As spring lifts off it seems like our lives are getting more and more busy with commitments nearly every night and on most weekends. After Saturday’s improv class, though, we shuffle a few things around and head for a library. The weather is still a bit unstable with the skies threatening bad weather like we had on Friday. But at least it is nice and warm outside and I can leave the house without a coat.
Our ride takes us back to Scarborough, to the Victoria Village area. Before the 1950’s this area used to be an orchard owned by a single family but after that it was developed in to a neighbourhood of bungalows with a few highrises scattered throughout for higher density. I’m happy to see small houses. Though I’m someone who prefers highrise living, I find the current trend toward larger and larger houses a trend toward ugliness and conspicuous consumption. It is also, no doubt, fuelled in great part by nostalgia. I love the little bungalows and ranch houses I remember from the 70’s.
The area looks busy when we get off the bus at Victoria Park and Lawrence. Both of these streets are very busy streets – the kind I really dislike riding a bike on. And I’m not the only one. In this part of town, those who get around by bike often do so on the sidewalk, much to the chagrin of those walking.
Eventually we turn south in to a greener, more pedestrian-friendly, and more residential part of the neighbourhood.
We leave the big streets behind and the traffic noise falls away. Soon we’re walking down quiet streets.
We see a few people out – some people are mowing their lawns (already!), another person is getting his above-ground pool ready for the season. A woman bringing out her recycling gives us a cheerful hello as we pass. A bit further along I see a sight that cheers me immensely:
Eventually, after about ten minute’s walk from the bus stop we come to the library.
This library was built in 1967. In many ways, as someone born only a few years after that, this is the generation of libraries I remember most. Some were, of course, older than this. Where some of the previous libraries are very modern with walls of windows, spaces designed for social activity and lingering, this is more what I remember: a smaller space (remember, I grew up in a small town), quiet and calm. Almost utilitarian. And speaking of utilitarian, I see something unusual as I walk in:
There are a couple of things about this that catch my eye. The first, of course, is that you can drop of your books at the book drop and then drop an envelope with your cheque (not cash!) in a box at the library to pay your bill. In an age of online payments, this is nice to see.
Of course the second thing is that it says “North York” on it. Before 1998, Toronto was a metro area made up of 6 boroughs: East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York, and the City of Toronto. After that, they were amalgamated in to one city that shared many services. To this day, many are not happy at being grouped with some of the other “siblings”, and many services suffered as a result. The biggest thing I see people upset about is the feeling that other parts of the city now control ones outside their own: Someone from across town might now vote against putting a bike lane on your street, for example.
We go inside. It’s immediately evident that today is the first nice Saturday since September or October. There are more staff than patrons at this point. As I walk in, I hear a librarian talking to a girl of about 8-9 years old, clearly working with her for a recommendation: “So, did you like the Odyssey?” That should have given us a clue as to what was in store for us there: lots of classics were on the shelves there. As if to balance it out, there was a lot of pop fiction by the likes of Peter Straub, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton. Overall, though, this library is one of the smallest we’ve been to: only 5,000 square feet. There are a few chairs but nowhere I’m particularly drawn to sit or relax. I realize as I write this that I’m starting to classify libraries in my mind. There are some I could browse for hours because they’re so huge. There are others that I want to just sit and read in the sun. This one is one I probably would only use for picking up holds if I lived in the neighbourhood. The collection isn’t large enough to have a good chance of finding a surprise, and there isn’t much in the way of space to relax.
Today I enter with a task for myself. I’ve had 2-3 false starts lately with books that have disappointed me. Some I have thought “Now is not the time.” and figured I would go back to them later, while others I disliked so much I condemned them to my Abandoned shelf in Goodreads. I’m reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. This one is really good and really interesting but it is telling me how to be more efficient at getting things done at work and on my personal projects. It feels like work and I need a book to read for fun that I am excited to read. With this collection and size, I’m not hopeful. I grab a book of Margaret Atwood short stories, Moral Disorder, How Music Works by David Byrne, and Sage hands me Stealing Nasreen by Farzana Doctor. In the end, though, the one that seems to fit the bill is The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. I actually read an article about the subject of this story – a man who ran away in to the woods in 1986, just after graduating, and wasn’t discovered again until 2013 when he was caught stealing from houses – the way he’d supported himself for decades. It was this way of supporting himself that created a bit of a legend about him in the area. People would come back to their houses – usually vacation cottages – and find things missing. The things that were missing were never valuable, but utilitarian instead. Propane cylinders, an axe, a pair of pants (38 waist), canned goods, and so on. It’s a fascinating read so far and I’m glad I found it.
We go up and check out our books. As Sage is checking hers out she leans over and whispers in my ear: “Check out the calendar in the office!” I take a look over and laugh. This is what’s on the wall:
We head out in to the day. It’s cooler and looking a bit more threatening but it makes the neighbourhood very pretty.
A short walk brings us to a strip mall. Have I said how much I love the variety of Scarborough strip malls? (If this is your first of these entries you’ve read, the answer is yes). This one had an interesting find:
Right, I know: How many strip mall pubs must there be in this city? How many serving burgers, poutine, and wings? Pretty much all of them, yes? This one’s different in one big way: It’s Halal. In other words, in addition to having no pork or meat that is not Halal, it also has no alcohol. Looking at the Yelp entry, though, it appears to otherwise have the same offerings as well as a healthy selection of smoothies and delicious-looking caffeinated beverages. While it is open, it is still early and completely empty. I want to go back someday but preferably on a busier day – perhaps when a big game is playing and it’s busy.
Instead we head over to a restaurant advertising Thai Street Food:
We order a couple of things and decide to share.The Panang chicken is good for two reasons. It’s quite delicious and a bit spicy (though I need to find a way to convince people we actually can eat spicy food. It has a bit of a bite but not the kind of bite I had hoped for.) But what I’m happy to find out is that it reminds me a lot of the Panang curry I make at home. I’m pleased to find that I’m clearly improving. I’m particularly excited as I eat this because in a few days the mixer/grinder I ordered will arrive. This will make the job of making curry pastes (and masala pastes) so much easier and it will be practical to go from making Thai curries from paste I get in a jar to making it from scratch. I’ve done this a couple of times and it was hugely time consuming with lots of work with a mortar/pestle but also noticeably better taste as well.
Sage orders Pad Kee Mao – a chicken noodle dish. This is a bit spicier than the curry but still could have been a bit hotter. Still, that’s something that can be changed easily. The hard part, depth and balance of flavour, freshness of ingredients and quality of cooking (veggies not over/under-cooked) was spot on. As we leave, Sage says that this is the best Thai food she’s had since immigrating to Canada in 2004. I agree.
A look at the clock might tell us it’s time to go, but if that didn’t, a look at the sky certainly does. Are we heading for another wind storm? Severe thunderstorms? Neither of us want to find out. We catch the next bus heading for the subway and read our new books as we go.
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.