Toronto: an honest and updated pros and cons list

I spent the last few weekends in Toronto. Highlights included martinis at Pravda with my dear friends Mireille and Patrick; Indian food with some of my favourite former colleagues; an outdoor Back to the Future screening in Liberty Village with Humber PR gals; and decadent high tea with my old roommie Steph at the Royal York.

Whenever I’m in the city, I can’t help weighing life there against life in Elmvale. Some things about Toronto are just amazing. Some things, erm, less. As JF and I drove up the 400 yesterday afternoon, we discussed both.

When we got home, we decided to clear our heads with a walk through Tiny Marsh before tackling our long list of chores.

Tiny Marsh is starting to show its fall colours.

Tiny Marsh is starting to show its fall colours.

While quietly plodding (so as not to upset the birds) I remembered this blog post from a year ago. Not surprisingly, most of the list is still accurate. But I feel differently about a few things. So here it is, revisited — original thoughts in italics, new thoughts indented.

Things I miss about Toronto (revised)

  • People — friends, colleagues, Cantores choristers, and the Rebelo family
    • This is still the toughest part of being in Elmvale.
  • Matt Galloway
    • Sorry, Wei Chen.
  • Good sushi
    • Barrie’s good sushi offers a view of the highway. But at least it exists!
  • Any Indian food
    • It’s expensive, but again, available!
  • The plethora of job postings with decent wages
    • Surprisingly, we’re both gainfully employed. So I don’t miss this anymore.
  • Diversity
  • Solomon’s seal tea
    • Yishey gave me a big, giant box so I’m set for at least a few more months. Thanks Yish!
  • The Toronto Blue Jays
    • Don’t know why I put this on the list in the first place.
  • The St. Lawrence Market
    • NOTE: We have excellent local farmer’s markets that are cheaper. If only they sold cheese and bagels and eggplant parmesan.
  • Pride
    • As in LGBTQ — there isn’t enough of that here.
  • Regularly discovering new corners and nooks
    • There are tons of corners and nooks in our new neighbourhood, they’re just plant-filled instead of building-filled.
  • Driving through yellow lights
    • I must truly be a country bumpkin because I don’t have the urge to do this anymore.
  • The Grid
    • R.I.P.
  • Anonymity
  • Properly stocked LCBOs
  • Social media that actually keeps up with local news
    • At first, I thought our local media outlets were slow. Now I realize they just don’t have as much news to report.
  • Concerts
  • Starbucks
    • I don’t find I need pumpkin spice lattes anymore — weird!
  • I’m adding a new one: the wide variety of amazing restaurants and shops. Barrie just doesn’t come close.
  • Another new one: cool stuff happening everywhere. Like the oddly appealing Tweed Ride — in which historically-attired hipsters ride their vintage bicycles through town.

Things I don’t miss a mite (revised)

  • Looking nice all the time
    • The number of perfectly-groomed people per square kilometre in Toronto is so indimidating to me.
  • Congestion
  • The TTC
    • I won’t cross this off, but I will say I miss not driving on a Saturday night.
  • Noise
  • Warmer temperatures, with sticky air and half-assed breezes
    • In the summer, this is true. In the winter, it is not. So I’m half crossing it off.
  • The smell of garbage day
  • The pace of everything (but driving and social media)
  • Crowds
  • Feeling totally disconnected from the people around me
    • After months of tight-knit Elmvale, this was kind of nice for a weekend. But I wouldn’t want to live in it forever.
  • Biking accidents
  • Yorkdale mall
    • I finally understand why hordes of people descend on Yorkdale every weekend: Anthropologie, J. Crew and Tory Burch.
  • House prices
  • Eating at restaurants almost daily
    • Truth: for all my diatribes against eating out, sometimes I kinda miss this.
  • Rob Ford
    • Surprisingly, I missed his antics after awhile. Springwater politics are dull. Wishing him and his family strength.
  • Parking downtown
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs
    • There are probably more fans per capita in Elmvale than in Toronto. Ugh.
  • Crazy rent prices
  • Getting lost in the PATH
    • Not sure why this was on my list in the first place. I rarely used the PATH.
  • The cost of food at farmer’s markets

It’s good for me to think about these things from time to time. To enjoy my Toronto time, while I’m there, and appreciate Elmvale’s Elmvaleness.

A cottager’s guide to blending in with country folk

It’s cottage season again and that generally means three things for us residents of north Simcoe County.

  • MONEY: Cottagers spend a lot of their hard-earned cash in our little towns. Conscientious ones support small businesses like Elmvale’s amazing bakery and antique store.
  • BUSY-NESS: Travelling from Elmvale to Barrie on a Sunday now feels like crawling painfully to the ends of the earth. And local grocery stores now have actual lineups. Whoa.
  • NOISE: Everyday, at least one thumping Mercedes filled with teenagers in stringy bathing suits screeches by our house on its way to Wasaga Beach.
They're ba-ack!

They’re ba-ack!

Bullets two and three are the reasons most locals (who don’t own businesses) are irritated by the influx of people from the GTA. I can’t personally be vexed because, two years ago, I barely survived July in an air-conditionerless Toronto apartment. What I can do is help bring permanent residents and summer visitors closer together.

You see, when I worked at a boutique in Midland as a teenager, I knew spenders cottagers as soon as they walked in the door. I lost that superpower after a few years in the city. But now, as a citry girl, it’s back and triple its original strength. So, here’s my advice to Torontonians trying to blend in with small towners:

  1. MAKE EYE CONTACT: Smile and look directly at everyone you walk by —just for a second or two. Better yet, say hello. Yes, it does feels unnatural at first.
  2. MAKE SMALL TALK: Chat with waitresses, checkout persons, store clerks and bank tellers. Easy topics include: traffic, weather, local attractions and (if you feel like really getting personal) their plans for the weekend.
  3. DRIVE BIG AUTOMOBILES: If you’re renting a car, skip the Japanese or German hatchbacks, sedans and crossovers. Instead, opt for a large truck or SUV made by a North-American-sounding company like Dodge or Ford. Avoid luxury cars like the plague.
  4. WEAR CASUAL CLOTHES: For men, you’re kind of stuck with baggy jeans or khakis and a t-shirt or polo. For women, look less put together and more thrown together. Actually, you should just wear jeans and t-shirts too.
  5. WEAR BLAND SHOES: Women, don’t wear heels. Men, don’t wear pointy-toed shoes — ever. Sneakers and Crocs are good alternatives.
  6. CARRY CHEAP ACCESSORIES: Ditch your designer purses and sunglasses. Get your replacements at Wal-mart or, if you want to get fancy, Winners.
  7. AVOID LULULEMON AND STARBUCKS: Those things don’t exist here, so don’t sport your $20 headbands and grande americanos north of Midhurst. And don’t whine about the lack of either franchise – we’re sad too.
  8. SUCK IT UP: If your food is late, coffee is cold, or you don’t like the service, don’t complain loudly or ask for a discount. Mutter quietly about it to your friends. And offer a good tip anyway.
  9. LISTEN TO MAINSTREAM MUSIC: Your obscure indie jams don’t offer much social capital here, so crank the Sweet Home Alabama, Thunderstruck, and Copperhead Road. If you don’t have those on your playlist, just tune into Rock 95. They play those three songs on repeat.
  10. RELAX: Slow down, don’t hurry. Wait patiently, even if the checkout person is doing his best snail impression. You’re the same amount of important as everyone else. Besides, you’re on vacation!

And now, an obscure indie jam:

The province of Toronto

Some people in rural Ontario feel that Toronto is a noisy and crowded pit of depravity populated by spoiled elitists selfishly hogging hard-earned government resources.

This week, the editor of Elmvale’s free local paper claimed that if Toronto were to secede, the rest of the province would rejoice.

The editorial from Springwater News

Despite slight factual incongruities (Michael don’t you know Torontonians leave the city as often as possible?), this piece made me grin.

I would add that some Torontonians think of places like Elmvale as quaint little backwaters filled with gun-toting, simple-minded, conservative rednecks. That is, if they even bother thinking of rural Ontario as anything more than a hodge podge of ski hills, cottages, and cute little downtown shopping areas.

What’s important is that in both cases, “some” means a minority — hopefully. Both stereotypes carry a grain of truth. And as a citry girl, I’m delighted to be able to laugh at both the big smog and the boonies.

Citry girl in New York

These days I kind of feel like my Portuguese mom would have felt a year after moving to Manitouwadge from the Azores: super confused about my identity.

I’m not a posh Torontoist, but I’m not a bumpkin from Perkinsfield anymore either. I scoff at people in crocs, but snort at those who order espresso. It’s an interesting space to inhabit.

I’m a country-turned-city-turned-country girl, or (another hybrid word!) a citry girl. And this citry girl just got back from an extended weekend in New York.

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Mireille and Cynthis in Times Square

I’m not going to lie, the trip kind of made me miss Toronto. Not because New York’s not awesome, but because big cities can be.

We shopped for sunglasses at 2 a.m. in Times Square, ate amazing Indian food on Diwali, and bought handmade jewellery from an artisan’s market in Greenwich Village. Somehow Elmvale’s gift shop, Chinese food and farmer’s market can’t quite compare.

Ghost busters stand in a group

Halloween in NYC means meeting Ghost Busters!

Exploring some parts of New York felt to me like bumping into childhood friends – your guts say you know them but you don’t actually. Wall Street is like Bay street, but with better bagels. Fifth Avenue is like Yorkville times 20. Central Park is like High Park, but bigger and, well, central.

Rockefeller Tower

Rockefeller

It was pretty wonderful to be in the thick of it all, but at the end, it was equally wonderful to park my car next to my big red house, step out, and smell the fresh country air.

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Skyline with lady liberty

A big, warm thank you to Mireille and Cynthia, my travel buddies, for sharing the big apple with me. A little city adventure was just what I needed to appreciate where I’ve been and where I’m going.

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Me at the Staten Island Ferry

(Missing) The big smog

My country bumpkin family often refers to Toronto as “the big smog.” I usually do it in a teasing, almost loving way, like I’m poking fun at an old friend. Besides, it’s only fair. We get “the sticks,” “the boonies” and “the backwater.”

But today — as I chewed some particularly sad and rubbery wakame salad at Midland’s one sushi restaurant — I found myself pining over some of Toronto’s finer points. So I wrote a list of things I miss about the city:

  • JF
  • People — friends, colleagues, my fellow Cantores choristers, and the Rebelo family
  • Matt Galloway
  • Good sushi
  • Good Any Indian food
  • The plethora of job postings with decent wages
  • Diversity
  • Solomon’s seal tea (Yishey, why did you get me hooked on that shit?)
  • The Toronto Blue Jays
  • The St. Lawrence Market
  • Pride
  • Regularly discovering new corners and nooks
  • Driving through yellow lights
  • The Grid
  • Anonymity
  • Properly stocked LCBOs
  • Social media that actually keeps up with local news
  • Concerts
  • Starbucks
I think I took this at Nuit Blanche 2012.

I think I took this at Nuit Blanche 2012.

Then, I promptly built a list of things I don’t miss a mite:

  • Looking nice all the time
  • Congestion
  • The TTC
  • Noise
  • Warmer temperatures, with sticky air and half-assed breezes
  • The smell of garbage day
  • The pace of everything (but driving and social media)
  • Crowds
  • Feeling totally disconnected from the people around me
  • Biking accidents
  • Yorkdale mall
  • House prices
  • Eating at restaurants almost daily
  • Rob Ford
  • Parking downtown
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Crazy rent prices
  • Getting lost in the PATH
  • The cost of food at farmer’s markets

Don’t worry, I’m not second guessing my choice. Just re-acquainting myself with what I’ve consciously decided to leave behind. A bittersweet exercise.