Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Little Trains Make Everything Better 

Lately, I've been trying to get out of the office to experience this new neighbourhood. It's strange to have moved from Liberty Village, a once neglected, now condo-blossoming neighbourhood near the Lake to Harbourfront/Queens Quay, a once neglected now recently polished neighbourhood actually on the Lake. The upside has been that there is a lot going on right here, right now. The Pan Am Games have given some verve and vitality to this glass and concrete city.

Usually, the best of Toronto in the summer is happening on a quiet, well-treed side street in a cosy and intimate neighbourhood but this summer is different. There are so many events happening on the waterfront and downtown. The Pan Am Games have filled the city with visitors and officials (a lot of official vehicles moving in and out of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel), and free concerts, food vendors and markets and arts events. It's hard to keep up or keep track. The waterfront itself has finally started to become the tourist and city dweller destination it should be and reminds me of the Embarcadero revitalization in San Francisco. People love being near water. Go figure. This part of Queens Quay is a little bit of the dismal end of the Martin Goodman trail (since re-christened the Pan Am Trail) but head a little Westward to the Harbourfront Centre or North to the CN Tower and you'll see a completely invigorated area that, only a few years ago, was the kind of parking lot where Tony Soprano buried his problems.

I rode through Roundhouse Park today and was surprised by just what's going on there. The park is really just the small area around the old rail roundhouse. Of course, to my mother, nothing smaller than Algonquin Park can truly be called a "park". Admittedly, Toronto will call any square of sod a park but nonetheless the Roundhouse has become a real destination. Years ago it was only the Steam Whistle Brewery but now includes the Toronto Rail Museum along with several engines and rail cars. It also includes, somewhat incongruously, a Leon's Furniture Store. The best thing by far, is the little scaled down train ride on real tracks pulled by a little train engine driven by an engineer who alerts pedestrians and clears the rails of misplaced stones and debris. How can you not smile when you see a little train? It even has its own tiny roundhouse.

The downside to being in this neighbourhood is really about its success. There are a huge number of tourists and people just hanging around looking a little dazed. If I may offer a couple of words of advice to parents of small children: 1) hold their little hands. I'm a little peeved though not surprised how many afraid and crying kids yelling, "Mommy!?" I've seen. Twice in as many days I've stopped and thought I should help some kid in distress only to have the parent saunter up and grab the poor little weeper saying, "I'm right here!" As a neglected child myself I can honestly say, at a certain age, it's more the parent's responsibility to watch the little one than it is for the little one to keep up. 2) Enough with the friggin' "time-outs". How many parents have I seen "take a knee" in front of their kids to quietly and sternly tell them to buck up and enjoy themselves and stop ruining this for everyone. For Christ's sake - whatever happened to "Shut up or I'm turning this car around!" I'm guessing parental units took their 4-8-year old out in the scorching heat expecting that short, under-weight individual to have the fortitude of a marathon runner and then get a little fed up when said kid starts complaining. I don't know what book parents are using these days but apparently there's a chapter in there about holding their shoulders, looking them square in the eye and talking to them with the intensity normally reserved for interrogating a Navy Seal. I have no kids so what the hell do I know what terror you've brought into this world and now lost control of? That's the plot of Jurassic World, right? Yet, my prescription is a quick "QUIET!" - then an ice cream and the cure for all ills, a ride on a little train. What could be better than that?

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Misty Water-coloured Memories 

“Watching the rugby brought back the summers I played and all the old forgotten rules and strategies crept back into my head.”
We tend to say that memories flood back, so I guess it's appropriate that I find nostalgia comes in waves. I'm currently caught in a terrible rip tide of remembrances triggered by an 80s playlist. Today, I got the seventh wave of this nostalgia tide though for me it's not really a tsunami of memories as much as it is a seeping, rising water like the flooding of a basement. Today was a perfect example.

Like a lot of Torontonians I've succumb to the relentless buzz of the Pan Am Games and Saturday I picked up a ticket to the Rugby 7s games. The venue is close by and the tickets were plentiful and cheap. I thought about taking my GoPro camera to try and capture some of the atmosphere but I'd completely forgotten where I'd put the damn thing! I grabbed my binoculars on the way out hoping the GoPro would be in the same place but alas only the GoPro accessories and dodads were there. Without time to really get into an extensive search, I rushed out and went to the office to print out my ticket I'd bought online. For the rest of the day, all I could think about was where was this expensive camera that I hadn't really used that much. Even as I watched the games I was mentally exploring the nooks and crannies of my house trying to trigger where I'd put the camera. I remember fishing it out of a box to retrieve one of the memory cards to use in my new Fuji camera so I figured it was still in the box I moved it in.

I should interject that the rugby was great. Watching it brought back the summers I played and all the old forgotten rules and strategies crept back into my head. I remembered the various characters of the Dogs RFC, the fundraisers, the pub crawls, the music in the car on the way to practice or to games. The crowd seemed generally knowledgable but the people immediately around me were a little new to the sport. I held my tongue as much as I could (no one likes someone correcting them) but on some basic points I had to speak up (no, only back or lateral passes are permitted; that was an offsides call; that is a drop kick etc). I was surprised how much I could recall. I saw both the Canadian men and women win over their Brazilian opponents handily but after almost three hours in the direct sun I was feeling worse for wear and headed home.
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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Dust of this Planet 

image via ESPN

Earlier in June, I watched a few minutes of the Paris Open and noticed not too surprisingly how the players would tap the red Roland Garros clay from their shoes after each series. I was reminded of this as I laced up my shoes and noticed just how dusty they were. Wiping the worst of it away I realized this was the dust of Paris.

My shoes, resting, in the gardens at the Rodin Museum, Paris - see more photos here.

On my last afternoon in France, I left the office early to make my way to the Rodin museum. The main collection was closed so I strolled the impressive garden. In fact, I strolled the hell out of Paris. I became a regular Friday Flaneur, walking across Pont Alexandre III, to the Opera, then to the Jardin du Tuileries, and back along the Seine. I’ll hand it to them. Parisians like a good walk. Many pathways in Paris are simple stone dust which lends to the distinctive atmosphere of the place. The sound of crunching sand and pebbles under foot is as much a sound of Paris as the traffic, the language or the folky accordion music. When I sat for beer and a cheese sandwich in the Tuileries a strong gust kicked up and made a brief dustbowl of the promenade. It was vaguely apocalyptic, except for all of the people generally ignoring it and continuing their conversations while enjoying their wine, beer or coffee which gave the whole scene the feeling of an Antonioni film.

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