Posts Tagged With: Toronto

The Fine Art of Living in 700-Square Feet

When you live in 700-square feet and caramelize onions on the stovetop, your duvet will smell exactly like caramelized onions that night unless you close the bedroom door and wedge a rolled wet towel at the base of the door. Similarly, if you make butter chicken for dinner, there’s a 100% chance that later that night when you shower, you will step out of the tub Irish Spring-clean only to wrap yourself in a curry-scented towel.

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When you live in 700-square feet a gas fireplace can recreate Central American climes in about 13 minutes flat. In addition, for ultimate winter coziness, when you have seven foot ceilings, pot lights serve as head warmers. One can feel like a Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken very quickly and easily.

With en suite laundry, when the buzzer signals the end of the dryer cycle, it’s parallel to being struck by a bolt of lightning. Originally designed for basement placement, Maytag dryer buzzers were set to a volume ample enough to alert housewives on the upper two floors of a home or half a block down the road—not ten paces away.

Living in such close quarters means that there is no secret Tostito eating—and a beer being covertly opened can be detected from any point within the apartment. Much like the heightened awareness a cat has with the electric can opener of yore—even when above-mentioned cat is three miles away, about to pounce on a woodland mouse– I run in the same fashion towards the sound of a bottle opener or chip bag. Natural wild instincts despite urban location intact.

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When you have 700-square feet in downtown Toronto, only 70 seems to be allotted to the kitchen area. This translates into just enough space for one Romanian gymnast to do a somersault. Two people in the kitchen galley at one time means bacon grease splattered on someone’s shirt, accidental knife jabs and random head strikes from freezer doors or each other.

In special cases, such as mine, a landlord can order a brand new fridge and request to have the fridge door mounted to open from the right side, to create more space, before delivery. However, at the same time, in special cases, said landlord can mis-measure available fridge space and order a fridge too large. This means that sometimes when you live in small spaces, the fridge door cannot open fully to the right due to a wall, even when two inches of the counter top is sawn off. This allows the fridge door to open 55 degrees instead of 90 which requires users to do serious lunging and intensive arm extensions to reach the back left corner. Luckily, here, beers are safe from shorter-armed people. Conversely, the Costco-sized Thai chili sauce bottle is safe from toppling and knocking over the 6-pack of Carlsberg like bowling pins.

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I could go on about the former fridge—how I had to shut both bedroom doors to drown out its moaning. It was a vintage model, tired of being cold all the time. In the dead of night it sounded like a half dozen hamsters were running in wheels to keep it in operation. The new fridge is a moderate improvement—we still have to jack up the volume on a movie to account for the background din of the fridge running. And, oh, how it runs. I have been half-tempted to unplug it during movies (and sleep) on several occasions.

When you live in 700-square feet there is no room for miscellaneous anything. One kitchen drawer is dominated by pots and pans stacked like Russian dolls. One drawer is crammed with the likes of Raisin Bran, panko, Schwartz’s steak seasoning, molasses and carefully arranged boxes of crackers. Everything must have a purpose. And sometimes, even with a definitive purpose, items like the Krups panini maker must reside on the shoe shelf. Sometimes, space hog dishwashers that eliminate valuable cupboard space, must be employed as full-time dish storage. All house guests were routinely told not to place dirty dishes in the dishwasher. “No, this is where we store all the clean dishes.” The previous arrangement before our epiphany was on top of the fridge. Which meant all the stacked square dishes and matching square bowls would have to be lifted off in one overhead military press-style manoeuvre to the counter below. Equivalent of 50 pounds and repetitive strain injury to supraspinatus muscle. Thank god for dish storage epiphanies.

More on storage: With two semi-fashionista people with a penchant for hoodies and jeans, closet by-laws have to be put into place. Such as (to an anonymous girlfriend): “No purchase of big, wool sweaters, regardless of how awesome they are until we move.” Kim has two that require a full dresser drawer. When we flew to Charlottetown, her sweater took up the entire overhead compartment of our Air Canada Boeing.

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Our shoes are already double-stacked, our jeans wedged to the closet ceiling. No jumbo-sized or double anything is allowed. Especially because the bathroom medicine cabinet height is designed for products that mice might use. Kim’s hairspray has to lie on its side, threatening to roll out and explode on the tile floors on a daily basis.

On top of all this, living below others (a couple who loves wearing their cement-soled shoes and doing laps each morning circa 5 am) means all sound must be kept to a minimum. Yes, it’s like living on a fun reduction. If the cement-soled shoe couple is home (and they usually tuck in around 9 pm), movies are at a whisper-level. Only high dramas with heavy dialogue (bonus for subtitled flicks) can be rented mid-week. Definitely no James Bond or Bourne Conspiracy-types until maybe Saturday night when we can start our movie performance earlier.

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Phone conversations are halted and scheduled for seniors hours. My sister has had to suffer because of it. She lives in the ideal time zone (Banff) for my night owl lifestyle (two hours behind Toronto-time), but, due to the sleeping couple above, I have to laugh silently and position myself practically outside the window and speak in hushy tones.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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But, sometimes, after living in 700-square feet for two years, you buy a house that is double that size with no one living upstairs. Or downstairs. With a backyard to lounge in (not just look at like a caged budgie), a kitchen that could fit 25 minglers AND a team of somersaulting Romanian gymnasts, space for a dozen wool sweaters for each of us in several rooms, permission and encouragement for LOUD movies (positioned far, far away from the fridge that is remarkably silent—with a fridge door that opens practically 180 degrees), space for time zone-friendly phone calls that won’t disturb the other (where laughter can be laughed LOL-style and not held in like a fart), a separate pantry AND lazy Susan instead of one wimpy drawer, and, best? An en suite AND master bath for towels that will smell like Downy Mountain Mist not Patak’s butter chicken after dinner.
We’re ready.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Geography Lessons

Yesterday I was at Hanlan’s Point, my GPS location for self-imposed exile. Here, I lie supine and allow the lake to pull my mind away. The trembling aspens rustle and cicadas buzz at a pitch that is more of an alarm to me—summer is already gathering up its carefree days in fast pursuit of the fall. The cicadas are early this year, they are usually indicative of sizzling late August afternoons where humidity hangs like a wet duvet on our shoulders.

The sun is already setting a minute earlier each night. Yesterday the sun set at 8:45, tonight, 8:44. While the sun was still blistering hot and turning the pale-skinned gingers into Maine lobsters, I snapped open a beer. The bathtub-warm Mill Street Lemon Tea beer was effervescent in my mouth, and the tepid temperature hurled me several latitudes over, to Simba beers in the Congo sun.

Two men walked past me at Hanlan’s as I skimmed the condensation off the beer can and dragged my hand across the back of my neck. The men were holding hands, laughing without inhibition, ankle-deep in the lake water. They were the colour of teak furniture. A Porter jet took to the sky with a distant growl—Boston? New York? Chicago? It banked and slid into the atmosphere and pillowy clouds beyond the aspens above my head.

I dog-eared the 37th page of The Outport People, a book about the zany brood that breathe life into a seemingly uninhabitable island called Baleena. There are no roads, no cars, no telephones. It’s Claire Mowatss best-selling memoir based on the five years she and Farley lived in Newfoundland. My mind was already in too many places to focus on Newfoundland.

Again, I disappeared to the Congo despite staring at the Toronto skyline and the sailboats skating across the surface of the water in front of me. Just one year ago I was popping the remaining Malarone anti-malarial pills out of their foil seal into my cupped hand, sad to see the numbers dwindle by day. My eyes were strained from trying to absorb all the jacaranda trees, brilliant hibiscus and termite hills as tall as flagpoles. I was desperate to take in all that surrounded me. I studied the texture of Mikai’s hair and cool skin. I searched for the history and future in her eyes that were as dark as the African coffee I sipped. The chimp I held in my arms would be a mighty adult next time I saw her. She would no longer be gently accepting spoonfuls of strawberry yogurt and sucking on warm milk sweetened with honey.  In a year, she would find her place among the troop, no longer coddled and fussed over as the babe in arms.

A year ago I was running around the fairways of the Lubumbashi Golf Course, listening to the same songs on my iPod that fuel my route through Riverdale Park and along the Don River in Toronto today. Chantal would meet me after my run and we would sit in the still of the morning, watching the copper mine bigwigs teeing off in ill-fitting plaids and stripes. More often it was the wives of the bigwigs in wide-brimmed hats and equally wide-rimmed sunglasses.

Days later, far from the idyllic morning runs around the greens with the fanfare of grinning, waving Congolese children, I was touching down in Harare, Zimbabwe and Nairobi. All that was familiar and quintissential Africa grew smaller and smaller, until it seemed like a child’s train set, not a real world, below the plane. The dust was still under my nails, in my nose, and deep in the stitching of everything I had worn.

I was leaving, again. And returning. And leaving. My brain needed sutures to hold everything I had seen together.

A  year ago, I held a hastily stamped Kenya exit visa in my hand.  My passport felt heavier with the miles that it had permitted. I landed in Toronto, elated and exhausted. I shared startling stories with my parents like a kid strung out on Halloween candy. I pulled up the photos on my laptop and sat in disbelief that I had actually been to such a place. I described each of the chimps, all 23, their names, their quirks. I watched my mom laugh until she couldn’t breathe over video footage of Mikai clobbering the kitten with a stuffed animal. I felt like I was describing someone else’s life.

We drank champagne in my parents zen backyard with Yanni and the babbling fish pond and citronella candles creating a path that replicated a parade of fireflies. The humming mosquitoes were a nuisance, but not a constant worry like their African counterparts.

I said goodbye, again, to my parents, to Dax, to the backyard that I hadn’t sat in long enough. I didn’t know what my five year plan was. Hell, I wasn’t even sure what my five day plan was.

The urban sprawl of paved Toronto lit up like the most fantastic Lite Brite display, glowing and blurring until I let myself find sleep on the flight to the west coast.

A year ago, and a week from now, I was in BC. The Fraser Valley spread wide below the plane’s wings in a neat patchwork quilt of blueberry and raspberry fields. The snow on Mt. Baker’s peak bounced the glare of the sun back onto my window.

I was coming home, but felt split between the provinces and the peace found in the burning sunsets of the Congo. Home was a sharp slap of reality. My stories stalled in the face of Mila, the most darling lab in the world. She was dying and I felt like I had five hearts beating in my chest, and still, not enough blood for all my limbs.

I unpacked from Africa, and packed again for Toronto. For good. A once familiar life and routine was dissolving and passing through my hands that could only grasp the immediate moment. I spent hours in the grass with Mila, crying like a fool, begging her to slip away. It would be okay. I’m not sure who I was reassuring– myself, or her. Both of us, I think.

I felt like I had live goldfish living in my stomach. My eyes burned like they were full of poison ivy. A year ago and a week from today, I wondered what was right. What was wrong?

Nothing felt right, even my skin felt unfamiliar over my bones. Jann reminded me, “life is fleeting.”

And I touched down at Pearson a week later. Mila died the very next day. I found solace in unexpected places, and comfort, even on the hardwood floor of Dax’s condo.

A year ago, I stood at the edge of the quarry in the Congo, knowing life was changing as fast as the landscapes would be under my feet in that week. I stood on a ferry the next day, crossing Lake Ontario to Ward’s Island with my anxious parents, who didn’t expect to see me again until Christmas. The next day I was at Hayward Lake, BC, watching Mila swim out into the cool depths for the very last time.

And I return. To Lake Ontario, with my feet in the sand. I still see Hayward Lake, I see Lake Victoria too. I see the quarry and all of the Congo. My mind revisits the year and all the geography in between. 

I am lucky not for what I have seen, but for what I have felt.  And there’s no passport to show for that. Just this.

Categories: Into and Out of Africa, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Free To A Good Home

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Break-ups, breakdowns, breakouts. Upheaval , unrest and U-hauls. The end of a relationship brings what I like to refer to as the dreaded “uproot canal.” Or, once the new apartment search begins: Nightmare on Elm street, Jarvis, Homewood, Madison avenue and Beaconsfield street.

Looking for an apartment in Toronto has been generally disenchanting and an alarming showcase of ‘decor.’ I’ve seen Pepto Bismol pink tiles in the bathroom (with matching sink and toilet), carpeted bathrooms and one bedrooms so tiny that I wouldn’t be able to walk around the perimeter of my bed. The place with the red carpet throughout had one redeeming feature: fearless red wine drinking! However, to access the deck I had to turn sideways, wedge myself between the fridge and the wall, duck, an open a door suitable for leprechauns. Then, take one careful step over the soggy, caving shingles to the somewhat stable, but still rotting deck enhanced by five very dead potted geraniums.

I have been looking at Craigslist and viewit.ca until my pupils are square. Apartment photos that look promising are obviously taken with fun house mirrors to reflect the images. What appears to be an 11 foot ceiling, is actually 5 feet. All perceived dimensions must be divided by two, sometimes three. For example, in Little Portugal, I almost suffered a concussion viewing a “one bedroom” that was ample space for a Chihuahua. The kitchen was an isosceles triangle, which meant the drawers at the point of the triangle could only be opened an inch before jamming against the wall. The stairs down to the bedroom ‘area’ would be impassable by anyone over 175 pounds or by women who had given birth to more than two children. Clearly, to live here, your furniture would have to come in the form of bean bag chairs and a child’s tea party table and chairs set.

The agent showing this Little Portugal gem immediately realized that I was no longer a potential customer when the top of my head brushed the ceiling. She pointed to the area where a bed (single mattress only) could go. Here, the ceiling dropped another 10 inches and I had to stand with my head tilted severely to the side. I enquired about the mystery door to the left that was about four feet high.

“Extra storage space?”

 “Oh, no, that is the main door to the laundry room!”

Main door? Main door for a midget maybe. I thanked her kindly for her time and pointed out that I was obviously too tall for the ride. She nodded in agreement. I would have nodded back, but I couldn’t move my head in the nodding direction as it was still tilted to accommodate my height.

The following day, a 14th floor junior one bedroom on Huntley street had less floor space than an Old Navy change room. The kitchen couldn’t be bent over in, and the fridge was actually in the livingroom which was actually the bedroom. The bathroom offered a robin’s egg blue toilet and sink, located in such proximity that you could barf in the sink while sitting on the toilet. And have your feet soaking in the tub. Great for flu season.

On Dundas east, I approached a house listed on Craigslist as “spacious, sunny, immaculate–$1, 100—what a steal!” Directly in front of the house a ‘salesman’ selling heroin asked if I might prefer morphine instead, he could get me that if I wanted. I nearly slipped on a used condom, had to dodge pizza vomit and watched a dodgy pony-tailed group in bandanas and mirrored sunglasses marvel at a found crack pipe. A wrinkled woman with blue hair inched by pushing a shopping cart with two panting dogs in it. All of them wearing the same coloured sweaters. The house itself had an industrial steel door on the front with graffiti tags and barred windows. I turned on my heels but was stopped in my tracks as David pulled in the driveway in his 2009 Jetta with a Vaseline smile. He knew I was the 2:00 appointment, and this is when I should have sprinted away. He was quick to lure me inside after much urging to ignore the outside of the building. I wondered for a fleeting moment if I was being lured to my death, but hoped for the best.

The interior did shock me in a pleasing way, but so did the smell of fish head stew coming from the apartment above (where David’s mother lived) in a not so pleasing way. I was shown the backyard which had knee-high weeds and patio stones that looked like they had been simply chucked off the back of a truck in a haphazard pattern. David said he had plans to do something with the yard. And he would replace the front door so it didn’t look like a chop shop entrance. I looked down at the parquet floor and saw the DNA and clipped toenails of every tenant for the last 50 years. The place smelled like feet masked by patchouli. David excitedly pointed out the features, and the built-in microwave above the stove. “You will have to use a stool to access it though. That’s what the last girl did.” He demonstrated how I could easily unfold the stool and then hoist myself up to reheat a meal. The stovetop indicated many reheated meals, and the remnants of several breakfasts of bacon.

On Homewood avenue, where the hooker population slightly decreased as I edged away from Jarvis, I was led down a gloomy hallway to an even darker chamber by a woman in a floral nightgown (who was immediately cranky because I was 15 minutes early and she wasn’t ready. However, it was 3:00 in the afternoon). Here, the apartment offered a lovely view of the dumpsters and recycling bins and was home to 56 pigeons who burbled and wobbled about in an inch of excrement on the window sill. I entered the kitchen and cracked the new ceramic tile that had been placed on top of the former broken one to cover up the hole. I opened the fridge and almost tipped it over. The inside was sticky with an exploded bottle of soda pop, creating a sugary glaze on all the shelves. “Will this unit be professionally cleaned before renting?”

“Oh yes, we always sweep before anyone moves in.”

The windows were smaller than a childhood dollhouse and the bathtub looked like it had been home to amphibious life—turtles or a person who was covered in algae. I turned on the tap and it came off in my hand. “Oh, don’t do that, please.” Nightgown lady scolded. I poked around the walk-in closet that was bigger than the actual apartment floor space.

 “Are you done yet?” The oh-so friendly landlord barked. “Because I want to go out this afternoon.”

And so the search continues. My morning runs are dangerous as I am craning in all directions to catch a glimpse of a For Rent sign on a nice, leafy, sleepy street like Berkeley or Salisbury. I’m willing to throw down $1,000 a month. All I ask for is a balcony big enough for an Adirondack chair and a cup of tea, maybe a fireplace (it doesn’t even have to work) and hardwood flooring. I don’t care if it’s only 300 square feet, I’m a minimalist (except when it comes to my books, then I’m a maximalist), but, there are certain things I can’t compromise on. I don’t want a dumpster view, or to have to push my way past belligerent crackheads in the morning. And I need a ten foot ceiling for crying out loud, I can’t feel like Alice in Wonderland and suffer daily concussions getting out of bed in the morning.

What I do know for sure is that I’m free to a good home. Preferably in Cabbagetown or Riverdale. And willing to commute to any Caribbean island as well.

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

The Streets and Eats of Toronto

me-and-martiniAfter moving to the soggy Fraser Valley of British Columbia in 2006, I always seem to migrate back east in the summer, when the humidity clings to you like Saran Wrap. I love the heat that radiates off the sidewalks in Ontario for three solid months, a heat that can fry eggs and bare feet in the same amount of time. Being a Toronto expat, I am still trying to adjust to the funeral skies and perpetual rain of BC. Living in the suburbs of Abbotsford, I am struggling even more with the chicken wing and B.L.T.-peppered menus. Year-round margaritas from a slushie machine, potato skins and Cheez Whiz nachos are still the amuse bouche here. Susur Lee means nothing to the population of Abbotsford, and ordering crab cakes is an adventurous risk. Crab cakes with mango salsa on Blustone’s menu caused a collective jaw drop.

I’ve only been away three years, but my Toronto travel itinerary has been reduced to streets and eats. My partner asked what I wanted to do when we were back in Ontario this June, and the question prompted a feverish(and growing) list. I didn’t realize that I wanted to eat my way across Toronto so badly. Yes, there’s the CN Tower, the ROM(mummies and dinosaurs, oh my!) and the AGO (closed now until fall anyway), but there are so many places to eat that my culturally anesthetized palate needs to re-visit.

First off, I have to have a Charlie & The Chocolate Factory kind of experience at SOMA Chocolatemaker in the Distillery District. The toasted corn tumbled in creamy milk chocolate married with Mayan spice makes me swoon. The Mama and Baby-sized flourless pecan fudge cakes and handmade ginger snaps are what dreams are made of.

A few steps away from the magnet-like force of SOMA, the Mill Street Brewery lures me in with that punch-in-your-face robust Coffee Porter made with beans from Balzac’s coffee (also worthy of a pit-stop) and my favourite tastebud titillator, Tankhouse Ale.

Visiting the St. Lawrence Market has also become a necessity. The Saturday farmer’s market that began operation in 1803 makes buying and enjoying peameal bacon on a bun a respectful nod to history. Due to geographical proximity, I can’t avoid the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar either. The pinballing action of the chefs in the open kitchen, hot Yukon frites in a cone and the perfect wine pairing can easily make the hours slide by.

At some point during my stay, my brother and I will slip into the Laide Lounge where black and white films play on a small screen. There are piles of pillows and sheer curtains and fab cocktails like the Woody Woodpecker (gin, sweet vermouth, Couintreau) and the Black Tulip (black Sambuca and champagne). We will drink both, and probably several others for quality assurance. Yeah, that’s it.

I have nine days to squeeze in sticky pork buns on Broadview, warm Korean walnut cakes on Bloor (that make Timbits seem like the tacky sister) and a Garage Sandwich Company veggie special stacked higher than a Dagwood with roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant. When will I pack away a sloppy Polish sausage buried in corn relish and jalapenos from the cart on Yonge and Bloor? Two scoops of Greg’s roasted marshmallow ice cream will have to be squeezed in too, perhaps after I have my stomach pumped.

dax-and-cannoliBefore I visit my parents in sleepy Brantford, Dax and I will have to visit Pusateri’s Fine Foods (see above cannoli being devoured) and find my mother something sinful. This has been a pre-requisite since she was spoiled by one of their stylish mousses a few years ago. All the Pusateri desserts belong in an art gallery, but it’s the cakes that make my mother weep.

I need more days. When will I have a homemade Italian vanilla cream soda at the Bulldog off Church? How about a ginger beer and Jamaican Patty on a coco bun from the Patty King in Kensington Market? Oh no, and I just remembered the fantastic oxtail and plantain at Mr. Jerk that makes me sweat in minutes. Sigh. And Harbord Fish & Chips all wrapped up in inky newspaper?

If I schedule everything intelligently I think I will successfully manage to eat my way through Toronto, from the appropriately vintage-greasy Patrician Grill on King to one last soya mochacinno in the sun on the sidewalk in front of Jet Fuel. I’ll take the escargot thin-crust pizza from Trattoria Al Forno for the flight home. Done.take-out

Categories: Eat This, Sip That | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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