Monday, April 28, 2014

Khalsa Day

Yesterday I found out by chance that a very important Sikh festival, Khalsa Day, was taking place today.  And it just so happened that a subway stop on my way home from a documentary was just next to the Toronto City Hall, where the festivities would end at just about the same time I was going to be passing by!   So I had to stop and take a peek, right?

Though I was quite aware of the presence of Sikhs in Toronto, the sea of colourful turbans and shawls I found when I arrived was simply amazing - the whole square was full to the brim with Sikhs!  Like, absolutely and totally full!  And while admiring this unique event I remembered how, despite knowing precious little about Sikhism, Sikhs do have a warm place in my heart as the place I enjoyed most and felt most welcome at in India was, in fact, Amritsar, the city where they have one of their holiest sites (if not their holiest) - Harmandir Sahib, "the Golden Temple".  

At City Hall I saw people getting food for free, as is the tradition in any Sikh Gurudwara or temple, and I heard one of the speakers remind people to continue upholding values like social equality, community, and service, among others.   You've got to feel good being surrounded by thousands of people sharing food and espousing social values, right?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

pot and coffee

Easter Sunday was interesting.   We went to a rally for the legalization of marihuana at Toronto's Dundas Square.  This is a kind of event that takes place April 20th - that is, on 4/20, 4/20 being slang for pot - at which people demonstrate against current legislation by lighting up and getting high in public defiance.  Funny thing is, this city is so liberal and so tolerant of pot (well, I mean, the mayor smokes crack, right? crack!) that an event like this feels like anything BUT alternative or challenging of authority.  I mean, they took up a stage, posted enormous signs here and there, and people were selling cannabis seeds and cookies and the like at Toronto's most popular square, eh?

Afterwards, respectful and grateful of this city's tolerance but slightly underwhelmed by the event itself, we headed for a very simple pleasure at a place I haven't been to in a couple of years:  Café Balzac.  One amazing thing about this place?  The medium sized coffee is gigantic.  And it comes in a bowl.  A bowl!  Excuse me, but that's the only proper way to drink coffee that's not a tiny espresso - a big, round, heavy bowl.  Love it.   And I didn't mind at all they had a "café canadien" with, what else, maple syrup.  Oh, and the cute waiter.

Cool city, methinks. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

An atheist's Holy Saturday

By now some of you might thing it's a bit obsessive of me this sort of semi-documenting of a religious holiday with a) no religious element at all and b) no profound content whatsoever.  And you'd be right.  But since my time left in this city is finite, and since I know I would have loved loved loved to have a camera handy for shooting simple daily stuff when I lived in Beirut and Beijing, I'm not letting these opportunities slip by - this is a diary, and diaries from ordinary people are quite often filled with ordinary stuff that, years after, reveal their significance as a memory of a past that can't be recreated.

So, back to my own version of Holy Saturday, we started the day (somewhat late) at one of our favourite places - What a Bagel.  What you see below may strike you as rather simple fare, but it had all I needed: pickles, olives, a good bagel, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers...  Good quality basic nom noms.

Thus charged, we headed to a Francis Bacon - Henry Moore exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (the AGO).  We've seen plenty of Henry Moore in Toronto, but I had seen little (if anything) of Francis Bacon, and that's one artist that requires time to absorb...  His paintings were intense, tortured...  Francis Bacon said "You can't be more horrific than life itself", and his art reflects than worldview.   And my partner had a very interesting observation - that Bacon's art is a sort of Butoh, more specifically Hijikata's Butoh, in painting.   I definitely need more Bacon time to fully appreciate his twisted, dark art.

And what did we find at the AGO?  An old friend of ours!  The piETa, a piece we saw first at Toronto's Nuit Blanche 2010 and which, most appropriately, appeared again for Easter at the gallery.  I love the piece, and I think trying to elaborate on it is pointless.

After all that walking, we were ready for a recharge (meaning coffee!).  We headed to our local basement espresso bar - Dark Horse, for some espresso, muffins, sun through the window, and people watching from a basement angle.  I like this place, so this was both a caffeine recharge and an emotional recharge as well.

Last stop (it seems most of my life revolves around food, and that's partly true, but not fully) was dinner with friends.  Since everybody quite unceremoniously dumped on me the responsibility of choosing a place, I opted for what seemed to me perfect comfort food for a very cold spring: northern Chinese food at Noodle Face!  Made better by kitschy communist images, of course!  Luckily, my rather impulsive and little-thought idea worked out well, at least for me, as my "sweaty cold noodles" were perfect - a bit spicy, hearty, with plenty of Asian sour veggies...  yum!  That and good friends, followed by some bubble tea, was a great end to the day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An atheist's Good Friday

How this non-believer spent the Christian holiday of Good Friday:

1.  Watched a documentary about an intriguing and unique photographer:  Vivian Maier.  Left me feeling like a worthless, banal, completely ordinary photographer, and filled my mind with images of people, shapes and places.  Loved it. 

2.  Headed to the west side of the city in what I felt was quite romantic light rain for creative vegan fare at Cardinal Rule, including a "Black Velvet" (cider layered with Guinness) and a vegan pulled pork sandwich.  Quirky place, quirky people, quirky food.  My kind of place.

3.  Being it Good Friday, we snatched a typical Polish bread for this time of year, on Roncesvalles.  Whatever it was, the poppy seeds and alcohol infused bread combo was so good!  

4.  Finally, the best way to finish a day:  partying with the most mixed, queerest crowd in Toronto at Yes Yes Y'all.   The place was brimming with people from all racial backgrounds, gender presentations, body shapes, fashions...  If you want an accepting event with friendly people, this one is hard to top.   Definitely the cherry on top a very good, artistic, yummy, romantic, fun, secular Friday.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Þorrablót in Toronto

You should already now, from reading my posts about the country, that I have a frank and irrational crush on Iceland.  It's so absolute and passionate that, when I found out the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto was hosting a Þorrablót (sounds sort of like Thorrrrabloht), which is a 19th century festival inspired on a 12th century custom where people get together, have speeches, tell stories, drink and eat traditional Icelandic fare (þorramatur), my vegan me had to give way to my Iceland-is-super-rad me.   

[NECESSARY SIDE NOTE:  So, yeah, in 12 years of veganism I haven't been 100% vegan 100% of the time.  Big deal.  I've still been vegan the vast majority of the time.  When people tell me they couldn't do veganism fully, I tell them they should do whatever they can.  My philosophy about this particular subject is doing the best you can, and not deciding to do nothing simply because you can't do everything.]  

And now that I've dealt with the big, dead, roasted elephant in the room, let me get back to the Þorrablót!  Well, to the dishes.  Having been twice to Iceland and witnessed Icelanders partying in many different places, yesterday night's Canadian-Icelandic crowd was, well, really quiet and well behaved.  So there's actually little to nothing to say about the "party" (thank Thor we were there with good friends! [bad joke? Thor? hmmm].  But the þorramatur, the food, well, that was something you wouldn't just get at any corner shop, eh?

Among the appetizers you had (are you ready?) súrir lundabaggar (soured roll of lamb flank), harðfiskur (wind dried fish), hrútspungar (ram's testicles soured in whey), blóðmör (blood sausage), hákarl (fermented shark) and svíð (burned sheep head, listed as an appetizer, but placed at the main table, because of it's size maybe?):

Then, as the main dinner you had, among others, hangikjöt (smoked Icelandic leg of lamb), lax (poached salmon), brúnaðar kartöflur (roast sugared potatoes), rófustappa (mashed turnip), rauðkál (braised red cabbage) and pylsur (Icelandic hot dogs!):

Finally, for dessert - and don't ask me how we managed to fit dessert in after appetizers, dinner and a bottle of mead (mead!) - we had the opportunity to pile our plates high with vínarterta (a layered Icelandic cake that was popular in Iceland in the 19th century and which remains popular in the US and Canada), kleinur (trapezoidal fried pastries), pönnukökur (thin pancakes), skyr (Icelandic yogurt),  sætsúpa (sweet compote soup with cream), smákökur (cookies)...

So, if the feast wasn't rowdy, at least the food was really one of a kind.   My inner Icelandic-troll was pretty happy, and certainly fuller that it'd ever been! Takk!