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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Green Thumbs and Brown Shoes

I have a thriving colony of herbs growing on the balcony. There isn't much else I can do on the balcony, since the view consists of the building across the street and not much else. A neighbour told me that I was fortunate to have the building there, since it will block some of the effect of the upcoming nor'easter storms.

Yes, winter should be interesting here. I did make a point of viewing the apartment in March, as it turns out during the worst winter since 1939; and I didn't see anything leaking onto the floor through the horribly designed windows then. Next door apparently isn't so lucky.

Anyway I got some basil and chives and sage and thyme at the Kerr street farmer's market. But I couldn't get mint for love nor money. No one seemed to have any, and they seemed a little startled that I'd want it.

Now, mint is essential for Middle Eastern cooking. Possibly no one here does it; all I can say is, fresh mint is really a godsend when you make it, basil nearly as much.

I advertised on the local freecycle and two people answered. One said, come by the house and get the mint any old time. So I took the bus there and identified...spearmint.

Now, I have indelible associations with spearmint: cheap gum, really nasty toothpaste, and so on. In other words, I hated spearmint. But no one seems to have peppermint here and the spearmint literally grows like a weed. It IS a weed to most folks, which is why they must have been startled to hear that I wanted some.

The first person was not at home but he'd given me permission to take as much as I wanted. I chopped one of the plants loose with a spade. None of the neighbours came out to see what I was doing. Good.

I get home to find an email stating that another gentleman has already cut one plant loose and expects me to come and get it. So I get on another bus (did I mention that the bus service here is terrific and I can get to nearly anywhere I want to go? No? Yes. What an improvement on the insulting service in my last town. They synchronize the buses very simply: all of them go to the central train station. And lo and behold, if one is running late and riders need to connect to another bus, the driver will telephone ahead and ask them to hold the buses so the riders can make the connection. And so they do. Consideration of the rider's needs on a bus route! It is positively Un-American! And yes, it surely is.)

I get to the house and find Audrey II waiting for me. It's another spearmint, and it's taller than I am. It's in a pot. I ring the bell and speak to the man just to be sure I can take it. Sure, it's free.
I hop back on the same bus that has just completed its loop and put Giant Plant on the floor. I'm not asked to get it another ticket, fortunately.

And now they are both on the patio. And it turns out that I've been using the wrong mint all these years in my Mediterranean recipes...spearmint is preferred to peppermint.

You know? It really does smell better, fresh. I suppose those gums and toothpastes I disliked so much contained chemical recreations of the smell, and not actual spearmint.

Chemical smells are more prevalent than one would think. They are synthesized in a lab in New Jersey. Some are very expensive. If you are getting 'truffle oil' there is no such thing; truffles don't give oil. It's a synthesized chemical.
I made an expensive dish from a Toronto restaurant for a quarter of the price (and served five people) by the simple expedient of substituting walnut oil with a little sesame oil in it for 'truffle oil'. And the taste was the same!

So, once the spearmint plants have made themselves at home, I will be making some more Mediterranean dishes. I also plan to take the basil and spearmint plants in for the winter, if Gizmo will let me. Neither plant should hurt her if she wants a bit. I am also growing catnip for her benefit, and I'll dry this since she prefers it that way.

The Slum of Oakville

It's certainly been a while since I last posted. The month of July has gone by fairly eventfully; all the unpacking is done, I've been working on my course outlines for fall, and even had time for some socializing. I've met more people here in one month than I did in Rochester in four years. Toronto stereotypes of 'unfriendliness' are not true. It's amazing how many people will just talk to me on the street. I don't know if it is my honest face or what.

The weather has been strange, to put it mildly; the summer has been hot, humid, and with some of the most amazing downpours I've seen since leaving Savannah. Truth be told, I'd call this a subtropical climate, not a northern temperate as it's listed on the map. Being between a river and a lake probably adds to the humidity but I'm told that the East Coast has been sweltering all summer. New York was over 97 degrees with high humidity--yecch. At least it's bearable with the dehumidifier.

I have visited the
Toronto Islands and got some charming pictures of the cottages there. The Islands were once connected to the mainland til a huge storm washed away the land bridge. People have been going there for holidays for hundreds and possibly thousands of years; the cool breezes are welcome in summer. In winter, probably not so much.

There is a cute little theme park on the Island with old fashioned rides. There is a boardwalk (though this is not my picture, this is what I saw) and delightful houses. But there is no convenience store or grocery on the island. If you live there year round, as many people obviously do, you have to have winter stores. Oddly enough there is an airport there too.

The city once tried to force the owners of the cottages off the Islands so that the entire place could be made into a public park. This was an example of the wrong idea for the right reasons. One homeowner tending her tidy garden told me that the cottages got very run down about twenty years ago since they were forbidden to sell, upgrade, or repair any of them! Fortunately a compromise was worked out and people like me can traipse all over the islands while the cottagers live their lives in their fully-renovated (for the most part) homes. The day I and a friend went, the ferries were so packed with thousands of people that I despaired we'd even get over to the islands. Fortunately this person knew of a yacht club ferry nearby that would take nonmembers over for three Loonies once their members were aboard. So it was a pleasant day indeed. I plan to go back and possibly try the paddle boats on the lake there.

Life in Oakville is more agreeable than I thought. It's really two cities, or mindsets: the old-money, very Scotch-Irish Old Oakville to the south of me and the multi ethnic, lowerclass area on Kerr Street to the west.

"Kerr Street is the slum of Oakville!" my friend Jean Pilotte told me. "If that's a slum, then I've been living in one for my entire life!" I said.
It says something for me that I am more at home on the slum side than the tony one. There is a farmer's market on Saturday, and I get a good deal of my groceries right there. I like to walk to the local secondhand stores; since Oakville is a rich town there are some excellent buys in all of them from the tony ones near Lakeshore to the humbler ones on Kerr.
Kerr Street has even got a jazz club, the Moonshine Cafe, with live entertainment every night. You can get a coffee or a nonalcoholic drink without feeling stupid, and listen to good music. The best gelati and sorbet I've ever tasted is sold right across the street. There are Indian, Polish, Portuguese, Caribbean, and Ukrainian markets all along the street. Unfortunately Asian markets are underrepresented; I have to go into Toronto for really good Chinese groceries, but it's a small hardship.

I have had some movie and dinner nights at the new place and it is working out well. The electric stove is better than I expected but I still don't see why they don't have lights for each of the top burners so you know which one is on. I'm going to put arrows up and down so I know which knob to turn...there was a near disaster with a small pot of oil the other night, but fortunately no fire.

I've also been to my first meeting of the National Cartoonists Society chapter in Canada, at the charming home of its unofficial president, the marvellously named Leif Peng, in the nearby town of Hamilton. This is an old steel mill town that lost all its jobs to Asia. Unlike badly-governed cities such as R*ch*st*r, Hamilton is doing just fine-they allowed the artists to take over the downtown area, and it's apparently thriving. People are moving West from Toronto to escape high rents.

Most lakeside Canadian towns make good use of their waterfronts, and I have not seen the sort of decay that is prevalent in Rust Belt American cities. Artists will live in neighbourhoods where regular people fear to tread, and when they thrive, the regular people move back and revive the marginal neighbourhoods. More importantly, the people are committed to helping the people in the marginal neighbourhoods improve their lot. I'm pleased to see this attitude, it's one that should come back in fashion.

There is a Canadian cartoonists' award called the DOUG WRIGHT awards. They will be given on August 8. There are only two: one honors established cartoonists, the other honors upcoming artists, or artists who have gone into new fields. They have a GIANTS OF THE NORTH Hall of Fame that was instituted in 2005; Lynn Johnston, of FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, is the honoree this year. I'll be attending the awards, which are free, and then joining Lynn for dinner afterwards. Watch this space, there will be a writeup.

Yes, I like living in Canada and I'm looking forward to meeting the students in the fall.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Canada Day and the Fifth of July

I've been doing too many things at once, including misremembering my telephone number. I don't know why I do, but I do. I'll send out another message to my friends with the right number, since everyone I've talked to got a 6 in place of the first two.
Senior moment.

I've been exploring Toronto and having a great time. I thought it would be nice to visit Ward's Island on the fifth of July. This is one of the islands in the Harbour with a theme park, a zoo, and many funky little houses in an artist's colony. Unfortunately about ten thousand people decided to do the same thing since this was the first weekend without thunderstorms in a month. I waited for a new friend to show up and was increasingly discomfited when I saw more than a thousand people walk past me to the three open ticket booths. Eventually the sea of humanity completely filled the area to the right of the monolithic Westin Hotel on the Queen's Quay.
This is what Ward's Island looks like, and I despaired of being able to get there.
I am meeting locals through 'toronto linkup' and a Russian girl who'd lived her fourteen years showed me how to get past the ten thousand other people trying to take the ferry to the islands and take a smaller club boat for three bucks. We walked all over the place, and had dinner in Chinatown afterward. I can walk around for long periods and though I have some blisters under my big toes as a result I can counter this problem by wrapping said toes in band aids before leaving, and wearing bamboo socks. These are not only comfortable, they are bactericidal, so said feet don't stink at the end of the day. Not that they ever did. My veggie diet has eliminated body odor and done wonders for my teeth and skin....

I loved the little houses and think that I will have some better photos when I get them developed. I still have Dad's old Contarex, it appears to still work, and people still come up to me and ask me about it. Though I notice that the people are invariably men and they are getting older and older...

Canada Day is celebrated on July 1. It celebrates Confederation in 1867, when they actually became a nation. (apparently Confederation was a direct reaction to the American Civil War; Irish vets were coming to Canada and making trouble with the recent immigrants. They probably chose July 1 to be ahead of us. Canadian Thanksgiving is in October for the same reason. When I once asked animator Shane Doyle why they have a Canadian thanksgiving, he said "We give thanks that we're not Americans!" (joke, but mostly true.)
Before 1867 Canada was, of course, a British colony. They got their Constitution in 1982! And they are still a constitutional monarchy. The practical result is this: The Queen of England is head of State. The Prime Minister is the head of Government. They are not combined in the same person, as they are in our President. This is actually not a bad idea at all.

I have to say that I do think 'what might have been' after having lived in Australia and Canada. The two countries share many similarities, the most obvious of which appears to be a concern for the greater good of the most people, and not quite as much emphasis on 'individual' rights, though of course they do defend them. They don't appear to think that the purpose of life is to make as much money as possible and to hell with the public good. Though the Australians and Canadians love their personal independence, they do observe the rule of law, or did until recently. Had America remained a British colony it might have resembled either one of these countries. And sorry, I think it would have been an improvement over what has developed, particularly in the last fifty or so years. MeMeMe gets really irritating after a while; I like public transport, public places, and don't want to be all by myself all the time.

I spent Canada Day at a gorgeous local estate called Erchless (irk-less) named after an Irish castle that the mayor of Oakville's family once owned.
It's a nice, middle class mansion. The Chisolm family still exists ( a local street near my house is named for them.) But they donated the house to the state since they had prohibitive upkeep expenses and now it is the town museum. The grounds are on a bluff overlooking a charming pier with a lighthouse. I will try to upload pictures, it's absolutely gorgeous.

I told my father that he made a serious mistake not moving to Toronto when he had a chance to do so ten or so years ago. He got erroneous information on the temperatures in the winter; I was here in their worst blizzard since 1939 and it was NOT fourteen below zero! (Someone told him it was like that, and he didn't get a second opinion.) Rochester's weather is usually worse due to something called the Lake Effect.
Then again, some of the venues on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario had seven foot thick ice last winter when the winds blew surf onto the ground. Yes, that's right. It's not recommended to live too close to the lake. This is Bronte Harbour, (bron-tay: not named after the authors) which is actually part of Oakville. The snow is manageable in this photo but that's where the thick ice was seen this past winter.

Erchless had a very moving multimedia installation on the Underground Railway, which actually ended here in Oakville. The local sea captains had fake decks in their ships, and runaway slaves would be carried across the lake from Rochester and brought to Oakville and freedom. Things got worse after 1850 when the Fugitive Slave Act or "Compromise of 1850" was passed by (deservedly forgotten) President Millard Fillmore's administration. Basically, even Northern states weren't safe after that horrible Act. Any black man or woman--even a freeborn one--could be caught by any other American citizen and sold in the South. Some of the bastards even went to Canada to drag people back South. This horrible law absolutely guaranteed a Civil War. It's a sad bit of American history and I really was humbled watching this documentary.
Sadly, Oakville is very whitebread now...though I do know a Black woman who moved here from the Caribbean in the sixties. Canada wasn't good to her then. "I still have the scar on my shoulder where someone came up to me on Yonge Street and burnt me with a cigarette." (She was a child. Yonge Street is like 42nd street, only cleaner.)
"No one came to help me."

Canada had extremely racist immigration policies toward all groups except British and Irish within living memory, but now it revels in its tolerance--at least Toronto does. It's a real smorgasbord of a city and I'm having a great time exploring it. Sadly the pollution is as impressive as L.A.s sometimes. Yesterday I saw this brown cloud with the CN tower projecting out of it. This isn't quite what I saw (think of a brown belt with that tall tower sticking out of it like a toothpick, viewed from about 20 miles away) but after I retrieved my jawbone I took a picture. We'll see what I get.

Gizmo was sick for four days,which is another reason I haven't been posting much. Then I got sick. Both of us are fine now.

I am doing interviews with other Sheridan profs to find out what I can do in my classes to coordinate with their assignments...Mark Mayerson is very helpful, since he has been here long enough to tell me how things work. I will be teaching one storyboard course per semester, with five sections, one lecture, and 125 students in all. What a change...the storyboard class is required, and the students take it BEFORE they actually start making films!

It has been lovely here for a few days but sometimes this wet sock humidity comes down and makes me want to peel my skin off. The dehumidifier helps.

So that's all for now.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Some Jokes

Dickipedia is a real hoot.

And THE ONION'S news is better than the real thing. Maybe it is the real thing. I'm one of the people who 'successfully evacuated to Canada'.