toronto impressions

07/22/15 11:15

We spent a day and a half traversing the city before we ran across a bookstore. Before the trip a Toronto friend, whom I had asked about bookstores, had warned me that the situation for bibliophiles had deteriorated in recent years, and, indeed, we found the same domination of restaurants and food stores that always depresses me in New York (with the exception of when I'm hungry). The store we stumbled upon, on a rainy Friday, was Balfour Books, a lovely refuge from the drizzle except for the rumble of empty garbage cans that the proprietor rolled very ploddingly from the front door to the back. The shelves held very little junk, and a wonderful mix of Canadian, English and American authors. I bought a collection of travel essays by Norman Lewis, The Happy Ant Heap, published by Jonathan Cape in London, and reflected that the same influences - English and American - that make Canadian bookstores interesting also make their comedians funny.

Balfour Books was on College Street which, of course, should have been lined with bookstores. Queen Street West, with its vintage shops and ethnic restaurants (food again), could have benefited from a musty secondhand bookshop. (It did have an excellent store selling musical instruments.)

Giving up on books, we went for art, and found, in the Art Gallery of Ontario, more paintings of snow than I had ever seen. They turned interesting when we entered a room of William Kurelek's whimsical works.

But the real show was in the streets. (Kurelek probably would have agreed, even though the weekend temperatures were in the high 80s.) The city's already international flavor was heightened because of the Pan Am games, and we occasionally passed packs of athletes parading their national colors. At various places stages had been set up: the Distillery District, Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall, and Dundas Square, which was hosting a Francophone music festival. We walked and admired the rich variety of faces (some of them veiled, others topped by Blue Jays caps) and, eventually, forgot about books. Then, on the way back to our friend's apartment, we'd pass the perennial line waiting outside Uncle Tetsu's for Japanese cheesecake.

By Thomas Swick • Category: Travel


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