Archives: “toronto the good”

The heat is on


Sticky, smoggy air has pushed its way into every nook and cranny of the apartment. The notoriously humid, hot Toronto weather has started baking the city, releasing aromas even the raccoons find rather disturbing. Grown men have taken to unleashing seat-rumbling flatulence through perspiration-soaked cutoffs on packed subway trains.

Hello, summer!

The business around Casa del Beatnik has been pretty bizzy these days, with the new job slowly revealing itself in a multitude of non-perverted ways, and anticipation growing for a well-deserved trip to a Central American paradise. I’ve been getting back into bike-riding (to the chagrin of my 90-pound-weakling body) and hanging out with all of the coolest Toronto nerds and neighbours whenever I’ve a chance.

This summer my goal is to squeeze the lemon ‘till the juice runs down my leg. That, or maybe figure out if big-legged women really don’t have soul. At least that’s what a dude on the streetcar was pontificatin’ in a rather loud voice a few days ago.

There’s something truly awesome about cheese-ball lyrics belted out loud on a crowded streetcar at 9am without any context whatsoever. The world needs more dada.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a very unboring summer.


There’s no real tangible reason for me to feel this way, but I’m glad that this week is over. It’s been a tiring five days and I’m not exactly sure why, but I fumbled my way through the week with a cloud of lead ball bearings enveloping my head and shoulders. It felt as if someone had fastened bowling balls to my kneecaps, filled my ears with cotton and UHU Stic, and pushed me into the middle of a highway.

Renée has been feeling the same way all week, too, so either we’re both fighting off another round with the plague, or someone is secretly piping eau de laudanum into our apartment. I blame the patriarchy.

Jane JacobsJane Jacobs died earlier this week, and the first thing I thought when I read the news was, “damn”, followed by, “this is exactly what it felt like when Pauline Kael died.”

Jane Jacobs was another person (like Pauline Kael) whose writing made me feel smart. Discovering and reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities while in high school… well, it was one of those so-called watershed moments. I remember finishing the book and having a sense of my place in the world and a feeling of great potential. Considering at the time I barely had a grasp on my own hormones this was a pretty big deal.

I remember actually thinking that I wanted to become a politician afterwards; the book made you feel like the only proper response to reading it was to act. That was her gift, really - this incredibly intelligent, articulate, unmistakably human voice that made you want to jump up and make shit right.

There was something about the fact that Jacobs chose to live not only in Canada but in my adopted home of Toronto that make me feel proud. It seemed like a little smidgen of proof that Toronto has been doing at least some things right all along.

Rest in peace, Jane Jacobs.

Shadowy Geese


Michael Snow’s Canadian Geese, probably one of the most photographed pieces of public art in Canada. Every time I see this and the inevitable small group of tourists taking photos of it I can’t help but think of an excerpt from Don Delillo’s novel White Noise.

Here’s the excerpt. I normally don’t dump a large section from a novel into a post, and maybe you already know it well, but it’s so awesome it’s worth repeating. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these days.

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

» Shadowy Geese continues...

Words and phrases possibly used by local weathermen while describing the effects of the first major winter storm on Toronto

  1. “slammed”
  2. “blanketed”
  3. “pummelled”
  4. “dropped the weather bomb on”
  5. “slapped silly”
  6. “body slammed like a little baby”
  7. “took out back to the shed and made a woman out of”
  8. “beat the pretension out of”
  9. “squatted over and squeezed a load on top of”
  10. “turned grown adults into whiny little children”
  11. “converted normally bad drivers into barrelling lethal weapons”

Guess which ones are real and which ones are made up. The answers may (or may not) surprise you.

Autumn in High Park

I absolutely love the fact that literally right outside of my front door is High Park. Living in this area, especially in the fall, makes life in the city feel like one long, uplifting sonata or a pair of fuzzy, warm slippers.

On the way to do some grocery shopping, I took a detour through the park to try and capture some of the autumn colours before they were gone for good. Check out the Flickr set.

The Living is Easy

Things that are currently making an oppressively hot, smoggy summer sparkle like a shiny new dime:

  • Indulgiung in smooth, highly caffeinated cups of Café Francese at Sicilian Ice Cream with the latest issue of The Economist
  • Getting a chance to spend a week hanging out with some hometown homies in town on vacation
  • Oodles of free live tuneage, including The Most Serene Republic doing an in-store at Soundscapes on College street, Canada Day celebrations with The Apostles of Hustle and Feist, and Out Hud and The Quantic Soul Orchestra as part of the Beats, Breaks, & Culture festival
  • Living less than 50 feet away from High Park, where there’s tennis to be played, trails to explore, pools to swim in, and Shakespeare to be spectated
  • Being pleasantly busy without feeling that sense of panic that usually accompanies lots of work (though I still need to find a good café with free wifi - anyone?)
  • Gallivanting about with Renée like madcap beatniks without a care in the world
  • Getting to see David Sedaris do a public reading (he’s just as funny in person)
  • The tickle of a cool breeze on a hot, sweaty day that makes your whole body shiver deliciously
  • Not having much of a plan for the summer, and being completely and utterly pleased with that state of affairs

The eye, like a strange balloon, mounts towards infinity

odilonRedonSo what the heck have I been doing for the past three weeks that has prevented me from regaling you with tales of yore and derring-do? Well, work, mostly. Lots and lots of work. But it’s all cool and good, and I’m definitely much happier now than I’ve been in a while vis-a-vis le travail. Thanks for asking.

But, as Jack Nicholson said so eloquently, “All work and no play”… and after staring bug-eyed at CSS rendering bugs, Movable Type limitations, and the evil rat bastard that is Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac, I had to get some play in my system, stat. Renée has a very low tolerance for me busting down doors with axes and typing maniacally at a worn-out Underwood while drooling uncontrollably. She’s funny that way.

So it was the giddy rush of The Incredibles on Friday night, chased down Saturday evening by the deep blue sadness of Million Dollar Baby. Today, we ambled our way down to the St. Lawrence Market area, more to get out of the house than to shop. There was fog in the air, and an invigorating chill tickling the earlobes that made you glad you had blood in your veins, and a beautiful girl holding your hand.

Of course, like good little non-native Torontonians we never knew that the Market was closed on Sundays and Mondays - who knew?


It’s interesting to me that the front page article in today’s Sunday Star (which, by the way, is absolutely kicking ass with its new, gorgeous design and rejigged magazine-style content) was a big article on how the rest of Canada views Toronto, entitled Why do they hate Toronto? Of course, the article was replete with cries of unfriendly! and self-centred! and that hoary chestnut, uptight!

Being a non-native, it’s easy sometimes to see why people view Toronto this way. Every city has its share of uptight, self-centred, unfriendly assholes, and Toronto happens to have quite a few of them. But it’s also quite sad and equally ignorant how many people, who have never actually been to Toronto or spent any meaningful amount of time here, feel so strongly that this place is deserving to be known as the asshat of Canada.

Ah well. All I know is that on Friday afternoon I was riding the streetcar. I could hear a Chinese family talking in front of me, while girls gossiped loudly in Portuguese to my right, and two men held hands quietly just over my shoulder. Earlier that day, I heard Spanish and Italian and Arabic and Hebrew and French while walking down the street. Everyone is just living their lives and getting along. There’s outlandishly foreign soda pop available at the corner store, and my eyes are never bored. It makes me glad to be here, asshat of Canada or not.

Fleeting Vignettes


… around the corner from the studio, a man wearing a long, grey trenchcoat and carrying a seemingly brand new, spotless briefcase screams bisexual! over and over again at the top of his lungs, as business people swarm past him like cattle moving around a post.

… a fresh-faced Asian girl starts singing baby baby do it to me one more time as her bemused friends stand nearby, clapping and laughing.

… a homeless man leans against a tree and sighs, a smile on his face.

… a couple who look like they stepped out of a Benetton ad stand stone-faced waiting for the metro, holding hands, facing opposite directions.

… on the King streetcar, a woman with thin, fragile arms and long, deep brown hair looks out the window as we pass through Parkdale; a crumpled piece of paper in her hands, and tears streaming down her face.

… walking down Roncesvalles and feeling the cool bite of autumn nibble at my ears, remembering why it is that I am lucky to love.

Moment of Clarity


When things are going well, it opens up time to think about the deeper issues. These are the things that the white noise of everyday existence overpowers and pushes into the background. For me, this opening is brought on by the potent mix of Autumn (season of quiet contemplation and change), and of finally being in a place where I can just be.

The proximity of trees can’t hurt, either.

For me, one thing that grates on my conscious is the fact that I don’t contribute “back to society” as much as I’d like. Sure, I donate to the usual suspects (Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, the local Humane Society, Cancer / AIDS / Diabetes research, etc.), but that doesn’t leave me feeling fulfilled. The money goes away somewhere and I have absolutely no idea what it’s used for.


Here’s the thing: I’ve always believed that people generally want to help others. The problem is that people don’t know how to help. They have no idea what the time or energy commitments might be, and I believe there is an air of suspicion surrounding giving:

Oh, they’ll just use that change to buy drugs.

Most of the money I’ll donate will go towards administration - it’s all corrupt, anyway, so why line the pockets of the bureaucrats?

For me, this low-level guilt is augmented by the fact that I work with computers and the Web, which more often than not means that the work I do is directly, or indirectly related to business. The area that I’m working these days is crawling with web-types; it’s all talk about deliverables and monetization and bottom-line residuals. People either want to be where the money is, or are already there and want to stay where they are.

It all leaves me feeling cold. There has to be a better way to do what I enjoy, while still feeling like I’m not contributing to something that in the end is completely meaningless. Really, who gives a shit if some person has turn-key access to top-tier content and just-in-time rich media?

I’ve reached a point where I need to feel like what I’m doing is leaving the world in a better place than before I started, and this includes my career. So the question then is, how can I do this while maintaining a reasonably humble lifestyle?

Do No Evil, as Google espouses, isn’t enough; the connotation is it’s okay to do nothing. You have to Do Good.

High Park

Lloyd!After a day filled with the agony of lifting large objects repeatedly while shuffling up and down stairs, we’re finally in our new apartment. Oh, yeah.

Once a debacle with the landlord and getting keys for the new apartment was worked out, the move went pretty well. For those folks in Toronto who might be in the market for a local moving company, I highly recommend Emerald Moving and Storage - very friendly, reliable, and hard-working. After all of the crap we went through getting our stuff from Winnipeg to here in the first place, it was a relief to deal with someone who didn’t have ASSHAT stamped on their forehead.

Of course, I knew that that nothing bad could come of the move when I saw that one of the movers looked, as his partner described him “exactly like Doc from Back to the Future”. And he did, thus giving me the joy of having my stuff moved by a Christopher Lloyd lookalike.

» High Park continues...

Miscellany in the East

My brain feels like wet Kleenex, so I’ll keep it short and point-form-like:

Where the hell is our stuff, AMJ Campbell? Everything was due to arrive by today, and apparently it’s all still sitting in a warehouse in Winnipeg. Now they’re saying at least seven days late. So we sit here, the only furniture in our apartment being a yoga mat, and an air mattress… (grr)

(I was going to post a picture of our woefully empty apartment, but the USB cable for my camera is, natch, packed in one of the boxes. So here’s a picture of Charleton Heston instead.)

HestonAir Canada finally found my missing boxes. They reeked of diesel fuel, and were dropped off by a very monosyllabic delivery man. Who knows where they ended up before they were found - a Siberian refinery? An adobe hut in Istanbul? Donald Rumsfeld’s private oil reserve? At least nothing was broken.

It feels like the entire web is moving. Maybe it’s just my bookmarks.

It seems like a vast majority of the women here wear tight blue jeans. Not that I spend a lot of time staring at women’s jeans, but… It really does feel like the 80’s are back in full force: I’ve seen more pastel colours and neon than I care to admit. Ow, my eyes.

It’s humid like a motherfucker.

Never, ever, deal with a company that outsources their customer support to another country. That said, never deal with a company that has a completely crappy, broken web site.

On a more positive note, Echo Online is fast, friendly, and competent. They quoted me “five business days” for my DSL connection to be working, and assuming that they had to rely on Bell to hook things up, I expected as much. To my surprise, my connection was up and running in two days. Impressive - and you actually speak to someone who works for the company when you phone.

It’s hard to relax and calm down after being very, very stressed out when you don’t have: Couch. TV. Stereo.

There is literally an endless amount of things to do and see. Lana refers to Toronto as “a candystore”, and she’s right. So far: Prince, Madonna Ester (giggle), Camera Obscura, Emily Haines / Amy Millan, a Turner / Whistler / Monet exhibition at the AGO, a plethora of festivals… and Wilco, Bebel Gilberto, Gomez, the Curiosa Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, and so much more on its way.

It’s good to be back. That said, this will not become a site consisting of posts about Toronto, I promise. Humour me for a few weeks until I become jaded, blasé and start to take everything for granted.

Toranna 2004

Well, here I am, in the Big Smoke. I'm currently surrounded by dozens of smiling, very enthusiastic Asians, all babbling loudly in various levels of broken English, as the sky thunders overhead, and the occasional flash of lightning illuminates our faces.

I don't have web access at home yet, but am currently leeching off of the open wireless access point located in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. For those interested, there's open APs available in the library on the main floor, as well as on the fifth floor cafeteria. The SSID for the cafeteria is "CTS wLAN", in case you were wondering. Thanks, Wireless Bandit!

Seemingly endless ethnicity. The reintroduction of large, roaming packs of 20-34 year-olds to the landscape. Rain, thunder, and rampant humidity. Free wireless. Big city attitude. Thanks for the welcome back, Toronto.

I'm just finally starting to get my mental and physical energy back after what ended up being an incredibly draining four days. Air Canada managed to transport my cats and I safely here, but in the process lost two very large boxes I brought with me as luggage... boxes that contained lots of very expensive computer equipment. Sigh. I'm still waiting for them to track the errant boxes down, though I don't have a lot of hope.

It's simultaneously great and very discombobulating to be back here. I still don't really feel like I've moved, though the aches and pains of the last two weeks in Winnipeg are still freshly throbbing. I'm sure it'll start to sink in after a few weeks...

But, it's great to have Renée and the cats and I all together again, and there is already a veritable smorgasbord of things to do and see. I think this is going to be a fun summer.

I guess I should get myself listed here at some point.

More Toronto observations

It's been an interesting week getting re-aquainted with Toronto. I've always found it a bit discombobulating to visit cities that I used to live in. I keep having to shake the urge to go back to my old home at the end of the day.

I took the College streetcar through my old neighbourhood yesterday, and when it passed my old street (Euclid avenue), I experienced a small twinge of nostalgia. When Renée and I used to live here, the rather shitty condition our apartment was in, coupled with the price of rent and our stubborn refusal to drop more money into the place quickly fueled our resentment. But, life in the College-Euclid area was pretty darn nice.

Some other things:

  1. Everyone seems so young.
  2. Very few people listen to portable music devices on the TTC. This is in stark contrast to the huge majority of people in Winnipeg who whittle away the time in transit listening to music. I guess this is because there's just so many hilarious soundbites and cool big-city sounds to listen to.
  3. Oh, how joyous it is to experience working transit. Torontonians don't know how lucky they have it.
  4. The fashion statement of the summer seems to be, "Check out my thong."
  5. James McNally is a funny, friendly fellow, and more proof that there seems to be a strange force at work that binds and brings people together. 'Twas a pleasure.
  6. Condo developments have appeared everywhere. It's bewildering how quickly the cityscape has changed.
  7. Rent has not only gone down - the vacancy rate downtown is now unbelievably high compared to the demoralizing 0.7% that it was at when we lived here. The impossibility of finding good, reasonable apartment was one of the most annoying things about living here; now that the situation is changing, it's almost appealing again...


Here I am, in hot and humid Toronto. Apparently summer decided to finally make an appearance in the last day or so, bringing back the sweaty, smoggy weather I remember all too well. It's good to be here.

(I hearby vow that I will never [except this one time] refer to Toronto as "T-Dot", less I eviscerate myself as punishment with a large, ripe mango. Who the hell made that up, any way? It smacks of Lastman.)

A few things that I've noticed since I've arrived:

  1. They now use these prison camp-style pointy things on the top of signs and lights in subway stations. I'm guessing this is to prevent pigeons from hanging out on top of them. Weird.
  2. It's refreshing to be back in a city where you can buy from a large selection of ethnic foods and ingredients from your local supermarket. I mean, collard greens and ghee at Dominion? Yes, please!
  3. This sounds incredibly weird, but it's great to see black people in large numbers again. There are almost no black people in Winnipeg.

First things first: can anyone tell me where there are good cafés with free or cheap WiFi access? I need to do some work while I'm here, and I'd like to indulge in one of the benefits of a larger laptop-toting population.

I'm such a geek.

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