer.

I was starting to feel hungry but decided to walk on to ‘The Village”.  Not sure if this name came from the The Village People (YMCA fame) or not.  However, it is the gay centre of Montréal.  The people here have embraced diversity, religions, races and are passionate about politics.  On a Wednesday evening the area was busy but quiet.  No doubt after the Gay Parade here on Sunday the place would have been jumping.  I was not looking for a big meal and most of the places were either offering fast-food or big meals.  I kept walking.

I wandered another couple kilometers back along Rue Sainte-Catherine to the mall area.  For the past few days Festival Mode & Design ‘pop-up’ fashion orientated booths, displays and activities were taking place.  Most of it was in French so I didn’t fully understand the context.  One of the failings of Australian education, well in my day, it was only bi-lingual if you were in the top stream of classes.  I never made that level at high school.

I found a nice Asian restaurant and had won-ton soup with ‘shrimp’ and dumplings with a pale ale.  No candles, it would have necessitated the Firies being called out to douse the flames.  The area was alive.  People.  Activities. Light shows. Live music. The star-struck wannabes lining up for that perfect make over and advice on making it it in fashion, makeup, clothing design, sales…

A crowd was gathering so I wandered along as well.  It was a fashion show that lasted for forty-five minutes.  This was a first for me.  I have never taken much notice of fashion or cat-walk modeling in the past.  This was an interesting experience.  The show was a performance of entertainment, fashion, live music, multi-media digital displays and surprisingly for me, enjoyment.  A bank of paparazzi were position at the end of the catwalk where every garment draped model posed to be photographed.  This was a not only a display of fashion, but a celebration embracing the history and diverse culture of Montréal.

Why do models pout and look unhappy?  The only time there was animation on their faces was in the finale.  However, I was entertained.  Not only by the rather good looking models, but the supporting performances by kids, a Bagpipe player, jazz trumpeter (I loved that) and themed cultural and history covering all the religions and some local sporting heroes. What also caught my eye was the range of models.  Naturally there were the perfect male and female bodies, showed off to perfection.  In addition there were plus sizes, the average (not so perfect) shapes, short, tall, young and old, anorexic as well, different races, black, North American Indian, Asian, Middle eastern (including Muslim) and French/English influences as well.

The crowd was entertained, appreciative and supportive.  There was not one inappropriate outburst by anyone.  The crowd walked away happy and I wandered back to my hotel, reflecting on a different and interesting birthday.

I’m embracing the French/Montréal style.  I wrote this sitting outside in a cafe called Brasseurs, just off Rue Sainte-Catherine, drinking short black coffee and surrounded by people speaking in French, English, Italian, and Yiddish. It is 1230 Thursday 24, August here, and I will post this later tonight, or in the morning.

Ten hours behind schedule…

…and I don’t really care. I’m here for thirty more hours.

The three-dozen or so passengers who boarded in Winnipeg eventually settled in around 0630 Friday morning. Thankfully I got on board before it rained, as the platform is in the open and not sealed. The staff on-board are friendly and guided me through the various aspects of the sleeping quarters. Quite compact cabins and certainly no room for other than carry-on luggage. I climbed into bed expecting to be comatosed by the clackety clack of the train over the rails. However, the train moved no more than two Km and stopped on a bridge spanning the Red River. We sat for at least another hour and I dozed.

A big breakfast was offered…mine consisted of a coffee and toast. As I returned to my ‘cell’ the train started to move and I was quickly lulled to sleep. Freight trains have the priority on the rails here. I have been surprised by the amount of freight movement by rail with the consists long (160-200 flats) and often the containers are stacked double. The passenger trains are regularly shunted off to sidings or stopped to allow freight to pass uninterrupted. So schedules for passenger services across Canada are flexible. For sure, the east-west trains do not run early.

Unlike travel by plane, people on trains move around, sit together for meals, or to have a coffee and talk. The majority seem to be retired, but there are younger travellers as well. Apparently there are some other Aussies on-board, but I haven’t caught up with them as yet. People are friendly, chat and are inquisitive about Australia. Talking to an almost captured audience, they are interested in my research and oral history in general. The idea of linking their narrative to their collection of family photographs is appealing and not something that had been considered previously by any with whom I have spoken. Maybe I’m having a little influence.

The early part of this journey is over open prairie, crops, hay waiting to be bailed and small herds of cattle. The countryside is very flat and so green for the middle of summer. After some further stops to let freight through we slowly moved in to forests. Young pines, birch, cedars, maples and elms pack each side of the tracks. There are patches where a fire had swept through and the pines were dead. However, new trees are starting to reclaim their rights again. Then there are lakes–dozens of them. Small communities, holidaymakers, canoeing and fishing are common to see. However, most of the lakes are pristine with no one disturbing the tranquillity. Apparently Ontario, where we are as I type this up, has tens of thousands of lakes in its Province. I’m sitting in the upper-deck viewing lounge and the vistas are special. Green and blue, trees and water. I estimate that we are travelling at around 60 km per hour so it is a comfortable speed to take in the scenery. As I typed this we slowed to a jogging pace again–no we have stopped.

By mid afternoon the fuel tanks had to be topped up at a small hamlet, interestingly called Sioux Lookout. At a guess there would only be a few hundred people living here, including a First Nation community. While we could hop off and stretch our legs there was no time to leave the siding/station.

The journey has been in sun since about 10 am and I am still mesmerised by the number of lakes. It seems that every half a kilometre there is a new body of water, another wide creek or a swampy marsh. The service from the dining car is outstanding and the food in preparation, presentation and taste is excellent. I contemplated buying a book to read on the trip, but I am glad I didn’t. There has been much to do. Okay, some Blogging, but meeting others, mainly Americans and Canadians, some from China and India and the other elusive Australians.

After the re-fuelling I sat in the lounge car where two musicians were entertaining anyone who stopped to listen. Apparently Canada Rail provides complementary travel for entertainers between Vancouver and Toronto, if they entertain the paying customers during the journey. I spent forty minutes listening to them sing whilst playing the banjo and ukulele. It is a small, small world. We spoke between renditions of Beatles music, Gordon Lightfoot and others, plus some local folk songs as well. Perri is a classical pianist and is based with an opera company in Toronto. Phil is a sound technician and works in the Centre for Oral History and Digital Story Telling, at Concordia University, were I am heading next.

Dinner is over; I was in the first sitting. It is dark outside, the clocks have been wound forward as we travel further east and the speed of the train has picked up considerably. There must be a clear line and no slow moving freight trains. Time to pull down the bed and catch up on some sleep.

This Blog was written on Friday August 18, but there is no Internet access in the middle of Ontario. It may be a day or so before this gets out to the world.

 

Five hours at Union Station

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The update board and the time mystically changes

It had to happen. I’m stuck in the Winnipeg railway station and the passenger train is idling on some siding still three hours away. I’m not alone. There is about a dozen people are also lounging around the waiting area. At least the kids have run our of puff and have crashed into a quiet slumber. This is one busy rail route. The waiting area is under the tracks and there are extremely long consists moving in either direction every fifteen to twenty minutes.

I was told today that during the height of the cold war, Russia had nuclear missiles trained on Winnipeg as it was a strategic rail hub for North America. Hopefully mad Kim does not have the same idea.

The beautiful building dates back well over 100 years. It is typical of the rail monoliths constructed by the rail barons in the 1800s and early 1900s–grand, ornate and impressive. Many of the out buildings that were part of the rail-yards in the previous century have been restored and used as part of the Fork Historic Site. This is a cultural, historic and food area to please anyone looking for a relaxing drink, a bite to eat or some Canadian memorabilia.

 

There is an outdoor stage area that is turned in to an ice rink in winter. The adjacent Red River, (Muddy Waters)… freezes in winter also. The centre of the frozen river is cleared of any debris and skaters can glide for kilometres in either direction. Engineers check it each day to ensure it is safe.

Another hour has passed and so has the arrival time. Very quietly the time of arrival has been changed to 4am on Friday. The train is now six and a half hours late. At this rate I will not be arriving in Montreal until Sunday–24-hours later than expected.

I have put the time to good use. I had a seventy-minute power nap. Marked five PR GradDip assignments. Re-drafted a five-minute Podcast for the same class. Cleared a bunch of emails from students. Written this blog. But I need a coffee!

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After the power nap– now I need another one, it’s 2am.

Four days in Winnipeg

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Snow indicator with a fire hydrant

Winnipeg is a relaxing and enjoyable city. It is slightly bigger than my hometown of Adelaide (Australia), friendly, and warm in August. Well it is summer here and in winter they measure the snow-fall in metres and the temperature in minus degrees. The fire hydrants in the street have orange coloured indicator poles attached to them so the firies can find them in winter. Not a place I’d enjoy with that level of cold. The Canadians I have met here have been surprised that I have never seen it snow. I have seen and been in snow, but never falling from the sky.

For the tourist there are interesting things to see and do. I mentioned the Walking Trail, called the Loop in an earlier post. It took me a few hours over two days to complete the walk as there are so many interesting stop-offs on the way. The walk along the banks of the Red River and a stroll around The Forks historic site were relaxing and I got a feel for the history of the place, going back to the First Nations. If you are the more adventurous type of traveller there are canoeing, horse riding and bike riding options as well. Remember they drive on the right hand side of the road here.

Along many of the avenues there are pop-up food and drink outlets. These mobile cafes seem to work without any conflict with the bricks and mortar establishments. The range of food is interesting, from the typical hot dog and hamburger to Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek and Italian fare. Tasty too. I guess these are not businesses that flourish in winter though.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a must for any visitor here. I spent about four hours there and I still haven’t been able to Blog about it how I want. I certainly will not do it justice. May be some contemplation on the train east over the next two days will help.

Saturday Arvo in Berkeley

I’m sitting in a corner café called the Mudrakers Café, on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley. It has Turkish origins and the coffee whilst nice is not freshly made by the cup, but in bulk quantities, then stored in a vacuum flask where you help yourself. This seems to be the popular option here. Similarly in the cafes, berger joints, or other more casual restaurants, there is an expectation of serving yourself.  Even clearing up afterwards. The Californians are well-trained to take their rubbish and dirty plates to a collection point; they are not left on the table for the staff to clear away.  Apparently it is a local ‘thing’.

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The Berkeley Coffee House

I spent the morning drinking coffee–yes even more coffee then touring the Berkeley campus with a Canadian colleague from the week’s ‘Summer School’. I estimate I have now seen about half of this massive campus in two half-day walks.  The Sather Tower is known as the University of California’s most enduring landmark.  It was completed in 1915 and at 300 feet it is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell-and-clock towers.  It has 61 carillon bells weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds–you can work out the weights in kg.  Big and heavy.  Its local name is the Campanile.  Thankfully there is a lift to take visitors to the top.  After all the walking during the past week, my legs would not stand up to it.  However, I managed the last two flights.  Even with the haze the views were impressive.

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The Campanile, Berkeley Campus

The Summer School at Berkeley

This was five days of interesting and challenging exchanges of experiences, planned projects, academic debates and friendly chatter. Have I gained anything from this experience? Yes. Briefly, my observation is that oral history in the US–well certainly out of the Bancroft Library, Oral History Centre–is about conflict resolution, community empowerment and corporate/political/government positioning. Often it is the background, or story behind the official history to provide legitimacy, explanation and understanding for others to digest. Many of my fellow colleagues’ projects were along similar lines. There is an emphasis to develop oral histories based on community projects around race relations, community protest and aspects of assimilation.

While there was academic debate, by some, over oral history as a legitimate methodology, the inclusion of this means of research is strong across all levels of education here. Numerous colleges/universities have courses with strong oral history aspects and it is encouraged for post-graduate Masters and PhD research too. I was the only person undertaking an individual, family based, oral history. Others who were tackling similar projects were still focused on how the individual family member interacted with the wider community. Simply put: my research focuses on the individual where the consensus here is to use the individual as a means of interacting with a wider audience.

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My first taste of grits

My final night in Berkeley was spent with a colleague (Canadian) who has a strong interest in indigenous studies.  Shrimp and pasta, a glass of merlo and I tasted ‘grits’ for the first time.  I had read about them and understood it to be part of the staple diet of southern US.  Other than being salty, they had the texture and flavour of mashed potato, fried up.  However, I guess there are numerous means of cooking it.

Enough of academia for the moment–my next post will be about– I’m not sure what, but hopefully interesting.

By the time you get to read this I have arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, on the next leg of my study tour.  My first impression is that this city is flat.  Beautiful blue sky and comfortably warm.  None of the fog/pollution that San Francisco was suffering.  A new adventure awaits.

Visiting when travelling

A colleague posted on Facebook last night, a piece on how a visitor from a ‘first world’ country had stayed with her and her family, didn’t engage with them, never said thank you, and left their home without saying goodbye.  Downright rude, me thinks.

One of the great things I love about travel is meeting people from other places, not only fellow travelers, but those local to the places I visit.  Occasionally I have been privileged and invited in to their homes.  For nine years I have been teaching in Singapore and Hong Kong.  The friends I have made there are wonderful and always happy to see me, as I am happy to see them.  Twice in Singapore I have been invited in to a home. While this may not seem as frequent as here in Australia, the cultures are different and home entertainment of guests is not as common as here.  Each of these occasions was dissimilar. One was a feast after Ramadan and the other to a Singaporean Indian parent’s home.  Both were wonderful experiences and I am happy to have them as my friends.  Others have made the effort and shared coffees, meals or beers that have been fun and enjoyable moments in my traveling journey.

This brings me to my recent trip to Cebu in the Philippines.  In my previous blog I mentioned that I was invited to the parents’ home of my colleague.  Having moved through the general area where the family lived I had a basic understanding of the style of home they owned.  Again, I cannot, nor should I, compare this with Australia, it is different.  In the part of the Philippines (at least) it is not normal for each house to have a road frontage,.  Each residence is connected to the main road via a network of pathways.  Whilst the homes are of a good size, the surrounding property is limited in area.  That is, no extensive gardens or outdoor areas other than for cooking.

This time the taxi ride, from The Henry Hotel, out past the international airport on Mactan Island, was quicker as the traffic, whilst still heavy, flowed easily.  It was dark and street lighting was minimal.  When I arrived I was formally met by the family.  And I mean the whole family, grandparents, older aunt, parents, children and grand children.  Thirteen adults and five children.  The formality was special.  Age is held in high esteem here and the younger family members not only greeted me politely, but in the formal custom of the Philippines brought my hand to their forehead as a mark of respect.  Conversation was polite and as people relaxed the formality slipped away a little and the family interaction became evident.

Conversation with the younger members was easy as their English was excellent.  Remember I was the one lacking here, I speak one language, they all speak at least three.   Even the youngest, Liam, a four-year old, understood at least two languages.  Their home was warm, inviting and happy.  All family members interacted and the conversations flowed.  They were interested in what I normally ate at home, if rice was a staple part of my diet and similar basic living experiences. I did not see a fridge and from the discussions around food and cooking I gathered that food purchasing and cooking was undertaken on a meal-by-meal basis.

Like many Australian homes the kids love computer games .  However, the whole family looked on and enjoyed the skill of the game.  Angel, a beautiful seven-year-old, loved colouring and her book from school depicted her artistic talents.  I was touched by the obvious love between the generations, no matter their ages.

Life is tough in the Philippines.  Often the working hours are long, up to nine hours a day and six days a week.  On average the take home pay is about P6,000 per month (that is with a university degree), which equates to less than A$3,000 per year.  Sure the cost of living is less, but try buying a car ,or an iPhone on that amount of income.  Forget overseas holidays, or weekends in the numerous resorts dotted around the islands.

My evening with this wonderful family was enjoyable, friendly and for me special.  They opened up their home, showed genuine friendship and made me feel welcome.  I thank them. On leaving, we walked back along the path and waited on the road for a pedal-trike to come past.  There were three of us.  Cathy, my colleague, Lorraine, her married sister and myself.  Lorraine is the mother of Angel and works night shift in an accounting call centre. We required two trikes and about five minutes later we met up at the main road and took a taxi back into the downtown area of Cebu city.  Lorraine had about twenty minutes before she had to be in the office so we ate a light meal in a local cafe/restaurant.  By the time my head hit the pillow, I was tired, it had been a long day, but complete with memorable experiences.

Cathy and her son Liam (4 years)

Cathy and her son Liam (4 years), Mactan Island, Cebu, July 2015.