I look out the window this afternoon and it looks so inviting. The sky is blue, the sun is bright. We are already several days in to spring and I’m looking forward to enjoying some warm spring weather.
I go down the elevator, walk out the door and find that it is a typical Canadian spring illusion. The weather looks beautiful through the window when I open the door I’m hit with an icy breeze. Of course the other side of this illusion is this: in those moments when the wind finally does stop, you can just start to feel the warmth of the sun. Spring will eventually come. It’s like the promise of a bad friend who someday will go to the movies with you, just not today.
I briefly consider going to another library that’s inside a shopping mall hoping to avoid the cold, but decide to save that for a true rainy (or snowy) day. Today I head to Scarborough again – one hour and two buses away from my home. Some might think of this as a chore, but at this time of day I’m certain to get a seat. And so that means that the bus will be my reading room for over two hours today. I start off by finishing Offline: Free Your Mind from Smartphone and Social Media Stress. This book really caught my eye last time I was at the library so I started reading it. It had some great observations, some good tips, but also a whole lot of repetition. So in the end it was probably about twice as long as it needed to be so finishing it turned out to be more of a slog. But I’m committed to reading 40 books this year and quitting this book 3/4 of the way through just because I think it already should have ended will mean I lose credit for all of that effort. I stick around to the end.
My music, on shuffle, turns to a J. Geils Band song. Behaving as if I hadn’t just finished a book about Smartphone distraction, I immediately look them up, trying to confirm some lyrics and get some history. I’m rewarded with a very fun, but also very dated and self-conscious-sounding article from Rolling Stone magazine’s March 4, 1982 issue written by, of all people, Kurt Loder – who later went on to be on MTV news. I was 11 in March of 1982 and had just discovered the J. Geils Band myself. At the same time I was also reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot – and so the two are inextricably linked.
The bus drops me off at a busy intersection in Scarborough. This part of the city is known to be designed first and foremost for cars: wide, fast streets, rounded street corners so you don’t have to slow down much to turn. The unfortunate side effect of this is that this part of town can also be dangerous for pedestrians and those few cyclists who dare to ride here. Cars are going so fast and are made such a priority that pedestrians are often a surprise – especially when driver, pedestrian, or both are distracted by their telephones.
A five minute walk brings me to the library – one of the larger in the system.
This library is not only large, it’s well-used. Nearly every square foot of space is occupied by someone. I recently learned that the library frowns upon photos of patrons or staff taken without prior written permission so unfortunately there aren’t many photos inside. But rest assured, it was a bustling place. On the first floor, the seating in the sunny area near the children’s section had a ton of people relaxing and enjoying the sun’s warmth – the evil wind was blocked by the windows. The children’s section did have something I have only seen in two other libraries in the city also:
That’s right! Books in Hindi at my reading level! OK, some were above it but it’s good to stretch, isn’t it? I picked up a few including this one:
This one is particularly special for me because it was one of the first stories I ever told in Hindi – and I even told it live on the radio! (You can read about it and even listen by clicking the link.) This translation is a bit different than mine, though. There are a lot of books like this in the Hindi children’s book sections which is great – I can try to understand the Hindi and then read the English translation to see how close I come.
When I go upstairs I find the area is even more filled with people. In the centre of the room is a long table with chairs on both sides. At each chair is a library patron from age 15 to 75 using the computer for everything from Facebook to playing video games to working on a resume.
Upstairs I go to see what other language offerings they have there. This is one of the more diverse parts of the city and the offerings show it. You can get books, CDs, and DVDs in French, Pushto, Tagalog, Chinese, Tamil, Korean, Persian, Polish, Urdu, Gujarati and of course, Hindi. I push myself a little and pick up a book called “राजस्थानी खाना – कुछ विशिष्ट विधियां” a book of Rajasthani recipes. I can understand most of it though some of the ingredients are unfamiliar. Least familiar, though are the measurements in the recipes. There are no 1 cup, 1/2 teaspoon, or even 30 ml measurements. There are only “2 small spoons”, “1 large spoon”, or “a small bowl” as measurements. I will definitely try making something though I may have to wing it a little. There’s even a recipe for ker sangri, one of my favourite Rajasthani dishes. Sadly, while I might now know how to cook it, even in an international city like Toronto it may be difficult to find either the ker berries or sangri beans here. Foolishly I didn’t have any of this when I was there just a couple of months ago. I may have to wait another year for my next opportunity.
Lately I’ve been very enamoured with my Kobo reader – especially now that I have learned how to connect it to the library and can borrow e-books at any time day or night. But there are some things that will never translate well to an e-reader and that is graphic novels. I was happy to see a good selection here and picked up a few to bring home.
While they had some of the more traditional manga and comic book style books, I did find some interesting stories like “Here” that follows the history over many years of the corner of one house told through various snapshots, or “Paul Up North” – the story of a teenager growing up in Quebec in the mid 1970’s – a fun travel back in time.
I checked out all of my books and headed back out in to the cold, my next stop, a plaza I saw on the way to the library:
Inside the Afghan Supermarket I find many of the same spices I know from Indian markets but also lots more dried fruits and nuts.
In the back a woman sells freshly made chicken and beef shawarma wraps. I consider ordering one but there is nowhere to sit so I move on. The store is connected to the Basir Azizi Bakery – a Persian bakery. The cases are filled with delicious offerings:
I want to try everything but in the end I choose three things to try:
On the left what looks like a small Mexican empanada or maybe a Jamaican beef patty is actually a dessert. The outside is crispy and delicious with a slightly sticky and sweet glaze. Inside is a mixture of sooji (semolina) and cinnamon. Again, not too sweet – just right for my palate that prefers mostly savoury things.
The other two items are small cakes. Both have pistachios and jam, the right one has orange jam and chocolate and the middle one has a berry jam and walnuts inside. Like the other dessert these, too, are flavourful but not too sweet.
Another Afghani market, the Herat market is next door. The offerings inside are similar with a couple of extra things. First off is a bakery in the back where fresh Afghani naan is made and sold. It smells amazing. There is also a small restaurant in the back that sells kebabs and rice. Now full of dessert I skip having a full meal. It won’t be long before I’ll need to be making our family dinner anyway.
Outside I walk past a store advertising “Modest Wear” that sells abaya and hijabs of all sorts. Above the store name is their motto: “We’ve got you covered.”
Across the big intersection is another large strip mall. Its contents are a little different. Here you find a Shoppers Drug Mart – a Canadian pharmacy chain along with several discount clothing stores. There are also two supermarkets.
One supermarket is called India Town. It is medium sized with a good selection not only of spices and fresh vegetables and fruits but also lots of sweets, snacks, and even frozen prepared foods. While they have a large selection of North and South Indian groceries and even things like prepared dosa and idli batter, I also see something different. In the freezer I see pre-made Undhiyu.
In the snack section is an enormous selection of khakra, a crispy flatbread that is an excellent snack and mostly what I ate on the train trip from Raipur to Jaipur. There are so many flavours that are new to me. I pick up some chatapata and plain ones for home. I am really intrigued by the methi-karela flavour ones but am not brave enough to buy them. Maybe another time. I do like both methi and karela but together? In a snack? I don’t know.
Next door is the Danforth Food Market. This store advertises Caribbean food and ingredients. I’ve eaten a great deal of Caribbean food before – delicious and spicy food with influences from all over the world from Africa to India to Central and South America. However, when I go to the door I see a sign “No outside bags allowed”. Holding my groceries from the previous market, I turn back. I’ll visit this store another time.
Across the street from this strip mall is another one. At the far end of the parking lot I see another huge supermarket. This one sells Chinese and other Asian food. Not sure if my bags are welcome there, I head back toward the bus stop. Across the street on the fourth corner I see the Cedarbrae Mall – North American chains like Wal Mart and Canadian Tire anchor this mall rounding out the neighbourhood.
This one intersection, despite it’s busy, car-centric design highlights the thing I love most about Scarborough: so many different cultures living right next to one another. It is something I would miss were I to move to any other part of the world.