Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lipizzaner Stallions, Magicians, Calgary Dining

Lipizzaner Stallion

Summer vacation started with our taking in Lipizzaner Stallions show in Calgary as a special treat for horse-mad Kasia. In this regard, the show was a bit of a disappointment, as Kasia was clearly bored. Upon reflection, we realized that the finer points of dessage may have been a bit too esoteric for a five year old; or as Mary put it, if you’re of an age where you believe your toy Pegasus can fly and talk, seeing a horse stagger around on it’s hind legs for ten seconds may not seem that impressive.

Lipizzaner Stallion takes a bow

Kasia much preferred the Arabian Nights show we’d seen in Florida the previous summer, in which equally impressive animals were combined with a princess/fairy storyline and a good deal more racing around with acrobats on horseback. So, no reflection on the good work of the Lipizzaner Stallions in keeping alive an important European tradition, but Kasia turned out to be the wrong target audience.

Kasia yawns

The day was by no means a loss, however, as we were staying at the Delta Calgary South, a hotel with one of the finer dinning rooms in Calgary. Enroute to the show, we had enjoyed the lavish Sunday brunch. To give just one example of why I love the place: when I got to the station where the chef carves the roast, he asked how much I wanted, and I jokingly indicated a slice twice the size of my plate. Without so much as a blink, the chef folds it in half, and piles it on my plate. It was if I had ordered the largest prime rib dinner available, even though I’d already piled my plate high with the many other fine offerings from the buffet. This was in such sharp contrast to smorgs in Lethbridge – which either don’t have a carvery station, or else provides slices so thin they’re translucent and so small they get lost under a pickled beet – that I almost felt guilty about the two salmon fillets I had for seconds.
Gluttony aside, I was incredibly impressed with the chef on duty that Sunday. When my eleven year old ordered something at the pasta bar, he treated her like an adult, discussing the finer points of seasoning and taking her odd request completely seriously. When she came back for seconds, he rushed back because he could see the cook who had relieved him at that station had mistaken her intent and was doing her a normal kid’s pasta. That sort of awareness of what is happening throughout the entire buffet line second to second, and attention to detail even when dealing with a very minor customer, wins my undying loyalty.

If that were not enough, the brunch also features Robert Wong, the province’s top magician circulating table to table. I have seen my share of magicians over the years but nobody comes close to this guy, and nothing tops up close and personal for a magic show. My favorite trick is the simple slight of hand of producing a bunch of grapefruit out of a tiny magican's cup in which it could not possibly fit, right in front of our eyes. I have seen him do this trick each time we go, and each time I test my latest theory of how he does it, and he’s still too fast for me. Its so simple yet elegant!

We always end up talking for awhile after, and he was saying how the recession is killing him. He’d originally retained the hotel gig out of sentimentality as it had been his first break years ago, but he’d long since worked his way up to the business conference circuit and was making a good living as a motivational speaker. But come the recession, ‘magician’ is pretty much the first line in the budget you’re going to cut, right? Who needs motivational speakers when the threat of massive layoffs is pretty much sufficient to motivate everyone to want to shine their bosses shoes? My heart really goes out to anyone in the entertainment business, but I have to admire how Robert was able to reposition himself – he’s developed a whole new line of talks for school visits, a lower paying but steadier market. He’s even had some of his routines published in magician journals, and I must say I could see how they could be really effective in motivating students to stay in school and study maths and science.

Thus, the trip started on a fairly high note, built in part around excellent food. Breakfast the next morning, a regular Monday service, was equally gourmet (so much better than other hotels of the same bracket) and the service again beyond anything we’d been expecting. Soooo friendly and efficient, and again taking our kids completely serious as foodies – no crappy kids meals here.

And that became a theme for the trip that followed: this trip became about the food.

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