Tuesday, August 12, 2008

mater plays tourist in toronto

I didn't play much tourist-with-a-camera while in Toronto (more tourist-with-a-credit-card!), but I did snap a few photos of memorable architecture. Above is the controversial Michael Lee-Chin Crystal which puts a new face on the old Royal Ontario Museum -- not having any nostalgia (or indeed any familiarity at all) with the old museum, I could afford to be blown away by the boldness of this imposing building, the surprising effect it has on a typical big city street, the way it plays with all those elements of the modern business district building, turning it into art. (I also loved the Gardiner Museum building, providing breathing space in a much simpler way just 'round the corner, but didn't have my camera that morning.)

My friend and fellow grad school survivor (we defended our dissertations within a month of each other) Tanis MacDonald, took the train in from Kitchener to be my guide for an afternoon. I wish I'd thought to have a copy of her latest book of poetry (her third), Rue the Day, for her to sign, but I'll have to save that for next visit. (I'd recommend any of her books -- her poetry is accessible but always packs a punch -- see an example I posted earlier. They're available through Chapters Online). From my hotel, we walked to city hall, which Tanis pointed out to me is commemorated in Dennis Lee's Civil Elegies.

That's Tanis above, as you might have guessed. From here she led me up to Queen Street West where we ate in the back patio of a great little place, La Hacienda -- as my knowledgeable host pointed out, this patio, with a mature tree as a surprising centerpiece, is typical of many Toronto spots where you enter through a busy streetside front door and find yourself in a small garden with welcome respite from the urban pace. We had so much to catch up on, comparing notes on teaching at fairly different institutions -- hers puts more emphasis on research, mine on teaching-- and commiserating over the difficulties of finding time for writing in between prepping lectures, marking, and serving on committees.

We then headed over to the Annex to check out the house Tanis lived in during her student daysand wandered through the amazing and iconic Honest Ed's. Then at some point, realizing that I was recognizing spots I'd walked by with my daughter or Duchesse earlier, and determined to show me something new, Tanis whisked us both onto the subway and over to the Danforth (added later: my fact checkers have determined that Tanis used to live in the Danforth, not the Annex, as a student). On the way there, she pointed to the Bloor Street Viaduct, construction of which was detailed in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion -- now with safety netting so that no more disoriented nuns could fall, cinematically, as one did in that novel. We did a wee bit of shopping -- I found this great apron,

okay, maybe you need a closer look to see why I couldn't resist buying this (well, besides how hard Tanis was twisting my arm, really;-)

Not sure how true it is, but I'd do quite a bit for a great pair of shoes, so maybe cooking . . .

and then we sat at a Greek restaurant (the Danforth houses Greektown) and drank some bubbly water with our coffees and caught up even more. Oh, and Tanis reminded me of that Bare Naked Ladies lyric "We bought an old house on the Danforth." Too soon, it was time to hop on the subway again, head back to my hotel, and say good-bye 'til next time.

And then I had to put my feet up for a few minutes so that I'd be ready to walk up to meet Megan in front of the Crystal where we both posed for photos while waiting for Rob to join us. Once he arrived, we headed inside and upstairs to dine at C5 (where she's been working for the past few months). We had a splendid meal -- I can't even remember how many courses the tasting menu involved, but it was wonderful. Besides that, the room itself is very impressive and I kept being distracted from the dinner conversation to "ooh! and "ah!" at the sheets of lightning off behind the CN Tower.


  1. Nice apron! Did you visit any exhibitions in the ROM? When we lived near Toronto we went a couple of times, but the kids were small, so we usually spent most of our time around the dinosaurs and the gemstones. However, one time there was an exhibit of 20th century fashion - of course, I had to go through it alone, but wow, it was beautiful. Many many examples of beautiful tailoring through the years, just heaven! Patricia

  2. That Royal Ontario Museum building is quite stunning, but I can see how some people might find the juxtaposition with older more classic architecture a bit jarring. You look lovely and chic as always. The apron is fabulous!

  3. Patricia: I'm rather embarrassed to say that I didn't get to any exhibits this visit other than my morning at the Gardiner (ceramics, fabulous!) -- the focus was on catching up with my daughter and visiting with friends. Next time, I hope -- I'd love to get to the Textile Museum and the Bata Shoe Museum, of course!
    Pseu: Yes, I think the reaction was perhaps something on a smaller scale to the way people felt about Pei's pyramid at the Louvre -- eventually, I think, these things become accepted as part of the urban landscape but it takes a while for that to happen. I'd probably be equally indignant if it happened to a favourite building in my own back yard.

  4. I didn't realize that you'd never been to Toronto before. It sounds like you had a fabulous trip visiting with friends and family. I loved the old ROM building when we went over ten years ago. Your pictures of the new one may make me interested in another visit.

  5. I was there for a day (enroute from Ottawa, interviewing for a position) when Bronwen was a baby -- slushy winter, I had a five-month old, not a good intro! Much better this time. I think you'd like it too.

  6. I have to say that you are looking so chic, beautiful, and fab ( you always do) but there is a glow about you these days that is amped up. Travel is the best beauty treatment.

    Thanks for sharing your vacation pics. Toronto is on my list of places I must get to.

  7. Thanks, LBR -- I've got a bit of a goofy grin in that photo, but I'm definitely having fun -- the girlcook is always good at getting me to relax and have a good time. And yes, you could go to Toronto, but really, wouldn't you rather come up to Vanc'r where the weather's more moderate and where you could visit with me?!

  8. That building makes me think that Toronto maybe ain't all that bad.

  9. Thomas: Isn't it great? I found it such a relief, actually, and loved that there is some breathing space around it (which there well may have been with the old building, but I never saw that one)


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