As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Fiera Italian Festival

Street sign above the Fiera festival reading Little Italy.

Street sign above the Fiera festival reading Little Italy.

The Festival

Today I went to the Fiera Italian festival in Toronto’s Little Italy. If the Italian weddings and other gatherings I’ve attended are any indication, the celebration of food is an important part of social events amongst Italians. I came to the festival expecting to see a wide array of both traditional and edgy new Italian cuisine. I wasn’t disappointed.

Well crafted little adventures in cuisine ... standard and not so standard fare with a little twist.

Well crafted little adventures in cuisine ... standard and not so standard fare with a little twist.

The skin of this roast pig held in the heat to keep the meat inside very hot.

The skin of this roast pig held in the heat to keep the meat inside very hot.

The Food

In this world of fast food, instant road rage, and approaching deadlines the opportunity to linger in the company of familiar friends and loved ones has become too unfamiliar. But in this corner of Italy in the new world all those who came to take part in the festival got the opportunity to do just that.

The Atmosphere

Patios normally enclose small areas outside the restaurants along College St. west of Bathurst St. during the summer. Some of these patios now stretched past the sidewalks, extending their invitation to all passersby. The smell of roasting meats and the sight of well presented dishes encouraged further encouraged that one take the time to enter and indulge in both the cuisine and perhaps even some spirited conversation inspired by the unique ambiance of Toronto’s Little Italy.

When carrying a full load of passengers these colorful little cars must have been enough of a tight squeeze to have left no room for anything other than getting to know your fellow passengers extremely well.

When carrying a full load of passengers these colorful little cars must have been enough of a tight squeeze to have left no room for anything other than getting to know your fellow passengers extremely well.

Italy's small roads would make small cars right at home.

Italy's narrow roads would make these small cars right at home.

The Music

Every other block was claimed by individual bands. Some were stationed outside a specific cafe or restaurant and serenaded the patrons along with passing pedestrians. The music of Vinz Deroza attracted an especially lively crowd. I could recognize from the look of happy nostalgia on the faces of the older Italian men and women who danced hand in hand, that the music inspired memories of joyful times in the past. I felt privileged to be part of the celebration.

Fil Bianco on the drum jams with fellow musicians at the Fiera Italian Festival.

Fil Bianco on the drum jams with fellow musicians at the Fiera Italian Festival.

A band takes the stage at Fiera.

A band takes the stage at Fiera.

Vinz and the band kept the crowd dancing.

Vinz and the band kept the crowd dancing.

Older couples dancing to music that pulled on long forgotten heartstrings.

Older couples dancing to music that pulled on long forgotten heartstrings.

The Cabbagetown Youth Centre Lives to See a Dream Coming

Today was just like any other day. Some things of varying importance didn’t happen.Some things of equally varying importance did happen or revealed the promise of coming about soon. One of those pleasantly awaited me when I stopped in to the Cabbagetown Youth Cenre (formerly known as the Cabbagetown Boxing and Youth Centre) to say hi.

The CYC has seen some renovation already.

The CYC has seen some renovation already.

It’s been years since I passed by the gym but one of the many memories I have is this promise that change would one day come. After such a long time coming it is now near enough in the future to inspire wonder. It culminates an audacious dream that Toronto boxing coaches Peter Wylie, the late Ken Hamilton, and a few others up and decided to have one day many decades ago when none of us realized how big and intractable the world was.  Ken and Peter, both eloquent, but nevertheless men of fewer words than action, they set about making it happen. Perhaps with more determination than political connections or resources with which to move the world at their command, their dream was to build a sports and recreation centre in the rough and tumble community of Cabbagetown.

Walking up the stairs to the gym. I had walked up those stairs so many times before.

Walking up the stairs to the gym. I had walked up those stairs so many times before.

This dream that was longer than the endurance of many men brings to mind a chinese cultural anecdote. Some villagers asked a man why he was digging on the side of the mountain. “A mountain cannot move” they said. He answered “I will do what I can, and my children will move a little more. And my children’s children … and so on. Little by little, the mountain will move”.

Peter Wylie

History is on those walls.

History is on those walls.

Moving a mountain is easier than having faith that it will. Years ago when I trained as a boxer at the Cabbagetown Boxing and Youth Center it was still visibly the shell of an old broken down auto mechanic’s garage. The wood of the large ramp that led from the lower floor was still slightly stained with motor oil. We would run up and down that ramp till our legs burned and we wanted to stop short. Ken invariably wasn’t having any of it and cursed, kidded, or just plain ignored our complaints till we were done. Sometimes with a twinkle in his eye he would talk about the planned renovations to the gym. That was so many decades ago.

Before my coach Ken Hamilton passed he and Peter Wylie put the dream to words and shared it. It was something they weren’t going to back down from. Many athletes, like me, passed through the doors of that gym. Some Canadian and Commonwealth champions, even world a champion or two along with some movie stars in search of the real gritty deal. I would guess that not one of them passed through without in some small way sharing that dream. Some took up the dream just as others moved on. Today Peter Wylie isn’t alone in making such an audacious plan. He sits on a board of directors for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre. And construction of the new central location at 2 Lancaster is scheduled to be completed in March.

The Cabbagetown Youth Centre has grown till it is now the biggest summer sports camp in the core of the city. There is even a performing arts segment called “The Studends of CYCs Performing Arts Summer Camp”. They’ve had this for years, Peter told me, so that now some of the former students who have become professional dancers have come back to run it. “They just had a show at the Bathurst St. theatre that was a big success” he noted with understated but very understandable pride.

With all the new coming there was still room for nostalgia towards the old. Peter walked me over to one of the remaining wall of photographs and with a smile showed me that one of my pictures from the old days was still hanging on the wall.

A picture of me sits in the middle of other familiar faces.

A picture of me sits in the middle of other familiar faces.

He looked good and it was good to see him. As we were shooting the breeze one of the boxers in the gym hollered at me to go get my car. Someone in the alleyway was either towing it or couldn’t get through. Mindful of potential consequences I said my goodbyes and left abruptly. Among the things that didn’t happen today was a less abrupt departure, but among the things that did happen, I have to be thankful for such enduring memories.

The battle starts in the head before you get it on in the ring. Mottos must be big in fighting gyms the world over.

The battle starts in the head before you get it on in the ring. Mottos must be big in fighting gyms the world over.

The Menagerie Pet Shop is across the street from the CYC. I got my first job there working for a dollar a day and five dollars on Saturdays. Being fascinated with the pets I would have hung out there for free.

The Menagerie Pet Shop is across the street from the CYC. I got my first job there working for a dollar a day and five dollars on Saturdays. Being fascinated with the pets I would have hung out there for free.

Regent Park (beside Cabbagetown) was one of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up. What was once North America's largest housing project is now thoroughly gentrified with swanky new condos sprouting up.

Regent Park (beside Cabbagetown) was one of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up. What was once North America's largest housing project is now thoroughly gentrified with swanky new condos sprouting up.

My buddy Asif Dar (former Commonwealth lightweight champ) used to live in the apartment that has been replaced by this admittedly nicer looking one. On hearing about the new apartment my mother asked "where did the people who lived there go". The people who lived there were all of very modest means. I told her "they must have bought the condos".

My buddy Asif Dar (former Commonwealth lightweight champ) used to live in the apartment that has been replaced by this admittedly nicer looking one. On hearing about the new apartment my mother asked "where did the people who lived there go". The people who lived there were all of very modest means. I told her "they must have bought the condos". Being West Indian she expressed her disbelief by making the gesture that West Indians call "sucking one's teeth".

Lord Dufferin is right across the street from my old apartment. Now well over a hundred years old it is beautiful but thoroughly unrecognizable after its renovations.

Lord Dufferin is right across the street from my old apartment. Now well over a hundred years old it is beautiful but thoroughly unrecognizable after its renovations.

Bicycling at Center Island

The first step towards an adventure is taking the first step.

The first step towards an adventure is taking the first step.

Today the kids, their mother and I went to Centre Island. Centre Island and the rest of the islands in the Toronto Island Park have for me always been one of the aspects of Toronto that I’ve most treasured. Other cities have parks, but few others have such scenic and serene ones. Wide open bicycle trails, a long expanse of beaches, huge carp that I fished for when I was younger, and the intriguingly offbeat culture of the people who used to live there full time. There is also the occasional cultural festival there. Caribana, which is Toronto’s version of Carnival, in the past usually ended up on the island where one could count on finding lively free concerts, and food stands selling savoury traditional Caribbean foods. I say “traditional” because the roti, bakes, and roast corn one would find sold there need to be distinguished from the food that Caribbeans actually eat. After having returned to Antigua this summer for the first time in thirty years I found myself wondering at least where Antigua is concerned whether Caribbean food consists almost exclusively of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Movies, restaurants, and many other places one goes to might give the impression that fun must be purchased by the hour. The meter is always running and eventually runs out, leading inevitably to a stream of questions from the young ones starting with “can I have a …” or “why couldn’t I get a …” and so on.

From the Greek Islands to New York, ferries seem the same everywhere. Endless rows of life jackets that don't seem to have moved from where they have hung for decades ... decaying in a colourfully decorative fashion.

From the Greek Islands to New York, ferries seem the same everywhere. Endless rows of life jackets that don't seem to have moved from where they have hung for decades ... decaying in a colourfully decorative fashion.

The Toronto Island Park certainly has such pay per use attractions for one so inclined, but it also it the type of place that one can go to find one’s own entertainment for hours on end. Pack a lunch, walk, or bring your bikes, or wait to rent them when you get there, whatever your plans get on the ferry and a day of simple pleasures awaits.

This sign is visible immediately after getting off the ferry.

This sign is visible immediately after getting off the ferry.

The structure bordering the path at Gilbratar Point looked like an indian fishing wier. I called it a "Wier Sculpture".

The structure bordering the path at Gilbratar Point looked like an indian fishing wier. I called it a "Wier Sculpture".

A fence can protect or separate. Here a fence was merely a frame for observation.

A fence can protect or separate. Here the fence was merely a frame for observation.

After an afternoon playing in the sand and wandering along the beach, it's time to mount up and go home.

After an afternoon playing in the sand and wandering along the beach, it's time to mount up and go home.

With the sun setting on this beach there was time for a final photo to remember the wonderful day.

With the sun setting on this beach there was time for a final photo to remember the wonderful day.

The gardens were not spectacularly ornate, but somehow we were thankful for them.

The gardens were not spectacularly ornate, but somehow we were thankful for them.

Our view from the dock waiting for the ferry to arrive and return us to the mainland. The CN Tower in the background uniquely identifies the skyline as Toronto.

Our view from the dock waiting for the ferry to arrive and return us to the mainland. The CN Tower in the background uniquely identifies the skyline as Toronto.

Toronto Buskerfest

People from the Caribbean may wonder what a busker is. As busker is someone who performs in public places to entertain people in return for tips. The work “busk” could potentially come from the Italian word buscare meaning to go out and get, or from the Spanish word buscar meaning to look for. In any case the good ones cause you to stop and watch because they have some compelling talent that won’t let you leave without seeing a little more.

This weekend Toronto was full of them. Toronto’s St. Lawrence market, which is downtown close to the theatre district, was home to the Toronto Buskerfest.

Theatre District

This festival goes on every summer in the city and attracts some truly riveting performers. One of these was the duo of acrobats called “Popeyed”. Hundreds crowded around them to watch them bend, balance, and extend themselves in ways that seemed theoretically possible but in practical terms seemed entirely implausible.

Popeyed

Popeyed Bending

Also at the festival were a number of charismatic musical acts. Matt James was one of those. Buskers are associated in my mind with travelling because back in university when I travelled it was a convenient way for those with talent to make a little money while backpacking through large European cities. Matt’s accent and the fact that he played a didgeridoo (an Australian aboriginal instrument) identified him immediately as an Australian. But Matt has a website and CDs for sale online so I’m not sure he gets around to busking much these days.

Matt James

During Matt’s performance he also invited a couple of other performers to jam with him. There was Scott Jackson the human beat box. And there was a saxophonist named Rock and Rollie (i’m not sure about the spelling). This gentleman was seventy-eight years young and a sure crowd pleaser. Matt laid down a jazzy bass groove while the human beat box put an exclamation mark on the beat. Matt  then called out for Rock and Rollie to join in on the sax.  Rock and Rollie blew a couple of riffs and then started to get loose. First he started playing with the sax backwards and in the air.

Rock and Rollie

Then he played with it behind his back. Then finally he began to disassemble it, taking it apart piece by piece … surprising the crowd by playing with less and less of it and all the while keeping to the jazzy beat that Matt and the beat box didn’t let up on. Seventy-eight years young indeed.

Rock and Rollie Breaks the Sax Down

Remembering when I was young at the CNE

We passed the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on the way down to the CNE. The Michael-Lee Crystal building looks like a fallen piece of glass embedded in the ancient stone buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. It's jarring but visually striking.

We passed the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on the way down to the CNE. The Michael-Lee Crystal building looks like a fallen piece of glass embedded in the ancient stone buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. It's jarring but visually striking.

When I was young, I lived for a time in downtown Toronto’s Parkdale area near one of the gates of the CNE. The natural evolution of cities causes traffic to and from suburbs to become more congested over time until downtown real estate becomes more valuable and even areas that initially have the troubled reputation eventually become gentrified. This is why former president Bill Clinton has offices in New York’s Harlem district. Toronto’s Parkdale area may or may not be on the course towards being gentrified but though I didn’t know when I lived there I’ve since learned that Parkdale was long considered a rough, downtrodden area full of derelicts.

I can see the derelicts now, but they aren’t all I see. Though I couldn’t have been much more than five years old back then, the sound of the organ music accompanying some of the rides and attractions, the smell of cotton candy, or even the lights of the exhibition at night, all of these remind me of the time I lived there.  Thinking back I recognize that the surroundings of our humble basement apartment were humble, but thinking back I also remember it being a safe and familiar home with the best friend a kid could have living just a few doors away. And it wasn’t a run-down neighborhood to me but a palace. Being only a block or two from the entrance to the CNE we were on the doorstep to just about the most breathlessly wonderful place on earth where every summer night while it was open, the smells and sounds of the Canadian National Exhibition sweetened my dreams.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this for me and the rest of my generation of parents who worry that we don’t do enough for our kids in terms of giving them material things. The gift of memories seems to last much longer.

When I was young, I lived for a time in downtown Toronto’s Parkdale area near one of the gates of the CNE. The natural evolution of cities causes traffic to and from suburbs to become more congested over time until downtown real estate becomes more valuable and even areas like Parkdale that initially have troubled reputations eventually become gentrified. This is why former president Bill Clinton has offices in New York’s Harlem district. Toronto’s Parkdale area may or may not be on the course towards being gentrified but though I didn’t know when I lived there I’ve since learned that Parkdale was long considered a rough, downtrodden area full of derelicts.

We passed the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on the way down to the CNE. The Michael-Lee Crystal building looks like a fallen piece of glass embedded in the ancient stone buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. It's jarring but visually striking.

We didn't go through Parkdale today. Instead we passed the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on the way down to the CNE. The Michael-Lee Crystal building looks like a fallen piece of glass embedded in the ancient stone buildings of the surrounding neighborhood. It's jarring but visually striking.

I can see the derelicts now, but they aren’t all I see. Though I couldn’t have been much more than five years old back then, the sound of the organ music accompanying some of the rides and attractions, the smell of cotton candy, and even the lights of the exhibition at night, all of these remind me of the time I lived there.  Thinking back I recognize that the surroundings of our basement apartment were humble, but thinking back I also remember it being a safe and familiar home with the best friend a kid could have living just a few doors away. And it wasn’t a run-down neighborhood to me but a palace. Being only a block or two from the entrance to the CNE we were on the doorstep to just about the most breathlessly wonderful place on earth. Even though far more often than not we did not get a chance to go in, every summer night while it was open the smells and sounds of the Canadian National Exhibition sweetened my dreams.

Over the years I've been conditioned so that when I pass through the Princess Gates I can't help but start looking for the CNE.

Over the years I've been conditioned so that when I pass through the Princess Gates I can't help but start looking for the CNE.

Just inside the Princess Gates the whole exhibition laid out ahead inspires excitement.

Just inside the Princess Gates the whole exhibition laid out ahead inspires excitement.

The kids were just big enough to go on these rides.

The kids were just big enough to go on these rides.

What's an exhibition without a ferris wheel?

What's an exhibition without a ferris wheel?

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for me and the rest of my generation of parents who worry that we don’t do enough for our kids in terms of giving them material things. The gift of memories seems to last much longer.

Direct Energy is a public utility company. They put on a light and music show directly on the side of the building.

Direct Energy is a public utility company. They put on a light and music show directly on the side of the building.

Antiguan Authors in Toronto

With the Antigua & Barbuda International Literary Festival coming up in November, when I found myself in the neighborhood of A Different Booklist I decided to go in to find out what Antiguan authors they currently had in stock.

For years it has always been one of my favorite small bookstores in the city.

For years it has always been one of my favorite small bookstores in the city.

A Different Booklist carries a lot of books from Caribbean and other authors from throughout Latin America and the African diaspora. The bookstore was not far from my old university, the University of Toronto so I used to find myself in that area frequently. But having graduated and moved from that area long ago it had been years since I had last visited the store. However Itah Sadu, who owns the shop along with Miguel San Vicente, remembered me from my last visit a few years back. I always enjoyed coming to the store, chatting, and finding out what she had in stock that was new. I was happy that she remembered me as having provided useful insight into what were then innovations in using the internet to connect to customers.

Sati remembered me warmly, as she remembers all of her customers.

Sati remembered me warmly, as she remembers all of her customers.

In today’s search for authors with Antiguan roots the books I found were Aunt Mazie’s Secret by Naomi Smith and illustrated by Dylan Smith, 40 Days by an writer who goes by the name of Motion, and A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. It seems that Antiguan literature does reach well past the boundaries of its shores.

I was curious to see which what books she had in stock from authors with Antiguan roots.

I was curious to see which what books she had in stock from authors with Antiguan roots.

I am looking forward to the upcoming Antigua & Barbuda International Literary Festival. This year’s literary festival will take place from 6-8 November, 2009 at the Jolly Beach Resort in Antigua. The author Joanne Hillhouse whom I’ve interviewed for my book “Amongst Artists in Antigua” will be part of the festival. I plan to attend.

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