In Defense of Toronto...
Once again, it falls upon me to drop the brigand persona to deal with a matter of sufficient import to warrant a more serious posting.
It's become de rigueur to lambast our fair city, particularly if one lives in BC; especially Vancouver, where it has nearly become a pathological art form. But rather than dignify their rancor with a line by line explicative response, I will instead stand in defense of Toronto the Good by stating the positives, because I love this city. I came here in 1957 as an immigrant from Britain, and although I've returned to the UK a dozen or more times, I've never regretted my late parents' decision to relocate us in downtown Canada. Permit me to elaborate...
Culture, anyone? Toronto has world class theatre, including it's own Fringe Festival, is home to The Canadian Opera Company, The Toronto Symphony, and numerous other concert, comedy, and cabaret venues. The best International artists and acts eventually wind up here. From AC/DC to Keith Jarrett, Yo Yo Ma to UFC, they all pause and perform within our city limits.
Add to that, our restaurants provide every conceivable type of food, our parklands are vast, our Islands welcoming, the bluffs breathtaking, and our transit system largely efficient and safe. Our airports provide easy access to both coasts as well as our neighbour to the south, and if you don't like flying, there's always VIA Rail.
We have great libraries, a phenomenal museum and, since the reno, an excellent art gallery too. Add to the list: Caribana, Gay Pride Day, Yonge Street, the Eaton Centre, Toronto Indy, the Annex, the Beach, the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays, Raptors, etc. We are a diverse and tolerant city, with something for everyone, and by and large, live and let others live. Which brings me to a comparison...
A few weeks back, I was in San Antonio, the home of the Alamo, on business. I have visited Texas a few times and have always loved the warm, generous people and the massive steaks and breakfasts. San Antonio is a beautiful place. A river runs through the downtown core and creates a below street level promenade that's cool and gently lit in the evenings. There are minorities, of course, like my Algerian cab driver, who was thrilled that I understood his French, but the city primarily consists of two cultures: Texan and Mexican, who co-exist very happily. In fact, everyone in San Antonio seemed friendly, optimistic, and big-hearted; all that is best about America.
After the compulsory Alamo visit, to pay homage to my favourite knife-fighter Jim Bowie, I took a cab to the airport for my flight to DC and then home to Toronto. It was at the airport that I noticed something unusual...
I was seated in the waiting area with several hundred other travelers, when a Middle Eastern couple arrived, along with their three children. They were obviously well to do, and the kids, ranged from a tiny little girl with large dark eyes, to a boy of about 5, all the way up to the eldest, who was another boy of about 8 or 9 years of age. The kids were happy and well-behaved, and obviously enjoying the journey. The parents were what I call semi-Westernized. The father wore shorts and a ball cap and the mother wore a long robe with a beautiful, multi-coloured, striped scarf around her head. They were a good looking family, and I smiled back as the little girl smiled at me. I always smile at people, especially children, because with buzzed hair, ear-rings and 10 tattoos, I can sometimes resemble an older skinhead. Still smiling, I glanced around at the other passengers in the lounge, and I noticed that none of them would look at the Middle Eastern family. Instead they looked past them or through them, as though they were invisible. It wasn't as though the family was disliked or mistrusted as terrorists. Instead they were completely dehumanized; being treated as though they didn't even exist. It sickened and horrified me.
I plugged in my iPod and listened to Glenn Gould and when I looked up again, the parents smiled at me, and I assumed it was because I looked at them instead of through them, but it wasn't until we boarded the plane that I realized why they had connected with me from 10 feet away. Over the next half hour, the lounge filled up with more and more passengers, and the family became more and more dehumanized. It was as though everyone in the airport had been trained to ignore them.
Eventually they called the flight to Washington DC, and after the Continental Gold Club travelers had boarded, I grabbed my shoulder bag and went through the gate. I had to pass through Business Class to reach my seat, and I saw the family again, as we stopped in the aisle to permit someone to access the overhead bin. I was standing next to the father and he smiled up at me again, as did his wife, who was seated behind him. She gestured to her wrist and then pointed to my arm, and it became clear. There, emblazoned on my left forearm in large, black, in your face Arabic script, was one of my favourite tattoos.
"Hurriah" she said.
Yes, I responded. Hurriah. Freedom.
"Thank you" she said. "Thank you for that..."
No problem. No problem at all.
My wife, who is wiser than me by light-years has a wonderful rule to live by:
I will not fear, and I will not hate. Bravo, my love. Neither will I.
Add to that: I will not ignore or dehumanize.
And that brings us back to Toronto: the greatest multi-cultural city on earth. We are hundreds of nationalities and ethnic groups; Italian, Guyanese, Mohawk, Swedish, Thai, Ecuadorian, Persian, and just about everything else. We interact, buy, sell, rub shoulders in the subway, play music and cook for each other. We really are The World.
And I still love it here.
Deacon Dr. Fresh