If there was one tradition that was upheld on that weekend, it was that I got to the bus moments before if was to leave. The rest is a strange tale of broken traditions and disconnected event, made all the more awkward by the sensation that I an observer in my own life, an outsider dropping in on a conversation. It wasn't bad, but I didn't really feel like I was there. I'll meditate on that and see what that means, really.
So, the trip started as half-ass as can be, not only by nearly missing the bus, but also by being the single most disorganized trip I ever had the misfortune to not prepare for. Anyways, off to the bus I went. Because the Fates do not allow life to go by without some bit of irony, the damned bus broke down on our second pick-up point in Kirkland. Luckily, it was still on the island, so we didn't have to wait too long for the replacement. Twenty minutes or so later, back on the road we are. My seat-mate nearly missed her transfer, but at least it wasn't me. Anyhoo.
Toronto, half an hour behind schedule, but otherwise safe and sound. Making contact with my gracious host prepares the evening ahead with our first break in tradition, we get ready early, so that we get to dine on better fare than pub food (especially since the Cock and Bull has closed), which leads to a second break in tradition, we actually get a succulent and properly priced meal. The cozy Seven Numbers serves up Italian style food, including something I didn't know Italians did eat, duck. It was very nice and tender, the roasted veggies were perfect, the Sangria brilliant, service excellent, a great experience overall. I'd say that the only glitch was the music, which I found both loud and inappropriate, but thats unfortunately a common theme in many establishments.
We made our way to the Tiki bar (whose name escapes me) for some refreshments. After some walking and somehow bypassing it (and with a slight worry that it may have closed and changed style, as hipster joints and wont to do) we get in, to yet more loud and inappropriate music. If there is on problem with many Toronto joints is that in many cases they are patronized by people with no sense of common civility; in this particular instance, while the place is pretty full, three people were taking up the space of about ten (counting the tables and seating space they monopolized), which was rather rude, but Toronto is a rude city. Our kick-ass barmaid wasn't present (probably moved to better locale) but we order very commendable drinks nevertheless. What I found a bit weird (and clueless) is that people (mostly guys) would order beer (Keith's) in a cocktail lounge. As far as I'm concerned, they shouldn't even have that on the premises. Its just tacky.
Paul joins our little posse and we depart for further entertainment. Savage Garden, once mighty, has fallen to new lows: three years ago, a Friday night was a packed night, now, with only half the floor, there were more staff than customers. You could feel the desperation of the ownership, as the juvenile NIN-rock band tries to show its mediocre (and about ten years late) stuff on stage, to a pathetic crowd of three. Why we stayed long enough for a drink will remain unanswered, but we did bugger off to a better locale. Neutral, the newcomer on the Toronto alternative club scene has many things going for itself. For one thing, its in Kensington Market. Its also literally underground. The decor is not incredibly elaborate, but it absolutely serves the purposes of the space, to cater to a variety of styles. The DJ of honest, if unimaginative; if anything, that might be Neutral's greatest strength: its honest, earnest, but its unimaginative, somewhat lacking in identity. This may seem like a drawback, but it also means that is does not pander to any hipster trend-of-the-moment, which should allow it to last. There was a crowd, and it felt more that they were there to have fun and enjoy themselves than to show off their duds and score drama points. No clue what the bar selection or prices were, I didn't get any drinks, but I assume its pretty similar to everywhere else in Toronto (overpriced.)
Saturday starts off with breakfast at the Queen Mother, which may be properly describe as food from the Commonwealth. A great squash soup starts me up; the price are Torontoan (10$ and up for just about anything, anywhere), the service a little on the forgetful side, but we are refueled for what will be a long day. I need to get a bit of shopping done, so a-walking we go. we drop in Darkside, a recent arrival on the darker side of the Toronto scene. Great selection of t-shirts, if not of sizes, cute items, they fill a void from the folding of Sirens (no great loss in my opinion.) I need a shirt, because I underpacked, so I'll need to hit Black Market. Pretty much a hit-and-miss kind of place, where you either find lots of cool items or nothing, I do manage to score a Johnny Cash t-shirt, so all is good. A raid at Global Cheese nets me many a pound of great cheese for 70$, a great investment. The only other find of the weekend for me is an ink piece but an up-and-comer (whose name of course escapes me), who specializes in ravens, gas masks and zombies. I had to make a choice, so Mike Parsons will have to wait for next time.
Rest is required, because that Saturday is the Nuit Blanche, an all-night art fest thing, where you can tour galleries and other events. We are to start with the Beta Cloud performance in the Distillery District. A bus and a cab later, we are wandering around like lost lambs, looking for an event thats unlisted. Whoever organized this area didn't put too much thought into informing people, which is probably typical of off-site events (all the other Nuit Blanche events are in three defined areas, right next to each other.) after twenty minutes of getting nowhere, we enlist the services of the helpline. After an instructive seance of hit-and-miss name-dropping, three heads prevail and we figure out where we need to go... and we make it barely on time. Truly representative of the disorganization we have witnessed so far, the show is held in a tiny room, three floors up, with the majority of the floor space taken up by either auditory or visual artists, the concept being that they would play off of each other (excepted that the visuals were projected behind the sound artists, making the visual responsive to the sound, but not really the reverse), with some weird "performance" by "dancers", to my mind, a completely pointless endeavour, devoid of creativity, life or soul. It was inappropriate and distracting, like most performance "art".
Carl of Beta Cloud and Matt of Laughing Bride Media are great guys from Buffalo who are really down-to-earth, if a little obsessed with strip clubs. Carl experiences the wonders of Canadian weed and gets stoned off his ass, which combined with a fairly stiff alcohol intake, makes for a socially dangerous combination. After we drop them off to their hotel, we head back into the heart of things. Unfortunately, my feet are really starting to hurt at that point; the whole area is filled with people, some of whom are there for the art, others just because they can stay up late. The atmosphere is tense, with near-fights and testosterone flying so thick that you risk losing an eye at any moment. We didn't eat, so we look for somewhere to get fueled... which basically mean junk food. We try to make it to Shanghai Cowgirl, but stumble into a Thai place in desperation (and in my case, pain, as I've been limping around for over half an hour.) We are subjected to the most hare-brained service on this side of the planet, with a price range that makes no sense (where on-the-menu items costing more than the all-you-can-eat buffet) and edible (if not really tasty) fare, we stumble out to realize that Shanghai Cowgirl was only two doors down. Oh well, at least it wasn't diner food. We're burnt, so to sleep we all go.
After some much needed rest, we head to La Hacienda for breakfast. There we get some of the best service we can hope for (besides a slight mistake on my order... I still pine for chorizzo!) with the food as great as last time, so this will definitely be a repeat. A stroll and a walk, and we arrive at the bus depot to a line-up, even if there is still half an hour to go. Kate and Paul graciously keep me company till the departure, then I'm Montreal bound. I'm lucky (and crafty) enough to get a double seater most of the way, which I need to try and rest, but I don't get much of that. I can honestly say that I was quite happy to get back home, to my girlfriend and my bed, where my story ends.
It was great seeing Kate again, making belated birthday offerings and sharing some good food. Matt and Carl are good guys, they're unpretentious and quite enthusiastic about what they do, so future collaborations are certainly to be considered, once I get my ass in gear and my head in its proper creative space. Otherwise, it was probably one of the least eventful and exciting of visits, and I still cant put my finger on what went askew. Its as if I forgot something, as if something didn't happen...but what did we miss? That question may yet remain unanswered.