10.12.2009 - 13.12.2009 -5 °C
John:.... it was so cold that I couldn't speak to the nice lady across the counter. Not that I was lost for words, of course. I couldn't physically move my lips. It was -5 degrees centigrade here but with the wind chill factor that is more like -10. Fortunately it was late morning and so had warmed up. This is unremarkable to the residents of Toronto. We heard comments like "when it gets colder later in the winter.....". We also heard that we were lucky to get in on Thursday. A hundred flights were cancelled and/or diverted from Toronto airport. Fortunately the weather is set to warm before Sunday when we are due to fly to the UK. Fingers crossed.
We began the day by following up on a 'phone number to try and do some voluntary work for a day/night. We took the tram along Queen's Street, west, off the map to Jameson street. I had spoken to a chap called Kyle at the Salvation Army who said "come and talk to me". When we got there the place was an op shop, Kyle was busy and it was clear that we/he had got the wrong end of the stick. Kyle gave us directions that were as complex as some of the thoughts he was grappling with so we thanked him and headed back to a Salvation Army shelter we had seen....this was a shelter for women and it wouldn't have been appropriate for us both and anyway they were OK for volunteers right now but thank you....The shelter provided us with a number for another shelter...."thank you but we already have enough volunteers but perhaps another shelter....". By this time we had used up half a day and served only to divert busy people from their work. It can't be easy having 'help' drop in on you cold like that, especially if they are only offering a few hours to one day before disappearing again. For us though it gave a chance to see the West end of Queen's Street that we otherwise may not have seen.
After a coffee at the Hudson Bay Company dept store we tracked down a tour bus and had a fascinating trip around Toronto. Happy to get out of the needle sharp, cruel wind we would have accepted any old thing but our guide was witty, informed and interested in her 'wards'. It seems that the winter has a long way to go down temperature wise yet. One of the chaps on the bus was from Edmonton and said how warm Toronto was compared to his home town. Unsurprisingly a lot of the retail part of the centere of town is indoors. Several huge malls and dept stores account for a large part of the shopping. In this context not a bad thing with numerous food outlets, an enormous bookshop and a fairly varied (with the inevitable leaning to shoe shops and womens clothes)set of stores. The HMV store is across the road and didn't disappoint on Saturday.
Before it was too late we hit the outstanding St Lawrence Market, just around the corner from here, for ingredients for a dinner platter; bagettes, carribou and fig pate (disappointing), a big Aussie red, some excellent red pepper dip, salmon gravad lax and the smelliest (and finest) brie we've had for a long time. All eaten in the hostel dining room in the company of people who had paid twice as much to buy miniscule pre-bagged micro wavable meals....
....and now it is tomorrow, Saturday. Slightly warmer today as the temperature raced past 0 degrees. We basked in a full 2 degrees centigrade during the hottest part of the day forcing me to remove the topmost of my 4 layers at one point.
We began the day by heading down to the St Lawrence Farmers' Market, just across the road from the permanent market we visited yesterday, which is only open during the weekend and a celebration of all things good; home made apple crumble and pies, hand crafted sausages, breads of many colours and smells, scrumpy cider with bits in it, herbs, seasonal veges...in short if we had been here for another few days we may have put on a fair bit of weight. Several buskers in the place playing gently so as not to disturb the produce...one old boy on the alto sax playing Christmas carols with just a hint of swing. From there to the enormous Eaton mall and a very tasteful shirt for the wedding. A drift around HMV for me and the mall for Jackie before lunch.
I then visited the excellent Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I didn't go to the King Tut exhibition, at 29 dollars on top of the 18 dollars admission for the time I had available it seemed a little steep. Before getting into the Art Gallery proper, the central courtyard was occupied by a trapeze artist who was re enacting a character from an early 20th century French painting in one of the galleries. Complete with trapeze and a busker's routine she jollied the crowd along...it went on a bit for me so I sloped off to the Contemporary and Canadian galleries. The former had some interesting photographic pieces from the 1960s to the present day, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, Andy Warhol's 'Elvis', and a couple of other notable pop art icons including a very nice Hockney, some 'interesting' cinematic installations. More up to date work as well and the whole lot displayed well in plenty of space and light. The Canadian gallery housed a wealth of work from exquisitely detailed Inuit carvings in stone through paintings from the past couple of centuries to contemporary paintings of modern day Canadian landscapes. All very wholesome (and warm). As is often the case looking at artworks by people you have never heard of before from countries you don't know much about can be really interesting and the Canadian collection at AGO is worth a lot more time than I had...if you're visiting the City and art is your thing get to AGO and explore the Canadian gallery.
A couple of protests and demonstrations in the City today....a little megaphone work on Queen's Street by a group protesting against fare increases on the Toronto public transport system. Nothing on the dramatic and unpredictable scale of demonstrations in Peru, neither was the polite request to boycott products by Sri Lanka by a group marching down the side of the Toronto Easton Shopping Centre, shepherded by half a dozen or so bicycle police officers from the Toronto Police force. The only sign of trouble was when one of the protesters accidently stepped over the white line into the next lane resulting in a whistle being blown by one of the officers. The rest of us were searching hard, mentally, to see if we could recall any products coming out of Sri Lanka that we were likely to have bought. Anyway it was all very well mannered and that is my impression of Toronto. When a car horn sounds it is a head turning event. When a siren sounds the traffic moves to one side. When the traffic lights go red the traffic stops. After the anarchy of Peruvian traffic behaviour, where car horn blowing is perpetual, and perpetually ignored to the extent where people have wired up car alarms to the horn, this is a shock. The degree of road rules compliance in the absence of visible policing in Toronto is in marked contrast to the traffic chaos in the presence of huge numbers of police officers in places like Lima.
Back to our cozy little hostel on Church Street, through the general lounge area which reminds me a little of a university common room with pool table, juke box, computers. I am surprised at the relatively conservative music on the juke box...nothing too outrageous. We headed off to see The Cavalcade of Lights this evening by the outdoor skating rink in front of the Toronto City Hall - one to wrap up for as both of the 2 degrees centigrade had disappeared long ago and taken a few of their mates with them. Proceedings started at 19:00 with a band from Vancouver 'State of Shock'. These chaps worked hard to keep the crowd warm. Not my cup of tea really...the rhythmic inventiveness of early Glitter Band (remember them in the UK? Two drummers, one for each stick) and the melodic charm of Napalm Death. After a fairly unimpressed start the crowd warmed up and by the end of their one hour set the crowd was jigging enthusiastically.
A young man called Raven was the lucky winner of a free Gibson guitar given away by the band...some of us mean spirited types wished that they had given away the drums, bass and microphones as well. The Toronto City Council has put on a concert and firework display for 3 consecitive weeks. The firework display was spectacular and drew lots of ooohs and aaahs from the assembled congregation. Behind us the skating rink was very busy and the queue for skate hire was long. A young man had taken over a stretch of concrete, placed sheets of paper on it with 'EWELINA WILL YOU MARRY ME?' the whole show covered in red rose petals and tee light candles. It looked lovely and I hope Ewelina was impressed...she probably would have been if she could have forced her way through the ring of photographers who were taking pictures of the whole thing. We both hoped that Ewelina wasn't the young, bored looking lady with a cigarette drooping out of the side of her mouth and hand on hip....with all that effort by Romeo he deserved Juliet rather than Morticia.
Anyway Toronto, good show this evening and even if the band wasn't my thing they clearly were for quite a few people....I understand they have a recording contract....
Off to England tomorrow and ready to provide Air Canada with an opportunity to redeem themselves. Currently riding bottom equal with American Airlines in a contest that includes 2 Peruvian airlines, LAN Chile, QANTAS and British Airways they have a lot of work to do...