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Pique'n'yer interest

The puck stops here



Hockey's over. Uh oh. What now? World Cup footie? Hmmm; I won't slag it, but compared to hockey, soccer is one soporific enterprise. I'll watch, but I won't be happy. At least the buzzing horns will keep me awake. Unlike my kid's soccer games where somnolence is a constant threat.

Yes, we'll feign excitement over this ubiquitous pastime whilst incubating our smug secret. As goalie/lawyer/author Ken Dryden notes in The Game , hockey owes its genesis to the crucible of rock and snow and ice that defines this country, as such forming an elemental and unique touchstone. Some will sniff at the notion that hockey has any hold on them, forgetting that friends, those they love, those they birth, those they welcome to this country are, even if they don't play, somehow shaped by hockey's ethos of grit, determination, teamwork, scrapping (then shaking hands), finesse, occasional grace (but see CBC's Battle of the Blades for a visual rebuttal) and eternal search for the next Tim Horton's. As an expression of this deeper truth, frozen coast to frozen coast, outdoor hockey (as HNIC has happily rediscovered) is a microcosm of our culture. Which brings us to the Canadian $5 bill - the world's best bank note.

Combining statehood, nobility and indigenous iconography, paper currencies famously attempt to channel a country's gestalt. Some do better than others. With snowflakes, tobogganing, skating and a hockey-playing kid adorned in a nebulous Number 9 jersey, the back of our five says more than other currencies achieve with a dozen different bills. This despite the fact that no kid cares who the guy on the front is. (And few adults; I'm assuming Sir Wilfred L. was a Prime Minister somewhere between Sir John A. and Lester B.) Most kids do, however, recognize pond hockey and the legendary historical significance of "9" - Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull. Wayne Gretzky was number 9 in the minor leagues until he hit a team where 9 wasn't available. He switched to 99 and the rest is history (including Mario Lemieux's choosing of the number 66 reputedly because he "wanted to turn Gretzky's world upside down.")

What would make the fiver perfect is if Gretzky, or anyone similarly important to our identity, was on it as well. Not that anyone else has done a better job.

The British £10 note righteously features a stern-faced Charles Darwin, but it's on the back. (Naturally, the Queen adorns the front, but you can still take her down a notch - as with the Canadian $20 - by placing your thumbs over her mouth and collar to turn the shadow between her chin and neck into the "Queen's ass.") The Brits missed their chance, but what about the forward-thinking Swedes? The 10 kroner scores high with Selma Lagerlöf, first woman to win a Nobel in literature, until you flip it to view a flock of geese piloted by gnomes (serious loss of cred here: apparently Nordic chic only applies to fashion). The ultra-paranoid Swiss circulate bills so counterfit-proof you can't even look at them without having a seizure - a brilliant economic move in that you want to get rid of them as fast as possible.

Indian paper is graced by pacifist liberator Ghandi and a mixed bag of backs: straggling people (500 rupees), Himalayan peak (100), giant building (50), and the strange troika of elephant, tiger and rhino (10) - a poacher's dream and likely the last place in India you can find these animals. China's Yuan stiffly offers its great humanitarian, Chairman Mao, and various scenic - albeit horribly polluted - watercourses, a fact cleverly concealed by the bill's duotone colouring and touristy feel. The Vietnamese Dong - an arcane currency that requires a suitcase full of bills to purchase a stick of gum - offers the better propagandist paean to old school communism. Topside, the benevolent face of Uncle Ho Chi Minh urges you to join the struggle. Backside, the struggle: hard labour = productivity. Bucking the Asian norm, Japanese Yen show artists and educators important to the modern state, backed by watercolours of Mt. Fuji and Japanese Cranes. Latin republics are generally hopeless: Mexico's 50 peso is a perro 's breakfast - revolutionary priest, pirate cannons, fishermen, butterflies and Mayan theatrical masks. WTF? Trying to figure out what's going on here is like playing Pictionary. Which is probably why Mexicans prefer the simple and singular jingoism of U.S. dollars.

But back to the Canuck five-buck. What's going on out here in the snow? Nobody's digging or mining or drilling or building. There are no stern faces, great edifices or grand landscapes. Just people smiling and laughing and give'n'er. That's Canada. The land birthing itself as a sport. That's the secret.

I'll watch soccer, but I'll probably pull out my wallet every once in a while for a little hit. In the World Cup of currency, the Canadian $5 bill wins.