Toronto the Good

Toronto the Good

The best kind of meet-ups are the serendipitous ones, the kind that just fall into your lap one day like a gift from on high. It’s not every day I hear from people who take the time to read things my crazy self says online, so when Miiesche of Soulstriptease reached out, wanting to know what it is like living in Toronto, it really made my day.  And reader, I did get to meet Miiesche last month and it was fun seeing Toronto  again through the eyes of a newcomer.

Although I grouse about living here, especially in the winter, the truth is I do love Canada, and Toronto, the city I now call home. Here, I’m sharing my answers to Miiesche’s questions about Canada, in the hope that it’ll convince others to either visit, or at least consider it as a place to live. The caveat is after a one-year stint in the GTA, I’ve really only lived in Toronto, so a lot of my answers are based on this one city!

What’s it like living in Canada?

My favourite thing about Canada is the quality of their public libraries – access is free, the advantages are legion and one of the first things I did when I moved here was get myself a library card because I am a nerd like that. The minimum wage in Ontario (the province I live in) is $14, which is decent. Over here, anyway. Food staples are affordable, and it’s manageable for as long as you’re not off drinking away your money on the weekends, or have any expensive vices like smoking. Cigarettes are costly, beer, not so much. If there’s anything that’s true about Canadian stereotypes, it’s that Canadians love beer, barbecues and hockey.

Officially, Canada has two languages: English and French. It’s why you’ll see both languages on labelling everywhere, even if most of the Francophones are based in Quebec, a province that spends a lot of its energy trying to ensure everything is in French. They got stymied when they tried to Frenchify the word “pasta”. Truth. They’re nuts. Lol. Most of the rest of Canada speaks English. Toronto, while not actually the capital of Canada (that honour goes to Ottawa), has so much swagger it may as well be the capital. It’s been said that Toronto is like New York City if it was run by the Swiss. I don’t really know what that means, but if it means cleaner and has less crime, then that is true! Rent here is kind of high especially in the downtown area. You’d be lucky to get a one bedroom with utilities included for about $1K a month (this may not be THAT expensive UK-wise, but I’m not too savvy about the rent over there). I would consider the east end the most affordable area rent-wise. Not to worry though, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) is pretty solid, so you’re covered if you don’t drive. That said, one of the favourite things Torontonians like to do is complain about our public transit; some say TTC stands for Take The Car, and there are days when it’s true.

What about taxes?

Each province has a different sales tax rate. Alberta for example, has the lowest at 5%. Here in Ontario, it’s 13% 😭. It could be worse, it’s 15% in Newfoundland and Labrador and some other provinces.

Work, the weather, different neighbourhoods…

Work is plentiful, if you’re willing to work hard and aren’t choosy. There’s a lot of opportunities in the city, and also in the Greater Toronto Area. The drawback is really just that a lot of employers try and use contract work (i.e. hire you for just a year or a few months) to try and get out of paying your insurance coverage, dental, paid days off and so on. I do think that depends though, it’s not always true. There’s a lot of opportunity in the engineering, tech, finance and medical sectors.

Toronto is an amazing city for neighbourhoods – it’s the kind of place where you turn a corner and suddenly you’re in a whole different place. All the cultures and nationalities are well represented – the food scene is vibrant (if you’re into trying out different kinds of cuisine) and I love the diversity over here. It does kind of suck, curfew-wise if you like to party/drink. Last call is at 2AM (ridiculous) and it’s a bit of a challenge to find quality restos that are open around that time. There’s always Chinatown. It’s also a very supportive environment for artists, and very LGBTQ friendly. One of my favourite neighbourhoods is Church Street (I like to call it “the corner of gay and gay”) which has a very active and welcoming LGBTQ community. It’s a madhouse each year when Pride comes around. 

And finally, the weather. I both love and hate the weather over here. Winter unofficially starts about late November, and finally peters out in mid-April, even if that’s supposed to be spring. Winter takes up about a third of the calendar year, and it can be very bitter. Toronto is right next to a lake, and the lake effect causes our winters to be relatively humid (compared to the dry winters in, say, Manitoba or Saskatchewan). It just feels colder, is all. If there’s anything I’ve learned about winter here, it’s that it’s never over until it’s over so I’ve learned never to let my hopes up. The upside though, is that it’s glorious in the summer. Sunshine and cool breezes and all that lovely stuff. Except for the folks in British Columbia (the Canadian version of the West Coast), we have such long winters that when summer comes around, it’s cause to celebrate. That’s why Canadians love to barbecue so much. Fall is my favourite, because it’s beautiful and just the right temperature for me.

I know this got long, and I also liberally name-dropped some Canadian provinces, which might not be familiar. If you have a chance, take a peek on Google maps and see how crazy large the Great White North really is – there’s literally room for everyone, including you! 

I powered through all the RuPaul’s Drag Race episodes I missed, including All Stars, and… yeah

I powered through all the RuPaul’s Drag Race episodes I missed, including All Stars, and… yeah

If July was all about Amazon Prime trapping me in the sticky web of Lost’s whodunit and whydunit and howdunit plots, I’m in danger of being trapped again, this time in the morass of RuPaul’s Drag Race now that Crave has all the episodes. ALL. THE. EPISODES. That’s eleven regular seasons, plus four seasons of All Stars, which is a lot of screentime, especially if you want to stay relevant. If you stay relevant you don’t got to get relevant, and it’s nice to be on the pulse, although at this point being relevant doesn’t seem to hold as much attraction as it used to, given the speed at which our world spins, powered by a 24/7 news cycle that never seems to leave any room for respite.

Still, RuPaul’s Drag Race has always been enter-taint-ing for me, even in the days before it became the juggernaut it is today. So Crave getting all the episodes is a good return on investment, methinks. Luckily for me, I’d seen a good chunk of RPDR already back when Netflix and I were still on good terms. But Netflix didn’t have Season 1 of RPDR, or all the All Star episodes, so this has been a good chance for me to catch up on everything that I’ve missed, to the detriment of everything else, but hey. Choices!

Two weeks later …

I finally got through everything I’d missed, and I don’t think I missed very much, if at all. All Stars 3 went out with a whimper, All Stars 4 tried to please everyone, and Seasons 10-11 made me realize that the drag queens being featured were younger and a helluva lot less well-read than the relatively brainier ones that went before. I mean this is a show that gave us the rapier sharp wit of Bianca del Rio and her Rolodex of hate (“Beauty fades, dumb is forever!”) and the less pointed, but no less entertaining mind of Katya Zamolodchikova (“Adore Delano, giving you smell-my-punani, Poetic Justice realness.”), my top two all-time favourite queens.

Let the record show that for me the flame sputtered when they gave too much airtime to Eureka, a queen who spent a lot of her time being jealous and insecure and being unable to own up to her own bullshit in Season 10. It officially flickered out and died in Season 11, when Silky Nutmeg Ganache couldn’t read or recognize the word “colonel” on the teleprompter in a mini-challenge,  a queen who spent her time hogging the camera, bragging about her a masters degree.  It just got dumber. It’s also too calculating, overproduced and a lot faker interaction-wise,  than it used to be.

All the op-eds about how it’s become more work than fun to watch RPDR have merit (and you can read them here, here and here.)  I don’t know if I can even summon the energy for Drag Race UK. The bestie says he’ll still watch it, so I guess I’ll have the experience by osmosis.

So, do I feel like I wasted all that time? Maybe a little. But again, hey. Choices. 

The Belgian chocolates I brought home are all gone and now I’m sad

The Belgian chocolates I brought home are all gone and now I’m sad

Things that are worth it are very often fleeting. I think it’s because they’re fleeting that they are worthwhile, because that sense of impermanence, of the ephemeral, is what gives it meaning. So we assign importance to things we know won’t last. Things like laughter. Fresh bedsheets. Life itself. Or, that very last piece of DelRey chocolate, studded with four different kinds of nuts and and a raisin’s fruity kiss. What a slice of absolute heaven on earth.

Smack in the middle of Antwerp’s Diamond District, DelRey is a posh little chocolate shop  whose pralines, truffles and chocolate confections glow almost as brightly as the diamonds in the other store windows. They’re almost as expensive, and goddamnit, I know should’ve gotten more.

This isn’t meant to be a puff piece for DelRey, as much as it may sound like it, but I’m writing about them because their chocolate is exquisite and their shop is native to Antwerp. Belgium is home to a lot of luxury chocolatiers with global reach, so it was still nice to feel as if we were supporting a local business. A very successful business whose flagship store  looks very much like a high-end jewelry shop, but a local business all the same.

So why was a not-so little girl like me being all gross and bougie, spending my time contemplating premium, rich bitch chocolat belge?

The answer is, I sold a kidney.

(No, I didn’t.)

The answer is, I leased my womb to a very kindly gay couple.

(Still no. But hey, make me an offer.)

The answer is, I am a scion of a powerful Philippine political family living high on the hog on the government’s dime,  laughing as we watch the common people suffer.

(Ha! No. But wouldn’t life have been interesting?)

The answer is, I was in Belgium for the first time, and not getting chocolates in Belgium is like going to Italy and never trying the pasta. The country is the birthplace of the praline as we know it today and they take chocolate making so seriously, its composition has been regulated by law for over a century (it must contain at least 35% cocoa fat, and be refined and moulded in Belgium), so I’d have been a fool to miss out on a taste, however pricey.

I know I should’ve just closed my eyes and ignored the price, but it’s hard. It’s hard, no matter how much you try and shove those thoughts away and remind yourself that you’re only on vacation once. It’s hard to,  when a small box of their chocolate costs as much as, say, a Swiss Chalet dinner for two – complete with sides and a drink – and I’m someone who is more than capable of finding happiness in a handful of Ricoa Curly Tops. 

It was worth every penny though, I’ll give them that. I’ve never been partial to chocolate, both as candy or as ice cream, but there’s a reason Belgium is known for their chocolate because the taste was exquisite. So smooth, so rich, none of that weirdly acidic aftertaste from a Hershey bar. I’m sure I’ve had Belgian chocolate before, but never fresh from the source, so this was a nice little return on investment for me.

Gun to my head, I’m still iffy about spending all that much on candy, but I wouldn’t mind a box or two every so often, and while Antwerp gave me a lot of good reasons to revisit it again, this one is as good an excuse as any!

In Which I Exhort You to Bring Imodium Wherever You Go

In Which I Exhort You to Bring Imodium Wherever You Go

I thought I’d be writing as much about my visit to Amsterdam and Antwerp as much as I did with Cuba earlier this year. It turns out I was wrong with a capital W… make that all-caps WRONG because most of my time was spent pounding the pavement and then coming back to the hotel suite in the evening all exhausted and fit for nothing but watching the US Open on Eurosport1. I know, it sounds horrible doesn’t it? Maybe if I’d been younger, I’d have spent more time partying my ass off and swilling jenever into the wee hours of the morning even if I don’t really drink all that much, because who cares about cable when you have the invincible power of youth brimming in your veins?

So now here I am on the flight back, winging my way across the Atlantic. It’s the first chance I’ve had to sit back and really try and remember what the trip was like. I am currently aided by the “Easy Listening” genre offered by the inflight entertainment. Right now, it’s Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer”. Lol. I haven’t heard this song in years. It’s something my mother used to play on her guitar, back when she had one.

Anyway.

I was going to write about my Amsterdam and Antwerp experience, but decided to share the perils of travelling without Imodium instead. Yes. I lived through some people’s worst nightmare. And I didn’t just live it any old place.  I lived it on Icelandair Flight 506, from Keflavik to Amsterdam.

I had felt all girl-scout confident and prepared on the way, because I felt I had all the necessaries for an emergency. Including Imodium. Imodium, for the benefit of the ones unfamiliar with the name, is a brand name of generic loperamide and is used to control the symptoms of diarrhea. I had checked it in my luggage, because I wasn’t anticipating anything. But that’s betrayal for you. It just comes out of nowhere. It’s almost always unexpected. I have no idea what I ate. Whatever it was, my traitorous stomach just decided to rebel.

I told myself I could hold it until we landed in Schiphol International. You know how sometimes you think it’s just a small rumble, a bit of a fart, it’ll sort itself out? There we were, seatbelt sign on, everyone strapped in our seats, about half an hour away from actually landing on the tarmac when my stomach decided it had had enough. Faced with the reality of being in a metal tube filled with recycled air and potentially asphyxiating everyone on board, I scrambled up and over Le Hubs, who was trying in vain to get me to stay in my seat, and headed for one of the bathrooms, which was locked, because they lock the doors of the lavatories before landing.

“We’re landing in fifteen minutes!” said the flight attendant who tried to get me to go back to my seat. “This is an emergency,” I hissed. There must’ve been a really feral look in my eye, or maybe the kind of wild desperation that drives people to do unspeakable things, because she didn’t argue any further with me.

Is there anything worse than everyone knowing you’re about to go into the shitter when you know it isn’t going to be a quiet session? Because I would say yes. It is a thousand times worse when said shitter is an airplane lavatory at the front of the plane with an attendant strapped to her seat beside it because the plane is supposed to be going down from a higher altitude to land. Add in you sitting there trying to go as discreetly as possible but knowing it’s pointless  because you’ve been holding everything in so long it’s too late to be coy about setting your large intestine free, turbulence shaking you around as you sit there  in a cold sweat, wondering if your stomach is done with you and if it’s safe to come out,  then someone starts banging on the door saying the plane can’t land if you’re still in there doing god knows what so you hurriedly clean yourself up and emerge trying to look like it’s just another day in Normal Town. And then you go back to your seat to face a husband who is as mortified as you are and avoid eye contact with everyone and everything for the next few minutes as the plane finally touches down and you’re just praying to God no one recognizes you or even remembers you on the baggage carrel.

(Which, to my relief, no one seemed to. At least that’s what I like to think.)

On my first plane ride with a group of other people I worked with on the school yearbook,  I remember one girl making sure she took an Imodium before we started off. I asked her what it was for and she said she just wanted to make sure nothing untoward would happen on the way. I thought it was kind of silly to willingly constipate yourself when your stomach was fine, but it turns out she was right in the end. I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. I still don’t think it’s a good idea to take Imodium when there’s nothing wrong with me, but from this day forth, I vow never to be without it at all times.

September 7, 2014

September 7, 2014

It’s one of those days that are so beautiful, you forget all the other bleary, grey days that have come before or will follow after. Summer is dying, but it’s dying beautifully, splendidly, a burst of green leaves and green grass, sweet corn, watermelons, strawberries and sunlight, warm and bright enough to make you smile.

Sometimes I think I don’t appreciate life here enough. Today, I had a brief few seconds where I stood on the balcony of our apartment on the seventeenth floor and realized that where I live is breathtaking in its own way. I can see Lake Ontario stretching away into the distance, its shoreline punctuated by apartment buildings, a blue expanse with three bobbing white triangles. They’re dinghys, moored on the water, the Toronto islands beyond them. A few cranes sit on top of buildings so tall they need no further embellishment. The cranes are silent and unused because today is Sunday. The roofs of houses peek through  a veil of treetops, red tiles dressed in green, a green that will soon be replaced by the fiery orange of leaves that will start falling in just a few short weeks. I know this will soon fade, that the loveliness of today will end, and soon only the starkness of winter will be all that the eye can see. Snow will blanket all. But for today at least, just today, I allow myself to feel content.

Today, I felt hope. Today, I felt brave. Today, I was the younger self I had left behind, the fearless female who believed the whole world  was for the taking. I have been a different me for far too long, letting myself be defined by the needs of others. I no longer want to be that way. If things end (and they do), today will be no less beautiful for it.

This is something I have not realized, or something I’ve known but denied for a very long time. I focus too often on ensuring things stay the same. But they don’t. All I can really do is face each day head on and appreciate what’s around me, being happy for as long as I can be. That is how I felt today, even if it was just for a few seconds.

There is so much to live for. To experience. To smell, to taste, to see and do and revel in. It all becomes white noise, fading in the background in the face of all the boring things adults must do to ensure a roof over their heads and food in their belly. I don’t have the freedom of having someone else to worry about that for me anymore. So I do it for myself.

The sun sets on everything. Everything. It is the one constant in the sea of change we all find ourselves swimming in, as hard as that can be to accept.

So I will try to remember today, and the moment I looked up to find myself surrounded by beauty. I will try to remember it, when times are hard and I question my choices, find myself wishing I could press the reset button, or when I feel so much pain and anger that there doesn’t seem to be anything else to feel. I will remember today and remind myself to stop, take a moment, and look up at the sky, because perfect moments are few and far between… but they exist. They do.

Online Travel Tools for Obsessively Compulsive, Anally-Retentive You

Online Travel Tools for Obsessively Compulsive, Anally-Retentive You

I am chronically incapable of being footloose and fancy free without doing any due diligence, of visiting a place I’ve never been to and just seeing where the wind will take me.  If the good lord wanted me to go where the wind blows, he would’ve made me a dandelion instead of an obsessive, anally-retentive girl scout. I know, I know. I sound like a pill. I’m only a pill in the beginning, though.  I promise. *hand on heart* Once I’ve gotten everything under control and can tell myself I’ve done all I need to do to be prepared, I can be as cool as a cucumber.

But first, I need control. I need a sense of knowing. I need security. I need to know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go, what I’m going to eat, and how I’m going to get to where I want to go before I do it, especially when it comes to travel. (You can take a girl out of a travel agency, but you really can’t take a travel agency out of a girl!) 

Google has a suite of travel tools that I use a lot.  Flights is great when you’re shopping for airfare, and I particularly love their “flexible dates” option and the way prices and locations change automatically depending on where in the world you happen to be hovering over. Hotels is a very well thought out, intuitive way to look for possible places to stay -it’s easy to read reviews, check out photos and compare prices. Maps is one of my favourite and most trusted travel tools. It gives a sense of security in an otherwise alien place, because you’ll always know where you are and how to get where you want to go, especially if you’ve downloaded a map of the area in advance.

I don’t feel constrained to book travel directly on Google’s website though. Neither should you – if you can get points booking travel on a certain site or with a certain type of credit card, by all means do so. I like to book directly with the airline when it comes to airfare, but with hotels I can be a little more flexible. I tend to go with Expedia for sentimental reasons, and also because they have very competitive prices and an excellent points program. 

The following sites are what I use when I go in-depth. Other than the usual go-tos like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, I’ve found some really interesting information off of these sites, and you may already know some if not all of them. I hope they help you as you prepare for your own trips too! 

Wiki Voyage

https://en.wikivoyage.org
WikiVoyage provides a condensed, Lonely Planet-esque overview of your destination. I use it particularly when I want information about districts and modes of transportation but don’t want to feel overwhelmed or pressured to book anything. Like Wikipedia, it’s less about the bells and whistles and more about the actual information but don’t let the wall of text intimidate ya. There’s a lot more information to digest than just districts and transportation, although that is primarily what I use WikiVoyage for.

Atlas Obscura

https://www.atlasobscura.com/
Yes, attractions are famous for a reason, and they should definitely be seen, it’s just that sometimes being able to enjoy what you see becomes impossible when there are too many people also wanting to do the same thing. If, like me you like to avoid touristic mosh pits, Atlas Obscura is great for the weird, the quirky, the secret little things that not a lot of people may be into. It also welcomes suggestions from fellow travelers, and is filled with unusual, off-the-beaten-path suggestions (hence the name!).

Taste Atlas

https://www.tasteatlas.com/
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and sampling the local cuisine is the best way to feel like a local. I like to try and not eat anything other than local staples wherever I get to go, to get a really well-rounded experience of what living in a certain country must feel like, and Taste Atlas is an invaluable resource. Is food a big part of how you travel? It should be! 

Reddit

http://www.reddit.com
Lastly (but not leastly), never underestimate the power of Reddit. There’s no better advertising than word of mouth, and Reddit is invaluable for checking out what the locals say. Think about it as a place to go for insider information, because locals can (and do) say a lot!

Do you have any travel sites that you’d recommend? Feel free to share, and happy travels!

 

Image from Jumpic

A Descent Into Madness, or The Time Prime Video Sucked Me In and Spat Me Out

A Descent Into Madness, or The Time Prime Video Sucked Me In and Spat Me Out

I’ve spent most of July in a fugue and I blame Amazon Prime Video for all of it.

It started out innocuously. I had seen the first episode of the first season of Fleabag and laughed myself sick on the couch, despite not actually being able to hear any of it. I do this sometimes, just lie on the couch following the captions on the screen, mentally giving the characters their voices. When something is especially funny, no sound is needed to appreciate it. And that was Fleabag.

I’d thought nothing of it. It was a random, fly by night quickie, meant to while away half an hour cheating on my Roku by figuring out how our new Android media box works. It doesn’t, by the way. Not really. It’s a shitty, earnest, horribly un-intuitive attempt to support piracy. Everything moves like molasses, there are pop-up ads galore, and I quite simply do not speak its language and probably never will. It’s probably the wrong media box for me or anyone, but I digress.

Late June was where the confluence of events came to a head. The bestie brought up Fleabag again. He couldn’t quite stop quoting from the show and so, simultaneously inundated with Twitter ads for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, I decided to hit two birds with one stone. I bit the bullet, and got Amazon Prime for a month.

Alice followed the white rabbit and started falling down a tunnel into Wonderland. My descent was closer in spirit to Wile-E Coyote, walking off a cliff and free-falling into a canyon, except it felt like I was never going hit the bottom.

wile-e bye

I blazed through the entirety of Fleabag in the course of a weekend. It’s a great show, with outstanding levels of exquisitely placed shade, the humour as black as the grounds left in the office coffeemaker at the end of the day. It deserves all of its eleven Emmy nominations and I would recommend it to anyone casting about for something to watch. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an insanely talented writer and she’s so good I could almost hate her for it. But I can’t, because I love her work in (and as) Fleabag so much.

And then it was on to Good Omens. What is in the water these Brits drink? How do they come up with these fantastical flights of fancy? I’ve been a longtime Gaiman fan, and as a TV show, Good Omens is the yang to the yin of American Gods. It’s light, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s uplifting and it’s witty beyond measure. I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading Good Omens and didn’t know if I was going to like the show, but I was a goner the minute they introduced Sister Mary Loquacious of The Chattering Order of St. Beryl. Sister. Mary. Loquacious. Terry Pratchett has gone on to the great beyond, but Neil Gaiman still breathes and is a national treasure who must be protected at all costs.

That was supposed to have been it. I was supposed to have gone on with my life, maybe having blithely ordered a few things to take advantage of the free two-day shipping all Amazon Prime members get. But no. Oh no. No, no, no. I started to watch Lost. I had survived the mid to late aughts having never seen Lost, and  now my luck had finally run out.

The free-fall continued.

loki

Lost has six seasons. The first three seasons have at least twenty episodes apiece, each clocking in at almost an hour. The last three seasons vary in length from fourteen to eighteen episodes, and the devil of it all is that it is very, very, very hard to stop watching Lost. It is the kind of show that raises more questions than it answers and never really resolves anything. Like a charismatic cult leader, it is maddeningly opaque at times, colourfully inventive in others and always, always, keeps the viewer wanting more.

I wasn’t immune, gamely going along for the ride, feeling the days and weeks slip past alternating between work and Lost and work and Lost and work and Lost until it finally, blessedly, confusingly, ended.  The famous finale, the one that the conclusion of Game of Thrones is most frequently compared to, that divides the fandom to this day. That ending. And all I could think was, it’s over. It was finally over. I had nothing more to give, no energy left to come up with a coherent reaction to the Lost finale, because I was just so glad to have finally hit the canyon floor.

No, no one held a gun to my head and made me do it. Yes, I really only have myself to blame. But oh, the feeling of freedom, the satisfaction I felt terminating my month-long Amazon Prime subscription. I’ve come out on the other side. I don’t want to put myself through that again.