Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fencing in Dallas at the NAC

After a couple of days in Dallas, it was time to get down to business.

It was time to fence.

I had come to Dallas for two competitions at the NAC (North American Cup), along with 1,073 other competitors. Great for the local economy for sure. Over 100 rooms were rented at the Hotel Lawrence to fencers alone.

My first competition was Men's Veteran Sabre Combined for everyone 40 and over. 33 were entered and there were 2 pools of 6 and 3 pools of 7. I was in a pool of 7. I looked at who I was going to face and there were 3 top level fencers in the group and the others looked just plain good. It might be a long day.

I lost my first bout to one of the "A" group, won the next 2 bouts, one by a 5-4 margin where I won the final hit by using a new move I have been working on the past couple of weeks. After losing the next two, I was looking to win the last one, against someone I knew I could beat. The judge then started calling against me, as when I was advancing in attack, my blade was pulled back, so it was not deemed an attack. I lost three hits that way, and lost 5-2. Would have been 5-2 the other way if I was given those hits.

Not blaming the judge. I have done this before and guess with being tired after 5 matches, was sloppy in my attack. Something to work on in the future.

After being knocked out by the 7th ranked fencer, I finished my day 25th out of 33. Should have done better. Should be able to win 3 and end up, in the very least, top 20, if not top 16. After all, I knocked off a left handed fencer who ended up winning 4 of his 6 matches. I know I am better than 25th.

After heading to the room to clean up and hanging up my gear to dry overnight (fencing gear hung in a sunny window over the air conditioner pictured right, my fencing pants hung in the other window), I had a great supper and good time after with Vince (who finished the day 14th) and Gaby (who fenced foil in the Veterans 60-69 and finished 11th out of 28) and then hit the sack early. Next morning, I fenced at 8, so woke up bright and early to a huge orange Texas moon. Tried to get a good picture, and the best through my window is below.

As usual, I lost my first match badly, which was costly as it was someone I should be able to beat. Again, something to work on. Now warmed up, I won the next two and then lost the next three to top flight fencers. Again in my last match of the day against Dan C, I had problems in presenting my attack and lost badly. Dan, a great fencer who went on to win silver, took me aside to explain what he say me do, and how he took advantage of that.

I was ranked 17th out of 25 and a little ticked about that. I also had problems with my wire coming off my sabre through out the day, losing me points. A vendor from The Fencing Post was over watching a friend fence in my pool and saw my problems. In the middle of the pooles, he came over grabbed a new wire for me and took my sabre to inspect, so I hooked up to my old competition sabre and went to finish my last two matches.

Turns out the handle in my sabre had broke and folded up my guard. Too busy checking my wires to notice. Also it had a lousy clip which he demonstrated. He was very helpful. I still had two sabres left but one is a heavy old practice sabre so I bought a beautiful new one from Saul, the owner, and went into the DE (direct elimination) well-armed and confident there would be no further problems.

I was focused. No more problem with my attacks. I was going to do this. It was a good seesaw battle. In a match to 10, I led 9-8, then lost the next point.

9 all! 1 point to go. No damn way I was going to lose this. No damn way.

I came off the line and he retreated. I am an attacker ... he was all mine. I walked him back down the strip, closed in, faked to hit his blade, then instead clunked his head.

10-9. I had won!. This was the first time I had won a DE in a NAC and it felt great.

Winning gave me the privilege now of facing the #1 ranked fencer from the pools, which I lost. I finished the day 15th out of 25. Could have been better but I finished the day on a high note.

Fencing has a great competitive but sportsman like community. The competitions at the NACs are great as are the people. It is a fabulous experience to fence in that level of competition.

I can hardly wait for the next one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive - Dallas

Yesterday Gabby and I walked over to the convention centre to have our fencing gear go through inspection. On the way at the entrance to the convention centre was a magnificent display of bronze statues depicting and 1800s cattle drive. The place is called Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive.

It is a huge life size display of three cowboys herding cattle. The area is dedicated to the huge Texas cattle ranches and the cattle trails that the cowboys used to bring the cattle to market. Set in stonework on the sidewalk are the names of the different ranches and a large marking of that ranches brand.

The scene of the cattle drive is amazing and there was no way I could get the full effect of it in just one complete shot, so I had to break it down. If in Dallas, this truly is worth a visit.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dallas Walk-about

This afternoon I went on walk-about around Dallas.

The temperature hit 24C and it was a beautiful sunny day to explore the city. The architecture is fabulous, whether it is an old building or a newer steel and glass structure. Filled with parks, the downtown area is a great place to explore.

Seems, though, that I was the only one exploring.

Many fencers from out of town that I have spoke to say the same thing. Where are the people?

In Toronto, there are people out and about at all hours of the day and night. Downtown Dallas was fairly deserted. One couple went to the business district at 5 on a Friday night and nobody was around. Today I found people in the popular west end during the afternoon, but when I returned around 4, the crowds had thinned. I went over for a sub at 7 and the west end was near empty.

Guess all the locals head for the suburbs once they are done work. Many shops along Main Street were for lease. Surprisingly when I went out to grab a bite for supper, the deli next door was closed, as it closes at 3 on a Saturday. Same with the Subway a block over. Next was Quiznos which doesn't even to bother to open on the weekend.

Still I found the downtown area very beautiful. In another couple of weeks, the fountains will be turned on and there are so many fountains and waterfalls around town.

Here are some shots of my walk. Top left is the old court house building, which is now a museum, and to the right is the famed Texas Book Depository, taken from the front door of my hotel.


To the right of the old courthouse, a magnificent structure, is the John F. Kennedy memorial.

A closer look. It is four plain walls. I don't understand what it is supposed to mean, even after reading the plaque.

Chipoltes, where I had a delicious burrito for lunch.


This building has been around since Dallas, the TV show, was on TV. Great reflective building!

A tribute to Martin Luther King's speech the dream. The words on the wall are part of a waterfall that falls over it.

A front of a building entrance from 1908. Picture does not do this justice.

Lots of parks. I took this and then walked over to the building. Turns out this was the old Dallas Town Hall where Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being transported to the jailhouse.

Tried to capture the great detail in this building.

This is part of Thanksgiving square, a religious area and part of a church which is downhill below the ramp.

Fabulous old theater still in use.

The old Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railway head office. Out of business for more than a century, is now being leased to other companies.

Here's where I finished off with some nice craft beer. My second visit to the West End Pub.

The Assassination of JFK

Three blocks away from where I am staying is one of the most famous places in the States ... the site of the assassination of president John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have shot Kennedy three times from the corner window of the Texas School Book Depository where he worked. I walked over wondering whether it was to the right or the left from the building where the area was. Very easy to find. Just look for the crowd of people.

Much controversy has come from the assassination. Was it the work of one man? Did Oswald work alone or was there help? Was he set up to take the fall, as it was said he was not a good shot, so the real shooters could escape?

The area is interesting and remains the same as on that day. An "X" marks the spot on the pavement where Kennedy took the shots. I shot the picture of the X from up on the grassy knoll. The picture of the book depository was taken as I stood on the X on the highway. It is a very popular shot as many were doing it. The corner window on the right, second from the top is where the shots rang out from.

To the left of the concrete structure in the picture are bushes which lay above a staircase. A witness standing on the staircase said he heard three shots fired from behind him. A woman across the road said she saw a puff of smoke from those same bushes and a motorcycle officer leaped off his bike and charged up the knoll also thinking the shots came from there.

The 6th floor is now a museum dedicated to Kennedy's life and the assassination, which is told from all the angles leaving you to draw your own conclusions. The corner window is set up as it was on that day. No pictures were allowed, damn it!

From the window, Oswald had a clear shot as the motorcade came towards him, again as it slowed to take the sharp corner to turn down Elm Street and, of course, as it drove away from him, which was where he took the shots. Kennedy was struck three times and a rifle, proven to be Oswald's and three spent cartridges, were found on the floor.

If in Dallas, definitely a great way to spend a few hours. I have mixed views on what I think happened. I'll have to rent JFK when I get home.

Haunted Hotel Lawrence Dallas

The Hotel Lawrence in Dallas is a nice old hotel which was built back in 1925, has a history and apparently some uninvited guests.

My room is small but clean, and the staff is quite friendly and helpful. The hotel prides itself on its washrooms which, despite its small size, is quite nice. You see from the picture there are two types of shower streams. You can use the nozzle, the stream from the lower pipe or both. I chose both. The bathtub is deep too and will be taken advantage of. The view from my room (pictured) is terrific and I plan to go up in that tower this weekend.

When I was Googling the hotel last week, Google entered the word "haunted" in my search. "Hotel Lawrence Dallas Haunted".

Haunted?

It seem there are three ghosts in residence here. On a website How to Visit Haunted Sites in Dallas, the Hotel Lawrence was number one on the site. In room 1009, there was a grizzly murder and later a congressman committed suicide in the same room. A woman also jumped to her death from the tenth floor.

According to the Texas Haunt Society, "Guests have heard the sound of high heels walking across the lobby floor late at night, heard voices, and have felt cold spots. Laundry carts have been reported to move by themselves, the front desk often gets calls from three rooms that no one has checked into. Supposedly, the door at room #1009 on the 10th floor gives resistance from the opposite side to the staff if they try to open it."

Nothing unusual happened last night. I was hoping that if the ghosts wanted to bother me, they would do it last night. I need my sleep the next two nights so ghostly apparitions please stay away.

Friday, March 26, 2010

26 By March 26, The Final Weigh in!

So it's now March 26th.

On January 1st, I had set a very aggressive target for myself of losing 26.2 pounds in 12 weeks, or 2.2 pounds per week. I wanted to weigh in at 200 pounds on this date. The reason for this was I wanted to be in better shape for the North America Cup fencing tournament this week-end in Dallas, where I am entered into two events.

I did not reach my goal. It was too lofty.

However, I did lose weight and am heading in the right direction. I weighed in this morning at 214.2 pounds which is down 2 pounds on the week and a total weight loss of 12 pounds in 12 weeks. A pound a week. I am pleased with that.

I am also a smaller target to hit on the fencing strip. Not much smaller but smaller.

It's an off-week for me, as far as weight loss goes. For the next home days, I will be eating restaurant food and Wednesday is my birthday ... beer and unhealthy food may be involved.

Next Friday, though, I am on the scales again and continuing my journey to 200 pounds. Going to set a more realistic time for for myself to do it this time.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beer of the Week - March 21- Singha Lager

A few weeks ago I found Singha Lager in the LCBO down on Queens Quay. Usually it comes in six packs, which make me leery when buying a beer I have never tried before, but this store had broken up the pack, so out I walked with a couple in my bag.

Teena has accused me of focusing mainly on beers and ales from North America, Europe and England. There is much truth to that and my goal in 2010 was to go more global. So this week it is a beer from Boon Rawd Brewery in Thailand, Singha Lager, one of four beers produced by the brewery. The other three are Singha Light, Thai beer, and Leo Beer.

The brewery was founded in 1933 when Thailand was known as Siam by Phraya Bhirom Bhakdi, a noble and successful businessman. He named his brewery "Boon Rawd," after his original Siamese name.

The company is still private, has three breweries, and six soda water and drinking water facilities in Thailand employing over 2,000 employees. They are into sport sponsorship including the Formula 1 racing circuit, co-sponsoring the Red Bull RB6 cars driven by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

And the beer?

It weighs in at 5% APV and pours a straw coloured yellowed into the glass. It had a head, although not a thick one, but the head did surprising stay. I enjoyed the first sip. It is a beer with nice balance and finishes with a pleasant light hoppyness. The other sips were just as pleasing.

This is a good beer, not a great beer, but one I would never turn down. It would be very interesting to see what this one would taste like if I could ever try it on draft. I sure would be in for a pint.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fencing at the 2010 Provincial Championships

Today was the 2010 Senior Provincial Championships held at the Royal Military College in Kingston put on by the Ontario Fencing Association. My friend, Horia, and I made the three hour drive down, fenced and rolled home that same evening.

The Senior division includes fencers of all ages. Only four of us were 40 or over, two of us, myself included, are in our 50s.

The rest?

University age or have graduated in the past few years. Basically they were all at least 30 years younger than myself and, as it was the Provincials, a very tough field of competition. Pictured to the right is Hank, Vince and myself, three of the oldest in the field.

My pool looked tough. Two fencers I have never beaten, two I felt would be tough and I had a chance against, and Chacho, a friend from my club, whom I fence tough but have only beaten once.

I lost my first two matches to John and Marcus, both by 5-2 margins. No surprise there. Then Chacho smoked me 5-1. He has been taking private lessons from a former world champion, Felix Becker, and it shows. In my defence, it was 2-1 and Chacho attacked. I parried (blocked) his attack with my sabre and struck him (reposte ... the entire action of mine is called a parry reposte). Only problem was, his light shone bright green. My light did not register a hit. In the attack, my wire had been knocked off my sabre. His point, damn it. 3-1 for him instead of a 2-2 tie. Would have made a different match, although he fenced great and still likely would have taken me.

I had been watching Adam fence. He was quick and had given Chacho and John some trouble. I was on my game in that one and won 5-0. I was in control the entire way. My last match was against Alex. I should have been able to beat him but lost a heartbreaking 5-4. At 4-4, I decided to attack right off the line, going for a point or simultaneous hit (we both strike at the same time; no points are awarded) and, if it was a simultaneous, do a defensive action on the next go. Problem was instead of attacking his chest, I attacked his blade side, smacked his blade and he struck me. His light on. His win.

My old coach, Jim, used to see this sort of thing and his words rang in my head ... "Good strategy Gord, poor execution."

Yeah!

In the direct elimination, there was no contest and I finished my day ending up 24th out of 31 entries. Vince ended 18th and Hank 25th.

My other friends in the tournament, Sukveer finished 7th, Chacho 5th, and we had some metal to haul home in the car as Horia took the bronze.

The team event was after. I was the alternate on Team Foster. Horia, Sukveer and Andrew were the starters. We finished second so Horia came home with yet another metal, a silver. Without lifting my blade in anger on the strip, I am in the record book as a silver medalist. They don't award the actual medal to the alternate. Damn it. Still get in the picture though.

It was a great day. Lots of fun, great people and well-organized.

Also a great warm-up to next weekend when I am in Dallas for two North American Cup events, the 40 and over division and the 50-59 division. It'll be good to play with kids my own age.

Friday, March 19, 2010

26 by March 26 - A Victory This Week

Weekly Exercise in Hours - 7
Starting Weight - 226.2
Weight Last Week - 216.2
Weight This Week - 216.2
Weight Loss This Week - 0
Total Weight Loss - 10
Total % Weight Loss - 4.42%

This week I was a little nervous stepping onto the scale. I was out last Friday night with the gang at work, did a pub walk on Saturday (which meant eating pub food) and Sunday ate out with Teena and Ken.

Eating out is not a healthy thing to do.

I also came down with a cold which meant missing a yoga class and two fencing practices.

It was not looking good for me.

So I bravely stepped onto the scale and ... even!

I stepped off, watched the scale reset and stepped on again. Even!

One more time. Even!

I'll take it!

For the type of week I had, it was a victory.

Next week, my final of the 26 by March 26, will be a loss. Hopefully a significant loss.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In the Rain - The Beer Makes History Better Tour

Saturday Teena and I braved the rain and the wind and headed off to the Tour Guys' history walk of Toronto they called the Beer Makes History Better Tour. Jason ( behind the glass to the left) was the tour guide and quite knowledgeable about the city.

We started off at outside the Hockey Hall of Fame where Jason explained what we would be seeing, the pubs we would be visiting and the history of the corner where we stood, including pictures from more than a hundred years ago.

From there, the seven of us were led down to the corner of Front and Church where we heard about how cholera affected the population and the beginnings the of Gooderham and Worts empire. Their former head office is the famed Flat Iron building on the corner, one of my favorite Toronto buildings, which we also heard about, before heading into C'est What for a nice pint of craft beer. Mine was a very enjoyable Durham Hop Bomb from the cask. While we sipped, Jason explained the old Sunday blue laws of staunchly conservative Ontario.

Then it was off to St James Cathedral. Built in 1873, it is a wonderful piece of architecture inside and out and full of history. Jason was quite lively in his story telling of the church, its history and surprisingly the class system of religion in early Toronto.

Then we made our way to a pub called Betty's where I had my first taste of Barking Squirrel Lager, a nice tasting brew from Hop City in Barrie. After leaving, we swung by the south side of the Toronto Sun building where we stopped to view the huge block long mural, commissioned in 1993 to help celebrate Toronto's bicentennial.

We ended up at Mill Street Brewery, a very popular microbrewery and pub in the Historic Distillery District, where we learned about the brewery and had a chance to sample four different brews.

Despite the rain and cold, it was a very enjoyable tour, one I would definitely recommend to anyone, whether they live in Toronto or are visiting. Despite the uncooperative weather, we all had fun and Jason never lost his enthusiasm throughout.

The Tour Guys run other walking tours in the city and I'm sure that Teena and I will be trying them out.

Below are some pictures of St James Cathedral.

The beautiful stained glass windows behind the pulpit.
Jason with a story of a famous Toronto duel.
The victims gravestone is the brown one behind.
Organ pipes
Memorial to Reverend John Strachan, Toronto's first Bishop

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beer of The Week - Hogs Back Brewery T.E.A

The name on the bottle threw me when I first saw it on the shelf of the LCBO.

T.E.A.?

Tea I have heard of but wasn't ready for tea being in beer.

In this case, it's not T.E.A as in a nice pekoe breakfast tea. T.E.A is an acronym for Traditional English Ale.

Mmmmmmm, now it's sounding good.

This one is bottle conditioned which means there is yeast left in the bottle so the beer stays alive and keeps working and improving.

Mmmmm, my interest has heightened.

On the seal around the cap, the beer proudly displays CAMRA [The Campaign for Real Ale] (read more about it here) says this is REAL ALE. My interest is now peaked.

Hogs Back Brewery T.E.A. is made by Hogs Back Brewery, of course, in Tongham England, just south west on London.

The brewery was founded by Tony Stanton-Precious who was toying with the idea of opening a brewery of his own when he stumbled upon a library book titled "How To Start Your Own Brewery". The message the book presented seemed to be that you needed a deal of capital, it was hard work and the divorce rate among start-ups was really high. Despite this advice, he decided to plod onward.

In 1989, Tony started brewing different recipes. For market research, he would offer a half pint of free beer for a written appraisal. A local pub agreed to help in this process.

He bought some 18th century barns close to home in Tongham, south west of London, to set up the brewery. Finally in August 1992, he did his first commercial run with a 3,000 pint brew which he sent to a few local pubs.

Now the brewery brews three year round ales, seven seasonals and two Christmas Ales. The Traditional English Ale (TEA) is one of their year rounds offerings.

And how is it?

The beer is a cloudy brown colour, due to it being unfiltered and having active yeast still working, but poured with very little head.

Even though it is only 4.2%, it is much lighter tasting than I had expected. There is very little of a hop bite to this bitter and no sweetness from the malt. I actually found very little to this beer. It's not a beer one could dislike and would likely appeal to the mainstream big brewery beer drinker.

For myself, it is not a beer which I would purchase again.