Libraries, the Sequel

In an earlier post I described the Toronto Public Libraries east of the Don Valley Parkway that I’ve visited. Now, after a pause that heightened suspense to unbearable levels, I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the Libraries West of the Don Valley that Catherine Has Visited!
Parliament–a spacious building on two floors, very helpful staff who once gave a large group of ESL students from my center an orientation (the nerd in me thrilled when so many students got their first shiny blue library cards), large ESL section, nice high windows.

Saint James Town–this is a fairly new library which is housed in one long room, lots of computers, feels very urban, part of a community centre complex that includes a busy basketball court.

City Hall–tucked away in a small room just to the right of the main entrance to City Hall, cozy yet important, pleasantly crowded.

Lillian H. Smith— what I remember most about this library is its circular staircase leading to an upper gallery.

High Park–a beautiful building with two floors, an ideal place to daydream because of its high ceilings, huge windows, and lots of wooden tables.

Palmerston–a low-key neighborhood venue in one room, not fancy but obviously well-used and in demand.

Spadina Road–roughly the same size and shape as Palmerston, its specialty an Aboriginal Studies section with lots of books and films, every table hosted studious patrons and newspaper browsers.

Yorkville–another busy downtown library, brisk pace, features stone lions at the entrance (if I remember rightly) and an upmarket book deposit box.

Toronto Reference Library–the first library in Toronto I ever visited (as a tourist in 2001), love the fountains and design, a fun experience is to ride the glass elevator to the fifth floor facing outwards so you can see the inner canyon expand as you rise and take in the opera-stage of silent readers. Have taken numerous class trips to the fifth floor to check out the large ESL section and the amazing collection of resources in a variety of languages, one summer helped a friend edit his English translation of Persian proverbs here.

Deer Park–when we immigrated to Canada in 2002, this was the library where I received my first card just a few days after arrival (Deer Park is across the street from the building where you line up for a SIN card, also we were staying in the Annex), a spacious library on one level with high ceilings, one time I saw a tired homeless man asleep in the reclining chair that rests on the floor by a low wall separating the children’s section from the main entryway.

Leaside–an active residential branch located on the edge of a large park, one long room, family-oriented, welcoming.

Northern District–just north of Eglinton and Yonge, this large district branch library is on two levels, has large periodicals and ESL section, top floor with lots of wall space for art exhibitions, sunny from generous number of windows.

Locke–elegant stone building, graceful interior with high ceilings and lots of sunlight, visited this branch after a trip to a nearby guitar store on Yonge Street.

Barbara Frum–a few summers ago I taught at a centre near Bathurst and Lawrence and visited this library before class one time, pleasing design in butterfly shape, you go in and find two round wings to the left and right and a center staircase leading up to the second floor. Enjoyed being there on that Friday afternoon as many families were gathering up books and hustling to get ready for the Sabbath–this branch had a warm community feel to it.

North York Central–I associate this branch with another class I taught, this one near Yonge and Finch, we had a fun class trip there one afternoon. The building is very large as befits a research and reference branch and is connected to a big shopping center, has impressive collection of ESL and foreign languages materials.

Bayview–another mall branch, its modest interior a contrast to the opulence of Bayview Mall, its design was interesting though. While the branch is contained in one room, there’s a deepening of the space as you walk through it, carpeted steps bring you lower, as if the place where you first walk in the door is the tile around a large pool and the steps take you into the actual pool. Lots of carpet, an 1980’s atmosphere similar to the Maryvale and Cliffcrest branches.

Fairview–near Fairview Mall, this library had the worn-down look of district branch under pressure from so many enthusiastic library patrons. It seemed about the same age as Albert Campbell Library and shared a similar designer, this was one of the busiest libraries I’ve visited, with every chair taken, every table space utilized, its two levels humming with life — study groups, individuals in private study rooms, newspaper and magazine readers, family groups– this truly is a vibrant library. To visit it is to be inspired by all those patrons following their dreams.

high school reunion

A few weeks ago I attended my twentieth high school reunion at The Elm’s hotel in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Out of a class of almost 350, only about 50 of us turned up. Our small numbers gave the atmosphere something of a Survivor flavor, as if we were all looking around to see who else had made it through their thirties.
Blue and white balloons (Liberty Blue Jays’ colors) decorated the dining room, and two tables held a small collection of photographs, yearbooks, and newspaper articles from 1987. The table with the yearbooks had a nifty inflatable number 20 in blue and silver, but one of these balloons seemed to be enough. I don’t think we were searching for lots of reminders of just how long it’s been since we were 18. I suppose that’s why the event had a slightly sombre edge to it, as if we were mourning our youth and anxiously checking each other out for signs of aging.

I don’t want to imply that the reunion was all about sadness or that it was a mistake to go. I actually had a wonderful time because the music and dancing were so much fun. My friend Michelle and I were the first ones out on the dance floor, jumping around, acting silly. Dancing to “What I Like About You”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Let’s Go Crazy” with my oldest friends was a joyful act of self-integration, connecting the 15-year-old me who found the confidence to dance in public for the first time (a radical shedding of shyness) to my 38-year-old self who dances on the streets of Toronto with the “I Want Rhythm” group. I believe our dancing at The Elms showed us that it’s too soon to bury our youth; it will always be with us.

The reunion was a true homecoming for me. It was a blessing to feel at home with myself, at home with a community of friends, geographically home, and at home in the moment.

library quest

For the past year or so, I have been on a delightfully nerdy quest to visit all 99 public libraries in Toronto. As of yesterday, I’ve visited 41 of them. Woo hoo!

Here’s some notes on what I remember about the libraries. I won’t be at all offended if you skim!

Agincourt — branch library, massive ESL and second language collection, super busy

Brookbanks — a quiet branch near a karate school in North York
Maryvale — inside a 1980’s mall, also in North York

Highland Creek — big windows and lots of natural light, east Scarborough

Port Union — library which is the furthest east in TPL jurisdiction

Morningside — a long, low one room library, very new, awesome window seats

Cedarbrae — near Markham and Lawrence, a huge branch library with two floors, Scarborough historical collection, massive ESL selection, also where I volunteered as a conversation circle leader for awhile and took students to get new library cards when teaching LINC in the area

Guildwood — a small, cozy branch in a strip mall, found a book on Canadian history

Cliffcrest — also a one-room branch in a southeast Scarborough strip mall

Bendale — this library sits by itself on a little grassy rise, appears as if on stilts (which I liked), arrived just a few minutes before closing

McGregor Park — a newish library, very spacious, Lawrence and Birchmount

Victoria Village — a neighbourhood branch, very busy, seemed to be at centre of lots of community activity

Kennedy and Eglinton — another crowded but cozy branch, seems constantly in use, situated between a bar that was shut down and a pharmacy

Eglinton Square — a one-room library in the mall just off the food court, lots of broad tables with folks reading the newspaper

Albert Cambell — a time capsule of 1970’s architecture and interior design, two levels, with quiet rooms for study, near Saint Clair and Birchmount

Dawes Road — situated in residential area, found a good grammar book there, one big square room with lots of shelves, near Saint Clair and Victoria Park

Taylor Memorial — near the lake, features a fireplace with armchairs, very peaceful

Main Street — a compact, attractive building, full of patrons reading and browsing

Beaches — gorgeous library with window seats and views of Kew Gardens, two levels, very uplifting space

Danforth/Coxwell — a narrow building with two levels, this was one of the first libraries I visited as a newcomer when I went to a conversation circle

Gerrard/Ashdale — this branch is on a lively street full of shops selling South Asian clothing, curry, and roasted corn, has two levels, top floor with beautiful wooden beams and a fireplace

Jones — very small, surrounded by a homey neighbourhood with large trees and houses with porches, lots of patrons there on a Saturday, appealing wooden floors

Pape/Danforth — handsome, historic building, two long narrow floors, extremely busy

Riverdale — arrived there by Broadview streetcar, nice brick building in circular shape, crowded with readers, next to Don Valley jail building

And that’s all I’ve visited east of the Don Valley Parkway. Stay riveted or at least mildly awake for a review of libraries west of the DVP.

Sicko review

Sicko was a hard movie to watch in many places, but I found it thought-provoking. The suffering which so many Americans have endured at the hands of HMO’s is outrageous. I believe health care is a human right, not a business in which the most vulnerable are refused the care they need in order to save money. Moore captured the utter heartlessness of the American system when he showed patients in hospital gowns being dumped on the street near a shelter because they couldn’t afford to pay their hospital bills.

dusk dances

Attending Dusk Dances with friends a few nights ago was magical — with a man impersonating a fish, a grass dance, dancers leaping from a picnic bench and sashaying around trees. The cool weather with just the right amount of wind in the trees completed the experience. Of the five dances, I think my favorite was “Tenterhooks.” There were three dancers who made hilarious use of a tent, a canoe paddle, a sun shower, a fishing pole, flippers, and plastic spiders.

Downtown rhythm

Yesterday a friend and I joined Nicole Stoffman‘s “I Want Rhythm” project, which features dancing on the street to storefront music. We met at Wellesley and Yonge and walked south to Dundas Square, stopping when we heard music that called to us. We did the twist in front of a Quiznos, were Scottish country backup dancers next to an accepting bagpipe player, and tried some salsa next to a T-shirt shop opposite the Eaton Centre. We received some quizzical looks, smiles, a few comments, but alas nobody spontaneously joined us this time. Thank you Nicole for putting this street theatre idea into action!

Soweto Gospel Choir high

I smiled throughout the whole concert several nights ago. The power and reach of the choir’s voices, as well as the sheer joyous energy pouring forth into the audience really floored me. We heard songs in Zulu, Sotho, and English, and I felt a connection with my Baptist Vacation Bible School days when they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Khumbaya.” The dancing was also glorious.

multi-purpose escalator

As I was riding up the escalator at York Mills Station last night, I noticed some unusual foot movements on the part of the passenger five steps above me. First he stood on the right and held the side of his shoe against the broom-like bristles that line the steps. Then he did the same on the left side with his left shoe. It took me a few moments to realize that he was cleaning and polishing his shoes.

basketball night

Last night I got to see the Toronto Raptors play the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre. I don’t know why a Darwinian struggle over control of a big orange ball is so entertaining, but it really is. The Raptors won, earning the excited hoots of Torontonians. Then we descended lots of steps to lower ground, searched for a way out, and received half-a-dozen free bags of Doritos as we exited.

Gothic fun

My friend Dan recommended The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to me some time back. I hadn’t had a chance to get it from the Toronto library, which ended up working out. This was because I found myself in the bookstore on the Liberty, Missouri square over Thanksgiving, casting about for reading material. When I saw Zafon’s book on the bestseller rack, I knew that it was the one to take on the plane. I finished reading it last night and was wholly entertained by its complicated plot and series of back stories.

Johnathan Franzen’s The Corrections

Despite the book’s grim realism, I liked its insights, the flashes of recognition I experienced when I read the older characters’ dialogue. Like the Midwestern Enid Lambert, my grandmother says “it tickled me” as in “I got a kick out of it”. I’m not sure if Grandma would be tickled by Franzen’s depiction of a typical family from St. Jude (which I assumed was a cover for St. Louis, the author’s hometown), but I found the storytelling gripping and the characters three-dimensional. Personally, I feel more affection for this part of the world than the three Lambert children who fled when they sought more stylish lifestyles in Pennsylvania and New York. Still, the theme of regional ambivalence, the act of reflecting critically about your origins is an interesting one for this transplanted Missourian.

hot cheez doodles

Not long ago I read a passage from a 1989 journal which covered the summer before I went to Durham, England for a year. I was working in a local potato chip factory, an experience which inspired the following poem dated August 11:

“You smell like a potato chip!”

O mecca — hot cheez doodles

I lay them in their bed

hot snacks

so beautiful–

your wastage fills the waste bins

and we trail them to the dump shrine

wayfaring proletariat that we are.

O potato

O alienation

what are we breeding

the machine and I?