I was in love with a ghost. For the three years that I lived in B.C., I continued to renew my subscription to Toronto Life. The magazine was the beacon of my month, my je ne sais quoi, my cotton candy on a July day. When I left Toronto I immediately sent a subscription to my brother, so he could keep a finger on the pulse of the city in my absence.
The page I turn to first is the City Survivor List which features a celeb and the ten things they can’t live without. The lists are eclectic and read like Margaret Atwood characters at times. Seamus O’Regan (The O’Regan Files and Canada AM host) finds solace in Redbreast whiskey at the Dora Keogh and in British newspapers like The Guardian. He gushes over the hot and sour soup at Nota Bene on Queen West, Diana Krall, his Tintin wall art (“I’m a horrible romantic about him: it was inspiring to see a messy-haired blond kid become a journalist and adventurer”). His darling labradoodle, Rhys, lands the top spot on his coveted list while his personal trainer scores a #4. He’s a “braniac instead of the guy who used to beat me up in high school.”
Carole Pope, depicted by Toronto Life writer Amy Verner as “the post-punk queen of raunch” names her Schwinn faux-mountain bike, her library cards from L.A., New York and Toronto, a vintage Vivienne Westwood raincoat , a Fender Mustang guitar, breakfast at The Senator on Victoria Street and her late mother’s art deco ring.
Comedian Scott Thompson of Kids In the Hall fame exposes can’t–live-without pre-performance rituals like pissing in the sink backstage with Kevin McDonald before every show and hot turkey sandwiches with peas. He offers glowing words for ketchup, one-piece long johns with a trap door in the back, the Kindle, his cat Uday (named after one of Suddam Hussein’s son’s) and a turtle lamp. “Fourteen years ago, my younger brother Dean died. During the funeral, the entire procession was stopped by a family of turtles walking across the path. We decided that one of them was my brother, so now the rest of my brothers and I collect turtle stuff.”
The City Survivor lists are voyeuristic. It’s like picking through someone’s garbage, medicine cabinet, junk drawer and fridge shelves. Even when I’m not familiar with the featured ‘celeb,’ I am still magnetically interested in what makes that individual hum. Ten things you can’t live without reveals an encyclopaedic amount about a person.
I love making lists, almost in A Beautiful Mind kind of way. My roommate Kelly laughs at me because I continue to write “RUN” on my daily list. “For crying out loud, Jules, you run every day of your life. Do you really need to write it down as a reminder?”
Probably not. But I’m not going to stop. And as I ran in the spitting snow and bitch-slap cold today I thought about my own City Survivor list. Number one became obvious.
1. My daily run through Cabbagetown. I run the same route six days a week. I know every house, dog, letter carrier, sidewalk crack and stroller along the way. I know the smell of Mr. Jerk fried chicken, the sweet waft of the Indian bakery, the rising dough of PizzaPizza and the muddy Don River. Once I tried running my route in the opposite direction and I felt like I was running on my hands—I was completely turned around. This is the same 5 km course I did when I first moved to Toronto in 2001. As adventurous as I am, I have my routines (none of them gymnastic) and actually love consistency. See number 2.
2. Bagels. When I was in Uganda I endured stale white toast for about a week before I sniffed out a bagel shop in the capital city, Kampala. The New York-style bagels were discovered in an underground parking lot storefront. They were as heavy as Chihuahuas and when my co-workers at the Jane Goodall Institute discovered the joy of 400 calories of carb-intake in one sitting, I had to start hiding my precious cargo! I like the Montreal-style (tough exterior, chewy innards), Seigel’s rosemary & sea salt bagels and Stonemill muesli dotted with enough seeds to feed 50 sparrows and 13 pigeons. Unless it’s a cinnamon-raisin bagel, the others get the same treatment: almond butter and a thin spread of raspberry or blueberry jam. I have yet to try Kelly’s standby bagel preference: Nutella and peanut butter slathered on so thickly that it has to be eaten with a knife and fork. I’ve also seen her sprinkle M&M’s on top while eating handfuls with her free hand (and she remains a stable 112 pounds). I’ve eaten bagels basically every day for 15 years. If all those bagels were lined up, they would definitely circle Saturn.
3. Bookstores. These are like my smelling salts. I am instantly revived when I step into one. I love Nicholas Hoare for the creaky floors, Glad Day bookshop just because they are gay and still thriving and Eliot’s on Yonge. Eliot’s usually makes me sneeze and seems like a grand visit to a grandparent’s attic with over 60,000 used titles. I love the verbal vacation of a meaty book that transcends, inspires and captivates. I need books, NOW, newspapers, restaurant reviews–even microwave instructions will do in a pinch. Give me something to read!
4. Matinees and the smuggled-in snacks that accompany them. I was a rabid fan of the Carlton Theatre which sadly closed its blood red velvet curtains in December 2009. I’m no theatre snob in a silk ascot, but I liked the tired old seats pock-marked with gum, the sticky floors, the audible whir of the projectors and grainy screen at The Carlton.
5. Body Blitz. Yes, the place where I work is also something that I can’t live without. The therapeutic waters create a euphoria and gentle exhaustion that could only be rivalled by 12 hours of sleep. The spa (touted as Canada’s first authentic water spa for women) is a one-two punch of ambience and camaraderie. Owner Laura Polley, who also kick-started a financing company for independent films, pulled and perfected the bathhouse concept from her pampering in Italy, Germany, France, Los Angeles and New York.
The 11,000-square-foot spa (a stunning warehouse conversion) boasts a 38-foot sea salt pool, hot green tea pool, cold plunging pool, eucalyptus-infused steam room, infrared sauna and 20 treatment rooms where you can be rubbed and scrubbed within an inch of your waking life. “Relax, Detoxify, Replenish, Live Well,” is the Body Blitz mantra that seduces every woman that steps into the spa. The juice bar offers rejuvenating options like the Vitamin D shake loaded with cocoa, nutmeg, soya milk and banana. The antioxidant shake is so purple and purifying you feel like you have eaten nothing but oatmeal, grapefruit and kale for a week. And there’s dark chocolate on the menu to boot.
After a weekend shift, I give my body over to the waters and the magic is silently performed without my participation.
6. Bodywork. Perhaps this is the greatest hazard of being a massage therapist for a decade. I can’t let a week go by without indulging in some form of near-selfish treatment. Most often I throw myself at Lisa or Ray at the Oriental Health and Beauty Centre in Chinatown. The reflexology session and rose petal soak offers a tangible sense of renewal in less than an hour. Sometimes I take a deep breath and hand myself over to a punishing shiatsu session that often leaves me seeing stars. If Rodney Osinga isn’t booked six months in advance, I take my body to him for a session that leaves me purring like a cat. I’ve tried Anma Do (an Eastern massage that involves being walked all over by a 90-pound masochist), Thai massage (human body origami would be a more appropriate designation) and Rolfing (full-on submission to having your appendages pulled off like a rag doll). I am a sucker for anything that involves lying down and being pulverized.
7. New sips and quirky eats. Once I eat my daily bagel, I am free range after that. I see mystery sticky bun balls for $1.65 and I want one. If there is anything unusual on the menu, I’m game. Deep fried quail, red bean paste and lotus pancakes, hemp beer, sticky toffee cheese, bacon with warm chocolate sauce, grasshoppers, termites, goat testicles, tea-soaked eggs, Moon cakes (with whole hard-boiled eggs and red bean paste), chili chocolate that could cause third degree burns all the way down your esophagus, brownies made out of kidney beans, shrimp chips, fried cactus, guinea pig, cheese that tastes like armpits, goat tripe soup, conch fritters, green apple beer floats, wasabi gelato, grilled tilapia that comes to the table with eyes still intact, absinthe, octopus, deep-fried Thanksgiving turkeys, bacon and cheese stuffed pancakes, garlic chocolate—you get the point. If it’s high on the Ick and Ew scale, I want some.
8. Dear Diary…The entertainment value of re-reading my life as a 13-year-old is comedy at its best. I should have been writing scripts for the Young & The Restless with all the turbulent emotions and love affairs that transpired that year. I also have a treasured glimpse of my 8-year-old self (my epic autobiography that mostly chronicles what I ate and wore to school), my thoughts at age 20 written from my jungle hut outpost in Costa Rica, travelogues from Ireland, Amsterdam, the Galapagos Islands and nearly two journals full of Uganda and Kenya. And if I can’t have my writing? I want my camera as a reasonable facsimile.
9. Vicarious pets. I don’t have any animals under my charge at the moment, due to the fact that I’m still considered a flight risk. But, I love the presence and inconquerable love of dogs. I miss their slobber and fur on my socks, their snoring bodies and leg-twitching dreams and unbridled excitement for walks and pig’s ears. Soon.
10. A lot. My time in Africa, especially the Congo, demonstrated my ability and patience to actually live without a lot of things. Mainly: electricity, running water, water in general, hot showers, cold showers, refrigerated meat, safety, French language skills, manicures, bagels, a wardrobe, a reliable internet connection, seatbelts and a schedule.
That’s my list. Tell me what’s on the top of yours! What can’t you live without?
All you need to know about Body Blitz–http://www.bodyblitzspa.com/
Toronto Life magazine–http://www.torontolife.com/
The closing of the Carlton Theatre–http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/735541