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.

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