Just how small can you make yourself feel?

Awhile back I wrote about one of my theories of relativity. Here’s another.

I spent Christmas of 1996 in Geneva, Switzerland. My husband was the technical producer on TSN’s production of the World Junior Hockey tournament which kicked off Boxing Day 1996 in several arenas in Geneva. Most of the media people who were working the tournament from Christmas Eve onwards decided to make it a family event. The Canadian media settled into a five star hotel, Hôtel du Rhône, on the Geneve River just a stone’s throw from the old city.

Once you got past the travel time of nearly 24 hours, arriving at the crowded Zurich airport, fighting sleep and struggling with luggage and ski equipment (Swiss Alps), our family (minus our ski instructor son who was on his own “alp” in western Canada) settled into the hotel on Christmas Day and began to experience a very different holiday.

My days were spent marvelling at this beautiful, ancient city. I visited the international headquarters of the Red Cross and its bone-chilling museum. I visited art galleries, museums, coffee shops, and put miles on my boot leather.

And every night I sat at a hockey game, holding my little Canadian flag, my thermos of coffee in my satchel next to me. (Coffee in Switzerland is $10 a cup)

There were other media spouses hanging around Geneva that Christmas and I took up with one of them. Horst Bulau, a native of Ottawa, was engaged to one of the crew and he too was doing the tourist thing around Geneva during the days and sitting in the hockey stands at night. Alone. Me too. So, Horst and I teamed up for some day-time sightseeing. We even went to Chomonix, France to ski one day. In a way, that day is a column unto itself. I’m a strong intermediate skier. That’s as good as I’m ever going to get. Horst, however, is the ‘92 Albertville Olympic Gold Medalist in Ski Jumping. I found the light at Chamonix very flat; it was difficult to tell if a drop was four inches or four feet. Horst didn’t care. An interesting day skiing and Horst was a perfect gentleman who likely wished he hadn’t suggested skiing at all. But, I digress.

Anyway, night after night Horst and I sat in the stands, cheering. Now, I’ve always considered myself reasonably knowledgeable about hockey. After all, when I was editor of a community newspaper I covered hockey. I took pictures and wrote stories about Shayne Corson when he was a Barrie Minor Hockey Atom getting triple hat-tricks at every game. I covered Rob Garner when he was one of the magical members of the BMHA Co-op Major Midgets and went on to win an international tournament in Russia. So, I know enough about hockey to know there are face-offs, defence and forward positions, goalies and some penalties.

But Horst really knows hockey. He could call out “offsides” and “high sticking” long before they occurred. And he did it modestly, with true enthusiasm for the game. As I listened to this man call this and that, predict most valuable player for the evening, tally up points and goals, I found myself feeling smaller. You know what I mean… you begin to question if you know anything at all. And while Horst is a perfect, charming, pleasant companion, I did the old self-confidence number on myself and found with each game I felt dumb and dumber.

Well, it’s a funny thing.

The days zipped by, and Horst mentioned that he and his bride-to-be wanted us to attend their wedding.

“Where are you being married?” I asked.

“We’re being married in Kleinburg and having our reception at The Doctor’s Inn afterward. On Thanksgiving weekend.”

“Isn’t it incredible?” I countered. “Kleinburg wouldn’t hardly exist without the McMichael Gallery. When Robert and Signe McMichael had the vision to build their home into an art gallery, and begin the country’s first serious collection of Group of Seven art, they probably never expected the spin-off effect of shops, restaurants, mini galleries… an entire tourist region!”

Horst looked puzzled. I went on…

“I mean, when the McMichaels turned their home over to the province of Ontario in 1965 and gave their incredible collection of art and their home as a public gallery, to celebrate the work of the Group of Seven, it literally changed the face of Kleinburg.!”

At this point it was Canada 2, United States 2. Horst was tense. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the ice for half an hour.

He paused. He sat back. He turned and looked at me. He raised an eyebrow.

“What’s the Group of Seven?” he asked.

And I realized at that moment that it’s all relative. Of course this man who pushed his sport to the extreme enough to be the best in the world would know about sport. And it was okay if I didn’t. And it was okay if he didn’t know about the painters of this century who pushed their skill to the extreme and gave us this country on a palette.

It’s all relative.

A good lesson for me as I let myself off the hook for knowing just enough about hockey. For me.

Thanks, Horst.

(PS. Canada won.)