Tags: food

Baby and me

Never coming home?

Hogtown contemplations redux

Dundas Street West, from the overpass over the tracks

One thing I can say about Toronto without hesitation is that I would never discourage a young person from moving there. I know that obvious comparions can be tedious, but they are what I've got — and so — what you will get.

And so I cannot help but compare the streets of a bustling multi-cultural metropolis with the quiet by-ways of Ottawa or, as I like to call it, The City That Always Sleeps. What curious, imaginative young person would not prefer the chaos of the former to the serene tedium of the latter?

* * *

My own Hogtown sojourn ended where it began, in the home of my oldest friend, sharing bottles of beer, a half-watched hockey game, and the comfortable companionship that comes of long and close acquaintance. And night with Vern (and later, with Helena, when she arrived home from her small neighbourhood restaurant, with which I provided a name some eight or more years ago, and into which I have yet to set foot — too many painful memories), left me feeling considerably less melancholic than I had been.

Not all connections with my old home are broken. (Which I knew, of course, but which knowledge needs tangible reinforcement from time to time.)

Before that, was walking, walking, walking. A mode of transport I don't use often when at hoome, but one I prefer when visiting, whether some place new, or old familiar haunts.

And Toronto, of course, is both familiar and and changed, new to me.

Below, for those who might care, are some observations on the changes time and money have wrought upon Toronto. And of things that remain — or which seem to remain — more or less the same. (Well, of the changes and otherwise, that have been wrought upon one very small section of a pretty large city.)

* * *

Like Kensington Market, Parkdale itself is an area that still mostly looks largely unchanged from when I left eight years ago. But right on its borders, at Queen and Dufferin, loom like a fucking invading army, towers of glass promising an expensive high-rise future that will forever destroy the existing social fabric of a shabby, low-rise neighbourhood that has been for decades home to newcomers, to the poor and the working classes. (And to pockets of the middle classes, too; Parkdale is no slum.)

Being here now is like crossing a quiet expanse that you know will tomorrow be a battlefield.

* * *

At first glance, the phrase beautiful Toronto seems an oxymoron at best, a snide joke a worst. But (as I have noted before, and which has many times been noted by others), its neighbourhoods often have an organic, human-scale beauty that seems to have sprouted organically. It is especially noticeable in areas like Parkdale, where even still, the middle classes huddle cheek-by-jowl with the working classes and the desperately poor, and where wave upon wave of immigrants have rolled in and left a tithe of their numbers to permantly leave a positive mark upon the area.

In other words, Toronto's is not a physical beauty, like San Francisco's or Montreal's glamour, but a beauty of character, a beauty that requires a visitor to sit and stay for a spell, to get to know the place in order to appreciate what is there.

In an absolutely related note, I ate out five times during my trip. First, stopping on the way from the train station, at my old haunt, Java House, where both the prices and the qualities of its strictly bar-food level offerings seems utterly unchanged from a decade ago. (That was where, in the days of my habitual alcoholism, I was known to the staff as "Mr. Steam", for the Steamwhistle pilsner I then preferred. But I digress.)

The second was in Chinatown's Swatow, a non-descript hole-in-the-wall which turns out to be my friends' favourite and which Raven's reading on Chinese blogs told her was possibly the best place in Chinatown for the real thing. (And yes, my cheap lunch was very good.)

But it is in Parkdale that the cullinary differences between Toronto and (oh, say) Ottawa are made plain.

Tibet Kitchen

To put it simply, I went up to the plate three times and three times hit a culinary home run. The first was at Tibet Kitchen where on Wednesday I went for a mid-day breakfast. Ordered a simple beef with tomato on rice dish that was marvellously flavoured, about as tasty as anything but the very best food I've had in Ottawa. Ever. For about $13.00, taxes and tip included.

The place just happened to be up the street from where I've been staying.

Thursday night I took my host (and my father's sweetie) Frances out to an Italian restaurant that had been one of my regular places back when Parkdale was my home — maybe four blocks down the street. And Amico's veal (forgive me) parmesan was old-fashioned but every bit as a good as I remembered. And frankly better than any Italian food I've had in Ottawa, by quite a stretch. Dinner for both of us, with two beers apiece, ran about 60 bucks. And half of mine served as breakfast before we left for the train station this morning.

And Friday, I managed (after much internal debate) to convince myself to forego repeating yesterday's lunch in favour of, y'know, something new.

Nepalese instead of Tibetan. Not a big difference, you might think, but you'd be wrong.

Kasthamandap Nepalese Cuisine is another hole-in-the-hole, a block or block-and-a-half from the place I'd been to the day before. And if not better, than at least more unfamiliar — and so more of a happy surprise.

I had the Sukuti Daal Bhat Tekati set, which came served on a plain tin plate. A small bowl of dried curry beef rich with flavour and not too much oil, a small black lentil soup, a heap of steamed mustard greens, generously drenched with garlic, slightly sweetened potatoes, radish pickles (sweet) and fermented mustard leaf pickles (hot!). None of it was quite like anyting I've had before and all of it was delicious. (Most if not all of the items on menu have vegetarian twins, by the way.)

Nepalese Lunch

It was one of those meals I took my time with, a bite of this, a pause, a bite of that. Fucking heaven, to put it in a professional food reviewer's idiom. (The only disapointment was the mango lassi, adequate but served luke-warm — which might well be the traditional Nepalese way, but not to my taste.)

Like I said, three tries, three home-runs and not a one of them high-end. Thank god Raven and I (especially Raven, I admit) are decent cooks, because eating out costs a fortune in Ottawa and the results tend to be mediocre at best.

* * *

No doubt due in part to tha food, and aided and abetted to having recovered from Tuesday's brutal hang-over, as well as spending my last night with friends, my mood is considerably improved over that recounted in my previous entrty.

It's still a little sobering how few people there are in Toronto that I still want to see, and still strange to feel so much a stranger in city that was home for so many years (decades); I am a visitor to Toronto now, if one returning to a familiar destination, but I am no longer one coming homing.

But I am glad I made the trip. As the old saw has it, a change can be as good as a rest, and this has been both, if not for my feet.

* * *

One final thought. Ottawa claims a popolution of very nearly 1 million people, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like a city of that size. As a pedestrian wandering downtown, one might (might!) guess it at a quarter of a million.

On my first day in Toronto I walked about seven kilometres, Union Station to Parkdale. Doing that in Ottawa would have got me half-way to the airport. (To be fair, doing that east-west instead of north-south would have kept me within a more-or-less urban core. But the point remains. Ottawa's million people are spread monstrously thin, Toronto's knit tight into a city.

But for all that, I'm 52 years old and have come to like Ottawa for what it is, instead of dislike it for what it isn't. Still, a little more diversity, a little more density, would be welcome changes to the nation's capital ...

Union Station, South Side

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Baby and me

The innocence of ages

To Kingston and back again; a New Year's journey or,

Young Geoffrey VS the ravages of age!

Our son, the driver!
Our son, the driver (I'm so proud)! Carl the Second takes the wheel.

Raven had a brutal couple of months at work and insisted that a post-holiday holiday was in order.

Kingston (Ontario) being reasonably close by, and boasting one of our favourite eateries, the humbly- and confusingly-named Pat's Restaurant, which serves up some delicious fare that, I'm told, is about as authentically Cambodian as one is likely to find in a small Ontario city, I rented a car and packed up the family for a whirlwind getaway last Thursday morning. (Yes, more than a week ago now; I've been busy.)

Raven had also got us tickets to see something called Lumina Borealis, an interactive sound-and-light show held in and around "historic Fort Henry". I had feared we'd be standing around watching a display similar to that which shows up on Parliament Hill every summer, a technically impressive, but edifyingly bourgeois entertainment, which we would passively consume while standing in the damp and frigid Kingston night as it was projected upon the Fort's walls.

Image of one part of the Lumina Borealis light-show in Kingston, Ontario.
A wall near the end of the Lumina Borealis show. Pictured here are people hurling orange snowballs at the display; a hit results in sound and a reaction from the imagine.

Happily, it was a good deal more interesting — and fun. It was cold (a damp cold! And for those of you who live in warmer climes, a dry cold is a lot easier to handle), but the show — a variety of sights and sounds, including physical objects, light-images and microphones into which we could speak or sing and affect the visual goings-on upon the walls around us — more than made up for it. We probably did the circuit in 45 minutes, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I had thought I would.

If you have kids, they'll love it.

But I digress. Aside from the Pat's (Cambodian) Restaurant, the other memory I had from our last visit, was of the best biscotii had ever tasted.

Come morning, we left Carl the Second in charge of our motel room and set out in search of coffee — and biscoti.

Carl the Second guards our room at the Super 8
Carl in Charge! Our son was proud to be responsible for protecting our room from strangers and nose motel employees.

I didn't remember the name of the place, but had a pretty good idea of its location, and it didn't take too long for me to find it. Coffee & Company at 53 Princess Street. We entered and took our place in line. When it was my turn, I ordered a Large coffee (sensibly, they do Small, Medium and Large; that's it, that's all) and not one, but two, biscotis. The second I asked for in a bag, as I wanted to take it home with me.

Dream on, Young Geoffrey!

Two biscotis became one, then almost none, in very short order. (After snapping the photo below, "almost none" become "none".) And when it was time to go, I found myself lurking near the counter and smiling and nodding at the young woman in charge with all the deranged charm of a temporarily sober drunk at a family gathering..

The remains on the tray. A small piece of a once mighty biscoti.
The remains on the tray. Yes, your Honour, it was delicious. I regret nothing!

"I need another biscoti," I said, brandishing the empty bag into which she had earlier placed my second. "To go."

She smiled and nodded in return, as if I weren't on the edge of drooling. As she reached the glass jar in which the biscotis were on handsome display, I blurted out, "Make it two. No! One. No! Two! TWO!"

"Are you sure?" she smiled, a kindly Pity dripping from her eyes like sweet honey.

"Yes," I whispered, and stared as she set about her labours.

She grinned and tonged one, then, two, then three biscotis into the little white paper bag. As the third dropped from sight, she winked at me and mouthed, Don't say anything!

What could I do but grin and nod, then shake my head emphatically in reply?

When Raven and I left the cafe, I asked her, "Do you think she gave me the third biscoti because she thought I'm a hot stud or a cute old man?"

"Oh please!" quoth Raven. "A cute old man."

The sun sets on Young Geoffrey's Youth or,

A young woman struggles mightily to extricate foot from mouth

Our son, the model!
Carl II somehow travels backwards in time, to when all was a panda's paradise: black and white!

Back in Ottawa, I worked a late shift on Saturday that saw me home after 03:00 Sunday morning and in bed close to 05:00. And up again far too soon, for a soccer game at 13:00 hours.

Despite a two week lay-off for seasonal gorging, the game was a good one, hard-fought and close, ending in a 5-5 tie. And, more importantly from my personal stand-point, I played better than I feared I might, running hard and placing some nice balls, if I do say so myself. I even assisted on at least one goal.

Anyway, at one point early in the second half I and a young team-mate called Maddison, with whom I've shared a team a few times before, found ourselves on the sidelines, chatting.

"You're doing really well today," she said. I demured as one does, but she insisted, "You've really mastered the one-touch exit. And you really move! You run just as hard, and pretty fast for, uh ...

There was an expression bordering on social panic in her clenched jaw as she realized her near faux-pas.

Jesus, the things people take offense at! Or might take offense at.

I smiled widely and said, "It's okay, I know I'm a little older than most of you guys. I'm not under any delusions about that."

She nodded, sheepishly, then added, "I don't know if I qualify as young any more myself."

"Oh please! You're under 30, aren't you?"

"I'm 26."

I laughed. "I'll be 52 in February. You're still pretty young from where I stand!"

And I thought, before I took the field again, how strange it is that merely verbally acknowleding an obvious truth — such as, that a man twice her age is "older" — can be frought with such anxieties.

And yet, I felt an echo of Maddison's nerves myself, when she answered my guess that she was under 30, with the information she is 26. Might she, I briefly wondered, have been hurt that I didn't suggest she was under 25?

But there you have it. Like almost every older person I know or have known, I don't feel like I am the chronological age that I am. But (and unlike many, I am blessed with my bike-riding, soccer-playing good health (and nevermind the arthritis and possible tendonitis)) I can't help but become increasingly self-conscious of the fact that Young Geoffrey is, in truth, well into his middle years.

Post-scriptum, for Nellie

"Powderfinger" is one of my favourite Neil Young songs. Bad history, but (I think) beautiful poetry, in metal.

He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun.

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