2003 marks something of a personal milestone for me - a decade since I left the country of my birth, Canada, which I love and will always consider my home, for my adopted country the Czech Republic, which I adore, especially the capital Prague, but also the forests and hills of Sumava, and the medieval city of Cesky Krumlov. Nevertheless, ten years is ten years, so it's probably not surprising lately I've caught myself thinking about what I miss most about Canada, something I was recently able to discuss with Martin Hrobsky, my fellow Canadian commentator here at Radio Prague.
Camping in the summer on some remote island, and fishing for pike on the ponds of northern Ontario?
What could be better?
Enjoying Montreal night life on a warm summer's eve, say, on the Plateau, going out for a beer and dancing on the tables at Pub St. Laurent with those pretty French Canadian girls?
And how about skiing at the Laurentians' highest mountain in January, no longer able to feel your face because of the cold but loving it just the same?(They used to sell these neoprene masks there when I was a kid, wonder if they still do).
Alright; it's not the Alps, but there's a great chalet on top where you can grab a poutine. (For all those unaware, that's French fries with melted cheese curds and brown gravy, one of the most famous of Quebec treats. Perhaps an acquired taste).
But then we hit on the one subject bound to come up for most Canadians in any conversation, and that of course, is ice hockey. Since my colleague Martin hails from Toronto, making him a Maple Leafs fan, and my home was Montreal, making me a Canadiens fan practically by default, the issue had to come up. Imagine my surprise when I learned there was a pub in Prague that broadcast NHL games late at night or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it... and not just any broadcast but the CBC's now legendary Hockey Night in Canada. Those of you out there who didn't grow up in the great white north can't know, simply can not understand what that means... countless moments are recalled... when I was a little boy and should have been doing my homework and there was a game, when I was a teenager supposed to go out on a date and someone turned on the TV somewhere at the end of the street and...and there was a game, when I was a responsible young adult supposed to be the best man at my friend's wedding and...uh, well, you get the idea! Let it suffice to say that I was in heaven, listening to the inimitable commentary of Bob Cole and Harry Neale after all these years. He shoots, he scores... I had not seen a Canadiens game since 93, the last year they won the cup.
Montreal would have to go and lose to Toronto to Martin's endless delight (he won a few beers for my trouble) But it didn't matter, just hearing that Hockey Night in Canada jingle in Prague after all those years, was worth it.
Incidentally, if you know anything about ice hockey you will know that the Czechs are now probably the best hockey nation in the world. Gasp - blasphemy! Well, they did win the first professional Olympic gold in Nagano'98, after Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek edged Quebec-born Patrick Roy in the semis, didn't they? A legendary shoot-out that gave Wayne Gretzky years of sleepless nights. Sure, Canada won the second time in Salt Lake City, but you know, first is first.
Finally, last week another milestone: I went to see my very first live game here in the Czech Republic. The play-offs are on here just now, and yes it was Martin and myself rooting for opposing teams once again, this time, Slavia and Sparta. That game was fantastic too. Cool inside on a warm spring day, a bright haze in the arena, two teams fighting for every metre of the ice. Nail-biting stuff. The only things missing: a certain famous jingle and the voice of Dick Irvin for Hockey Night in Prague. Just a few of our favourite things.