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30 December 2009

Je Pense Bien a Toi

(If somebody can show me how to put French letters on a blog...)

Yes, we're back in the U. S. of A. We spent a lot of time in the airport due to weather on our side and heightened security measures on the Canadian side.

Toronto is a good place to visit, probably even a better place to live, but we are glad to be back. We have a lot of catching up to do, besides Carolyn's manic attempt to close Books on First's fiscal year properly.

A certain person who shall remain nameless but not faceless has read all about privacy issues online (along with privacy issues of a full body scan -- what is that compared to being patted down and your purse manually searched before reaching your gate?) and has declared that he does not want to be mentioned at all in this blog. "But, but, but, you are the FACE of Books on First!" Apparently, he will leave that all to the boss of us, Brenda Spratt.

Just a quick run through of Toronto points of interest:
  • The Rex Hotel on Queen Street W-- live music from 3pm to closing, no cover until 9:30pm
  • Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Royal Ontario Museum (which has reciprocity with Art Institute of Chicago) -- too bad we did not have opportunity to see Part I and now Part II ends on 3 January 2010
  • Exhibit on Vanity Fair magazine at Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) -- I was very interested to discover that it did not exist for about a half century, merging with Vogue in 1935 due to decline in ad revenue (after all, it was the height of Great Depression) and re-emerging in 1981. Annie Leibovitz, more closely associated with The Rolling Stone magazine, has been with the periodical since 1983 and was a significant influence on its look in the new incarnation, but is not the only famous or talented photographer associated with Vanity Fair. Of course, in the old incarnation, readers may remember that Edward Steichen is closely associated with Vanity Fair, also, after he was already renowned for his paintings and fine art photographs.
  • Distillery District -- the only designated Historic District in Toronto, which represents the old Gooderham & Worts (G&W Whiskey) mill, distillery and acetone factory (yes, let's think about that for a moment)
  • Marjolyn van der Hart who has a studio in the Case Goods Warehouse at the Distillery which houses many artists' studios, both visual and performing, whose work we discovered and loved on sight
  • "The Bay" -- Hudson Bay Trading Company founded in 1670, on Queen Street, focus of protests against fur trade, not far from the
  • Old City Hall
  • Rodney's Oyster House on King Street W -- the most incredible oysters on a half shell, some knowledgeable staff (one named Rodney), and not far from the Spadina cable car stop
  • mass transit system including subway, buses and electric cable cars
  • The Biggest Bookstore in the World just off Yonge St in shopping area near Eaton Centre -- reminds us why we (Books on First) exist
  • "Chinatown" that is massive, looks to be larger than Hong Kong with green grocers selling an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables which tempted us with good looks and not-bad prices
  • Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) which currently has the travelling King Tut exhibit, but also has a special exhibit on Alexander Calder (including the circus film) and on Edward Steichen (with the same film clip of his working as a Vanity Fair editor that the ROM has for the Vanity Fair exhibit).
At my weekday gig (Fantasy Diamond Corp), while we have shop shutdown between Christmas & New Year's (known in Toronto retail terms as "Boxing Week"), many of the office personnel (customer service, accounting, sales & marketing, operations, IT) would still be around, so I had warned colleagues that my mobile would be turned off as I would be out of the country. People expected I'd be in Cabo, Mexico, or London, not what one of my bosses called "the 51st State." While the tendency is to see Canada as an extension of the USA, especially in most parts in which a form of English is the main spoken & written language, there are some signs which point directly to "Not in Kansas Anymore."

The ADA -- Americans with Disabilities Act -- has not reached Canada. The public washrooms are located usually one flight down a dim & narrow stairway in the basement, and very, very clean. Some are "spotless," as Larry would say, and all have adequate amounts of toilet paper (not something I can say of a few fairly "upscale" bars & restaurants in Chicago). We began judging just how handicapped inaccessible a restroom is. We had gone to a very large brewpub, which had three levels and a number of dining areas which the establishment can close off or open up as patronage demanded. On the first floor, there were just a number of signs that read, "Washrooms Upstairs." Larry returned from the men's with the comment, "They really outdid themselves here. You have to go up not one but two flights before going down another set of stairs to get to the restrooms." In order not to embarrass the other restaurants, we will not name that one here on this blog, although you can probably guess, if you know anything about the brewpubs located in Toronto (I believe there are three, and we visited two).

In order to combat wastefulness, inadvertent pollution and who knows, widespread choking of polar bears, the City of Toronto, if not some larger governmental agency, requires that an establishment charge 5 cents for a plastic bag, even accompanying a purchase. That's not generally a problem for us (Carolyn of the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' notoriety), but the one time that we said, we're going to have to ask for a plastic bag, the shop does not even have any plastic bags to offer us.

Also, it seems like almost every eatery in Toronto must offer wings on the menu, by the pound. I do not kid. And, that "lb" is not uniform. One waiter said that a pound of wings means eight wings and another one said, a pound is equal to ten wings. Of course, I don't expect all wings to be the same size; it just makes ordering a little difficult. What if you had 5 people sitting down for some appetizers? Do you go to where the kitchen believes a pound of wings means ten and order pounds of wings, so that everyone may get an equal number? We do want to mention a ten wings/pound place on College called Duff's which is actually an American import from Buffalo, NY, which on its menu has it the other way around: "10 Wings (one pound)."

Also, while people were hardpressed to tell us about true Canadian/Toronto fare, I did note that almost all menus with wings also had poutine. This example of local delicacy is described as fries with cheese on top smothered with brown gravy. In the spirit of taking one for the team, despite my rather strict (per Larry) low cholesterol diet, I ate as much as I could stomach at the Toronto Pearson Airport when Larry decided to agree with me that we had to have some before we left and bought me a paper plate piled high with poutine a mere ten minutes before our boarding the plane for the flight home. I suppose though it's similar to having a Philly cheesesteak sandwich at the Phillies stadium (to save time, I won't research the true name -- isn't/wasn't it called Memorial Stadium?), you can't judge a poutine by one you get at the airport. I still don't know how to pronounce the name and Larry said he just mumbled something like "pontoon" and the woman behind the counter seemed to know what he wanted.

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