Thursday, December 24, 2015

Toronto The Good just Got Even Better

Is it Chicago? Is it New York? Is it Montreal? Is it really the Centre of the Universe?

24th December, 2015 (Montreal) About forty years ago, the financial centre of Canada moved up the St-Lawrence from Montreal to nest in New Old York on Lake Ontario, a city most refer to as Toronto. There is a vowel shift happening at the same time. Linguists and dialect experts have noticed and agree--from Toronto to Chicago the midwest Great Lakes districts are changing the way they talk by shifting their vowels so that it sounds like "Tree-anna" and "Sher-Cah-gah" when they used to say "Tronno" and "Shu-cargo."

Aside: Funny how Toronto media-types talk of aspirations to be a New York of Canada when it is much better suited to being the Chicago of Canada. And this is no put-down. Chicago beats NYC on almost all counts. Oh I love NYC and Manhattan has more buildings than I can put my eyeballs on and yeah yeah yeah we all know people who "Just got back from New York" or are "heading to New York" because travellers to New York cannot resist telling everybody about it, like it drapes them in some New York Mystique that we can all praise them for.

And what is it that most people love and like about NYC? Pretty much anything anybody ever told me I could point to Chicago and say, they got it too. Without the claustrophobia. (They even got their name from NYC! The "Windy City" is not coz it is "Windy" but because NYC Mobsters considered the crews from Chicago to be "Windy" as in full of air, according to National Geographic.)

Toronto began reaching for the sky in the Mid Sixties with Miesian International School designs for Toronto Dominion Bank. Cousins of the Seagram Building, they are classic black minimalist monoliths that still hold the same brutal charm. Then by the 90s Toronto turned to navel-gazing and got all full-of-itself with a Baseball Team that wins the World Series and some major assumptions of it being a "World City." Montreal was in the economic stagnation pond still, so the contrast was more compelling.

 This whole self-reflecting of "Are we a World Class City or Not?" was a giveaway of its lack of confidence.

A World Class city just goes about their day, not worrying how many times their name appears in the international press or erecting banal monuments to help it stick out more. Sure, they like to look at themselves in the mirror, but mostly to complain about their warts, not drum their chest in bravado.

So then comes the meaningless cliche that Toronto is the most "multi-ethnic" community in North America. This has no meaning. All a city needs is ONE person from each of the 204 FIFA World Cup Nations to move to their town and it is now as diverse as it could ever be. Ninety-nine percent of the population could be Patagonian, it is still as diverse as Toronto may or may not be. Imagine you have a bag of jelly beans, with every colour represented. And I have a bag of jelly beans with every colour represented. Our bag of jelly beans is as diverse as each others despite mine being mostly of PINK beans and yours being mostly of GREEN beans.

But it is kinda true--Toronto does have a wonderful cosmopolitan fabric and it is worth promoting this fact. But calling it the 'most diverse' place is sorta wasting people's time, because let's face it, there are three major ethnic sub-cultures that dominate the city and to pretend that is not so, would be navigating blindly. Vancouver has the same deal--people from all over the world. But, equally, three major ethnic sub-cultures that work in such a nature that to deny their political clout or cultural influence is a remarkable oversight.

So  no oversight here in the aerial the view of Toronto that includes their football team Toronto FC (please see here) and their stadium BMO field. BMO is a word that kinda means "Used to be Bank of Montreal but we moved the headquarters to New Old York." The waterfront along Lake Ontario is getting more developed. Right now it is a vast empty urban blank to have the mind boggling that a "World Class City" might have such unused space right in the middle. I hate to hear the arguments as to how they are going to develop it. Right now it makes my drawing look very lazy.

And this picture is a validation of why I invented my own cities. Real cities are never complete. There is always a tooth missing, a cavity to be filled... a clean up in process. Almost every drawing of a real city I have done is out of date within a year.

So, do I like Toronto?

Some of my fave times have been had in this city. But that doesn't mean I love the place. I wish the centre was more distinct, and that the suburban sprawl had not been allowed to replicate and the subway wasn't so, um... clean. I think that Yonge Street in the 70s and 80s had a West 42nd Street feel that is missing today. But so too, it is missing on West 42nd Street, right?

What's missing, are the people from Toronto who are currently visiting right here right now, in Montreal.

I have to say, two couples from Toronto, provided me the highlight of my summer.

 Quick Storytime: they had just pulled into town... Jays caps and other stuff on their heads.

Got out of their car looking up at the high rises and their whereabouts, not quite spellbound, but obviously taking in their first impressions. And that's when it hit me: I was one of their first impressions! Judging by their car, and clothing and posture and attitude, and look... they were alpha-middle class go-getters, not exactly show offs but the men in the couples were fronting it large, the type who would want to outdo you, ya know? But, then they clocked me on my bike, waiting at the light. This GAZE... I know from having been brought up in a tourist resort--it is the look tourists give the "natives" when they first get off the plane... a gaze as if they are registering a feel for the place. As kids, we would ACT UP and give it large coz we were needing attention. Today, I just waited at the light, covered in paint, coming from my mural I had been painting, laden down with gear and other ammunition.

The guys looked at me like I was a specimen. Like I was an example of something. It was unmistakable. And what was important to me, was that their look of judgment towards me was not one of derision, but one of wonder. I mean this! They were looking at me like I was a tiger in the zoo, something to be feared, as if I had unknown powers, and they, as onlookers were not participants, so did not know what to make of me.

I remember these same quizzical looks from the tourists visiting the Island upon which I spent my youth--ending in respectful distance for an unknown equal after failing to size me up.

They made my day, like tourists in New York who ask me directions mistaking me for a local, make my day, the way they "checked me out," like I'm some "real old-school Montrealer" they wouldn't see in Toronto. And they were right. I always shower before going down the road.

It was all the graffiti on my helmet that arrested them.

Which is why I loved how their mayor became WORLD FAMOUS while The Art Gallery of Ontario can't catch fire and get an ambulance on standby. I have always adored Naomi Klein and said the same about Jane Jacobs so there must be something to it, yeah? At the parties I've attended there, people talk about their career and the property they own more so than the people I meet in Montreal, but hey, we don't have jobs nor own property so there is no way to start that discussion here. Least they have a very handy airport right at the end of the downtown dock where you can catch a plane to Chicago and New York or Montreal, which, really, makes it the best city in North America.

Every city has a peer pressure. In Montreal it is to look like you spent no effort on your brilliant appearance, speak two languages, and have a winter getaway plan hatched, or a summer sabbatical sorted out. In Toronto it seems more likely that you gotta have a place to own and a means to own it in order to get into the fold. Rents are exorbitant and commutes are long so the kinda car you drive also comes up as a topic. In Montreal, the only people I know who drive, also rob banks.

From an architectural standpoint--there are very few areas that have particularities to unite them. Little Italy and Parkdale are quaint, but many parts of Toronto have streets with eight different styles all next to one another. That might be your thing, so don't let me stop you. I once took a tour of the SkyDome back in 91... I kept interrupting the tour guide with questions. She was thoroughly annoyed by me and banned me from talking until the end. So I wish I could tell you more about the Stadium...

...At the time of completion it was part of the push to have Toronto be mentioned a lot in the International Conversation and it worked. I really dig this stadium despite it's lack of any necessary beauty. But you gotta remember it was built in an era of domed-stadium fetish mania before the Old-School Aesthetic reemerged and so we are stuck with this massive bar of soap amid the upturned gang planks of the Financial District. At Olympia & York, presiding Reichman Brothers had just blown the bank in London on what would be the Fire Sale of the Century.

As for living in this place... Well, I'd have to fall in love with somebody, have them move there, and make me wanna stay with em for that to happen. But to visit, it never disappointed me. My fave evening ended after an all-night afterhours party spilled out... we the stragglers clumped together heading down College Street or some place... A bagel shop let all fifteen or so of us in, even though the bagelry hadn't officially opened yet, so we had a private breakfast to ourselves with FREE COFFEE because he couldn't be bothered to charge us. We sat inside as the sun came up before I caught my train to, um, Ok ok ok,  Montreal. No complaints, either way.

No comments: