Toronto the Beautiful

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I haven't really written much since arriving. I've been absorbing, sifting, thinking, and smiling (oops, and drinking). It's wonderful, this city. It really is.

I went downtown, and started to move properly into the apartment I am subletting. It's in the west end of Toronto, my old stomping grounds. The house is typical of a lot of houses in the west-end, old brick, small windows, set back from the sidewalk with a garden. The house is covered in plants, flowers, vines, groundcover.

It's true that the main streets of Toronto have nothing compared to the sheer romanticism of Paris. But what sets this town apart is how the downtown is infused with these small residential streets, rows and rows of three storey houses, all with little lawns and trees. It's such a beautiful green city with great gardens and green everywhere. The fact that you can walk down a messy mish mash of late 20th century urban architecture and tumble down a tree lined street makes Toronto such a great place to live and work. Bicycles and houses right next to the office.

The first day is an exercise in recomposition. Getting used to using the telephone, looking up old numbers, calling friends. Some are surprised. Correction: all are surprised. I'm back, after over 2 years absence, though the last time I was in town it was to finish a film, so it was hectic, and not as social.

This time it's summer.

First things first. I head down to Queen St. to meet Shelton. He was the very first person I called when I got in. Why? Because this boy is my best friend, my baby brother, a soul mate. Despite not being gay, Shelton and I have never had the type of relationship where it's friends masquerading as potential lovers. From the start, there was a such a joy and laughter in our relation. He is my friend.

Shelton is supposed to meet me at La Hacienda, one of my old haunts. La Ha is the bar every rock'n'roll kid knows in Toronto. It's been around before the stretch of Queen W. became chic. Mismatched bric a brac tables, a slightly painted over the rotted wood atmosphere, the same Tex Mex fare, the back patio where you're sure to bump into friends. I walk in, shy and nervous, careful to avoid the glance of Anna, the owner. She fired Yuri, my then boyfriend, about 4 years ago, and I have never put a step inside since.

Straight to the back patio. And no Shelton, but Annie. Annie who I saw in Paris. Annie looks great, the same, and great. It's like, sometimes relationships have ups and downs, but when you find the people who know you, there's a strong sense of comfort, and a disturbing lingering of time past.

Shelton isn't there. Anna comes by and says hello. There's no avoiding it. I'm back home. People have known me for years here. She passes the message that Shelton had been waiting for over an hour and that he just left, looking sad. Crazy boy. I knew he would get the messages mixed. I said to meet at 2pm, he comes at 1pm. This is typical Shelton, a man so prone to miscommunication and social awkwardness that it drives women crazy. I mean, he's physically gorgeous, funny, talented and sweet, but has driven all his girlfriend's crazy with his social dysfunction.

So I pass the afternoon with Annie. We walk west on Queen. Things have really picked up around here. There are new beautiful galleries all along the stretch. The Mocca has moved there too. I see Nick and Sheila Pye's work hanging at Angell Gallery so I pop in. They are just hanging their show, which will have it's opening this Thursday. My goodness... success befits them well. How gorgeous is Sheila??? She's all sunny and tanned, in a clingy pink top and all smiles. The Pye's are doing quite well, career-wise, in the art world, and it's no surprise. With Sheila's meticulous nature, Nick's natural aesthetic eye, and their combined love, these two make beautiful photographs and films.

Further along, we head to Katherine Mulherin's Galleries. The Bus Galleries were one of the first to really break the Queen W. Gallery Scene as the place to be. Eventually even stalwarts like Edward Day and Paul Petro have moved around the corner from her. It is close to the mental asylum you know.

Annie is about to have her show there. The opening is this Friday. We talk quickly to Katherine. Quite quickly, after seeing Nick Ostoff's paintings leaning against a wall, I used to share a work studio with him, Yuri and Amy Bowles, we get onto the topic of Yuri.

-Whatever happened to Yuri?

-I don't know. I don't really have any news from him anymore. He just kind of disappeared.

-That guy really had it you know. I was going to put his show up and he just suddenly backed out and disappeared.

-Yeah, I heard he sold all his music gear and just took off to live with his girlfriend in North Toronto.

-Yeah, Yuri had it all you know. He's so "downtown." He had a great band, his art was great, and he was such a babe... Like, total hotness. Great package.

As she says this it dawns on me that Katherine has no clue that I was Yuri's girlfriend for 6 years. I smile, inside I'm laughing my pants off, and say, "yeah, he sure was a babe."

Annie and I head off to the Gladstone. The Gladstone used to be this seedy old rundown hotel/bar where you could sing Karaoke with all the other lost types in the west end. The types of guys and girls who would blearily tell each other they loved you after their 9th pint... sponge noses, mid-knee shorts, wife-beaters.

The Gladstone has since changed. It's gorgeous now. All redone in glistening hardwood, new tall windows, a sloping bar, hanging iron lights. It's a model in cool Toronto urban chic. The old border town mixed with cosmpolitan cool. Annie has a show there. We look and discuss her art. She seems trepidacious. I'm not used to that. It is very charming.

On the way out I see a familiar face parked on outside the Swan, a lovely diner-ish restaurant. It's Sam! So we give each other the old "Sam!" "Sam!" Short talk, and good to see yous. The first of many. I guess I've been away so long people just assumed I was never coming back. She looks exactly the same. Have I really been away? Time and space collapsing rapidly. Brain starting to split in two. My Paris half is retreating somewhere. I must at least preserve my back straightened walk that I learned over there.

Annie and I finally swing by the Drake, because it's close. The place is awful. This is where all those hipster idiots park themselves. Gross guys in trucker hats, expensive funky t-shirts, general Queen W. pseudo cool tackiness. Yuck. Sitting on the patio, watching the light pass through the trees... talking... suddenly there's Andre! Andre, who starred in my last film. He works here as one of the waiters. It's nice... small chats, exchange of numbers... blah blah.

I head home and see Shelton for half an hour. He's depressed. It's shocking.

This is one of the things that will be recurring so far in my trip. There's a shocking number of my friends who are actually depressed and on anti-depressants. It's seems to be a trend to medicate yourself against all possible sadness. I mean, Shelton seems fine, a bit stoned almost, but fine. But I tarry to find the appropriate response to this general malaise that seems to have hit a large majority of them in general.

Then, quiet time...

Then Shelton comes over at around midnight. My jet lag is ferociously strong at this point but still I soldier on. Shelton and I go to a bar around the corner. There's a Salsa-Reggae band playing. Lots of hip swishing among the couples. This is not a place for amateurs. I find the improbably mixture of Salsa-Reggae to be revolting. I'm definitely not latin or loose enough to find this interesting. I find it absolutely hideous... or perhaps it was the fatigue that exacerbates this reaction. In any case, we must move on, especially since I inadvertantly light a cigarette. In Toronto, you cannot smoke indoors, anymore. Not at a concert, not in a bar, not in a restaurant. Thank god I came here in summer where I can duck out for a puff without any climatic difficulties.

We make our way to the Communist's Daughter, a new bar that's opened up on Dundas, just W. of Ossington. It's quiet enough place. Small bar, jukebox, unassuming. All in all, the recipe for a good bar. We settle in for Scotch. After a bit, I suggest heading out for a ciggie. While sitting on the bench we are accosted by a man who offers to sing us a song. He pesters and is belligerent, and while I quickly look away, annoyed, Shelton, ever the gentle idiot that he is, agrees to hear him sing. What ensues is one of the most violent raps I've heard in a while. It's about food, how he ain't got no food, and he's hungry... all done at a ridiculous high volume and gunfire pace. Looking at this guy, I wouldn't hesitate to say that he should be rapping about crack.

The second man to pester us is a lonely type. Obviously drunk and looking for someone to talk to. He talks like a Salesman, and sells Shelton on the idea of working for AOL, where he works. But he then quickly follows this up with the line that he didn't go into work this day. The sun was too bright. He then asks us if we want to learn Photoshop. That he knows Photoshop really well and he can teach us a thing or two in under an hour. I go back inside, pay the bill and go home.

Too tired.

And that's only Thursday.

The next day is Friday.....