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.
NYC is a maze of surreal trapdoors. Especially the legendary subway, setting of innumerable horror flicks, cop shows and true crime.
So this happened….
After visiting the Mysterious Book Shop and the twin towers memorial, we boarded the R line. We collapsed onto the hard plastic seats of the train car, the a/c bliss after the 30 degree heat.
A large Asian man wearing a green foam Statue of Liberty crown slumped onto the seat opposite us. He was clearly suffering from the heat. Not so much though his slimmer wife and teen-aged son.
“Do you live here?” the lady asked us after we exchanged a few pleasantries waiting for the train to get going.
“No,” we said, flattered. “We’re Canadian. From Toronto.”
“Well, I’ll be! That’s near Brantford, right? Have you been to the pow-wow there?” I replied sadly no, but it was on our bucket list. She broke into a huge smile. “You see, I’m Chippewa. An Indian married to an Indian!”
Dad shrugged and smiled. Teen-aged son squirmed. White liberals gringed, but Mother continued: “So 86th Street, right? Our young guy’s quite the artist so we’re taking him to see Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. We’re off to the museum.”
“No, before that we’re going to the museum. You know, The Museum. It’s got everything in it you folks need to know about The Bible.”
“You must know about The Museum. You do love The Bible, don’t you? It’s the best museum in the whole wide world, put together for our brothers and sisters.” Mother beams and leans forward. “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!”
Sigh, sometimes the penny doesn’t drop, it floats down.
“You sure do need to visit The Museum. You would love it. It’s got money problems right now, so we’re gonna make sure we see it before they move it someplace else. Can I talk you two into coming along?”
“Sorry, no, we’re meeting some friends.”
Mother now turns her attention to the other passengers in the car. She teaches us all Chippewa expressions in between urging us to Praise the Lord.
Mercifully, the train starts up. Also mercifully, it’s an express. We’re at our stop in two minutes flat.
We race out of the car, leaving Mother cheerfully proselytizing, Dad smiling beatifically and son sulking, while she aims to convert someone, anyone before Times Square.
This really happened: surreal NYC did not disappoint us!
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.
Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.
I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.
But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…
This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers. Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.
No signs, no nothingat the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse. I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber.
Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.
Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!