I’ve been to Toronto at least twice. I have a distant memory of a boat tour of the Thousand Islands taken with my family. What I remember most is a house with a pine tree right in the middle of it. Apparently people were encouraged to maintain existing trees and natural life, so they built the house around the tree. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and that idea stuck with me all these years, even if I have few memories of the city otherwise. I also recall a vast indoor shopping mall from another trip taken with my summer camp, and even as a kid, I thought that was a very dull thing to do when traveling. Needless to say, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I love this city.
There seems to be a deliberate attempt to make Toronto both beautiful and liveable. It’s very walkable. There are parks all over, some tucked away in hilltops with staircases hidden by a canopy of trees. Business districts and residential neighborhoods are distinct. There is a downtown area with highrises, but most people live in houses in cozy and relatively quiet blocks. There are lots of secret places in backyards that you can’t see from the street. And yes, people are friendly.
Murals are on walls everywhere, even on underpasses. This brightens the drab concrete and makes the city feel warmer. This temporary installation on a huge chain link fence served to disguise a construction site. It was stunning and a relief from slabs of plywood.
Some storefronts house temporary art exhibits. Wandering through Koreatown, I stumbled upon a photo collection called Against a White Background. Taken just two weeks before Lithuanian photographer Vitas Luckus committed suicide, the photos feature people at a fair with the goods that they are going to sell, everything from yokes to cans of pickled herring. They are regular folks, staring at the camera with their resting faces, and the portraits speak volumes about human nature.
I continued, exploring Little Italy and Kensington Market. That night, I saw a touring show called Red Ride, an evening of indigenous female songwriters. The musicians play string instruments, and use loop petals to create orchestration and electronic soundscapes. Melody McKiver played viola, followed by Kristi Lane Sinclair, who sounded a bit like Jolie Holland. Laura Ortman, visiting from NYC, played fast, intense, and powerful music. And finally, Cris Derksen, winner of 2011 Best Instrumental Album for the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, was a joy to watch. She plays cello and creates beats. At times reminding me of CocoRosie, her music was atmospheric, inspiring, and unique.