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?

The Stories of English

I’m enjoying The Stories of English by David Crystal. When he wrote about Bede, Lindisfarne, and Durham, I got nostalgic for my Medieval Literature class at Durham University. I was 19, full of romantic notions — cobbled lanes and ancient cathedrals made me wild with delight. Our professor took us on a weekend trip to Lindisfarne, which was magical. We mis-timed our drive off the island and got caught in the incoming tide. Scholars lept out of cars to push them through knee-high water.

mime opportunity

Recently I finished reading Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd. It was mostly pretty heavy going but worth it for the following quote: “Many scholars believe that language evolved to manage social interaction. Social actors can often benefit by communicating about who did what to whom, when and why . . . (Imagine People’s Court with a cast consisting only of mimes!) (144).

subway sightings

The other day subway passengers offered a variety of images. One woman carried tall stalks of bamboo. There was an old bearded man in a kufi cap. A young couple huddled together in a side-bench. The girl slept with her head on her boyfriend’s chest. A lock of her hair kept falling forward into her face and her love kept trying to tuck it behind her ear.

I liked ‘The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke’

I just finished this novel set in 1930’s Toronto. I enjoyed learning the social history of city streets I’ve seen. Though I don’t know very much about baseball, I cheered on Lucio as he threw the ball that hit the mysterious bird that had stolen Bloomberg the pitcher’s glasses. And when Lucio’s lover Ruthie hits the ball at a crucial game, I loved this description, “Ruthie’s swing starts, and it starts from the centre of her being. It starts twenty years before, when Abe and Sadie Nodelman (her parents) are trying to convince the Timothy Eaton Company to pay its employees a living wage. It starts some sixty years before that, when Marx writes of a spectre sweeping through Europe, with the streets of Paris on fire . . . ” (365)

face in the hill

One of my jobs is just a 25 minute walk away. You can go on a back road that features industrial and rural scenery. I try to be alert when I walk by a grassy bank because I’ve seen a lot of groundhogs there. Last week I thought there were no groundhogs about but when I looked carefully I saw the face of one creature perfectly framed in his hole. He looked back at me for a few minutes and then retreated.

More cultural revolution

Jan Wong’s Red China Blues delivered both entertainment and education. I like her direct sense of humor and honesty. The chapter on Tianamen Sqaure was especially moving. She actually observed the massacre from a Beijing hotel balcony on the north side of the square. I remember that June weekend in 1989 very well because my friend Mindy and I were at an Amnesty International conference in Chicago when the Tianamen atrocity happened. There was an impromptu protest march led by Chinese students at the University of Chicago.