Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brokedown palace

A lot of shit has been said about the G20 meetings last weekend, not entirely without merit. My perspective is not uninformed, but rather differently informed.

Last weekend I bore a yellow tag that signified me "media" and by extension granted me access to the International Media Centre: home of the now-infamous 'fake lake,' press conferences, food, wine, fifa-playing flatscreens, and maple syrup.

Rattled off in list-form, it does sound extragavant. The cost of the centre - $1.9 million - to some, probably does seem that way. I was assured by a colleague, however, that it was equally or less extravagant as the last-minute Media Centre in L'Aquila in 2009, or the resort in Hokkaido in 2008. And, though it's received a lot of criticism, the fake lake was a place for journalists to unwind at the end of the day - to sit in an adirondack, have a glass of local wine, and listen to some pre-recorded loons. Tacky and stereotypical, maybe. But nice.

Perhaps we as Canadians are more conservative with frivolous spending. The Media Centre in Hokkaido, for example, cost $25.92 million - but Japanese culture has hospitality as a cornerstone. Though I wouldn't care if I had to carry out my analysis at the summit in a shack, we really shouldn't be whingeing about trying to make international journalists comfortable. They're guests in our country and our city. We owe them the chance to experience Toronto and Ontario reasonably, and we owe ourselves the pride that comes with being a meeting place for people from all over the world. Toronto has been this before, and, after the events that transpired last weekend, we can only hope that it will be again.

As aforementioned, I offer a different perspective. I did not see the protests-cum-riots on Saturday (though if you're looking for an excellent account of what happened, I suggest you read this link). In fact, I was asleep on a charter bus back from Huntsville, awoken by my phone aggressively vibrating with my frantic parents waiting on the other line. "Are you safe?" My dad asked me. "I'm asleep," I replied, and hung up. My phone screen was covered in missed call alerts, voicemail, text messages. The two at the top read, "Shit is going down" and "Two cop cars are burning."

People blame themselves for the stupidest shit. When I left Toronto in the wee hours of Saturday morning to catch Stephen Harper's final press conference, I could never have known that I'd be coming back to bedlam. And I blamed myself for not being there when this happened, for my job existing because of this meeting, for being a small part of a big reason behind people's anger. For defending the police even when they had done wrong.

I know that there were instances of some police overstepping their boundaries. But we have lanced far too much of the blame on them. Just as peaceful protesters, and indeed civilians, can not be conflated with those few who operated 'black bloc' tactics and destroyed our city, we cannot lump the police together as a unanimous, faceless mass with a single-minded agenda (you can tell those people by the bandanas over their faces).

It disturbs me that our anger has been so misdirected, that we blame the police, the (admittedly large) security budget, Stephen Harper, Bill Blair, the G20, capitalism, patriarchy, and any number of other things before we blame those responsible for the destruction. The police didn't - read, conspiracy theorists: did not - burn their own cars. Stephen Harper wasn't trying to steal cellphones from out of a shattered Bell storefront. Capitalism didn't beat journalists and shoot at them with paintball guns.

We should point the finger at those responsible for justifying what may have been excessive. And, though I earlier said that people judge themselves foolishly, I think that we should blame ourselves for feeling entitled for all of the wrong reasons. We should have felt entitled to be proud of the world's leaders, spouses, delegations, and media coming to our city. Instead, we feel entitled to defend the message we have sent to the world - that they should not feel welcome here.

Like I said, I was not out in the streets on Saturday. But I was Sunday morning. They were empty.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Can Wonder What I Did with My Night

Last night I trooped through the minus-a-billion-degrees-plus-wind-chill nightmare weather with a friend to Cabbagetown watering-hole the Cobourg. My student budget had a heart attack upon taking in the art-heavy walls (including two beautiful canvasses of impressionist-style ostriches), crystal chandeliers and warm, cushy atmosphere. It then rejoiced after buying a pint of Wellington for under five dollars.

We saw Maritimes songbird Julie Doiron, who is beyond adorable, singing Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold On Me" impeccably well along with the rest of her lovely set. Equally fun were the chill 20-to-30 year olds that meshed with the place. Julie and the Cobourg both have a fervent fan in me.

When I heard "free concert in cabbagetown" the day before I thought, "dirty, maybe a stabbing, sketchbags." Toronto always has a way of making me feel like an ignorant bastard.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Extra! Extra! The city lacks a decent local news source!

Full disclosure, right-off-the-bat: I am an avid Globe and Mail reader (when I can get it, I hate reading the news online).

That said, I am astonished at the recent tripe coming out of GAM (and therefore my) rival, The Toronto Star. While I've always known that the Star can be a little too bleeding-heart liberal for its own good (and this is coming from the mouth of someone, forsooth, whose chest cavity practically drips with plasma) it has recently elevated itself to a Toronto Sun level of tabloid-paranoia and factless shock-journalism.

I applauded a friend's father after hearing that he'd written a scathing reply to a Star article outlining the disappearance of Scarborough's middle-class due to its recent influx of immigrants. He wrote, rightly, "Who said immigrants can't be middle class?"

Indeed, the indirect racism of this suggestion* has been more-than-matched by a no-holds-barred barrage on white people. I am not trying to say here that white people have it so bad, because they don't. This isn't a platform for certain deluded individuals to cry poor on the status of Caucasians in the city or abroad.

However, when you're trying to write a credible news article, perhaps accusing a certain college society of "excruciating whiteness" (it's there, read for yourself) is not the best road to take. Besides the fact (in neon!) that Iain Marlow's article on Trinity College's Episkopon is horribly under-researched**, he is a Staff Reporter, meaning that his particular brand of pseudonews is apparently enough to warrant him a comfortable living in the Star's (not-so) humble opinion.

So I will continue to read the few pages of Toronto section that the Globe gives me. Sure, it's hoighty-toighty at times, but at least I can trust that it won't indict my skin colour as "excruciating" anytime soon.

*Unfortunately, I am taking a rather Staresque approach as I haven't read the article in question, and am operating in this instance on hearsay (though said friend has secured a copy of the reply from her dentist - her dad is some kind of local hero now).

**More disclosure from yours truly: I attended Trinity College and know the nature of that organization very well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Riding the Rocket

I have not been entirely truthful. I do not live in Toronto - at least not in the sense that many do live in Toronto. That is to say, I live there full-time, meaning that for two-thirds of the year my postal code has an M at the front of it. Unfortunately, I am in that dreaded one-third period where my mail is relegated to L-class - I am in "Greater Toronto" (AKA Lesser Toronto) and could not be more upset about it.

My only link to the city during this dreadful time is one and a half hours of public transit. The hour is spent on the clean and shiny yet inefficient York Region VIVA system. The half is spent on the TTC subway's "Yellow Line" which I'm sure is familiar to most.

I hear many grumblings about the TTC, but I am an ardent fan. Perhaps this is the suburban girl in me marvelling at a system that continuously provides service at all hours of the day, but I think my metro-closeted upbringing could equally harm my opinion of the Toronto Transit Commission.

For one, never have I met employees so surly as I have in the tunnel. I try my hardest to be extra-chipper for them (although it could be people like me that eventually push them over the edge). This surliness is exacerbated by the moustaches sported by all male Commission employees over thirty-five, something that I am now positive is part of the uniform. Once, expecting the woman at the ticket booth to be a real rager, I didn't realize that she was letting me through for free. We had a little laugh and I darted off towards Victoria Park, my first journey with an unbroken twenty still flat in my wallet.

Public transit in Toronto also offers that excellent feeling of rider comraderie. I spent an entire trip - Union to Finch - jabbering with the person behind me about what would happen if the train broke down. I feel as though that conversation was more candid, fun, and honest than many of the ones I've forced myself through with certain coworkers or classmates. Even if you can't find someone to talk to, you can always eavesdrop - the train is a forum for all of life's most painful decisions and hilarious party stories.

For those who say that the subway is depressing, I argue that the long periods of time spent in the dark make those short journeys through the light (like riding past Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Davisville, or the short-but-sweet leafiness of Rosedale) all the more wonderful. And some of the most interesting, concerning and beautiful advertisements that I've seen have been exclusive to the subway. Though some (*coughMarkKingwellcough*) seem to think that these advertisements are a corporate invasion of our public space, I prefer to acknowledge them as welcome changes every month or so, and furthermore to thank them for keeping the price under three dollars (unlike VIVA, which in its four short years of operation has risen to $3.25 a ride).

Lastly, being underground means that, for a brief period, we are free from daily cellphonery. I cherish that half hour where, when listening to a conversation or having your own, it happens the way it's supposed to - face-to-face.

P.S. One thing I will mention that I despise about the TTC - it's new website. It went from a barely navigable HTML shitshow with an adorable chime everytime you hit the mainpage to a sleek, sophisticated layout with dropdown menus. I've spent so much time mastering the old website that the intuitiveness of the new design does nothing except piss me off. I know that the Commission has been into innovation lately - such as the proposed light-rail service actually getting implemented. Furthermore, Commissioner Adam Giambrone has proven himself to be one of the technorati - not only with facebook and twitter accounts but also by pioneering a new way to email.

Innovate all you like, TTC. Just leave my website alone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

High and Low Dining

Yesterday, I meandered down Bay Street (where I'm convinced winter is kept in this city) to meet my cousin for lunch. We had previously agreed on Mercatto, a semi-upscale* Italian restauruant on Toronto Street. Mercatto is cozy, with full windows on two of its four sides. Surrounded by businesspeople talking about a number of important businessy things**, I looked down at the menu to see that the dishes were all Italian-named (not captioned). We struggled with the names, me frantically recalling the food words I'd learned in my ITA101 - Italian for Dialect Speakers - class, and managed to order a pasta dish each and a salad, to split.

The food was good, but not Italian. We are both seasoned eaters - my Nona saw to that ages ago - and this food was much too fancy to be Italian food. The salad, which was especially nice with shaved cheese and roasted pears, had shaved cheese and roasted pears on it - not Italian.

Later that night, I went to another restaurant. Future's Bakery (which, to be honest with you, isn't a new place for me at all - I think I've spent more time there over the past three years than I have sleeping), at Bloor and Brunswick. I am not about to say that Future's has real Italian food- it doesn't. I think for me, the only real Italian I can ever have is served on twenty-eight year old dishware at my Noni's house.

What Future's does have is consistency. It's always packed with people, but you're guaranteed to find at least one table free. The onion rings, with ketchup, always taste like a Quarter Pounder (which is good, as I renounced red meats five years ago and have been craving McDonald's beef just as long). The staff at the cake counter are only slightly pissed off when all you order is tea - which I do a lot. When you do order cake, they present it to you like an Olympic medal - all dusted with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce.

The patronage of Future's is also unbelivably dependable. There's people on first or second dates, arguing lesbians, out-of-place families, and at least one hipster asshole reading Marx's Das Kapital while you're trying to study for an economics final. Next door is the Lab, behind is the Green Room, and across the street is the Brunny, so there's no short supply of drunken harlots to laugh at. If you get a window seat (which I don't like because the tables are too small), the crowd going in and out of the Brunny is like a little side show. Make a bet with your friends on skirt lengths - if you guess that the one outside is the shortest you'll see that night, you win***.

In short, I recommend both. Go to Mercatto if you feel like going out and later remembering a nice meal you had there. Go to Future's if you want to feel at home.

* Has waitstaff and entrees cost in the double digits.
** Mergers? What do businesspeople talk about?
*** You'll never win - there will always be a shorter one.

What is Lauronto?

About three years ago, I became painfully aware that my name, Lauren, and its colloquialism - "Laur" - could fit into a plethora of different preexisting English words. My computer became a computlaur. I studied Intlaurnational Relations. I worked in a Colaur me Mine Paint-Your-Own ceramics shop. Thus, the city I live in, Toronto, became, to me, Lauronto.

At about the same time as this realization, I also noticed that I didn't really take advantage of Toronto's cultural and social promiscuity. This flirtatious little tart, which boasts millions of inhabitants, thousands of cuisines, hundreds of languages, and at least tens of buildings with more than ten stories (and about one billion starbucks), has wondered why I haven't yet "tapped that," as it were.

This blog is to chronicle my exploits in this city. Shows I see, food I eat, things that astound/peturb/amuse me, all to do with Toronto. Know that I am a student and poor, so dabbling in the cocaine scene or eating gold ice cream will probably not be featured.

Am I qualified to make these speculations? Absolutely not. I am often terrified when I am anywhere outside of the Annex after dark and by myself, as I will probably end up relating more than once in this blog. I also spent much of my childhood (read: all) in the GTA and therefore have lost the respect of the remaining few who still had any for me after the "afraid" statement above. I have many unfounded opinions, bias to anything east of Yonge, and only ate Indian food for the first time two years ago (it was delicious) - I am hoping that these will change (and that I continue to eat Indian food).

I am going to discover and rediscover Toronto, weather- and University-permitting, for the purposes of not only this blog but also so that I can say "I've been to the Distillery District" without lying through my teeth.

Love Lauren