Trumped-Up Toronto

Sign outside a brick building saying "This is the place."I watched the first Presidential debate in a Canadian bar.

It was the best possible venue.

Democrats Abroad Toronto hosted the event. They were expecting about 50 people. About 300 showed up.

By the time the debate started, the bartender had run out of glasses and it was standing room only. A visit from the fire department would have gotten us all (very slowly) booted out.

***

I got there two hours early and scored a prime seat. On my right was Sean Marshall, a geographer, and on my left Stephen Chu, a photographer (both Canadians).

Sean’s a political aficionado who shamed me by knowing more about Massachusetts politics than I do. He watched the debate with rapt concentration.

Stephen and I kept laughing at particularly surreal moments, of which there were many (both on- and off-screen).

One newcomer standing behind us tried to order food, but the bartender said he had to be seated first. I offered up my seat. A few seconds later, he found out there was a two-hour backup in the kitchen, and gave up on eating. I got my seat back.

When Donald Trump claimed to have been endorsed by ICE, a woman sitting nearby misheard and said, bewildered, “Endorsed by ISIS?”

Several people mentioned that it was like watching a boxing match. It seemed more operatic to me, with Hillary shimmying in a moment of triumph, and Donald shaking his head, booming “Wrong,” his voice coming out almost in slow motion.

Time slowed way down and sped way up. The hour and a half was coming, was here, was gone before the bartender picked my Canadian tip off the counter.

It would have been so lonely watching this in some hotel room. In the bar, surrounded by strangers, I was surfing on top of a fragmenting glacier, melting from the past into the future.

Photo by me. View my Toronto album on Flickr.

Read my first Toronto post here and my second Toronto post here.

Toronto, Part 2: Alone Among Canadians

Wall art showing a boy standing on a small grassy island in a lake, saying "Hello?"

You can feel like this in the middle of 5 million people.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling alone.

It started when I was living in China. In the late 1990s, this was not a welcoming place to travel as a foreigner. Trains and buses ran on incomprehensible schedules. I was once sold a ticket for a train that didn’t exist.

But I loved the freedom of hopping on a bus and going to visit other Peace Corps Volunteers in a town a couple hours away.

Traveling with others can be wonderful. But you have to accommodate another person’s desires, moods, and interests. Traveling alone, I can do whatever I want, at my own pace. It’s luxurious.

It’s also lonely.

Whenever I tell people that I’m going on vacation somewhere, they ask, “Just you?” Saying yes is a point of pride with me. I want to be the kind of person who has the bravery, as well as the time and the financial and emotional resources, to hop on a plane somewhere for a few days.

It feeds my ego to see myself as an adventurer.

This Toronto trip, though, I felt my alone-ness vividly. It’s not that I was terribly isolated during my trip. I stayed in an airbnb (renting a room in a couple’s apartment), and visited with two college friends. At times I was engulfed by hundreds of humans, most notably when I watched the first Presidential debate at a bar.

I vacillated during this trip between enjoying making my own agenda and following my own whims, and wishing I had someone to share the experience with.

Being childfree and unmarried is like that too. I love my independence—I’m an American, after all, and we’re obsessed with freedom and self-direction.

There are also moments when I feel adrift in space. With a really sweet oxygen tank and a viewscreen that delivers Netflix, for sure. But still, just me in my spacesuit, floating through the galaxy.

I wonder what it would take for me to feel truly connected to others. I have great friends and family members I’m close to. Mutual love. My friends and family live all over the world.

I guess I miss the partnership I’ve felt when I’ve lived with a boyfriend in the past. Or even a great roommate. The feeling when you hear them opening the door, and you’re delighted, instead of annoyed to have your privacy violated.

Introvert’s dilemma, perhaps?

Photo by me. See my other Toronto photos on Flickr.

Toronto, Part 1: Fredelle

Graffiti of the word "Toronto" in red with green borders.

Graffiti Alley introduces itself.

Toronto had been calling me my whole life.

Somewhat odd, maybe. Seems more like something people say about Hawaii or Tuscany than about a city in Ontario. But I’ve always thought of Toronto as a cosmopolitan place—a place full of brilliant, delightful people.

This is because of a large figure in my childhood: Fredelle. Fredelle was my mom’s best friend when I was a kid, and we’d go visit her in the small town in New Hampshire where she lived for part of the year. The rest of the time she lived in Toronto, a mythical Emerald City where I’d never been.

Fredelle was a first-rate storyteller, and had a keen eye and ear for bullshit. She’d grown up on the Saskatchewan prairie, and had no patience for anything less than honesty.

For me as a child, she was the ultimate in intellectual and cultural knowledge. She’d traveled all over the world; she’d written memoirs and books about raising creative kids. She baked sesame cookies that were notorious for burning if you left them in even one minute too long (which she never did). She was independent and a feminist, though I don’t remember her ever using that word.

Fredelle could have a sharp edge. I remember telling her that my school had gotten a new American flag that had flown above the state house previously. She said, “Anya, that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t interest me at all.”

But her interest, when you had it, was laser-like and unforced. When she listened to you—and even when she was the one telling a story—you felt surrounded by her brilliance and her complete attention. I wonder what she would have made of our fragmented world of cell phones, apps, and swiping left and right.

A business sign saying "This is the place," hanging outside a brick building.

Because Fredelle lived part of the time in Toronto, I associated the city with high culture. What culture meant to a nine-year-old, I’m not sure. Some combination of graciousness and fearlessness, and lots of art all around.

Fredelle died of brain cancer when I was a teenager. Her loss to my family was surgical, both abrupt and enormous. Strangely, though I was sad when she died, I don’t remember grieving hugely. Maybe this was because I was at the height of teenage self-absorption, or maybe it was because I already considered her, at 67, to be quite old.

I never visited Toronto during Fredelle’s lifetime. But this week, I finally traveled there. Decades after she painted a bright picture in my mind of a city of kindness, sophistication, and order, I explored it as an adult.

More later on what I found there.

Dedicated to the memory of Fredelle Maynard, 1922-1989.

Photos in this post by me. View my other Toronto photos.

 

 

Beauties of Bushwick

big-wall-1

Every time I go to New York City, I stay in a different neighborhood. (Thank goodness for airbnb, which brings the price on this way down.)

Last weekend I stayed in Bushwick, a part of Brooklyn I’d never seen. Walking from the M train to my host’s apartment, I was initially uncomfortable. I saw boarded-up windows, dog poop on the sidewalk, graffiti tags everywhere.

But as I settled in, I saw a lot to like. Bushwick is up-and-coming (translation: hipsters are invading), but it’s not smoothed-over or yuppified. Brooklyn spikiness is in full effect.

The people I talked to were friendly and self-assured. A little girl skimmed past me on her skateboard and gave me a big grin.

I had an amazing meal at a great bar, Central Station. If I lived here, this would be my local.

And I’ve never seen better wall art in New York. The lines between graffiti, mural, and commissioned wall painting were sometimes unclear, but all over Bushwick, faces and colors sprout from the brick and concrete.

bushwick-girl-brooklyn

You can see my full album of Bushwick photos here on Flickr, where they’re under a Creative Commons license.

What are some of your favorite parts of Brooklyn and NYC?