Thank 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!Swamp 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!
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!
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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.
The handmade quilts and tapestries are especially awe-inspiring: all hand sewn. True artistry!!
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 Toldturned 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
But, readers, it was really hot outside so I drifted some more and the Surreal Trapdoor opened at the Barbie Expo. Argh!
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:
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!
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:
I have to admit though that I kinda liked this one:
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 andrestos, 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.
And, in keeping with Montreal’s sparkling culture, amazing street art. Feast your eyes, readers. (Click on each image to view in more detail.)
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.
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.
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.)
Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.
And regular walls:
Or an interesting take on fence paint:
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.
Just completed my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 213 km marathon charity bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls via Hamilton. The Ride is the biggest fundraising success story in Canada. This year over 4000 cyclists raised $17+million for the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Centre, which has spear-headed individual cancer therapy.
My friend, Andre and I did the inaugural Ride in 2008 and it had by far the best spirit. People rode everything from carbon fibre racing machines to old clunkers pulled out of the garage. No cops doing traffic: instead we relied on a friendly motor cycle club. Road signs got lost or misplaced. The route was tres hilly, too. I remember falling into bed at 6 pm, completely exhausted after finishing that first day.
Since then, every year never fails to be an adventure due to the vagaries of weather or the misadventures of crazy cyclists. This year was no exception.
Here you see me and my buddy, Marci, at the start of the Ride in Toronto. (That’s me on the left.) We were worried about the predicted thunderstorms hence the rain gear. Instead we got major crosswinds that threatened to blow us off the road as we struggled up and down a hilly course in 35 degree weather (that’s 85 Fahrenheit). Almost impossible to avoid serious dehydration: I downed 2 litres of Gatorade en route!
We did get our reward at the end of Day 1 though: 15 km of speedy downhill to the McMaster University finish line and two beers each! To be shared with our faithful husbands and support crew.
Day 2 dawned clear and much cooler. The wind was behind us and we pumped our way through 119 km of undulating wine country. Beautiful!
Riding with 4000+ cyclists is hazardous. We saw 3 accidents involving 3-tiered response with wailing ambulances. The compulsory safety video doesn’t sink in for many participants who freewheel down hills at 30 MILES per hour, pass too closely and indulge in forbidden drafting.
Many participants sported road rash or suffered bike breakdowns. Fancy road bikes do not fare well on rough, pot-holed roads. Elite cyclists may despise my faithful hybrid, which is slow on hills, but it’s rugged and has held me up through thousands of kilometres.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Ride. Did I sign up? Sure! And so did Marci. More adventures to be had in defeating this horrible disease!
My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units. View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.
The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” – means roadway. In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs, giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.
Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.
Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!
I’m training for my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Up to now, I’ve braved icy roads and braced frigid head winds. Finally this week decent conditions, so I took my favorite route down the Don Valley trail.
The trail meanders between the bucolic waters of the Don River and the ear-deafening stream of cars along the Don Valley Expressway. It’s frequented by dog walkers, elderly hikers, birdwatchers, other bike maniacs, a few homeless and the odd city worker doing some nameless, incomprehensible task.
Street artists have been hard at work, too. Crossing under a viaduct, I spot this amazing painting.
Sadly the viaducts are a favorite of suicides. The enormous Bloor viaduct sports a remarkable barrier that has proven 100% effective in prevention though cynics point out that it may merely drive unfortunates north to this one.
Structurally beautiful, the Bloor viaduct barrier was created by Harvard-educated architect, Ellis Kirkland, who originally designed it to be lit up at night.
In a macabre twist of fate, Kirkland became the centre of a downtown drama last month. She stabbed the concierge at her apartment building, fled and was rescued from jumping off a 27th floor balcony at a nearby hotel. Fortunately, both she and the concierge survived. Read the full and tragically ironic story here.