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Calgary Stampede

Ismaili Muslim Breakfast, Saturday, July 6

This breakfast was the perfect start to a weekend of Stampede revelry. It was extremely well-organized -- the most efficient Stampede breakfast I have ever been to. It's huge, so they had about 20 guys directing parking. My dad knew the emcee, who was a past student council president at the school where my dad works. They had their Stampede float there, which this year was celebrating 100 years of the YMCA in Calgary (the YMCA and the Ismaili Muslims apparently often partner together because they share the same sorts of community values) so after the opening ceremonies they had their own little mini-parade, starting with girl and boy scouts in ascending order of age from tiny kidlet to troop leader, then a marching band, and then finally this float with some cheerleaders (male and female, but they had pompons, so I'm not sure what else to call them), and of course as the float was going by they played "YMCA" byt the Village People.

Amazingly, for a breakfast this size, there was absolutely no lineup. They had various serving stations set up and you just grabbed your plate, got your servings, and got out again. There was pancakes, scrambled eggs, and some kind of traditional Ismaili dish. We're not sure what it was, because neither was the girl who was serving it to us, but it was some kind of mung bean curry with lots of cilantro and garlic. Very tasty, and definitely a nice change from the usual Stampede fare. Another tasty addition to the traditional nasty-coffee-and-watery-juice station was tea, which was not your overbrewed, too-tannin-y black tea but proper chai, mixed with milk and all kinds of nice spices.

For entertainment, there was this guy singing country songs in a style Owen described as guitaraoke. That is to say, he was standing there holding a guitar and making like he was playing it while he sang, and his wife worked the backup sound track. After he was done, there were some line dancers, but they had more enthusiasm than polish. It was a fabulous bright sunny day, there was a great view of the mountains from the parking lot in which the breakfast was held, and if I had wanted to spend 5 minutes unlacing my granny boots I could even have gone for a tour of the Jamatkhana centre.

Score: Four and a half Pints

Owen's MLA's Pancake Breakfast, Sunday, July 7

Owen's MLA lives in a very ritzy area (within her own constituency) so she had this breakfast set up in her back yard. This is a sort of invitation-only breakfast, and for some nebulous reason, perhaps having to do with Owen's degree in Political Science, Owen is on the list, which of course now means that I'm on the list. Unfortunately, we didn't know anybody else on the list who was there at the same time we were, so the opportunities for socializing were somewhat limited.

The coffee was extremely good, the pancakes, scrambled eggs, and sausages average. The view was spectacular, the day was beautiful, and the band was live and actually playing their own instruments. Still, I just didn't have as much fun as at the Ismaili breakfast.

Score: Three and a half Pints

A day on the Grounds, Sunday, July 7

After our breakfast, we took the C-train down to the grounds to meet my parents and my Gran. They were camped out in the Saddledome waiting for the stock dog Shoot-Out. This was very cool -- it was a stock dog competition with a purse of something like $20 000 for the top dog. All of the dogs in the competition were border collies (somewhat unsurprisingly; they are the only dogs smart and fast enough to do something like this). Each dog had three sheep that it had to herd through an obstacle course and into a pen. The dog's handler had to stand inside a circle marked out on the ground, and could communicate with the dog using whistles and voice commands. The fastest we saw a dog get through the course was a minute and 14 seconds; the average time was around 2 1/2 minutes, and one poor dog, who had extremely uncooperative sheep, took more than 4 minutes. It was very comical to watch these dogs dealing with their sheep -- some sheep were very easy to herd, others very reluctant. Various dogs had various styles -- some just raced around the arena so fast they were like black and white blurs, while others adopted a more crouching, sneaking approach. One dog had this tactic of hiding behind the various obstacles on the field and then sneaking up on the sheep.

After the dogs and sheep were done, there were two sets of heavy horse hitch accompanied by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. First there were the Budweiser Clydesdales, a team of 8. Their driver (teamster -- now you know where the term comes from) drove them around the ring a few times, then demonstrated how the wagon would be manoeuvred for beer delivery (the wagon was loaded up with cases of Bud, with a dalmatian dog perched on top). It was fascinating to watch this giant team execute a three-point turn. The wagon barely moved, except to have the front wheels change from facing 90 degrees left to 90 degrees right, but the team of horses moved in a giant 180 degree arc, so that the lead team of horses traversed the entire distance of a hockey rink. It was really cool. After the Budweiser Clydes there was a heavy horse hitch competition with teams of 6. With these teams, they had four and five teams in the arena at once, circling around in both directions to the strains of Bizet. At the end of the competition, they actually fit all 13 teams (of 6 heavy horses attached to a giant wagon) in the arena at once. It was pretty impressive.

Next we went to the Roundup Centre or one of those other buildings, where Owen watched a Martin Yan (of Yan Can Cook) demonstration while I looked at the arts and sciences competition pieces. There were some cool things, rug hooking, quilts, embroidery samplers, delicate drawn thread work napkins, carved wood treasure chests, paintings, calligraphy, a chain mail dress, and on and on. At the Martin Yan demonstration we ran into Malcolm and some of his friends, so Owen and I ditched my parents and went for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant close to the grounds with Malcolm and company.

This restaurant is apparently Malcolm's regular, such that at the end of the meal we got a free pitcher of mango juice, which I did not partake of. For the rest of the meal, we had these really good spring rolls, and various choices of bun. Owen, Steve, and Malcolm all had bun with pork and crispy pork, Jenna had bun with satay chicken or something, and I had mine with beef and spring rolls. For some reason I decided to drench my whole dish with sriracha (sweet hot chili sauce), which made it so hot that by the time I was done eating it I could actually feel my lips and mouth blistering. Happily I had also ordered a cup of iced coffee, which I drank while everybody else was having mango juice.

Then back to the Stampede Grounds where Owen and I saw a bunch of military equipment, the Agriculture buildings (with champion cows, some horses and a colt, mother pigs with piglets, a bunny, and a guinea pig), and Bud World, a half-hour Budweiser propaganda experience with an opportunity to taste some Bud at the end. They gave us fresh Bud and Bud that had been sitting open at room temperature for a few hours, apparently to demonstrate the importance of drinking fresh Bud, but I think the subtleties of beverage-tasting were lost on most of the audience (Duuude! Air conditioning and free beer! Let's go!), and even Owen and I couldn't really tell the difference between one and the other. Owen thought one might be a little skunky, but I think the moral of the story is, there's not much difference between good Bud and bad Bud.

Score: Four Pints

CBC Stampede Breakfast, Monday, July 8

This is a breakfast that I have been going to for about 15 years with my dad, and every year it gets bigger but the level of organization remains the same, which is to say that now the lineup goes two blocks back and around the next block, but you can't see any of the entertainment while you're waiting in line and your pancakes get cold before you get to the table with the syrup on it. This year, perhaps operating on the theory that smaller cutlery makes your pancakes look bigger, they gave us cutlery so small that you had to stick your pinky fingers out to use it, not to be more elegant, but because your whole hand didn't fit on the handle.

Before we got to the point where we could actually see the entertainment, it sounded like they had a pancake-eating contest. Then the Red Deer Royals played -- a marching band most notable for that oddity of oddities, girls (plural) on the drumline. Finally, there were some can-can dancers. They were actually very funny. They sang this song about having a university degree in modern dance and only being able to get a job as a can-can dancer at Yukon Dave's saloon and having to look cheerful and flirtatious even when the customers were all passed out with their faces up the can-can dancers' skirts. Obviously based on someone's true experience.

There is usually quite a lot of entertainment at the CBC breakfast. They used to have this Stampede Trivia game with Joe Carbury (the chuckwagon announcer), Catherine Ford (now senior editor of the Calgary Herald), and one other Calgary celebrity contestant, and they usually have some cool musicians (one year they had Oscar Lopez), but it started to rain as I was eating my pancakes, so I just gave up and went to work before I could see if any of that was going to happen.

Score: Three Pints


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