The other day I watched March of the Penguins. It's a film about a colony of penguins that literally march 70 miles to and fro between the sea, where they feed, and their inland nesting site where they incubate and raise their chicks.
Throughout the film I couldn't help but think why any creature would chose to live in such a barren, frozen wasteland. Then I remembered that I live in Edmonton. When you see my walk to work you will understand how, by the end of the film, I sympathised quite strongly with the Emperor Pengiuns of Antarctica.
If left long enough in isolation it's conceivable that Edmontonians would undergo speciation to arrive at a physiological state better suited to their environment. Hairy feet and hands would be a good start, and perhaps hair that more resembled wool so that it could be fashioned into a toque. But having said that maybe hibernation would be a better tactic.
The Grey Cup is to Canada what the FA Cup is to England. And today Edmonton won the Grey Cup in a thrilling game against Montreal.
We watched the game at our local, the Garneau Pub. The atmosphere was tense, the game went into extra time for the first time since 1969, with the Edmonton Eskimos winning it in a nail-biting last few minutes that seemed more like hours.
The Garneau Pub erupted.....Edmonton were champions of Canada!
Pictured second left with her clenched fist raised in the air, next to Mrs Toque, is Patricia Demler of Whitecourt Ab.
On Friday evening we LRTeed it down to the Canadian Rodeo Finals down at Rexall Place. For those reading that aren't familiar with rodeo I'll give a brief outline of the events:
Bareback Riding - riding a buckin' horse "look at that buckin horse GO!" without a saddle.
Steer Wrestling - slamming a steer onto the canvas by jumping on it from your horse.
Team Roping - two 'cowboys' lasooing the same steer, one by the head and the other by its hind legs.
Saddle Bronc Riding - riding a buckin' horse "Look at that buckin' horse GO!" with a saddle.
Tie-down Roping - lasooing a steer and imobilising it by lashing its legs together.
Ladies Barrel Racing - cowgirls race around barrels on horseback.
Bull Riding - bucking bronco.
It was fairly entertaining in a circus kind of way but the biggest disappointment for me was when I realised that there wasn't a 'catch the greasy pig' competition. The Canadians could learn something from the English here because although their events are impressive in a technical way, they aren't as much fun as watching someone trying to catch a greasy-pig, there's nothing so funny as watching a grown man try to catch a greasy-pig. Rodeo isn't a true sport because its one of those competitions where points are awarded for 'artistic impression' or 'technical ability' by the judges, so I don't think it would harm to liven things up a bit by introducing a greasy-pig into the arena. Think about it. I noticed more than a few empty seats in the stadium, seats that could well have been filled by greasy-pig enthusiasts.
At half-time we were treated to some synchronised lasooing by some Mexican cowboys.
Despite the lack of greasy-pigs there was room for some comedy which came in the form of banter between the rodeo-clown and the master of ceremonies; the latter of which was apparently a Texan goat herder/rancher, a heinous insult in rodeo circles.
On balance I enjoyed the rodeo, but if I was black I think I may have felt a little conspicuous. Rodeo, you see, is very much a white sport, and it seemed that every trailer park in Alberta had sent a delegation of frizzy-permed, mulleted, overweight, wrangler-wearing, Air-Nike walking, Taco-Bell denizens to the party. Salt of the Earth sort of people, but still a little scary nevertheless.
I had to go to the University of Alberta Health Centre today to receive some vaccinations.
I sat in the waiting room along with the other 'patients' watching the TV screen flash not-so-subliminal health messages across my retina. It was a constant drip drip of good advice: "A pap smear is not an STI test", "Alcohol is the No.1 date rape drug", "There are 3 billion women in the world and only 8 of them look like supermodels", and so on...
But two of the messages had me in a state of disbelief:
- "47% of UofA students never drink to the point of hangover", and;
- "87% of UofA students have never missed class because of drinking
How things have changed since my day. If they really believe that only eight women look like supermodels they should try getting drunk more often. I see literally hundreds of supermodels on my way home from the pub.
Edmonton is fast becoming Canada's answer to Hollywood. We had just got over the excitement of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's visit to West Edmonton Mall when up pops another showbiz celebrity eager to associate himself with the glamorous capital of Alberta!
I managed to take this one photo before being knocked to the ground by his minders and escorted out of the mall by several goons in suits. It's about time these celebrities understood that it's the fans, like me, that put them in their privileged position.
There was no sign of Minnie, which is bound to add fuel to the recent rumours.
The best place to go to feed the ducks in Edmonton is Hawrelak Park. The park contains a big lake, officially named Hawrelak Lake, but known to the locals as 'Duck Lake'. There are even special duck food dispensers to encourage would-be duck-feeders to leave their bread at home (bread makes the ducks constipated causing them to sink).
Mrs Toque and I popped along on Sunday hoping to get some duck-feeding action but were disappointed to find that all the ducks had gone. So to had the duck-feeding dispensers, presumably taken down so that the ducks wouldn't stay into the winter and get frozen into the ice.
There were however hundreds of honking geese. And seagulls.
Note to English Tourists. In England, where it is the custom that only the Queen is permitted to eat swans, as it is here in Canada where only Paul Martin is allowed to partake of Canada goose meat. Also, if you are coming to Canada for the ducks remember that, unlike in England, they don't overwinter here.
Last Friday I continued my exploration into Canadian sports by going to see Edmonton Oilers vs Dallas Stars. I had been assured by everyone that I had talked to that it wouldn't be as boring as Canadian Football, and everyone was right, it wasn't boring by any stretch of the imagination. In fact it was quite exciting.
The big difference is that hockey has atmosphere. It's a charged atmosphere, people go to enjoy themselves and see a fight. The hockey is almost incidental.
As with the football the stadium goes to great length to whip up the crowd; there's a lot of flashing lights and pyrotechnics as the Oilers take to the ice to a banging rendition of 2Unlimited's 'Get Ready for This'. Strangely this was one of two of 2Unlimited's appalling eurotechno anthems played during the night. The only other artists to be honoured with having two of their tunes played were Brian Adams and Gwenne Stefanni (if anyone at the stadium wants to offer me the job of DJ, and God knows you need one, then my e-mail address is at the top of the page).
According to Dave the Dallas Stars are a boring defensive team that don't fight much. Nevertheless they beat Edmonton 2-3. Dave is right though, they don't fight much. There was a bit of fighting - what we in England would refer to as 'handbags at ten paces' - but nothing to make you look up from your popcorn.
On balance, despite not understanding the rules, I enjoyed the hockey, and would recommend it as the best Canadian sport so far (better than log-rolling, pie-eating or Canadian football). It could be made better though. The puck is very small and easy to loose sight of from the peanut gallery. It should be made bigger, perhaps made of white leather, and ball-shaped for easier identification. Obviously this minor modification would negate the requirement for ice, ice skates and hockey sticks; further negating any requirement for helmets and body armour; and would allow the players to simply kick the ball into the net. Just a suggestion.
Last week we travelled out to Beaverhill Lake bird sanctuary, 40 miles East of Edmonton, to spot some of our feathered friends. However, the lake was obscured by rushes hiding the waterfowl, and the song birds were totally hidden by dense aspen.
All was not lost though, for we got to see the real Alberta; the Alberta where you can watch your dog run away for three days:
The Alberta of cows:
And more cows:
And cow rustlers in trucks:
And, errrr....caterpillars on thistles: