2006-02-24

Curling Draws Italian Hearts

What was the most watched sport on Italian television at the Torino games? Alpine skiing? Hockey? Speed skating? Nope. The strategic game of curling. As in hurry hard and sweep, curling. Now of course, the rest of the world just found out what a bunch of hosers from Canada already knew. That curling is pretty darn interesting - once you get past the nerdy exterior.

I decided to write about curling not because I play it (I played it once. More on that in a minute) but for how its subtle role in Canadian life. Curling is one of those games where everyone watches but dares not tell anyone. Once long ago, a buddy of mine came onto the bus while we were in high school and quietly sat down and admitted he spent the week-end watching the Brier (Canadian curling Championships). Suddenly, one by one we all stepped forward and confessed. It was one of those rare bonding moments we all shared. Our own Curling Anonymous was founded on that day.

While curling is played in urban centers its best curlers come from the outskirts of major cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. They are rural (non-urbanized citizens for pc) folk from parts of the country we hardly ever notice. The Canadian comedy movie 'Men With Brooms' made in 2000 did a fair and entertaining job of playing with the curling culture.

My brush - make that broom - with curling came during a Montreal Winter Carnival on Ile Sainte-Hélene several years ago. Off to a remote part of the carnival we stumbled across a makeshift French colony - equipped with a library and museum of course. Being a history junkie I could not resist picking up 'Montreal During the American Civil War' for $2.50 and the 'Roots of the Canadian Army: Montreal District for $3.50. Yes, I party hard.

Nearby there was an outside curling rink in its original state laid down by the British who imported the game - the Scots invented it. It was well below zero. It was January and the median temperatures during that month is always damn cold. It must have been minimum -15c. We asked if we could play and 'la jolie fille' said 'mais oui' and we did. She served us soup and we drank beer under an early evening sky. It was quite something. You know what else? We actually got hooked. We vowed to play again. Until the next day my friend called and said "Where the fuck are we going to curl?" I told him we had to join a club. "What with all those pins and tuques?" Firmly tonque in cheek of course.

And so lives the Canadian stereotype in Italy. Tuques, Mounties and curling. Moose, beavers and loons. Hockey, lacrosse and snowshoeing. It is what it is.

And now the world is in on the secret.

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