For the past two weekends, I’ve been hosting guests in Toronto. First a friend from undergraduate (on the anniversary of our graduation from Rice University, might I add), and then my parents and grandma last weekend. It gave me two very different views of the city, but in the end my family “approved” Toronto. It’s official: Austin may be a cool place, but Toronto is right for me. And that makes it way cooler.
It’s difficult to sum it all up, especially now that I’m back to exploring on my own. But as I have two more guests with tickets booked to visit me in the coming months, it does seem to mark the beginning of yet another phase in my Toronto year, my move into independent adulthood. Only by sharing the city with my friends and family can I see how I’ve been changed and yet how my roots still ground me in other ways.
First off, both weekends turned into feasts. One of the great parts of Toronto that I don’t usually indulge in alone are the great restaurants. Every cuisine under the sun practically. I used the presence of my friend and especially my parents to begin to explore more of it. On the first morning, both sets of guests loved going to Maria’s (Motorama, the formal name if you want to find it on Google Maps or Yelp or something) where I’m not quite a regular, but I’m at least recognized. Great Greek diner with all-day breakfast. We got wired on coffee both times but it’s hard to say no to the pot of fresh coffee that Maria keeps constant brewing and circling around the tables. Mainly, it was just great to realize that I am a regular, a recognized face somewhere. I come in to introduce my friends and family to the owners and the cook and end up sitting at a table surrounded by other neighbors who have also come in for a Friday morning breakfast and chat. In other words, I have found home here on the East End.
The two-weekend feast also included great brunches, brews, and even a mini burger “taste test” with Square Boy up on the Danforth (definitely the best late night/need drunk food option), Dangerous Dan’s, and The Burger’s Priest. I have to say The Burger’s Priest did not disappoint and in comparison, it’s closer to my apartment than the other three options . . . but the real winner is the Leslieville Farmer’s Market. It just opened last weekend with music, clowns, humus, tofu, fresh bread, jams and jellies and spreads, organic meat, waffle and breakfast sandwich stands, and of course fresh veg in the park next door. The small park perfect for napping and reading plays on Friday afternoons turns into a booming farmer’s market on every Sunday from now until October and I have prime real estate to come and go as I please. Eating out with guests isn’t a sustainable option, but now that I’m back on my own, spending in the farmer’s market will be my go-to Sunday morning while I’m in Toronto.
These visits proved that I am really am a Toronto, city girl now (even if I have dreamed of the green vineyards and fields of the country since I visited the Shaw festival). I can work the transportation system with minimal difficulties–mainly those created by the spring’s deluge of construction–and I can spout details about each neighborhood. From the Beaches to the Gerrard Street India Bazaar, Greektown up on the Danforth, all the way over through the Entertainment District up into Spadina’s Chinatown and Kensington Markets, I can get around. Even in the West End, I didn’t get my friend lost as we toured through High Park and got our fill of the cherry blossoms. I use my metropass and am proud to say that for only living here about 9 months, I’ve covered a lot of ground. It also made me realize that I’m used to walking more than my parents and grandma . . . I had to slow down for them a bit. But to me, that was the beauty of their visits. Without their presence, I wouldn’t have realized how far I’ve come. How much I’ve grown.
In the midst of showing off my normal city-slicker skills and day-to-day haunts, I also got to try out some new things with my guests. With my university friend, we attended a show at Soulpepper. I don’t really want to talk about it, except to say that the facilities were nice, the company very well-run, and the show itself had an amazing set, but overall the experience was underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. At this point, theatre is a job for me. It may be my vocation, but going to a show with a non-theatre friend puts pressure on me in ways that other forms of entertainment don’t. This isn’t to say that I won’t go to theatre with friends and other guests in the future, but I’ll have to keep in mind that it won’t be as relaxing for me as they might imagine.
Thankfully, my family agreed to forego the theater for a Blue Jays game during their visit. As it turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better game or day to attend. The dome was open on the stadium for the first time, the Jays were on a winning streak, and then they ended up sweeping that weekend with a 6 run winning game the day we were there. We had a great time watching the actual game, but also people-watching. It’s another sign that proves I am of the same stock as my family. I may be the playwright, but they also have that impulse to watch and wonder at the performances of the crowds that surround us, the stories of the people we meet everyday. They might not compare it to performance theories and concepts the way I do, but they can still appreciate that part of the event.
The rest of the weekend included watching dogs of all breeds and sizes at Woofstock, the largest dog festival in North America (which also happened to be occurring in the park behind my new apartment: location, location, location). As if I weren’t already getting so much love, attention, and validation from my family, here were dogs playing all about me to provide extra loyal, enthusiastic, pure and genuine devotion. We all got sunburnt because the dogs competing in the agility course and running in the pug races completely distracted us from reapplying. Mom and Dad might not have been able to bring Willie and Woody here with them to visit Toronto, too, but this was the next best thing. Unfortunately, it also got me started dreaming about what type of dog I would like . . . but that’s at least a year or two down the line.
There’s so much more to share, but I think the best part of these two weekends can be summed up in one moment. The first time we walked down Queen Street, I pointed out my favorite cafe. My dad decided it would be a great place to stop for a cappuccino and we all ended up chilling on the back patio. When we walked back, he stopped in to take an extra picture of the espresso machine. The next day he decided to go back and wait there once again as we girls went to get pedicures. I had pointed out plenty of other cafes on our walks, but a combination of my enthusiasm/review and his own taste test had convinced him to use it as the go-to place, too. And that’s what I really wanted to do. These visits weren’t about seeing all the sites in Toronto or really playing the part of tourists. They were about sharing my city with my core friends and family. In that moment at Tango Palace Coffee Company, I realized that I had captured the joyous moments I’ve had in Toronto and given them to my guests. Now I can go back to exploring with the knowledge that I’m not alone or that my travels will take my away from my roots. No, they’ll just give me more to share.