Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Move To Toronto: Reflections One Year Later

ReLocation & ReAdjustments

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, 
but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
W.H. Auden


Downtown Toronto’s ChinatownWikipedia writes: “Toronto’s Chinatown is one of  the largest in North America. It is centred on the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, and extends  outward
from this point along both streets.” It is also southeast of Kensington Market, which is a popular tourist
attraction and shopping point. The area along Spadina was once an area populated by Jews, who have
been moving further north (uptown) during the last few decades, many now residing in Vaughan.
Photo Credit: chensiyuan; 2009;
Source: Wikipedia

It has been one year since we moved our family to Toronto, arriving on November 29th and moving into our current apartment a day later, after spending a night at a decent hotel not too far from here. My wife did all the driving, taking us from Montreal to Toronto in less than six hours (she will tell you it was five hours and 45 minutes), arriving at our hotel around 7:30 p.m. The trip was thankfully uneventful.

Everyone who has made Toronto their home, including former Montealers, invariably ask me how I am “enjoying Toronto.” My polite response has been, “I am adjusting to it.”  This is true in the sense that when one moves to another city, especially at an older age, there is a period of adjustment to meet the expectations and traditions of the new city. It is by far Canada’s largest city with a population of 2.79 million, and 5.5 million in what is called the GTA, or Greater Toronto Area—ranking it as the fourth most-populous city in North America, replacing Chicago in that position. (Montreal, by comparison, is smaller and geographically more compact and, in my view, more aesthetically pleasing and more livable of a city.)

No doubt, its tremendous growth has made Toronto what it is, what it has become. Toronto considers itself a large, hip, modern, cosmopolitan city with many people from various nations residing within its midst. A recent New York Times op-ed piece (“Toronto’s Hot Mess; November 5th) agrees with this view, the writer Stephen Marche saying, “Toronto is basically the model of what a postindustrial city can be.” Perhaps so, but I am not convinced that this is necessarily the case, despite the money, the multiculturalism and the many attractions that can be found here.

Truly, Toronto has much to recommend it, including but not limited to its many fine schools and universities, its libraries, its many condos under construction, its many cultural and sporting events, and its many beautiful and wealthy neighborhoods containing well-appointed mansions and people. I am particularly delighted by the Toronto Botanical Garden (i.e., Edwards Gardens), which I visit frequently for its beauty and aesthetic appeal. And, of course, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and its modern Odette Cancer Centre, and Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto for its beautiful building and its warm and welcoming presence. I can’t say enough good things about these places and of the many wonderful people that I have met. I also would like to thank the Toronto Fire Services for coming so quickly—within minutes—after we smelt smoke in the middle of the night in our apartment earlier this month (see An Early Morning Awakening).

And, yet, I do not feel a part of it in the same way that I do about Montreal, or for that matter New York or Tel Aviv (Note; we had a choice between Toronto and Tel Aviv, and we chose the former over the latter, chiefly for practical reasons; we hope to retire, however, in Israel in about 15 years). It might seem unfair to say so about a city that has worked so hard to change its image of “Hogtown”  or “Toronto the Good” of the Victorian era. Perhaps too hard, which might explain my current sentiments of Toronto. I certainly don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I say this without any intent to offend and without any malice, but take note of Auden. Apart from those I have met at Gilda’s Club, I have not met enough people in Toronto who laugh, who have a good sense of humor, who don’t take themselves too seriously. As well, November begins a six-month period where 80 percent of the days seem grey, overcast and filled with leaden skies, making Toronto a city affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), making it a sad city.

There are a couple of other peculiarities or particularities about this large city that are more of a nuisance than anything else; they both relate to human interactions, or a lack thereof. One is that few people or organizations, including government ones, return phone calls, perhaps reflecting their busyness or, rather, a sense of self-importance; and the second, similar to the first, is a propensity to have a problem with the truth in matters great and small, or, in other words, prevarication or equivocation seems to be an acceptable norm. I am not sure of the reasons why. Perhaps it is what Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “Pretty much all the honest truth telling in the world is done by children.”

Perhaps that is the way it is, and my expectations are all wrong, outdated. It might be the case, and allow me to show by way of an example from physics what is currently taking place. Two sinusoidal waves can be either in phase or out-of-phase; the city of Toronto and I are out-of-phase; to be in sync I will have to undergo a phase change, or more accurately, a phase shift. For now we are oscillating at different frequencies.  I can say more, but I have been reminded by what one character said on that fine well-written  and -acted Canadian TV series, Murdoch Mysteries, set in the late 19th-century and the beginning of 20th-century Toronto (circa 1895–1901). Said Inspector Brackenreid, “Toronto is a Christian city.”  So it remains, culturally, at least in spirit—not so much the sharp two-edged sword of veritas, but the blunt instrument of indifférence.