Monday, May 31, 2010

In Toronto, Again

Because of scheduling conflicts with VIA Rail, it is impossible to take a train straight from Halifax to Vancouver (or back for that matter). Rather, all travelers must spend one night in Toronto and catch the next "Canadian" train to Vancouver the next evening.

(View of Toronto from the train, on the way in to town. That's the steeple on St. James' Cathedral to the left of the crane, and St. Lawrence Market is building that looks like a barn to the right of the crane.)

Before leaving Halifax I had wanted to wash half of my clothes, but I got in too late the night before to use the machines, and hostels typically monopolize the washers and dryers until late afternoon to clean all the sheets for the beds. In Montreal I had noticed that I only had enough detergent left for one load, and that if I had washed my clothes then, I would have ran out of clean ones before leaving Vancouver. However, through pure luck, I had randomly added just enough clean clothes to my travelling wardrobe to make it back to Halifax in a relative state of freshness... if I waited until Toronto to wash all of my clothes once I had worn them once, that is.

In Toronto I literally took off everything I could, even using my fleece coat in lieu of a shirt, and stuffed everything into one load in an old Maytag washer. I was worried I would break it, but my clothes came out fine. However, in perhaps the only downside of the Canadiana Backpacker's Inn, in Toronto, for all 4 buildings, and probably more than 100 rooms, there are only two washers and two dryers, and one of those was broken during my stay.

This meant that it took three hours to wash and partially dry (I overloaded the dryer too) one load of clothes. Regardless, I had completed my single-minded goal for this first night, and so turned my attention to my new goal: trying to survive the horrendous heat and humidity inside the hostel bedrooms (HI hostels may lack character, but at least they don't lack good air conditioning.)

The next day at 10:30 AM, after the free all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, I had to check out of my room. I was wondering what I would do with my bags while I waited for my 10:00 PM train, but the hostel was kind of enough to store my bags for free, and to let me bum around in the hostel all day.

I didn't spend too long inside that afternoon though, because I had to find my way back to Kensington Market to try and pick up some organic snacks for the four day journey to Vancouver (or at least to get me the day and a half to Winnipeg).

(A bustling Richmond Avenue, in down town Toronto.)

I succeeded in finding some excellent 7-grain crackers, and organic granola bars, as well as picking up another bottle of cool and refreshing Ting to help fight the blazing hot sun. I couldn't find any organically grown fruit though, so on the way back I picked up a bag of nectarines from a market in China Town.

Over lunch I had stopped in at a Korean restaurant in Kensington Market that was selling the most expensive bottles of imported Korean soju I've ever seen (see pic below). I had noticed that all the meat I had been eating over the course of the trip had not been doing my body composition any favours, and with four days of sitting on a train ahead of me, I thought I'd best order something vegetarian.

While my kalguksu was delicious, if not entirely authentic (I don't remember round carrot slices in my bowls in Korea), I unfortunately left my tourist map at the restaurant. By the time I noticed that my map was gone though, it was too late and I was lost and couldn't remember where my hostel was.

As I stumbled around in the heat of the afternoon sun, I was stopped by another tourist who needed directions. By this point I had more or less developed a rudimentary grasp of the lay-out of the streets in the Toronto core, so I was more than willing to give him the help I had received upon first arriving to Toronto. As I looked up to show him the way though, I noticed, standing there on the corner of Richmond and John St as if it were waiting for me to come across the country to find it, Canada's greatest treasure - the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada's Media Theque.

The Media Theque is essentially the physical version of the NFB's online free media collection, but with way more titles. There are over 5 500 titles from which to choose, all of which are viewable every day, for free, on personal mini-theatre viewing stations. The system is similar to the in-flight personal entertainment systems you may have seen on modern aeroplanes, but without having to wait ten minutes for the advertisements to finish before being able to view another film film. You can also buy physical copies of these, and any other NFB produced movies, from the Media Theque. On top of all that, there is a theatre which shows advanced screenings of unreleased NFB films every day.

The Media Theque is air conditioned, and open until 10 PM most days, so I was able to escape today's heat by watching a french language, subtitled film called The Fight for True Farming. The film is about the struggle faced by Canadian independent farmers as they try to battle their own seemingly inept (or corrupt) government and the Monsanto corporation and other huge multi-nationals, in order to maintain their right to farm organically and sustainably.

Apart from being wonderfully made, The Fight For True Farming was a frightening look at how dangerous our food really is (Monsanto's own tests show that its products cause cancer), and how the Canadian government often ignores the advice of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency when allowing products from American agricultural corporations to be sold/tested inside Canada.

After finishing The Fight for True Farming, I selected another great documentary by a Canadian author and artist, Douglas Coupland, called A Souvenir of Canada. In A Souvenir of Canada, Coupland attempts to create a house, as an art exhibit, that captures what it truly means to be Canadian. The house in question was distinctly Canadian itself, since it was one of the tens of thousands of identically made 1950s Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) houses made after World War II for the returning veterans.

In his quest to find things that are distinctly Canadian, Coupland tries to first discover what it actually means to be Canadian. I thought it a fitting way to spend an afternoon in Toronto (perhaps the most Canadian city in Canada) as this whole cross-Canada adventure I am on, was a response to my own desire to discover Canada, and what it means to be Canadian.

After watching a third documentary, I found directions back to my hostel which was actually only a block away. I had a "last supper" before being confined to the train, and tried to freshen up as best as possible.

(The outside of the Much Music/CTV building.)

On the way to the train station I walked through the background as a Much Music VJ did some report outside the Much Music building. This was actually the second time I had inadvertently found my way on TV, as earlier in the day I walked through a report for a Naked News broadcast, while a topless reporter interviewed a random woman about her thoughts on Tiger Woods.

While I waited behind the camera man for the light to change so that I could cross Spadina Ave, I was impressed with the reporter's courage and concentration. Not only did she have to stand there at a busy intersection literally half naked, but she had to be professional about it despite all the oglers, cat callers, and amateur paparazzi with their cell phone cameras.

I can report happily that she made it through her segment without making any mistake or showing any sign of being phased, and I dare say she even sounded better than most professional TV news reporters while doing so.

While I was standing at the light I also over heard two young women say "if you got it, flaunt it", in reference to the reporter. I got mad at them and said, "she's not 'flaunting' anything, she's doing her job. All you girls in your short shorts and tank tops are the ones trying to 'flaunt it.'" After this I felt much better.

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