Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fun and Winter Games

Tonight we ventured forth into the freezing night to attend the somethingth-annual Icycle event at the beautiful Dufferin Grove Park. Icycle, for the uninformed, is an event where tough bike men and bike women ride their bikes on a hockey rink, racing for bragging rights and augemented toughness skills.

The event itself doesn't sounds like it's all that amazing. I mean, ice rinks aren't really all that sexy, and winter biking tends to be the domain of the spandexed or the crusty. However, when I saw those dudes whipping around a corner that is by definition pure ice, at speeds faster than I would travel on a dry May day, I'm impressed. The bikes are kitted out with studded tires, enabling a higher grippiness than can usually be tapped by a bike tire, but the skill is evident.

The highlight of the event was the so-called "rubber race," which is done on street bikes sans studded tires. Two of the competitors bravely stripped down to their skivvies and raced in the nearly altogether. Did they crash? Oh yes they did. To be fair, everyone crashed, including the racer we dubbed L'apostrophe: the unbelievably cute and bearded cyclist whose bent-over posture and skintight black racing suit made him look like a wiggly comma. Sigh.

At one point, I turned to my friend Liz and told her that small towns could eat it: cities are where it's at. She looked at me strangely but agreed that cities do offer the chance to raise your kids in a place with events that sort of defy the imagination. There were little kids in attendance, despite the high number of probably-drunk and definitely less-than-fully-toothed spectators in attendance. I think that's nice. Exposing your kids to wackjobs in a fun, safe environment is a cornerstone of good parenting.

The event provided a nice contrast to the Olympics that are currently dominating the airwaves/columns/national imagination. I will totally cop to the fact that watching the opening ceremonies last night made me feel very rah-rah Canada. I watched them in a bar, surrounded with friends and other Canucks, with the sound off and the Talking Heads blasting. It was the best way to watch 'em, really. Even though we're hosting the games, though, the Olympics aren't really about sports; rather, they're about watching sports on TV, which isn't really an activity I indulge in, like, ever. I liked seeing how we think of ourselves translated into song, dance, graphics and atmosphere, and was pleased to note that the program didn't focus exclusively on Native culture and the Canadian Shield. In fact, spoken word artist Shane Koyczan capped off the pageant with a bombastic poem while an urban nightscape shimmered around him. That was cool, and felt very honestly Canadian.

We'll see how much my friends and I end up watching; I'll probably check out some of the bigger moments, like hockey and figure skating. I tend to identify more with events like Icycle: accessible, a little irreverent, thrillingly athletic and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Travel Time

As I was sitting in class tonight, listening to my adorable and probably-gay professor act out religious discourses from Joseph Andrews, drifting between rapt attention and total space-cadet mindlessness, it occurred to me that I will never be a great adventurer.

My godfather is the type of person who will jaunt off to, like, the DRC at the drop of a hat, whereas I can barely muster the moral fortitude to venture outside when it's cold. I like to think of myself as devotedly Canadian, but I've seen far less of the country than some folks, and I definitely haven't approached the wilder and woollier parts of this great nation. Am I a total wiener? Moreover, is my lack of enthusiasm for great, worldly travel some sort of personal failing?

I would have made a lousy Puritan. Not only are those shoe buckles outrageously ugly, but crossing an entire ocean in order to strike out on my own, with only my dour husband and malnourished children to keep me company? No thanks. I totally would have become a courtesan, because even being pimped out sounds good if you're trading sex for the privilege of not being a Puritanical jerkwad.

I am distinctly urban. Oh, sure, I love the beach and the prairies and the mountains and all that, but the truth is, I needs me some community. That's hard to come by in the most remote regions of the world. Sure, the view from Everest is probably pretty breathtaking - literally - but who's up there with you? A bunch of American tourists and some National Geographic staffers? Thanks, but I'll take my surly baristas and my goofy cycling events and the chance to be hit on by strangers at bars. I like the creature comforts that come with a familiar city.

For example, every time I go to Montreal, I feel totally lost. That isn't some great meta statement about the world and my place in it: I literally cannot figure out where I am. Ever. There I am, in a firmly established and totally cosmopolitan city, complete with subway system and a freakin' navigational landmark, and I'm all, "Where am I? Where's Mordechai Richler? Is that a bagel? Who speaks English here? Let me talk to them." I can only imagine how well I'd do in, like, Thailand. As an Echo Boomer, I'm legally obligated to travel there at least once in my 20s, but let me tell you: I'm not looking forward to it.

But let's confabulate for a moment. Imagine that we had been born a scant century earlier. Back when they sold tapeworms as diet aids, before the rise of the car. Back when travel by ocean liner wasn't the sole property of wealthy Baby Boomers who want to see the Caribbean without leaving the buffet option at the Mandarin, but the most legitimate option for crossing the Atlantic. Would some dormant adventurous side of my soul awake? Would I yearn for the glories of the Western plains, the Amazonian thrill of discoveries, the delights of the capes? Or would I be the crankiest potato farmer in Polish history, constantly whining about the cold and the invasions? Honestly, I'm leaning towards the latter.

I wish I was the type of person who just jets off wherever, whenever. Even on a stricter budget, I rarely bus myself anywhere exotic (like, say, Windsor), just the sake of seeing something new. I got homesick in Ann Arbor, for crying out loud. It's a totally sweet college town less than 500 clicks away, and I was freaked out. I guess I should consider myself lucky to have found a town that fits me so well, so I don't have to jaunt around the globe in a fit of uncomfortable pique, waiting to find the places that will settle me down.