Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Posts Tagged ‘Toronto


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There is no doubt about it, Toronto the Good, The City of Trees, Hog Town can also be call Condo Town. Given the amount of condo construction in every part of the city it clearly deserves the name. Approaching the city on the Queen Elizabeth Highway the towers line either side of the 8 lane black top. In the distance you can see them rising above and through the haze and smog covering the downtown core. As you exit the Queen E. and slip on to the Gardiner the skyscrapers now begin to intrude into the Expressway’s space. Creeping close to the guardrails and butting up against the roadway condo balconies lean out and over the speeding traffic. The sound must be annoyingly intrusive as it permeates the glass and steel skin of these buildings filling the smallish living space with what must seem like constant white noise. From early dawn to late evening Commuter traffic in Toronto is relentless. Along the lakeshore freight trains, passenger trains and Go trains add to the never-ending din.

And here I am on the 12th floor of one of these condos overlooking Toronto Harbour feeling the cacophony drifting up towards me. As I look around the complex I can’t help but notice the profusion of balconies. They jut out from building to building like the openings in cliff dwellings from ancient times. Then I realize that balconies are the only access cliff dwellers have to the outside world. This is where they find fresh air – where they can throw open their sliding doors to admit whatever breeze might be out there. Besides that, balconies are the storage bins, the sheds, the backyards of high-rise living. There on that narrow, concrete slab is where they store their stuff. Outdoor furnishings, potted plants and trees alive and dead, bikes, boxes, wooden clothes dryers are just some of the things you see. Some balconies are hung with bamboo privacy curtains. Others double as smoking rooms. Strings of lights or photocell lamps glow in the dark, mixing with the blue TV light that seeps out creating an eerie ambiance that frames whatever stuff is stored out there. Spring summer and fall balconies are an extra room. Come winter they are abandoned. But how different is that from those who own a home?

Sitting on this balcony looking out, spying actually, on the others across the way I feel like a peeping tom.

The thought fades, though, as I recall the day when I left home and started living life on my own – in an apartment – with a balcony that looked out over a busy main street with never ending traffic – and I smile.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 11, 2012 at 4:55 PM


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Browsing through iPhoto I found pictures of our Toronto house. They were pictures of its last day.

Originally it was a cottage on farmland that existed in that part of North Toronto. Over the years the house was transformed into a story and a half, many times renovated by its many owners. The basement leaked, as did the roof that flared out like a bell at the eaves collecting snow which turned into an ice dam during the cold of winter.

There were many problems with the Toronto house. But, we lived through them spending large amounts of money rectifying as many as we could. In the end we let the Toronto house go to developers. To live in it through our retirement years would required an infusion of cash that we weren’t prepared to spend. I don’t know why I bought that house. I never should have.

The Toronto house was a focal point. It was the only home our youngest daughter knew for 28 years. My son spent hours in the dark, damp basement honing the craft he now practices. To my two older daughters the Toronto house became a revolving refuge until they asserted their independence. In later years family and friends flowed through like waves reaching for the shore. Looking at the pictures brought back so many memories.

Memories, I find are stronger than any structure. Old age is perhaps the only force that memories can’t defend against. Age can dim them such that they are only sporadically recalled. Memories do last, however, because they are passed on building on a foundation that doesn’t crumble – that can’t be destroyed by a machine.

The Toronto house doesn’t exist anymore. Memories of it do, though.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 25, 2011 at 5:14 PM


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In Toronto, there was never anything special about the rising and setting of the sun. Where I lived made it difficult to witness either. And at that time in life it wasn’t important.

To catch the rising sun I had to walk to the corner of Avenue Road and Woburn. In summer, if I wasn’t driving. I would catch the odd glimpse of it over the trees. But I never lingered to catch the full rising because I had to catch a bus. I missed sunrise in winter because I was always at the gym by 7:00 A.M.

It was different with sunsets. Two of the towers I worked in gave me great views, one over the lake and the Gardner Expressway, the other over the low-rise buildings of old downtown. Again, though, I never took the time to savor those sunsets, because I was either working late or simply rushing home to put as much distance between me and the day’s problems as quickly as I could.

That was then. This is now. Where I’m living now gives the rising and setting of the sun a wonderful new perspective.

Come morning the sun pours into the front of our home with glorious light. We’ve hung small prisms in the front windows. When sunlight hits them tiny rainbow spectrums move across our walls in beautifully bright red, green, blue, indigo and violet patches. The trees behind the house catch this morning light and shine like blazing gold in the fall and candy apple red in the spring and summer.

Come evening the sun sends its setting light into our kitchen. Sometimes it is so bright we are forced, reluctantly, to adjust the blinds. A flood of colour paints the evening sky. The canvas changes each night depending on cloud formations. And as the seasons change we watch the sun’s transit from one corner of the house to the other.

While the sky behind us is variegated with light, tree tops out front brighten with the fading sun so no matter where you are in the house you can’t miss the playful tints of the sun’s last light.

Now that we have nothing but time we look forward to the sun’s day-long path over our home.

We bought this house on a gray cloud filled November day. At the time I was filled with fear and trepidation at the enormity of what we were doing…leaving the big city for a house on the outskirts of a small town on the shores of Lake Huron, and a three hour drive from Toronto.

What I didn’t realize then was that our house sits in the middle of the rising and setting of the sun. And the light of sunrise and sunset has burned all our misgivings away.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

November 19, 2010 at 3:49 PM

The Snow Blower Brotherhood.

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The snow blows horizontally here in Southampton. That’s one of the first things we noticed during the first days of our first winter in our new hometown. The squalls come in off Lake Huron and blow down the Saugeen River behind our house, sculpting drifts that shift with the wind leaving my driveway sometimes clean and most times buried.

Having lived in Sault Ste. Marie and Montreal, I’m no stranger to snow, deep or drifted. But living in Toronto spoiled me with those once-or-twice-a-winter storms. So, I had to get used to shoveling all over again. And it hurt. It hurt my back. It hurt my knees. It hurt my self-image of having the never-ending strength of someone use to hard, physical work.

Finally, after four years of digging out after the snowplow passed…after enviously watching my neighbours effortlessly clear their snow with mechanical ease…after a continually aching back, I realized that joining them was the only way my aging body would survive future winters.

So, I bought a snow blower.

And, it’s a beauty. I got me a red, Honda HS724 with Hydrostatic Transmission and electric everything. It has tracks instead of wheels. I can control the angle and height of the chute with a video game type toggle, no manual cranking, no manual anything. Just set it and go, forward or reverse. Twenty minutes and I’m done. I’ve never been happier.

Right now, there are cleaning patterns to work out, wind direction and speeds to content with, all of which are proving to be a pleasant learning curve.

My neighbours have all been by to inspect and comment on my new machine. And they approve.

Now, after the squalls have had their fun, I don my lined Kamicks, my Tough Duck bib overalls, my Honda Red Parka, pull on my toque, take up my position behind my machine and turn the key. It starts first time, every time. Then I set her in gear and follow her to the driveway. I raise my hand to my neighbours – the sign of the brotherhood – and then I blow snow…with a smile on my face.

A Quickening Of The Heart

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I just got back from a couple of days in the Big City…Toronto that is.

For years it was where I lived, the place where I was born, the city I was constantly leaving and inevitably coming back to. On return trips by train, plane or automobile, there were familiar landmarks that quickened my heart, telling me that I was almost home.

Driving up the small rise just before you exit the Queen E on to the Gardner the sight of Lake Ontario’s shoreline and Toronto’s Skyline never failed to make me smile. (So did the slight feeling of being airborne if you hit the rise at the right speed.)

Flying over the city at night was magical. I could spot landmarks from the air. I always knew which runway we were to land on from the direction of our approach. If we banked out over the lake then leveled off, I could see the street where I lived. That’s when the blood returned to my knuckles.

Entering Toronto by train brought me through the bottom of the city. Coming in from the West the lake and greenery of Sunnyside were certainly prettier than the industrial wasteland of the East end. Either way, pulling into the grandeur of Union Station always told me that I was in the city at the centre of the Canadian universe. At least, that’s what Torontonians believe.

But, all of this fails to impress me now. Now, I come to Toronto reluctantly and leave as quickly as I can. Whenever I’m there, I’m always planning my exit.

And this time, as I made my escape, it suddenly dawned on me; Toronto is no longer where I come from. Southampton is. And this reality, this transition happened effortlessly. I can’t remember suffering any withdrawal, homesickness or regret as a result of my leaving.

Racing everyone along the 401 speedway and up the 427, I realized that the pace of the city no longer excited me like it once did. Toronto was no longer my kind of town.

My blood pressure settled as we turned on to Highway 10. We were driving into quietude. There was no construction congestion, just the openness of farm fields freshly ploughed, that vivid just grown greenery breaking out everywhere, the soy bean fields now a brilliant buttercup yellow, all under a great big brilliantly blue sky.

And then, as soon as I saw the Saugeen River beside me on Highway 21, it happened. I knew I was home. Past the Range Light and across the bridge was the harbour with the sun glistening like fool’s gold on the water. That quickening of the heart I once experienced came over me. Only this time Southampton was the inspiration.

Yes, I come from away, as the locals describe us. Yes, I was once a ‘citidiot’ the name they sometimes use when they refer to newcomers. But I consider myself an adopted son now…a Southamptoner (Southamptonite?) I’ve happily traded the shores of Lake Ontario for the shores of Lake Huron, hazy smog for brilliant sunsets, hustle and bustle for peace and quiet, the fast lane for the slow lane, competition for contemplation.

There is a marvelous passage from The Place No One Knew by an unknown author, which sums it all up:

“You want a place where you can be serene, that will let you contemplate and connect two consecutive thoughts…that can stir you up as you were made to be stirred up, until you blend with the wind and water and earth you almost forgot your came from…There must be room enough for time – where the sun can calibrate the day, not the wristwatch, for days or weeks of unordered time, time enough to forget the feel of the pavement and to get the feel of the earth and of what is natural and right.”

I have found that place…right here, in Southampton.

Doing Nothing

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Whenever I come into contact with old friends from Toronto, they invariably ask the same question:

“What do you do up there now that you’re retired?”

This is sometimes followed by another more pointed query:

“Don’t you get bored?”

Sometimes my answer to the first question is: Nothing! And to the second I always say: No!

Every day is Saturday and every week is a long weekend. I wish for little and want for nothing as far as time goes. I have come to appreciate the phrase my father used to say to me when I spent summers working for him as a bricklayer’s apprentice. Whenever he threw down his trowel at the end of the day he would look at his handiwork and wish for:

“…la dolcezza di non fare niente…”

Literally translated he longed for retirement and “…the sweetness of doing nothing.”

I am living his wish right now. But if he were alive he’d be up here. And, I’d be labourer to his stonemason as we built one of his famous outdoor fireplaces that doubles as a Bar-B-Que and pizza oven. It would be a satisfying way of doing nothing. But that’s another story.

I am at the far end of the continuum now. Things happen at my pace. My decisions are influenced only by those closest to me. Although I’d like a radio station that plays jazz all day…and a place that bakes bagels like Gryfe’s does, and a bakery that knows how to make a true croissant. But these are just little things. In the grand tapestry of life they are but loose threads.

All of which brings to mind the lines Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s husband) once wrote:

“There are other assets of old age. The storms and stresses of life, the ambitions and competitions, are over. The futile and unnecessary and false responsibilities have fallen from one’s shoulders and one’s conscience.”

He was 85 when he came to this conclusion. I reached it a long time before that.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 17, 2009 at 7:31 PM

Hanging Out in Toronto

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We left Southampton between storms. As we got closer to Toronto, though, snow found us again. Eventually we found ourselves in a city struggling with the weight of winter. With two days to go before Christmas the town was congested. Not just with Christmas crowds but because of snow, piled high and hardened by the temperature, lining curbs, corners and sidewalks. Navigation, by the excess of both people and traffic, was difficult. Parked cars, occupying half the curb lane, jutted precariously out into the street. And nothing angers uptight Toronto drivers more than impediments to their speedy progress. Those driving their SUVs while chatting on their cells phones had no patience for the traffic tie-ups. Torontonians on Christmas shopping missions scurried up and down the slippery snow crusted sidewalks with scowls on their faces. All made the merrier by freshly falling snow. One big wet sloppy mess.

Rain and fog on Christmas Eve made things even worse. The wet weather turned the already accumulated snow banks into dams welling up with water. Curbside the corners and crosswalks became slush ponds – pools of cold, brown water and ice. Women in expensive high-heeled leather boots cursed as they waded in ankle deep. Water soaked the cuffs of their pants and crept up their legs. In sad contrast a bag lady struggled through the slush with her ladened shopping cart only to have the contents tumble to the wet street. She cursed each passing car as it sprayed her with slush. The miserable weather made everyone equal.

The only creatures that received special treatment were the tiny toy dogs sheltered in purses. Those wrapped in custom coats and booties, were carried in the arms of their owners, shielded inside their jackets, safe against the elements.

It was equally interesting in the stores. Shoppers sipped lattes as they checked their Blackberrys. Cell phone addicts walking and talking, heads down, banged and bumped their way through the crowds giving their victims dirty looks. Long lineups wove all the way from the mall to the cash register. Irate shoppers were not reticent to voice their opinions out loud demanding a better system to speed them in their quest for more stuff.

Ah, the spirit of the Holidays.

We were in Toronto to celebrate with family. We checked into a downtown hotel, which gave us the freedom to hang out in what was once our favourite part of the city.  And there is a difference between living and visiting in your previous hometown.  You take things at a more leisurely pace. You can sit in the hotel lounge sipping an overly expensive glass of wine and wonder why the people crowding the bar aren’t at home this late on Christmas Eve. You have time to chat with the coffee lady at Holt’s and explain to her how to make a RedEye while she tells you that in El Salvador ( where she comes from) they prefer light roasted coffee to dark roast. Lingering, chatting to strangers and people watching become second nature.

There is no Toronto rush. You see things differently.What you once took for granted is now a source of amusement. Its not that you’re smug or above it all. It’s just that it doesn’t involve you directly anymore.







Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 27, 2008 at 8:16 PM


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What is it that keeps pulling me back to Toronto?

Lately it has been the company of old friends. On the last three trips I have connected with people I’ve know for a long, long time. Looking at them now and remembering what we were like back in the day can be disconcerting…not to mention depressing. Nonetheless, age does nothing to dampen the bond of familiarity we have forged over the years. The friendships are here. And they will never go away.

The city gets old too. And it shows. Not in the way a small town swears its age. There is no ‘growing old gracefully’ in Toronto. It is more an old acquaintance than an old friend. And there is a difference in that.

Nonetheless, I found things this trip I wish my small town had. Like the wonderful Italian bakery with hot and cold table serving the food I grew up with, gelati, old country breads, pastries, meats and olive oil and an espresso bar with Serie A soccer on the tube. There’s nothing like that in Saugeen Shores. N and my daughter took me to an amazing Lebanese restaurant that would probably never survive up here.

But, what is it that always pulls me back to Southampton?

In spite of new discoveries and old friends, the need to return to the country was strong come Sunday afternoon.

The weather mavens predicted heavy rain and high winds. And they were right. By the time we turned up Highway 10 out of Shelburne, a massive gun-metal grey cloud hung over the horizon, long, broad and reaching down to touch the road. It obliterated the fields of wind turbines, bringing night to the early afternoon.

Rain pelted down on us all the way home. Remnants of the hurricanes from down south had come up our way to exhaust themselves. Creeks, rivers and streams ran high. Fields were waterlogged. It was a harrowing drive, but N steered us home.

The solitude found on empty county roads…the fields freshly harvested…the trees slowly turning…the flying wedge of geese high in the sky, noisily making their way south…the wind and waves off Lake Huron. Even if this were possible in the city, it would not have the same charm. Once you’ve lived with the peacefulness of the country it is hard to live anywhere else.

Southampton is getting ready for fall. Driveways are piled high with wood waiting to be split for winter. Locally grown produce is waiting at the Keady Market. We can stop at the orchard to pick apples and indulge in fresh-baked turnovers at Smith’s Farm. One bite of Mickey’s pastry and apple pie will never be the same for you. 

The tourists are gone. The summer people will disappear after Thanksgiving. Then Southampton will be all ours again.

We sit and listen to the quiet now. The frenetic pace and noise of Toronto well behind us, forgotten. It is as if I was never there. I know N feels differently. She has no problem going back and forth.

I do. But that is not an issue.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 16, 2008 at 5:38 PM