Sunday, July 26, 2015


I've not been to a more ethnically diverse city as Toronto seems to be.  It is not only the racial diversity that is striking, it is the coupling, that makes inter racial relationships seem as common as not.

I've not been everywhere like some, but I have been out of Boston now and again. In recent years to Rio, Dublin, Montreal, London, and Paris.  Go back a dozen years or so and I've been to Quebec and Tel Aviv.  And domestically, of course, I've travelled to New York and Chicago many times and San Francisco, Miami Philadelphia, DC, and other large cities with diverse denizens.  I'm hardly a world traveller like some of my colleagues who talk about Iceland and Vietnam like I talk about Pennsylvania.  But still I have been in an airport or two.

And never have I seen the kind of diversity as I do in Toronto.  A kind man gave me a lift from the Exhibition Center on Thursday. He is 80 and told me that until he went to high school he had never seen a black person.  He made the comment as we were driving through the city and it was clear that we two Caucasians were clearly in the minority. He commented, and I agreed, that this multi-ethnicity and the concomitant blurring of racial significance was a good thing.

It is such a good thing.  Even in Boston and New York an interracial couple gets a second look. Here heads would need to spin around necks if people were giving second looks to every interracial couple on the street.  And the wonderful beautiful offspring from these relationships are padding along behind them.

Imagine all the people living life in peace.

At the same time, I smirk when I pay for coffee in Toronto with a different kind of paper.  An hour from here in Buffalo, the money I am using in Toronto is alien.  I cannot make phone calls to the United States unless I have a package that includes "international" calls.  Can't get pandora here and the car I will rent tomorrow has some restrictions if I drive to Niagara Falls.

It's not the kilometers/miles distinction or the fahrenheit/centigrade differences. That is nothing. You say tomayto I say tomahto.  I say pop you say soda. That's just regionalism and custom. But why are there restrictions based on political constructions.

We are one.  I am an American and the fellow who sold me coffee this morning is a Canadian and that means what.  It means nothing. It's too bad I won't be around in ten thousand years when schoolkids will marvel at the fact that in 2015 there were these things called "countries" and they had separate rules and, in some cases, fought over borders.

 Imagine there are no countries. It isn't hard to do.

There is no they. Just many who are part of a very large we.  Toronto seems to be a city that in some ways gets that clearly.

A Convert: Brazil takes the Gold

The championship Handball game last night was a thriller. Truly.  Argentina and Brazil faced each other in the second half of the doubleheader. Earlier I had seen Chile defeat Uruguay for the Bronze.

The Gold medal match was nothing like the preliminary.  I could see--as one might predict--there are different styles and strategies to the game. While Chile and Uruguay played a slow down game with a big fellow playing what amounted to a post--Brazil and Argentina had a wide open running style. Both Chile and Uruguay defended using a zone approach--Brazil and Argentina had man to man elements to complement a four man zone.

From the very beginning, as soon as a goal was scored by Argentina, the Brazil goalie looked to sling the ball down to an open player and run a fast break.  Rarely was a big man clogging up the lane. Each team ran what in basketball is called a weave.  Very tall lanky coordinated athletes were catching the ball and leaping to slam the ball into the net. Sometimes they would come down, jump up again and then attempt to ram the ball past the goaltender.  In addition to the jumping and hurling there were some clever plays, behind the back passes, spin shots, shots attempted through the legs of the goaltender, and double pumps while in the air.

I was very impressed with the athleticism of both teams. And it was fun to sit in the stands with people dressed in powder blue stripes cheering for Argentina--and right nearby--gold dressed Brazilians. It was my good fortune to sit next to two Brazilian zealots.  This couple had traveled from Brazil to be at these games and they were fierce fans--the woman, more than the man who was as committed but less vocal.  I had no problem with the woman's incessant chanting, but a few of my neighbors asked her to calm down a bit.  For me, it was fun to watch a fan cheer so hard for her country. I mentioned to the couple that Brazil had beaten the Canadians to win the Gold. The fellow said the best thing was that they beat the Americans. When I told him I was an American he was a bit embarrassed, but I assured him that was fine.  We then talked basketball a while and this guy knew not only Handball, but basketball as well.

The game was tied with four seconds left in regulation when Argentina was called for a foul that awarded a Brazilian a penalty shot.  Penalty shots, I learned, almost always go in.  A player is within three yards of the goalie and goal and can slam the ball after faking a shot.  In the two games I saw maybe fifteen of these. Thirteen went in.  The Brazilian who was taking the penalty shot that would have guaranteed the Gold for Brazil, had taken several of these previously and made every one. This time, with the Gold four seconds away,  the Argentinian goalie made a great save, and the player from Brazil dropped into a sad sack puddle near the goal line.

Overtime consists of two five minute periods.  Very exciting.  Brazil was ahead by one, when their best player got ejected on a controversial play.  Argentina had a man advantage for two minutes. The Brazil coach was screaming at the officials. Despite the disadvantage, Brazil was able to thwart Argentinian advances, score a goal short handed, and win the Gold by two goals to the delight of my bleacher sitting neighbors and the yellow clad in the arena.

I am a convert. This was a very exciting game and I could see following this sport if I lived in a country where it was played.  Athletes are very, well, athletic.  Great ability to catch and run with the ball.  Some terrific body control. The goalies must have incredible reflexes.  The thing about the game is that it would be a good one for those with limited resources.  You only need this tiny ball and a couple of nets.  No equipment. Goalies don't even wear a mask or pads. You don't need an expensive racquet.  Just a ball a little smaller than a volleyball.

Brazil lost the trifecta as the US woman beat the Brazilians in volleyball last night.  Basketball and Handball Gold. Volleyball Silver.

 In addition to learning enough to get by as a Handball fan, I also learned enough about the subway system to get by and make it to my hotel before midnight.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

chile takes the Bronze in Handball; Brazil the Gold in Basketball

When I watched Brazil beat the United States on Thursday night I kept waiting for the United States to show themselves to be superior. They never did. Brazil was the better team.  They played tougher defense and worked to get open shots. Last night, Canada's victory over the United States was different. In it, Jamal Murray in the fourth quarter played like Michael Jordan and that is why Canada prevailed.

The combination of Canada likely celebrating, Brazil having a day off from their celebration, and Brazil being the better team, were the ingredients that led Brazil to the Gold. They won by over ten points.  I did not watch the game as I am currently at the Exhibition Center watching team Handball, but I did follow on the internet.  Brazil was no slouch, a good team with several strong players both physically and in terms of their game.

The Bronze match is over here at the Handball courts (can't stop thinking of PS 194 cement playground when I write handball courts).  Chile won and by about five goals.  I have sort of the handle on the game now--like a novice might, not as an aficionado does.  Here's what happens. Six players plus a goalie play for each team. The offensive team can pass to one another, dribble a few times and can jump, come down with the ball, and retain possession. (unlike basketball where that results in a turnover).  The defenders gather around a semi circle and essentially form a wall. The object is for the offense to somehow penetrate that wall and then ram the ball past the goaltender who gets pelted throughout the 60 minute contest.

I am not sure what muggings are legal and which are not.  There are some big fellows out there and it takes more than saying swordfish to get into a shooting lane.  It looks like if you are hit while shooting then there is penalty shot and you can be penalized so that your team is short handed but, again, it seemed like you could pummel an opponent and not have anyone wag a finger at you.

There are a lot of people here for the final which will follow in 40 minutes.  Argentina is squaring off against Brazil. This ticket (sitting in the bleachers with no backs) was 50 bananas and yet there were not too many empty seats for the Bronze game so I am assuming the second game will be even more crowded as some folks might just be coming for the Gold match.  

Brazil could wind up with three Golds today. At about the same time as this Handball final begins, the Women's volleyball team from Brazil will be taking on the United States for the Gold medal in that. They are playing just a few yards from me, but there is a wall that separates that arena from this one.


PS 194, where I started my formal education--on the corner of Knapp Street and Avenue W--had a schoolyard.  In it was a softball "field' made of cement with the bases darkened in with white; two basketball hoops on the Knapp Street side of the school; and sort of in the middle of the schoolyard were two vertical cement walls. It was on these walls that I played handball.

Later when I went to college I noticed that there was a course called Handball. I did not take it preferring one semester to take a course in running (God knows what possessed me to sign up for an 8am where I had to run two miles every Tuesday and Friday) and another semester--when I was wiser-- I took bowling.  But I looked in on the guys taking handball and this was another game entirely from what I played in Brooklyn. It was in a four wall rectangle and you could bang the ball against any wall. I got the hang of this four walled handball game in later years and then switched to racquet ball which had a similar setting and rules.

I am now at the Pan Am games about to watch the bronze medal match in what is called Handball. What I am looking at  bears no resemblance to my elementary or college school handball games.

I have seen this game when watching the olympics, but never in person anywhere.  The court looks like a basketball court only longer.  At each end is a  net a little larger than a hockey net but smaller than a soccer goal.  The object of the game is to advance the ball and then slam it into the net past a goaltender.

Right now both teams are doing their calisthenics and it looks like a Rockettes choreographed routine. The team in red, Chile, is advancing en masse to the half court line kicking this way and taht and then retreating. Uruguay in white is doing something I can't adequately describe kicking their legs peculiarly. The ball looks like the kind of basketball you buy for your five year old.  I think you have to bounce it to advance, but am not sure. I don't think I would want to be a goalie for this game. I see no equipment. Uruguay and Peru are in gym shorts and tees.

Having played a bunch of games in my youth, ring o leevio, johnny on the poney, catcha flier's up--it--spud, barrelball, and variations of kick the can I know more than the average bear about games, but this one I cannot tell the reader anything.  Next door they are playing volleyball, that I know. On the other side racquetball, that I know, but it will be two hours before I can report on this phenomenon.

Go Set a Watchman

All of us in our 60s read To Kill a Mockingbird or saw the movie.  Most did both. I often comment in these blogs that a key to me for a book is that it sticks around in my head.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 15.  At the time I was into sports books and likely had to be collared by my dad to read this.  My m.o. at the time was probably to initially reject dad's recommendation because, after all, what did he know.  But I read it then and it has stuck around in my head for 50 years.

Apparently, I am not alone. When Harper Lee's "new" book Go Set a Watchman went on sale bookstores opened at midnight to sell it to legions of fans who wanted to read the only other novel that Lee ever wrote.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and is still in print.  Last night I brought the book Go Set a Watchman to the Ryerson Center to read between games of the doubleheader.  A kid working the concession stands in Toronto saw the cover (which is akin to the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird) and gushed at how she just read Mockingbird "in grade 10" and it was "the best book she ever read."

Go Set a Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. From what I have read when reviewing the book's publicity, Watchman, was submitted to a publisher and rejected.  However an editor thought it had promise and suggested that the author take a particular episode in the book and expand on it.  That she did and the result was To Kill a Mockingbird.

It is unfortunate that Go Set a Watchman was published. Harper, now 88, is supposedly not as mentally there as she once was. I imagine a publisher urged her to release the initially written book and she agreed whether she realized what she was doing or not.

It's not just that the book is weak-and it is--it's that a main character in the book, Atticus Finch, the narrator's father, is portrayed as a different sort of man than the one who has been in our head since we read the book or saw Gregory Peck play the role. (The movie is one of those few that stays true to the novel or at least that is how I felt at the time).

Go Set a Watchman, if it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird as is claimed, had to be written in the mid 50s, shortly after Brown vs. Board of Ed.  It is the story of a daughter who has moved to New York coming back to visit her tiny Alabama town and finding that the God she knew as her father is a segregationist.  This could work except all of us who read Mockingbird remember a man who--despite the small town bigotry--stood tall and defended Tom Robinson who had been accused of raping a white woman when he clearly did not.  Atticus Finch looked right in the eyes of the townsfolk and the white jury and, despite the danger his stand meant for his family, defended Tom Robinson.  This put his daughter in jeopardy only to be rescued by another person marginalized by the routines of the day (played in the movie by a very young Robert Duval).  To kill Tom Robinson or to marginalize Boo Radley would be to kill a mockingbird.  As corny as it sounds I get chilled now thinking of that novel.

And this one portrays Atticus, now in his seventies, as someone who might have--before Brown vs. Board of Ed--championed equality, but is now reconsidering when looking front and center at it.  I could deal with that as a premise of a novel, but the book just isn't well written and the new Atticus's perspective is not dismantled as it must be.

The book is a trite, girls come home to visit this one and that to see that they are not who they thought they were.  Not especially profound. And the conclusion--certainly by 2015 standards--will not meet with a welcome audience by anyone except octogenarian Southerners clinging to what once was and trying to muster some kind of rationale for the inequality that prevailed.

I can't recommend this book.  There are some references to the trial that is central to Mockingbird, and Calapurnia figures in it.  There are a couple of humorous flashbacks which I had to assume were autobiographical as they are the kind of wild incidents that seem like "you couldn't make this up." Still, Atticus Finch, as he was is worth preserving.  And I don't think he was likely to have morphed into the bigot, however benevolent, he is depicted as being in Watchman.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Canada and Murray surprise the Yanks.

Earlier today I wrote that yesterday, between games of the doubleheader at the old Maple Leaf Garden, I noticed a fellow who was sitting in front of me a few rows who was getting a lot of attention.  I had just watched Canada beat Mexico so you might think I would recognize him.  Also, I profess to know a thing about college basketball so you might think I would be familiar with the fellow.

Groups of star struck kids came in clusters asking to get his autograph or take a selfie with him.  Eventually, I discovered that he, at only 18, is on the Canadian team and has been recruited to play for John Calipari at the University of Kentucky this season.

Anyone who gets recruited by Calipari has to be good, but I never heard of this guy.

I know him now. Tonight against the USA this 18 year old played a game for the ages and, during crunch time, made all the plays so that Canada could upset the United States in front of a delirious crowd.

My voice was one of the few shouting for the U.S.  The arena is not the largest and it was close to packed with people wearing Canada garb.  This kid Murray, in a span of about twenty seconds, made a three, blocked an attempted three, and gave Canada a chance to win the game in regulation. That did not happen despite him faking a USA player out of his socks before taking the last shot.  In overtime though the kid took over and with really one player, him, defeated a USA team with some players with NBA experience and a few who will have experience.

A Canadian fan sitting near me told me that most experts (of which I apparently am not one) think he will play one year for Kentucky and then may be the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft.  Only 6 3, but if he does not get hurt, he will be rich some day.

An interesting sidebar to tonight's spectating. When I left the arena I happened to find myself near a gate where tall players were exiting. I noticed quickly that this was the US team.  I  would certainly not characterize them as jubilant, but not morose either.  Met with their girlfriends, cousins, and in at least one case moms and chatted about mundane things like, where they were going to have dinner. Ron Baker who played well tonight was met by a Wichita State colleague and they went on their way but not before at least four people stopped him and asked if they could take a photo.  I wonder what that does for your head, having strangers practically begging you to take their picture with you.

Pan Am--day 1 and 2 July 23/24

The Pan Am games started July 7th, but I just arrived-- so yesterday was day 1 for me.

Back in late March/early April I decided that since I have often wondered what it would be like to go to the Olympics, the Pan Am games would be a nice preliminary event to attend. That, plus the fact that a colleague of mine and I are presenting a paper right here in Toronto in a few days, made this trip to Ontario to see the Pan Am games seem like a good one to plan.

Even though I went to buy tickets in March, the tickets were not easy to come by. I had tickets for the games last night on the 23rd, racquetball this morning, and another set for the doubleheader semifinals this evening a half mile from my hotel.  On Saturday I see the Gold medal match in Team Handball.

Despite the fact that the game tickets were difficult to get, there were empty seats at the basketball arena last night. I had purchased the best seats available for all the games figuring how often will I get to an Olympic event.  Nevertheless, my seats last night were not great. High up, no backs, and hot.  I still cannot quite understand why there were so many empty places to sit. The second game of last night's doubleheader was between the US and Brazil. Since Canada had already played and won, the place was really empty for the US game and I was able to move down to more temperate climes and seats with a back.

It was fun to see so many people there with Canada shirts rooting the home country on. Lots of little kids with their parents with hats and flags.  And Canada won easily in the first game beating Mexico by close to twenty.  The US game was surprising to me. I have always thought of the US as an international powerhouse in basketball.  Yet, the team was beaten and, last night at least, it was no fluke.  Not ever really close. Some guy from Brazil was banging in the threes like he should be playing in the NBA. Nobody on the US team could really stay with him.

Between the two games a bunch of fans approached a Canadian player who had parked himself near where I was sitting after his evening of toil.  In waves people came to take their photo with the guy.  Eyeball popping adolescents asked fawningly for a picture with him and came away giving each other skin when they were successful. I never heard of the player but later found out that he is only 18 and was a heavily recruited high schooler last year who will be going to the University of Kentucky next year.  His name is Jamal Murray and must be great as the University of Kentucky only recruits star high schoolers.

Lots of workers are here trying to make the experience at the games pleasant.  Today at the Exhibition Center where the racquetball matches were played there was even more of a presence and signage all over.

Lots of workers, but a shlep to the Exhibition Center from where the cab driver dropped me off.  The area is roped off and no motor vehicles can get close the venues there. It was a very long walk for even a young college professor, let alone one who needs a hip replacement. Fortunately, a golf cart swung by and I got a lift half way.  Even after she dropped me off it was a long walk to the center itself.

I have found with sport that there are of course big fans of the major sports, but also very serious fans of some minor ones.  It was my good fortune today to just happen to park myself at the racquetball venue next to someone who was a former president of the international racquetball confederation or some organization like that.  I was a fair to above average racquetball player in my days with hair, but this guy was in another level. He told me he was in the Racquetball Hall of Fame and spoke of a guy he had beaten who I had heard of as the number one player back in the late 70s. This fellow was quite nice and filled me in on new rules and strategies. Extremely knowledgeable, all racquetball all the time. It was fun to sense his enthusiasm.

In the stands were a vocal group from Mexico as Mexico had both a woman's finalist and a finalist in the men's competition. The Mexican woman beat her Argentinian rival for the Gold medal to the delight of her cheering friends.  At match point the cluster of fans chanted "Uno, uno, uno" either to indicate she was number one or that she had one point to go to win the Gold.  And Paola Langoria did indeed prevail.  I was told she is the number one athlete in Mexico in terms of popularity and endorsements.

The men's final featured a fellow from California versus another Mexican athlete.  In this one the US fellow prevailed to the delight of his parents, who had come from California, and a section of supporters who knew not only the victor's  name, but the names of the USers who would be playing in the doubles gold medal match later.   Nobody seemed disappointed. The shots both players made were brilliant and I found myself "oohhing" and "aahing" marveling at their capabilities.

Toronto is an ethnically diverse city as anyone can deduce from just walking around.  A fellow I met as I was leaving the arena was kind enough to give me a lift back to my hotel. He is a former racquetball player and looks fantastic at 80.  He told me he has lived in Toronto is entire life and the city has morphed from a parochial "hog town" to the multi-ethnic metropolis of today.  I don't remember it being a hick town when I visited in the 1970s but it sure is happening now. I left the arena last night at close to midnight and walked the half mile back to the hotel.  Thursday night, middle of the week, the route was jumping nearly the entire way back to the Doubletree.

Off in a few minutes to cheer for the red, white, and blue as the US plays against Canada in a semi final match up. My voice will no doubt be drowned out by the army of Canadian fans.