Despite how it may have sounded in previous posts (and how it sometimes feels), I have not spent all of my time in the past six weeks moving boxes and their contents around my new living space or wandering around Yonge Street and the roads that intersect it looking for Crazy Glue, Mrs. Dash (original version), a doormat and some Christmas presents.
Here are some of the places to which, so far, I have ventured beyond my home turf:
- Sotto Sotto Trattoria on Avenue Road near Bloor—apparently one of Toronto’s toniest restaurants, and who am I to disagree? At 8:30 p.m. on the warm Saturday evening in November when a friend and I dined there, would-be patrons formed a line down the block, waiting for the first shift to be finished so they could get to the tables they’d reserved. And when we were finished our dinner at close to 10:30 p.m., another whole phalanx of the chic and slender were waiting to take our seats. The entryway and several walls at Sotto Sotto feature photos of famous people who have eaten there—Brad Pitt, Tim Robbins and Elton John, to name a few. The proximity of the restaurant to the upscale hotels where film folk often stay when they’re in town is rumoured to be a reason for its popularity (according to one review I read, the locals come there either to see who they can see, or not to be seen themselves, depending on who they are), but the food has something to do with its acclaim as well. The fare was outstanding from the antipasto to the espresso, although pricey—as one might expect from a tiny award-winning restaurant that is nevertheless big enough to have its own sommelier. I had a magnificent veal entrée that I am certain would have been capable of melting in my mouth if I had given it the time. The atmosphere of the restaurant, which is several steps below street level, is candlelit and intimate—effectively evoking a grotto, as intended;
- Bloor Street United Church, where a friend and I attended a recital by soprano Maria Knight. Ms. Knight, who looked beautiful and sang stunningly as well, proved herself a trouper by hitting each sweet note bang on in spite of the fact that the heat in the church was on the fritz and her arms were bare. The rest of us were so chilly we kept our coats on. Ms. Knight was accompanied by an outstanding pianist, David Eliakis, and the Artelli String Quartet from Guelph supported her exquisite rendition of Chausson’s “Chanson perpétuelle.” I was also beguiled by the occasional rumblings of the subway making its way through the ground beneath our feet. I am in love with the subway;
- The waterfront of Lake Ontario, downhill from the elegant and lovely old section of Toronto called The Beaches, where a friend and I skipped stones into the water (I am no better at that in November than I am in July, I discovered. In the west, lakes freeze in winter, and skipping stones becomes much easier) and ate brunch at The Beacher Café. I spent some time considering how nice (and expensive) it would be to live in an apartment across the street from Lake Ontario;
- Trinity St. Paul’s Centre, where I heard Handel’s Messiah performed by Tafelmusik. At $25, my seat put me in perfect line to see the shoes of the orchestra and the noses and skirts/trouser legs of the soloists, but the sound was unimpaired and it was an outstanding presentation. Tafelmusik is considered by many critics to be one of the finest Baroque orchestras (and chorus) in the world, and many of the musicians perform on period instruments, and I was honoured to have heard them perform in their own space;
- The Monarch Tavern near Korea Town for a well attended launch of four books by Mansfield Press, not to mention the celebration of the nomination of one of the press’s poets, David McFadden, for a Governor General’s award;
- Sherwood Park near my apartment, which is a beautiful section of the miles and miles of well-treed valley through the city. I look forward to running and walking there frequently;
- The Toronto Centre for the Arts to see Jersey Boys – the musical that tells the tale of the rise to fame of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The music was great and the facility was outstanding: there is not a bad seat in the house (and I know because I was in the back row, and only occasionally even felt inclined to put my opera glasses to use).
I have also been to a Starbucks on Queen Street near Strachan (pronounced “Strawn”) where I met my friend Mary who was visiting from Edmonton, and I’ve walked down Bay Street to Front Street near Harbourfront (where I once read) with my friend Nik from Regina. We admired the art-deco architecture of the Bay Street bank buildings and he introduced me to two of the more interesting bookstores I’ve ever been in – Ben McNally Books on Bay, and Nicholas Hoare on Front. I’ll be going back to both as soon as my ship comes in. (The stores are handily located near the waterfront, so it won’t take me long to get there from the ship.)
I have managed to get myself to all these places by subway and trolley bus, almost without a hitch. (I do have to stop and orient myself sometimes before I can proceed.) I love the transit system here.
You say tomato and I say tomato
Here is a list of a few more things I have found unfamiliar in Toronto. I don’t know whether the unfamiliarity is because I have been living in western Canada for so long, or because I have been living in smaller-than-Toronto cities for so long, or because Toronto just has its own way of doing things (and therefore these things would be unfamiliar even if I came from Montréal), but:
- Rather than parking meters, one per car, there are ticket dispensers, usually one per block, where a person buys a ticket for a given length of time to place on the dashboard, like in a parking lot;
- There are little apron-sized parks, maybe a quarter of a city block square, that are called “parkettes” and are named after people or things;
- I hear people on the street say the word “fuck” far less often than I do out west;
- (on the other hand) I hear many more drivers telling other drivers to smarten up by blasting their car horns at them;
- There are more hybrid cars here, I think, than there are in Edmonton or Saskatoon (or in New York, for that matter). I often notice that there is a lot of traffic, but hardly any car noise;
- Lesser streets meet major streets in a staggered fashion. The stoplights are usually at the bigger intersections, and the only crosswalks are there too, so often one needs to walk at least four blocks to legally cross a major street. This creates interesting strategy problems when it comes to choosing how to hit specific stores on a shopping excursion without walking miles farther than necessary;
- There is one major intersection somewhere (I can’t remember where I saw it) where all the lights turn red at once, so pedestrians can cross in any direction—including diagonally—at the same time;
- Liquor stores are still run by the government, and so is the place where you have to go to get a driver’s license, a new health-care card, or other documentation from the province. Good old Ralph Klein really spoiled us Albertans in this area with all his privatization: the wait to apply for an Ontario driver’s license was 2.5 hours the day that I went to the Ontario Services office near Bloor and College (and that was during a strike by people who do the road tests which would, I think, have reduced the number of people waiting in line considerably from the norm).
Speaking of that application… as of earlier this week, I have an Ontario driver’s license! I must, therefore, be an Ontarioan. An Ontarioite? A Torontonian, at least. But until I stop noticing the strange things that happen here (and appreciating the weather) I won’t really be a Torontonian.
In the meantime, I’m happy to report that the people here are much friendlier and warmer than most people who live in Western Canada think they are.