PASTA POWER: Multiple Pan Am medal-winner Dominique Bouchard outside Corktown’s Fusilli restaurant. Photo by Dennis Kucherawy.
By Dennis Kucherawy, Corktown Correspondent
Last Tuesday night in the Distillery District, I learned an important lesson in international relations.
To connect, understand and relate with people from other countries, you don’t need to study history, geography, economics or diplomacy. You don’t even need to study a foreign language. All you have to do is clap together and sing “Na, na, na, na.” Shaking your tush while you do it doesn’t hurt.
It happened in the Distillery District, just down Trinity Street from the Athletes’ Village Welcome Centre, around a piano next to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
As I plunked out the notes to a classic rock ‘n’ roll tune, men, women, teenagers and children alike clapped together and sang along to “Hey, Jude.”
Now ironically, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. But hearing this group of about 15 tourists from Portugal heartily sing along to this Beatles’ classic, it became an anthem of hope, an expression of music’s power to unite people regardless of language or culture.
(I had wandered over as a lanky Portuguese teen named Pedro pounded out Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I just could not resist the prospect of joining an international group of head bangers belting out “Thunder bolts and lighting/Very, very frightening… Beelzebub has a devil put aside for meeee!” But the lad’s memory blanked before he got to the good part and he stopped cold. So I took my turn at the old ‘88s.)
That was just one of the joys we experienced of the PanAm Games. As Corktown residents, we were excited about meeting many athletes and visitors from the Americas. We wondered how and if we would meet any of them. The secret we learned is a tip from Woody Allen he once shared years ago: “80 percent of success is showing up.”
So, every night, at every chance we have, we wandered Corktown and the new Canary District. We’d take our neighbour’s beautiful black Lab on a walk to the Distillery District where we’d meet athletes from Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico and so on. We even met a girl from Brazil who had just won a silver in table tennis!
Last night, as we strolled by some athletes from Central America, I shouted “Olé Puerto Rico.” “Arriba,” a young man replied, echoing the first Spanish word I learned as a child from Speedy Gonzales cartoons.
I was thrilled to meet the first baseman of the Dominican Republic’s baseball team. I struggled with my Grade 11 Spanish to connect with him. I tentatively said “Me llamo Dennis. Yo soy un hombre Canadiense.” (Damn, I knew those lyrics from “Guantanamera” – “Yo soy un hombre sincero” – would come in handy!)
He tried his best in the little English he knew. Whenever I made myself clear, he’d excitedly say “Sí! Claro!” (Oh, I get it!) He lunged with his left hand extended and said “Primera Base” to illustrate that the position he played was, of course, first base.
I asked him when he would come to play for the Blue Jays. “Soon,” he said. “Mi amigo es José Bautista.”
Last Thursday, we dropped into Fusilli Ristorante on Queen St. E near River St. to share a pizza before a movie. We had just got our menus when 24-year-old Dominique Bouchard coolly sauntered in, dressed in her red team hoodie, black shorts and wearing the silver medal she had just won for the 200 metre woman’s backstroke. She arrived with her parents, family and friends to celebrate. Even her very first swim coach who taught her as a toddler was there, toasting their hope for the Brazil Olympics 2016.
A four-time all American, she told us she trains at the University of Missouri and will be leaving before the Closing Ceremony for pre-Olympic trials near Barcelona followed by another competition in Russia.
In the days that followed, she went on to win another Silver medal for the woman’s 4 x 100 metre woman’s medley relay and her first Gold medal for the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay.
There must have been something in that pasta!
Then, on Monday night, we shared the 501 Neville Park streetcar home from the Beach with about half-a-dozen members of the US men’s volleyball team.
I introduced myself and welcomed them to Canada, then gave them some tips such as a $12 delicious Angus steak dinner at a local restaurant, a PanAm special. I suggested that’s the way to fuel up to win some medals.
When the streetcar arrived at River St., they all hurried off before I could tell them the restaurants had already closed for the night. As they left, one of them gave me a cool team pin, my first of the Games.
What will stay with me is when our new Portuguese friend Pedro played John Lennon’s immortal anthem of peace as those of us in his motley audience sang along in English, regardless of their native tongue:
“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Dennis Kucherawy, who has lived in Corktown for almost 30 years, is a pianist who will perform at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations and divorce parties. He plays classical music as well as pop, rock, boogie woogie and show tunes.
He’ll even play country and western songs backwards. That way you’ll get your wife back, your dog back, your job back, your house back, the Stanley Cup back…