Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Grey Cup comes to Loreto

One of the sacrifices one makes to live in a foreign country, far away from where you used to call home, is losing contact with some of the traditions that we take for granted.  For the Canadians living here in Loreto Bay at this time of year, one of those traditions is our Canadian Football League final, known by the name of its trophy, the Grey Cup.  This is roughly our national equivalent to the Super Bowl in the US, albeit without as much of the hype and hyperbole that can overwhelm that game.

On Sunday last weekend the Grey Cup was played in Regina Saskatchewan, a small city of less than 250,000 people located in the middle of the Canadian prairies.  Like the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup game moves from one city to another each year in a highly competitive bid process, with the winning cities benefitting from the media exposure and tourism generated by hosting this national event.  The game is played between the Eastern and Western division finalists to determine the National Champion, and so most years the competing teams will be from cities other than the Host City, depending on what has happened during the regional playoffs that year.

However, occasionally the Home Team for the city where the game is to be played does make it through to the final, which obviously increases the interest and enthusiasm surrounding the game in that local market.  Which was the case this year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders representing the Western Conference and the Hamilton Tiger Cats from Ontario as the Eastern Champions.  Without getting too deep into the minutiae of the CFL culture, suffice to say that the Roughriders have one of the most ardent fan bases of any team in this league (similar to that of the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, another small market team) and they draw their fans from all over the Province, some of them travelling hundreds of kilometers to regular home games - let alone to a Grey Cup contest in their own stadium.

Which sets the scene for this past weekend's "gridiron match-up".  My neighbor Boyd and I arrived at the Wine Bar here in Loreto Bay about an hour before the kickoff, to be sure of getting a seat, and by the color of the jerseys of those already present, it looked like it was going to be a mainly green pro-Saskatchewan crowd.  The game was being played in an open-air stadium, not uncommon even in the NFL, but what was more uncommon was the fact that at the 4:30 pm beginning of the game the air temperature on the field was a relatively balmy 2 degrees Celsius (which is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and it would drop sharply as the sun set. 

To better appreciate these weather conditions, for those not familiar with Canadian Prairie winters, the night before the game the temperature had dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius (or 4 below zero Fahrenheit) and because all the Hotels in the city were booked solid for the game, the stadium parking lot had some hardy souls staying overnight in RVs and even tents - which, as a measure of fan support, takes the traditional tailgate party to a whole new level!

Back here in Loreto Bay, we are experiencing fairly typical Fall weather now, warm and sunny during the day and cooling off quite noticeably in the evening.  So while it is not nearly as warm now as was even a month ago, the contrast of the mild early evening here, with the bitterly cold winter weather shown on the TV broadcast of the game, strongly reminded me why I have chosen to live here! 

Meanwhile, as it got closer to game-time, more and more people arrived at the Bar until almost every seat was taken, and Will and Cynthia's recently enlarged staff were kept busy taking orders for drinks and food.  When I reached for a table card advertising the food specials I was first surprised, and then amused, to see that "Natchos McNabb" was on the menu - which is a "side-bar" story in itself!  Last year, I think it may perhaps have even been Grey Cup time again, Cynthia had prepared her own recipe of traditional chili con carne, as a special addition to the regular Tapas menu at the Bar.  As I happened to be there that night, I ordered their regular natcho plate with a side order of a bowl of chili, and when the two dishes arrived (in a moment of "divine inspiration") I simply poured the chili over the cheesy natchos and - voila! a new signature dish was created!         

So when I saw that I now had a dish named after me, I had no choice but to try it myself - to maintain quality control and protect my good name, of course!  And so the stage was set, with a cold, amber, Negra Modelo beer and a plate of chili natchos in front of me, and with a clear view of one of the multiple TVs, broadcasting the most important Canadian football game of the season, I was ready for the Baja version of a Canadian tradition - the Grey Cup Party!  And the game did not disappoint, "Rider Pride" was justified as the Western Division Champions took an early lead and then steadily built upon it until they were ahead by about 20 points at half time.

While there were many other Canadians in the crowd at the Wine Bar, a good percentage of those watching were American and I was proud that "our game" (which, although more similar than different than the NFL version) was attracting this uncommon level of interest from our NFL obsessed neighbors.  Not claiming to be any sort of expert when it comes to sports in general or football in particular, on a very basic level some of the differences between the two versions of the game are a longer and wider field in the Canadian game and 4 "downs" versus 3 in the American. From an entertainment perspective many people think the Canuck version is a faster paced and sometimes more unpredictable game.

Bringing traditions with us when we move far from home helps to make where we settle feel more like our new home - and riding to that home in a golf cart, under palm trees, in a short sleeved shirt, after celebrating the Grey Cup at a neighborhood Bar (where a special menu item bears my name) - that is another special way of "Living Loreto"!