Toronto Scrapbook: A View From The Streets

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    TORONTO, ONTARIO — The pale woman with blush on her face (hastily applied it seems) sits in front of the Queen’s Quay Terminal, a district shopping mall in downtown Toronto. As the sunlight bends around the gently undulating crowd, short, tiny blunted shadows touch the sidewalk, reaching out towards the Toronto River, where a couple of mid-sized boats are docked.

    She dusts herself off, turns over a wooden box and mounts it, pulling on gloves that have the snap of latex. She looks around, pleased. Some stop to watch, even as the wind causes her dress to do an accidental Marilyn; either way, it’s clear there’s entertainment about to happen. She laughs, embarrassed (of course, there are children everywhere). Then she takes a deep breath, exhales, and her limbs go rigid.

    This is what she does: She pantomimes.

    A guitarist plays with a large PA speaker to some faintly Latin rhythm, leaning into each phrase, watching the neck of his instrument closely because he hasn’t actually gotten it under his fingers yet. He stops a moment, lights a cigarette, starts again. Passersby simply drop in a coin or two into his guitar case and keep going. The streets of Toronto become his practice hall. He squints from the smoke, starting all over again…riffs above riffs, behind notes that trail away, dying in the air.

    Soft, mournful, longing — this is the music of Yang Qin, who plays Chinese dulcimer. But it is also the theme to “The Godfather.” Qin is assured in every stroke, his fingers move effortlessly, almost independent of him. It seems so…intuitive and dreamlike.

    A juggler hurls insults at the crowd, ending each quip with, “I’m just joking. Really.” His juggling feats do solicit appreciation and applause.

    Harbourfront Centre’s a lot like Hart Plaza, only Harbourfront Centre has taken the concept to a more accessible level, perfect for tourists.

    This is just a taste of Toronto, a slice of city life from the streets.

    Contrast and element

    Ricky, the taxicab driver, is waiting outside the hotel leaning against the cab. He’s a brown skinned twentysomething with dark, wavy hair tied back in a ponytail. His accent sounds vaguely Mexican, but in Toronto, nearly everyone you encounter has an accent, so there’s really no telling.

    He’s waiting for some scalped tickets so he doesn’t start the meter. About five minutes later, Ricky peels off the curb down Front St. His contact isn’t coming.

    I ask him about the area.

    “Things are expensive now, bro,” he said. “See those condos, bro?” He pointed towards a rise of new housing on the left. “Five hundred thousand dollars. Cost of living is way up, you know?”

    We pass through some alleys accented with graffiti. The alley is barely large enough to contain the taxi. Ricky slows to avoid the speed bumps. We finally leave the enclosure of the alley and enter another street.

    Whirring down the streets of Toronto in a taxi is an exercise in bravery it seems.

    We waited almost a full minute after the light changed because a truck driver was giving the trolley operator the finger and they had to stop traffic a moment in order to glare at each other.

    Ricky drops us off at a place called Parts & Labour. He scribbles a cell phone number on a business card and goes in search of those discount tickets.

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