Everybody at Western is from Toronto, except for those who have somewhere else to be from. As Michel De Certeau describes in his essay “Walking in the City,” a city is an idea rather than a geographical place. The concept of “Toronto” is very evident in my everyday life. I’m always complaining about the lack of authentic asian food in London, and everytime I do somebody, usually a Toronto local, would feel the need to impose their proud heritage by saying “I know where you can get that in Toronto.” Toronto seems to be a home for a better version of everything. Though I’ve never been a big fan of the big smoke itself, I cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. When I travel far, I tell people I’m from Toronto (to be fair everyone in South Western Ontario does, and I feel like I know enough people from Toronto to steal their identity for a few days). But how can i be representing a city I often identify with meanwhile feel so distant from it? Apart from Drake probably right now eating poutine and maple syrup on top of the CN Tower, what else is there?
So having already made plans to attend Nuit Blanche (a night-time, city-wide, arts festival), I thought I’d make a weekend out of it. Plus, how could I experience the city transformation when I don’t know what it looks like in the first place!
I was able to take advantage of my university’s unofficial carpool initiative to commute for cheap ($25 each way). And of course thank GOD for AirB&B, I had a room in the basement for 2 nights at $86. Though the house was located just outside of Toronto in Scarborough, the public bus and the subway made for a very convenient commute to get downtown for $3.25 in just under an hour. I also brought with me my own groceries to save on food, though I could not resist Chipotle.
I arrived at my temporary residence on Friday afternoon, making my way immediately downtown. Having been in a small city for a while I have forgotten about the big-city commotion until now. Oh how I miss having people constantly in my way, pushing, shoving, almost spilling their coffee. Half of the sidewalk is blocked off by people smoking cigarettes, though you can see them puffing the smoke, the burnt tobacco scent is entirely covered by the smell of piss and substance abuse reeking from the alleyways.
Finally I made my way to Starbucks in the Indigo store at the top of the Eaton Center. What to do, what to do? I browse for events happening in Toronto with the free wifi, sipping on my warm coffee, trying to suppress the thought of abandoned textbooks and unwritten essays. There is so much to do in a big city. Apart from Nuit Blanche, there are four hundred and twenty more events happening within that same perimeter in the same 72 hours!
For the night, I was sold on a $5 Rush ticket ($15 for persons over 21) to Soulpepper’s production of “Noises Off” at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Written by Michael Frayn, “Noises Off” is a British comedy play about what goes on behind the scene of a production. Maybe it was because of my lack of expectation but it was a fantastic evening filled with tons and tons of laughter, from chucking to knee-slapping and everywhere in between. The cast, especially Brenda Robins as “Dotty Otley” had the house on the edge of their seats, fully engaged.. Very much intrigued by her character. I genuinely only have good words to speak about the show. My Friday came to an end as I board the 68 bus from Warden station to Warden and Manhattan.
Saturday started with a coffee, this time underneath the Ruckus at the Urban Eatery food court underneath the Eaton center. I have about 45 minutes before the matinee show of Matilda the Musical I had gotten a ticket for the night before for $29. I sat for a while and just appreciated how insignificant I am in the city, nobody knows me, nobody knows of me. I could disappear- disintegrate into the polluted air like a spec of dust and nobody here would be alarmed. Not all matter matters.
I head over to the Ed Mirvish Theatre on Victoria and Dundas. It felt like I had just walked into a Saturday night at Jay Gatsby’s. Every inch of the lavishly decorated lobby, with a gigantic swirling staircase, was filled with families with small children, and the good old matinee crowd. Matilda the Musical did not fail to disappoint. 10 year old Hannah Levinson (Matilda) carried the show from beginning to end. It was a very fun, very family-friendly type of performance. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself probably as much as any child at the show.
Afterwards I grabbed myself a quick dinner at Chipotle and attempted to make my way to my favourite spot in all of Toronto- Kensington garden. On my way there (spoiler: I never made it there) I was distracted by the Vape Central, a marijuana vape lounge, on Yonge and Charles street. It was stoner heaven. With your own cannabis and $5 entry (for a day’s admission), you are free to enjoy vaporizer set up in front of comfortable couches facing the TV with American Dad on with subtitles. The room was filled with clouds of smoke, and as my friend Burton would say “smell like dreams.” They have bongs for rent as well, and of course rolling papers, and what I believe is a beverage bar. I smoked a joint, ate the rest of the gummies I have bought on the way there (like the universe knew where I was heading) and ended up glued to the couch and having lost track of time. When I realized it was close to 8pm I made my way back towards Dundas square for what I came to Toronto for- Nuit Blanche.
I first entered into the 410 building that was extremely hot and crowded. I thought I’ve hit the spot only to realize hours later that every exhibition is crowded and hot. There were many exhibition located all over the city however they were spaced pretty far apart from each other, which was the festival’s main downfall. My favourite exhibition area was at the Harbour Front called Facing the Sky. I couldn’t possibly describe to you how it made me feel, but it’s definitely got something to do with my fetish of being surrounded by a large body of water, onlooking an open sky. In short, the art was mediocre, much below expectation, though I very much enjoyed the never-ending crowd of night crawlers of late-highschooler and independent adults, which reminded me of who I am and who I’d like to be. In short, Nuit Blance was a great street festival- not so much an art exhibition, which I suspect has something to do with the way they market the festival. Having spent the entire weekend in the Toronto art scene, the festival was not a good representation of the elegance and innovative space that exists in the city. The only transformation that I saw at Nuit Blance was the commodification of fine arts. I made a stop at a crowded Mcdonald’s close to king station, and out of the city I went on the Subway to my humble lodge.
Next morning I left Toronto with another rideshare driver, nostalgic over Hannah Levinson’s performance in Matilda, but didn’t mind leaving behind the drunken high school crowd from the night before. It was a weekend well spent, and I hope to journey with Toronto again in the future.