After a number of trips east to Scarborough, it was time for a change. And so last weekend I dropped a pin in an entirely different part of the city: Etobicoke – well to the west and a bit north of home. And so it was that I headed out Saturday morning at 10:00 AM bound for the Weston Library.
As transit rides in this city go, this one was on the long side. 10 minutes to the subway and then almost all the way to the other end of the city and then another 40 minutes or so on a bus.
I ended up in a part of town I’ve spent very little time in. Unlike many areas this far from downtown, it was neither 100% residential nor was it a wasteland of suburban big box stores and parking lots. Instead, it was like the downtown of a smaller city.
There was a mix of businesses here from a stationery store that had been there since the 70’s to more recently added Chinese and Caribbean restaurants and markets. A bit of research before I left also told me that this was an area with a large Somali population and there were a few Somali restaurants and stores to be found. I have had other East African food before – especially Ethiopian and Eritrean food but I’d never tried Somalian food. And so I made my way to Wiff (rhymes with “Beef”) restaurant.
I was relatively early and so I had the place to myself. I sat down and before long a woman came over to take my order, simply asking what I wanted. Not knowing what was on offer I asked for a menu. “We have one, but it’s out of date.” Then she listed off all sorts of offerings so quickly that I couldn’t keep up. In the end I chose a dry chicken stew on rice (any of the offerings could be served on pasta as well – interesting!). Then she asked if I wanted to start off with some samosas and told me there were beef or fish.
Wait, fish samosas? I’d never heard of those before. I absolutely must try that. And soon a pair of them arrived.
They were hot and fresh and though they’d been deep fried, they were not the least bit greasy. The filling was a mixture of fish, onions, and spices – absolutely delicious. These alone were worth making the cross-town trek for.
My waitress left to do some errands but before long the cook came out with the main course. A delicious chicken stew that, though very differently spiced from what I grew up with, had the same sort of feeling that the comfort food of my childhood did. Along with it was a bit of salad and cardamom scented rice. She asked if I wanted anything else and I asked for a bit of water. She offered juice instead and brought me mixed fruit juice. Along with that she brought a banana and told me “Back home, it’s not considered a meal if it doesn’t have a banana.
While I ate the banana afterward, I later learned that I was mistaken. It is more like a side dish to be eaten with the rice.
Suitably filled, I headed in the direction of the library.
In the early 1900’s, Andrew Carnegie sold his steel empire to J. P. Morgan for half a billion dollars – a huge fortune today and even more so over a century ago. He retired and among other things started giving grants to cities to build libraries. The cities would have to provide a place to build the library and provide through taxation 10% of the grant value to provide operating expenses. In exchange, cities got beautiful new libraries. In total, Toronto got ten libraries between 1907 and 1916. The world got 2,509 in total. More information can be found, of course, at the Wikipedia page for the Carnegie Libraries. Meanwhile, folks with kids in Toronto who might be interested in Andrew Carnegie’s funding of libraries may be interested to go to this library to see the author of The Man who Loved Libraries, a book about Andrew Carnegie, speak at this library on October 24th.
As for the library itself, I love it’s old fashioned beauty. From the outside it reminds me of the old brick library I used to walk to in New England when I was 5. There, people stoked my love for science fiction and fantasy by sharing books like The Phantom Tollbooth and Time Cat.
Despite its formidable appearance from outside it’s relatively small in stature compared to some of the other libraries in our city – even from that era. In part this is likely due to this area being a relatively small town at the time of its building – more in need of a small village library than a big city monument to books. Still, there was a fair selection of books, videos and magazines. I was able to get a couple books and even a DVD of Delhi 6 to re-watch. I saw it several years ago but my Hindi has improved and I’ve also actually been to Delhi since then so it’s likely to be more interesting. And me being me, I can pretty much say that if you put a Bachchan in a movie I’ll be thrilled to watch it. Put two in and I’m completely sold. (Amitabh only gets a small part in this as I recall, though.)
The library itself was pretty busy – this is usually indicated by the number of photos I take. I feel a bit self-conscious taking library photos at all, but I really don’t feel comfortable taking photos when there are people in them who may not want to be. Still, rest assured, it was a lovely place to spend time with a good number of computers for those who didn’t bring their own, desk space for all in need and even a few couches, one of which I sat on while I wrote my last entry.
After that I headed out to do a number of errands. As I did them I thought about how unique the city I live in is. I went to my barber, a man who immigrated to Canada from Italy in the 60’s. He shares a storefront in Koreatown with a Korean hairdresser and as I get my hair cut there you can pretty much count on anyone from anywhere walking through the door. You can also hear some interesting stories. Last time I was there, we were both talking about our favourite foods and he told me about a restaurant he used to like to go to in Niagara Falls on the US side. That got him on the subject of his trips down there in his 20’s to go to the night clubs. This was during the Vietnam war and he told me about how people would try to run him and his friends out of the bar because with all of the American men off in Vietnam people were worried that they would run off with Canadians. I hadn’t thought of that before.
After that I got a message from Sage – she was going to be going downtown and did I want to meet her for dinner? Absolutely. And so, as she had a ways to go by transit, I decided to walk, stopping at Ten Editions Books along the way. In this day of big box bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Indigo, I worry that younger folks don’t have an appreciation for what a great used bookstore can be. This place is one of the few left (and considering that everything in stock was 50% off, I worry that there will be one less soon). Imagine a store filled floor to ceiling with books of all ages on every subject imaginable. The shelves are so high that ladders are available to climb up to look at the top shelves. The entire place smells deliciously of books and you never know what you’ll get. While I was there I found not only books but programs from University of Toronto graduations from the 80’s, accounts of a bookstore owner’s experiences with customers between the 20’s and the 50’s, and Toronto Star newspapers from the 40’s. There are some serious treasures here and I would’ve fallen deep down a rabbit hole had I not had to rush off to meet Sage.
Off I went, finally ending in Chinatown at Ajisen Ramen. As the weather is cooling, my appetite for ramen, pho, and soft tofu soup and chigae is ramping up and I was rewarded handsomely for my trip there. I enjoyed a delicious teppanyaki steak and kimchi ramen while Sage got a grilled chicken tom yum. We left, stuffed and content.
After that we ended the night by heading over to the start of an all night art show, Nuit Blanche. Sage was scheduled to perform as a soloist with one of the exhibits, singing with a group of women outside Toronto Women’s Hospital from 5-7 AM the next day. The event had started already, though, and she went over to get a feel for what it would be like.
A 12 hour installation for unaccompanied voice in which names of women and girls who are missing in Ontario are sung as if calling them home. The names of those who have been murdered are recited as these women are not returning home. Piece includes call and echo sections for audience participation. Ribbons, which can be taken home or used to create art on site, serve as a reminder of the missing. When worn, they prompt one to look around corridors of privilege (e.g. boardrooms, courts, markets) and ask: “Who’s missing?”. Globally, the most disenfranchised women are overrepresented in these statistics. In Canada, it is women of indigenous background, women of visible minority, women living in poverty and people who are trans. Is the phenomenon of missing and murdered women a mystery or an expected outcome of political and cultural dynamics?
(Via the Nuit Blanche site)
It was tremendously moving. So often we hear of victims of crimes and soon after forget them in the rush of all of the bad news of the day. But the beauty of the piece was that the singers embodied those left behind – those who couldn’t forget them. Every few minutes the names and ages of those missing or confirmed dead would be spoken and it was hard not to want to hold those around me that much closer. We ended up talking about it a bit on the way home – it made me think about some of the chaos in my own childhood when my parents were drinking – that feeling of “Oh no, what’s going to happen? Is it going to be OK?” and realizing that while in my case it was really scary, it did end up OK, but that wasn’t true for everyone.
On the way back home we rode the subway to our neighbourhood with a family, the mom of which was in a niqab. Living here, it’s so hard to see what the big deal is about this and why people get so freaked out over it. Many women in our neighbourhood wear some sort of hijab, others don’t and it’s not a big deal. But it got me thinking about how freaked out some folks (OK, mostly Americans) get about when a women dressed like that boards, say, an airplane and dares to speak a foreign language. Another friend of mine told me about a family member of hers who was wearing a hijab and filling up at a gas station in rural Ontario when someone came up to them and asked, in all seriousness (as in not meanly joking but actually scared): “Are you going to blow the place up?” I thought about this even more once I realized the woman on the subway was speaking Urdu and I could understand what she was saying. These words, and this outfit, so scary to so many in North America were so simple. As her 4 year old daughter explored the car with her older siblings, the mom called out to them: “Watch out, the subway is stopping. Keep her pack from the door so she doesn’t run out.” So frustrating that people just having their lives are enough to make so many people scared.
My advice? Come to the city, meet some people different than you – and maybe visit a few libraries of your own. There’s a lot of perspective to be gained.
If you’d like to read about more of Toronto’s awesome libraries and the neighbourhoods they’re in, visit the Toronto by Library page.