In the Grid, some thoughts on the latest batch of over here/over there plays, which are funny, thought-provoking and packing the theatres (including Pomme is French for Apple, pictured at right and starting a run at the Young Centre tonight, February 28).
Alright, so here’s my two cents on Toronto Life’s current exodus to the suburbs story. A few notes before I begin:
I write for TL a fair bit (including a story in this very issue! About insomnia! Don’t sleep on it!), and I’m not going to trash the mag in favour of some mythical Toronto publication that gets it all right (more on this later). I’m also friends with Philip Preville, so aside from this—PHILIP, YOU LITTER? GROSS!—I’m not going to trash him either.
Others have already done a good job exploring the rather obvious point that the story has a packaging problem. I agree that it’s not about the suburbs, but small towns that are becoming exurbs whether they like it or not. So I’ll stay away from that, too. I’m going to focus on two things: economics and demographics.
Let’s start with the money bit. I don’t care if suburbanites/exurbanites don’t want to live here, but it’s ridiculous that we let them sneer at the overcrowdedness of the TTC and then turn around and take the money that we need to fix the TTC up to Uxbridge. What the story reinforced for me is that if people need Toronto to fund their gorgeous new Annex-mansions-in-Dundas, Toronto needs to stand up for itself. Most (all?) of the families interviewed have at least one partner who is relying on Toronto for a salary; meanwhile the city is suffering from years of provincial downloading and federal derision. Whether it’s via road tolls, or disincentives for companies with offices in the 416 to hire outside the city, or something else, it’s time for this financial engine to demand some cash money respect.
I also wondered about the effect of flush Torontonians buying up the nicest Victorians in Cobourg’s Rosedale on the current residents of the small towns in question. (Ok, I’ll say it: the focus on gorgeous real estate is sooooooo Toronto Life. It’s hilarious that the one family that lives in a typical nouveau salmon-brick suburban house is shown in their backyard.) Funding a 705 lifestyle with 416 money would seem to replicate awful Vancouver-y real estate markets. That kind of sucks for the original 705-ers. I can’t figure out if I think The New Exurbanites are contributing to sprawl. I suppose if they buy up the old houses, then people who work at lower-salaried jobs are left with new builds, but that’s pretty indirect. I’m still musing on this one.
Random thought unrelated to my points of focus: it’s my understanding that parenting is a fraught and paranoid practice everywhere, and I highly doubt, Philip, that you’re trusting your kids with random friendly small-towners. I was in Kingston this past weekend (itself a lovely town where a four-bedroom, 150-year-old, heartbreakingly gorgeous stone house was $539,000, sheesh) and shuddered when passing the penitentiary. Paul Bernardo’s worst crimes happened in St. Catharine’s, remember? Evil and goodness are not location specific.
On to demographics: There’s no mention of diversity at all, except for a weird comment about the Toronto-ditchers missing the food here. As far as I’m concerned, every single piece of journalism that claims to be about any meaningful shift in Toronto’s demographics has to tackle ethnicity head on. Otherwise, the half has never been told. And it’s fine for the commenters at Spacing to insult TL for white blindness, but let me take this opportunity to say that I don’t think any publication in this city consistently parses GTA diversity in any quality way. Good thing the Ethnic Aisle is planning a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue for September.
Months ago, a (white) friend told me that he and his (white) fiancée figure they’ll eventually move out of Toronto. They want the space and the quiet and all of that. A number of my white friends have talked to me about their desire to leave the city, for the usual reasons, from lower house prices to less road rage. During one of these convos, last spring, my reaction was visceral, i.e. rude: I blurted “well, enjoy life among all white people.” I apologized afterward, but I’m still bothered. I just can’t escape this nagging feeling that when people say they like the “simplicity” of the exurbs (or cottage country), it’s at least partially a code word for “homogeneity.” Everyone loves udon and dosas, but dealing with all that language-barrier stuff at your kid’s public school is so complicated. On Metro Morning, Philip said that his research shows that it isn’t just white people that are moving out of the city. The omission of that info from the actual article is a major flaw. If Toronto’s weaknesses are leading the entire region to self-segregate, that’s something to be obsessing over, not ignored.
Did I say anything new here? I dunno. When I was writing this, I kept humming LCD Soundsystem. Toronto’s having a hard time right now, and sure, it gets me down. But you know what? This is my hometown and I love it. I want to fix it, not flee.
In the Toronto Standard, the five awesomest patios with the crappiest menus.
Somehow, whenever Irina was at a loss for words, she blurted her most private reflections because she couldn’t locate the public ones in time. Owing to this exasperating reflex, she was prone to share her inmost thoughts with total strangers, awkward misfits, and people she disliked.
– Lionel Shriver, “The Post-Birthday World”
(excellent read. Shriver is smart, unflinching, unashamed, witty, caustic and refreshingly grown-up. Thanks to Ruth Seeley for recommendation)
The book is a DIY-guide to civic activism, lending inspiration to those colouring both inside and outside the lines. There’s a handy, accessible guide to navigating the red tape of City Hall; a piece on how citizens could participate in allocating the city budget; and many, many heart-warming stories of regular people who helped clean up neighbourhood parks, start farmers’ markets, install public art, build skate ramps, and generally make Toronto the kind of place I want to live.
My piece is about looking beyond the sometimes saddening homogeneity of elected bodies, to see the real diversity that’s on the ground, everyday. And, just to toot my own blog here, someone just told me that none other than Matt Galloway said, live and on air, that my essay was his favourite. I’m going to put that one in my back pocket and pull it out when I need a pick-me-up. But really, I found the whole book really optimistic and an excellent kickstart: the day after I got my hands on a hard copy, I signed up to volunteer in the after-school snack program at my local community centre. It’s hard for a hungry kid to grow up to be mayor, after all.
I had some extra time yesterday, so I finally made this Chili Lime Tequila Popcorn recipe from 101 Cookbooks that I’d been drooling over for months. It made me miss my dear departed Auntie Zan, who used to make us stovetop popcorn all the time, drenched in butter. I have a fear of deep frying, so I thought it would be hard. Instead, it was incredibly easy. I cheered out loud as the corn bombs rattled off the pot lid, then considered again how foolish most “convenience” food is, and how it isn’t really convenient for anyone but big food companies.
That train of thought was cemented when I idly scrolled through the comments on the recipe, and saw a mention of “popcorn butter lung.” I knew that microwave popcorn tends to be insanely high in trans fats, but until yesterday I didn’t know that a chemical called diacetyl in artificial butter was giving factory workers that make the stuff a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans.
I don’t know why this surprises me. I’ve been an advocate of real, fatty food over weird, low-fat food since forever. It seems completely counterintuitive to, for example, add gelatin to make low-fat yogurt creamy when full-fat yogurt is already creamy? But still, the idea that a 44-year-old woman now needs a lung transplant due to popcorn butter…well. It’s an outrage.
After mounthing off about the artificial butter travesty to Le Jenk for a bit, I put the popped corn goodness into a giant paper LCBO bag and head off to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’m not a cinephile because I have both snobbish and bummer tendencies. I find that most movies fall into two categories: stupid or depressing (with Wes Anderson representing strongly in the latter). Well, Mr. Fox was one of those rare gems that I wholeheartedly enjoyed. It was funny, it was smart, it was awesome to look at, engaging, touching but not heart-wrenching, overall thoroughly enjoyable. It was the best movie to watch on a -20 degree day after sneaking buttery, spicy snacks into an overpriced movie theatre. Do yourself a favour: melt some real butter onto some real popcorn, then go see it, soon.
With winter’s first real snowfall happening outside, it seemed like a good day to sleep in, eat shiitake frittata (say that five times fast), go back to bed, download “Mall Cop” based on hilariously outraged negative iTunes review (and low brain cell count), make oven fries and finally check out jazz pianist Vijay Iyer who is, as promised, awesome (and frighteningly multitalented). Happy new year, everyone.
I’m doing pretty well at avoiding the evil, evil Balsam of Peru, and so my split, stinging finger is much better. If you’re looking to go fragrance-free, here’s what I think about a bunch of stuff. If you’ve got any to recommend, please do, I’m always looking.
Avalon Organics Olive & Grape Seed Conditioner: Didn’t do much for my hair, left the ends pretty dry. Wouldn’t use it again.
Clinique Comfort on Call Face Cream: Clinique toiletries do have some questionable chemicals in them, unfortch, but they’re affordable-ish and always scent-free. Both this and the Redness Solutions line work really, really well for me, better than most things I’ve tried. I’m loathe to give them up, so instead I sent the company an email to ask if product colouring is really necessary, since that’s largely what gives them a moderate toxicity rating. Stay tuned.
Jonathan Green Rootine Dry Brush on Hair Powder: The people at Jonathan should really read their Sephora reviews, because the package this stuff comes in sucks. It does not work, so save yourself the trouble of bashing your skull repeatedly with the useless brush. Instead, unscrew the bottom and gently tap about 3/4 of a tablespoon into your hand. Replace the cap immediately, or you’ll dump the whole thing down the sink, guaranteed, and the bottle lasts eight uses, max. Price and crappy design aside, I love this stuff. The actual powder works really well, and I could not get through a week of 7 a.m. shifts without it, although you will have to do two “real” shampoo latherings to get it out. Please let me know if you are going to the U.S. and can buy me a few of these at $13 USD, rather than $20 CAD. Thanks.
Nature Clean Unscented Dishwashing Liquid: Suds up nicely, does a great job. A winner.
Nature Clean Unscented Herbal Shampoo: It’s ok. Not quite tough enough when I’ve been dousing my head with dry shampoo, and sometimes I could use a little more volume. I’ll probably try another kind next time, but I bet this would be a great kids’ shampoo. Aside from fragrance, it’s also free of SLS, propylene glycol and other gross weird stuff we probably shouldn’t absorb through our skin every day.
Nature’s Gate Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin: This is a decent mid-weight body cream. My skin can get pretty dry in the winter, so I personally need something richer at this time of year, but I’d buy it again in the summer.
Ren Guerande Salt Exfoliating Body Balm: Although I love exfoliating salts, I never would have bought this pricey stuff myself. Happily, a style writer friend who gets lots of swag passed it along. Yay, friends. It’s awesome, and softens things up nicely. It has essential oils, but no Balsam of Peru et al, so smells lovely yet left me rash free. And, the container is giant. Love it.