WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

Back on the Trail of Street Art!

Greetings Readers!

I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too,  training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.20170329_115443

Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.

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School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail. 

Kids contribution
Kids contribution

As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.

Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!

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SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Santarchy 2016!!

Greetings Readers!

20161222_073127Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.

After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!

Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th.  Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!

 

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Ed at the Imperial Pub
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Naughty elf!
Naughty Mrs. Clauses
Naughty Mrs. Clauses
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First stop: The Black Bull

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudolph always a fav with kidx
Rudolph always a fav with kids

This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to  give out candy canes and treats to kids.

Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.

Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check.  First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!

Some great costumes below.

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Tinsel & a string of lights make a Christmas tree!
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No Santa beard? This handy bag got our friend a lot of positive attention!
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Real antlers! Hairstyle and crown remain this partyer’s secret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.

Happy Holidays, folks.  As a special treat, I leave you with one of my big favs, Cats vs Christmas trees!!

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Your tree – I eated it!

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Gators Love Marshmallows!

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September is marshmallow month!

 

Just got back from Bouchercon 2016 held in New Orleans, LA. It was my first visit to this haunted city – and I loved it. Tropical heat, “painted-lady” mansions, ornate ironwork, fin de siècle French cafes, crass voodoo shops (gruesome made in China shrunken heads), a streetcar really named Desire, antique neon signs, fab music…the list is endless.

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Voodoo & 24/7 beer
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French quarter

A bar culture shocking to a Canadian. Alcohol is freely available 24/7. Walgreen’s Drugstore sports shelves and shelves of bourbon. People wander freely about the streets drinking – as long as the container is plastic.

 

But what did I really want to see? GATORS!IMG_0814Swamp tours out of New Orleans end up at a nature conservancy about an hour’s drive out of the city.  Tourists are loaded into flat-bottomed boats named, somewhat disturbingly, Gatorbait!

Hopefully not you
Hopefully not you
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Rusty drawbridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide climbs on board the Gatorbait carrying a bag of marshmallows.  This is not, as we first suppose, a cheap snack for us. No, kiddies, this is the true gator bait!  As we are soon to learn, gators love marshmallows. And propelled by their powerful tails, they will jump out of the water for a hotdog on a stick. After all, hotdogs look just like tourist fingers!

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Our guide tosses a marshmallow onto the brown brackish water. Impossible to know what lurks beneath the surface.  It looks so bland and boring. Until two beady primordial eyes glide to the surface and snap! We’re back in the days of the dinosaurs.

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Where’s my candy?
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Pant like a dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, who cares if the sugar rots the gators’ teeth or clogs their arteries? Gators aren’t endangered, the guide tells us. They’re farmed locally, from eggs collected at the nature preserve. Otherwise the gators would eat them, a twisted sort of birth control. In fact, that’s why they love marshmallows. The candy looks just like gator eggs!

In fact, gators will eat just about anything smaller than them, especially baby alligators. (More birth control.)  Someone asks the guide if they eat humans. “Oh, no” he says. “My buds and I swim and jet ski all through the bayou. They’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”

Sure.

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Wild hog
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White egret

 

 

 

 

 

Other denizens of the swamp share the gators’ sweet tooth: an egret, a blue heron and a baby wild hog who chomps away at the mushy treats with a wary eye on a nearby, avariciously hungry baby gator.

More interesting facts: gators are territorial (no kidding), they cool off by panting like dogs, food rots in their stomachs if the weather gets too cold and they can live to be 100 years old.  Reminds me of certain presidential candidates…

For breakfast we sample gator sausage. Hmm. A bit dry with a taste reminiscent of the mystery meat served up in university cafeterias. Better to eat than to be eaten though…

Viva New Orleans!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marshmallow Salad at the Legion!

You think I’m kidding, dear Readers? No need to wait for a time machine. Merely hop in your  smug-emitting hybrid and head down to Huron County in August.

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Fab fruit & veggies

Fall fairs are big here. It’s still possible to be a big fish, or even a small fry, in your local pond without competing with the millions and millions served on the internet.  You can find fame growing the largest vegetable, making cakes with vegetables, crafting fantasy planters, great pies or jams and pickles.

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Biggest vegetable winner : did aliens visit?
Veggie birthday cake: not as good as money cake!
Veggie birthday cake: my dad would have made me eat it!
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Gandalf lives!

The handmade quilts and tapestries are especially awe-inspiring: all hand sewn. True artistry!!

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Each weed is an individually sewn strand!
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All hand sewn!

Pies are a fall fair staple. Not only in a variety of contests but best of all for eating!  The variety is huge: apple, rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, pecan, pumpkin, raisin.  If you can dream it, you can enjoy it here.

We manage to drive through Stratford regularly without getting infected by Shakespeare but summer stock comedy greatly appeals so we headed to the Blyth festival. If Truth Be Told turned out to be a well-acted drama about local heroine and Nobel prize winner, Alice Munro.  Sadly we missed the comedy about the turkey baster…

The theatre package included a country supper at the Legion. Awesome! But we hadn’t counted on the current demographic for summer stock theatre. Suffice it to say that we were the youngest by a lot!

Dinner time on the ticket said 6:15 pm. We wandered up and down the main street of Blyth and finally conceding that we were uncharacteristically early, we walked the 50 feet to the Legion. Rule #1, elderly people always arrive early.  Rule #2, don’t get between the geriatrics and food or there will be blood. At 6:00 pm there wasn’t a seat to be had except two up against the wall in the corner at the furthest distance from the bar and the washroom.

My childhood Sunday dinner!
My childhood Sunday dinner!

Food as expected was “meat, potatoes and two veg” and the roast was cooked the way my dad liked it, black all the way through. Portions were huge and the volunteer wait staff friendly. But what’s this? Something that looked like miniature coloured marshmallows in a creamy dressing. No, that couldn’t be. But yes MARSHMALLOW salad! I didn’t think they made rainbow, mini-marshmallows anymore.

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Huron County: the Jurassic Park of retro brands!!

It tasted the way you’d expect it to taste. But when in Rome… And I slather chutney, red pepper jelly, etc on my cheese and meats so the sugar sin was probably the same.

Ed was delighted to find Old Vienna on tap, a beer he hadn’t seen since he guzzled it as an engineering undergrad.  Huron County: the veritable Jurassic Park of retro brands.

And dessert was pie, of course, but lemon meringue and banana cream disappeared long before the waitress ploughed through the crowd to reach our Arctic exile. We settled for pecan and pumpkin – both damn good! – but skipped the watery, grey coffee. Americanos at the fancy new hipster bar across the street proved a salvation – and our true urban nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Street Art – Defilement & Rebirth

East York wanderings with TO Poet  revealed a fab gallery of street art in East York and motivated me to explore the alleyways of my own hood. My explorations revealed some hidden, lushly vined and mysterious trails, but sad to say, the garage doors and garden walls remain empty canvasses.

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Welcome any artists who venture here…

But how could I forget the Man Fish of Bayview? Our single example of street art, adorning the side wall of a vintage barbershop. I pass by it nearly every day – so often, it’s become invisible via mundanity. I found it defiled by the ubiquitous graffiti tags that lurk in our hood’s hidden corners / canvases. Proof that we’re regularly explored, but, sorry folks, no art yet.

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Defiled Man Fish

So I struck further afield. And there, tucked away in a hidden alley parallel to the  subway tracks, I struck relative gold. The murals decorating the backs of the buildings may reflect the biz enterprises facing Yonge Street.

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TTC car, not exactly as illustrated
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What, no helmet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disgruntled diners
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More disgruntled diners

 

 

 

 

 

They ate there?
They ate there?

Even further afield, spectacular treasure on St. Clair Avenue West, an 8-storey masterpiece allegedly the world’s largest street mural by artist, Phlegm, whose black and white surreal visions of the man machine are world famous.

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Birth of the man machine!

Starting July 8, 2016, Phlegm painted the mural via hair-raising swing stage over the next four weeks. He was assisted by Stephanie Bellefleure.  To see the details of the buildings in the figure, have a look here.

The mural was made possible, in part through StreetARToronto (StART), a city department that tries to beautify Toronto through street art – and thereby make it a tourist destination. It funds one well-known artist per year.

Ah-ha! That’s why we stumble upon well-done murals depicting historical or cultural mythology – and other more vibrant and subversive stuff! (More in my next blog)

Phlegm’s 8-storey Man Machine depicts famous Toronto buildings like the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Mackenzie house, ya-da, ya-da.  Funding etc. also through the STEPS Initiative and Slate Management who wanted to give the Yonge and St. Clair area a much-needed boot up its esthetic, business and cultural arse. Let’s hope it works!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Barbies…No Escape!

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Ah, Montreal!
NEWS FLASH! Our street's cool took a hit last week when police raided our local weed shop. Sigh! Closed until further notice but its owners urge us to contact our MP's. The cat café is still there though...
Scroll down to read the full blog below: Our Street is Now Cool

 

Visiting Montreal, my fav decayed beauty. Drifted around its Underground City to escape the blistering 35 degree heat and stumbled upon Les Cours Mont-Royal.

Architecturally tres interessant, it sports neat tile work, Harry Potter-like staircases and a 12-storey atrium built into the courtyard of a heritage building. Lots of chandeliers – even in the food courts.  The hoped-for high-end stores? Well, Montreal is broke, people…

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If you build it, they really won’t come. No, really.

But, readers, it was really hot outside so I drifted some more and the Surreal Trapdoor opened at the Barbie Expo. Argh!

I am American!
I am American!

Quintessentially American, the expo displays hundreds of Barbies in glass cases and professes to give all donations to a crippled children’s charity.  Many of the dolls represent American icons, see Statue of Liberty above, as well as show biz idols. Witness Exhibit A:

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Wicked Witch of the West
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Tippi Hedren in The Birds
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Carol Burnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbie is big biz. Loadsa money made from little girls who have absorbed gender stereotyping from birth. Look like the straight white American male’s sex fantasy and rake in money and status: big boobs, big hair and an empty plastic head are your ticket to ride!

Little clue, this James Bond diorama. The ultimate straight white male fantasy: every woman is a Barbie!

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I’ll take the Daniel Craig doll though! Om, nom, nom!

I guess you can tell I’m not a fan. Proud to say neither was our daughter. Her favorite trick was to put Barbie’s plastic head on her index finger and recite: “I have a little tiny brain.”

To keep up with the times, I spotted some bizarre turns. Ethnic and show-girl costumes are interchangeable. Witness more Exhibit A:

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Politically incorrect Barbie
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Buy shoes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit though that I kinda liked this one:

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Zombie bride Barbie!

WANDERINGS: Montreal’s Decayed Beauty

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Spectacular ruin seen along the Lachine canal

As a kid growing up in Ottawa, a trip to Montreal was a Big Deal.  At the time, it was bustling, vibrant, the only Canadian city known to the outside world.  Then the separatists happened. Sun Life moved to Toronto, taking business and commerce with it and Montreal became a relative ghost town.

A phrase from Denys Arcand’s film, The Decline of the American Empire, comes to mind: “It is pleasant to live during a decline.” Humanity overshadows the military – you simply can’t pay for all those soldiers and weapons.  Simple pleasures – food, wine, relationships – are the order of the day.

Voila Montreal! The best food and social programs in Canada. Great bars and restos, fab festivals winter and summer.  Affordable housing.  What’s not to like? The city’s new axiom is distilled in this artist’s street painting below: I want to rest in peace before I die.20160518_121320

And, in keeping with Montreal’s sparkling culture, amazing street art. Feast your eyes, readers. (Click on each image to view in more detail.) 

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Business fleeing to Toronto?
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Ghost city

 

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Resurgence of humanity
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Rebirth

 

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Explosion of culture
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Bird of prey?

 

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Twilight birdie
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With the setting sun, the Mayans rise again

 

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Improvements to the Lachine Canal

 

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Beauty outlasts all. This famous diner’s owner is 90+ and still works there every day!

Wanderings with TO Poet: Alley Art

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Typical boring alley…you think

TO Poet’s keen eye finds beauty in the oddities and detritus of hidden Toronto. (Enjoy his pics on Tumbler here.)  He’s an early riser and dedicated walker. Recently, he led me through the back alleys of East York to view some amazing art.

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Welcome all art lovers who enter here

East York, until 1998, was Canada’s only borough.  In 1924, the 600 or so residents, pissed about their apparently inferior roads and sewers,  voted against joining the City of Toronto.  For decades the area remained dry, ie no serving of alcohol. so its southern edge, Bloor-Danforth Street, became the sinful watering hole. Prohibition was only abandoned in the 1970’s!

Most Torontonians associate East York with WWII veterans who flooded the area in 1940’s.  The houses are tiny by today’s standards, typically bungalows with high basements, metal awnings over the cement front steps and trim, if conventional gardens.

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Characteristic street

So one might expect street art to be scarce. Not so! Garage doors are the preferred canvas. View here: (BTW for a better view and deets, click on each pic.)

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Neat abstract
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Crazy Penguin

 

 

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Crazy fish

 

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Water lilies
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Aquarium bubbles
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Conventional calligraphy
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Abstract calligraphy
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Space rocket motorbike

Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.

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Sleep of spring
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I see you

 

 

 

 

 

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Mother chick
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Mystical tech support

 

 

 

 

 

 

And regular walls:

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Wolves de rigueur
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21st century Rousseau

 

 

 

 

 

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Self portrait?
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Conventional skull motif

 

 

 

 

 

Or an interesting take on fence paint:

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Originally and staunchly British, East York’s population is now almost 50% foreign born. As a student, I survived on the beloved Greek steam table and souvlaki  restaurants along the Danforth. Gentrification has swept these away, but not this feast for the eyes.