This weekend I had to make a traumatic choice between two of my children (a story for another day, when the scars fade), and I chose to make the trek to Toronto, Ontario to see B, who’d come in from Reno for a week to visit a friend.
I’ve been to this truly international and multicultural city several times, but never in the way we saw it in those 24 hours. Usually we’re concerned with the tourist elements–I’ve been in the CN Tower three times, I think.
B’s friend C, a long-time resident of the city, determined that he would show us the city like a native. He lives in a small flat on the third floor of a big brick house in a neighborhood full of them. Most of the front yards were gate-to-gate with effervescent bursts of blossom in every color, and nearly every flat had even the tiniest porch or deck attached, so residents could get outside and gather in the fresh air. C agreed with me that as with most of us northern-dwellers, every moment we can hold off the dreaded frost of winter is precious and must be celebrated by plant, animal and human.
We walked quite a bit, which brought to mind how much we miss when we travel by car, like these Queen Anne’s Lace after the rain:
Mass transit is de rigueur for the locals; besides the price of Canadian petrol, parking is at a premium and the cost of storing a car is high. The red and white streetcars are everywhere, as are the bright orange taxis. We also took the subway, coming out into one of four separate Chinatowns in the pouring rain. Luckily every shop seems to be a variety store and we grabbed umbrellas quick as the lightning flashing over the lake.
We had dinner in a crowded little Chinese/Vietnamese place on a corner. There was no silverware, and most people had steaming bowls of noodles that came with plates of the freshest mung bean sprouts I’d ever tasted and huge stems of fresh basil, both of which went into the broth to steam. The food was delicious, and C got several specialty dishes for us to try, like cold spring rolls with large leaves of fresh mint and anise wrapped inside, crisp fried spring rolls with a spicy hoisin sauce. For a country mouse like me, living in a small town where everyone looks pretty much the same, it was a delight to watch the faces of people of every nationality pass by the big glass window next to us.
As rain cancelled our plans for Shakespeare in the Park, we stayed in and taught C to play pinochle, and he got to see B’s killer instinct come out. We laughed a lot and told all those old family stories as B gloated over her sister’s imminent 30th birthday.
Sunday morning we walked to yet another incredible restaurant, this one called Mitzi’s, where we had crunchy-edged oatmeal pancakes with just a taste of vanilla custard, topped with a sweet strawberry rhubarb compote, or eggs scrambled with fresh tarragon and thick country toast, next to famous paprikaed potatoes and a pile of fresh fruit with each plate. Then we soaked in the deep character of the mainly Polish neighborhood along Roncesvalles Avenue, with its fresh fruit stands and many restaurants.
Our most important cultural lesson there was taught by this sign:
For many years, C explained, if one wanted to cross the street, one simply caught the eye of a driver and pointed the direction one intended to travel, and the cars would stop and wait. Even now, pedestrians always have the right of way, and drivers who violate this rule get a fine. So your mother was wrong; apparently pointing isn’t rude, it’s a way of life. At least in Toronto.
If you want to learn what happened when we attempted a car tour of the city on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s entry. Stay tuned, eh?