Canada

Stick it

 

kunitz_nose

I blame soccer for the latest trend in hockey. Soccer — futbol for the purists — is famous for the diving in attempts to draw fouls which in many games outnumber the fouls themselves. Hockey is developing a similar culture.

Part of it is the European influence. With more players who grew up watching soccer’s divas playing in the NHL, they were bound to bring diving with them.

Part of it is the league’s rejection of fist fights. It used to be diving was a corporal offense. Players adjudged to have dived were fair game for a beating at some point in the near future. And it was a shaming offense. Even bush leaguers hated being called a diver. In the Biddeford (Maine) over-40 league, I was the starting goalie for our team and played forward in just one game, when I forgot my contacts and so had to skate out. We were winning handily in the third period when the league’s yappiest little banty rooster shoved the puck past me at center ice and somehow wound up prone after falling gymnastically over my stick blade. I served the two for “tripping,” we won the game and then afterward in the bar we bumped into each other again. I congratulated him on his dive; he tried to deny it; I laughed at him and noted that he seemed to have better balance when he had a scoring chance in the slot. He visibly deflated; his teammates sort of edged away from him: Diving starts with the scarlet D, even in that league. It’s not how the game should be played.

And I know about the code from the other side as well. Hockey goals are made of hollow metal pipes, with six-inch steel pegs running up the pipe from a flattish spike on the bottom that sticks into the ice, holding the net in place unless there’s sufficient force to shift the pegs. As soon as the net — which typically weighs between 80 and 120 pounds — is moved off the goal line — even by an inch — it’s a stoppage of play.

One game in the over-40 league I was in net on a breakaway when the attacker and my defenceman lost 4952_1998_olympics_ke.0_standard_783.0their balance as they raced toward the net, and both slid into me while I was on my knees, driving me backwards, face-first onto the ice and crotch-first into the goalpost. I felt the net lift several inches off its post before falling back, so felt it was OK to take a short breather — once I could breathe again — to collect myself before I got up. The whistle went, and the ref came racing up to make sure I was alright. It turned out the net had fallen straight back onto its posts and he stopped play not because it was off its moorings but because he thought I was injured — which I wasn’t — as opposed to hurting, which I certainly was. I happened to be wearing a Canadian Olympic sweater that night, and the ref — who it turned out was also Canadian — assured me he would call a penalty on anybody dishonoring that shirt by faking an injury. I apologized for having only moved the 100-pound net half a foot vertically with my nuts and not horizontally as I thought; he dropped the puck and off we went. That’s hockey.

As refs are constantly forced to make instant decisions on fair/foul, right/wrong, the NHL wisely chose to let its officials call both an initial foul and embellishment on the same play. So a guy might get called for a slash, but if his victim overdoes the writhing in pain, he is liable to an off-setting minor for fakery. But there’s one case where I think calling out diving is misguided, and that’s high-sticking. I never played top-level hockey, but I played enough over enough years to have scars on my upper lip and the top of my nose sticks. And that’s not including the countless sticks, fists, elbows and skates I took on the goalie mask, which scars are fixed with paint, not stitches. Throw in half a dozen concussions over the years and I know about high sticks and head injuries. (Although there was blood when I got the scar on my nose, the ref decided I wasn’t “bleeding enough” to make it a major penalty — see the gif of Chris Kunitz, above. Things haven’t changed much in 40 years.)

high_stick.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxMore and more I hear play-by-play announcers who have obviously never played the game dismiss as embellishment when a player’s head snaps back after they get hit in the face with a stick. I’m here to tell you it’s a natural reaction. Watch a batter’s head whip back when a baseball gets within a foot and a half, let alone when one hits him. Sticks are aluminum / wood / carbon-fiber blends. They’re cold, hard and compared to the human face, inflexible. They’re also often moving really quickly, and they hurt when they hit. They hurt when they hit your mask; they hurt a lot more when they miss the mask and catch flesh and bone. My usual reaction after getting a stick (or skate) in the face was to check my teeth with my tongue to make sure none were missing, waggle my jaw to make sure it worked, then use a fingertip to check for bleeding. And yes, I often flinched when I got hit. My head may have snapped back. It doesn’t mean I was embellishing; it’s natural when something smashes you in the face or comes whipping toward your eyes to move your head out of the way. So the next time a TV announcer criticizes a player for snapping his head out of the way of a flying stick, find a picture of the guy. If he doesn’t have scars, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And I’ve checked — none of them have scars.

As American as ice cream

So on Monday I finally got my American citizenship at a ceremony in Montpelier, so no more green card.

It was a nice ceremony. The speech from Judge William Sessions was heartfelt, but it rather missed the point for me and most of my fellow emigres, or at least the ones to whom I spoke. He was talking about us now having an opportunity in the United States, but that’s rather an old-fashioned idea fit for the huddled masses on Ellis Island.

The modern reality of immigration is that it’s almost impossible to get citizenship from outside the country. Instead, you come here, apply for a green card and work between three and 10 years before even being eligible. So legal immigrants are here and settled, not yearning to be free. The only thing I’m free of that I wasn’t free of last week is the threat of an arbitrary decision by Immigration ending in my deportation …

Having said that, I will add that the immigration experience is the single most frightening, arbitrary and dehumanizing experience I’ve ever been through, and that’s coming from somebody who was once stuck up at gunpoint by three Russian cops.

On the bright side, after the ceremony, we decided to celebrate in the most American way we could think of: Binge eating.

We went to Ben and Jerry’s for the factory tour in Waterbury, where four adults and four boys between 4 and 8 years old finished off a Vermonster: 20 scoops of ice cream, four ladles each of caramel and chocolate sauce, four bananas (Hey, bananas! It must be good for you!), three chocolate chip cookies, a fudge brownie, walnuts, whipped cream and your choice of four toppings. We passed on the walnuts and two of the four toppings (just rainbow sprinkles and Reese’s Pieces, please).

The funny part is that the boys all had a couple of little dishes, decided they were full and quit eating … it was the adults who really pigged out. We got close enough to being finished that we got pins to celebrate the feat and my sister-in-law took the bucket home as a souvenir. Is great country, this America, yes?

Montreal? Mais non!

I see the Herald will be running a regular arts column about Montreal (distance, 181 miles).

I can only hope that means we’ll be seeing regular coverage of the lively arts scenes in Saratoga (72 miles), Glens Falls (52 miles), Hanover (51 miles), and/or Tinmouth, which has a really good little performing arts operation we never seemed to have time to get to, regardless of good intentions.

The price of power

It always cracked me up, when I got accused of running a “socialist” newspaper, that the worst, most personal abuse I ever got was from Annette Smith and the anti-wind movement.

So I’m pleased to see the state is finally pushing forward in a serious way with wind energy in its portfolio.

The state’s energy plan calls for 90 percent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2050, a target only made possible by the Legislature naming hydro energy as a renewable. Shipping energy in from out of state while claiming a green footprint here is a coward’s way out.

Yes, I know, wind towers require clearing as much as several acres of pristine (albeit second-growth) Vermont mountaintops and building roads.

The government of British Columbia, which province is under terrific corporate pressure to build dams and sell electricity into the US (especially California) market, is through its crown corporation, BC Hydro, planning on building a dam, called Site C, that would flood “only” 5,340 hectares of land or about 13,000 acres. Because much of BC is steeply mountainous, good agricultural land is at a premium.

In the valley bottom, the Peace River has the only Class 1 agricultural land in the province, outside of BC’s Lower Mainland, which is under pressure of its own as it is adjacent to the Vancouver metropolis. That’s of particular concern to me, I freely admit, because my great uncles Joe and Mick Schobert homesteaded some of that land 90 years ago.

The homestead can be seen in the right hand side of this photo (respecting the copyright so I’m not reproducing it here). To the left is the smoke coming from the Taylor refinery complex. On summer nights, I have outside at the homestead and read by the light of the flare pit burning off the waste products. It’s a bummer when it coincides with the northern lights in the winter, because it’s almost impossible to see the aurora borealis for the flare pit fires.

But don’t worry if you’re part of the anti-Keystone XL pipeline movement. This is “clean” oil, produced the old-fashioned way by drilling and all the pollution is in Northern Canada, so you don’t have to see it or worry about it.

The tar sands project, with the “dirty” oil is about 500 miles east. The only debate about its footprint is whether you will be able to see the hole they’re digging for it from space with the naked eye or whether you can already.

That, my Vermont friends, is the cost of power you don’t want to see generated, or hear when you’re downwind on a quiet night.

Feeding the kiddies

I’ve mentioned this before, elsewhere, but trying to feed kids on the road is a huge challenge.

When encouraging the 7-year-old to eat the lettuce and tomato on his burger counts as “getting his veggies” on Day 10 of an epic road trip, you know you have a problem.

The winner for best kids’ meal? The North York Novotel Hotel breakfast buffet, which had plenty of fruit and enticing whole grain cereals, small pastries (petit pain au chocolat for Mme. Cooke) and real juice, along with the usual suspects and eggs Benedict and beans on toast (a big hit with Callum). One waiter, hearing a conversation about pancakes on a day there were waffles on the buffet instead, offering to have the chef whip up some pancakes for the 4-year-old. Now that’s service …

The runnerup was Appleby’s, where by choosing milk and broccoli you can carve out something resembling a balanced meal, or Swiss Chalet (a Canadian chain), which offers a drumstick and thigh of rotisserie chicken and a variety of sides for kids. Callum had a big plate of steamed corn, two pieces of not-fried chicken, milk and a bit of bread.

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Independent restaurants are good choices, but can be hard to find in “tourist” districts. There was the little Italian place in North York where Callum spilt his water (twice) before we ordered and the waitstaff were far more understanding than I was; and the shawarma joint down the street, with the big plate of salad and rice under the shaved meat, humus and tzaziki. But when you’ve just hit the hotel, the kids are tired from hours in the car, hungry and precisely 27 and a half minutes from a Defcon 7-level meltdown, you want quick, cheap and cheery, and driving around looking for a good place to eat isn’t in the cards.

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You start to understand the lure of Tim Horton’s up there. It started as a chain of doughnut shops, but now has simple sandwiches on white or wheat, chili and soup, bagels. Good coffee. And it’s cheap. And they’re everywhere. You could easily eat at “Timmy’s” twice a day and get by just fine.

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The standard “family friendly” kids’ menu:

Chicken strips, burger, cheeseburger, hot dog, grilled processed cheese sandwich on white, pasta with either red sauce or cheese. Standard side: fries. Beverage choices: Milk, soda, chocolate milk.

This is especially depressing in a restaurant geared toward kids, like the Rainforest Cafe, which shows great imagination in creating a theme but none, zip, zero, in creating a menu. And I swear the next waiter who, when confronted with two squirmy kids and their parents ordering milk for them, brightly asks “Chocolate?” is going to get a smack in the head. No, white milk, but thanks for reminding the rugrats they have chocolate and extra sugar as an option, you dope.

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Worst encounter with a waiter:

Q: “Can we get half of the two-egg breakfast as a one-egg breakfast for our son, so one egg, one slice of bacon and one piece of toast?”

A: “No, I don’t have a key to ring it in.” … and that was in the best or second-best hotel we stayed at …

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The worst kids’ meal? Oh lord, it’s hard to say. The Rainforest Cafe was a big disappointment as far as food, but the boys loved it. Finn wanted to stay for one more indoor thunderstorm …

The breakfast at the Kingston, Ont., Denny’s, where Callum gave up trying to cut the pancake with a knife because all that sawing made his shoulder hurt (seriously), probably wins, although the waitress was good enough to offer splitting a Grand Slam for the boys. (Speaking of which, what’s up with their menu? It has a “waffle slam,” with a waffle, two eggs, two slices of bacon and two sausages, but you have to ask for a plain waffle as a special request item? Wtf?

Dishonorable mention to the Grimsby, Ont., farmers’ market selling “tree ripened peaches” that were still hard four days later. We had to send them home with my mother because they weren’t edible when it came time to cross the border.

Back from T.O.

After a whirlwind 10 days to Toronto and Niagara Falls, we’re back in Vermont.

A few notes from the road … the Creative Economy branding committee is really onto something with its Facebook initiative. And we need communitywide Wifi now.

We pretty much lived on my iPhone for the entire trip. It’s so much quicker than plugging in the laptop. I also want a Chromebook, iPad or reasonable facsimile before the next time I travel. There’s nothing like deciding to stop driving in an hour, pulling into a rest stop, firing up the phone on Wifi, comparison shopping for and booking your hotel room and checking out your dinner options … all in three to five minutes while the kids take a pee break.

That said, there’s no place like home …