Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August in Toronto

Toronto is a great city, so great in our opinion that we bought a condo in TO a few years back and try to use it as much as possible.  This year however we haven’t used it as much.  I was here in March but Viv hasn’t been here for nearly a year however this is Rogers Cup week and with a bunch of friends arriving, this will be great.

2012 has been the hottest and driest year on record for much of North America and first day after we arrived the humidex index hit 49 degrees Celsius! Now that is hot, hot, hot.

Canada has escaped much of the economic slowdown seen by other parts of the world including its large neighbour to whom they export 80% of everything they do, make or dig up.  The banking system is solid and the politicians relatively conservative.  I’ve never been convinced though that the banking system’s solidity has been entirely due to foresight and wisdom as bank CEO’s the world over have or at least in the pre-Lehman days had the same short term intent to maximize that quarter’s earnings to maximize that quarter’s bonus.  Call me cynical if you will but I cannot see Canadian bank CEO’s being shy about maximizing their personal earnings.  I think at least a part of it is due to the Canadian banks not being quick enough to the sub-prime party, but of course cannot prove it.  My firm, for example, was never solicited by US investment banks so we like the Canadian banks can put our hands on hearts and say we never became involved too.  But was that because we were wise and conservative or because we were never asked?  That’s a good question.  I like to think it’s the former of course and will give the Canadian banks the benefit of the doubt as well.

The upshot of all this has been no financial disaster, no loss of AAA credit rating and a massive uptick in investor sentiment about Canada and her prospects.  Also a strong loony which for Ontario’s manufacturing exporters in particular has been a blow.

One of the nice things about visiting a place regularly but sporadically is that there’s a stack of circulars and advertisements to plough through amongst them monthly updates from realtors.  Apparently there could be a housing bubble being created in Toronto as house prices continue to tick up, according to some ‘experts’.  Realtors all say “No” of course but as rates globally are going nowhere for years, what do you expect for the price level of real assets?  With limited investable options real assets are of course going to do well.  So long as the economy is pretty solid (and Canada’s exports are stuff the world really wants a lot of) and the financial system is solid (which new regulations have reinforced), Canada’s future looks pretty rosy to me.

One of the great things we love about TO is the foodie scene.  There’s always new restaurants to try out as well as old friends.  One ‘old friend’ is the Bright Pearl restaurant on Spadina in China Town.  The first time we went there was in 1987 on our first visit when having walked around China Town we discovered this classic old ‘tea house’ which served dim sum and all the other favourites inside a huge mainly gaudy red and gilt interior with old Chinese ladies pushing round trolleys of siu mai, har gow and all the rest of the wondrous things.

To our horror it has gone!  Replacing it is the Golden Diamond specializing in all day dim sum.  Well there was no way we’d go to the upstart so made do with Mama’s Dumpling House also on Spadina which was very fine indeed.

I also like the Keg.  OK call me cheap or cheesy or whatever but the food is always good and the place unpretentious and I just had to have a big, juicy steak.  However we made the mistake of adding on a to-share item celebrating Lobster Season (a lobster tail).  What we see in Bermuda are tails maybe the size of your hand.  What arrived was a tail of some mutant sea creature the size nearly of the table!  Well, that ruled out any chance of dessert!

But the real reason for this week is the tennis at the Rexall Centre at York University.  We wanted tickets originally for Wednesday through Saturday as that means in a single sex tournament, we’d see the top 32 players in action each day and more importantly get the best chance of seeing the best matches on the stadium court.

One rule I have is to forget the final.  The tickets are the most expensive and you only get to see the singles and doubles finals.  From experience I know that there is no guarantee of a great finals match, much better to see the rounds of 16 and then the quarters and semis when all the great matches get played.  However seeing as there would be 5 and later 7 attending en masse, we apparently triggered extra deals so finally ended up agreeing to go Tuesday through finals day Sunday thereby completely blowing my cardinal rule.  Mind you, all the top players play this event as it is worth 1,000 points and is an important leader to the US Open.

That was the thought anyway.

The London Olympics blew this up completely.  Nadal had already announced he wouldn’t be playing due to his knee injury so interestingly none of the better Spaniards would be coming as well – Ferrer, Lopez, Verdasco.  And then Feds dropped out at the last moment saying he was too tired after the Olympics.  Also Monfils backed out as did a couple of others depleting the field considerably.  However Murray, Djokovic, Tsonga, Berdych and Del Potro would be the star names and they WERE coming so that meant the tennis would still be good.

The location of the event is a mystery though while the facility was just fine, its location in York University is curious to say the least.  I suppose that the organisers felt that being 30 miles away from Downtown in the middle of absolutely nowhere gave them plenty of elbow room and parking space but let me tell you getting there was tortuous to say the least.  It’s at the end of the subway at Downsview where you catch a 106 bus that winds through endless housing estates for 20+ minutes before dropping you thankfully right outside the stadium.  Without helpful signs, that first day was something of an exploration.  The tennis though was just fine as were our seats and the 38 degree weather.

Wednesday was a disaster for the organisers though as first Del Potro and then Tsonga were simply hammered by Radek ‘the lip’ Stepanek and Jeremy Chardy showing not the least interest in the game, being there or pretty much anything.  Probably a hangover from the Olympics when both had done well but without Nadal, Federer and Ferrer, this was a massive chance for both to earn some easy ATP points so it is a puzzle what they were doing.

The first big name to win was Andy Murray on the Wednesday who came straight from winning the gold medal at the London Olympics and hammered his opponent in fairly convincing terms after which the organisers had baked him a cake upon which they’d stuck a candy gold medal.  Murray to his credit was charming and cut himself a monster piece.  However one of the other spectators suggested that the organisers usually baked a cake for Feds as that was his birthday and it was lying around anyway.  I’d like to think that wasn’t the case though.

Andy Murray and the cake

Mind you he pulled out immediately after citing an injury so maybe he, Del Potro and Tsonga had planned it all beforehand.

And then came the rain.

Talk about disasters.  Drop outs, miserable losses, spurious injuries, and then hours of rain which whilst good for ducks, gardens and in general most aquatic fowl was simply dreadful for the tournament which on its own two feet did very little to cover itself in glory.  I checked in with the Guest Services desks and chatted with clearly frustrated volunteers who told us the rules (which was what they knew) and nothing else as the organisers made no announcements and told the Guest Services people that I spoke to nothing of import.  Their practical suggestions though were most helpful but that didn’t make it any better as by then our 3rd and our friend Arrigo’s 1st day at the tennis was a total washout.

Add to that the fact that the website was updated seemingly with a 24 hour delay and the absence of meaningful information was nearly total.  However this did mean that the Friday when our numbers would have swelled to 7 would be a cracker.

Thankfully Friday’s weather while still grey was at least not much rain.  Nick, Elaine, Martin and Gill had joined us from various directions but the early rain meant that we only managed a couple of matches on the stadium court (#4 seed Berdych being thrashed by Gasquet) and old ‘sable hair’ Djokovic thrashing Querry before the organisers concluded the daytime tennis around 5 pm so they could get the stadium ready for the night session.  Having paid $150 a ticket to watch 2 games, it would have been nice to see another game, even a doubles which is over usually in an hour due to the no-ad scoring system and 3rd set tie break format.  But no, tough luck buddy, you are in Dirty Harry’s words ‘S O L’.  That was another real bugbear I had with this event: the lack of consideration for the daytime paying customers.  Clearly they place more appreciation to TV scheduling than the thousands of customers paying $100+ to watch.

Mind you, with the schedule we had loads more tennis outside as most players had 2 games to play that day, if playing doubles maybe 3.  So we found the Grandstand court and outside courts to watch some great doubles and surprise, surprise Djokovic playing Tommy ‘no underpants’ Haas because the stadium court was turned over to Canadian boy Raonic’s game against Isner.

What an atmosphere and what tennis.  From our Aussie Open adventure a couple of years ago Viv had spotted through careful and lengthy scrutiny with some decent binoculars that Tommy Haas wears no underpants when playing.  Now normal people need a little support in that vital region so personally I find that unlikely but you never know.  Anyway now that he has no clothing sponsors and simply pulls out from his bag whatever he fancies to wear, Tommy’s shorts choice that day was dark coloured so further updates on the underpant situation was impossible.

Underpants or not?  What do you think?

Haas’ backhand has to be the cleanest in tennis.  Single handed and absent the wrist that both Feds and Gasquet overuse (in my opinion anyway) it really is a thing of beauty.  But Djoko simply doesn’t miss so even the best of those immense groundies comes back with interest.  It made for a great contest but at 10.30 pm we all realized that it would take an hour to get back to downtown TO at which point few restaurants outside of Chinatown would be open.  And that’s where we ended up.

Who has the better backhand, Viv or Tommy?  Bending knees to Viv.  Firm wrist about even.  Watching ball maybe to Tommy.  Big grin, well that one's easy!!

Saturday’s tennis was slated to start at 12 noon but on the bus it started raining so the doubles slated for the stadium court was first deferred and then moved to another court so that when the rain stopped and the singles game started (at 3.30pm or so) the doubles we were slated to have seen was playing on the Grandstand court.  The singles game was Gasquet against Isner and was over in 80 minutes as Gasquest administered a considerable thrashing again … at which point yet again, that was it for the daytime session as they wanted again to get things ready for the evening.  By that time the doubles we had been slated to have seen was over so there was no other tennis at all.

The match clock as Gasquet and Isner left the court clearly showing 80 minutes and that's your lot guys!
Again I have to hold the organisers responsible for this as tickets today cost $160 and again we had just one game.  I understand that nobody can predict weather, injuries and freak results but that doesn’t mean that consideration cannot be given to thousands of people paying $160 a pop to watch just a single game of tennis.

The rain policy is interesting though as it says that if there is less than 90 minutes of match time on any particular day, people can apply for either replacement tickets at later sessions or subsequent years.  2 days means 25,000 people looking for recompense.  Talk about mess!  This particular day could easily have been saved by putting the doubles on the stadium court or at least waiting until a later time for it to be watched on the Grandstand.  I cannot imagine there being anyone there as if you’d shown up, you’d be in the stadium watching the singles not the doubles.  Nuts.

Random rainbow over Toronto from our living room on the 44th floor.

That did mean we had plenty of time to prepare for our big dinner to be held at Sotto Sotto on Avenue Road.  I’d bought a cask of Heineken for the week and the extra time we had meant this was retired prior to dinner which proved an as usual very jolly experience.  It must have been an extraordinary experience for the restaurant too as we closed the place down with our waiter leaving a complimentary bottle of Limoncello on the table at the end.  I do like Sotto Sotto though.  The food is always great.

Final’s day started at 4.45 pm so Martin offered to drive us.  Mind you we were all feeling a little slow that day as we had stayed up very late composing a group letter to the tournament organisers by that well worn and successful method of taking it in turns to provide one word each to the letter which Viv very faithfully scribed.  This we all felt would do the trick.  (I did re-read it this morning and well it is interesting).

The first game up was the Bryan brothers against Granollers and Lopez from Spain and was closely fought with the Bryans winning a 3rd set tie break.  Djoko then hammered Gasquet in the final being very gracious in his post match words and then it was all over.

Doubles final at top and Novak being gracious in his post match interview below.
Now the party has dispersed again leaving just Viv and I to plan our Ontario road trip.

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