While I hardly went to the Reference Library at all during the past 10 years, I’ve been there about once a week now for various reasons. Last night my son, Daegan, and I decided to meet up there last night.
But first we needed to figure out dinner. Though I’ve lived in Toronto for over a decade, I don’t generally spend time in the area near the library so I wasn’t sure what there was. A quick check of Yelp gave me an idea. Off we went to Okonomi House – a Japanese restaurant specializing in Okonomiyaki – Japanese savoury pancakes. Daegan went for a yakisoba – fried noodles with meat and seafood while I couldn’t pass up the okonomiyaki as I’d never tried it before. I ordered one with pork and a sunomono – a seafood salad with cellophane noodles and cucumber and we shared some edamame.
Overall it was delicious. The sunomono was fresh with a simple vinaigrette. The okonomiyaki was tasty – made of rice with bits of pork inside. A tart okonomiyaki sauce was on top along with a bit of mayonnaise. Bonito and seaweed flakes were on the side for added deliciousness.
The only thing we both felt was that as delicious as everything was we were still quite hungry after we ate a full meal there. But we still had to go as we needed to get to our event. We grabbed a little bit of Taco Bell on the walk back up as it was quick and as long as you stick to vegetarian options, relatively OK.
We got to the library at 6:30 and people were already filing in for Salman Rushdie’s 7:30 PM arrival. We made our way upstairs and to the Appel Salon – a large room that seats nearly 600 people, and it was already nearly packed – we got seats about 4-5 rows from the back. Outside was a massive line of people who didn’t get tickets but still hoped to get in due to cancellations/no-shows. Meanwhile, inside, a cash bar did a brisk business as did the stall from a local bookstore that was selling copies of Rushdie’s books.
The show was excellent. While he was in town, no doubt, to promote his latest book, he and the interviewer did a great job of avoiding spoilers. The book itself sounded really interesting – written in the current day almost concurrently with the end of Obama’s presidency and Donald Trump’s election.
I have read several of his books and without exception found them both fascinating and intellectually rich. Reading them is the mental equivalent of eating a deliciously rich dessert. Where you might read some books on a beach on vacation, reading Rushdie is more involved – detailed description, fascinating characters and loads of historical and literary references (that I only get a tiny fraction of). The result is that where I might read a lesser book in a weekend, it takes me longer to get through one of his books. Midnight’s Children, a wonderful work that kept me rapt while I was reading it took me nearly a decade to get through as I would put it down for a break with something lighter and come back a few years later to give it a try. I finally resolved to finish it “no matter what” about 5 years ago and was so happy I did. So needless to say I got one of these:
As much as I loved the interview and the content, there was something else that really made me happy as I sat there. In a time of increasing anti-intellectualism, particularly south of our border, here were nearly 600 people wanting to hear an author speak. 600 people with a good 60 more waiting outside. And not only that, the event itself was free. In other words, our city pays for this so that anyone who wants to can go. With a program like this one needed to pre-register for tickets but even that could be done from a library computer. And as other places cut funding and close libraries, the people of our city push back against proposed library funding cuts as much as they do about other essential services. I may be stretching things, but to me this is indicative of a group of people who feel knowledge is not only important but should be available to all. Now if we can just convince folks that post-secondary education falls in the same realm. Of course it is getting better for some.
About a year after we moved here we got a call from a public opinion pollster. They wanted to know how we felt about taxes – weren’t they too high? Were we upset about them? (I’m pretty sure it was a conservative party based poll). I think I surprised the person on the line because instead of complaining about them, I was happy. Yes, I paid a fair bit in taxes (but actually about the same as when I lived in the US) I was glad to pay them and would be happy to pay more? Why? Because I see value for what I pay. My transit system is good (though we could use more Federal subsidies – the fares are high – not affordable for as many as it should be and we’re the least subsidized city in North America in that sense), when I go to the doctor, I pay nothing. My library is well stocked, my roads are well maintained (but could use more bike lanes). But I still have room to pay – and why not pay more. Not for more authors at the library but how about for affordable low income housing, tuition for all post secondary students, basic minimum income. Many of us have more than we need – let’s see if we can’t share it better with others. (and in the meantime we’re doing that through charity/volunteering)