- Tuesday, June 17, 2014—
- Porter Airlines' flights from Newark in to Toronto land at the convenient in-town island airport, leaving me a 10-15 minute cab ride from downtown.When I got to my hotel, the Alexandra, it wasn't noon yet, and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get in to my room. I thought I might have to settle for leaving my bags, and come back later to check in. But with welcome alacrity, the desk clerk Claire said my room was ready. Love it when that happens! After unpacking, I took some pictures from my room's wide window, where the CN Tower and much of downtown Toronto feels mysteriously both near and distant at the same time.I've been coming to Toronto for NXNE since 2011, but only found the Alexandra last year, and very much wanted to come back to it this year. I had been fortunate in 2013 to get a room facing south, though by happenstance. I found the view—last year I was on the third floor, this year even better, on the sixth—to be a sort of perfect urban prospect. The sort of view that my artist wife Kyle Gallup, who likes to watercolor when we vacation, could paint from.The hotel is conveniently located on a quiet street between Spadina Ave and Bathurst St along the east and west coordinates, and Queen St W and Dundas St on the south and north. The rooms are not sumptuous, but clean and comfortable. There's good wi-fi, cable TV, a fridge, two stovetop burners, teacups, toaster, microwave, simple housekeeping items, and best of all, windows that open! I took many photos through that window, even at night, with the city lights winking away. I highly recommend the Alexandra for its convenience, simple amenities, and well-priced accommodations.
- I left my room and began walking the city. The day that had been rainy when I landed brightened in the afternoon. I'd photographed the Balfour Building in 2013 and now made a point of going back to see it, to take pictures of it bright sunshine. This time, I discovered a historical plaque near the entrance I'd not read until now. It informs Torontonians and visitors that it originally housed a clothing manufacturer, and that the neighborhood on Spadina Ave was in the 1920-30s Toronto's Garment District, offering employment to Jewish immigrant workers in the needle trades. The Art Deco delight was named for Arthur Balfour, UK Prime Minister from 1902-05, and author of the Balfour Declaration, which envisioned "in Palestine...a national homeland for the Jewish people," though I note that far from coming down unevenly on one side, the declaration reads equitably. Here's the full quote:
"His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." [emphasis mine]
- The historical plaque adds that the Balfour Building has a sister structure across the avenue, the Tower Building, designed by the same architect, Benjamin Brown. I turned and looked at it, seeing a kind of family resemblance between the two structures. On the blog Historic Toronto I found the photo below, showing the Tower Building reflected in the glass above the Balfour's front door. One wonders how intentional Brown may have been about creating that potential view when he designed the buildings, or if it's a handsome accident. The Tower Building happens to have among its tenants the fine indie Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press, whose offices I visited in 2013. Next time I'm in Toronto, I'll be eager to try and capture my own pictures of this surprising specimen of structural serendipity.
- Continuing south on Spadina, I tuned in my AM-FM radio pocket headset to the local CBC outlet, 99.1 FM. I relished listening on the terrestrial frequency, rather than via the Internet, which I normally do when I listen to CBC from New York City. I heard an announcer remind listeners that in the CBC Broadcast Center, near John and Wellington Streets, public screenings of World Cup matches—being broadcast throughout Canada by CBC TV—would be ongoing all tournament long. This was the World Cup's first week, when three games were being played daily, lots of futbol.Heading east on King St, I reached the CBC and entered the building's lofty atrium, a grand space to visit anytime. This was fun, seeing it packed at mid-afternoon with lots of sports fans watching the Brazil vs Mexico game on big TVs. The match ended in a nil draw, thanks to fantastic goalkeeping by the Mexican keeper Ochoa. This was a great space for communal viewing, with the crowd roaring as he made one miraculous save after another.All week I was in Toronto it was fun listening to CBC on-air hosts such as Gill Deacon, mentioned below, the genial host of the local afternoon radio program, Here and Now, whose superb cancer survival memoir I recently wrote about in an HonouraryCanadian.com post titled How We May Grow Even After Losing a Part of Ourselves. Photo credit for the overhead shot of the Atrium and giant soccer ball to CBC producer and consumer expert Talin Vartanian, aka @CitizenTalin.
- I later met for dinner with Peter Evans, CEO of ExpertFile, a company for whom I do consulting work. They're located in a very cool building called the MARS Discovery District on College St, a kind of incubator for Toronto tech companies. ExpertFile helps companies create Expert Centers on the Web, that showcase all their in-house experts, not just the top people, and connects conference organizers with author/experts who speak in public. Peter's wife joined us, too, at a good restaurant inside MarSDD called Mercatto, just as a wild thunderstorm began raging outside the restaurant. We were dry and secure enjoying a good chat and delicious food and wine while the wind blew branches around like matchsticks. You may follow @ExpertFile and @MaRSDD.
I had lots of fun my first day in Toronto, and my first NXNE event wouldn't even come until the following afternoon.
- Wednesday June 19—This morning I was meeting publishing friend Gloria Goodman for breakfast. She suggested Caplansky's, a popular Montreal-style Jewish deli on College St. From my hotel, I left to meet her, walking north across Dundas St, in to Kensington Market, a great Toronto neighborhood, of cultural and commercial importance since the early 1800s. Filled with a great spirit of art and creativity, these quiet streets with little car traffic host many unique independent businesses: tempting ethnic bakeries; sellers of interesting new and vintage apparel; Italian restaurants (my fave's Pizzeria Via Mercanti, with amazingly good thin-crust pizza, meatball sandwiches, and just about the friendliest wait-staff I've ever encountered!); antique stores, such as Paradise Bound, with an unusual merchandising concept that combines an outstanding inventory of quality secondhand vinyl LPs in Jazz, Rock, Folk, and Classical music alongside exquisite Japanese prints and scrolls—I enjoyed browsing the shop and told the owner about my friend Barry Lancet, author of suspense novels Japantown and Tokyo Kill, that feature a dealer in Japanese antiquities who's also a private detective; several official NXNE venues (The Handle Bar and The Boat); and Hot Box Cafe; a clubhouse and comedy venue for stoners. Enterprises like these are arrayed on a handful of quiet streets with little car traffic. It's a great walking neighborhood, with fun graffiti murals like the one below, and lots of interesting public art.
- After lunch with book agent friend Linda McKnight at a comfortable bistro called Harbord House, I visited two secondhand bookstores. The first, She Said Boom on College St, had a really deep selection of international literature in well-priced and not overly worn trade paperbacks, and used LPs and CDs. I found a copy of "Blonde on Blonde" for my actor and musician son, Ewan. Next, I hopped a streetcar on Dundas St to The Monkey's Paw, in Little Portugal, which says on its website that it "specializes in uncommon books and paper artifacts from the age of print." I'd learned of the store when on CBC Radio's book program The Next Chapter, host Shelagh Rogers visited the store and interviewed owner Stephen Fowler, who is quite articulate about the unique concept behind his one-of-a-kind throwback emporium with occasionally absurd books (Window Display for Profit, on display in his street-facing window), with improbable, but definite, appeal to a young generation, and others, for whom a printed physical object may still be of great interest, and value. Fowler's store's also been the subject of a 2013 NY Times Magazine article. It's definitely worth a visit when you're in Toronto, and book-centric, like me.Later in my Toronto stay, I also enjoyed stops at Bakka Phoenix Books, a science fiction store, and Ben McNally Books, a beautiful up-scale store on Bay Street. Although I know about and lament the several important Toronto bookstores lost in the past several years and in recent months, the city's book culture still seems strong, and at least hanging on at the retail level, even after painful subtractions. Monkey's Paw Photo Credit: ElliDavis.com.
- Though NXNE began twenty years ago as just a music festival, a kind of northern cousin to Austin's SXSW, it now includes Film, Interactive, Digital, Art, and Comedy. Comic Marc Maron gave a great talk as a kick-off on Day I of the festival. The following day I published this post at Honourary Canadian, with full exposition of Maron's talk. I highly recommend his WTF podcast. My fave of all his on-air conversations is the one he had with John Fogerty, founder of Creedence Clearwater Revival.