Toronto crosswalk, July 2000
A few days ago, I had to go to Toronto for a Finnish class. It was the first time I’d been to Toronto since I moved away in mid-January, and I was expecting it to feel disorienting. I felt a slight surge of alarm as I got to my old subway station and didn’t disembark, but aside from that, there was nothing major.
Afterwards, I was happy to cocoon in my parka on the bus back to Hamilton. It’s not anything special. It’s a stretch of highway I’ve been on hundreds of times in my life. But it was comfortable, it was quiet, the sun was low and the light was weak, and I had a cup of perfect Earl Grey tea I was more than willing to burn my tongue on.
When I moved to Calgary, I did so on a Greyhound bus. I spent 52 hours in total on it. It was such a narrow, contained little world for those few days. My Walkman died before I left Ontario. My life became little more than jockeying for first place in the washroom lineup at rest stops, eating packaged snacks, and watching out the window as my gigantic country slipped by. I wrote a lot. Fiction, but I also kept a record of everything I said in those 52 hours. It wasn’t much.
I’m probably making it sound dire, but it was actually nice. It was a big thing to do. I was 21. An Elvis impersonator serenaded us at the Dryden Greyhound station.
The trip from Toronto to Hamilton is nowhere near that long, but I found myself lulled back into that little egg of space, high up from the road, where I placed my gaze vaguely out the window and just let everything be important. And when we returned to Hamilton, for the first time I felt like it made sense for me to be there.
The summer after Grade 10, my family and I went to visit some family in northern California. We ended up all getting colds, and spent a few days recuperating in their home. For some reason, I only brought one tape with me – Elastica’s first album. I listened to it over and over until I grew to hate it. After that, I listened to talk radio at night. It was so quiet outside, a deep, unsettling quiet. And I can still remember the low, almost monotone radio voices. I listened through headphones, so they were right there in my head, sounding so eerie in the dark.
(I don’t hate that Elastica album anymore, by the way. In fact, I find it comforting. It reminds me of that closed-in few days where there was no outside world at all.)
Somewhere around Grade 11, one of my friends loved this band. I remember listening to this song once, very loudly, when we were on our way to some Swiss restaurant with some friends, though I don’t think we planned on going there. I think we were just hungry and happened upon a place and were intrigued by the concept of ordering fondue in a restaurant. Since we were ignorant teenagers new to the world of fondue, we ordered too much and sheepishly asked for it to go at the end of our meal. We were presented with a plastic ice cream tub of melted cheese. In the car, laughing our heads off at how ridiculous we were, we had the bright idea to leave the tub on someone’s doorstep in the wealthy neighbourhood. In that naive, almost pure black-and-white thinking of high school, we thought it would be a funny prank to play on someone rich. This song always makes me think of that day, embarrassing for many reasons.
In Toronto we used an antenna to watch TV, but here something blocks the signal. I never considered myself a big TV watcher, and I guess I still don’t, but there are certain shows I miss, the ones I can’t watch online.
In particular, I miss the foreign-language shows they show on Omni on weekend mornings. I don’t know any of the languages they were in, but it was comforting to cook breakfast, check emails, do my normal morning things while listening to Armenian, Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Turkish. Languages are all so perfect, aren’t they? It’s from watching these shows, for example, that I learned how cool the Armenian written language is. I mean, just look:
The Czech show sometimes had subtitles, so I got to watch some interesting interviews and learn historical things that I wouldn’t have ever been able to before. And on one episode of one of these shows, the entire thing was footage of seniors getting off a bus at the end of a trip, some waving at the camera, some ignoring it and talking to friends. How can you not love that?
That channel (it was just “Channel 47″ at the time) was one of the things I missed so much when I moved to Calgary. It seemed so Toronto to me. Ever since I was a kid, I found it comforting. It made Toronto feel small.
J and I had a few friends over for a little dinner on the weekend, and it was so nice, it felt like I hadn’t seen them in months. Living here is strange. I’m sure the extra-cold winter and my dog’s separation anxiety have a part to play in it, but I still have that strange “Airbnb house but with all my stuff” feeling.
This winter has been trying. I know how close we now live to so many great hiking trails and natural areas. In 20 minutes you’re out of town completely and into wide open space, which is something so exciting to me after Toronto. I find myself dreaming, actually dreaming, of spring road trips and summer hikes. Poutine and ice cream in Port Dover (pictured above).
We drove through the industrial area of town on Sunday as it snowed around us. We had to drive slowly and the streets were empty. We went over a short bridge in the middle of silent factories, near the highway that gives such an ugly view of Hamilton, but our view was not ugly. The lake was the same colour as the sky, everything a snowy grey. Later, in Oakville, we saw a fox running down the sidewalk.