A Thousand Lanterns Over the Water…Welcome to Summer!

Well, the calendar tells us that it’s summer…and the fact that I have a vicious full-body sunburn because we had 12 hours of warmish sunshine yesterday tells me that this city is ready to cut loose with outdoor fun! Luckily, this weekend is one of Vancouver’s most beloved and magical public arts events, and it’s going to be Downtown for the first time.

Illuminares – July 30th, 2011 at Canada Place from Public Dreams on Vimeo.

The Illuminares Lantern Procession began in 1986, when the original founders came up with a creative participatory event to stoke the flames of community spirit in their neighbourhood around Commercial Drive. They invited professional artists to facilitate free lantern-building workshops for the rest of the community. At first, a few hundred wore costumes, and carried the lanterns they’d built, and were lead by percussionists and performers in a parade around Trout Lake. Year after year, the event has grown…now more than 35,000 participants attend from across the Lower Mainland.

That massive growth has spurred the festival in recent years to look for a new long-term home. This year, Public Dreams, who organizes Illuminares believes they’ve found that spot in Downtown Vancouver. On Saturday July 30th at 6pm, the lantern procession will begin at Green Harbour Park, near Stanley Park, and wind its way to the Canada Place outdoor promenade. At Canada Place, there will be a series of eye-popping instillations including suspended aerial ballet dancers, digital art projected onto the Sails themselves, firedancers, and maybe, just maybe, a Victorian flashmob. The fun lasts at Canada Place until 10pm.

One of the coolest parts of Illuminares is the fact that the community is encouraged to get involved in almost every facet of the celebration (except the firedancing). Public Dreams is holding workshops to teach people how to become the puppet-masters of the 30-foot illuminated Heron Puppet that’s going to lead the procession (inspired by Paris’ amazing Big Little Girl puppet). There are also workshops to transform you into a member of the choreographed Victorian flashmob, and of course, to help you and your family build amazing lanterns. The schedules for these workshops are here. You can also download a PDF template of a lantern here!

The inspiration for Illuminares’ amazing programming this year stems from Vancouver’s 125th birthday. The Heron, the Victorian characters, and a few more tricks all hearken back to the earliest days of this city. So, come play your part in this extraordinary celebration, join in a workshop or two, and enjoy this iconic event in an iconic location.

Procession begins here at 6pm on July 30th:

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Community of Madness-Final Round

Recap | Busted Brackets

ALEX: The last weekend of college basketball is upon us now. And it’s a melancholy time of year. It seems only yesterday that I was making my picks, full of confidence that this year, I would finally have the chance to showcase the true depth and breath of my hoops IQ. Instead, just like every other year of my life, I’m left scratching my head, and wondering how a school full of Butlers managed to have good enough game to get the Final Four two years running. My hat is off to you tuxedoed gentlemen! Now go fetch me a brandy, Jeeves.

JOHN: What? Who’s there? What’s happening? Oh, it’s you … March Madness. The vile torturer of my imagination and executioner of my hopes and dreams. What do you want? And what’s really left to say? The tournament has been epic and awesome and exciting and upset-riddled and all the bracket-pickers – from pros like Alex and I to amateur mobsters in Vegas and Atlantic City – have been found wanting. I guarantee that there is no one on this Earth that picked this Final Four collection. No number ones? A number 11 playing a number eight seed? Amazing! A team of Butlers?! Even more amazing!

The community of Richmond, Virginia has been going bonkers for two weeks and I wish the fire department in that town the best of luck because, no matter what happens, it seems like some couches are going to get burned.

Predictions | Who Friggin’ Cares?!

ALEX: I’m actually rather proud that I managed to pick 4 out of 4 games incorrectly last week. I went shooting for fish in a barrel, and I managed to blow my own foot off. ANOTHER BRANDY JEEVES!

I’m tickled that either VCU or Butler is going to be in the final, but let me make the prediction that the UNC/Kentucky Elite 8 game was really the championship matchup this year. I think that KU is going to make mincemeat out of UConn, and the dream of the 8 and 11 seeds will end in the final game. I only ask that if it’s Butler that makes it, they not lose again on a 1-millimeter-off desperation heave at the buzzer. One year’s heartbreak like that is enough. Even for the most stoic of house servants.

JOHN: I’m actually proud that Alex picked four out of four games wrong last week! Anyway, I predict that none of these schools will graduate more than 20% of their players. That’s right, I’m going to get political on this one. While the romance, intrigue and balls-out hustle of The Tournament is intoxicating for a Type A wannabe athlete like myself, I can also say that my inner-nerd is troubled by the lack of education that actually goes on in these universities. For example, Kentucky lost, like, five players last year (some graduated, some never went to class and got found out and asked to leave), and yet – here they are – back in the Final Four. It seems as though it doesn’t take as much to build a championship team as it did back in John Wooden’s day. Or maybe I’m just old school because I think school should be about learning first, even if the essence of the entire league is basically a funnel into professional sports.

Anyway, I’m picking VCU and UConn – mainly because it counters Alex’s picks and will give our dwindling readership something feel as we slog it out one…last…time…

[INSERT TRASH TALK HERE]

ALEX: I really am at a loss for words here. It seems pointless to try and berate the kind and gentle Mr. Horn for a month’s worth of terrible picks when I am standing next to a sloshing barrel missing a foot. All I can do is tip my cap at Mr. Horn’s matching March masochism and say I can’t wait to publicly humiliate myself in this forum next year. Until then, let’s wash down the most exciting and wonderful championship in sports with 3 MONTHS of hockey playoffs and (thank the heaven’s) with baseball’s opening day. Titillating!

JOHN: Agreed. Neither of us have any ammunition. Or things to weild ammunition, for that matter. Mr. Grant, you are a gentleman and a scholar and I look forward to said embarrassment again next year. It seems like the only people who don’t lose in this thing are the universities that rake in billions of dollars in ticket sales and jersey revenue (while not having to pay salaries to players) – everyone else seems to lose something. For me, it was Canadian pride. So there it is. Over. Done. Et c’est la vie!

Also, baseball is a sport like chess is a sport. In that it’s a game. One played with steroids.Your move, Grant.

Robin’s Chitter Chatter

Robin is half  asleep on the couch, brimming with key lime pie, but I asked her to sum up this year’s crazy March Madness in one sentence. She says, “Roll Tide.”

Community of Madness – Round Deux

Recap | Welcome to March Sadness!

Alex: Whenever any sports enthusiast is asked to explain what makes March Madness so great, they invariably go all misty eyed and say something like, “The kids just want it so bad! The emotion is all right there!” and “It’s single game elimination, anyone can beat anyone! Upsets baby!”

Of course this is all correct. And it also happens to be why I have sworn off March Madness for the rest of my life.

You may look at my bracket and see a mess of incorrect picks and general incompetence. You might say, “Boy, Alex really blew it.” Well, let me tell you what my bracket really is. IT IS A GRAVEYARD OF BROKEN HOPES AND DREAMS.

You see, what people fail to mention while they wax on rhapsodically about the “The Big Dance” is that it’s not just the emotions of the players that live perilously close to the surface. As sad as it is, the emotional well being of entire states, and certain ex-pats, are at stake when teams take the floor. So when my dear dear Purdue lost to VCU this weekend, I wasn’t upset because my bracket was summarily incinerated. I inconsolable because JaJuan, E’Twuan, and Robbie (the Big 3) are going to graduate without a true run at the championship, which I’m not alone in thinking they have the talent to earn. These are young men whom I’ve never met, I’ve never seen play in person, and who live in a state and country I’ve moved away from. But in March, none of that mattered. And on Sunday, I had a broken heart.

Luckily, my frenemesis John Horn is a man that understands this kind of anguish. Which, I imagine, is why he sent me a text message immediately after the game that read: “Suck it Trebek! HAHAHAHAHAHAH!” Exactly the kind of tact you’d expect from the kind of man who’d put Notre Dame in the championship game. Revolting.

John: Everything is over. And I couldn’t agree more with The Great Alex Grant. I hate Canada so much. I had a lot riding on Gonzaga, Texas and Syracuse and their Canadian players. What I should’ve realized is that Canadians can’t play basketball and that Steve Nash is actually a robot from the future sent back in time to defend John Connor.

So, yesterday there I sat on the bus I was listening to The BS Report with Bill Simmons when I realized that Alex and I are actually total geniuses. I listened to Billy parade out expert after expert after expert. From Vegas “sharps” to NFL, NBA and NCAA organizers, gamblers and ex-players, the podcast had it all. And, you know what, all of Mr. Simmons’s pro-panelists made wrong picks, too. Some of them event made more wrong ones than ours. I mean, at least Alex and I didn’t have Indiana State beating Syracuse, Notre Dame in the Final or Purdue winning it al- oh…we had some of those, eh?

Well, my UBC Mens Tier 1 Recreation League semi-final game is tomorrow night. I’m going to put a lot of effort into that game. You know, one that I can actually play and affect change in. Yeah. A game like that, not the clusterfunk that we just experienced in the March Madness tourney.

Moving on…

Predictions | John & Alex Don’t Care

Alex: As I said, March Madness is now dead to me, so I have no interest in making any further predictions and therein further damaging my already deeply bruised pride. HOWEVER, since the Gumboot agreed to my handsome demands (I’m being paid in handsomeness by the Editors, who have that commodity in spades) I suppose I should honor the terms of that contract and make some GD picks.

Let’s see, who’s left…

/Consults bracket

//Begins uncontrollably weeping for the 30th time

Here’s my revised Final Four: UNC, Kansas, Duke, and Wisconsin. And I think Kansas has the best shot to win it all. Just for comedy’s sake, I should say that my bracket has 400 points, out of a possible 600. Sigh.

John: I predict that Ohio State will do an awesome job in the rest of the tournament. Also, what’s a Buckeye? And, even though the Longhorns are out of the tournament, I’m pretty sure that Texas is still going to beat Duke in the Sweet 16. I know, I know, I know what you’re thinking. It’s a ballsy prediction. But that’s what I think. Wait. It’s what I know.

Also, I think that Kansas will be in the final after beating the crap out of whoever the winner of Southeast Bracket Ridiculousness 2011 happens to be. My Final Four: Ohio State, SDSU, Kansas, Wiscounsin.

[INSERT TRASH TALK HERE]

Alex: If I still cared about March Madness, this is the area where I’d point out that Mr. Horn’s picking abilities have left him with exactly three of his Elite Eight teams still eligible, and that’s if everything goes according to this crazy like a fox plans. Sure, he’s likely been puffing himself up like a Canadian bullfrog about that Richmond pick, but let’s not overlook his Southeast Bracket. Apparently, the Southeast is where a high pressure system of erroneous met with a low pressure system of incorrectness, and it created a swirling tornado of just plain wrong which destroyed everything in its path. But that’s what happens when you rely on ole Kalin Lucas and his creaky ankles. Too bad I’m done with March Madness, and won’t mention any of this.

John: Alex Grant is a nice man with a beard – not a mustache – who I am happy to call my friend. He and I will be getting married soon so that I can become an American (sorry Robin) because Canada and it’s players and the American college teams that they play on led me astray and are hereby and henceforth dead to me. Does my decision to marry Alex make sense? Am I married to someone named Michelle right now? Well, these are all questions for Homeland Security and, probably, Robin to figure out. In the meantime, we’re both too hurt to jab each other with anything other than happy chicken wings and even happier steak fajitas and, yes, a hug or two as well.

Alex, what say we write about gardening or Dave Eggers or good wine next week?

Robin’s Chitter Chatter

Robin: Don’t listen to a word of what Alex says about “Being done with March Madness.” After he hysterically cried it all out on Sunday, he whimpered, “Is there another game on? I want to watch.” You can take the skinny white kid out of Indiana, but you can’t take the basketball out of him. PS: I’m beating everyone. Do I care? No.

A Community of Madness – Round 1

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog is very, very excited. Over the next three weeks, American-import and mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, and I will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball March Madness Superawesome Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what community really means. Enjoy!]

Over-viewing the Madness

JOHN: I’m pretty sure that, last year, Alex beat me by, like, one point. Or maybe I beat him. Really, it didn’t matter at all because we both scored – I kid you not – over 100 points below what we could’ve scored if we knew what we were doing or if Purdue and Kentucky had learned how to play friggin’ basketball.

But I digress…

Anyway, here’s what I like about this community this year:

1. It’s 92% real sport. Aside from some corporate sponsorship and illegal bribery, this is a pretty pure event. The tournament is played by kids – the average age of the teams is probably 20-and-a-half-years-old – who work really, really, really hard. It’s sad that such a thing is novel, but it’s also amazing to see such unbridled enthusiasm.

2. Single Elimination. Tomorrow, 64 teams will entre the tourney. By April 4 there will be one National Championship. If a team loses, the team is out. This makes things very exciting.

3. Canada. Basically, Canadians are the big story in this tournament. In fact, they’re such a big part of the story that I have made some horrible predictions that favour teams with Canadian players. I’ve done this for two reasons: first, Canadians playing for Texas and being “part of the family” is as amazing a story of community as anything; second, such lines in the sand will make for much grist in the mill of trash talk between Alex and I.

ALEX: Each year, as I chew on my pencil and stare at the yawning expanse of crooked lines and alphabet soup of school abbreviations, a vision swims into my head. As I begin to read the tea leaves of college basketball, shapes float into my imagination. A mythical beast. A fatty food item. Something that portends my annual romp through buzzer beaters and Cinderellas to inevitable bracket dominance.

Predictions | Rounds 1&2

JOHN: First, you should know that this bracket is a lock. As mentioned above, I’ve put some pride on the line for my Canadian players, which means that Texas, Syracuse and Gonzaga need to live true, north, strong, and free all the way to the Sweet 16. As for big upsets, I see Richmond going a couple of rounds because Jack Armstrong yelled a lot about them going a couple of rounds. Oh, and Utah State is probably the best team in the tournament with no Canadians.

ALEX: I agonized over the Syracuse/Ohio St. matchup, and if my bracket has any faults this year, I could see it coming from that excellent Elite Eight battle. I wish I could have Duke losing in excruciating fashion in the first round, but I’m no fool. So instead I have them succumbing in an even more soul-crushing Final Four loss.

Alex Grant March Madness Bracket

Alex's Picks

[Editor's note: Alex and John both have special ladies. Last year, these special ladies both crushed Alex and John with their outstanding bracket picks. Robin and Michelle - respectively Alex and John's special ladies - have prepared comments and brackets for the discussion. They are listed below].

[INSERT TRASH TALK HERE]

JOHN: Alex, my good man you emo-hipster douchebag nice person cultural imperialist with a stupid clever mustache that makes me smile. How far do you have Purdue going this year? Even though, as I write this, I haven’t seen your picks yet, but we both know they’re ironic, probably wearing plaid, and were definitely selected while the Arcade Fire, the Decemberists and Vampire Weekend played in the background as you huddled over a Mac in your parents’ basement. Also, you host really great parties and make exceptional chicken wings can’t even play basketball, can you? Robin actually told me that if you and I were to play 10 games of one-on-one I would win 11 of them. You can’t do math, either, but that doesn’t matter because you have incredible emotional intelligence and are a very gifted writer. Also, if you lived 10 lives (pretty sure you’re Hindu, by the way) you would lose 11 of those, too.

Your move, cool guy failure in basketball-picking and life.

ALEX: For the past two years, there’s been a part to these pre-Madness visions that I find particularly enjoyable. While I ride a frothing winged steed, burrito in hand, through the Elite Eight and into my Final Four selections, there’s been a weeping John Horn, on his knees beseeching me, “Please please! Can’t you see that my bracket’s already dead?!?”

Well, I’m delighted to report that my mind’s eye has exactly as much mercy and compassion when it comes to college hoops as my face eyes. Which is to say, none at all.

Yes! Yes it’s true! I’m back to dominate* March once again for all the good, humble, gentle folk of ‘Merica and for the not-so-humble, good nor gentle bearded men of the entire WORLD.  What happened last year? WHO CAN REMEMBER? All that matters, as Ekhart Tolle would very strangely say, is ZE NOW. And NOW is time for a beatdown at the hands and hoofs of me.  I will be riding my hometown heroes, Purdue, until the wheels fall off in championship station. I think that Pittsburgh is not long for this world. And SDSU, in their first trip to the Dance, just confuses me. AND I DON’T LIKE BEING CONFUSED. So, off with their heads.

So after reading this, and absorbing the sheer magnificence of it all, I have only one question: Hey Horn, what’s that pallid and damp looking thing beneath your furrowed eyebrows? OH RIGHT, YOUR BALD VISAGE. You know what else is clean-shaven? Crying helpless newborn babes. You know what else has an awe-inspiring shock of facial hair? THIS GUY. I rest my case.

*In reality, our partners will undoubtedly trounce both our brackets yet again. See their face-melting logic and god-granted picking abilities below.

ROBIN & MICHELLE’S CHITTER CHATTER

ROBIN: For the past three years, my March Madness picks have bedeviled prevailing common sense (Alex’s bracket) and have risen to the top.  In an effort to shed some light on the method behind the madness, I’m writing with a few insights on how to properly choose the Final Four.

1. Don’t, under any circumstances, take the bracket seriously.  Over-thinking is enemy #1.  Think to yourself: “Geez, this is really dumb.” and  “Who cares?”

2. Above all else, go with personal affiliation and instinct.  Is your great-great-grandpappy an Akron Zip? They’re in.

3. Pick the rough-and-tumble team.  Inner city versus private polish…except maybe in the case of Duke.  I hate Duke, but damn, they know how to score some points on the old b-ball court.  Or so I’m told.

4. Remember: Mormons are good at everything, except maybe converting people.  And they do it with a smile!

5. When in doubt, pick the Southerners.  They are as fervent in their sports mania as they are about tubs of BBQ.

6. State schools are better at sports than private schools.  The fabled scholar/athlete is as rare as a rainbow colored unicorn.

My Picks:

MICHELLE: The equation is simple, and it goes like this:

hilarity of team name x 64[( jersey colour - symbiosis of mascot) - (affiliation during the Civil War - size of English Lit. department)] + “your gut” ÷ MADNESS = The Duke Blue Devils.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to purchase the rights to other formulas that I’ve created. Thanks!

YOUR VOTE!

[poll id="4"]

Rooting Through Americana and Canuckiness

Blaine Bombers vs. White Rock Leafs

Blaine Bombers vs. White Rock Icemen

While I’m sure that there’s no shortage of American ex-pats sharing their harrowing stories of assimilating to Canadian life, I feel compelled to toss my Uncle Sam Wants You top-hat into the virtual ring. However, rather than complain about the cost of beer and cheese–which is the crux of any conversation between Americans living here, trust me—I’d rather focus on the ways I’m uniting with my new countrymen. Sports, I’ve found, have a large role to play; because much like baseball and hockey, our two lands are similar, but not at all the same.

Super Bowl: Something For Everyone. Even you Pete Townshend.

With the largest North American sports spectacle looming over the horizon (it’s the Recently Ravaged Metropolis vs. America’s Intersection!) I’ve been thinking about Super Bowls from years past and how getting together for that game has always transcended what happens on the field. People in the States have chosen a football game, perhaps the only one they’ll watch all year, as a way to precipitate feasting, drinking, socializing and celebrating. Some vicariously celebrate a place in the spotlight, but most are joyous about simply getting together and eating foodstuffs that they regret long after the trophy is hoisted.

So, with this being my first Super Bowl since getting settled in Canada, I’ve been wondering whether the gentle citizens north of the 49th Parallel would balk at my suggestion of getting together to watch the game and participate in a “heaviest nacho” competition. Is my expectation for an orgy of excess on February 7th simply another ugly American trapping that I have to eschew as part of my path to Canuckdom? I have several reasons for hoping that it isn’t (beyond the fervent belief that everyone loves a Bacon Explosion).

Now, I’m not going to trot out that tired old saw and wax on about sport’s role in the “harmonious development of man…[and] promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” (Thanks Olympic Charter!) Instead, my reasons for believing that Canadians will make room in their hearts for both the Grey Cup and the Lombardi Trophy begin with two other sports that I think illustrate the similar yet separate trajectories of our cultures. I call my theory the “Hockey Equals Baseball Hypothesis.”

Hockey = Baseball – Teeth; Baseball = Hockey + Obesity

As a sports lover, and—modestly—a fairly perceptive fellow, I’ve noticed that the game of hockey is prrrrreeety popular up here. And that’s strange to me because the game seems impossible to follow, full of a mastery I can’t appreciate, and lacking compelling drama in everyday games. Canadians, I’ve noticed, are shocked and outraged by my indifference to the game, and rather than just shrug it off, I totally understand where they’re coming from. You see, I think most Canadians feel exactly the same way about baseball. And I love baseball.

Brothers From Another Mother??

Brothers From Another Mother??

After doing some thinking and weathering incredulous Canadian jeers, I’ve come to the opinion that at the core, hockey and baseball have more similarities than differences. Speed, difficulty, and excitement aside, I see each sport capturing the same mix of nostalgia, nationalism, and community. I think that, more than any other sport, both Canadians and Americans pour a bit of themselves into these “national games” and in doing so, they build important links to the past and each other. Moreover, many of us grow up with these sports playing a central role in our maleable years. We endure an oftentimes humilating rite of passage by playing in Peewee and Little League games, and we get that first sweet taste of independence (often taking the shape of sno-cones) by wandering with packs of friends around the rink or at dusk outside the diamond. In many ways, our interactions with these sports in particular get packaged together and form some small part of our inner personal experience, for better or worse.

Sports as a Mirror and Magnet

Now, I’m not suggesting that these games are part of the lifeblood for all Canadians and Americans, but as we grow up and decide to either become fans or not, the mythology of hockey and baseball persists. Reinforced by the weight of culture and yore, Americans and Canadians are surrounded by stimuli linking these sports to our national identities. The faded photos and reverential tones for past legends (or even the fact that retired athletes are called “legends”) ensure that a certain familiarity with the sports becomes public knowledge, generation after next. The experience of attending a game is something we’re excited to do, partly because we hope to participate in something remarkable but also because it’s something decidedly “American” or “Canadian” to do. There’s an especially strong community in a ballpark or on the ice, and we feel good plugging into it.

The fact that baseball and hockey are difficult things for outsiders—even sports enthusiasts—to understand and enjoy illustrates my point. Divorced from the gravitas that each sport carries in its “home” country, the slow pace of the game, or difficulty following the puck, become true hindrances instead of afterthoughts. But my current difficulties with hockey do not discourage me. Much like the bacchanalia surrounding the Superbowl, we use these sports not just to root for a team but also as a way to strengthen our connections with neighbours. So, I’ll happily trade my knowledge of a save situation for an explanation of what exactly constitutes icing over a plate of deep-fried Snickers any day.

Post Script

In my research I found that there’s a shared etymology among some baseball/hockey terms. For example, striking out four times in a single baseball game is dubbed a “golden sombrero,” which was derived from hockey’s “hat trick.” (The rationale being that a four-strikeout performance merits a larger and more embarrassing hat.) Interestingly, striking out five times in a single game is labeled the “Olympic Rings.” I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.