Stampede Breakfast, Topmade Barbecue, and Quidam

The Calgary Stampede is up and running again. The kick-off was on Friday, with the much-anticipated Stampede parade. Naturally following the parade is another much-anticipated event in Calgary…

The Stampede Breakfast.

This has got to be one of the weirdest phenomenons I’ve ever experienced. Malls, business, even small communities all over the city sponsor free (or exceptionally inexpensive) pancake and sausage breakfasts. All you really need to do is show up and partake. Of course, that can also be part of the problem.

Alex had wanted to try go to Westbrook Mall, not far from where she grew up. She had fond memories of the Stampede breakfasts there. Sadly, there was none to be found, so we were left with trying to get to Chinook before their breakfast was over. The route to get there was a little circuitous, which is not itself a problem, but it did take a little longer. Such as it is, though, we found a breakfast (apparently free, from what we could tell) in Garrison Woods. But we continued to Chinook nonetheless.

The breakfast takes place in the south-east parking lot. And I mean the whole thing — from the road at the main entrance all the way down past the Chapters. It’s big. It’s huge. It’s actually listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as being the largest outdoor cooked breakfast. It’s a sea of people, with a flotilla of pancakes followed by a armada of sausages. And best of all — it’s free. In it’s 44th year, it still attracts droves of people.

Food is sponsored by the stores of Chinook Mall, and its employees staff the grills. Alex and I got in the Sears line, which we would soon find out was either the fast cooking line, or the really lazy line because when we finally got to the food (after waiting about half an hour), there were no sausages to be found. And we could get anything from the other lines. There is a temptation to complain about this, but how can you when you didn’t pay for the meal in the first place?

Sadly, the pancakes weren’t exactly outstanding, and the coffee seemed only fit for those with no taste (Alex would abandon hers to the ground, only to accidentally splash her feet with the concoction). We would supplement our meal with smoothies from Jugo Juice inside the mall, shortly before going on an underwear-buying spree.

Yes, underwear. I needed some. So sue me.

Realizing that we were officially running a little later than planned, we headed out to Bowness Park way out in the northwest, to attend a barbecue. This was the first annual Topmade Dragon Boat Club barbecue. The Topmade club has several teams, one of which is the DI-Hard team. (The “DI”, incidentally, means “Diagnostic Imaging”. Most of the people on the team, save for a few, work at Foothills Hospital as technicians. Those of us not working there are significant others.) The Topmade club is large, having about 130 members.

Not all of them came out, unfortunately, but it was still interesting to see all the people that were on the other teams. We didn’t get a chance to mingle, though. We were there long enough to eat a couple hamburgers (more free food), listen to a speech, talk to a couple of people, and then we had to run off again.

Yes, we were busy people on Saturday.

This time, it was back to our respective homes for a change into clothes more suitable for a show and a dinner afterwards. The dinner? South African. The show? Cirque du Soleil’s “Quidam”.

I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil several times over the years, even from back in the day when they were just getting started. Today, they’re one of the most recognizable entertainment brands in the world. The last time I saw Cirque du Soleil was for Mystére in Las Vegas. It was an amazing show to see, and I knew that Quidam wouldn’t disappoint.

Cirque du Soleil requires a fair bit of space to set up all their equipment, and a tent of sufficient size for their stage and bleechers for the audience. The only space in Calgary good enough for this is the old Currie Barracks, currently being used for office space (as the Canadian Armed Forces no longer use the facility). This was where they set themselves up last year, too.

We arrived running a little late, but managed to not miss anything with the show. We found our seats just in time for the ringmaster, John (one of the characters in Quidam) to start the show. The lights dimmed, to the point where you could not see your hand in front of your face. Despite being in a tent, the blockage of light was absolute.

The show started with a bang, quite literally, as one character walked out into the middle of the round stage, and whacked his hands (wearing boxing gloves) over his head. The sharp crack and deep roll of thunder was accompanied by bursts of light high up in the canopy, and more darkness. And so began a little girl’s adventure from her boring life into the world of Quidam.

That’s the general premise of the show — the girl’s adventure through a strange fantasy world. I don’t know how on Earth Cirque du Soleil comes up with their themes for the shows — but I’m glad they do. It’s a refreshing way of seeing entertainment in ways that many of us have seen before.

The first act was the German Wheel. You’ve seen this before — a metal wheel, about seven feet in diameter, in which sits a sole performer who twists and turns not only himself, but the wheel’s motion. He was extremely adept with it, bringing the wheel almost to resting on the ground, only to push it back up (rolling around in circles) without ever touching the ground with his body. That kind of muscle control is exceptionally impressive. The fact that he did several acrobatic moves that I’ve never seen on a German Wheel before was also quite impressive.

Next up were four little (assumedly) Chinese girls, who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old each. They displayed their talents with the diabolos — wooden spools slung on strings tied between sticks held in either hand. The strings are run back and forth to make the diabolo spin rapidly, allowing them to do a wide variety of tricks, usually involving throwing the diabolos high into the air. But there was also some rather impressive juggling, with rarely a beat missed.

I say “rarely” because of one mistake. One of the girls stands still and flings her diabolo in the air. Another runs up, jumps up onto the shoulders of the first girl, and catches the diabolo on her string. The first time, she missed. But on the second attempt, she caught it. A rather impressive trick, in my opinion (and another reason why there is a live band — a pre-recorded soundtrack would not have allowed for a second attempt).

Intermixed with the various performances were the ubiquitous clowns, who were quite good at making people laugh. They’re mimes, mostly, and do not look like the stereotypical circus clown. The first clown act drew a young woman out of the audience, who had to act along with the clown (they were all male) on the act of a first date. The poor woman did an excellent job playing along, despite the obvious embarrassment potential.

The first half of the show continued with some interesting performances, including the Cloud Swing, Aerial Contortion in Silk (a woman hanging on a long sheet of silk), Aerial Hoops, and Spanish Webs. Intermission sent us out in search of some fresh air.

That turned out to be not such a good idea, since our eyes had adjusted to the inside, and the sun had come out since we’d arrived. For me, it was blinding. I could barely see. For Alex, it was migraine-inducing. We didn’t spend much time outside before we went back in to take our seats.

It was the right decision, since we were able to find Alex’s friends, Mandy and Oliver. We’d known they were coming to the show, but couldn’t find them in the melee during the break. Their seats were three rows away from ours, and we saw them when they came back. As we were meeting up for dinner afterwards, it was a good thing that we’d found them ahead of time.

The show resumed with aplomb, subjecting us to the wonders of the Statue (a man and a woman who moved around each other in powerfully slow motions — they were so strong that he supported her upside down, her shoulders resting on his, and able to slowly stand and kneel without her falling off), the Banquine (acrobats who could do the most amazing stunts without the use of a trampoline or safety wires), and Skipping Ropes (boring-sounding, I know, but you’ve never seen a pentagonal jumping rope before, I’ll bet).

The show ended with three curtain calls. The cast was about 40 people or so, but that’s a guess since I wasn’t able to count them all. That includes musicians, by the way. The lights came on, and we headed out to try and not be blinded outdoors.

We headed down to 17th Ave., where we met up with Mandy and Oliver at Jabulani, a South African restaurant. (Mandy and Oliver are South African, hence the reason we went.) It’s been around for a year, and seems to have some sort of regular customers (Mandy and Oliver were recognized by the staff).

The cuisine of South Africa, not completely represented at Jabulani, isn’t much different than what you’d find at some of the Western restaurants in Calgary. But it’s closer to authentic South African. You’ll find the obvious Dutch and British influences, but also Indian (which I found a bit of a surprise). For example, I had oxtail stew, Oliver had curried lamb, and Alex had “pork chops” (they were more like slabs of ham). I can’t remember what Mandy had.

The meals were excellent. We had South African (soda) pop to go along with our repast. I had Schweppes Dry Lemon, which is basically tonic water with lemon in it. (I was parched from the dry air in the tent, so drank my first Dry Lemon quite rapidly.) Many and Oliver had Grapetisers, which is more or less carbonated grape juice.

Dessert was an experience, indeed. I had something called “koeksisters”, which are braided dough, sort of like a tough donut, which you dip into slightly-sweetened whipping cream. The dough is soaked in syrup, so it quite tasty (but not sticky). Mandy had banana samosas. Alex went with roiboos ice cream.

We stayed until almost 22:00, when we finally headed off in our separate directions. But Alex and I didn’t go home just yet — we went to check out the fireworks display at the Stampede from Scotchman’s Bluff, which overlooks the Stampede grounds. It’s a popular location — the hillside was already well covered with watchers by the time we arrived.

Bed didn’t arrived until after midnight. “Exhausted” doesn’t quite cut the feeling of drained. But it was a good exhausted, as it had been a great day. I felt sorry for Alex, who had to work the following morning. I almost feel guilty because I got to sleep in.


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