Embracing Winter

Inspired by the great performances of the Olympic athletes? Interested in trying one of those winter sports? The library has lots of books to inspire and instruct!

Hockey for Everybody by Cam Neely

Cross-Country Skiing : a Complete Guide by Brian Cazeneuve

Learn Downhill Skiing in a Weekend by Konrad Bartelski

Figure Skating for Dummies by Kristi Yamaguchi

Winter Adventure : Complete Guide to Winter Sports by Peter Stark

Snowboarding Skills by Cindy Kleh

And don’t forget about the great local resources available in our area from the Quad Cities Sports Center to the pond at VanderVeer Park.

You’re on your own for aerial ski jumping and luge!

Chariots of Fire

Who can forget the iconic slow-motion Vangelis theme music? Or the race around the courtyard of Trinity College? Or Eric Liddell’s race in which he is tripped and  heroically rallies.

Winning the 1981 Oscar for Best Picture, Chariots of Fire had it all. Stylish 1920’s fashions, beautiful Cambridge buildings (actually Eton), lush British estates, and a glimpse into history. (The main characters do have some basis in fact).

The title is taken from a William Blake poem:

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:                                                                               Bring me my Arrows of desire:                                                                                     Bring me my spear;  O clouds unfold!                                                                         Bring me my chariot of fire.

The film embodies the Olympic spirit and is just what you need to get inspired for marathon Olympic viewing.

Mounties and Robbers

Due South is one of the few prime time Canadian series to air on American tv. The cultural differences between Canada and the U.S.  in general, and the Mounties and Chicago police in particular, were a major theme. The Canadian law enforcement officer is politeness personified, while the American is well-armed and cynical.

The tone was gently absurdist. That, and the fact that it bounced all over the schedule,  led to it’s cancellation. Fortunately, though, like so many other under-rated shows, it is available on DVD through our very own PrairieCat.

Especially charming,  was that the star’s vast knowledge of just about everything was attributed to the fact that his grandparents were librarians. You gotta love that.

Mascot Mania

Vancouver Olympic Mascots

What’s a modern-day Olympics without mascots?

Well, definitely still exciting but perhaps a little less fun.  If you were able to watch any of the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the emphasis on the traditional “First Nations” was obvious.  The media and marketing moguls have carried it a bit further by designing some cute, cuddly little mascots inspired by native creatures.  Here’s a few to look for:

  • Sumi — (the mascot for the paralympic games) is an animal spirit with the hat of a whale, Thunderbird wings and the furry legs of a black bear.
  • Quatchi — a friendly, if rather shy, young sasquatch, who wisely wears boots and earmuffs
  • Miga — a mythical sea bear, who’s part orca and part Kermode bear

If you go to the official website you and your kids can play games with Quatchi and the other mascots.  I don’t know about you, but it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to competing in the Olympics!

Olympic Skiing

Downhill Racer – Robert Redford, Gene Hackman- 1969 – recently re-released on DVD

This movie was the best. In 1969 we were in love with Jean Claude Kiley. He was handsome and dashing french skier who won three medals in the 1968. We all fell in love with downhill skiing. This movie spirited our desire to be downhill skiers.

This review by Roger Ebert in 1969 describes “Downhill Racer” the best.

‘Some of the best moments in “Downhill Racer” are moments during which nothing special seems to be happening. They’re moments devoted to capturing the angle of a glance, the curve of a smile, an embarrassed silence. Together they form a portrait of a man that is so complete, and so tragic, that “Downhill Racer” becomes the best movie ever made about sports — without really being about sports at all.

The champions in any field have got to be, to some degree, fanatics. To be the world’s best skier, or swimmer, or chess player, you’ve got to overdevelop that area of your ability while ignoring almost everything else. This is the point we miss when we persist in describing champions as regular, all-round Joes. If they were, they wouldn’t be champions.

This is the kind of man that “Downhill Racer” is about: David Chappellet, a member of the U.S. skiing team, who fully experiences his humanity only in the exhilaration of winning. The rest of the time, he’s a strangely cut-off person, incapable of feeling anything very deeply, incapable of communicating with anyone, incapable of love, incapable (even) of being very interesting.

Robert Redford plays this person very well, even though it must have been difficult for Redford to contain his own personality within such a limited character. He plays a man who does nothing well except ski downhill — and does that better than anyone.

The joy of these action sequences is counterpointed by the daily life of the ski amateur. There are the anonymous hotel rooms, one after another, and the deadening continual contact with the team members, and the efforts of the coach (Gene Hackman in a superb performance) to hold the team together and placate its financial backers in New York.

The movie balances nicely between this level, and the exuberance of its outdoor location photography. And it does a skillful job of involving us in the competition without really being a movie about competition. In the end, “Downhill Racer” succeeds so well that instead of wondering whether the hero will win the Olympic race, we want to see what will happen to him if he does.’

The Armchair Traveler – Quebec

Louise Penny , a former  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter, steeps her mysteries in the French culture of Quebec. Her Chief Inspector Gamache  series has been compared to Agatha Christie (a small village setting and large cast of characters and  surprise endings) .  In Brutal Telling, Gamache is called in when an unknown dead  body turns up in  local bistro. Penny’s skill is creating a place that is so appealing that  readers want to move there, bringing to life people you want to spend time with and describing meals that make you salivate.

Kathy Reichs works as a medical examiner in Quebec (and North Carolina). Apparently, the tv show Bones was inspired by Reichs’ work and she also works as a producer on the show.

The  heroine of her mysteries is Temperance Brennan, who, coincidentally, is a  forensic anthropologist who works in both Quebec and North Carolina. Monday Mourning is set in Montreal, where Tempe investigates the skeletons found in a pizzeria.  In this installment, her romance with detective Andrew Ryan is not going well, though the French Canadian setting is as magical as ever.

Canadians You Didn’t Know Were Canadian

Everyone knows Dan Ackroyd and Michael J. Fox. And perhaps you knew that Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey were Canadian.

But did you know aboot Eric McCormack, of Will and Grace? And Matthew Perry of Friends? And Victor Garber of Alias?

Our very own Field of Dreams is based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, who is, you guessed it, not from Iowa, but from Alberta.


Check out these Movies on Ice!

Hollywood must have had some serious Winter Olympic fever in the early Nineties because almost all of my favorite movies featuring skates, ice and attitudes were made between 1992 and 1994–not that surprising when I remember that these were the years of the great split between the Winter and Summer Olympics, and in order to get the new schedule on track the Winter Olympics were held only two years apart (Albertville, France in 1992 and Lillehammer, Norway in 1994). Here are my favorites:

The Cutting EdgeThe Cutting Edge:
I may have only been in elementary school when this movie first came out, but I was apparently woman enough to completely swoon over a tough guy hockey player getting in touch with his figure-skating sensitive side. Note that this movie was an obvious inspiration for the heated relationship between Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in 2007’s Blades of Glory.

Mighty Ducks
D2: The Mighty Ducks
D3: The Mighty Ducks:
From these movies I learned that the best way to deal with a person is to quack at them, flying Vs are unstoppable (unless you are playing the Varsity team), and Joshua Jackson is pretty awesome.

Cool Runnings:
This family comedy may skew the truth a lot from the events surrounding the real 1988 Jamaican bobsled team (I never realized how much until I was reading the Cool Runnings wikipedia post before writing this blog entry), but that won’t stop the tears from streaming down my face every time I watch it. And Doug E. Doug is hilarious! I wonder if I would be funnier if my name was Amber L Amber…

Agony of Defeat

The triumph of the human spirit…pfft.  More like triteness of the human spirit.   I can relate more to putting in a modest amount of effort and then not just coming up short, but failing…catastrophically…in front of a sizable audience.  I think most of us, therefore, are “Agony of Defeat” people.

ABC Wide World of Sports interposed various other symbolic clips and stills of the show’s intro over the course of decades, but they left the footage of “agony of defeat” static because the portrayal was so spot-on.  So, the initial humiliation had interest compounded for a small lifetime, week after week, until the wretched soul epitomized epic failure.

His name is Vinko Bogataj.  He was competing for Yugoslavia in the Ski-flying World Championships in Oberstdorf, West Germany (now Germany) on March 21, 1970 when his third run’s adjustment for excessive speed turned him into a self destructing cyclone of limbs and personal dignity.  He only received a concussion that day, but retired from competition.  According to various Internet sources, he transitioned into coaching, painting, and driving a forklift.

A rare blessing from the Cold War is he was unable to endure a televised lifetime of shame from across the Iron Curtain.  Imagine his surprise in 1991 during the Wide World of Sports’ 30th anniversary show when he was mobbed by such luminaries as Muhammad Ali who wanted HIS autograph.

Vinko Bogataj, we salute you.

The Armchair Traveler – On the Rails in Canada

The Edge by Dick Francis is, as always, about horses, but this time the action takes place in Canada, instead of England.

Head of Security for the British Jockey Club, Tor Kelsey  travels to Canada for the Great Transcontinental Mystery  Race  Train. He works  undercover  as a waiter on the train so he can keep an eye one of the club’s Most Wanted  (an extortionist/horse owner they haven’t been able to catch red-handed,yet).

To add to the intrigue, there is a murder mystery group on the train – no one but Tor and his foe know that there is a real murderer on board.

Another railroad mystery is The Silk Train Murder by Sharon Rowse. A train that rushes silk from Vancouver to the east coast of Canada is the setting for a turn of the century romantic caper. Emily Turner is the liberated heroine who helps John Landsdowne Granville investigate a murder. Granville’s quest takes him to the seedier part of frontier towns (opium dens, brothels and dance halls).

The combination of strict Victorian morals and the rambunctious frontier provide a glimpse into a fascinating period of Canadian history.