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Smoked Meat Diaries #10: What a Racket!

Posted by Will / May 26, 2009

20090526-badmintonnets.jpgRacket sports are huge in Montreal. There is a palpable fervor for tennis, badminton, squash, and racketball in this city. Having spent most of my life in Manitoba and Alberta, my impression is that these sports are viewed largely as novelties out West. They're something you do when you're hung-over and bored. Maybe you and your buddy are sitting around on a hot Sunday afternoon and you wander over to the local tennis courts which are always vacant and haven't been maintained in years so they're riddled with fissures that have weeds growing out of them. So you smack around the ball for about 15 minutes until you get frustrated by the realization that it looks a lot easier on T.V. when Federer is hammering forehands down the line and you're having difficulty simply keeping the ball from soaring over the surrounding fence. Certainly, there are small factions of westerners who are talented, hard-core racket sport athletes. But it's nothing like it is here. Montreal kids are growing up with these sports. They have lessons and development camps and tournaments to foster passion for the sport. Plus, there are so many amazing venues to play these sports. Not far from my apartment are about a dozen immaculate grass tennis courts. I had never even seen grass courts in my entire life. I thought they were just a myth.

Of course, tennis is the marquee racket sport in terms of the amount of international media attention it attracts. And Montreal is all over tennis. There's the Rogers Cup held in August. Plus, most of Canada's greatest tennis players hail from right here: Aleksandra Wozniak, Sébastien Lareau, Greg Rusedski (disregarding the fact that he flaked on us to become a Brit), and Stéphanie Dubois. It's almost a certainty we will never see a Winnipeg-raised tennis champ.

I have a penchant for racket sports myself, which is convenient given that La Belle Fille's father is big into badminton. Every Saturday morning I play badminton with him and a couple of his friends. It's great for several reasons. First, I get a little exercise. Second, it's good fun - before moving to Montreal I hadn't played badminton since I was on my high school team ten years earlier and I had forgotten how much fun it can be. Because really, how could you not enjoy smacking around a "shuttlecock" for an hour? Third, because I'm relatively young and agile compared to these guys, I get the satisfaction of running these old men up and down the court for an hour. Accordingly, I also rarely lose and I get to consistently enjoy the sweet satisfaction of victory. Fourth, because they are Quebecois, I get to learn all sorts of new French words during the matches. I haven't been provided with direct translations, but through the power of deductive reasoning, I think I've figured out the meanings. The following phrases have been added to my repertoire:

Hostie de tabernac: I missed the birdie!
Câlisse de marde: I hit it right into the net!
Fils de pute: That's not where I wanted to hit it!
Crisse: Ooops!

20090526-smokedmeatballs.jpgThe gym we play at is actually in a large sports complex in Longueil, a short 15-minute drive from my apartment. It's a massive building that houses about twenty tennis courts, a dozen or so squash and racketball courts, a workout facility, a hockey rink, and two bars. Windows in the bars allow spectators to sip on Molson Ex while they watch sluggish males labour around the ice or chase after tennis balls while their man-titties bounce about. From my estimation, it is a place where aging men, long past their athletic prime, go to relive the fleeting glory of their youth. In essence, it's a house of broken dreams. But despite the seeming lack of purpose for desperately trying to win a meaningless badminton match each week, it is nothing short of exhilarating. The competitive spirit among players in the surrounding courts creates an atmosphere that fosters an enjoyably intense exercise milieu. It's the struggle during the match - not the satisfaction of winning - that makes it worthwhile.

This past Saturday we were involved in a heated badminton match. A gentleman named Michel and I were partnered up in a doubles match and the score was close. Because Michel does not speak English and my French is still shaky at best, we aren't able to formulate a very comprehensive strategy. It's usually along the lines of, "I go front. You go back. We play good." We had just lost a point in which we let "le moineau" drop because we thought the other player was going to hit it. During the next point, the birdie was once again falling uncontested on our side so we simultaneously lunged at it. Unfortunately, this resulted in Michel's racket smacking my forehead. I got up and thought I was fine until Michel said, "Câlisse! Tu as une coupure au front." I thought to myself, what the hell is a coupure? Before I could consult a French-English dictionary, blood began dripping down my face. Oh! Tabernac.

No big deal, I got it cleaned and bandaged and we were back on the court within minutes. Because really, who cares about my face - we had an irrelevant badminton match to finish! Before the next point started, I turned to Michel and asked, "La question importante est 'on a gagné ce dernier point?'" He smiled, "Ouais, ouais!" And with that, I could no longer feel the throbbing pain in my forehead. Game on!

Relevant song: "Former Glory" by Ron Sexsmith:
For the day is coming soon, you don't have to worry/ Your light will return in its former glory.

Photo credits go to Flickr users gaobo, meunierd, and likesflipflops.



Margot / June 22, 2009 at 01:45 pm
A comment on this post in an earlier incarnation:

Hey Will,
Loving the smoked meat diaries. Your writing brings a smile to my face and makes me miss Montreal. Keep it up. Let me know if you will ever be out in Vancouver.
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