Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why I Do It

Why do I go to a city all by myself and spend a month there? On the one hand, there’s attraction: the search for capital-A Art and Capital-C Culture. On the other, there’s prevention: not wanting to become stale, avoiding stagnation. Both of these fall under my Quest for New-ness.

Basically, during the month, I can walk to more places, experience more things, and learn more things than on the average day in Anchorage. I wake up not knowing what the day will bring. Nothing is familiar; everything requires preparation or resourcefulness. I have to be on my toes, and for me, that’s a very pleasurable feeling.

In Anchorage, stimulation has to be personally created. Sometimes I feel like I have to work hard to remain curious because it’s all so familiar. Maybe it’s lazy to ask a new place to add zest to your days, but if the goal is zest, then I’ll take it however I can get it. And in my Third Third, the goal is zest.

So what did Toronto do for me? What gave Toronto its 10-out-of-10?

    I stayed in Cabbagetown (named that because it used to be the farm area, and there was still a farm behind my street). But even a Martian would know this was Cabbagetown: the big welcome sign, the cabbage flags flying in front of houses, the murals on the side of buildings.

No matter where you are in Toronto, the street signs will tell you what neighborhood you’re in.

In Leslieville, the rainbow-painted benches will let you know you’re in Leslieville. In a big city, you belong to a little corner of it.

Ethnic Food
    Guidebooks and magazines wax enthusiastic about Toronto’s food scene and recommend all sorts of restaurants, but I could count the number of restaurants I ate at on one hand (maybe with six fingers). Instead, I eat “street food.” So I had my vegetable roti from the lady in the Absolute Bakery around the corner, my falafel from the guys at Zaad, my focaccia from Sud Forno, my souvlaki from the guy in Greektown. I even had the knish shaped “like a hockey puck” from Pancer’s Deli, but my only absolute and total bust: the famous Peameal Bacon sandwich which caused a gag reflex at the time and bad dreams afterwards.

    New York has Broadway and London has the National Theater, but Toronto has dozens of smaller, intimate theaters doing brave things. I went twice a week and still fell behind.

The only challenge: the proliferation of 90-minute, no-intermission plays: panicky women line up at the restrooms washrooms beforehand. I once had to escape through an exit sign … and ended up outdoors in an alley. (I got back in.)

Restrooms are called “washrooms.”
    Does that inspire more people to wash their hands? Some of the uniformly clean, readily-available, beautiful, designer-quality public restrooms washrooms even have high-tech automatic door locks/lights/openers.

100 Branch Libraries!
    After a while, I just started going to anything because they all turned out to be so interesting. Some of the highlights of even the less-famous events:
  • Free Tuesday afternoon documentaries (Faces, Places such a wonderful French film)
  • The “eh list authors” (Barbara: What does E-H stand for, electronic what? Librarian: It’s our A list. Took me a while…)
  • The author of Woman Enough dealt with a challenging question: if there are many, many human variations on the spectrum of chromosomes, hormones, and testosterone levels; how do we begin to create a level playing field when sports only has two categories: male and female?
The sign in Type Bookstore
    Other bookstores have the usual: History, Cookbooks, Graphic Novels, etc. This one made me laugh.

The Dish with One Spoon wampum covenant
    This is an agreement made between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the allied indigenous nations of the Anishinabek in the area: everyone is eating out of the same dish (shared hunting grounds) so they have to limit what they take to one spoon so there is enough for everyone. A land acknowledgement precedes every event in Toronto, but I especially like this imagery.

Bata Shoe Museum (shaped like a shoe box)
    Who would have thought to create a whole museum around what shoes can tell us about history and anthropology? From The Gold Standard and all its golden footwear to the U.S. military Reconnaissance Boot from the Vietnam War (which left a Viet Cong footprint, not an impression of an American boot); a whole afternoon easily slipped by. I only wish I could have taken my mother to see that.
The Impact
    Toronto: I’m going back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Jumping Hurdles

When I was in high school, I was the manager for the boys’ varsity track team. Somehow I got the idea that when I reinvented myself at college, I could tell people I did the low hurdles. I was going to lie to be someone I pictured myself to be but wasn’t.

I don’t think I actually did the lie, but Wikipedia says, “Low hurdle races are a now, generally defunct form of track and field hurdle racing.” I find it fitting that now in my Third Third, my first third aspiration is … defunct. But low hurdles are still in operation for women’s track, so I guess I’m all right (if I were to reinvent myself).

I think of low hurdles as obstacles in my path that seem more do-able than impossible. A high hurdle – a whole foot higher – might stop me dead, like a wall. But the low hurdle is a challenge to get past. And what’s a low hurdle for me might be just a blip for you.

As I was preparing to leave Toronto, my sister phoned. My month there had been a 10-out-of-10, but I was in the middle of my hurdle accounting: I had to get on the plane ... with less than fifty pounds in the suitcase. I told Elizabeth the trek to the airport was rife with hurdles:
  1. I had to pack less than fifty pounds in the suitcase without a scale to measure. And I had accumulated a lot of paper: theater programs, books for my friend Mark on Toronto’s urban planning, four magazines on Toronto’s culinary treasures for my friend Judith, library handouts, maps, more maps.
  2. I had to get the suitcase on the 65-Parliament bus, and if the old style bus came, it would be hard to get in the front door. I needed the new kind of bus to pull up to the stop.
  3. For some strange reason, Toronto’s subways only have escalators that go up and stairs that go down. Usually that’s no problem, but not with fifty pounds of suitcase. I could always bump it down one step at a time, à la Winnie the Pooh, “bump, bump, bump.”
  4. And then, here it was, the Big Hurdle, the one that chilled my blood: weighing in at the check-in with my suitcase. What if it were more than fifty pounds?!?
Some of you might be thinking: what’s the big deal? So you pay extra or you move some stuff around.

No, hurdles are personalized. This was my Big Hurdle, maybe not yours. You may have problems going to live in an unknown big city all by yourself for a month, but that’s a blip for me. My Big Hurdle was facing an airline agent with a suitcase to be weighed. It kept me up at night.

My other sister said, “Mail stuff.” I had already been that route. Canada Post, even with its lovely pink mailboxes all around town, cost A LOT. It took me $30 to mail a 1-pound picture book to a friend. A woman I met said there’s a service called Chit Chats; they drive your stuff across the border and mail it in the U.S. for way cheaper. My sister said, “Use Chit Chats.” Uh, oh, new thing, new thing! That’s another hurdle alert!

When I think of my Urban Infusion months, I think of my first time using a borrowed cell phone, my first time using VRBO and Airbnb, my first time using Lyft, my first time not knowing my geography, my first time all alone; and they were harrowing. But they were low hurdles and I made it over. Once you make it over, hurdles become blips; but they still start out as hurdles.

Chit Chats was a hurdle.

So I prepared: I isolated my paper products in a bag inside the suitcase, so if it was too heavy, I could move it to carry-on. I chickened out and left the culinary magazines behind in the apartment. I departed the apartment a hurdle-fearing nervous wreck.
  1. The right kind of 65-Parliament bus came.
  2. As I approached the stairs of the subway, a man reached out, grabbed my suitcase, and took it down the stairs.
  3. At the airport, I mustered my courage and thought, “Project confidence. Be friendly, and she’ll let your overweight bag on.” I slid the suitcase on the scale: 47 pounds exactly.

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