Monday, July 30, 2007

Tropic of Hockey

We got our promised rain Sunday, so I sat out on my balcony in my pajamas and finished reading Tropic of Hockey. It was recommended in an IPB thread awhile back by Heather B. of Top Shelf as a nice change from fussing over the ridiculous amounts of money professional athletes make. And I'm very glad I read it, because it was exactly that. At a time when there are pros being paid $10 million a year to do something they supposedly enjoy and claiming that all they want is an offer that's fair--and I'm not taking a shot at anyone here, because I'd take what I could get too, at least to an extent--it's nice to hear about people who travel thousands of miles just because they have a passion for something. And I do think that Bidini genuinely took pleasure in finding this other world of hockey, so to speak, that we normally don't hear about in North America. In a way I wish that this had been a bit more academic and analytic in its scope. Particularly in looking at the shameful and almost imperialist way the American and Canadian expatriates and visitors Bidini encounters behave. But setting that aside, it's a breezy, nice read by a man who obviously loves hockey.

And now, if you sensed some caveats coming down the pipe, you aren't mistaken. My main problem is that the book is as much about Bidini as it is about hockey, and while that would be fine if I liked Bidini, I really don't. Of course, I find most people obnoxious when I read these kind of books--see my similar whining about Julie & Julia--so that might not be saying much. Part of the problem here is that I don't find him particularly funny when he's trying to be funny. I don't really care if he showers at the rink or if he "find[s] something disconcerting about a fellow who will stand unclothed in front of you and carry on a conversation as if he'd bumbed into you at the frozen-food section of the supermarket." Honestly, I think that's one of those things where you can do as you please, but either way it's not so interesting that I want to read about it in a book. Really though, it's bigger than that, because this issue he has with chatting with naked men fits right in with a theme of the book that I don't like.

I love hockey. Clearly. If I didn't I wouldn't be reading this book. I like the speed and the precision and the hitting and all that. I like the players who are willing to lay out in front of a shot or take a hit to make a play. I don't think fighting should be outlawed and I don't want remove the hitting from the game (unless it's to the head). But what I'm not such a fan of is the machismo, and accompanying undercurrent of violence, that pervades the sport. I think that's a big part of the lamentation over visors and the anxiety over Europeans, with their "soft" style of play taking over the Canadian game. And it's in evidence again and again in this book.

Bidini doesn't think much of the British accent because it's unintimidating sounding to his ears. Now, I would bet we're not talking about a rougher lower-class accent here, but a posher, Oxbridge-y one. The kind of accent that seems soft. When a temporary (British) teammate seems insufficiently threatening, Bidini writes, "I made a note to tell Tom that, in order to piss off one's opponent, there are more effective words than, 'pal.' 'Fag ass fucker,' for instance. It was the least I could do." Bidini doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would advocate calling an opponent, say, a kike or a spic, so I think it's telling that this particular--and equally ignorant/offensive--suggestion is somehow acceptable in his mind.

In the following chapter he writes about how he was surprised when his regular team played against an all-gay team and they were tough, intense players. But even after having this experience, which he describes as an eye-opener, and theoretically seeing the error of his ways, he's still prepared to make such suggestions. And here's what confuses me: Bidini knows that this macho attitude is stupid, unhealthy even. He acknowledges how detrimental it can be. And yet he's too often a participant in it. He goes along with it--at times takes part in it. Maybe it's because I'm a woman, or because I've never been particularly competitive, or because I'm pretty far left on social issues, but that's something I just can't understand.

When Bidini focuses on the countries he's visiting and the hockey he's witnessing and participating in while there, he's got an extremely enjoyable book. It's interesting, and at times delightful. When he veers off that subject, things become more troubling. So in the end, this book was a bit of a double-edged sword for me. It reminded me of the reasons I like hockey, yes. But it also reminded me of an aspect of hockey culture--and that of various other sports--that I like even less than the money that gets thrown around.


Steph said...

I just bought this book too (and yours, or at least that picture you used, has a much nicer cover, not fair!) and I'm really excited to start it - seems like the perfect thing to be reading right now in the dead of summer when we're all in the midst of whining about how hockey-deprived we are.

Meg said...

I just did a google image search for the cover...the copy I read did have that cover, but it was from the library so it had that ever-so-lovely plastic coating on it.

This really is a great hockey book to read in the summer...particularly because he's playing hockey in all these hot places. :)