Thursday, June 12

BlogTO has exhaustive list of World Cup in Toronto hotspots

As we in TO know, our city is second best only to the host country for watching the range of World Cup teams. Of course every four years we see lists in local media for the best spots to watch and absorb the WC atmosphere.

The award for best list this year goes to Blog TO for its 60-strong list of suggested viewing places. Props to them for mentioning Nino D'Aversa for watching Italy games, and for finding a 'Bosnian bar' , La Rakia, on Queen St E. Personally, I can't wait to get to Etobicoke to watch Germany matches as The Musket. Link to story

Thursday, June 5

Diskuto Launches World Cup of Languages 2014

Diskuto helps people practise their languages!
Diskuto, a group for language lovers which I run, is dedicated the next month to the World Cup.

See the World Cup of Languages, which kicks off in Toronto on June 12, the opening night of the FIFA action (game that night is Brazil vs Croatia).

This is a contest to see how many languages you can speak, learn or teach in one night. If you're interested, come practise the official languages of any 2014 World Cup team:
• Arabic • Bosnian • Dutch • English • Farsi • French • German • Greek • Italian • Japanese • Korean • Portuguese • Russian • Serbo-Croatian • Spanish • Any Other language you want!
  1.  Different points are given for practising, learning or teaching any language. Teachers get more points than learners, and new language learners get more points than people who just want to practise. 
  2. Languages that are more difficult/'rare' get MORE points (so come practise Russian or Korean or Bosnian - even better, come to teach it). This will be explained more at the event. 
  3. Bonus 'polyglot' points for engaging in multiple languages in a night.
  4. Even more bonus points for languages relevant to one of that day's World Cup matches (e.g Brazil is playing Croatia on June 12; therefore you get extra points if you engage in Portuguese or Croatian on the night of the kickoff) 
  5. Add up your points, winner gets a prize for top Diskuto World Cup score.
Sound like fun? Check it out at the Royal Conservatory atrium (273 Bloor St W), 6pm-9pm on Thurs June 12. Register online.

Sunday, June 20

Azzuri Blue Gelato: The Frozen Spiral of Shame

1 Italy-New Zealand 1

For Sunday morning, I'm a TTC pig: Bathurst streetcar, Bathurst bus, St Clair streetcar to Dufferin to check out the Corso for 10am versus New Zealand.

St Clair has a more mature crowd than College; fewer Gina Ciccolinas bouncing around enflaming the Cazzi Ragazzi. As a casual fan I take my time to stroll and consider the best spot for a patio Peroni, or maybe sausage on a bun from an unpermitted sidewalk BBQ. The St Clair Right of Way has narrowed the artery enough to limit the throughput of mutant Honda Civics, making conversation audible and the streetscape a delight in spite of unrelenting sun and 35C humidex.

The Azzurri are sloppy on defense and allow a quick New Zealand marker, but they make one up via officiating caprice when a New Zealand defender draws a penalty in his goal zone. Iaquinta buries the freebie and Italy are back from brink of elimination to typical teeth-grinding stalemate. By now the fans are queasy, contemplating Italy's possible early death with a second draw–we're beyond the excuses of 'they're just slow starters' to the doomsaying death spiral of 'blame the coach.'

At halftime I leave the Big Slice pizza to wander–past the bars, which are less youthful, more serious than College St yuppieterias; past chiesa St. Nicola di Bari and its thrice-daily Italian mass. I step into air-conditioned comfort at Tre Mari bakery, a Corso Italia mainstay that's landmark enough to rival Nino D'Aversa in North York. I try to order chocolate cannoli but the old man in front of me negotiates a drawn-out volume purchase of tiramisu and zeppoli from a bakery girl who insists on re-confirming his order status after loading each successive unit into the box. I give up and silently slide further west.

I stop past Lansdowne at La Paloma and enter for a gelato, cappuccino and empty chair. The capp is serviceable but the morning is much too hot. My gelato is mint chocolate plus a new fluorescent blue flavour, 'Forza Azzurri', that looks like Smurfette and tastes like blue freezee. The screen is small and the game tedious so I mow on ice cream and tweet.

It ends a draw. I keep heading west. Past Caledonia, beyond a community-decorated underpass, a dangerously loud Italy fan inside an unfortunate pub can be heard screaming for blocks away. The Jamaican vendor of flags near Old Weston Rd sees me approach in my Italy cap, shakes his head and looks away.

Thursday, June 17

Getting Whipped with a Smile

South Korea 1-4 Argentina

I bike up to Clinton's at Bloor and Clinton but it's literally packed to capacity: I am refused entry 15 minutes into the first half by the bouncer/bartender who claims city inspectors will shut him down if he lets more people in. KILLJOY. LAME. So I watch from the outside looking in with a dozen others. At the back of the bar I see and wave hi to a writer I know, Joel, who lived several years on the island of Jeju-do teaching English. A couple years ago I actually helped hook Joel up with his hilarious all-things-Korean blog for The Walrus–a definite must-read.

Perhaps Joel would disagree when I say South Korea has the best-natured, most adorable fans. Is that a glib, patronizing assessment? Probably. When home-team goals are scored there is no obnoxious shouting nor aggressive chest-thumping among the Koreatown faithful– just joyous high-pitched cheers. Compared to the hated vuvuzela even Korean thundersticks are cute.

Too bad Argentina, machismo incarnate, took these well-behaved peninsularians and gave them a brutal 4-1 lesson in Footballish. But I still had a good time. If you're going to lose big, do it with a really nice crowd like this.

Tuesday, June 15

A New Zeal and Zest

New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia

Hemingway's in Yorkville pulls a Brazen Head and refuses to open for the 7:30 match. Although, I don't know how many Toronto Kiwis would make the trip to Cumberland this early: Even after years in TO they'd still be feeling that 18-hour jet lag.

Bounced at the bar, I head down to U of T's Hart House where in the Arbor Room's basement cafe a soccer sanctuary lies mostly undiscovered.

The massive screen, ample table room, surprisingly edible cafeteria food, slow-moving Hart House maintenance staff combined with U of T students and professors all make this a unique and unthreatening place to watch the Cup. Even that library-inhabiting species of U of T Aspergerati, who've made avoiding eye-contact and avoiding hellos a sort of Toronto art form– even they are out in force. This time it's to watch Slovakia dominate New Zealand, a World Cup 'minnow' if there ever was one.

A grand treat then, to witness the exploits of Kiwi Winston Reid.

A few minutes after preventing a goal against his side with a diving kick save, Reid wanders into the Slovakia zone with 10 seconds left in injury time and puts his header to good use, making New Zealanders all around the world very very happy.

Monday, June 14

In a Hollandaze; Italy's College St Walk and Gawk

Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
School Bakery & Cafe has figured out their World Cup marketing strategy. Pick a team, tell everyone you're the Cup HQ for that team, deliver a huge patio, gourmet breakfast and big screens, and the media will follow. Does School have any obvious apparent ties to the Netherlands? None that I can see. In 2006 it was Betty's who claimed Dutch territory rights, and I saw a couple matches there. But I skip that King E watering hole and ride Mario to the urban-suburban blend of newly rebuilt Liberty Village, where gentrification has achieved nirvana.

The breakfast at School smells delicious, but I don't eat any. There's nowhere to sit down, so I snap a few pics of Dutch flags and head across the neighbourhood in search of Denmark. My intel says the Brazen Head pub is the place. Brazen Head sits in the Liberty Market Building plaza, beside the world's most gentrified smokestack. An Irish pub as Denmark HQ? Too bad Brazen Head forgot the key element in dubiously claiming an obscure country's fanbase: actually opening your doors for the match. Blargh, they're closed, so I give up and head to work. So much for my Hamlet sandwich. Note to pub owners: I know 7:30 is early but this is why the Dutch are kicking your ass! Here's to a 2-0 win and knowing how to market to bandwagon-jumpers like me.

Italy 1-1 Paraguay
Experts keep saying Paraguay has a chance to beat Italy, just like experts keep saying that you might catch swine flu, or that climate change could destroy all life on Earth. Whatever, it's not going to stop the party, nor stop Italy fans from swaggering. I head down from work on lunch to be among the family.

Toronto Italians have perfected the art of the World Cup Walk and Gawk: the televised match blends seamlessly into the streetscape. I don't even need to watch at any one bar; I watch at all of them. If you cruise along College, the bars, patios and flat screens follow you as you go.

I can't count the number of places with cheering fans: The Dip, Gato Nero, Marinella, Bar Azzurri , Coco Lezzone, Vivoli, Vecchoo Frak, Southside Louie's, John's Classic Italian, Bar Italia, CHIN radio, Riviera Bakery , and more. Fans lining up and down the sidewalk, spilling into side streets. Groups of men, young and old, literally standing and staring, like late stragglers at mass in back of the cathedral.

Italy are known for slow starts, and Paraguay is good indeed: the latter score first thanks to an effort by awesomely-named Antolin Alcaraz, and the rancorous Italy self-blaming begins. But Azzurri gets it back in the second half on a goalkeeper miscue that allows De Rossi to score, so end up with a queasy draw--already the fans lose a bit of shine from their swagger. Make no assumptions about Slovakia nor New Zealand, ragazzi!

Sunday, June 13

Globe and Postcity offer two more useful 'where to watch' guides

The media heavy hitters are great at telling you where to go before the games take place. It's all I can do to describe a bit of where I was and what it was actually like, from my glib perspective as fleeting footballphile and diehard neighbourhood nerd.

That said, here are a couple more good lists:

Slovenia... Slovenia... you border on the Adriatic

Slovenia 1-0 Algeria

Culinary tip: If you like a) Slovenia and b) donuts, don't bother stopping at Claudia's Donuts--right across from Slovenia Hall in south Etobicoke--for donuts. Inside the church/cultural centre hall you'll find the game blasting with big-screen projector, a pumped up crowd decked out in green-and-yellow jerseys, plus all the Slovenian donuts you can handle and more.

After a scoreless half, the TV feed in the hall cuts away from soccer-jock commentary to some advertisements promoting Slovenian culture in Toronto. Fun facts:
  • The Toronto Slovenian Youth Organization is 49 years youthful.
  • Slovenian folk dancing requires much dedication, but dancers get to wear rose-covered hats!
  • My wife, who's awake early to travel and watch with me, takes exception to my idea that we raise our future children to be Slovenian.
Another intermission highlight: a TV public service announcement featuring dangerously incapacitated drunks  getting severely injured as they fall down, keel over or bang their heads against very hard surfaces, with the voiceover cheering "I like drinking beer!'

Anyhow, the game: Algeria substitute Ghezzal (who along with several Slovenia players named 'Z'latko indulges my love of 'Z') rushes on field and immediately draws two yellow cards and so is sent off with a red, handicapping his side who had been playing elegantly. Slovenia capitalizes as Robert Koren deposits a tally following a series of slick passes. Slovenia Hall erupts into cheers that last a good ten minutes; it's thrilling to watch a match among the winning side finally!

Ghana 1-0 Serbia
After Slovenia we head to Fox and Fiddle on Dundas West in Etobicoke's Islington Village to meet friends for breakfast and Ghana-Serbia. F&F is neither Ghanaian nor Serbian territory, so not much to report blogwise, although the number of widescreens make this a good viewing spot for casual fans. As an aside, I'm glad Croatia's not in this tournament as I can't keep all the Balkan nations and their blue-white-and-red flags straight.

The game: Ghana beats Serbia 1-0. The hero is Asamoah Gyan, whose penalty  after an inexplicably moronic hand-ball by defender Zdravko Kuzmanovic in the goal zone qualifies the poor Serbian as Cup Goat thus far--more goatlike even than that English goalkeeper. I hope to cheer with the West Africans at Mamma Pee's for Ghana's next match.

Saturday, June 12

Get him to the Greektown

Greece 0-2 South Korea

A trip to the Danforth requires I wear the sandals of a Spartan and eat the breakfast that made those warriors strong: goat's milk yogurt. Don't believe me? We... are... PROBIOTIC!

Between Logan and Pape are umpteen pubs, open-air cafes and patios: Fox and Fiddle has the most screens, but there's also Bar 521, Caffe Frappe (arguably the nerve centre) the Iliadic Kaffeteria and even a Mr. Greek--which is ironically the only patio with empty seats. It's already 1-0 for South Korea when I arrive at Cafe Frappe, which means the indigenous tribe is despondent. Overcast morning skies and spitting rain don't help.

Korean confederates are widely interspersed throughout Greek Nation, with the nucleus of Asian teenage hipsters chattering at the Euro Crepe Cafe, oblivious to the icy sentiments along this stretch of Danforth. A pair of Korean women jogging by Cafe Frappe stop to check the score, laugh cockily and quickly run away. There's another run-by Korean gloating after the half at Mr Greek, where, still 1-0, I park to enjoy spanakopita and shore up flagging Hellas. But Greece keeps being cut off at each attacking angle. Don't these guys know about trigonometry? They invented it! Disappointing, considering the Samian obsession with triangles.

S.K. makes it 2-0 on a beautiful charge by Park Ji-Sung after an Argive giveaway and that's my cue to exit. I hear rumours of a Nigerian picnic in the North York wilderness of Jane and Sheppard.

Nigeria 0-1 Argentina
The rumours are true! Unfortunately, the weather is foul. By the time I find Northwood park--off a driveway north of Sheppard between Jane and Keele--things are even soggier than Greektown. The Nigerian-Canadian Association has gone to admirable lengths for this party, including open-air tents, a roasted corn station, and mock trophies for the kids. CBC  quizzes the crowd and spirits are high. I'm certainly the sole spectator with an Italy cap, yet I manage to avoid a heckling, as it's the Argentinians who are the target of wrath after a diving header goal by Gabriel Heinze in the sixth minute.

I leave at the half, as non-Cup errands put the blog out of commission for the rest of the day (including England-USA), so don't get a chance to try the corn. I hope the next Nigerian festa is a bit closer to downtown.

Friday, June 11


South Africa 1, Mexico 1
I had contacted the South African consulate for a good spot  to watch the game; their dignitaries e-recommended the Samovar Room on Winchester St, north of Carlton off Parliament, ie Cabbagetown. Samovar is a Russian bar, but the owner's wife will be rooting for all the African teams. This second-floor pad glittering beneath gaudy chandeliers is sufficiently decked out in Bafana-colours to satisfy my hipster cravings for 'authenticity'. Did the old Soviet Union ever prop up the apartheid regime? I won't even bother to Wikipedia that; I'll just pretend that they did.

I sit at the bar beside two eight-year-old schoolchildren who are clearly not in school. To appear un-creepy I order a diet cola. There's a real ethnic mosaic in the room, which is pleasantly uncrowded. The Jamaican girl beside me wears a South Africa jersey, and the Mexican boy beside her tells me he's cheering for England. My bartender is from Malawi and I get her to pose for me in her RSA jersey.

As the gun sounds an Asian newswoman for some Suburban-Smiley-FunTime TV channel arrives and interviews fans re who they support. Self-consciously sporting my Italy cap, I suddenly feel I'm disrepecting Mandiba's legacy of unity, peace and pride and-what-a-great-moment-for-the-nation blah blah blah so I put my hat away and cheer for South Africa.

To its credit, Samovar serves the only free roasted corn nuts I've ever tasted that were somewhat edible, but their diet coke is flat as soccer pitch. I cave ten minutes later and order gin and tonic. Hey, it's already 10:15am!

I watch for only 40 minutes before biking back to work, and so miss both teams' goals. The 1-1 FT is a definite victory for RSA. Befana means 'witch' in Italian but I can only guess Bafana means 'genie' in South Africa as those men pulled a small miracle out of the bottle.