Monday, April 29, 2013


With the coming of spring in Canada, with the melting snow and gathering of people to shiver on patios with the slightest hint of sunshine and warm temperatures, we turn our thoughts to the great ritual of the new season: NHL playoff hockey. Hockey is supposed to be a winter sport, but the truly meaningful games are now played in spring, when we should be thinking of baseball .... wait a minute, the way the Jays are playing right now, bring on the Cup!!

I know that there are many readers ( 2 or 3 of you ) who are not hockey fans, but who really need to participate with your fellow Canadians in this ritual. I humbly offer to you these predictions as to who will win the various playoff rounds and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup itself.  This service will make even the most hockey illiterate person sound like a reasonable version of Don Cherry. ( If you aspire to such lofty heights of hockey red-neckism ) Read on, gentle puck-head !!


1) Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild

The 'Hawks had a season to remember ... well, 48 games to remember. They have a top 5 that is, arguably, the best in the league, and a solid defence and goaltending. The Wild are an NHL team ... that's about all I know about them.

'Hawks in 5 games.

2) Anaheim Ducks vs Detroit Red Wings

Nobody saw any Anaheim games on TV, but apparently they are a good team. Getzlaff and Perry ( not a law firm) had good seasons. Bruce Boudreau is the coach and he swears a lot. Detroit had to get used to losing their best player and one of the greatest defencemen in NHL history this year and had an up and down year. But they've been good lately and have lots of veterans and a hot goalie.

Ducks in 7 games. Could be a really good series.

3) Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks

Vancouver seemed to survive the goaltending controversy quite nicely, but they are a team with a reputation of not really delivering the goods. San Jose is also a team that is usually in the playoffs but haven't gone far or deep since Arturs Irbe was their goalie. Still, I don't like Vancouver, so I'm picking

Sharks in 6 games.

4) St. Louis Blues vs Los Angeles Kings

Kings are the defending champs and still have a good young team. They seem to save their best for the playoffs ( just ask Brian Burke ... hockey fans will get that joke ). St. Louis has always been a miserable team as far as I'm concerned, but I like Brian Elliot as a goalie because he's from Newmarket.

Kings in 6 games.

5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders

Penguins have an abundance of star players, and if they get Crosby back, they will be hard to stop. The Islanders are looking for Denis Potvin and Chico Resch to see if they're interested in lacing them up again. Actually, the Islanders had a good season, coming back from the NHL version of purgatory, but it ends this week.

Penguins in 4 games.

6) Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators

In my version of the hockey universe, both teams would lose. However, since that's not possible, I must grudgingly admit that this has the potential to be the best series in the first round. Habs had a great season ... I have no idea how they did it. Ottawa survived injuries to key players and just kept grinding away. Karlsson is back and Spezza is rumoured to be close. This could be really good.

Senators in 7 games.  Seven games in overtime ???

7) Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers

Capitals sucked for most of the season, then went on an outrageous roll when Ovechkin realized that he was still a good hockey player. The Rangers struggled at times, but have some stars on their roster. This will be close and could be a good series.

Capitals in 7 games.

8) Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs in the playoffs ??? Wow !! Both teams are tough and sometimes violent, but there are some good skilled players in both lineups. It really depends on the goalies, Tukka Rask for the B's and James Reimer for the Buds. Phil Kessel needs to rid himself of the timid play in Boston, and the Bruins need Chara and the defence to shut the Leafs down. My heart says Leafs, but my head says

Bruins in 6 games. Might be the bloodiest series ... Don Cherry will go apoplectic.

SECOND ROUND     ( I hope I have these match-ups right )

9) Chicago vs Los Angeles

'Hawks have too much for the Kings. 'Hawks in 5 games.

10) Anaheim vs San Jose

I might watch them in this series for the first time this year. I'm guessing Ducks in 6.

11) Pittsburgh vs Ottawa

The Sens will be inspired in the 2nd round, but the Pens have too much. Penguins in 6.

12) Washington vs Boston

Toughness wins out here. Washington need to really grow a pair, but they won't. Bruins in 6.

THIRD ROUND      (now, I'm really guessing !! )

14) Chicago vs Anaheim

Potentially a great series. Depends on injuries at this point. Still the 'Hawks are scary good. 'Hawks in 7.

15) Pittsburgh vs Boston

If the Pens stay relatively healthy, they have the skill edge. But don't count the Bruins out. Bruins in 7.


16) Chicago vs Boston

An Original Six match-up. This will be close and hard fought. 'Hawks will win in 6 games.

Now you know. Let the debate begin. Enjoy !!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


We have been going to Cuba since 2000. We have fallen in love with the island, the people, the music, and the culture. We affectionately call the resort we go to every year in Holguin  our "Cuban cottage." It is a place where we escape the confines of an Ontario winter and enjoy being pampered by our wonderful Cuban hosts.

We are under no illusion, though, about the reality which exists just outside the resort's gates. While we get to choose our dinner items, which are plentiful, varied,  and generally of good quality, an average Cuban gets by on a diet of rice, beans, some meat if he knows someone who raises pigs or chickens, and coffee. We have learned that Cuba is among the world's leaders for type 2 diabetes, mainly because of their diet. Back at the resort, the electricity is mostly realiable, and we enjoy power for our air conditioners, hair dryers, televisions, the bars' refrigerators, the restaurants' freezers, while average Cubans put up with regular brown-outs because the main grid is old and prone to failure. We can obtain some consumer goods if we need them, or if we forgot to pack them prior to departure, while an average Cuban is never certain what kinds of goods will show up at the local store. If we wish to travel within the country via air or bus, we can do so easily because our seat is taken away from a Cuban who would have been on the plane or bus. We can go to baseball games and sit behind home plate and have beer served to us, while Cubans sit on benches along the baselines or in the outfield. We can sit around the pool bar and engage in lively political discussions about any country in the world, but a Cuban can criticize his government only at great personal risk.

In short, Cuba is no utopia. But things are changing and we have taken notice of the new direction.

Recently, the CBC's documentary series, "The Passionate Eye", aired a piece on the changes taking place in Cuba. It was originally produced by the BBC and is called "Last Chance to see Castro's Cuba". Lou and I watched it this month and found the items contained in the documentary interesting. We have experienced some of the changes directly.

Cubans now have the opportunity to create their own businesses and run them for personal profit. This was unthinkable as recently as four or five years ago. We first noticed this phenomenon a couple of years ago when we were on the bus ride from Holguin airport to our resort. Several fruit stands were erected along the side of the road. We looked at each other with amazement. Such a simple thing, something kids do back in Canada, was the thin edge of the wedge in Cuba. Farmers were actually able to sell some of their produce to anyone who wanted to buy them, for whatever price they wanted to charge and pay, and keep the profits themselves. We were told that the bulk of the crops produced on Cuban farms still had to be turned over to the government for distribution to the population and continued to be rationed ( a hold-over from the near catastrophic "special time" in Cuban economic history), but a certain percentage could be sold privately.

We also know of Cubans who have begun to own and operate private restaurants out of their own homes. One ambitious restauranteur has printed up business cards which he freely distributes to tourists. We know of a man who has his own car and will take people on private tours of local cities and towns. All this in a relatively small backwater of the island.

The documentary showed Cubans, mostly in Havana, who were selling such things as plumbing supplies, food, operating restaurants, and perhaps most dramatically, selling real estate. Cubans are now able to sell and buy homes and apartments privately. Previously, all homes and land were owned by the government, and people, if they wished to move, had to apply to local officials to do so. Now, presumably, they are in charge of their own residential destiny. The documentary showed people gathered in parks conducting trade and negotiations for property. One home was reputedly selling for more than $800,000.00, although onw wonders what Cuban could possibly afford such a place.  People could also operate businesses in such things as construction work, automotive sales and repair, hair stylists, clothiers and a wide variety of other jobs. The most bizarre job approved by the government was that of "dandy" .... a Cuban gentleman dressed in "typical" Cuban attire, smoking Cuban cigars and offering to pose for pictures ... for a price!

The documentary, in its 45 minutes of air time, painted a rosy picture of the budding Cuban entrepreneurialism, captured in its infancy, about to rise from the ashes of a "failed" revolution, and ready to save Cuba from its past and launch it into a brave new capitalistic world. That's when my spidey sense started to tingle.

There is no doubt that Cuba is a very poor country, at least from the standpoint of a Western observer. There are the shortages and discomforts described above. There is also the truth of a nation that imprisons its citizens, not allowing them to travel or leave permanently. There is the reality of stifled aspirations: if a Cuban is creative, inventive, or ambitious, he typically had to find expression within the confines of the single party political system or not at all.

But the revolution is hardly a failure. Despite their disadvantages, Cubans are among the best educated people in the world. Their health care system is world renowned. The arts and sports flourish, albeit completely funded and administered by the government. And they are proud people, because of their achievements. They feel that they have stood up to a vast imperialistic power and have not been defeated. And they are right to feel that way.

So, why has capitalism been allowed to begin in this socialist society? The documentary confirmed what we had known for the 13 years we have been going there. The American embargo had forced them to seek help from the only alternative they had in the 1950's and 60's: the Soviet Union. When the USSR died in 1990, there was no external support for Cuba. The "special period", from 1990 until 2000 was extraordinarily difficult for Cuba and the people suffered badly. The recovery during the first decade of the 21st century was slow and painful. There seemed to be little choice for Cuba. Adapt or die. Embrace the system so vigorously denounced for decades, or watch the island sink into absolute and irrecoverable poverty the like of which is seen only in the worst countries on earth.

The documentary seemed to suggest that Cuba will very soon become a capitalist haven. Implied in this is the impending arrival of the United States to reclaim its former dependency. We have a different slant on this. The amount of change in Cuba is happening very, very slowly. The Cuban government is still in charge. And if the Cuban government wants to stop this experiment, it can and will do so any time it wants. And let's be clear: the Cuban government and, we believe, the majority of the Cuban people still regard the United States as an enemy. They will not soon let Americans come into their country in waves of free-enterprise hordes, buying and exploiting all resources, including the people,  in the country.

No, if Cuba is going to change, and there is no doubt it will, it will be done on terms dictated by the Cubans themselves. Does that mean that we can still go to the island and not run into packs of American tourists? Yes, we think so. Does it mean that we can still buy T-shirts with Che on the front? Yes. And does it mean that the unique Cuban culture, complete with its beautiful music, dance, literature and philosophy will continue unadulterated? Yes.

At least, we hope so.

So, as the documentary says, buy your ticket now to see the last country in the world where there is no McDonalds, where it is almost impossible to get a can of Coke, where '48 Studebakers and '57 Chevys still prowl the streets, where salsa music is played simply but with a genuine passion, and where children play baseball on rock-filled playgrounds with sticks for bats and a wad of tape for a ball, and turn the most remarkable double-plays and base stealing. 

The clock is ticking.